Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Query Critique #3

It's Time by Imagine Dragons is cranking on my iPod . . . and so right. Because it's time for the final query crit of the week! *waves to Patti*

Here we go.

I read queries like a book flap, looking for simplicity and punch. Do I want to keep reading? Am I confused? And most of all, do I want to read this book?! :)

We all know each query should start with a "hook," then flesh it out--detailing the conflict--and end with a bang. You want the agent to think "I want to read more" when s/he finishes the query.

So without further ado, here's the query (and thank you Patti! :D) My comments are in blue. 

Dear Wonder Agent,

World War II, the Holocaust, the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East; all orchestrated by the Cathari, an ancient sect waging a crusade against God. This opening sentence feels choppy. I had to read 3x. :( Seventeen-year-old Geoff Bezier and his family are the only ones who can stop them. Why?

Forced into hiding, not only by the Cathari, but also by others who have an unhealthy interest in their ability to reincarnate, aha! reincarnation! I'd work this point into the hook of your first paragraph :) Geoff must now endure life as a high school senior in rural Minnesota. Dealing with classmates and teachers is tricky, especially when you can never tell the truth. Why can't he tell the truth? About anything? Or just about his immortality? I'd clarify In order to survive the boredom and the hormonal warfare hormonal warfare--love it that surrounds him, he joins the track team, hoping to find solace the way he always has, by running. Never did he imagine he’d find something else – love. Oooo...good stuff.

Track team captain Polly Harring isn’t like any other girl he’s met. She’s observant, thoughtful and able to keep up with him on the track field. The more he gets to know her, the more he wants to open up to her, to show her who he really is. Don't need both of these phrases "the more he wants to open up to her" and "to show her who he really is." Redundant IMHO. I'd cut one--it'll give the idea greater impact.

Although secrecy and distrust are the rules to survival, Geoff is willing to break them if it means being with Polly. Because when he’s with her, the world becomes new and innocent and for the first time in his many lives, he begins to realize that there is more to life than this cycle of death. But first, not only must he convince his family these feelings he has for Polly are real, but he must convince Polly of it as well. What about the Cathari? Don't they play a role in the stakes and Geoff's choice? 

Told from Geoff and Polly’s alternating points of view, as well as interludes from Geoff’s former lives, CATHARI, a YA fantasy of 84,000 words, is a stand-alone book with series potential. A mashup of contemporary and historical fiction, it will appeal to fans of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES and GRAVE MERCY. Very well-written paragraph giving the agent all the relevant info. Nice job.

Originally from Minnesota, I currently live in Germany and am an active member of SCBWI. Per your submission requirements, I have pasted below. Thank you for your consideration.

Okay, Patti, you've got some great stuff here. Your word count is squarely within genre norms, and I like how you give the agent a sense of the fan base using comparable titles. I'm also intrigued by the idea of reincarnation playing a role in an ancient battle that is still waging, and I like how you use concrete examples (i.e., the Middle East) to make your point. :) 

My main concerns are two-fold. 

First, you identify the Cathari as the force behind all kinds of terrible wars as they crusade against God, then you explain that the Cathari are the reason Geoff is in hiding. Then you never mention the Cathari again. When you describe the stakes Geoff faces in telling Polly, the Cathari seem strangely absent. Aren't the Cathari the main plot, and Polly/love interest a sub-plot?

Second, you set up (1) the Cathari as a sect waging an ongoing crusade against God and (2) Geoff and his family as the only ones who can stop the Cathari. Then you state the Cathari (among others) are the reason Geoff is in hiding. If Geoff and his family are the only ones who can fight the Cathari, why are they hiding (rather than fighting)? And who else is searching for Geoff & company/who else is Geoff hiding from? Bad guys? Allies? And while you mention that Geoff has the ability to reincarnate, I'd clarify the connection between Geoff and his family and God, since you open with the idea that (1) the Cathari are waging against God and (2) only Geoff and his family can stop the Cathari. Maybe when you answer WHY Geoff and his family are the only ones who can stop the Cathari, you'll explain that connection in the process . . . ?

Patti, I really think you've got something cool here. I'd tighten your links between the Cathari and Geoff, making the connections clear. Also, I'd re-examine the full extent of the stakes Geoff faces. Does he have to pick between his duty to fight the Cathari or his love for Polly? I think, as written, the stakes aren't quite high enough, and I think it's because the Cathari aren't in play. :)

I hope this helps! I think you're really close. :)

Good luck, and happy Tuesday!


  1. Wow - thank you Lynne for a great critique. You hit the proverbial nail's head with the plot vs subplot. Right now Polly & Geoff's relationship is the plot then for the next books the Cathari line is the main plot. But I think (and have been thinking about this for the last month) that the stakes aren't high enough and that there needs to be more confrontation between Geoff and the Cathari in this first book.

    Which means a major rewrite. *sighs - pulls covers over head*

    But - it's all about the story. I'm glad you found it interesting and hopefully by the time I'm done it will be even better.

    1. Patti,

      You can do it! Sometimes those rewrites are the best thing that can happen to your book. :)

      Good luck with your story, and your writing. :) Yay!

  2. Great premise! I've gone through the same issue with mine, and am rewriting the middle third of my MS after my first revision. Don't try to get it done fast, get it done right! You want it to be the best story it can be.
    Even if you envision a series, try to make the first one stand alone; it will be so much stronger if you write like it's the only book!

    1. Great advice Emma. :) And you're right, each book must stand alone or the reader *might* be left unsatisfied--which is SO not what we're going for, right?! :)

      Happy writing!

  3. I read your journey last night Lynne and am inspired by your dedication to the craft. Already this morning I had an idea. And I'll try to take my time Emma, there's no real rush - except for all those who keep on asking if my book has been published yet. :-) Mostly my kids.

    Thanks again for the support.

    1. You're so welcome! I love that inspiration has struck.:) Yay!

      And I loved this comment. My boys were ALWAYS asking when my book was coming out too...and it was just living on my Mac. LOL But all in time, and you're a writer regardless of publication. :)

      Good luck Patti!

  4. Ah yes, don't you love that question?
    Can I ask what part of MN you came from, Patti? I live in the Twin Cities now.