Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gearin' Up to Get an Agent Week 3: Queries

It's Week 3 of the Gearin' Up to Get an Agent Blogfest, hosted by Deana Barnhart. Here's the rules:
Week 3
Query Critique Contest
-Visit Deanas's blog starting Saturday and sign up in the linky she provides so others can visit your blog and give HELPFUL advice on your query.
-We will hop around giving our input until Tuesday.

-Tuesday take your polished query and email it to [Deana]

-Wednesday I will pick the top 5 or 10 depending on number of participants and post on my blog

-Friday, Lora Rivera will pick a winner and he/she will get a choice of a query critique or a first 5 page critique.
One thing about Lora and her critiques...
She may not be an agent anymore, but she still thinks like one. She has told me her critiques are very thorough, therefore I believe they are extremely beneficial!
So this is the leg I'm most nervous about. I've already had my query critiqued by several awesome people, but there's something that feels so vulnerable about putting it online, yanno? Still, more input is good, right? *Sigh* I'm a paranoid wimp, so I'm covering my query in black highlighter. Select it to read it. This might not stop anyone from using it for nefarious purposes, but it makes me feel marginally better. Like hiding under the covers to escape the monster in the closet. :)

Dear Ms. Agent:

You indicate on your website that you are interested in unique ideas, told with a strong voice. I hope you will consider representing my novel GEAS, a young adult fantasy set in modern-day San Antonio.

It’s impossible to fit in when you have brown skin and dragonfly wings. Humans don’t have wings, and pixies are never brown.

Sixteen-year-old human-pixie hybrid Brina stands out even more when she’s cast as Puck in her integrated high school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—but after her dust is illegally harvested, her worries triple. It’s hard to fret about call times when she’s suddenly producing all eight kinds of pixie dust, fending off human dust addicts, and dodging a group of rebels convinced she holds the key to an age-old supernatural secret.

Brina will have to embrace her differences if she’s to have any chance of understanding her heritage, slowing the flow of illegal dust, or winning the heart of a certain charming ass.

Fans of WINGS by Aprilynne Pike will enjoy the blending of the real and the supernatural in GEAS. It is complete at 99,000 words. The first ten pages are attached below, as per the instructions on your website.

I’m a third generation theatre geek with seven years of experience as a criminal defense lawyer, where I’ve learned about the drug trade directly from traffickers and addicts. I’ve published a paper on the juvenile death penalty, but this is my first novel. The death penalty paper was easier.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Robin Weeks
[email address]
[phone number]


  1. I am not participating with the query on my blog because I did a posting a couple of weeks back. Good for you for posting! Here's my critique: I love your voice. You show a lot and I wasn't bored. I think in the third paragraph, last sentence, I would say "...a group of rebels who are convinced..." for clarification. Also, 99,000 words is a bit long. I've whittled my MS from 104,000 to 84,000 to make fit the parameters of the industry. Some agents may have a problem with it, but there are exceptions to every rule. Overall, AWESOME job. I don't think you'll have difficulty finding an agent.

  2. Hi Robin,

    Firstly, thank you so much for your help on my query. I've not had any help on it so far and I too was worried about putting it on the web. What's that about eh?

    I enjoyed the query and found the book interesting. My only comment is at the end you mention having learnt about the drug trade. I think it would be good to elaborate more on this in the main description of your book, perhaps calling the dust the new "drug of choice" incase people miss the 'dust-addicts' line. I definately didn't put the two together for some reason.

    Lastly, more of a question really. I've read alot of advice on queries and this is the first time I read an introductory paragraph instead of jumping straight into the plot of the book (which is what I believed we had to do). Can I ask why you decided to add this in? More for my own benefit really. : )

    Thanks again!

  3. I like this query; you have a character with internal and external conflicts and a great voice ('a certain charming ass'), the story sounds like an original dark fantasy idea, and you seem 'qualified' to write a book involving drama and drugs from your paragraph about you. The only part that gave me pause was the title because I didn't know what geas meant (and it wasn't in my laptop dictionary so I'm guessing it's not well known). Is there a way you could include the word in your query to show why it reflects your story?

  4. Robin-
    This books sounds very interesting. I love the dust and drug mix, but I agree with Freya. I didn't put it together right away. I kept thinking Why is she telling us about her experience as a lawyer with drugs? Then, it hit me. I think I would just make it a little clearer somewhere within the query so there is no room for misunderstanding.
    Emily spoke on the length of the ms. I think it will be considered a little long for a first novel, but that doesn't mean it's not possible. I found a great agent's website (Jennifer Laughran) that explains her word count expectations. You can find it here: It helped me quite a bit.
    I was thinking GEAS were the initials for the actually title that you are keeping close to you. Am I right?
    I think this sounds very interesting and wish you lots of blessings with it!

  5. I loved your book, and this is a good representation of it. Good points about the drug references and the title meaning being included in the body of the query.

    Matt over at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment ( usually recommends putting that personal stuff at the end. He says it doesn't have to be though.

    Can I tell you that the idea of writing a query nearly paralyzes me? You've done a nice job.

  6. I'm not participating in the blogfest (yet!) but I think this query is strong! Don't hide your light under a bushel! I agreed with Freya who said the drug connection needs to be better explained. I like the touch of humor at the end of the query--it proves you are a real person who would be nice to work with. My main concern was with the title, GEAS, which didn't resonate with me--but I also thought it might be an acronym. As for the word count, I also have a long ms. So I choose not to mention the word count in my query. It's gotten me a number of requests (but no agent yet) so who knows if it's a savvy choice or not! Good luck.

  7. Emily--Thanks! Yeah, I'm looking hard for cut-ables. I know 99K is too long to be ideal. I'm impressed you got yours so short! Go you!

    Freya--The order of the query is both an individual choice and something you tailor to each agent. For some agents, you might want to put your story hook first. Others might ask for you to order it differently. Be flexible as you're researching agents. (She says, sounding like she knows what she's talking about, even though she doesn't.)

    I'll see about adding in more drug/dust stuff--thanks!

    Sophia--I love my title (which is really GEAS, which is a compulsion spell--sometimes spelled GEIS). I know it's probably going to be changed, because a sad number of people have no idea what it is. I have two comforts--1) agents say they don't care about titles because they know they'll be changed and 2) MAYBE, when they read the book (especially the geas explanation in Ch2), they'll agree the title is perfect. ?? :)

    KP--nope, not initials. GEAS is the actual title. See above. :)

    Donna--I really am planning to shuffle the parts around, depending on the agents and the preferences they express. I'll see if I can fit a title explanation into the query....

    Jenny--I've been SOO tempted to just out the word count. Some agents specifically request it, but maybe on the others...? Still, I'm cutting, so we'll see how long it ends up.

  8. Hi, Robin,

    First paragraph: I think it's great that you're taking the time to be a true professional by researching an agent's/editor's wants. I would recommend pulling the first sentence, though, as your query will show you and your book do both. I'd also pull the first half of the second sentence, as it's a given; just keep the title, the genre and the modern-day San Antonio parts, although I'd move them down a ways. (See my comment below.)

    The second graph got my attention! So did the first sentence of the third graph. I would consider pulling the first half of the last sentence and just say: "Now she must dodge a group of rebels convinced she holds the key to an age-old supernatural secret."

    To keep the query short for time-crunched editors and agents, I suggest pulling the next graph.

    I love how you compare your book to WINGS. After you state the title of your book in this first sentence is where I'd work in the genre and the modern-day San Antonio information. You can pull the part "as per the instructions on your website," as the editor/agent already knows what her specs are.

    For the next graph, add a hyphen between "third" and "generation." If querying in the states, spell theater with an "er." I love your first sentence, although the way you mention your legal background, it seems to conflict with the more breezy tone of your book. I recommend pulling the last two sentences, as they aren't relevant.

    Another book with a strong hook!


    P.S. I'm a new follower. :)

  9. Robin-I think you have done a fabulous job. I can tell you have done your homework, this query really shines.

    I laughed out loud about the death penalty paper part :)

  10. Michelle--thanks! Really good point about how the agents will know their own specs. D-oh!

    Angie--I love that part, too! (I can say that because I didn't write that last sentence--Aprilynne Pike did.) :D

  11. Great work. You hooked me immediately with the voice and plot synopsis. I would love to read this.

    Suggestions: Consider shortening the novel. It seems very long for YA (but there's always Twilight!). Don't say this is your first novel. Although I love the humor in the final sentence.

    Best of luck. You've got a winning premise with this plot and I'm sure I'll be reading it in print someday and say I knew you when.

  12. Thanks, Callie! I know it needs to be shorter. I'm going through it right now trying to find stuff to jettison. Stephenie Meyer snuck her word count through by a trick of fate--few can duplicate that sort of kismet. *Grumblegrumble* *searches for darlings to kill*

  13. Hi

    Starts well, I see Brina's life problems clearly.

    Her narrative problems are a little less clear to me. What's her main storyline? That she's been targeted by dust junkies.

    The various elements don't seem particularly related to each other (although they probably are). Giving the impression it's about a girl dealing with lots of little problems, not a strong premise.

    I tink showing how things connect a little more would help.

    my query is up at: Moody Writing

  14. I like this. It has high concept potential but I think you need to make that pop a bit more. We've seen lots of fairy books lately so make sure it's clear how yours is different. This isn't a typical immortal fairy romance book, we're talking about integration and differences which is really unique as an idea (and also makes a statement undoubtedly about differences in teens that will resonate). There's also danger elements in this which have nothing to do with an immortal boy saving a human girl or vice versa so...big win!
    Nicely done.

  15. Mood--thanks. That's actually something I've been struggling with, so I'll see what I can do....

    Christa--thanks! I'll try to ramp up the integration angle. And yes, the romance is very much a subplot. :)

  16. Robin, you have a perfect YA voice coming through in this query. I think your humor at the end is great too. If I had to say anything it would be about the word count. I know that stinks being that it is your baby and all, but it is high for YA. Maybe like you said, you can omit it and it won't be a problem, but then again, you might get slighted for it.

    Who knows. I guess if you feel it is the right length, go for it and see what happens:)

    Also, if you are going to sumbit it for the contest, have it emailed to me by 12PM ET Tuesday.

    Good luck!

  17. I think you nailed this. Honestly. You hit on the main plot points, and showed the agent why you're the best person to write this story. My only issue is in the openeing graph -- what agent isn't looking for unique ideas? Be more specific.

  18. Hi, I'm a new follower :)

    I LOVE your premise and tone. You're query is both effective and engaging. I'm really liking the idea of fairy dust being a drug, how unique! And Midsummer Night's Dream is one of my favorite plays (I was Titania in my high school production).

    You've probably already gotten loads of helpful suggestions I just wanted to say excellent job!

  19. Deana--I'm slaughtering darlings as we speak. :) Shorter is absolutely better. Fantasy gets a larger word count generally, but probably not quite that much more. :(

    Amber--thanks! I do plan to be more specific for the individual agents, but I'll steer clear of quoting their pleas for "unique voices." :) Good point.

    K.V.--I'm so jealous! I'd have loved to play Titania! (Or Puck.) :) Thanks!

  20. You nailed the voice all right! The wc is definitely on the high side, even for fantasy, but you probably already know that.

  21. Excellent job! It makes me want to re-think mine after reading yours! Contemporary fantasy is still hot!
    :) Rachel

  22. New follower!

    When you said GEIS in the comments, I have read about this type of spell in an urban fantasy novel. If there is a way to use GEAS in a title but expand on it, maybe that will help? (I'm super bad at titling though)

    I love the idea of modern era folk harvesting illegal fairy dust. This is an awesome hook. Also, the parallel of being cast as Puck in a hs drama production when she's an actual fairy. Also awesome. I agree w/ others to maybe add more specifics about the drug trade along with the fairy dust reference.

    I would remove the last paragraph about your job experience entirely, including that it's your first novel. I've read on all the query sites that unless you have publishing credits, it might be more of a distraction to list your hobbies and job background. Having no publishing credits of my own, I feel your pain with what to put at the end.

  23. Nicole--thanks! Yeah, I'm reading through it again, looking mainly for cut-ables. I was stymied before, but I've decided if it's not ABSOLUTELY necessary, it's gone. Hopefully it will be tighter and not more confusing.

    RAD--Thanks! Contemp fantasy will always have a fan in me! :)

    Stephsco--Yay! Someone who knows what a GEAS is! I'm seriously bad at titling, too. My friend came up with the one I have and I can't think of anything that might be better. (Plus I really do love it!)

    I'll do some tinkering....

  24. This is awesome! I am in love with this premise. Full of voice!

    I don't actually have anything to critique in the actual story summary part of the query, because it rocks. For the opening and closing paragraphs: 1) I'd move the first para to the end of the query and start with the hook (everyone was telling me this today for mine, which is a debatable point among agents, but I do think it's nice to start with the hook). And yours is awesome! 2) I would delete that paragraph about your past credentials. I've read you're only to include personal details if you've been paid for published work.

    I bet you get some bites on this! Keep me posted.

  25. Robin, I think you've done an excellent job on this query and an excellent job on critiquing others. My only advice is to cut the two sentences where you say this is your first novel and that the death penalty paper was easier. It's a great nod to what your personality must be like, but it also shows a little lack of confidence that I think agents are not interested in seeing.

    Great query and good luck!

  26. I LOVED your query, wouldn't change a thing (which is good since I'm commenting so late, lol). ~Good luck!

  27. Hi Robin,

    Thanks so very much for both following and critiquing my query. Your advice struck me more than any other's and I have used your offering as part of my revised query.

    I didn't feel qualified to critique yours, and as you seem a bit worried about feedback, I didn't think I could offer anything remotely redeemable. My apologies for that and my thanks for all you've done for me.

  28. Love this query. Great voice. I was only confused at first about how she went around the human world with wings, but then I realized it's probably an alternate universe where pixies are the norm lol.

  29. Alexia--I'll definitely keep you posted. :)


    Jamie--LOL Thanks! I did change a bit, but not all that much. :)

    Nancy--it was fun playing with your pitch! Thanks for letting me! :) I hope it was sort of close to your actual plot.... :)

    Lori--I used to describe the genre as "YA urban fantasy with an alternate history"--but that was too cumbersome. Here's hoping the agents are as astute as you are! :)