Hello! I've recently finished the fourth rewrite of a YA fantasy/sci-fi novel tentatively titled The Survivors, and I want to do one more rewrite before sending it out to try to get published. I'm looking for comments on the query blurb below, as well as readers for the first chapter, or as much of the whole thing as anyone has time to read (it's 69,000 words total). I'm happy to reciprocate by reading for you.
Here's the query blurb:
Sixteen-year-old Justice slides into her classroom seat one morning to find a note from charming, maddening fellow student Shaw: “Make an excuse to go riding this afternoon; I have something to show you.” What he has to show her is a cave full of forbidden magical items, made by the Guat sorcerers before the mysterious Catastrophe destroyed their civilization. Finding the cave spurs Justice, Shaw, and their friends to try to learn more about the Catastrophe, but the adults in their lives don’t want to share what they know—including Magistra, the Guat sorceress who acts as their tutor. As Justice begins to unravel the web of secrets all around her, life as she knows it is turned upside down, and when Shaw begins to develop magical abilities of his own, what started out as an innocent quest for knowledge becomes a matter of life and death.
And here are the first 13 lines:
As Justice slid into her place on the schoolroom bench, she noticed that there was a message already written on her slate in Shaw's beautiful, sloping handwriting: FIND AN EXCUSE FOR US TO GO RIDING THIS AFTERNOON. I HAVE SOMETHING TO SHOW YOU. TELL FAITH AND HOPE. She glanced up. Shaw, Governor's Son Frontera, was standing at the front of the classroom in animated conversation with Jamaal, Governor's Son Oeste, the two of them looking, as always, like reverse images of each other. Both were tall, slender, and athletic, with curly hair and long, straight noses, but where Jamaal had brown skin and black hair and eyes, Shaw's hair was golden blonde like the rays of the sun, and his skin was so fair it was almost luminous.
Any input you have would be most appreciated. Thanks!
Hmm, not sure what to say about the query line. Could use a bit more excitement or Oopmh but other then that I don't know.
The opening though doesn't sound too bad but you really need some type of idea of the problem. You need setting and a description of the characters but I think it could be moved a sentence or two. It appears that at least some of the characters have three names. Hope you explain that somewhere. Obviously not here but some where soon.
Oh, I'm not sure using the same line to open the query and the novel. I read the novel and thought hey I just read that. But that could be just me.
I forgot to mention, I'm glad you have a limit to how many rewrites or revisions you are willing to do. Each writer is different but new writers do have a habit of overdoing the revisions. Too many can spoil the writing especially since many times we newbies don't know what makes good writing. Of course there are exceptions to that last but it seems to fit as a general rule.
[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited July 18, 2011).]
I can't claim much expertise in querying, but my impressions of the first thirteen:
It gets you into something rather quickly, which helps me want to go on. The all-caps thing doesn't read as beautiful, flowing handwriting... it reads (on here) like caps in text usually do; emergency, shouting, etc. Italics would do the trick.
I always get a bad feeling from names that have obvious meaning that I've seen often, like Faith and Hope, but that could also just be the world you've created and it would be perfectly natural there.
Overall, though, it's a good hook. It doesn't waste time and moves you along.
[This message has been edited by micmcd (edited July 18, 2011).]
I already like your voice in the first 13, even though barely anything is happening. Which is a good sign. Using the characters' rather unusually constructed full names gives me a niggling hint at your overall world, and has me already asking half-formed questions, which is also good.
I do agree with LD's comment about the opening lines--it's weird having them both so similar, and weird all by itself in the query, anyway, to my mind. That first sentence in your query seems to be *too much* in the story. I'd use a more skimming voice, as you use through the rest of the query. Such as: "When Sixteen-year-old Justice finds a note from charming, maddening fellow student Shaw, she knows she is in for an adventure. He shows her a cave full of forbidden magical items . . ." etc.
I do like the last line, because matters of life and death are always good fun. You could probably fit a few more details into the middle of the paragraph, though, especially your most unique spins on familiar story elements, and certainly as much intrigue and conflict as you can fit in without dragging on too long. For instance, what about the cave/items makes them want to learn more about the Catastrophe? Why is it dangerous for Shaw to begin showing magical ability, considering magic is clearly not forbidden or anything, as they have a Guat tutor? And give us a hint or two about the "secrets" Justice is unraveling. My personal first thought upon hearing that someone's life is coming apart due to unraveled secrets is that Justice must have just found out she's adopted.
I don't know how long queries are generally expected to be, but if you thought you had room for a bit more, those are the bits I'd like to see and be hooked by.
[This message has been edited by Tryndakai (edited July 24, 2011).]
micmcd--I'll definitely replace the caps with italics (wish I'd thought of that myself!). The names are part of the world view (or at least the family view) in the story, and I hope that they work all right in that context. I'll ask MDBHarlan about that after she's read the first chapter (thanks!).
Tryndakai and LDWriter--thanks for your comments about the query. I'll change the first line so that it's different from the novel's first line, and so that it matches the style of the rest of the paragraph better.
Does anyone know how long the synopsis in a query letter is supposed to be? I made it so short because I was afraid of making it too long, and the guidelines I found just said that the whole letter should be less than a page.
My most pressing observation is that the blurb contains a lot of in-world jargon. This raises two problems that I can see. First, it makes it hard for me to judge my interest in the story because the essential, *human* interest of the story is obscured. The second problem is that it would make me wonder whether you have the same problem in the manuscript itself.
I did a post in the open discussions group here on briefing readers which you might want to look at. In a nutshell, novice fantasy authors confront this Catch-22 when launching a story: to really understand the story, you have to understand the world the author has imagined for it; but learning the details of that world is a drag until you really get into the story.
So this blurb/query is kind of a red flag, because it contains many terms that clearly we need to understand, but certainly don't at this point: "Guat sorcerers", "mysterious Catastrophe", "Magistra"...
Some of what remains is so stock we can take it for granted, e.g. "life as she knows it is turned upside-down"; "web of secrets"; "matter of life and death". These aren't *bad* things to have in your story, but you can't just *tell* people about them, even in a summary. They're like goals for your story to establish.
The blurb strikes me as cluttered; if we strip away the detail we can't understand and the detail we can almost take for granted, we actually have a pretty interesting scenario: Our young protagonist breaks a taboo on a lark, and discovers that the adults in her life haven't been on the level with her about the past. As the truth emerges, Justice and her friend Shaw find themselves changed, so there's no going back to how things were before. Anybody who's ever been a teenager can understand this story.
As far as the first 13 are concerned, the heroine's name raise the alarming prospect that "Justice" might be a kind of Pilgrims Progressy alegory. Otherwise it's a rather clean opening, not gimmicky or displaying any serious composition errors. We get a fair slice of description, so reading on I'd want to see how that is balanced by action, thought and dialog.