Query #10 March 2015

Below is the tenth public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. To enter, see the rules here. If you want a guaranteed critique (plus line edit) of your query or synopsis, private ones cost $35 each.

My comments are in blue below. To read the original query first, simply read only the black text.

Dear Agent:

Aristocrat Tanner Mills, in theory, knew not to trust anyone his parents haven’t you switch to present tense here, then switch back. extensively vetted. In theory, he should have been in school instead of the bar close to the docks How old is Tanner? Is he a schoolboy, a Yale man?You never give his age or the age category of this novel—please do…and then quickly finds himself I’m not a fanof “finds himself,” because it’s a passive cliche. If you want to use passive tense to show that he’s a victim, then you can cut the wordiness and say “is tied,” etc. tied, gagged, and bound if you want to use the bound and gagged trope, that’s fine. I love tropes! But “bound” and “tied” are redundant here. on an airship where the city of London is nothing more than a distance dot wrapped in cloud cover. I’ll be honest, the first time I skimmed this, I completely missed the “air” part and the “cloud cover” part. Since this is steampunk, and setting is muy importante in steampunk, I’d like that up front. Start with what makes your book unique, not with a trope.

I’d recommend starting with a personalization, then leading into your genre paragraph, then starting immediately with the hook (the shanghaiing of the aristocrat, not the disobedience of the aristocrat). It might look like this:

“I saw that you are interested in steampunk and books like Avalon. [MY TITLE] is a 90,000-word steampunk novel inspired by the history of shanghaiing in the 18th and 19th centuries. Filled with gender, racial and sexual diversity, this novel will appeal to fans of Cinder and Avalon.” 

[paragraph break] “When aristocrat Tanner Mills [age reference] is shanghaied and gagged on an airship, he feels more humiliation than fear.” 

Then go into the parts about his parents vetting people, that he should have been in school instead of that bar, and that cool”cloud cover” line. You’ve got some great imagery in that first paragraph—I want to see this kind of specifics throughout!

Shanghaiing aristocrats from cities has been an ever[hyphen]growing crime and Tanner feels more humiliation than fear that it happened to him. (if you follow the example above, you’d cut this) But fear doesn’t have a place here; especially when people are shanghaied for  two reasons; for services on the ship or for their bodies. Sometimes both. I don’t get the connection here. I feel like those are both reasons to be afraid. Why does Tanner feel as though he shouldn’t be?

Tanner’s only hope is to stay alive as long as possible and hope to find a way I see each of these five constructions all the time in queries. They are vague. “Only hope” suggests he’s a damsel in distress. What does staying alive look like? “hope to” is repetitive (since you already used hope once) and suggests that he’s hoping rather than acting. Show him looking for ways to get off, rather than saying he hopes to (someday) get off. You want him coming off like Harrison Ford in Air Force One, not Prince Herbert in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  off the ship at one of the many mysterious docking stations it makes on the way to its final destination. But to do that, he must make himself useful[comma] and that means doing whatever the ruthless [what makes the captain ruthless?] captain sees fit. like what? After all, eEvery day he proves his worth is another day alive[comma] and even if each day the tasks get harder and harder give specific examples, Tanner will stop at nothing to save his own skin. You’re diving into the cliches here. Be specific to your story. Back up your claims with evidence.

But as Tanner becomes more and more “becomes” is sufficient. It shows progression. “becomes more” is redundant. “becomes more and more” is wordy and redundant. inducted into the life of the airship, he not only learns more about the captain, his the captain’s mysteriously handsome how is a person mysteriously handsome? Does he wear a bag over his head most of the time? son in charge of Tanner’s ‘cooperation’, and the gruesome goals of the ship, but about also himself. Lists need parallel constructions. To have “about” at the end, each entry in the list needs to have “about.” And what he sees when he looks in the mirror characters looking at themselves in the mirror to describe themselves or think about themselves is a cliche loathed by agents. Even if you’re only using it as a figure of speech, it’s best to reword this. isn’t something he’d proud of. Tanner quickly learns self-reflection is a luxury of the privileged, survival is the gift given to the strong. I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here. Anyone can self-reflect, whether sitting on a gilded throne or working the cotton fields. Survival is a gift given to the strong? So the strong people are just lucky enough to survive? If you’re making a statement I don’t agree with, that’s fine—I’ll keep reading as long as I know what you’re saying and if you give evidence to back it up. But with this line, I’m not clear on what you mean. 

And Tanner will be strong–no matter what. “No matter what” is vague. Can you give clear stakes. What makes survival difficult for him? Tell us what happens if he fails to escape. Help us empathize with Tanner. We can’t empathize if we don’t know what’s going on.

[TITLE] is a completed 90,000 word steampunk science fiction novel with series potential. Inspired by a documentary about ‘shanghaiing’ in the 18th and 19th century, and filled with gender, racial and sexual diversity, this novel will appeal to fans of Cinder and Avalon. Move this to the beginning—your concept and the diversity are great hooks!

Thank you for your consideration.

This novel sounds like it has a lot of potential, but I want to see what makes this story unique. Give us a clear picture of the conflict, the motivation, and the obstacles.

Revise, resubmit, and I’ll give more feedback.


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