Query #6 November 2014


Below is the sixth public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. This will happen once a month (as long as I get a response). I choose one query per month. If your query is not selected one month, it will be in the drawing for the next month. Please do not resubmit unless you’ve made significant edits. 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 –,

To seventeen-year-old Zéphyrine, the minds of others are playgrounds.

I wasn’t in love with this, but I still liked it. It was just bogged down with sticky words—short, common words that slow the eye down and distract from the important parts. Now it’s tight and snappy.

P.S. Watch your spaces. Some of these paragraphs had extra ones between them.

As a mind witch, she can manipulate thoughts, rewrite events and erase memories. She’s the Ravager’s most useful asset, but after so many years at his service, she’s tired of using her powers to hurt others. Those underlined words I’d usually trim down, but I think here it works in your favor, giving that annoyed, tired voice. If Zeph isn’t annoyed and tired of working with the Ravager, then you’ll want to cut “so many.” You were also missing a space here. The one time she tried to walk away, her father—the Ravager and immune to her powers—burned her half to death, and Zéph fears what will happen if she ever tries to say no again. I feel thrown under the bus here. Telling us that the guy she’s enslaved to is her father shouldn’t be a throwaway statement. That needs its own sentence, or it needs to be the most emphasized part of the sentence. The last few words of any sentence are the most important. So you could say something like “she’s tired of using her powers to hurt others, and she’s tired of the Ravager using her. It didn’t exactly make for the best father/daughter relationship.” Then mention her trying to walk away and what she fears, cutting the immunity part.

Other than that awkward bit, this is a great paragraph. We know what makes her special, what her problem is, and what she wants.

As her father’s hunger for power grows, Zéph is sent deep into the heart of the enemy territory of Almar—the neighboring country her father intends to conquer. Cut the cliches. Her task is straightforward: infiltrate the castle and manipulate the King’s thoughts. Following orders, she compels Her straightforward task/orders didn’t mention the king’s son, so this is confusing. And “compels” is a common enough verb that I didn’t get that she was using mind control. She could have just been nice to him, for all I knew. Agents skim, so you need to be as precise and concise as possible. I suggest “manipulate the thoughts of the royal family. As a result,”  Jasen, the king’s only son, to think thinks of her as a friend and confidente confidant. (Don’t be repetitive; choose the more specific word.), but the respect he has for her intelligence is all his own. delete extra space When Iriae, a mad girl as powerful as the Ravager, asks Zéph to join her in defeating him Wait, who’s “him” here? I read this as defeating Jasen, you know, because Iriae is mad, so why not, and she happens to be as powerful as the Ravager. Is Iriae wanting to defeat Ravager? This is the problem with parentheticals—they can be eliminated from the sentence. Eliminate this one, and Iriae wants to defeat Zeph’s new friend., it’s time to no, cut this. make a choice: shatter the illusion she has with Jasen and ask for his help and his father’s army, or carry on being the Ravager’s mind witch. This seems like a false dilemma. Why does she have to ask Jasen’s help if she can team up with Iriae to defeat her father? If Iriae wants to defeat the prince, then this dilemma makes a bit more sense, because Zeph either has to cancel her mission to save Jasen, or she has to let Iriae win and become just as bad as any of these crazy powerful people.


Zéph makes no commitments, but when her mother, who she thought long-dead, turns up very much alive and on Iriae’s side, Now you’re going to give another reveal in the query, and another dilemma? Do we need this extra information? I don’t think so. she gives in to temptation and risks everything to finally break free of her slave-like existence. Three cliches here. Break free is fine, since you’re using it literally, but the others need to go. But if they fail, Jasen will lose his kingdom, Huh? Is this implying he’s the king now? Iriae and Zéph’s mother What? They’re sisters? will be killed, and Zéph will be condemned to eternal torture at the hands of her father. I’m sure that this is all built up steadily in your manuscript, but all of this thrown into a sentence makes this seem like a melodrama. I expect a radio voice to come in and say, “Will she survive? Come back next time for the next installment of . . .”

MIND WITCH is a YA dark fantasy novel complete at 75,000 words that will appeal to readers of Ubik and A Girl of Fire and Thorns. Why aren’t these titles in all caps? How is this like Ubik? Try to keep any comp titles fairly recent. Within 5 years is best, 10 is okay. Ubik was published the same year as the first moon landing. Like Clive Barker’s ABARAT, it’s an illustrated novel, . . . Arabat is? I’m not seeing any illustrations in any of the Amazon previews. And reading reviews, the revised versions of the novel don’t include any illustrations. Can you think of another, more recent or accessible illustrated novel?  . . . and my portfolio can be found at [redacted]

Your hook and first paragraph are solid, or they will be when you cut the excess. The second one is confusing, and the third is overly complicated. Show us who the character is (check) what she wants at the beginning (check) what stands in her way (check) what the stakes are (check). If you want a third paragraph there, then I want to know what her secondary goal is. Sure, she wants to be free from her father, but what else does she want? Friendship with Jasen? Then tell me that and what gets in her way. Does she want to be reunited with her true family? Then hint at that, without spoilers, and tell me what gets in her way.