Jun 18, 2009


Click here to read the original query.

First: Thanks everyone for feedback on 1.
2nd: Double thanks to Rick for doing all this.

Okay, I took advice from here and AW and came up with the below query (currently, I like it better than Rev 1, but give me a few hours and I might deplore it :):

Dear Agent X,

When THE GOBLIN PRINCE, a once-human boy named Owen, kidnaps thirteen year old Natalie to harvest her powerful soul for Goblindom, he never expects her to rescue his withered soul from damnation.

Harvesting children – snatching them from their beds, mining their souls for sustenance, and thereby transforming them into goblins – horrifies Owen, but he always performs his duty, for without souls, he and his brethren will perish.

Natalie, however, is unlike his other victims. She is a girl who can befriend a goblin and awaken his humanity even as he strives to desecrate her soul. Her faith in his goodness inspires Owen to pursue a new mission – one where he will be guardian instead of predator; one that will afford him pride in place of sorrow.

Several obstacles impede Owen’s path to salvation: ever-child vampires, including his onetime sister, attempt to kill him and make Natalie their queen; embittered rogue goblins, along with his traitorous lieutenant, assassinate his king and incarcerate him; and the largest hurdle, his burgeoning friendship with a wonderful girl who loves him despite his many flaws…

Because the only way to protect the children of tomorrow from the horrors of yesterday is for Owen to destroy Natalie, his only friend in an unforgiving world, to unleash her magnificent spirit energy upon his enemies.

THE GOBLIN PRINCE, a grim 51,000 word variant of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, is the story of a self-proclaimed monster seeking redemption in a world consumed by dark creatures and dark intents, with a single shining beacon of hope to guide his way.

[personal info]



Kat said...

I think either version should garner agents' interest in seeing at least sample chapters if not the whole MS. There are a lot of interesting themes going on--the killing of a child for the sake of "saving" her makes me think of Toni Morrison's 'Beloved'--while suggesting all sorts of intriguing subplots (once-human boy? Hmmm...what happened to him? How did he get to be a Prince?).

When I see queries like these, ones that immediately spark interest in anyone who reads them--and have already received "traction" from agents--I can't help but wonder if we need to have another blog for critiquing sample chapters...'cos there ain't nothing wrong with the letter...either letter.

Rick Daley said...


First off, you're welcome. I'm glad you decided to jump into the mix. I've been reading your comments on Nathan Bransford's blog for some time and I'm glad you can also share your insight here.

I liked the first query better. I think you added too many details to this one and that overshadows the primary conflict that was so succinctly described in the original version.

The main concern I would have is Natalie's age. I'm not an expert on YA, but as I understand it the readers want a character who is their age to a few years older. This would put her under that age bracket.

I'm not sure how old Owen is; I'm sure that however old he was when he became a Goblin, the years of harvesting souls has matured him. He's kind of an anti-hero protagonist, right?

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Bane!

My apologies for not responding to yesterday's incarnation of your query. My family has descended this week, and it's been crazy to say the least.

Anyhoo, I read both versions, and although some might say that this one is too long (especially since you still have to add the personal info and agent-specific paragraphs), I actually like this one better. I feel as though it does a better job of conveying Owen's motivation and conflicts (internal and external), so I get a better sense of why Owen does what he does.

I just have three concerns:

1. Initially, Owen plans to harvest Natalie's "powerful soul" for Goblindom. Her unconditional love makes him question that intention. But then, he realizes he MUST harvest her soul after all - in order to destroy his enemies. So, at what point does Owen realize that harvesting her soul will not feed his goblin peers, but kill them instead? I'm a little confused.

2. For my query, many critiquers suggested that I avoid any superlatives, generalizations, or cliches. That said, your sixth paragraph seems to go against this policy - especially the "beacon of hope" phrase. While I happen to like this kind of summary of the story's themes, others seemed to think that agents frown upon such statements - people certainly did with mine.

3. I noticed some nit-picky errors, especially in regards to hyphens - that is, it should be "thirteen-year-old Natalie" and "51,000-word variant". Also, I believe that a comma is more appropriate between "predator" and "one that will". Lastly, the fourth paragraph feels strange from a structural perspective: Owen's obstacles include two full sentences and a noun (the series is off)... I think it would flow better for me if the last part read "the largest hurdle is his..." I hope that makes sense.

Except for those minor issues, I really like this query - and wish you lots of luck with it. No wonder you're so good at critiquing others. :-)


hope101 said...

Bane, sorry, but I too am confused about the crux of his external conflict. Is it like this: he's the Goblin Prince and can force the goblin populace to harvest the absolute smallest number of souls to continue? In other words he's resigned to his fate and is just trying to limit the damange. (Maybe he'd even just let himself die, except that then there would be no one to moderate the killing of innocents.)

Then he stumbles upon someone whose soul contains so much power that he could use it to kill off the entire goblin kingdom at once--except that he'd have to kill her to harnass the power?

scott g.f. bailey said...


This query is longer than your previous attempt, but I like it a lot more. I have some personal preferences about sentence construction that would make me restructure things like:

"Harvesting children – snatching them from their beds, mining their souls for sustenance, and thereby transforming them into goblins – horrifies Owen, but he always performs his duty, for without souls, he and his brethren will perish."

Into something more like:

"Owen's life horrifies him. To be a goblin is to snatch children from their beds and feed on their souls, transforming them into ravenous monsters." Or something.

"She is a girl who can befriend a goblin" bugs me, but I'm not sure why. Maybe "Natalie sees the spark of goodness still remaining beneath Owen's cruel way of life." Or something.

I'd also leave out the plot point about the assassination of the king and Owen's imprisonment, or at least summarize this paragraph a bit more.

Most importantly, I think I *get* the story now, and it looks really interesting and cool. Good luck!

Bane of Anubis said...

Thanks guys again...

Rick, Kat, I think I prefer version 1 for its brevity, but I imagine some agents have some of the concerns mentioned (i.e., the conflict is perhaps too implicit - of course, it now comes down to figuring which agents appreciate which :); Rick - right on about the age classification for genre - I'll have to figure out a way to include Owen's age without becoming too wordy.

Laura, thanks for the feedback and the particulars (particularly hyphens - never my friend - and the semicolon barrage later on - oh, yeah, parallel structure :) - not sure how to clarify the destruction part to show that her energy can both sustain and kill (another thing I'll work on). Also heard the same thing about superlatives/cliches - try to avoid them, but sometimes they slip out.

Hope - pretty much along those lines - with some external irritants thrown in.

Scott, thanks for the feedback and suggestions - I'm always trying to remind myself to show more than tell, and a couple of your suggestions help remind me.

scott g.f. bailey said...

Bane: Like I said, some of it's just personal taste. And while we all hear that brevity is good in a query, some of the effective letters I've seen have been at least as long as this one. The point is to make it all compelling, to have each paragraph build on the previous, and to get the agent to turn the page and read the attached first chapter(s).

Though I have one question: Owen's going to take Natalie's soul anyway, right? I guess I don't see how killing her makes a difference. I don't think you need to explain this at greater length; I think you need to find a different way of saying it. But no, I don't know what that is.

Zakariya said...

How about something along these lines?

He harvests children like one would a corn field, pulling them from their bed-sheaths in the darkest hour of middle night, and extracting their souls as one would a jewel…

HE TRANSFORMS THEM INTO GOBLINS — an act so utterly deplorable that Owen, the Goblin prince and main benefactor of this child snatching, writhes in pain each time he must comply with this barbaric ritual.

Still, he never shirks from his duty, for if he did he and his goblin minions would wither up and perish, leaving the world and its sky and its sun and its moon without so much as a trace…

Now, enter Natalie—a child-girl who isn’t like other little children

who may be the world’s only hope in ending his terrible reign

scott g.f. bailey said...

Zakariya: Actually, you may be onto something:

"When the goblin prince abducted little Natalie, he had no idea that she was his only hope of escaping an existence filled with pain and brutality. Natalie was willing to give her life to save the world, but was Owen willing to take it?"

Bane of Anubis said...

Scott - another excellent point about streamlining Owen's intent...

Zakariya, I like your imagery - unfortunately, my style of writing is fairly spare so were I to dress up my query too much, agents might be surprised when they find my prose barely clothed :)

Bane of Anubis said...

Oooh - Scott - I like it - particularly b/c that is the exact crux of the story... my wheels are once again spinning in different directions; hope I don't crash :)

Laura Martone said...

I understand the crashing metaphor, Bane - believe me!

But seriously, I think Scott's onto something!

scott g.f. bailey said...

Maybe the souls of children are only nourishing to goblins if the kids die in terror at the horror of the goblins, and if Natalie dies with her heart filled with love (sorry for the cliche), the effect is different and boom go the goblins? But anyway, none of that would go in the query. Just saying. Never mind.

Bane of Anubis said...

That's what makes these things so darn painful, doesn't it? Whetting the appetite w/o confusing (or at least too much) and without coming across as a clod... Of course, recently I just realized another book mine's like (bells went off in my twisted little head) - Roald Dahl's THE BFG (though again, mine's darker and he's a goblin, not a giant, but I'm beginning to understand the genesis of my idea now - if entirely subconscious and wholly after the fact :)

Rick Daley said...

"Whetting the appetite w/o confusing"

That's what I liked about the first query. I got the gist of the story and thought it sounded intriguing, but it was not an over-complicated description.

It also has some similarities to my novel FATE'S GUARDIAN in that someone must die to bring salvation. Mine is a little different, though, as the protagonist must die to save himself.

Hey, it worked for Obi Wan Kenobi ;-)

Bane of Anubis said...

Rick - exactly - I wish there were an easy way to identify an agent as one who likes more synopsesque queries vs. ones who want more bare-bones, get me interested ones... If I go down this path too long, I'm gonna start sounding like Mira :)

Definitely dig the sacrifice stories - and anything that's got connections to Joseph Cambell's Hero's Quest (e.g., Star Wars/ self-sacrifice for the higher good) is the cat's meow.