May 14, 2011


Click here to read the original query.

Dear Ms. agent,

When Haisma Perell crosses worlds to find a cure for her brother, she has no idea she’s stepping into a whirlwind of universal-scale revolution.

Her parents murdered, leaving her baby brother, the only witness, insane. Years of searching bear no results, so she launches on a desperate quest to steal a Dream, the only cure that may save him.

But the Dream must be smuggled from a distant world of the bizarre and unfamiliar. Haisma hires a guide, who turns out to be the worst possible choice of one. Faziel De Garxia, the winged Gatekeeper who could live forever through stolen years, suffers a severe case of hero complex. He is obsessed with fixing things, including her. Annoyed, Haisma almost discharges him, but his skills prove useful; his quixotic charms and engaging confidence do make for a fascinating study. He grows on her.

When they stumble upon the brink of revolution, Faziel, with his officious disposition, cannot help but poke his nose in. They soon learn Faziel’s one-time patron and best friend is leading the rebels, collaborating with a clandestine sect bearing the mark found in her parents’ murder scene. Haisma’s simple quest to save her brother turns into a mission to save the universe.

Caught in a whirlwind of political power games, Haisma and Faziel battle through mental and emotional manipulations, winding up on opposing ends against their will. When Haisma assembles the means to trump the rebels by tracing the clues from her parents’ murder, she finds herself holding the safety of the universe in her hands while standing on the crossroads of an impossible choice: her brother’s Dream or Faziel’s life.

I’m seeking representation for my novel, STEALING A DREAM, an epic fantasy with themes of love, sacrifice and healing at its core. It is complete at 100,000 words.


Anonymous Author said...

Okay. I like that you got rid of the passive sentences, that's a big improvement. But there's still the same problems with awkward word choice and sentences. For example, you find a cure for a disease, not for a brother.

Haisma hires a guide, who turns out to be the worst possible choice of one.

would work better as

Haisma hires the worst possible guide.

The real problem, though, is that you're using grandiose language that doesn't really tell us anything. What is "a whirlwind of universal-scale revolution"? What does "stumble upon the brink of revolution" mean? What are "mental and emotional manipulations"?

Just use simple sentences. Show us real obstacles-- dragons, toothaches, family quarrels, fascist homeowners' associations, strict teachers, Cat 5 hurricanes, nuclear meltdowns. As far as I can tell from your query, your characters might be facing all or none of these things.

Lydia Kurnia said...

Thanks so much, anonymous! Glad it's going the right direction at least.

Fascist homeowners' associations, ha :D I wish they WERE fighting those, that would certainly be enticing. I tried to avoid the listing approach, but perhaps that will help clarify things. Thanks for that!

I'll wait a week or so before posting a revision.

Anonymous Author said...

I don't mean lists of stuff-- just be really specific about exactly what the threat is and exactly what they need to do to overcome it-- in everyday, nuts'n'bolts language.

You're writing lucid sentences in the comments, so I know you can do it in the query :)

One other thing-- I think a lot of writers think that in the query they should try to impress the agent or editor with their literary style. Nothing could be further from the truth. Think of the query as a business letter, about your story.

Anonymous said...

yankinfrance here...

I find this query difficult to read and confusing. It's also too long.

Anonymous Author is pointing you in the right direction. You need to go through this and sort out what is essential to the query and weed out all the rest.

And what is essential is the action -- get right to it. Eliminate the buildup. Start from the moment Haisma meets her central conflict.

Something like: "Haisma Perfell set out to steal a Dream -- the only thing that can cure her younger brother -- only to find herself at the center of an intergalactic revolution that might destroy the universe."

You can introduce her parents' murder and her brother’s insanity next (although, frankly, the insanity angle seems a little odd/weak). Then bring in Faziel next (but be much more brief about it). Perhaps focus on the humorous part: "obsessed with fixing things -- including her." (which neatly shows something about their relationship, without needing to go on and on about it or him).

But, like Anonymous Author says, stick to the actual challenges Haisma (and Faziel) confront – “when they discover that Faziel’s best friend is not only leading the rebels but may be behind the murder of Haisma’s parents,” etc.

Words to eliminate: "whirlwind" (both times!), "bear/bearing", "winged Gatekeeper", "quixotic" (which doesn't mean what you think it means), "officious", "trump" -- because these words are just too precious, therefore distracting. And get rid of nearly every adjective too. There’s a difference between an adjective that’s necessary (clandestine sect) and adjectives that thud : “desperate quest”, "bizarre and unfamiliar", “political power games” (redundant), “quixotic charms,” “engaging confidence”, “fascinating study.”

But this is stuff for Writing 101. You might want to make sure your manuscript doesn’t suffer from the same problem.

Lydia Kurnia said...

Thank you, yankinfrance! I think I may have tried too hard with the query, and ended up hurting it (and readers trying to make sense of it too!) I'll try my best to be more straight forward with it.

Just a general question: I was told to include details of the world if I hope to sell it as an epic fantasy (hence the wings, etc.) But they feel like abstractions to me. Does anyone have any advice on that?

Thank you both for your help!

Anonymous said...

yankinfrance said...

One of the nice things about this blog is that the entries are sorted by genre (in the sidebar of the front page). There are 139 entries for the fantasy category -- I imagine reading through those will give you a feel for what works.

Also, if you don't know the Query Shark ( you should. She gives tons of helpful query-writing tips.

Lydia Kurnia said...

Thanks, yankinfrance! Query shark has my very very old version I wrote right after I finished the MS. Yikes! She never posted it and I shall better ask her to not bother. I don't suspect she will anyway. I can already imagine her shaking her head, unsure which bit to bite first, lol.

It's funny that no matter how many queries one has read and reviewed, when it comes to his or her own, it's still an overwhelming exercise. At least to me. I think the trick is to step back and pretend it's someone else's work, but that's a far harder challenge when the eyes have been staring at the story for too long!

I will get it right one day! Thanks for your eyes :D

glj said...

I agree with the previous comments, this has too much vague, overblown rhetoric and too little detail of the central conflict. Consider keeping it to Haisma and Faizel and the central conflict and the choice that Haisma must make. This is the compelling portion.

"Her parents murdered, leaving her baby brother, the only witness, insane."

This is not a complete sentence.

"Caught in a whirlwind of political power games, Haisma and Faziel battle through mental and emotional manipulations, winding up on opposing ends against their will."

This is language to be avoided. It could be easily paraphrased as "then bad things happen...", which tells the reader nothing.

"I’m seeking representation for my novel, STEALING A DREAM, an epic fantasy with themes of love, sacrifice and healing at its core. It is complete at 100,000 words."

I would strongly advise against any description of "with themes of ..." in commercial fiction. This is not a class paper. Drop "It is" from last sentence. I would also suggest avoiding contractions in the query, as they sound a bit informal (and sometimes can come across as a possessive when merely a contraction). Suggestion: "I am seekig representation for my epic fantasy, STEALING A DREAM, complete at 100,000 words."

Lydia Kurnia said...

Thank you, glj! Yes, I'm working on a revision right now. Your advice helps. Thanks!