Query Feedback: The Darks

Copies of Lorin and Brenda's feedback are available for download in the Resources for Writers section under Extras. 

If you're interested in submitting your first page (up to 250 words) for feedback, please email a Word doc or text file copy to erin_anderson@free-expressions.com. 

Feedback sessions are also open for QUERY LETTER submissions (up to 400 words)! Email a Word doc or text file copy to erin_anderson@free-expressions.com to participate.

 

Query: The Darks by Clare B.

 

Original: 

Dear Jennifer Jackson,

I very much admire your agency’s approach to working with beginning writers, offering structured workshops focusing on craft. After attending Ellen Hopkins’ Ventana Sierra Advanced Writer’s Workshop this weekend, where I participated in Lorin Oberweger’s ‘Like I Care’ Breakout session and received stellar praise during my critique session from Atria editor Judith Curr, I knew I had to query you.

THE DARKS is a 80,000 word young adult fantasy.

When Norian Quain, a half healer, ventures into the forbidden woods to bring food to her banished sister, she stumbles upon a dying boy who resembles Thesper of Embria, her hero from an ancient tale of the People of The Talents. Breaking the strictest Village law, she heals him unaware that her actions have set into motion disastrous events.

Desperate to correct her mistake, the truth is revealed; everything Norian’s been told is a lie. Her home is nothing more than a prison, with certain death to anyone attempting to escape. After averting being speared in half, Norian wakes up outside the prison, sold for her rare ability. Trapped in a strange world filled with unimaginable dangers, the Talents she thought long died out actively pursuing her, Norian is rescued by the boy she saved in the woods. Gerris convinces her that not only is he the embodiment of Thesper, but she is his beloved Queen Rebina. Before she can fully grasp the ramifications, a venomous wood witch who Rebina long-ago sought to destroy attacks. Norian must not only believe that she is Queen Rebina, but that she is strong enough to finally destroy the viper that has terrorized her people for centuries.                          

I have a degree in Screenwriting from Cal State Northridge. In 2006, I placed in The Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting beating out 4700 other writers. I am also an active member of SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Brenda's Feedback

Dear Jennifer Jackson,

I very much admire your agency’s approach to working with beginning writers, offering structured workshops focusing on craft. After attending Ellen Hopkins’ Ventana Sierra Advanced Writer’s Workshop this past June this weekend, where I participated in Lorin Oberweger’s ‘Like I Care’ Breakout breakout session and received stellar praise during my critique session from Atria editor Judith Curr, I knew I had to query you. [While this is well-expressed, I’m not sure it fully explains either the connection between the agency’s craft workshops and your experiences at Ventana Sierra, or why you felt compelled to contact Jennifer Jackson rather than another agent at the agency.]

THE DARKS is an 80,000 word young adult fantasy.

When Norian Quain, a half healer, ventures into the forbidden woods to bring food to her banished sister, she stumbles upon a dying boy who resembles Thesper of Embria, her hero from an ancient tale of the People of The Talents.[Perhaps some sense of why he’s special/important to her?] Breaking the strictest Village law, she heals him, unaware that her actions have set into motion disastrous events. [Compelling opening. I like that she’s willing to take such risks right off the bat.]

Desperate to correct her mistake, the truth is revealed;[How are her desperation and the emergence of the truth connected? The phrasing suggests one leads to the other—specific details would add clarity and intrigue.] everything Norian’s been told is a lie. Her home is nothing more than a prison, with certain death to anyone attempting to escape. [Great complication.] After Escaping after averting nearly being speared in half, Norian wakes up outside the prison, sold for her rare ability. Trapped in a strange world filled with unimaginable dangers, the Talents she thought long died out actively pursuing her, Norian is rescued by the boy she saved in the woods. Gerris convinces her that, not only is he the embodiment of Thesper, but she is his beloved Queen Rebina. [Interesting! How is it that she had no idea? Just a hint here will do.] Before she can fully grasp the ramifications, a venomous wood witch, whom Rebina long-ago sought to destroy, attacks. Norian must not only believe that she is Queen Rebina, but that she is strong enough to finally destroy the viper that has terrorized her people for centuries. [Why is her belief so crucial? And does she act based on that belief? The story summary would be stronger if we ended with action and some concrete sense of resolution.]

I have a degree in Screenwriting from Cal State Northridge. In 2006, I placed in The Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, beating out 4700 other writers. I am also an active member of SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Hello, Clare—

I really appreciate your willingness to submit your query. Overall, it’s quite smart and very polished, so well done!

To strengthen the letter, I’d suggest reworking the first paragraph a bit to tailor it more closely to the agent you’ve chosen—in this case, Jennifer Jackson. Though her agency is indeed important, the relationship you’re hoping to cultivate is with her specifically, so I believe it would be more effective to show why you feel she’s a good choice, share what you or your story have in common with other writers she represents, etc.

And in terms of story summary, I would suggest more concrete details. Though I know it’s such a tough thing to pare a story down to its essence in just a couple of paragraphs, but I promise that you’ll accomplish that task much more effectively with specific story elements rather than a more abstract rendering. As written, you make some leaps that I’m unable to follow without knowing the story as you do—the connection between Norian correcting her mistake and learning that everything she’s been told is a lie, for example. Or what she actually does after coming to terms with her true identity. These are really compelling elements, but I’m not learning as much as I would like about them in this version.

Also keep in mind that agents look for characters with strong goals. To that end, think about what Norian wants before she’s called to this adventure and how those deep motivations affect her path as the story unfolds. While we’ll only get subtle hints in the query, the better handle you have, the better you’ll be able to infuse those longings into the story.

I hope that helps! You’ve done very good work thus far, and, with some tweaking, I feel like this will be an effective query.

Thanks again for sharing!

Brenda