QUERY ROUNDTABLE [Elven Soul, YA Epic Fantasy]

The lovely Rachel Horwitz had the idea to host a query workshop. Everyone is to post their query on their blog, and once Tuesday the 22nd rolls around, she’ll be throwing up a list of all the participants with links to their queries. Everyone involved in Query Roundtable is then to visit as many of the links as possible, and leave insightful and constructive criticism on the query.

If you have a completed manuscript and are looking for feedback on your query, I encourage you to join in on this. There are no prizes to win, but the feedback you may receive on your query might just be invaluable.

Because I’m a go-getter, I decided to post my query up early:

Dear Dream Agent:

 

Seventeen-year-old exiled Princess Colette Devereaux must forge an alliance with her brother’s killer to save her empire from slavery or face her own ruin.

 

Sent to take command of the empire’s furthest fortification surrounded by hostile neighbors, Colette stumbles upon a battlefield of beautiful man-like creatures cast in marble. Faced with proof of a forgotten age, the statues trigger fitful glimpses of a past life. Obsessed with unraveling these strange visions, Colette’s troubles worsen as she develops an attraction for the man who murdered her brother, Lord Gregorin Balanos.

 

Wounded by assassins, Colette is catapulted into a centuries old war when she is kidnapped, and taken into a land of myth and monsters. With no allies, she must rely on Gregorin to ride to her rescue. If Colette cannot embrace her true self and heal the wounds of the past, her empire will fall.

 

ELVEN SOUL is a YA epic fantasy novel complete at 82,000 words. ELVEN SOUL will appeal to readers who enjoyed the complexity and romance of The Blue Sword, and also to those who favored the fast-paced action and brutality of Graceling. Those who enjoy reading realistic battle scenes will appreciate that all fights in ELVEN SOUL were based off of 14th century swordmaster Johannes Liechtenauer’s teachings.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Sincerely,

 

Rachel Russell

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14 Comments

  1. Question: is this the tone/style used throughout the manuscript? Because it doesn’t feel very YA to me. Either way, my suggestion is to focus less on the prose and more on the story.
    “proof of a forgotten age”
    “battlefield of beautiful man-like creatures cast in marble”

    Some of this is hard to get past (at least for me, who admittely has a taste for more simple writing. So this might be me more than you). I think it needs to be a little more clear. And I don’t get a very good idea of who your character is (personality etc). Many agents look for that connection to start, not on page 1, but in the query. (Some of the agents said they expect it in even the twitter pitches *shudders*)

    Anyway, hope I’m not cheating by commenting before the official start time. And more importantly I hope I helped!

    1. Hey Stacey. Thanks for the comment!

      I think this does hold pretty true to the tone/style of the manuscript. It probably does have a stronger leaning toward a more adult feel, which is also one of the reasons I chose The Blue Sword and Graceling to compare Elven Soul to. Any of Cassandra Clare’s books would work well as a comparison too. They’re all set in either a secondary world or in Victorian times, and the tone/style is closer to mine than say something by Stiefvater.

      Otherwise, thanks for the suggestions! I don’t know if I can much change the two phrases you quoted since that was as specific as I could get, and it’s important enough that it needed mentioning in the query. But I’ll definitely play around with it, and see if I can’t figure something out!

  2. Hi Rachel!! Sounds like an interesting story! Here is a quick edit of what you have there. I hope it helps.

    Seventeen-year-old exile Princess Colette Devereaux must forge an unwanted alliance with her brother’s killer to save her empire from slavery and ruin.

    When Colette is sent to take command of the empire’s outermost fort, that’s surrounded by hostile neighbors, she stumbles upon a battlefield of beautiful creatures cast in marble that have the look of men. Those statues trigger fitful glimpses of a past life and she is faced with reminders of a forgotten age. She becomes obsessed with unraveling the mystery behind them and her troubles are compounded as she develops an attraction for Lord Gregorin Balanos, the man who murdered her brother.

    Wounded and kidnapped by assassins, Colette is forced into the center of a centuries old war and taken into a land of myth and monsters. With no allies, she must rely on Gregorin to save her. If Colette cannot find a way to embrace her true self and heal the wounds of the past, her empire will fall.

    Elven Soul is a completed Young Adult fantasy novel with 82,000 words. Elven Soul will appeal to readers who enjoyed the complexity and romance of The Blue Sword, and to those who favored the fast-paced action and brutality of Graceling. Those who enjoy reading realistic battle scenes will appreciate that all fights in Elven Soul were based off of 14th century swordmaster Johannes Liechtenauer’s teachings.

  3. Hey there. These are only my opinions. You can take them or discard them as you see fit.

    Seventeen-year-old exiled (why was she exiled?) Princess Colette Devereaux must forge an alliance with her brother’s killer to save her empire from slavery or face her own ruin.

    Sent to take command (If she’s exiled, how is she sent? Who sends her?) of the empire’s furthest fortification surrounded by hostile neighbors, Colette stumbles upon a battlefield (To me, when you say say “battlefield” I picture one thing and then when you say “cast in marble” in contradicts what I thought.) of beautiful man-like creatures cast in marble. Faced with proof of a forgotten age (This feels much too vague.), the statues trigger fitful glimpses of a past life. Obsessed with unraveling these strange visions, Colette’s troubles worsen as she develops an attraction for the man who murdered her brother (That just seems preposterous to me. Did she not like her brother? If someone killed my brother, I’d be so hell bent on revenge it would take over my life.), Lord Gregorin Balanos.

    Wounded by assassins(there should be a transition from loving a murder to being attacked my assassins. I read that and was like “Where did they come from?), Colette is catapulted into a centuries old war when she is kidnapped, and taken into a land of myth and monsters (what myths and monsters? Greek? Navajo? Be specific). With no allies, she must rely on Gregorin to ride to her rescue (I don’t know if you should make it look like Colette is helpless without Gregorin. Seems cliche.). If Colette cannot embrace her true self and heal the wounds of the past, her empire will fall. (This last sentence feels out of place and vague again. What is “her true self” and what does it have to do with her empire falling? And is it her empire if she’s “exiled”?)

    This sounds like a great story but I feel like the query is all over the place. It confuses me more than it makes me want to keep reading. I think if you focus more on the plot instead of vague prose, it will be much more clear and enticing. Good luck!

  4. “Wounded by assassins, Colette is catapulted into a centuries old war when she is kidnapped, and taken into a land of myth and monsters.” This would a great opening line! Your final line is good too, but it seems like a given (by the rest of your pitch’s set up) and I would suggest to showcase your stories uniqueness in that spot. Since agents are about brevity, I think you need to trim down the descriptions of your people/places unless of course it would be confusing to remove those points. From what I’ve heard too, they want to know how your character reacts to situations and what sets them apart. It sounds like a fun fantasy romp to me, but I am biased to fantasy. The relationship between MC and Gregorin seems very important, so perhaps focus your pitch around them?

  5. I actually really liked this. I’m a big fan of fantasy, so I understand the need for a bit more formal tone. Seeing as it is YA, I might watch out for run-on sentences in your MS. You want to make sure it’s moving at a good clip, otherwise YA readers may not connect with it. Just a thought.

    Otherwise, there was only one thing that bugged me a little. In the second paragraph, second sentence, you don’t give a pronoun. I know it’s picky, and yes, it’s pretty obvious that it’s Collette we’re talking about, but I’d throw a she or a her in there somewhere, to keep things clear.Just a thought.

    Also, I know some agents like to see the pitch before the query, but for some, it throws them off. We get into a plot in two sentences, and then have to go back to the beginning? I’d just keep that in mind when querying, and try to get a feel for which format the agent would be more amiable to.

    Great job! I’d want to read more 🙂

  6. Seventeen-year-old exiled Princess Colette Devereaux must forge an alliance with her brother’s killer to save her empire from slavery or face her own ruin. (Personally, I would delete or face her own ruin.)

    Sent to take command of the empire’s furthest fortification surrounded by hostile neighbors, (If she’s exiled, who is sending her out on missions?) Colette stumbles upon a battlefield of beautiful man-like creatures cast in marble. Faced with proof of a forgotten age, the statues trigger fitful glimpses of a past life. (this needs to be rewritten since the statues aren’t faced with proof of a forgotten age) Obsessed with unraveling these strange visions, Colette’s troubles worsen as she develops an attraction for the man who murdered her brother, Lord Gregorin Balanos. (why is she attracted to him?)

    Wounded by assassins, (who sent assassins?) Colette is catapulted into a centuries old (centuries-old) war when she is kidnapped, (no comma here) and taken into a land of myth and monsters. With no allies, she must rely on Gregorin to ride to her rescue. If Colette cannot embrace her true self (can you go into a little detail about her true self?) and heal the wounds of the past, her empire will fall.

    I hope some of this helps! This sounds like a story I would enjoy.

  7. Thank you everyone for the critiques!

    They were super helpful. I’ll be trying to implement what advice I can into my query, while at the same time doing my best to maintain my style of writing and voice. Never an easy thing to do.

    Again, thank you! ❤

  8. I like your hook. The first paragraph was kind of all over the place, and I wasn’t sure how it related to the second, which is where the action seems to be. Maybe skip with the expositiony type details and get straight to the conflict:

    Seventeen-year-old Princess Colette Devereaux must forge an alliance with her brother’s killer to save her empire from slavery.

    Colette is catapulted into a centuries old war when she is kidnapped, and taken into a land of myth and monsters. (Is this related to the Forgotton Age?) Her only ally is Lord Gregorin Balanos, the man who killed her brother. (maybe add in some details about what is going on here and her unwanted attraction toward him). If Colette cannot embrace her true self (Vague. Tell us what she really actually has to do.) and heal the wounds of the past, her empire will fall.

  9. The “or face her own ruin” phrase in your opening sentence confuses me. Does this mean an alliance with her brother’s killer will allow her to either save the kingdom or save herself? Or does this mean she will be personally ruined if she doesn’t ally with him to save the kingdom? (And if that’s the case, does she only care about saving the kingdom because she will be personally “ruined” if she doesn’t do it?)

    Also, I wonder, in your second paragraph, you say she’s “sent to take command…” If she’s exiled, who sends her? Why are they relying on her to take charge, if she’s already been cast away?

    I like the feel of your query. It has that high fantasy feel to it, which (I hope) matches the voice of your story well. More specific detail in the plot points of the query would help strengthen it, though. For instance: why is her brother’s murderer the last hope? Who is pulling the strings, sending her on her quest? If she’s already been sent to take command in the battle, how does her injury catapult her into a centuries old war? (Is this another war going on simultaneously, or the same war, but she was somehow able to stay out of the middle of it while commanding the armies, until she’s injured?)

  10. I’m no query expert, but I’ll throw in my 2c. 🙂
    First – I love your wording. You have a strong voice and tight prose. Good job! You also have what sounds like an interesting story.

    Now for the problem areas–nothing huge, just a few things…
    You need a comma between ‘Seventeen-year-old’ & ‘exiled’ (coordinate adjectives, where one isn’t a color).

    “Faced with proof of a forgotten age, the statues trigger fitful glimpses of a past life.” This has a dangling participle unless the statues were the ones faced with proof. (The subject of the introductory phrase is the noun after the comma.)

    Suggestions to fix:
    ‘…Colette stumbles upon a battlefield of beautiful man-like creatures cast in marble. She is faced with proof of a forgotten age when the statues trigger fitful glimpses of a past life.’ OR ‘…Colette stumbles upon a battlefield of beautiful man-like creatures cast in marble. The statues trigger fitful glimpses of a past life, and she is faced with proof of a forgotten age,’

    Technically, the next sentence — ‘Obsessed with unraveling these strange visions, Colette’s troubles worsen as she develops an attraction for the man who murdered her brother, Lord Gregorin Balanos.’ –has the same problem, although it’s not as obvious since her name is used. But since it’s her ‘troubles’ that is the subject, it also makes the introductory phrase a dangling participle.

    I know you’re probably wanting to curse me right now, or feel bewildered, but don’t (feel bewildered, that is. Feel free to curse me through your screen. :P). This is a common problem I see with writers who have a strong voice/tight wording. It’s something you’ll just have to watch out for. Anyhow, Collete is what (who) is obsessed, not her troubles. It really should be corrected if you want to put your best writer’s foot forward.

    Another benefit of correcting these is that it will force you to vary your wording, which will be a good thing for this query. Though your wording is strong, the continued use of sentences with introductory phrases will trigger the reader’s overuse radar as it relates to structure. It’s best NOT to use an introductory phrase for nearly every sentence, even though it is a way to tighten the prose.

    Now this: ‘Wounded by assassins, Colette is catapulted into a centuries old war when she is kidnapped, *and taken into a land of myth and monsters.’ is the proper use of an introductory phrase. Collete was the one wounded, and she was also the one kidnapped and taken, so it works. The paragraph this came from is also awesome – no joke – excellent!

    *(You don’t need the comma between ‘kidnapped’ and ‘taken.’)

    One last thing – here: ‘ELVEN SOUL is a YA epic fantasy novel complete at 82,000 words. ELVEN SOUL will appeal to readers who…’ consider changing the second ‘ELVEN SOUL’ to ‘It’ since you mention the title once more in the para. It reads better IMHO.

    All in all, I love it! Super job!!! *hands over a hot fudge sundae to take the sting out of that review* Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. 🙂

  11. Hi Rachel,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to look over my query and giving me some pointers. I really appreciate it! I am new at querying, so this is a great help.

    I really like the first sentence in your query. It definitely caught my eye and made me want to read more. I would like to know a little bit more about Colette though, especially since she becomes so obsessed with the visions. Is she a warrior? What makes her special enough to have these visions? Again, I want to mention that I am new to querying, so please take my suggestions with a grain of salt. I think it is great, but these are questions that popped up when I was reading your query.

    Your last paragraph is very effective, and I like that you explain exactly who your audience is. I think this sounds like a wonderful story and I would definitely love to read it.

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