I’m going to be a bit masochistic today and…
…I am going to share some drafts of my query letter, along with the thoughts behind edits I made, and what I’m striving to portray through my query letter.
I’m still sitting here, shaking my head at myself, and wondering why I would do this to myself. A bad query can be a horrible, messy thing, but hopefully this will help somebody. So without further ado, here we go…
Here is the version I whipped up about a week ago. I was foolishly happy with it until I sent it to friends for critique.
Most fleeing from Estellias are defenseless, human–but not Sera. (Unanimous crit felt this sentence was awkward) Raised markings and pearls embedded in her flesh mark her for what she is, an Elemental, with the power to command anything from a rain drop to a tidal wave. (Interesting world-building, though a bit long) If only she could actually control it. Trouble is, (cliche) even an Elemental with lousy skills is a dangerous one. Sera’s ability to reduce a body to a desiccated husk makes her a valuable weapon to the Elemental king. (Interesting)
But Sera isn’t a killer or even a fighter, that’s her Fire Elemental twin, Eva, who the king will take from her forever for refusing to serve him. (Awkward)
Over the twins’ dead bodies, of course. (Cut. Doesn’t flow) Sera and Eva are linked; when Sera cries, Eva’s heart breaks, & when Eva decimates her enemies, Sera is strong. (Interesting concept) They won’t let themselves be separated. (Meh) The twins try to hide, hoping to buy Sera time to hone control of her power and add the wrath of a hurricane to Eva’s raging inferno. (People loved this sentence) (One crit felt this paragraph focused TOO much on Eva and not enough on Sera. They wanted me to cut the entire paragraph)
As Sera learns to bend her power to her will, (Cut. Not a good segue) the king turns loose men, other Elementals, and even employs the help of the Daemons (Shorten this list)–monstrous necromancers and manipulators of minds that kill without restraint. (Re-work sentence, awkward structure) Sera soon has enemies coming from all sides, but the king of all creatures should know
best that a cornered Elemental is more dangerous than a force of nature. Sera will do whatever she can to stay by Eva’s side, and the cost could be catastrophic; for the king, Estellias, and even Sera herself. (50/50 on ending. Some liked it, some felt it was too vague)
Most fleeing from Estellias are helpless, human–but not Sera. (Find better opening line) She is an Elemental with the power to command anything from a rain drop to a tidal wave, if she could control it. Someone bumps her and waterspouts form in a crowd; someone scares her and she draws the water and blood from their body, leaving a desiccated husk. (Very cool) Sera spends every day fighting back her power, but her ability to inflict harm without even trying makes her a valuable weapon to the Elemental king. (This is all set up, where’s the meat of the story?)
But blades, flame, and death are the world of her Fire Elemental twin, Eva; Sera belongs in the forest, growing healing herbs and dancing in moonlight. (Good, but long, telly characterization)
Despite their differences, Sera’s mind is linked telepathically to her twin’s and the greatest punishment the king can inflict for defiance is separating them. (Meh) So when Sera says run, Eva is by her side, and when she needs help, Eva shows her how to hone control over her power. (This shows Sera doing something, but it makes her sound weak still) Sera strives to add the wrath of a hurricane to Eva’s raging inferno, to make themselves a force the king cannot contain.
Before Sera’s training is complete, the king turns loose men, (Still meh) Elemental slaves, and even employs the help of Daemons–monstrous mind-stealers and necromancers who kill without restraint. (Better, but could still be simpler) They attack innocents, burn villages, and force the twins to reveal themselves. Sera soon has enemies coming from all sides, but the king
of all creatures should know best that a cornered Elemental is more dangerous than a force of nature. Sera will do whatever she can to stay by Eva’s side, and the cost could be catastrophic; for the king, Estellias, and even Sera herself. (Ending still vague.) (This query is too long by at least 20 words so simplifying and cutting every possible extra word or sentence is very important)
To appear human and escape Estellias, (Identify if Estellias is a person, place, or thing) Sera must hide the bloodmarks and pearls embedded in her skin that reveal what she is–an Elemental. (Opening clause threw some critters. World-building was interesting, but sentence structure lacked) In the eyes of her Elemental king, she is his weapon. (Meh) He doesn’t care that she can’t control her power, only that waterspouts form when she’s nervous and when she’s scared people are drained of their blood, leaving desiccated husks. (This can be simplified and condensed) Faced with being a killer or being separated from her twin, Eva, if she defies the king, Sera sees only one option. Run. (Needs to be structured better. Some crit found this sentence confusing)
Blades and battle are Eva’s world as a Fire Elemental. (50/50 on cut or keep) Sera belongs in the forest, growing healing herbs and dancing in moonlight. But that life is gone, and Sera trains in hopes of honing her control so the king can never separate them. A glimpse of that life returns when she finds a channel for her power in the most unlikely form; healing. For once, her power doesn’t fight to maim or kill, and she finds solace in easing the hurts of others. (Information is good, delivery of that information could be better. There is no emotion, no mention of the bond between Sera and Eva, making the stakes a bit hollow)
Sera’s fragile peace is shattered (cliche) when the king’s Elemental slaves and his Daemon allies–monstrous necromancers who kill without restraint–begin attacking innocents and burning villages. (No build up to hint that the king is still after the twins so this is jarring) They force the twins to reveal themselves. (How?) But the king should know that a cornered Elemental is more dangerous than a force of nature. Sera will add the wrath of a hurricane to Eva’s raging inferno if it will protect her twin–even if that means casting aside her healer’s heart and learning to kill instead. (Woot! ::claps:: Keep this! One sentence locked. >_<)
(Are you catching on yet that queries are the devil? And there are actually about two or three other versions in between these revised versions, but the changes were too minute or confusing so there was no need to post them all.)
Sera laughs and even miles away, her twin sister Eva, smiles. (Interesting introduction of their bond. 50/50 on keep or cut) Their joined minds share everything, but while her sister commands fire with ease, Sera can’t control a raindrop (50/50 on cut or keep raindrop) or stop herself from reducing people to desiccated husks when she’s scared. (Cool) They are Elementals, the oldest race, and the king of Estellias plans to use them as a weapon. (Against who or for what?)
And worse– intends to separate Sera from Eva. (Awkward. Why is this it’s own paragraph?)
When the king’s soldiers drag Sera kicking and screaming from her twin, her power lashes out, leaving only
blood and corpses. (Cool) Horrified, Sera’s guilt is rivaled only by her relief that Eva is safe. (Good relationship building) Together the twins flee, hiding the bloodmarks and gemstones in their skin to appear human so they can escape Estellias. But the king’s Daemon allies–necromancers who kill mercilessly–give chase, going so far as to stab a merchant for withholding information. As Sera sobs over the dying man, her control wavers, but instead of killing him, she heals his mortal wound. (Good details. Little synopsis-like. 50/50 on keep or simplify)
Now Sera sees a purpose for her power (Meh) and the solace she finds in easing the pain of others is what she’s always wanted. (Good characterization) But (Restructure to cut ‘but’) healing won’t keep them free and the Daemons are closing in. There is only one truth in their world that gives Sera comfort (find a stronger word than comfort): a cornered Elemental is more dangerous than a force of nature. She will add the wrath of a hurricane to Eva’s raging inferno if it will protect her twin–even if that means casting aside her healer’s heart and learn (Someone commented that she already knows how to kill. Maybe a different word choice would be better) to kill instead.
Sera laughs and miles away, her twin sister Eva smiles. Their joined minds share everything, but while Eva commands fire with ease, Sera can hardly stop a raindrop from falling or keep herself from reducing people to desiccated husks when she’s scared. They are Elementals, the oldest race, and the king of Estellias intends to use them as a weapon against his enemies, no matter what it costs the twins. (Love the addition to the last sentence!)
When the king’s soldiers drag Sera kicking and screaming from her twin, her power lashes out, leaving behind corpses of friend and foe alike. (Nice!) Sera’s guilt is rivaled only by her relief that Eva is safe. Together they run, hoping to buy Sera time to hone her control so they can never be forced apart. (Adds more agency to Sera) The king’s Daemon allies give chase, going so far as to stab a merchant for withholding information. As Sera sobs over the dying man, her control wavers, but instead of killing him, she heals his mortal wound. (Still a little synopsis-like, but the details are well received by most)
The solace she finds in easing the pain of others is what she’s always wanted, but healing won’t keep them free. (Good) When the Daemons catch up, there is but one inarguable truth in her world that gives Sera strength: a cornered Elemental is more dangerous than a force of nature. She will add the wrath of a hurricane to Eva’s raging inferno if it will protect her twin–even if that means casting aside her healer’s heart and choosing to kill instead. (Nice change of words!)
So, there you have it. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the critique gauntlet I have run my query through. But trust me, even if this doesn’t read perfectly, my very first version was a hot hot mess. Now obviously this is just the story synopsis part of my query letter, but this is the hardest part. The book info and bio part don’t really need much critique since they’re so straight forward, and I don’t have any writing credentials to add. The only other thing I had to figure out was comp titles, and I decided that fans of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and Graceling by Kristin Cashore may find my book appealing. Perhaps A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas as well, though my manuscript is lacking the strong romance that is present in Maas’ wonderful book.
And now, after much critique–and lots of tears, cookies, and way too much chocolate–revision number four is the query that I am going to take for a test drive. I’m happy with it, which is something I haven’t been able to say about any of the thirty some odd versions I’ve written before this. Keep your fingers crossed for me as I jump back into the pool of agonizing torment–ahem, I mean, begin querying once more. I will be sure to update if this query falls flat or catches the attention of at least one agent.
On the bright side, I’m quite happy with my manuscript, which I’ve spent the better part of a year polishing and running through its own gauntlet of critique as well. I’m feeling pleasantly optimistic. We’ll see where I’m at a few months from now!
Until next time.