Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Query Clinic--MG fantasy adventure


Tip of the Day: most of you probably know this, but I'm the last one to figure out that agentquery.com lets you subscribe by email or RSS feeds to the Agent Updates. I always forget to look in that section, but it's very helpful!
Our next query comes to us from Nicole Z.
Dear Agent:

When a dying witch gives Princess Cassandra a mystical treasure map, the adventurous ten-year-old sets out to find it. Never mind an evil sorcerer also wants the map. And never mind that he killed the witch to try to get it. Okay, his coming after Cassandra is a little worrying...

Even so, Cassandra and Vance, her commoner friend, hope the treasure will persuade the kingdom's greedy healers to fix his lame leg. Vance insists on tagging along until a monstrous hailstorm seriously injures him. The princess must face the mythological creatures of the Enchanted Jungle -- a cranky old centaur; a vicious, two-horned yale; a hungry bear-dog; among others -- and search the Rainbow Mountains without her friend. It's up to Cassandra, her trusty horse, and a baby griffin she meets along the way to find the treasure before the sorcerer kills her and before her friend dies of his wounds.

THE PRINCESS'S TREASURE HUNT is a 30,000-word MG fantasy adventure standalone novel with series potential.

I am the author of a fantasy romance trilogy, Kingdom of Arnhem - Woman of Honor (2009), Knight of Glory (2010), and Champion of Valor (2011) published with Desert Breeze Publishing. Fifteen of my short works have appeared in various anthologies, including Mertales by Wyvern Publications, and many collections by Pill Hill Press.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

What I liked about the query:
  • I think the query is short and concise. It's very easy to find all the necessary information. 
  • The first sentence is great and pulls me in immediately. I also love a good treasure map story, so I'm definitely intrigued! Especially since it involves a princess fighting against evil.
  • As the query goes along, I think the suspense builds, which gives me a good indication how the book is likely to go. We start out knowing that an evil sorcerer wants the map so bad that he's willing to kill for it and then the intensity builds from there with many challenges along the way.

What I thought could use improvement and general thoughts:
There were a few parts that confused me and I thought might be unnecessary in the query itself. And other parts I thought needed more info. I've marked my reactions in red.
When a dying witch gives Princess Cassandra a mystical treasure map, the adventurous ten-year-old sets out to find it. (I wonder if there might be a word or two you could add to this to explain how she came in contact with the dying witch to help set the scene a bit better and maybe explain even in this first sentence why she’s compelled to search for the treasure. Also, maybe stating the dying instructions of the witch might help. Does she tell Cassandra to be careful? Does she reveal anything about what the treasure is? More specific info might help set up the rest of the query.) Never mind an evil sorcerer also wants the map. And never mind that he killed the witch to try to get it. Okay, his coming after Cassandra is a little worrying... (I think the last three sentences sort of lose their impact, since two of them start with “never mind.” I get what you are trying to do, but I think it would be much more impactful to combine the first two sentences into something as simple as “Unfortunately, an evil sorcerer also wants the map and killed the witch to try to get it.” And then lead into a bit more descriptive sentence on the journey to come. It’s implied by the description that the evil sorcerer would naturally come after Cassandra, so it loses a bit of impact by telling the reader that.)

Even so, Cassandra and Vance, her commoner friend, hope the treasure will persuade the kingdom's greedy healers to fix his lame leg. (Love that she has a commoner friend help on her journey, but I feel like I need a bit more info to make this journey believable. First can you tell us the name of the kingdom, so we know a bit more info about Cassandra? Also, if she's a Princess, wouldn’t she have access to lots of money? Why couldn’t she pay off the greedy healers that way to fix her friend's lame leg? Why is she willing to embark on such a dangerous journey instead? Or do they personally not know about the evil sorcerer yet? This really needs to be made more clear. I also had to read this sentence five times to understand how a treasure map could help fix a lame leg. After I got it, it was obvious, but something about the way the sentence is written made it hard to follow at first.) Vance insists on tagging along until a monstrous hailstorm seriously injures him. (As a side note: does the sorcerer cause the hailstorm? If so, I'd include that bit of info, because it adds even more intensity that he's trying to make her journey harder, so he can get the treasure himself. If not, this sentence could still be played up a bit more to increase the suspense, especially since we find out later his wounds are life-threatening—"seriously" injured doesn’t imply life-threatening to me.) The princess must face the mythological creatures of the Enchanted Jungle -- a cranky old centaur; a vicious, two-horned yale; a hungry bear-dog; among others -- and search the Rainbow Mountains without her friend. (Wow, sounds exciting and I'm not even a fantasy reader!) It's up to Cassandra, her trusty horse, and a baby griffin she meets along the way to find the treasure before the sorcerer kills her and before her friend dies of his wounds. (I'm in!)

Summary:
Overall this is good and I definitely want to read it based on the story alone, since it sounds so exciting. But I think knowing a bit more specifics would help entice the agents even more. I'd also like a bit more info on Cassandra herself, so we have a reason to care for her. It's very telling that she's willing to risk her life for her friend, but without knowing a bit more about them as friends or people it's hard to find it believable. Also, how on earth could she be away from the kingdom at 10 years old with no one trying to find her? She's a princess. Does she use a disguise of some kind? Not sure if that's necessary to state in the query, but a little info thrown in here and there might help.

Thanks for submitting Nicole. Best of luck to you!
 So what do you all think?
--Emily, Miss Querylicious

7 comments:

Kate Fall said...

Hmm, Emily makes some good points. I think we do need a sentence about the Princess--why she has no money herself and why her family wouldn't stop her from leaving. Also wondering what the evil sorcerer needs with the money. Why is he opposing the Princess? I think that's your real conflict right there: princess vs. sorcerer. Bring it on!

Lisa Tiffin said...

I like that you hint at the voice with the last line of the first paragraph. I also think you have a fairly tight query with the charcaters, problems and stakes clearly defined.

One problem - your first sentence has a grammatical mistake, which might turn agents/editors off. you need to be specific with the "it" that ends the sentence. As it stands, it looks like the 10-year-old sets off to find the map, but what I think you really mean is that the Princess is 10 and she sets off to find the treasure.

I agree you have to answer - briefly - why the Princess doesn't have money to pay the healers. Something as simple as she can't get her inheritance until she's older, etc. would do.

Otherwise, I think this is a solid query.

DeenaML said...

I agree with Em, Kate, and Lisa that the external plot is solid and exciting and promises a great adventure! But to make the reader care, we need more about the internal struggle of the Princess and what her personal stakes are from the get-go.

I've heard a LOT lately (like from tweeting agents/editors at the Bologna Children's Book Fair) that they want MG, so with some tightening in some places and expanding in others, I think this could be a hit!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Thank you so much, everyone! I've been playing around with this query all week long. I've come up with a new version that answers a lot of your questions:

When a dying witch gives Princess Cassandra a treasure map, the adventurous ten-year-old sets out to find the treasure. Nothing--not a hungry bear-dog or a furious dragon--will keep Cassandra from her quest to help her friend.

Her best friend Vance was injured in their last misadventure and ever since, Cassandra has struggled to find a way to pay the healers to help him. If only her parents would help! But that isn't likely, as they disapprove of her friendship with the common-born boy.

Vance insists on tagging along on the treasure hunt, and Cassandra reluctantly agrees, then wishes she'd left him behind when a monstrous hailstorm critically injures him. Now the princess has to bargain with a cranky centaur and dodge the horns of a yale without him. It's up to Cassandra, her trusty "stolen" horse, and a baby griffin she meets along the way to secure the treasure.

Strange creatures and fierce storms aren't her only obstacles, though. An evil wizard also seeks the treasure and will stop at nothing to get it. But the greatest challenge Cassandra faces is time. If she doesn't find the treasure soon, Vance may not survive their latest adventure.

Kate Fall said...

Nicole, I love that you've inserted a "ticking clock" aspect into the new query! That tells me that the pace of the novel will be brisk. I think you can chop down the query and make it shorter and tighter and you'll have a winner. Delete sentences like "Strange creatures and fierce storms ..." and phrases like "Cassandra reluctantly agrees." "If only her parents" could be worded tighter, too. Other than some wordiness, though, I think you've got it.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Thanks, Kate!

Emily Marshall said...

Nicole,

I think the revised query is great. It definitely answers a lot of questions. Now that you've added specifics, I agree with Kate that it's a bit wordy. Taking out unnecessary words will help and removing some of the info. I'd limit it to two paragraphs (or three small ones).

Also, I'm surprised you moved the sorcerer to the bottom. It almost sounds like an afterthought now, whereas in the first query it was the major plot conflict. Decide which is the bigger conflict: the sorcerer or the hungry bear-dog and dragon. I think you only need to include that main conflict. Since there are enough other obstacles mentioned.

But I definitely think you are on the right track!