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Robinne Weiss

Full Member
May 19, 2015
New Zealand
OK, I'll be the first to stick my neck out to be chopped off. As Agent Pete has indicated his willingness to critique queries (and hoping that some of the rest of you will pull out your red pens, too), here is the latest draft of a query that has brought me no joy so far. It has been through half a dozen drastic rewrites, and I can't even see it anymore...your fresh eyes would be welcome!

In a world ruled by magic, a girl who can turn a mage to dust is bound to attract trouble. Seventeen year-old Fenn is an anti-mage. The anti-mage. The only one. Her mere presence extinguishes magic. Her anti-magic can crush even the most powerful of mages, but leaves her unable to experience the everyday magic of love.

She might have led a quiet life, ignorant of her own power, if the Ruling Mage Council hadn’t discovered what she is. Now the Council wants her dead. Fenn could flee, to live a life on the run, or she could fight, using her power to free the people from the mages' oppression. With dreams of a normal life shattered, Fenn must first decide just who she is—hare or hero.

The Council sends Sol, the most powerful mage alive, to kill her. But magical attacks alone cannot harm Fenn, and the Ruling Council resorts to a more conventional death for her at the hands of its army. When Fenn is captured, Sol breaks with the Council and rescues her. He offers her his help and the ability to love, though it could destroy them both.

THE ANTI-MAGE is a 62,000 word young adult fantasy. It is the first of a two-part story that will appeal to readers who enjoyed the strong female characters and action in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm books. Thank you for your consideration.
Just off the top of my head, I'm wondering if a query, should be the same as a synopsis, in that shouldn't it give the ending as well?
From what I've read, the query should tempt an agent to want to read the book--sort of like the back cover text. It should not be a synopsis.
Hi @Robinne Weiss

I think the premise of your story comes across well. I know who the main character is and her motivation. The conflict she faces, both internal and external, is clear and I also get a sense of what is at stake.

All it really needs is a few lines about you. Do you have any writing credits worth mentioning? Is there anything in particular that inspired you to write this story? Do you have any relevant interests? Don't worry if not but it's always good to try to give them a brief sense of who you are.

And of course don't forget to try to personalise it if at all possible. Maybe you're a big fan of one of their other authors, or maybe you saw them speak at a conference or read an interesting blog post or interview they gave.

And you might want to move the title, genre and word count to the start so that they know right from the off what you are pitching to them.

It actually sounds like a really interesting story. :) The only problem you might have is that you're pitching a duology.
Thanks for that, Kitty! I never know whether to put my writing credits in or not, as they are...minor at best...a few poems in magazines and anthologies, and a raft of articles in trade magazines. Nothing that really speaks to any ability with a novel.

I'd be curious to hear from @AgentPete about the duology thing--whether that's a killer or not in the current climate of YA series.
This is indeed rather more of a synopsis, Robinne, as Alistair notes.

Synopses are difficult beasts... they are essentially technical documents, and so very difficult to bring to life. Even the most heart-stopping manuscript can be reduced to inert clay when synopsised.

A query letter (or email, more likely) really only has one purpose: to start the conversation. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to a full submission.

Kitty has some interesting ideas about hooking agents’ attention. She’s right about mentioning other authors... I would always read an email that mentions one of my clients. And so, I think, would most agents.

But there are plenty of other ways to get noticed... get a little creative, and realize that there really no hard-and-fast rules to this... if it works, it works...
Interesting Karen as most of my main characters are female, and mostly very strong willed. Only two male, main characters (well there was a third but I killed him off), and set in Britain; somewhat later period than yours - 16th Century. Good query letter for the USofA ;)
Interesting Karen as most of my main characters are female, and mostly very strong willed. Only two male, main characters (well there was a third but I killed him off), and set in Britain; somewhat later period than yours - 16th Century. Good query letter for the USofA ;)
You mean earlier right? Mines is medieval flavour set in the 27th century ;)
My point being there is strong willed and there is strong.

Here's an example

GoT - all the women are weak except Brianne who has to make herself like a man to be seen as strong. You could say Arya, but she is saved countless times as well.

Garth Nix's Sabriel - one of my favourites. Got me through a hard time in my life. Strong female protected and saved by the male lead.

The Hunger Games - strong woman constantly saved by men.

There are countless more. My girls are a fierce.

They are outnumbered by male characters actually but that only strengthens them.

I suppose in the same way that is is very pro scottish (Albannach) independence, yet the majority of my protagonists are in fact English (Sasannach)
@Island Writer--fascinating! I had been told by my manuscript assessor that it was a tad long for YA, but my gut reaction was that it was shorter than the books my kids usually read. I was right. Well, that changes things! I might just be able to make this a single book, not two, which is what I'd hoped in the beginning...which would deal with the pesky issue of a duology. (And would please my daughter, who is DYING for the second half of the story. Now.) Hmm...
Re the OP, I think it is nicely written, and tells the reader almost everything they need to know. For me it is more blurb than synopsis or query [I always thought a synopsis should specify the ending, and your piece doesn't really do that]. But I suspect that it is the sort of thing you could append to a query, or build a query from. I suspect that a query should be a bit shorter, too, but I am no expert.

Small points: should it be '...discovered what she is' or '...discovered what she was'? And 'hare or hero' doesn't work too well for me; I know what you are saying [running away quickly], but it just brings me up short when reading, and I start thinking 'why hare; why not rabbit; hare and hero aren't really opposites; etc'
I thought maybe we should have a 'fanfare' but they are supposed to be discrete but not this discrete that members can't even spot them! I only just saw it coincidentally.
Can't access either way - very odd. Perhaps I haven't been approved?! Back in the the old Litopia there was a qualifying process. I hope we don't have to go through the whole thing again - perhaps Agent Pete can clarify!
Short answer is, I just saw them, clicked on it and then posted. Not sure why Island Writer can't access, about to have a look.
Incidentally I can't see them either. Maybe we need a minimum number of posts or some such. :)
Presumably Kitty, you scrolled down to the bottom of the Forum home?
I can see the flash club - been enjoying reading the entries for this month - but no houses. It's probably simply that I haven't yet made enough posts. It would make sense to have an entry criterion like that so that only people who have been contributing here have access.
Category is pretty important. I’ve spent too long scratching my head over submissions, trying to work out what slot they fit into... time that would have been better spent simply reading the work with an open mind.

That having been said, I instinctively dislike the straightjacket that categories often impose. (My experience is that the US publishing industry is more sensitive to categories than here in the UK – certainly that’s where this weird concept called “Young Adult” came from.)

I think a happy compromise would be to give me an author / series comparison... i.e. show me where it might fit alongside other books on the shelf... but not be too rigid about it. We are creatives, after all – not guided missiles...
I hope you don't mind me sharing my thoughts on this.

1. Female roles: My immediate reaction is to question whether it is necessary to tell the agent about the strong female aspect issue as for me i interpreted as being a bit 'preachy'. Maybe just talk about the characters and let their own characters show their strengths rather than talk about the issues you feel that females are depicted as weak generally. For example that isn't my experience and we don't know if the agent shares your experience too. But that is something that I just thought about immediately when i read your query.

2. Writing audience: i don't think it is a good idea to say 'i am writing for anyone...' You might well be but it needs to be categorised for an agent so they want to be able to know how they will sell your book. If you help them classify this clearly then it might make their easier? I am not sure that is just my gut instinct. I know you mention a 'gap' in the market maybe that's 'New Adults'? Unsure. Maybe @AgentPete can advise here about category.

I hope that all makes sense, it is just my reaction to the letter right or wrong i hope it is at least useful.

Good luck with it. Your ms will wow them.

Thanks for the comments @Emurelda much appreciated as always.

Personally, I do feel it is necessary, because it is true. I have not read a series of books yet that has had a real strong female. Many have "strong females" but essentially they are still depicted as weak BECAUSE they are female. Or they have to forego their femininity to be accepted as truly strong.

What I hope to achieve with this angle is to identify that I am aiming for not one but two key niches that are being overlooked by the current market.

"I am writing for anyone who is looking for a plot-driven story with strong characters and plenty of action and magic." Basically I am writing for those who love fantasy. I actually like the statement :)

Ah New Adult. The lanky college kid of the family.

"New Adult (NA) fiction is a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18–25 age bracket. St. Martin's Press first coined the term in 2009, when they held a special call for "...fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an 'older YA' or 'new adult'."

"I see New Adult as a genre that fills the gap between YA and contemporary romance. NA stories revolve around college- or just-post-college-age characters (18-25ish), characters that are experiencing some kind of monumental first—first love, first time away from home or first real job, first sense of adult responsibility. These stories are hugely relatable not just to the 18-25 crowd currently experiencing similar firsts, but to those of us who look back on that era of our lives with nostalgia, smiles, or regrets."

"New adult literature touches upon many themes and issues to reach the readership that falls in between the categories of young adult and adult fiction.
Many themes covered in young adult fiction such as identity, sexuality, depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, familial struggles, bullying[14] are also covered in new adult fiction, but the various issues that are dealt with in the category hold it separate. Some common examples of issues include: first jobs, starting college, wedding engagements and marriage, starting new families, friendships post-high school, military enlistment, financial independence, living away from home for the first time, empowerment, loss of innocence, fear of failure, and many others.

This category focuses heavily on life after an individual has become of legal age, and how one deals with the new beginnings of adulthood. Commonly, these themes and issues have been seen taking place post-high school in popular new adult fiction titles, but there are exceptions."

My characters range from infancy old to late 60's. NA is to bridge a gap between YA and adult fiction and deals with far gentler subjects than I do. I am writing for another section of the public entirely. Though I do not want to pigeonhole myself into the 'learning difficulties' bracket. Really, anyone can read my work and enjoy it, that's the point. But I do feel there is a very real difference between writing YA, NA or Adult, and writing for the adult who finds reading challenging. They don't want to have to buy YA or NA in order to have something they can read and enjoy. They want to be able just to go to the adult section in a book shop or library, like everyone else their own age, walk to a shelf and pick up a book. Essentially that's where I want my book to be sitting ;)
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