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Jim’s Slush Week entry

by Jim

(For details on Slush Week, see Chasya’s introduction.)

Let’s all take a look at the query on its own first, and then I’ll break it down with my comments inserted after the jump!

Dear SLUSH WEEK SUBMISSIONS,

Half-Angel, Half-Demon, Alexsi Marks must balance the war between Heaven and Hell, without losing her soul in the process…

For Alexsi, life is challenging, if routine, until the night a demon tries to kill her. Finding out about her parentage is a shock, but learning she has both demonic and angelic magic opens the door to truth and shadows. When her friends are attacked and her apartment cleaned out-the jerks even took her damn cat-Alexsi has no choice but to follow the mysterious, alluring James and flee to the Sanctuary, a haven for those with angel blood. It doesn’t keep her safe from her dreams, however, or the sexy demon Declan from trying to seduce her. Alexsi faces distrust and anger on all sides, leading to a challenge beyond the gates of Heaven, or Hell. She must overcome those trying to kill her, while walking a fine line between her good side and her wicked one.

WHERE ANGELS TREAD is an Urban Fantasy complete at 99k words. I am a finalist in the Houston RWA chapter’s 2010 Emily Award, Paranormal Romance category. My memberships include RWA, FFnP, Online Romance Writers and my local chapter Desert Rose, as well as East Valley Writers.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I have included XXX per your submission guidelines.

Sincerely,
(Author’s name)

Dear SLUSH WEEK SUBMISSIONS,

Half-Angel, Half-Demon, Alexsi Marks must balance the war between Heaven and Hell, without losing her soul in the process…

I have a few concerns about this opening. I question the capitalization of “Angel” and “Half-Demon,” and the ellipsis bothers me: it feels gimmicky. Just use the period. We know there’s more to come. My bigger concern is with “must balance the war between Heaven and Hell.” What’s she balancing the war with?

For Alexsi, life is challenging, if routine, until the night a demon tries to kill her. (This sentence feels a little clunky. First, starting with “life is challenging, if routine” doesn’t really tell us much. It feels a bit like filler. Try something like, “Alexsi lives a normal life until the night…” or “Alexsi’s life becomes challenging the night…”) Finding out about her parentage is a shock (finding out what about her parentage? We can guess she’s discovering that her parents are an angel and a demon, but that isn’t actually stated), but learning she has both demonic and angelic magic opens the door to truth and shadows (“the door to truth and shadows” could be a lovely metaphor, but it’s a little vague here. You’re working under such space constraints. Why not just tell us: “Alexsi learns that she is the offspring of an angel and a demon and possesses the magical abilities of both of her parents.”). When her friends are attacked and her apartment cleaned out-the jerks even took her damn cat-Alexsi has no choice but to follow the mysterious, alluring James and flee to the Sanctuary, a haven for those with angel blood. (Who is James? How did she find Sanctuary? Are her friends attacked because of who/what Alexsi is? The biggest challenge in queries is deciding which information to share. You’re parsing so much material into a paragraph. You really need to focus on clarity and making the story as understandable as possible. I feel like you’re trying to focus on the exciting elements here, which makes sense, but you’re letting that get in the way of comprehensibility). It doesn’t keep her safe from her dreams, however, or the sexy demon Declan from trying to seduce her. (Again: more questions than answers here. Is Declan IN her dreams? Is she concerned about her dreams on a metaphysical level, or are there actual physical threats to her IN her dreams? In urban fantasy, it’s so tough to know exactly what the rules are—it makes queries even more challenging, I know!) Alexsi faces distrust and anger on all sides, leading to a challenge beyond the gates of Heaven, or Hell. She must overcome those trying to kill her, while walking a fine line between her good side and her wicked one. (These last two sentences are great, but I don’t know at this point why she’s facing distrust and anger, who is trying to kill her and why, or what ways she is trying to walk this fine line. Sometimes you can tell us more by telling us less. I’d focus on reworking this paragraph with the goal of clarity in mind. In these last two sentences, I get a sense of the feel of the book, but because the description coming beforehand was confusing, I don’t have as much of a sense of the actual content. In my opinion, the best queries focus more on getting across very general details with extreme clarity than on getting as much information in as possible.)

WHERE ANGELS TREAD is an Urban Fantasy complete at 99k words. I am a finalist in the Houston RWA chapter’s 2010 Emily Award, Paranormal Romance category. My memberships include RWA, FFnP, Online Romance Writers and my local chapter Desert Rose, as well as East Valley Writers.

Perfect. Appreciate that it’s just the facts here and shows a seriousness and dedication to your writing.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I have included XXX per your submission guidelines.

We do love it when people follow the guidelines!

Sincerely,
(Author’s name)

11 Responses to Jim’s Slush Week entry

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jim, in these circumstances, would you request further chapters? What response would you have sent?

  2. Anonymous says:

    My thought: yow, generic.

    It may be a good book, but it sounds like half the TV movies on SyFy, every third novel published at the moment and every Vertigo comic ever. Which isn't a bad thing – someone's buying them, after all – but I don't see anything that makes this stand out.

    Why's it different? I know this sounds catty, but judging from the submission letter, it's not 'the author has an awesome way with prose'.

  3. RK says:

    Thanks for this. Learned a lot!

  4. DGLM says:

    To the first comment, I'd have to be honest and say that in this instance, I'd pass. This is a genre I do, and there are elements that work, but the query feels unfocused and doesn't separate itself from the pack.

    -Jim

  5. Alli says:

    I found myself questioning a lot of the query letter. I felt I had more questions than answers by the time I had finished. I noticed a hint of humour (about the cat) and I'm wondering whether changing the voice to adding more wit (if there is humour in the story) might help the query stand out. That, and concentrating on getting the general story across. Good luck!

  6. Anonymous says:

    It's interesting that both entries so far have problems because they seem generic and bland and 'same old, same old'.

    It's got to be tricky to get an original voice to shine through in something as short and measured as a one page query letter. It does look as if it's all about the Unique Selling Point. What can you do that no one else can't? Yes, it fits within a genre but what's new about it?

  7. middle grade ninja says:

    I sort of dug this letter. Story sounds like a good time to me. Sure, it doesn't reinvent the wheel, but if it's decently written, it might get me through a plane ride. Nothing wrong with that.

  8. Lind says:

    Thanks for your comments Jim, this is so helpful.
    Thanks author for your brave submission, good luck on your book.

  9. Kristi says:

    Great feedback and I wish I'd entered this contest. I entered two similar contests this week run by different agents and got two requests for partials. I hope my book is as good as the query. :)

  10. Katherine says:

    Hey, I read a lot of "query letter blogs" (Query Shark, EE, etc) and I have to say that Jim is being extremely sweet. I find the snark of some of the other blogs amusing, but the sweetness of the critique here warms my heart. Kudos.

    ~I'd also like to say that while this idea sounds a little tired, if the book was well-written and the characters round and intriguing, I'd totally read it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you all very much. With these comments, I can make my query better. It's so hard getting feedback, so again, thank you Jim. Now it's back to work.

    BTW- Jim did reject it.

    –On a side note: Katherine and Middle Grade Ninja, you totally made my day :)

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