Monday, November 02, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured most recently here would like feedback on the query revision below.

Ana is a monster. She was born human like everyone else but one by one everyone else took on physical traits of the animal they were meant to be. Abandoned by her family and feared by everyone around her she has raised herself in the woods for eight years.

One day, her home is set on fire. Before the forest is destroyed, Ana manages to rescue a coyote girl named Arella and her dog brother Rae. Rather than fear her Rae and Arella sympathize, and even offer to let her travel with them. They are going to see a king who might be able to help Ana become like everyone else. She isn’t sure she can trust them but she doesn’t have any other options.

As they travel however, many obstacles arise on their journey. Rae and Arella turn out to be criminals working against the king, guards in every town are after them, and Ana finds herself suddenly displaying uncontrollable powers. Worst of all, the king has secret plans for Ana and her powers. In the end, Ana must decide who to trust in order to understand her powers and finally find peace.

Keeper of the Woods is a 56,000 word middle grade fantasy novel written as a trilogy. I look forward to hearing from you.


Evil Editor said...

P1: Comma after the first "everyone else." Comma after "around her." Isn't there a better explanation for which animal you look like than it's the one your were meant to be? How old is she? If she's been in the woods since she was six, does she have a sixth-grade vocabulary? No need to say "one by one."

P2:Comma after "rather than fear her." What do you mean she doesn't have any other options? What's preventing her from doing dozens of other things? Like finding a new forest.

P3: Comma after "As they travel." What are these uncontrollable powers? How does the king know about her powers?

P4: The novel is part one of a trilogy; it isn't written as a trilogy. If there's no satisfying ending until book 3, this will be a tough sell.

Fixing errors and addressing some of my questions won't help unless you can do so throughout the book as well, while also convincing us you have a compelling story. Revealing Ana's powers and what the king has in mind for them would seem to be the main story, but they aren't even specified.

khazar-khum said...

How old is Ana when she's dumped in the woods? 8? 10? 3?

Anonymous said...

Declaring Ana is a monster still doesn't explain why she is one or why she's feared, as many of us have been saying since version one. Young solo humans in nature tend to be on the menu, not scary. What makes people not vulnerable are tools and numbers, neither of which Ana has. Maybe try

"People in Ana's world don't remain human. They take on animal traits, like claws and fangs, while growing up. Except, Ana didn't. Abandoned by her family, she has raised herself in the woods for eight years."

You could also fit in the age she was abandoned at.

The statement "doesn’t have any other options" is one of those ridiculous absolutes, and you don't provide any basis for it. She doesn't have to trust them to travel with them. She could seek out the king on her own. She could look for another forest to be a hermit in. She could join a traveling circus as a freak. She has a lot of options. I also don't see Arella's and Rae's motivations in this version. Why tell her they're taking her to see someone they know is their enemy?

I agree with EE's comments on her powers. Also, what does trust have to do with her powers?

Is your book about Ana and her powers or is it more about friendship and trust? If it really is about both, you need to better show how her powers are related to friendship and trust. If one of those is more of a subplot, leave it out of the query.

Triple check even your drafts for grammar and punctuation errors. It will give you practice in spotting them in your book.

Anonymous said...

EE, there's a more recent version than the 9/21 on on 9/25

InkAndPixelClub said...

I'd consider splitting the second sentence in half and adding "while Ana remained human." at the end.

Consider "the forest catches fire" or "Ana wakes to find the forest ablaze." If you're not going to address it in the query, it's just confusing to say the forest was set on fire with no indication of who set it or why.

What reason do Rae and Arella give for why they're going to see the king?

Replace "she doesn't have any other options" with something like "it's her only chance to be accepted by her people."

Drop the first sentence of paragraph three. It's vague, awkward, and not providing any information that isn't covered in the r St of the paragraph.

There's no clear connection between Ana decide not who to trust and Ana understanding her powers. (I'd drop "finding peace." There's nothing in the query that suggests that she's being routinely harassed. She's just isolated.) The stakes have to be clear. What might happen if she sticks with Arella and Rae? What could happen if she decides to trust the king?

Evil Editor said...

The 9/25 version is now linked. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm satisfied that Ana is scary even if she's small. I didn't hit a snag until Rae and Arella were traveling to see the king; I'd like a reason for such an ambitious journey. You could give us the fake reason they gave her, or state that they offer to take her to the capital city in the hopes of finding a cure for her. Does Ana really not have any other options, or is she at the end of her rope with her monstrous life and willing to accept their offer of help despite her natural distrust?

The next snag was "he king has secret plans for Ana and her powers." Suddenly we're at the palace and the tables have turned. Use a few words to tell us what happened in between.

Finally, I would cut this sentence: "In the end, Ana must decide who to trust in order to understand her powers and finally find peace." Just cut it and replace it with something specific. It's convoluted and not as monumental as it's trying to be. Ana has to make a decision: that decision is whom to trust. Once she decides, she'll be able to understand her powers and find peace at last. Doesn't really add up. Maybe Ana has to pick a side and figure out what to do with her powers; once she does, she'll discover that her strangeness is connected to her destiny, which is to . . . break the spell that's been cast over the land? put an end to the war between the animals and the humans? I think it's time for you to spill that bit, too.

I think it's better than your last version, though.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The issue I see with the query is that it has no suggestion of a middle grade voice.

AA said...

“One day, her home is set on fire.” This sounds too incidental. As in, “One day, the little puppy ventured out into the big backyard.”

That's been a problem from day one, unfortunately. There hasn't been any real emotion in any version of this query so far.

We have to care about the characters and what happens to them. We also have to care about the world they live in and want them to change it or overcome their challenges somehow.

Here you have a teen that you more than once describe as living a “nightmare”, but she seems okay on her own and you even describe the forest she is exiled to as her “home.” When this home burns down, I'm supposed to care, but it effectively ends her exile, so this is actually good, right? And then she meets new friends. But these friends may actually just be using her. But then again they may not. Now in this version you say they are actually criminals, which is certainly less confusing, but it just doesn't make sense how criminals wanted by the king would be going to see the king. They wouldn't be going anywhere near the king.

You also bury the lede. You mention tantalizing things like a panther bounty hunter, curses, prophesies, and these amazing powers, but the only thing you actually describe is Ana's mild distrust and her annoyance with the bickering siblings.

You almost always add an extremely vague line about how Ana has to choose who to trust in order to fulfill her destiny. I have NO IDEA what that means.

I'd like to help you but at this point I'm frustrated.

I'd suggest starting over with an entirely different query format. This form is just not working for you. And make sure things make sense in your book- if they really don't, this could be your problem. It is possible the book just isn't ready to be queried yet.

Anonymous said...

Hi guys, author here, thank you all so much for your help and feedback. It has been suggested that I try a different format for the query. I am curious how everyone feels about this because even though I feel I'm progressing, it feels very slow and sounds like you all are getting more exasperated than satisfied. I'd appreciate anything you all have to say or any other suggestions you might have.

Evil Editor said...

Unusual query formats are often frowned upon if not done spectacularly well. Here's a slightly cleaner version of what you have. It may not be totally accurate, but perhaps it will be useful in some way.

Ana was born human, but unlike the other kids, she never took on the physical traits of any animal. Abandoned as "different" by her family and feared by her former friends, she has raised herself in the woods for eight years.

When a fire drives her out of the forest, Ana joins up with a coyote girl named Arella and her dog brother Rae. Rather than fear Ana, Rae and Arella sympathize, and offer to let her travel with them. They are off to see the king, who they say could help Ana become like everyone else.

As they journey to the castle, Ana begins displaying uncontrollable powers. Soldiers carry word of this girl with super powers to the king, who decides he has good use for her. Meanwhile, Rae and Arella confess that they are criminals secretly working against the king. Now Ana must decide: does happiness lie with her new "friends," or the king . . . or none of the above.

Keeper of the Woods is a 56,000-word middle grade fantasy novel.

Anonymous said...

You've written a trilogy. Maybe it would help for you to write the queries for all three books, each as a normal size query, stack them up and submit them. Something like:

Book 1
Set up, plot arc.
Complete at word count.

Book 2
new problem, plot arc.
Complete at word count.

Book 3
final problem, plot arc.
Complete at word count.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I think step one is to get Ana out of the forest on on her way to see the king as soon as possible. That's where your story really starts; everything prior to that is setup. This may mean that you need to be ruthless about what is absolutely essential to the query. I'm wondering if we even need to know that people in this world look like normal humans at birth, but develop the traits of various animals as they grow. The important thing as far as the query is concerned is that Ana is the only person in the world who isn't half animal and that this has made her an outcast.

To me, the ideal would be one paragraph - maybe two short ones at most - setting up Ana's situation and getting her teamed up with Rae and Arella and out of the forest.

Paragraph two details their adventures on the way to see the king. How soon do they start getting into trouble with the guards? When does Ana learn that Rae and Arella are wanted criminals? What's the fallout from that revelation? Does Ana learn why they're really going to see the king? Does it change anything? What other dangers do they encounter and what skills do they have to help them overcome those dangers? You don't have to answer all of these questions, but we do want some sense of what kind of events we'll be seeing in the majority of the book. And if the big issue is going to be Ana's friendship with Rae and Arella, we'll want to see how they'real coming to care about each other.

Paragraph three is the main problem of the story. Rae and Arella have been concealing terrible secret (X). Ana finds out and her trust in the only real friends she's ever had is shattered. The king makes her offer (y) that will let Ana become a half animal and lead a normal life, but at the cost of betraying Rae and Arella by doing (z).

Give it a shot and see if it works.

Anonymous said...

Here's an exercise that might help:

For each scene in your book where Ana appears, write down a) what Ana thinks she wants (her goal), b) in one or two sentences, summarize what happens in this scene to get Ana closer to her goal, farther away from her goal, or to change her goal. Be specific and detailed. If a scene doesn't do any of these things write a full page on why it belongs in the book.

You now have a short list of your key plot points. You can use this list to create your synopsis, but back to the query....

If you want to narrow your list, organize the scenes by chapter and pick the most important event for each chapter.

Somewhere in the list of events, probably near the half-way or three-quarter mark, there should be an event that's key to the outcome of the story. That event belongs in the query, possibly as the exact sentence(s) you used to describe the event, possibly the sentence(s) rephrased as a question. Now, from your list of events, choose three to five others that explain how Ana got from the forest, to the key event. Put the intro at the top, the word count at the bottom, and submit again.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Author here,

EE- Thank you! Your version is a great help! It is very helpful and I appreciate you doing that. (I honestly feel a little foolish that I didn't think of it myself.)

InkandPixelClub and Anonymous- Thank you both for your suggestions. I will have to try both those exercise with my writing.

Everyone else- Thank you for all the time and effort you put into helping me! I really do appreciate it :)

Anonymous said...

Author here,

EE- Thank you! Your version is a great help! It is very helpful and I appreciate you doing that. (I honestly feel a little foolish that I didn't think of it myself.)

InkandPixelClub and Anonymous- Thank you both for your suggestions. I will have to try both those exercise with my writing.

Everyone else- Thank you for all the time and effort you put into helping me! I really do appreciate it :)