Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1280 has submitted the following revision, and would like your feedback:

Sixteen-year-old Ariel Hawk has always known Fae exist; her dad made sure of that, no matter how often the neighbors called him crazy. [Did he make sure of that by proving it, or just by telling her? Parents tell kids Santa Claus exists, but that doesn't ensure they will always believe it. If your father insists zombies exist, you don't believe it until you see one eating brains.] So while being kidnapped comes as a shock, knowing she’s captive to Fae royalty just makes her angry. [Is your point that she wasn't angry about being kidnapped until she realized her kidnapper was Fae royalty?] 

Ariel’s abductor—His Royal Smugness, the Winter Prince Fiachra—embodies everything she fears and hates about the Fae. Eerily handsome and insufferably proud, he sees humans only as objects to use for his desires: in this case, marriage. Ariel is exactly the young, fertile bride Fiachra wants. Her uncommon knowledge of his kind intrigues him, and her instinct to fight him offers a worthy challenge.

Though Fiachra’s courtship grows increasingly abusive, Ariel refuses to be bribed or beaten down. He feeds her enchanted fruit, and she spits it in his face; he proposes with a priceless silver ring, and she drops it in her chamberpot. She even uses the pain of a whipping to fight enchantment. [Not clear what that means.]

Unknown to Ariel, the wedding is only the first stage of a deadly plot. Fiachra’s scheming to murder his father after the ceremony, and seize the throne of the Winter Court with Ariel as his queen. If Ariel can’t escape, she’ll be trapped in Faerie with a patri-regicidal maniac for eternity. But if her attempts push Fiachra’s patience to the breaking point, he just might kill her too. [Does Fuchsia have to marry someone before killing his father? Does he have to seize the throne? Who would have claim to the throne if he doesn't seize it?]

WINTER'S QUEEN is a YA fantasy of 80,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Note from author: With regards to the phrase "bribed or beaten down", it was originally "wooed or subdued". I'm trying to get across the point that abusers like Fiachra can and do display outwardly-nice behavior (eg. Fiachra giving Ariel a ring) as a means of trying to win over or guilt-trip their victims between bouts of more blatantly harmful behavior. Most of the people who have looked over this query so far haven't understood this. If there's a clearer way I can get this across, please advise.  [Starting that "bribed or beaten down" sentence with the word "though" creates a connection I don't see. It suggests that normally the more you abuse someone, the more likely she'll accept bribes. What you probably want to say in the query is that when first his wooing and then his bribery (specifically, if she'll marry him he'll do X) don't work, Fiachra shows his true colors, becoming abusive . . . but still Ariel refuses to give in. In the book he may alternate abuse with kindness and bribes, but we don't want the query getting too complicated. The standard way to win a woman is to be nice, and if she sees through that, bribe her, and if that doesn't work, resort to threatening to kill her.]


What is he bribing her with? Not if you marry me I'll make you queen; she'd get that automatically, right? If you marry me I'll stop abusing you? Or I won't kill your parents? 
I'm not sure I like bribery being part of the equation. Bribery is usually treasure.  I can be abusive or kind, take your pick, seems like the option he would give her.

This is mostly the situation your main character finds herself in. We want to know what she does about it. You could condense this into something like:

Sixteen-year-old Ariel Hawk has been abducted by His Royal Smugness, the Winter Prince Fiachra, who embodies everything she fears and hates about the Fae. Fiachra seeks a young, fertile bride to be his queen--after he murders his father and assumes the throne. But Ariel wants no part of this patri-regicidal maniac, tossing his engagement ring into her chamberpot. 

That leaves plenty of room to tell us what Fiachra does to try to win Ariel (fake kindness, threats, enchantment), how Ariel manages to ward him off, how Ariel plans to make her escape, and what goes wrong. She's your heroine, she has to take action, not just hold out.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The question that's going to be on the mind of the person reading your query is "How is this manuscript different from all the other manuscripts I'm being offered about girls who are kidnapped by the Fae and/or have some Fae king who wants to marry them?"

The answer, it seems, is the exploration of abusers and abusive relationships.

Therefore, make sure the query doesn't just explain that, but emphasizes it. It's your one chance to stand out from the crowd.

Lose the first paragraph in any case.

Ireth said...

Author here. Thanks for your feedback, EE. I'm unfortunately not sure how to clarify a number of the things you pointed out without cluttering the query with too much info and backstory. Especially when it comes to why Ariel knows Fae exist. As far as the alternating of "nice" behavior and blatantly cruel behavior, I'm not sure what to do with that either, since the whole premise of Fiachra kidnapping Ariel makes it obvious to her as well as the reader that he's the villain, not Prince Charming. She's done with his shit from the moment she sees him. At best she acts like he's winning her over to lull him into a false sense of security while she anticipates his next moves.

I do like the snappy way you've condensed the blurb, but it takes away from the revelation that the Fae aren't unknown to Ariel, which is part of what makes her unique. Explaining why that is would clutter the query, IMO. Also, I prefer keeping the revelation of the murder aspect of Fiachra's plot until later, since Ariel doesn't find out about it until the last 1/4 or so of the book. All she knows at first is she's slated to be Queen and has to escape.

LOL at "Fuchsia", by the way. XD

Anonymous said...

I see Ariel's still spitting out fruit in the query. Is that really so important to the overall plot that you need to spend your limited query space on it?

This version isn't significantly different from the previous version (Face-lift 1280) You have more detail about the set-up and motivations, but that's all.
The query needs to be significantly different.

What plot-worthy problem is solved in the book? (This can be a physical, emotional, or intellectual problem) Phrased a different way, what in Ariel's self/relationships/world significantly changes through the actions of the characters in the book? Does Ariel escape fairyland under her own power and in the process learn gain abilities/friends/personal development? Does she overcome her fear of Stockholm Syndrome? Does she resolve the attempted coup d' etat?

If there isn't a problem solved or some resulting change, you don't have a plot. You need a plot. Enough of the plot needs to be in the query that the agent/editor can see where it starts and where it's going and where the end is (even if it doesn't say how it ends)

Who solves the problem? If it isn't Ariel, this isn't her story.

The query needs to be about the person who's story it is.

Why should we care?

Feisty characters who don't actually accomplish anything are all bark and no bite. They become annoying quickly.

Good Luck

Evil Editor said...

My suggested condensing of the query isn't written in stone. If you don't want to reveal the murder plot, just delete that phrase:

Sixteen-year-old Ariel Hawk has been abducted by His Royal Smugness, the Winter Prince Fiachra, who embodies everything she fears and hates about the Fae. Fiachra seeks a young, fertile bride to be his queen--once he assumes the throne. But Ariel wants no part of Fiachra, and tosses his engagement ring into her chamberpot.

Not sure what you mean by ."it takes away from the revelation that the Fae aren't unknown to Ariel." Both your version and mine make it crystal clear in the first sentence that the Fae aren't unknown to Ariel.

Matt said...

Based on this I'd probably check out the first pages to see if the writing grabs me. I'm not really sure what the tone is supposed to be, though. "His Royal Smugness" makes it sound breezy, but then it gets dark with the abuse. The relationship dynamic started to remind me a bit of Joffrey and Sansa as the query went along.

AA said...

 “Especially when it comes to why Ariel knows Fae exist." Does she need to know they exist to be abducted by them?
You say it's part of what makes her unique, but if it doesn't play a part in her successful escape or rescue it isn't important to the query.

“ But if her attempts push Fiachra’s patience to the breaking point, he just might kill her too." So this wouldn't ruin his plan? I can't tell if he must marry and then kill his father in order to seize the throne, or he just thinks it would be more fun that way.

It seems to me that you have major plot problem, which is: There doesn't seem to be any reason why this is happening.
The Prince doesn't need a bride to kill his father and take the throne. One assumes he would inherit the throne eventually, anyway. Is there a reason to believe this would not be true?

You seem to believe that the reader won't sympathize with Ariel being angry unless we know she already thinks ill of Fae Princes. I'm pretty sure that being abducted is plenty enough reason to get angry. Being the intended bride of somebody you've never laid eyes on is another good reason.
I still don't connect with the character, though, because my primary emotion would be fear. She is only sixteen years old, she has been abducted, she may be forced into marriage and/or sex, and doesn't know if she'll see her family again.
It's great to be a plucky protag, but I'm worried your heroine has some sort of disorder if all she's feeling is anger.

K.L. Bergen said...

@AlaskaRavenclaw: What don't you like about the first paragraph? Advice like that means little without reasons behind it.

@Anonymous: Yes, enchantment such as that in the fruit is important to the plot. It's one of the main ways Fiachra tries to trap Ariel, along with physical and mental abuse. It also highlights her "so done with this shit" attitude when I go onto say that she spits the fruit in his face.

While Ariel does change throughout the course of the book (learning to trust some of the Fae and set aside her views that 99% of them are evil assholes like Fiachra), that is not the main focus of the book. Rather it is an undercurrent to the driving conflict.

The primary focus is on Ariel's attempts to escape Fiachra and Faerie, which thus become her means of thwarting Fiachra's plans for most of the book. Only just before the climax does she realize that there is more going on (i.e. the murder part of the plot) -- and yes, she does take action to stop the coup d'etat in two different ways, but the circumstances for that are the result of everything else snowballing, and major spoilers I don't want to reveal here.

Stockholm Syndrome is not a concern of hers; she knows Fiachra's abuse for what it is and refuses to form any sort of positive feeling toward him whatsoever. She does gain friends who help her escape Faerie, and her family are involved as well. I've tried just mentioning that her dad is looking for her, but I was advised that it made Ariel sound like a damsel in distress waiting for him to save her (a trope which Ariel openly lampshades and defies by trying repeatedly to escape, and persevering when she fails). And while her friends and family are important to the plot and its resolution, I'm worried that focusing too much on them will make Ariel come off as weak too.

A motto that pops up now and again in the novel is "What I can't handle, WE can"; it emphasizes the importance of relationships and teamwork over total self-sufficiency, which is critical in the climax. I don't want to make Ariel seem weak when I put her on her own, but the fact is, she's an ordinary human teenager among those who are essentially demigods, and even at her strongest she needs help from those who are stronger. Heck, even the family members who are devoted to finding her need outside help at times, and they're two grown men.

As well, much of the book is dedicated to the aforementioned family's subplot of looking for Ariel. I've seen endless advice stating that one should focus only on the MC of one's novel, even in books with multiple POV characters (mine has three). So that does make Ariel's side of things seem a tad sparse as well, when I try to condense it down to <250 words.

@EE: True, but in your version the fact that Ariel knows about the Fae, by virtue of her fear and hatred, is buried at the end of a long sentence. In my original version it's right at the forefront, more prominent. I think it's a bit more attention grabbing that way.

Evil Editor said...

You're saying the fact that Ariel knows the Fae exist is so important in the query that putting it in the first sentence isn't good enough, it must be in the first few words of the first sentence to grab attention? Which is more attention-grabbing:

You: Sixteen-year-old Ariel has always known the Fae exist.
Me: Sixteen-year-old Ariel has been abducted by His Royal Smugness

That she knows the Fae exist may be intriguing to the prince, but it's not intriguing to the person reading your query. Save it for the synopsis if you need one. If you insist you must have it in the first half of the first sentence, call him the Fae prince Fiachra instead of his royal smugness.

There's nothing in your first paragraph that we can't infer from the second paragraph, except that Ariel's neighbors call her dad crazy.

We give you advice because we assume you want it. Use what makes sense, and ignore what doesn't. No need to be defensive with people who are taking time to help.

When we ask questions, it's not because we want to know the answers, it's because we want you to know what the person reading your query may wonder about, but she won't bother asking you.

K.L. Bergen said...

@AA: To be brief, yes, her knowledge does play a role in her escape attempts. It's how she knows enough to resist his enchantments and the like.

By the point Fiachra sees fit to marry Ariel, he's pretty much mentally snapped from frustration. While it is true that he doesn't technically need a bride to claim the throne, he feels it will give him more credibility as King if he has someone there to start giving him heirs right away. (The fact that his heirs may one day do to him as he plans to do to his father doesn't occur to him.) As it is, Fiachra will never inherit the throne unless his father dies (unlikely to happen soon, since as Fae they are immortal unless killed) or abdicates (not gonna happen unless he's maimed). So Fiachra really only has two choices if he wants to be king RIGHT NOW. His father has been king for thousands of years, and he's not going to just give it up.

Ariel does feel fear, and plenty of it. I just thought it would be better to show Ariel being angry and fighting than scared and fleeing.

@EE: The point of saying that Ariel believes in the Fae (and her dad is thought of as crazy for raising her so) is to highlight that few other humans do believe. The whole plot is kicked off (on Ariel's end, at least) when she has an argument with her friends concerning this very issue and unwittingly draws Fiachra's attention to her. This is how he finds out that she believes in him, and that belief is what first entices him to claim her for a bride.

I'm not trying to be defensive, and I apologize for coming off that way. I'm just trying to explain my points. Writing things out helps me organize my thoughts as well, so it helps me make sense of everyone's advice. Feedback like this is better, IMO, when it comes as part of a discussion, not just people bouncing their ideas off of me. If you'd prefer I just read the comments and and rework my query, or delete my posts before I hit Publish, I can do that.

Evil Editor said...

We assume few humans believe in the Fae unless told otherwise. Now if everyone believed in the Fae, that would be worth highlighting because it would be a major difference between the real world and your fictional world.

Ireth said...

@EE: Exactly, which is why Ariel is unique because she DOES believe. Again drawing importance to the fact that her dad is considered crazy for raising her so.

I'm bowing out of this exchange for a while. Need time to work with what feedback I've been given. Thanks to everyone who gave advice.

Evil Editor said...

The main thing you need to focus on is the purpose of a query letter.

SB said...

I like that you're acknowledging that the fae prince's behavior is abusive and wrong. Too many YA fairy stories have the fae prince/king using young women for their own desires against their will and he's still portrayed as the romantic lead that we're supposed to be rooting for the MC to end up with. (*gag*)

Is there an alternate romantic interest? I'm not saying there needs to be one, but with YA fantasies, a lot of readers would be expecting one. If I went into a book like this, I'd kind of be hoping that the girl ends up with a nice guy for once, in addition to escaping the abuser.

I'm still left wondering why the fae prince picked this particular girl, though. Your query says that her fighting him presents a nice challenge. I don't really buy that. In my understanding, abusers tend to target women who are easy victims, easily controlled. They don't generally go for the ones who stand up to them and fight them every step of the way. Especially if they want something from them other than simply submitting to their abuse. I think that in order for me to buy the premise, I need a better reason to believe this guy picked her over any number of other girls. (And saying she's 'fertile' comes off weird to me. Because how does he know? He's assuming just because she's young? Because there's no reason to think she's any more fertile than, again, just about any other girl he could have picked off the street.)

In reading your query as it currently is, it seems like an endless string of Strong Female Protagonist fighting uselessly against someone far more powerful than her who she has no real hope of defeating and apparently doesn't make any progress to that end. I have read more than enough stories about Strong Female Protagonists (or male ones, for that matter) fighting for the sake of fighting and to prove that they're not letting the villain beat them down even though it doesn't get them anywhere. And since your query doesn't really indicate any buildup or plot progression, it seems redundant and boring. Now, what you say about her building relationships with others, learning that not all fae are evil, and her family working to come save her -- that I'm much more interested in. I can understand why the advice would be to leave the family out of the query (I don't personally agree with that, but yeah, it's probably what most people would advise; I would actually find the family aspect a strong draw, but I always want more family/parents in YA stories), so I'd say put in some info about the other stuff, who else she meets and how her relationships with those people grow and how it leads to her achieving her goal. An entire query full of "he's trying to beat her down and she's having none of it" is static and doesn't go anywhere. You don't need as many words as you're using to get that across. Summarize that quickly, then tell us about the other people she meets, how they change her mind about fae, and how getting to know them helps her achieve her goal.

Ireth said...

Thank you, SB! This is exactly what I needed to hear.

Yes, the "abuse is wrong" aspect is another thing I'm hoping makes my book unique. Ariel calls Fiachra and others out for it repeatedly, starting with "kidnapping does not equal love and taking me away from my family and friends does nothing to endear you to me".

No, there is no alternate love interest. The main male presence in the novel aside from Fiachra are mostly father/uncle figures for Ariel, and two platonic male friends her own age who only really show up at the beginning and the end (though she does think of them and miss them during her time in Faerie).

The Fae have kinda skewed priorities when it comes to relationships (see above about kidnapping), so taking Ariel on as a "challenge" is par for the course. Same deal for why he chooses someone who already believes (and thus would know enough to fight him) rather than someone who's blissfully ignorant and easily molded to his will. Also, yes, Fiachra makes a lot of assumptions about Ariel (like the fact that she's fertile, cis-female, and even interested in men), which just happen to be true. Ariel does lampshade the ridiculousness of it, though. Regarding her fertility specifically, it's mainly the fact that she's human that matters. Fae have a much lower fertility rate than humans, so a human wife increases Fiachra's chances of conceiving a healthy heir. And once she's been in Faerie for a few months, she'll be immortal like him, so there's no issue about him outliving her by millennia.

I totally see what you're saying about how I portray the structure of the book in my query. I'll play around with including her family and friends and see how/if that helps. ^^ (Though I would think at least that going from "kidnapping and wedding plans/escape" to "murder plot" does indicate a bit of progression? Maybe?)

SB said...

If the fae like a challenge, then he should be pleased that she's being so difficult. Instead, it seems that he's increasingly irritated by it (especially shown by him potentially getting irritated enough to simply kill her despite his plans). If you're going to say that fae are different in this way, you need to follow it through consistently in his actions and reactions.

"(Though I would think at least that going from "kidnapping and wedding plans/escape" to "murder plot" does indicate a bit of progression? Maybe?)"

In my reading, it doesn't really indicate a progression because you don't say enough about what your MC actually does about it. Her actions remain fairly static, it's only what's going on around her that's changing. And even if she wanted to do something about the murder plot (which I don't think you make clear enough), I have no reason to think she's capable of doing anything when she can't even get herself away from the guy.

Evil Editor said...

Not to mention the fact that the murder plot was hatched first, not last.

SB said...

Also, I find it problematic that the reason he's kidnapped her is because he thinks it'll give him legitimacy to be able to produce heirs right away. Because I can't imagine heirs being an urgent problem in an immortal race. And if he hasn't considered that they'll do to him what he plans to do to his own father, does the MC point this out to him? Does she try to get him to believe it? Does she say that if she is forced to produce children for him, she'll do all she can to encourage them to turn against him one day? And for that matter, let's be honest, there's absolutely no reason he needs her consent if he only wants to marry her to get heirs. Plenty of women have been married to men without their consent (or with coerced consent) throughout history. Given the reputation of the fae, I can't imagine they're really that much more enlightened than humans, especially if he's willing to abuse and possibly kill her.

So ... yeah, basically I'm still not buying into your premise for why the prince chose her and why he's trying so hard to win her over. Maybe if there was some magic involved, some rare magical thing that she had (even if she didn't know it) that marrying her would either allow him to possess or would perhaps be passed to his offspring who he could then use as pawns. I appreciate your wanting to tell a story about not giving into abuse, but your setup and reasoning just isn't working for me. But the good thing about this being a fantasy is that you could use magic to fill in the gaps.

AA said...

Okay-her knowledge plays a role in her escape attempts, BUT-you don't say in the query it does. You either need to point out that said knowledge plays a role or leave it out because it doesn't lead to anything in the query, though it does lead to something in the book.

Why are you worried about spoilers? You are showing this to someone you hope wants to get the book sold. It isn't for the eventual reader. Keep that in mind. The eventual book readers will never see this query.

“A motto that pops up now and again in the novel is "What I can't handle, WE can"; it emphasizes the importance of relationships and teamwork over total self-sufficiency, which is critical in the climax.”
I don't see this in the query at all. Ariel and the Prince are the only two active characters. If there are other characters who help, they aren't shown or named.

“@EE: The point of saying that Ariel believes in the Fae (and her dad is thought of as crazy for raising her so) is to highlight that few other humans do believe. The whole plot is kicked off (on Ariel's end, at least) when she has an argument with her friends concerning this very issue and unwittingly draws Fiachra's attention to her. This is how he finds out that she believes in him, and that belief is what first entices him to claim her for a bride.”

I can see that, but- it wouldn't be considered important to the query itself. Your plot is that she was kidnapped, for whatever reason, and now she must do something about it. This is no doubt important to the story, but the query doesn't require you explain why she was chosen. If she was chosen because the Prince saw her by happenstance, it still leaves her in the same situation- abducted and trying to get away.

I don't think you are understanding what we mean when we talk about the query showing the plot or progression of events.
Look at this query. It is still in the developmental stages, but you'll get the idea of what we mean. The query needs to show what happens in the story in a very condensed form.