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Query Critique: Middle Grade Fantasy

I bet you thought I’d given up query critiques. Nope. I’m just slow. I’ve also realized I don’t think I’m a fan of doing critiques. But you sent them in so I’ll try to do a few now and again.
I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog.
 
 
To Query Queen,
 
We read that you have an interest in middle grade coming-of-age stories with fantasy elements and a strong female lead.  My daughter and I are seeking representation for our middle grade contemporary fantasy novel, THE LAST PRINCESS: Twelve-year-old Cat’s dreams come true when faerie folk crown her their princess. But she must embrace the heartbreak of her Trollish heritage to rescue her kidnapped BFF, and nobody wants a troll for a princess.
Too much! “middle grade coming-of-age stories with fantasy elements and a strong female lead” I’m exhausted and whether you’re trying this or not, it feels like you’re grasping at straws in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible. What is your book? Short and sweet. Middle Grade Fantasy. Boom. That’s it. The rest should come through in the story (there is no genre for coming-of-age by the way).
I’d dump the lines after the title. I think ending the first paragraph with the genre and title is enough. Move that into the description and go from there. You also make yourself redundant by more or less repeating that in the next paragraph.
 
Twelve-year-old Cat Brökkenwier is a daydreamer. She sees faerie folk among people the way her friends see animals among the clouds. But life in the suburbs is about as far from her dream of being a princess as you can get. Besides, her mom says there are no such things as faeries and ogres and pixies, and if she doesn’t stop daydreaming instead of doing her work there will be Consequences.
I think you weaken your argument by comparing her sighting of faerie folk to animals in clouds. Not everyone sees animals in clouds. Also, for me, it makes this feel really young. The third sentence seems to come out of nowhere. For me this is a huge red flag. Do you use transitions in your story? It feels a little stream of conscious which isn’t good since I’m not in your conscience. Consequences. It sounds like you’re speaking to a much younger child.
 
That’s when a mysterious old woman tells Cat the fae were real but they’ve blended in until they look almost human, and Cat can see them because she’s one of them. Oh, and since she has this “fae-dar” she could become the last princess of the fae. Now Cat must earn the crown before a goblin changeling with sinister magic beats her to it. Or worse, before her mother finds out.
 
With the help of a dwarf clock-maker, a brownie housekeeper, an elfin archery instructor, and many others she meets along the way, Cat learns what it means to be fae. Then Cat discovers the devastating truth: she is descended from trolls, not faeries, and nobody wants a stupid troll for a princess. With her dreams and her world shattered Cat must make a choice: be the troll and rescue her friend from the power-hungry goblin who would be prince, or trade the crown for a spell to make her forget her klutzy, loathsome troll heritage … and everything she’s learned about the fae.
Your query feels overly long. I probably would have stopped reading after the second paragraph. Three paragraphs should be enough, especially since I feel like you have a lot of extra material. Material that doesn’t really tell me anything about the story. And that’s what’s really missing here. We know nothing about the plot. You keep talking about a princess, but I’m not sure where that’s coming from. I think the plot itself needs to be bigger.
 
Complete at 66,000 words, THE LAST PRINCESS is a stand-alone book with series potential, and will appeal to fans of Emily Windsnap or The Sisters Grimm.
 
Thank you for your consideration.
Let me add that I’m not looking for middle grade fantasy so I’ll critique the query as best I can, but I’m hoping Moe and Beth pipe in since I think this is more in line with what they’re looking for.
My impression is that the book needs work, not just the query. It feels like you have a nice idea, but it doesn’t strike me as something that’s really all that different. I’m also not sure you have a big enough plot to sustain the novel for 66,000 words.
I’m looking forward to hearing what my readers think.

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3 comments

  1. Much of the query is passive voice or narrative summary. It gives an idea of what you “this would be a cool idea to write!” inspiration was, but it does not hook me as a reader. I want to know who’s supposed to hold my attention, what the stakes are, and what the conflict is that will drive the story. A lot of the fun parts of writing the book should not be in the query. As cute as the idea of an elfin archery instructor is, unless that’s a pivot point for the story, it doesn’t go in the query.

    As it stands, the story in the query feels blunted. Cat wants to be a princess. Cat gets in trouble with her mother for wanting to be a princess. Then we get down to Cat’s big choice and it’s be a hero saving her friend, or…. to not be a princess? That falls flat as you’ve spent the rest of the query telling us Cat really wants to be a princess. A bigger moral decision would be to save her friend by being a troll, or to go for the princess gig and not save her friend.

    Focus on Cat, Cat’s desire to be a princess, the goblin, Cat’s troll heritage, and what Cat would do or give up to be a princess. Short, tight, to the heart of things. It leaves you with something like:

    “My daughter and I are seeking representation for our middle grade fantasy novel, THE LAST PRINCESS.

    Twelve-year-old Cat Brökkenwier’s daydreams of fae turn real. [example of what/how she sees them in real life and what stakes that raises- trouble at home or at school, maybe?]. Cat’s “fae-dar” means she could [do something active to fulfull her deepest wish and become] princess of the fae. [Only, there’s a goblin changeling contender for the throne, who kidnaps the BFF (or some other action that directly opposes Cat’s plans and shows how there’s sinister magic).] Now Cat must earn the crown before [named antagonist] beats her to it.

    Then Cat discovers the devastating truth: she is descended from trolls, not faeries. She must make a choice: be the troll and rescue her friend from the power-hungry goblin who would be prince, or [follow her dreams of being a princess], forget her klutzy, loathsome troll heritage … and everything she’s learned about the fae.” [also, if she chooses the princess route, where’s that leave her friend?]

    It still feels light, but if you can ground it in some solid repercussions (she becomes princess but forgets her old life, her friends and her family; she can’t ever return to the human world; etc.) then it will have more of a payoff. Right now I don’t care if Cat becomes a princess, because it doesn’t seem like it will have impact either way. She wants it, but why (other than “sinister”) shouldn’t the goblin get the job? Your query needs to tell me why I should care, what team I’m cheering for, what’s on the line, and which way the goalposts are. Then cut down to 250 words or less for the query.

    It may mean a serious rewrite of the book to drill down to the most gripping conflict and bring it forward. Good luck to you and your daughter.

  2. I’m a little confused, Cat wants to be a princess, but she can see fairies. Are the two things connected? If all she wants in life is to be a princess, how discovering her heritage is troll change that? Is other people’s opinion more important than her own dreams?

    If the sinister opposition is such a bad option for the crown, would the faerie care of she was a troll as long as she was good?

    Then we move to the BFF, who is she? where did she come from? Cat, is described as a dreamer, comes across as a girl younger than her twelve years, still dreaming of being a princess. That gives the image of a loner not a girl with a BFF ready to be kidnapped.

    When I look at the title, my first thought is why is she the last princess? why isn’t/can’t there be one after her? Why is she the princess at all if her mum doesn’t know about fairies and the goblin is considered a changeling? You’re asking questions, or at least, making statements, starting with your title that you don’t seem to be answering or explaining.

    The idea your story is based on does appear to be good. However from the query, I would say it needs some work. It comes across as shallow, it needs more depth, as Flo said readers want to know what is at stake. What is Cat risking losing? What is so bad about a trollish heritage?

    Good Luck to you and your daughter

  3. The most important things are: Who is the protaganist? What does she want? What is stopping her from getting it?

    I think it sounds like a nice story. Best of luck!

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