Workshop Wednesday

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jul 20 2011

By repeated request we’ve started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we’ll just have to see. We’ve received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don’t be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that’s great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I’m leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don’t make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never “met” Query Shark, get over there and do that. She’s the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

March 7, 2011

Silly, I know, but there’s no need to place a date at the top of an email since email dates itself.

Dear Agent,

As always, we prefer an actual name if possible.

An ancient oak box revealing the truth about a millennium old secret of druids living in the modern times changes the life of Caitlyn Brady forever.

I believe this is meant as a tagline, which we don’t need in queries or for novels, but it really doesn’t work for me. It feels somehow incomplete and like I’m missing something. A tagline is meant to grab the attention of the reader and there’s nothing about this that grabs my attention or feels different from other novels. Most important, though, it’s not a very well-crafted sentence and makes me immediately question your writing abilities.

Caitlyn, a fifteen year-old from Southern Arizona discovers that her parents have been keeping a secret for over four hundred years revealing that they come from an ancient clan of druids who have assimilated into the modern world. She, too, is a druid who must now learn how to manipulate earth via her druid blessing of Emergence. At her new school, Keridwen, she befriends Druids of all three blessings (Rejuvenation, Emergence, and Shape shifting) all learning how to adjust into the “real world” in a special way. All is well until she discovers that she is not your typical one blessing Druid, but rather an oddity – she has two blessings, which has only happened once before in Druid history, and that was with the only druid twins ever born. She must now assist in the protection of the Druid world’s most prized possession – a scroll that holds a piece of the soul of Genevieve, the headmistress of Keridwen, and the recipe to release Genevieve’s evil twin, Arawyn. Now Caitlyn must face the possibility that her past may not be what it seems and her future may bring incredible danger forcing her to act 200 times her age.

I think you bog things down with details that don’t matter. There’s no need to mention that she’s from southern Arizona and, again, the first sentence doesn’t feel as well crafted as I would like. You also say that her parents have been keeping the secret for over four hundred years, which implies that the daughter is four hundred years old, or maybe the parents are? I’m confused by this.

I don’t understand the Druid culture. What is this blessing of Emergence and have all of these Druids been living there all along? Is there some connection or reason for that or are Druids simply part of the world. I guess I’m having difficulty understanding the world you’ve created. You mention a “new school,” but I didn’t get a sense that there was an old school.

Ultimately, I had a difficult time understanding this story and the world you’ve created, but also it doesn’t feel that special to me. I don’t have a sense that the story you’ve created is all that different from others I see all the time. It seems like you’re trying to jam too much into one paragraph without really telling me what the story is about.

KERIDWEN is a young adult novel, complete at 82,000 words.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is all good.


One thing this author did which is smart is ended with a signature that included name, address, phone and email address.


12 responses to “Workshop Wednesday”

  1. Avatar Josie says:

    So rather than Harry Potter, boy wizard, protecting the Philosopher's Stone to keep back a piece of the soul of the big bad hidden at his magic school, you've got [generic girl stand-in for Harry], protecting a Scroll to keep back a piece of the soul of the big bad hidden at her druid school.

    And, you've hit on one of my pet peeves with the school name. Just like changing the Philosopher's Stone to the Sorcerer's Stone stripped all of the attached folklore and history from the story. Turning Cerridwen into Keridwen does the same thing. It takes an established part of lore and turns it into something generic and bland.

    Arawyn also conjures up images of another famous fantasy series (Arwen, in case this was a coincidence).

  2. Avatar FoolPlusTime says:

    I think this suffers a lot from mentionitis. We begin with the mysterious box, which is never mentioned again. Then we learn Caitlyn has two druid powers, but this doesn't seem to have any particular impact on the story…
    If it only gets mentioned the once, it doesn't need to be in the query. I sympathise because with something like this you do need a certain amount of world-building in a query. Try cutting out as much as you possibly can and *only* put back what you *need* so it makes sense, just to see what you end up with. A book is sold on its story, not its world.

    I'm unimpressed by the Cod Cymraeg(Welsh) thing going on. As Josie points out, replacing a C for a K just strips out anything interesting you might have and makes it look like you've just picked a random name from mythology and made it easier to pronounce. I'm left wondering if Genevieve is some ill-thought out nod to Gwenhwyfar – Guinevere. I assume Arawyn is a play of Arawn, but it could just as easily be a typo of Arwyn – a Welsh name.

    Pob Hwyl, anyway.

  3. Avatar Kristan says:

    On a positive note, I think this sounds like a story that a lot of YA readers would be interested in. So the basic ingredients are there, but perhaps they just need to be served up in a different manner.

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    In a lot of the queries I've read over the years as examples, there always seems to be one thing in common. They can be confusing and it's hard to grasp the basic storyline. And I always believe that if you have to spend a half hour reading between the lines and figuring out what the author is talking about there's something wrong.

  5. Avatar Cara M says:

    Holy run-on sentences, Batman! There's definitely a punctuation issue that doesn't bode well for this either. It seems very… juvenile to send in a query letter without making sure it's comprehensible, and a lot of those sentences really aren't.

    Druids happen to be one of my pet peeves as well, and I find it odd that you're going for a Welsh feel with the references, but have Druids, which are more common in Irish sources. At least shapeshifting seems accurate, but if you really want the trifecta of Druidic powers it's got to be Prophesy, Shapechange, and Law. (And there should be a poetry school nearby!)

    The real question – of course, is do they teach human sacrifice at Keridwen? If they do, then I'm totally on board.

  6. I would just like to second everything Cara M

    With some hard work and a few minor plot changes, I think this could be a really good story.

    And a completely new query, of course.

  7. Avatar Sheila JG says:

    I think you have a lot of interesting ingredients here. I know nothing of Druids, but am interested in what these blessings are, and how they work.

    What bothered me about your opener is that it makes your protagonist sound passive. The oak box reveals the truth – this makes the box more interesting than your character.

    Keep your character active. And characters tend to be more interesting if they have a "want." She has to protect the scroll, but what's it to her? What's at stake for her? These are the details that make us care about your character, and hence her story.

    Good luck, and thanks for sharing.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This query brings up a problem I've been having. In a query, the story sounds like it isn't very different than all the others out there. What do you do if your basic plot element is common, or almost a cliche, when described in a few sentences? What if it is the execution of that plot, or the characters and they way they respond to the problem, that is the real story? How do you describe that in a query letter?

  9. It seems like a rushed query, as if whoever wrote it knew the basics of how to write one, but didn't know exactly how to go about it. And it doesn't seem edited by outside eyes either. It's too bad; the story might not be half bad, but it's overshadowed by a sub par query.

  10. Let's say you have one dollar for the vending machine. The choice is between a pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a new, unknown brand of chocolate/peanut butter candy with similar packaging.

    The new brand, probably with the best of intentions, made the mistake of positioning itself as an alternative to Reese's. You, as the consumer, would have no reason to spend your dollar on a Reese's substitute, when you could just as easily have the "real thing".

    Now, if the new brand had found a way to differentiate itself in your eyes, you might've given it a chance. It's the same thing with this query. I think it's an intriguing concept and the enthusiasm is there, but the author might want to rethink how he or she is "packaging" it. Just a thought. Good luck! 🙂

  11. I think Carrie hit the nail on the head. Like they say, there is no such thing as an original thought – it's really a matter of how we present our ideas. A query is a great opportunity to demonstrate our writing skills, voice, and (unoriginal!) ideas in our own unique way.

    And, thanks to the brave souls who've put their queries out there so we can all learn from them.

  12. Avatar Rebecca Kiel says:

    The idea is an interesting one. Unfortunately, my interest drowns in the main body of the query. I'd suggest flushing out unnecessary words, choosing verbs with oompha and tightening sentences. Try again. Let it sit a week. Revise it more. The work is worth it!