Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #18

Ms. Taylor Martindale:

Greetings! My name is B.C. I have completed a 76,000-word manuscript for a YA paranormal fiction novel titled CANDLELIGHT. I’m writing to you because your profile states that you care most about whether or not stories have engaging characters and vivid worlds. This is a belief I share and want to have in any agent representing my work.

Set in 1873, the story begins when the young Theo Neumann is forced to flee his home after being accused of stealing a revolutionary design for a steam drill from his powerful former employer. Pursued across the country by a sadistic bounty hunter named Wolf, Theo makes his way to Virginia City, Nevada, site of the largest silver rush in American history. He quickly finds a job on one of the many mining crews, all locked in fierce and sometimes violent competition with one another. It is perfect work for someone trying to keep a low profile--as long as you don’t mind the daily risk of injury or death. But deep below the surface of the earth, Theo is about to discover that silver isn’t the only thing hiding in the rock. Something has been listening to the growing noise of the mining--and it is not happy. There are legends about creatures that live in the depths. Some call them Tommyknockers. What is more troubling than what the stories got wrong…is what the stories got right.

CANDLELIGHT is aimed at the young adult demographic, engaging both men and women with a mix of action, mystery, and romance. Blending the historical and the supernatural in the tradition of Harry Turtledove and Susanna Clarke, I worked hard to convey the vivid and boisterous life of frontier boomtowns, while crafting an internally consistent alternate world to engage the imagination.

I have copied the first 250 words of my manuscript into the email below. I thank you for your time and consideration, and hope to hear a favorable reply at your earliest convenience.



Philadelphia, February 25, 1873

The two men lying on the ground coughed and wheezed their last just as the sun dipped below the horizon. The man who had killed them nodded to himself with a look of satisfaction. Sometimes events just happen to align in an aesthetically pleasing way. He left the alley and the now-cooling bodies behind, neither moving slowly nor with much haste.

The sky was a deepening purple tinged by the last rays of the setting sun. Stars were just beginning to appear, barely visible as twinkling points of light. Faint wisps of cloud, high in the atmosphere, wove like ephemeral ribbons just barely beyond the edge of sight. Much closer to the ground, a less graceful kind of ribbon rose up from the countless smokestacks, chimneys, and furnaces of an industrial city still rumbling with the noise of machinery.

A man walked down the cobbled streets. They were now nearly empty that the day-laborers had vanished, returned to their homes or to the nearest bar. A casual observer would have not have given him a second glance. He was garbed in plain, dark clothes of a cut that gave the impression of a man with good taste and fashion sense, but their slightly worn appearance indicated he possessed little in terms of material wealth. A thick, long coat splattered with dark stains wrapped him against the growing chill.


Melissa said...

Several notes regarding the query:

1. You don't need to introduce yourself, as your name will be at the bottom of the query and most likely in your e-mail as well.

2. I think you can just say, "YA paranormal novel." If it's a novel, it's going to be fiction.

3. "It is perfect work for someone trying to keep a low profile--as long as you don’t mind the daily risk of injury or death." - This part made me smile.

4. When I started reading the query, the part about the "revolutionary design for a steam drill" made me think this would be steampunk, but then you've got a bounty hunter and Tommyknockers. Which is the most important part of the story? Whatever that is, I'd tighten the query to focus more on that.

For example, if it were the Tommyknockers, I'd say something like, "On the run after falsely accused of theft by his employer, Theo winds up in a Nevada mining town, but there's something in the mines..."

5. In the third paragraph, I'd take out that first sentence entirely. It's a YA novel so we know what demographic it's aimed at.

6. Your sample page shows that you write well. Really, it's quite nice. I have a suspicion though that this is a prologue. Even if it's not, you might want to start off with the main character rather than the bounty hunter (I'm assuming that's who this guy is).

Best of luck with this!

Ru said...

I agree with the above comment - I really like the idea of a historical/paranormal, but the query could use some tightening.

On the sample pages:

"He left the alley and the now-cooling bodies behind, neither moving slowly nor with much haste." - awkward. All you've told me is that he's not moving slowly or quickly ... so he's moving? Other than that, I liked the sample.

Cortney Pearson said...

I agree with everything Melissa said too. :) Interesting premise, though I had somewhat of a hard time following it just because I think you could tighten the query just a bit. I'd put Theo's age so that gives an agent an exact idea of where to place this story; "the young" is very vague. I also had to read the last sentence in your query several times to grasp what you were trying to say. You don't need "is" twice, so I would start it with, "More troubling than..."

I liked the excerpt, but the POV seems to change in the third paragraph. Are you shifting to a man walking down the cobbled streets, or is it still in the POV of the man who had just killed the other two guys? I just had a hard time clarifying which "man" you were referring to. And I agree with starting off with the protagonist, especially since this is geared toward a YA market.

This seems like a prologue to me also, and the writing is nice and crisp, I can tell you know your stuff! :D

Elizabeth Briggs said...

I like this a lot, but I think the end of the pitch is super vague (specifically: "What is more troubling than what the stories got wrong…is what the stories got right.") Also, I don't see what the Tommyknockers has to do with Theo fleeing a powerful former boss, or the steam drill, or the bounty hunter after him. If the Tommyknockers and whatever they do to the camps are the main plot of the book I would suggest shortening the background about Theo and his life, and focus on that. Maybe just start with Theo in the mining camps (you can briefly mention he is hiding), and then get into what exactly happens with the Tommyknockers. What is the conflict? What does Theo have to do about it?

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for all the helpful comments! My query is already much better for them.

Unknown said...

I agree with what was said by the others. I'm intregued by your premise, but I want the main point solidified before I know if I want to read it.

On the first paragraph, I'm starting to regret my own choice to tell Taylor I'd figured out she likes strong characters. With everyone saying the same thing, it's starting to feel like a "duh" statement, isn't it?

On your marketing paragraph, be very careful not to say yourself the things you want the critics to say. YOU have to show it.

I've also heard that saying things like "I hope to hear a favorable response" can be a turn-off. She knows what you want- just thank her for her time and move on.

In the sample, I noticed some grammatical and sentence-structure issues. For example, in the first paragraph, I thought the word "neither" was referring to the bodies, and had to re-read. Also, in the last paragraph, "would have not have" really tripped me up.

I'd also recommend you not spend so much of the first page talking about the weather and setting. Readers like me wanna hear about the characters first, the plot second, and setting third.

The paragraph that talks about "a man" confused me--are we not talking about the killer anymore? Why not?

I think you have a great start here.

Taylor Martindale said...

I found this query had a new and intriguing concept, and I liked the combination of historical and paranormal. The first sentence of the pitch paragraph is a little confusing (there is some phrasing that can be cut there so it’s more direct), but it gives me a really good picture of what I can expect. One thing that could be built up more is giving the reader a slightly better sense of the stakes. We know there is a creature, but not necessarily the level of danger it represents, and what will happen to Theo if Wolf finds him? I also like that the first page takes its time to set the scene. One concern, though, is that there is a little too much summary in the description of the man’s clothes. That would need to start breaking up in the next page, but I would definitely keep reading to see how this develops.
Thank you for participating in this Agent’s Inbox!
Taylor Martindale
Full Circle Literary