Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #26

Dear Melissa Sarver:

Since you are seeking dark tales, I though you might be interested in seeing my YA fantasy novel entitle DOT REAPER. Much like Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices), it touches on the issue of child soldiers and civil war. The full manuscript and a short synopsis are available upon request.

Fifteen-year-old Maxine Protega became a god and a demon overnight. Prophesied to abolish magic by one faction of her people, and protect it by another, she’s cast into the middle of a campaign that’s ripping her world and her family apart.

Torn from her home in Virginia, Max treks across the sea to an island dominated by power and deception. As armies of magicians gather and take sides, Max tries her hardest to shield her family from the chaos and violence spilling over into the States. But she fails, and the seeds of discord poison the people she’s fighting for, pitting them against each other, and against her.

When a mentor forces Max to accept the Dot Reaper--a brand that chains her to magic’s creators and marks her as their successor--she gains the power to tip the scales of battle either way. When a faction of her family marches against her, Max is caught between her love for magic and the darkness woven into the very fabric of it. Max must ally herself with one side and face the consequences: the extinction of her race, or a war that will decimate her family.

Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices) meets Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game in this dark cat-and-mouse story with a magical twist. DOT REAPER is a high-concept, 81,000 word YA fantasy set in Richmond, VA and a fictitious island in the Bermuda triangle. An interesting fact about me: I like to rationalize the actions of infamous leaders (inspired by Sun Tzu’s know your enemy and yourself’) Less interesting fact: I was captain of the drum line in high school. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Thick pillows of smoke stung Max's eyes and invaded her lungs as she collapsed against the bedroom door in a coughing fit. Each convulsion ripped through her chest and throat until taking the faintest of breaths felt like swallowing glass. She pushed open the door. A waft of clean air greeted her, but it provided only temporary relief. Max darted to the nearest window and threw it open, taking in deep, agonizing lungfuls of the humid night air.

Having followed her up the stairs, Fabian, Max’s little brother, was by her side in seconds, sputtering and wheezing against the window screen. Max rubbed and patted his back to help him rid the soot from his lungs. When his breathing settled, she turned her attention to the mesh wiring blocking their escape. Max pushed at the middle and sides of the barrier, but only with Fabian’s help was she able to pop the screen’s aligner out of its track. Another push sent it hurtling to the ground.

Placing a steadying hand on her brother’s shoulder as she threw her leg over the windowsill, Max's bare foot met the rough material of the cold roof.

“Okay,” she said, adjusting her weight. “Hold on to--"

Another explosion rocked the house, sending a concussive force through the room. The top of Max’s head slammed against the bottom of the window as she was hurled outside and onto the roof. The coarse shingles scraped and scratched at her arms and legs as she slid down.

Then she was free falling.


Stephsco said...

The beginning and ending paragraphs of the query feel a little repetitive. I would suggest paring down the first paragraph to one line of introduction (why you are sending to this agent--because they rep this genre). You don't need to say what type of book it is or the themes when you do such a good job describing it in the following paragraphs. You can save the title and extras for that last paragraph where you add in the word count. I would suggest adding in a comnparitive book title or any writing organizations you belong to.

The little facts are cute, and keep them if you want to maintain the personality of your query, but it doesn't quite replace a writing credential. I know some of us newbies don't always have credentials, but if you're part of a writing group, or attended a conference, sometimes that's better than nothing (my opinion--not sure what others might think on that).

For the first page, this is a good action scene, but a little hard to get into as an intro for a book. If you want to keep the start at this point, I would suggest adding in some character reflection, maybe some more interaction between the characters that shows us something about them other than their physical movement. This first page is where we first engage with your character, and an action scene that is focused on physical reactions might not pull us in as much as showing us something about what that character thinks of their world, or how they interact with someone else.

Having said that, I like the title, it's super catchy.

Jessica Peterson said...

I think the query is a bit too long. I know fantasy involves a lot more that requires explanation so it must be even more difficult trying to fit everything into such a short space. I found the query a bit hard to follow, but I think that's partly because of the genre.

I loved your 250. I actually enjoyed that you were jumping right into the action. You hooked me with Fabian, I was so worried and wanted to keep reading to make sure him and Max were going to be okay.

S.M. #12 said...

Hi from Richmond, V.A.! I was so excited to see a book set partially in Richmond- and a fantasy, at that!

Your query was well laid-out, and it has such a strong hook: "Fifteen-year-old Maxine Protega became a god and demon overnight." I would start your query there to grab the agent's attention, and save the information about the book's themes for after you've explained the plot. Just one reader's opinion, though!

I found the first 250 to be very well-written, but the opening was a bit abrupt. I felt thrown into the action before I got a chance to know the characters. Even adding one small paragraph before this action sequence starts- to give more of a sense of Max's character- would really draw me in to the world you've established.

I think you've got a strong book here. Good luck to you!

Caryn said...

I think your query is a little too long and I agree that it is repetitive at the end. The beginning sentence put me off, starting with the word since seemed awkward, like it should come after some other statement you made. You wouldn't be querying an agent unless you knew she had an interest in your type of story so I don't think you need to mention it.
I too love the opening sentence about her becoming a god and a demon. Fabulous hook!
Others on the site have told me that I don't need to put in so much personal stuff and I think they are right. You would also benefit from dropping the comment about your "interesting facts".
I like the story arc in your first page but you're using some passive language that slows down the action.
For example: avoid words like "was" or other forms of the TO BE verbs. Try: Following her up the stairs/ She spiraled downward into the darkness (or something like that) make me feel that terror of free falling into the unknown.

Great story idea!
Good luck!

Jessica Montgomery said...


So I will also say I would save your intro paragraph to the end. Typically, agents will skip it to read the meat of the query and then maybe go back to it if they liked what they saw, so it would just be more efficient to put it at the end (in my opinion, obviously its up to you!) I think you should also give a more specific form of fantasy. Fantasy is such a broad category, and different people read different sub genres of it. As soon as you said fantasy, I thought she was not on Earth, so when you said she was from Richmond, it threw me for a bit of a loop. I also think the query is a bit long, and just because its fantasy doesn't mean it needs to be long (my first novel was a high fantasy). However, I think the length factor is not the physical word count, but the fact it seems to drag. You start out with a POW and then backtrack. I think if you used more action words in the query it would read quicker and more exciting, like you want it to. I did like the first 250, but I agree with the person above me about the passive voice (I fell into this a LOT when I wrote my fantasy). It is SO hard to watch out for and very tedious to go back and change, but I think you can do it and I think it will make your story that much stronger!

Best of Luck!
Jess #3

Melissa Sarver said...

A few points about comp titles: I prefer you comp other books, not films or other media so I can hone in right away on who the reader is for your novel. That aside, I don't know Voces Inocentes that well but I believe it is a realistic story about children fighting in war, not a fantasy or magical story - so I don't think it's the right comp here. Also,you don't need to mention the same comp title twice (at the beginning and the end).

I would move all of this information and description up to the first or second paragraph: "this dark cat-and-mouse story with a magical twist. DOT REAPER is a high-concept, 81,000 word YA fantasy set in Richmond, VA and a fictitious island in the Bermuda triangle." When I was reading the query, I had no idea what world this story took place in - did it look like ours or was it a place you completely invented?

Make sure you are writing about your specific book: lines such as "Max treks across the sea to an island dominated by power and deception" are incredibly vague and tell us nothing about your characters, world, or conflict.

Be clear about what the conflict is: I think you've hinted at a number of different conflicts that left me thinking the story felt muddled. Does Max need to save her family? Does she need to choose between her family and others? Is she running a world in which two sides are fighting and her parents happen to be on one? Clarify and tighten your query in a more compelling way.

I liked the 250 words - I think the first two sentences are repetitive and you should pick one. We get it - she's having trouble breathing due to the smoke. But I'd like to keep reading and find out what the smoke is all about.