Aug 10, 2010

WriteOnCon Query Critique Day Two

So here's the second critique from WriteOnCon--for those of you who haven't been the conference site yet, check it out!!

And for those of you back to check out this night's critique--here ya go! Hope it helps.


Dear Joanna Volpe,

I’m looking forward to your presentations at the upcoming WriteOnCon. With Alison Hart’s equestrian books on your agency’s list, I thought you might be interested in my middle grade fantasy novel, THE BEAST OF BANNOCK. By saying this, I am automatically thinking that this author's work is something like Alison Hart's work. Alison is known for both contemporary and historical horse-related books--more often than not, with a female protagonist. All grounded in the real world.

Thirteen year old Ellis never intended to stumble into Bannock, never dreamed he would be marked as the long-awaited savior of a despairing kingdom—and certainly never thought he would ever find himself trapped in a horse’s body. At this point, aside from the horse connection, I'm starting to wonder why the author compared themselves to Alison. Our agency represents fantasy, so why mention only her? The protagonist is also a boy, and while Alison's Gabriel books have a boy protagonist, her most well-known titles have female protagonists, so this would already be a slightly different audience. It makes it seem like the author didn't do her research.

Wolves, snakes, falcons, seals, dragons, mice and horses—Ellis learns learned? What tense is this query in? that long ago, these animals could communicate with humans and governed (animals could communicate and govern together--the way this is written implies that the wolves, snakes, falcons, etc can govern together, communicating with humans being a separate issue) Bannock together, but the greed and corruption of the human kings caused the collapse of the peaceful land. Would be more clear as something like: ...mice and horses--long ago animals and humans governed Bannock together, but the greed and corruption of the human kings caused __ (specific event). Since, the animals have forgotten how to speak, and the civilization of Bannock has fallen into disrepair (or something like this...) Now, according to King Alaric and the mysterious Keeper, it has fallen upon Ellis to unite the kingdom again. Why? Who is Ellis? Is he from our world, or another? This is never clarified and I can't tell if this is grounded in reality at all. Secretly hoping the quest will lead him to his lost horse and ticket to freedom, he agrees to be Bannock’s fabled “Beast.” See, this is interesting--is it from a prophecy? You might want to consider starting with the prophecy, or at least a few lines of it. But Ellis gets more than he bargained for when he drinks from the sacred fountain: four hooves, an impending war and the fate of Bannock on his shoulders. Nice closing line!

THE BEAST OF BANNOCK could be described as ANIMORPHS meets the WARRIORS. Now THESE are comparative titles that work and make sense--forget Alison! (as much as I love her.) This 109,000 Woah. 109k for a middle grade? A debut? Not impossible, but definitely improbable. This makes me think that the author might not have revised this manuscript as much as they could. I still might request a partial to see, but then everything would be riding on whether those first 30 pages were obviously as tight as they can be. The 2 comparative titles you gave were not nearly this long (at least the early books in the series). word stand alone book has the potential to become a series with subsequent novels chronicling Ellis’ transformations into the other estranged animals of the broken alliance. For some reason my strike out isn't working with me tonight--so cut the blue text. We don't need that detail at this point.

My passion for children’s literature led me to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from Ohio University. I am an active member in my local SCBWI chapter, frequently attend nationwide SCBWI conferences and take part in both partner and group critiquing. Please note this query is a multiple submission. I would be happy to send you my completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. Great.



storyqueen said...

The "Beast" was the part that intrigued me the most, too. Automatically, it made my little brain start asking questions and imagining scenarios.....I love when that happens!

Thanks to the author for having the courage to put it out there, and thanks to Jo for letting us see through agent-eyes.


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thank you so much for putting these thorough critiques on your blog (and thanks to the two writers who offered the work for crit). I was intrigued by the comments on comparative titles, which can be tricky to get right. Loved that last line, too.

Kathryn said...

Thank you so much for your in-depth feedback, Joanna. This is just what I needed to whip my query into shape. I'm thrilled you wanted more details about the prophecy. I was afraid to mention much about it after I kept reading that agents are tired of seeing "prophecy fantasy" queries. I hope everyone can learn from my (numerous) query missteps. This has been such a great experience. Thanks again!

Bish Denham said...

Wow! Excellent commentary. Congratulations Kathryn for being picked. Good luck.

middle grade ninja said...

I compare all of my writing to the work of Alison Hart. I've never written about a girl and her horse ever, but I want to impress people. I say my book is Twilight meets Harry Potter meets Bonfire of the Vanities meets Ulysis meets Alison Hart:)

school_of_tyrannus said...

Thanks for posting a crit! It was so helpful!

You rock, Kathryn! I loved the excerpts of BEAST OF BANNOCK on the WriteOnCon website. I hope you get published! I totally connected with your writing and your protag!

Ammie said...

Such a great critique, Ms. Volpe. Thanks for giving us all a peek inside your mind as we read along with you. And PS--GREAT insightful comments at the panel tonight on WriteOnCon. Thanks so much for talking with us all!

Julie Musil said...

What a great critique! And the story sounds fun, too.

Alison said...

I love having someone use my name in his/her query letter. And Middle Grade Ninja--you are too funny!