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  1. #1

    A Premature Query

    Okay, so I'm very far away from needing a query, only now wading into the second draft of my MS and anticipate it being a good few years before I'm ready to attempt getting published. I've knocked this up as an excersise to help me focus and because I've been reading alot of query critiques lately, both here and on the excellent Query Shark site.

    Please feel free to be brutal . I'm aware that my grammar is not up to the standards it needs to be, and continue to strive to improve; So commentary on grammatical errors is always appreciated - its the only way I'll learn despite Mr. Strunk's best efforts.


    Primary school teacher Elsie Clarke discovers that she has magic and is visited by a Middleman from the AMP (Association of Magical Practitioners). Everything seems wonderful until they discover that one of her fledgling gifts is prophecy, because something is killing prophets. Elsie needs to use her new power, and pierce the veil that hangs over the future to uncover who wants her dead and why.

    Colwin Throssle, a wizard with the unusual ability to control water, has been a Middleman for six months. Standing between the magical community and everything else the Middlemen are underpaid, undermanned, and unappreciated - more social workers than police. Then there are the last five years which Colwin really does not want to think about, got married, moved abroad, painful breakup, but the details are weirdly vague. Now he needs to keep Elsie alive, and teach her what magic he can, until he can palm her off as someone else's apprentice.

    Together Elsie and Colwin fend of the attacks of an organization known only as The Unseen, a group of magic users who have achieved immortality and periodically destroy any magical institution that might rival their power. The Unseen plan to destroy the AMP at its upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations, which will see the bulk of the magical community gathered. Only a living prophet can hope to foresee the terrible nature of their attack.

    Even as this happens goblin asylum seekers are pouring through into England as terrible powers stir in faerie. And one of those terrible powers is Colwin's ex, who would not be thrilled to see him practising his awkward charms upon his new apprentice. Because his faerie Princess is in the running to become a faerie Queen, and faeries don't believe in divorce.

    Wet Knight is a 100,000 word(ish) urban fantasy novel that will appeal to fans of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files or Kevin Ahearne's Iron Druid Chronicles.
    Last edited by Ornery Wyvern; April 2nd, 2012 at 04:17 PM.

  2. #2
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    I've done several of these too. Actually, trying to write my query letter made me realize I had to chuck my novel and start over. Almost done with the re-write. Then I can do this again...

    Anyway, okay, I'll take a crack at this, but don't listen to me. I'm just tearing you apart in hopes of learning something. Hopefully KatG or Kissmequick will come along and guide you in the right direction.

    Primary school teacher Elsie Clarke discovers that she has magic and is visited by a Middleman from the AMP (Association of Magical Practitioners). [Has magic? Like as in a disease? Do you mean, ...Elsie Clarke discovers she has the gift of magic and is visited..., or something like that. For whatever reason, that 'has' seems odd] Everything seems wonderful until they discover [word echo] that one of her fledgling gifts is prophecy, because something is killing prophets. [That sentence didn't make sense. Someone is killing prophets and that's how they discover her gift?] Elsie needs to use her new power, and pierce the veil that hangs over the future to uncover who wants her dead and why. [Good.}

    Colwin Throssle, a wizard with the unusual ability to control water, has been a Middleman for six months. Standing between the magical community and everything else[comma] the Middlemen are underpaid, undermanned, and unappreciated - more social workers than police. Then there are the last five years which Colwin really does not want to think about, got married, moved abroad, painful breakup, but the details are weirdly vague. [That sentence is a bit odd. The vague part is confusing - to me. Maybe you should start out his introduction with that bit of information?] Now he needs to keep Elsie alive, and teach her what magic he can, until he can palm her off as someone else's apprentice. [I think it would sound better if you wrote that last sentence: ...while he tries to palm her off to some other Middleman. Or something like that...I'm not being very helpful, am I?]

    Together Elsie and Colwin fend of the attacks of an organization known only as The Unseen, a group of magic users who have achieved immortality and periodically destroy any magical institution that might rival their power. The Unseen plan to destroy the AMP at its upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations, which will see the bulk of the magical community gathered. Only a living prophet can hope to foresee the terrible nature of their attack.

    Even as this happens[I would put a comma here] goblin asylum seekers are pouring through into England [this is the first mention that we are in own world, or a fantastical version of our world, I think this bit of information should come sooner] as terrible powers stir in faerie. And one of those terrible powers is Colwin's ex, who would not be thrilled to see him practising his awkward charms upon his new apprentice. [What? He's flirting with Elsie? This should be hinted at in the paragraph above, me thinks] Because his faerie Princess is in the running to become a faerie Queen, and faeries don't believe in divorce. [What? His faerie Princess? You mean his ex-wife?]

    Wet Knight is a 100,000 word(ish) urban fantasy novel that will appeal to fans of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files or Kevin Ahearne's Iron Druid Chronicles.
    [I would re-arrange this last sentence a bit. Maybe: At 100,000 words, Wet Knight is an urban fantasy novel...]
    I think your query is well done, actually. It just needs a bit of tweaking, IMHO. I hope that helped.

  3. #3
    Very helpful, and greatly appreciated tmso . I changed has to can uses - I'm not keen of using the gift - added earlier references to the English setting and Colwin's romantic inclinations. I've changed someone to some other wizard, since the majority of magic users are not Middlemen.

    For the last paragraph I'm reluctant to change the wording, I was kinda angling for the what reaction, as long as its not too confusing? His ex wife is a faerie Princess vying to become the new faerie Queen in Albion - which is Britain's faerie counterpart - as one faction in a civil war. This is not a major part of the plot for this book, but serves to set the scene for future plans. It also illustrates why the Middlemen are so over stretched, there having been virtually no magical creatures in modern Britain prior to these events. Colwin's memory is elusive because he had his memories messed with, essentially erased and replaced with a few vague details to explain the five year gap and pain to stop him exploring these flawed replacement memories.

    Revised Query

    Elsie Clarke, an English primary school teacher, discovers she can use magic and is visited by a Middleman from the AMP (Association of Magical Practitioners). Everything seems wonderful until they find out one of her fledgling gifts is prophecy, and something is killing prophets. Elsie needs to learn to use her new powers, and pierce the veil that hangs over the future to uncover who wants her dead and why.

    Colwin Throssle, a wizard with the unusual ability to control water, has been a Middleman for six months. Standing between the magical community and everything else, the Middlemen are underpaid, undermanned, and unappreciated - more social workers than police. Then there are the last five years which Colwin really does not want to think about, got married, moved abroad, painful breakup, but the details are elusive. Now he needs to keep Elsie alive, stop getting ideas, and teach her what magic he can, until he can palm her off as some other wizard's apprentice.

    Together Elsie and Colwin fend of the attacks of an organization known only as The Unseen, a group of magic users who have achieved immortality and periodically destroy any magical institution that might rival their power. The Unseen plan to destroy the AMP at their upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations, which will see the bulk of the magical community gathered. Only a living prophet can hope to foresee the terrible nature of their attack.

    Even as this happens, goblin asylum seekers are pouring through into England as terrible powers stir in faerie. And one of those terrible powers is Colwin's ex, who would not be thrilled to see him practising his awkward charms upon his new apprentice. Because his faerie Princess is in the running to become a faerie Queen and faeries don't believe in divorce.

    At 100,000 words Wet Knight is an urban fantasy novel in the vein of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, or Kevin Ahearne's Iron Druid Chronicles.
    Last edited by Ornery Wyvern; April 3rd, 2012 at 11:34 AM.

  4. #4
    Speaks fluent Bawehrf zachariah's Avatar
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    Hi Wyvern! This is just what I'd do, and I'm another random internet yahoo with no book contract, so treat accordingly.

    Elsie Clarke, an English primary school teacher, discovers she can use magic and is visited by a Middleman from the AMP (Association of Magical Practitioners).
    One of the biggest problems with condensing your book into a query is deciding what to cut out and what to include. Some things you have to have, like the name of your MC. Some things you definitely don't need, like long-winded acronyms and, to as great an extent as possible, all the special nouns you have used in the story. Every urban fantasy of recent vintage has a great love of naming every single faction and sub-faction to the point of cliché. You can easily de-clutter your query by abandoning them.

    Also, I'm assuming you have some killer scene where Elsie discovers her talent. Maybe this could serve to introduce the story and concept.

    Everything seems wonderful until they find out one of her fledgling gifts is prophecy, and something is killing prophets. Elsie needs to learn to use her new powers, and pierce the veil that hangs over the future to uncover who wants her dead and why.
    This information is good, but you've conveyed it in a pretty roundabout way, and it's frustratingly vague. How does everything seem wonderful? If these other prophets are any good, how is the murderer getting away with it?

    Colwin Throssle, a wizard with the unusual ability to control water, has been a Middleman for six months. Standing between the magical community and everything else, the Middlemen are underpaid, undermanned, and unappreciated - more social workers than police.
    That's three times you've used 'Middlemen' so far. Queries are the one place you definitely don't want to show any unnecessary repetition (and makes me shudder with fear at the prospect of reading 100K from someone who doesn't spot this in what should be a very carefully edited couple of hundred words). Apart from the name, I don't see any of this info as important.

    Then there are the last five years which Colwin really does not want to think about, got married, moved abroad, painful breakup, but the details are elusive. Now he needs to keep Elsie alive, stop getting ideas, and teach her what magic he can, until he can palm her off as some other wizard's apprentice.
    The way you've constructed the first sentence there is off - the list of Colwin's memories need to be separated from the preceding section, by dash or parentheses or something else you like. It reads like a clunky run-on. Again, these are details the query can do without.

    I can't understand how he can both 'get ideas' and at the same time want to fob her off on someone else. If he's interested, surely the last thing he wants is to have someone else take her on? Or are you saying he really wants casual sex with no strings attached?

    Together Elsie and Colwin fend of the attacks of an organization known only as The Unseen, a group of magic users who have achieved immortality and periodically destroy any magical institution that might rival their power. The Unseen plan to destroy the AMP at their upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations, which will see the bulk of the magical community gathered. Only a living prophet can hope to foresee the terrible nature of their attack.
    Again, it's vital to know they're in grave danger and why, so it's good you put that in. But your choice to pad the word-count with details of the Unseen and a wizard party is bafflingly eccentric.

    Even as this happens, goblin asylum seekers are pouring through into England as terrible powers stir in faerie. And one of those terrible powers is Colwin's ex, who would not be thrilled to see him practising his awkward charms upon his new apprentice. Because his faerie Princess is in the running to become a faerie Queen and faeries don't believe in divorce.
    I'm in two minds about the info here. You've stated that the Princess is a bit-part in this book, so she isn't really needed here, and that the Faerieland action is not a big part of the story too. I really don't think it has a place in the query. You've already established the battle between the AMP and the Unseen as the main conflict of the story, but not how Faerie relates to any of that - are the Unseen from there?

    At 100,000 words Wet Knight is an urban fantasy novel in the vein of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, or Kevin Ahearne's Iron Druid Chronicles.
    Title should be CAPS. Putting my Editor/Agent hat on, the high word-count fills me with dread, both from general prejudice against long stories from unknowns, and from the signs in the query of a less-than-ruthless self-editor. I'm sure this is not the case in reality, but like any other reader, this is all I have to go on.

    The title is a curious one. Sounds almost like you're going for a pun, implying spoof or comedy, but there's no sign of any humour in the query. It's also a bit of an insult to call someone 'wet', which may be the intention, but it makes for an off-putting title (to me - clearly you don't think so, and I'm just one voice). Also, it appears to refer to Colwin. But the query is centred on Elsie. Who is your MC?

    Here's a stab at it with extraneous bits cut and a few sentences changed for clarity:

    Elsie Clarke, a school teacher in England, discovers she can use magic when (blah, blah, brief exciting description of scene where she discovers her powers).

    Colwin Throssle, Water Wizard, has the job of getting her up to speed in prophecy. The Association of Magical Practitioners needs all the Prophets it can get, because something is killing them - something that can hide from the future.

    Elsie and Colwin are the only ones who can save the Association from an enemy they never knew existed. But they won't cancel the greatest magical gathering in a generation on the word of a trainee Prophet, and Colwin's wife - a powerful Faerie Princess - is not in a forgiving mood when she finds him with Elsie. The fact that she wiped his memory is no excuse, and she's not about to tell him why she did it.

    WET KNIGHT is a 100,000-word urban fantasy in the vein of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, or Kevin Ahearne's Iron Druid Chronicles.
    I'm probably erring too far on the side of sales-pitch there, but you can see the general idea of using shorthand for a lot of the details can save a lot of words.

  5. #5
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    I do like Zacharia's condensed version, but it does lose some...personality. But he pretty much nailed it.

    You are hired, Zacharia. I'm getting you to write my query letter.

  6. #6
    Hmmm, thats very interesting zachariah, I confess I was aiming for around 300 words which I now see is excessive. I really like what you have done there, and the majority of your points seems to be glaringly obvious in retrospect . My first draft comes in at around 110,000 words and I'm anticipating hacking away a lot of dead wood, but I've been told that for U.K publication novels almost need to be over 100,000 words.

    I disagree with you on the mutual exclusiveness of getting ideas and wanting to fob someone off though; For me its perfectly possible to be attracted to someone and think persueing it is a bad idea for one or more reasons.

    Perhaps I'm understating the importance of the faerie connections, I'll think on that. The influx of faeries creatures is central to the flavor of the setting, and there is substantial interaction with such creatures.

    As for the MC, its Colwin, but I'm switching between his and Elsie's povs. Wet Knight does indeed have punny and negative connotations, these are intentional. The novel is not exactly comedic, and the overall plot is pretty dark, but there's a fair amount of humor, in a similar vein to the Dresden Files and Iron Druid Chronicles. Colwin is geeky, tenative, and sweet, good in a crisis, but prone to letting himself get in his own way if he's given time to think.

    Thank you very much for the critique , I shall get my pruning shears out !

  7. #7
    Magical Ninja TheIELighten's Avatar
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    Hi Ornery Wyvern

    I'm not a good enough writer to critique anyone, but as a reader I think your story sounds really interesting, and it is the kind of story I would want to read. I liked your first query try, then I really liked your second attempt. They both made your story sound interesting.

  8. #8
    Thanks TheELighten, always very encouraging to hear . I've finally got to the point where I think I am largely happy with the plot, etc., now its just a matter of the long hard slog through endless redrafting, lol.

    As for the query, I'm still agonizing over what I "need" to say in it, I'll try my hand again shortly .
    Last edited by Ornery Wyvern; April 5th, 2012 at 11:58 AM.

  9. #9
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Basically looks good. (It's a little easier for the contemporary fantasies.) You can incorporate some of zachariah's suggestions, but I'd say don't go overboard. Wasn't too sure what this: "stop getting ideas" meant. Getting ideas about Elsie or does he make inventions? So those are little things to watch. But the character situations and the main plot is there. The query does indicate the fantasy has a humorous tone, leaning towards comic fantasy but along the level of Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, etc. So that's good because getting authors to communicate tone is often difficult.

    If Elsie is the protagonist, you might want to give her a bit more of the description, but it's not essential. If Colin is the protagonist, you might want to consider starting off the query with Colin having to find and deal with Elsie. But it reads pretty well, so I'm not suggesting much to mess with it.

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