The second in our Before and After Queries – Mini-Series. This one comes from author S.F. Henson and features her very first query, as well as the query that landed her an agent. Commentary follows each. Let’s dig in!
First Query Ever:
Eli Samuels is the first person he knows to ever enter creepy old Mrs. Collins’ house. Before today no one else had ever even been invited inside. He’s the first person to see the hallway of humungous paintings, the first person to meet Mrs. Collins’ talking cat-creature guards, and the first person to discover that Mrs. Collins is the Seporax—whatever that is.
Now Mrs. Collins is dead. Unfortunately for Eli she gave him a cryptic message about his “power” and named him as the next searcher before she died, which means her guards are forcing Eli to find her replacement. Armed with only a magical letter opener dagger thing, Eli travels to the worlds beyond the paintings to find the next keeper of the doorways before Maleficius, a power hungry ex-king , destroys the doors—and the worlds they lead to.
Eli just wants to complete his task and go home, but when his dreams start coming to life and he finds an ancient photograph of a boy who could be his twin, he starts to wonder if the home he knows is really where he’s from or not. He has to find the Seporax before he can figure it out though, a quest that grows more difficult and dangerous with every new world he enters.
THE QUEST FOR THE SEPORAX is a 79,000 word Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Why it didn’t work:
Oh, let me count the ways. No seriously, let’s count them.
- It’s just off. I think the query should have the same voice as the book—to set it apart and to give agents a taste of your pages—but this one misses the mark so badly. Things I thought were “voice-y” as a baby writer just…aren’t. The “cat-creature guards” and “whatever that is” lines in the first paragraph, the “magical letter opener dagger thing” in the second (are you cringing yet? Because I am!). Those lines don’t show Eli’s voice as much as they show my bad writing and confuse the reader.
- The query drags. There’s no real immediacy here, no real hook. Nothing here grabs your attention. Too much set-up and not enough pow.
- If I didn’t know the story, I’d be confused about a lot of these plot points and how they connect. There are gaps in logic and no real stakes. What does Eli stand to gain and lose if he fails? The plot problems in the query indicate that there are plot problems with the story itself. And there were! Which is why this novel ended up in the trunk after going to a whopping 6 agents.
Last Query Ever (I hope!):
Sixteen-year-old Dot Parker has forty-eight hours before the government kills her dad.
Her father invented the cube, an electrical system that harvests energy from emotions. Thanks to Dot’s dad, for the last ten years the country has been powered by love. But the system is failing, and now the government wants to switch to a more efficient and controllable emotion: fear. A shift that can only be activated with a password.
And the password only exists in Dot’s head.
Alone, broke, and on the run from the same agents who took her dad, Dot has two days to scramble from her home in Alabama to the government facility in California. The string of numbers in her brain is the only thing keeping her dad alive, and she has no intention of turning it over. Not until she sees her dad in one piece. And definitely not until she learns how to destroy the cube system.
Because Dot has been behind Door Number Four. She’s experienced how the government plans to elicit fear, and she has the torture scars to prove it. Her dad knows the system, Dot knows the password, and only together can they stop the switch —and the torment of millions of innocent people. If the agents catch her first, though, Dot’s going back behind Door Number Four, and this time there will be no escape.
DOOR NUMBER FOUR is a 60,000 word YA Speculative Thriller. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Why it worked:
- There’s an immediate hook. The first line draws you in and makes you want to know more. Why does the government want to kill Dot’s dad? Why does she only have forty-eight hours? What’s going on here? That’s the point of a query: to keep the agent reading and make them want to know more.
- The story is clear. You know from the outset what event set the plot in motion and where the story is going. There’s a logical flow that was missing in the first query. This shows an agent that the manuscript probably has a good flow too.
- The stakes are also clear. The reader knows exactly what Dot stands to lose if she fails. We know the obstacles in her way, and we know why the antagonists are after her.
- There’s just overall more immediacy. The quicker pace keeps you reading to the end. This query gives away just enough, without telling too much.
My now agent requested the full manuscript just four hours after I queried her. I’m not saying this query is perfect, but it did its job and here I stand, plucked from the slush pile.
A huge thanks to S.F. Henson for contributing! As always, will end with this final encouragement about the querying process:
Time and practice build the necessary skills to survive in this industry. If your first queries slip through the hands of agents, do not fear or worry. You will get better at this. Your writing will improve. Put the time in and I expect the same kind of leaps you see above. We can’t wait to read your stories.
S.F. Henson was born and raised in the deep south. She graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Animal Science, which she put to great use by attending law school. Her law degree has gotten some mileage, though, giving her the experience to write about criminals and other dark, nefarious subjects. She lives beside a missile test range in Huntsville, Alabama with her husband, dog, two oddly named cats, and, of course, the missiles that frequently shake her house. Her debut novel, DEVILS WITHIN, releases from Sky Pony Press on October 17, 2017.