Monday, July 8, 2013

Query Crit: Heritage Blade Awakening by L. L. McKinney

Today we have another query critique, with L. L. McKinney's YA urban fantasy novel, Heritage Blade Awakening.
So, first, the unaltered query:
Due to bittersweet circumstances, my agent and I have parted ways. As such I'm querying again, and wondering if you would be interested in representing this and future works of mine.

Fifteen-year-old Jay Mitchell is the most lethal secret walking the streets of Chicago. He's killed before, and he'll kill again. Trained to protect an unwitting mankind from rogue Pandorans—supernatural beings who cross into this world through Pandora's box—he’s good at what he does. The problem? No one’s supposed to know he does it.

While rescuing a damsel in distress, Jay inadvertently reveals himself. Now the Guild knows he exists, and worse, he’s Unsanctioned, a crime punishable by death. On the run, Jay discovers there’s a price on his head, and everything that goes bump in the night arrives to collect. If he wants to survive he’ll have to draw on every ounce of his skill, and seek help from the most unlikely allies, including the hottie who got him into this mess in the first place.

HERITAGE BLADE AWAKENING is a young adult urban fantasy with series potential complete at 93,000 words. Thank you for your time and your consideration.
All the best,
~About Me~

And now the query with my (Angelica's) comments:
Overall I think this is a great query--full of active language, with just enough terminology to set us in the world, and good use of archetypes to firmly place it in the urban fantasy genre. As long as they're not overused, archetypes/tropes are great shorthand tools and free up some word count in your query for the aspects that make your story unique.


Due to bittersweet circumstances, my agent and I have parted ways. As such I'm querying again, and wondering if you would be interested in representing this and future works of mine. Nice, professional way to handle this--you're not whining, not slandering. Just laying it out there so that they're aware of the situation.

Fifteen-year-old Jay Mitchell is the most lethal secret walking the streets of Chicago. He's killed before, and he'll kill again. Trained to protect an unwitting mankind from rogue Pandorans—supernatural beings who cross into this world through Pandora's box—he’s good at what he does. The problem? No one’s supposed to know he does it. This paragraph is really tight, and the voice and tone are coming through well.

While rescuing a damsel in distress And this is where archetypes can come back to kick you in the tail. When I read "damsel in distress", I picture a completely passive female character. Granted, this may be a term from Jay's point of view and not entirely accurate, but you've made me afraid that a passive girl (
not a potential ally as she's labeled later) is exactly what I'll find in the pages., Jay inadvertently reveals himself. Now the Guild knows he exists, and worse, he’s Unsanctioned, a crime punishable by death. On the run, Jay discovers there’s a price on his head, and everything that goes bump in the night arrives to collect.<--Love this line! I could see this being a tagline on the cover. If he wants to survive he’ll have to draw on every ounce of his skill, and seek help from the most unlikely allies, including the hottie who got him into this mess in the first place.
I fully admit that the "damsel in distress" usage might be a hot button for me (and maybe commenters can add some feedback whether they were bothered by it), but it did throw me out of what was a great ride up until then. The rest was good enough that if I'd encountered this as back copy, I'd probably crack open the book and see how the characterization for the girl was handled.
But really, all that feels like nitpicking. ;) So congratulations for submitting a stellar query!
Encouragement and feedback are welcome in the comments, but please make sure they're constructive and helpful. If we get a good response, query critiques will become a regular feature of the blog, so please let us know if seeing this critique gave you any insights into your own work!

(Michelle's comments: I agree with Angelica's points. I also love the line about everything going bump in the night. Very nice! Damsel in distress didn't really bother me, but I can see Angelica's point. And it doesn't really tell us much about her (which is okay since she's not the MC but it does make her seem weaker than the last line seems to indicate). 

I think the world building could use a little beefing up. One question I had - who (or what) is the Guild and why do they have such power over his life? Are they a secret organization with authority over the supernatural policing or are they THE authority in this world? Who trained him if it wasn't the Guild? They seem to be the enemy (as they put the price on his head, yes?) but are they EVERYONE'S enemy or just his? Because if they are the ones who usually run this sort of thing, that would make them protectors of mankind as well, right? :D

I know you can't explain the WHOLE book in a query, but it's a world building issue that is leaving big holes for me. Instead of focusing on the cooler aspects of this query (are there are many, it's definitely raised my interest :D ), I'm left trying to figure out how this world works. I have no idea how this world is set up, what the rules are. 

I get that he's out protecting mankind, but the Guild sounds like the type of organization that would run that kind of thing, especially since they are out to punish him for doing what he's doing. But if they don't know about him, and his offense is so extreme as to be punishable by death, then is anyone helping him or did he just stumble upon this? 

So if you could add a line or two or just expound a bit on a few details, give us a bit more info on how things work in this world, that would be good. 

Other than that, I really like this :) )

5 comments:

  1. In general, I agree with the Michelle and Angelica, though I was more bothered by both 'damsel in distress' and 'hottie'. I think 'hottie' is just one of those button-pushing words for me, though. I did want to know both who the Guild is, and what it means to be Unsanctioned, though I have a better guess as to that one. Nicely done, and good luck!

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  2. I was also bothered both by "hottie" and "damsel in distress". I get that hottie at least is pretty commonly used, and you probably chose it for voice reasons, but like Angela pointed out, "damsel in distress" is one of those overdone tropes that's kind of a turnoff. Now, I *think* you're sort of playing with that trope with when you say she helps him later on, but that's immediately clear, and I wouldn't want someone to stop reading too soon just because they see that and wince.

    Otherwise, I think this is a really strong query. I especially love the "bump in the night" line. I think you could expand on what the Guild is, and if Jay is Unsanctioned, why he's Unsanctioned, or at least hint at it to give us a greater sense of mystery. This is really close though, nice job!!

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  3. Haha, at the risk of beating a dead horse, 'hottie who got him into this mess in the first place' and 'damsel in distress' also gave me pause. I would be hesitant to go into a book if the female lead existed only to serve as an impetus for Jay's call to adventure. It does seem like she plays a more active role later in the story, if I'm reading your last sentence right, so if your query played that up a bit more, I think you'd assuage a lot of my misgivings :)

    That's pretty much my only complaint, though. You've got a fun, snappy query that's packed with voice and moves along at a great clip, and your story sounds like a great read. A little more worldbuilding along the lines of what people have suggested here, and the requests will be rolling in. Best of luck!!

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  4. Thanks Michelle, Jeff, Christine, and Becky, for sharing your insights! And El, thanks for playing and all the best with your querying!

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  5. I agree with the above comments - "hottie" and "damsel in distress" are not phrases you want in your UF query. Why risk potentially offending an editor with such a comment? Other than that, I loved it!

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