Monday, August 3, 2015

Query Critique Winner

Claire Catacouzinos was this month's lucky #8!  Here is her original query:

Dear Carrie Pestritto,  
I noticed on the Prospect Agency website that you are looking for historical fiction, YA fiction, that you are a history and mythology lover and intrigued by books that introduce you to another culture and time period, and that you wished that you represented Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter. As a result, I am submitting for your consideration “Arisbe: Abolished City of Lesbos,” a 118,000 word, YA historical novel set in Ancient Classical Greece that will appeal to fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series about Ancient Greek myths, Carolyn Meyer’s Cleopatra Confesses about Ancient Egypt, Kimberley Griffiths Little’s Forbidden about Ancient Mesopotamia, Vicky Alvear Shecter’s Curses and Smoke about Pompeii and Frances Watts’ The Raven’s Wing about Ancient Rome.

A thieving priestess escaping her betrothal; a runaway warrior in debt to his captain.

A peace treaty betrothal is one thing Kleio, an Arisbean priestess, never had a choice in. Now, a week before marrying her childhood enemy, she escapes into the night, wanting to be an immortal tongued poetess like Sappho of Lesbos – her muse. But before she can sail to freedom, she is ambushed by a foreign man, Andreas of Syracuse – ordered to kill her as a human sacrifice for the Agrionia festival for Dionysos the next day. In this one moment, Kleio and Andreas are bound forever. And a colossal choice must be made. Will this encounter end up as a Greek tragedy, or epic love?

I have noticed that there is a growing niche in the YA market for ancient historical novels, especially since there has been a rise with Greek mythology books. Teenagers will be interested to learn about ancient history, especially about the untold stories of other social classes and different ancient Greek islands and cities – besides Athens and Sparta, and the famous historical figures such as Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. I think it is important for modern people to connect and engage with the past. Penelope Lively’s statement sums up my belief really well, that “to have a sense of history is, above all, to have a sense of one’s humanity, and without that, we are nothing.” My novel, “Arisbe” represents ancient Lesvos and Ancient Classical Greece, that explores the themes of family, exile, love, ancient women writers, and political livelihood in a different part of the ancient Greek world. It is told from the alternating viewpoints of Kleio and Andreas. I believe teenagers have natural interests in past societies, and reading ancient historical novels allows them to relate to characters to further their interests on periods in time; novels become more emotionally meaningful because ancient history is important for sustainability, continuity and change, and empathetic, intercultural, and ethical understanding.

I am a Historical fiction and Young Adult fiction writer, and a poet writing about Australian-Greek identity and Greek Diaspora in Sydney. I have a MA in Creative Writing and a BA in Writing and Ancient History – Greece, Rome, and Late Antiquity from Macquarie University. I have published three historical fiction short stories “Helike”, “Taras’ Parthenians” and “Golden Drachmas” at Macquarie University’s English Department’s e-journal, The Quarry. "Helike" and "Taras' Parthenians" have also been cited at two archaeological research and excavation websites in Greece, The Helike Project, and the Amyklaion:The Amykles Research Project. “Helike” was also published in Macquarie’s MC2 Magazine and was read in Greek at the Helike V Conference on the 4th of October 2013 at the University of Patras in Greece by the actress, Gianna Stefanatou. I was also the Copy Editor and History in Review Columnist for Macquarie University’s Student Publication Magazine, Grapeshot, in 2014. More information about my research, creative writing, and my passion for ancient history can be found on my blog: www.clairecatacouzinos.wordpress.com.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Claire Catacouzinos

And here is the critique!

Dear Carrie Pestritto,  
I noticed on the Prospect Agency website that you are a lover of historical fiction and YA, looking for historical fiction, YA fiction, that you are a history and mythology lover and intrigued by books that introduce you to another culture and time period, and that you wished that you represented Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter. As a result, I am submitting for your consideration “Arisbe: Abolished City of Lesbos,” [all titles for novels should be in CAPS] a 118,000 word, YA historical novel set in Aancient Classical Greece that will appeal to fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series about Ancient Greek myths, Carolyn Meyer’s Cleopatra Confesses about Ancient Egypt, Kimberley Griffiths Little’s Forbidden about Ancient Mesopotamia, Vicky Alvear Shecter’s Curses and Smoke about Pompeii and Frances Watts’ The Raven’s Wing about Ancient Rome. [I love these comps, but I would put them at the end of the query, especially since you have so many, and cut straight to your pitch.]
A thieving priestess escaping her betrothal; a runaway warrior in debt to his captain.
A peace treaty betrothal is one thing Kleio, an Arisbean priestess, never had a choice in. [Do priestesses usually get married?  If this is a unique circumstance, explain a bit here.] Now, a week before marrying her childhood enemy, she escapes into the night, wanting to be an immortal tongued poetess like Sappho of Lesbos – her muse. [This confuses me a little bit.  She wants to be a poet, but why would marrying get in the way of that?  Also, the Sappho reference makes me think that Kleio might be a lesbian.  If that is true, made that clearer.] But before she can sail to freedom, she is ambushed by a foreign man, Andreas of Syracuse – ordered to kill her as a human sacrifice for the Agrionia festival for Dionysos the next day. In this one moment, Kleio and Andreas are bound forever. And a colossal choice must be made. [What colossal choice?  If Andreas will kill her or not?  Why is that a hard choice for him?  Take more time to explain your story here.  You devote the paragraph below to talking about WHY this story will interest readers, but you should be SHOWING me here in your description.] Will this encounter end up as a Greek tragedy, or epic love?
I have noticed that there is a growing niche in the YA market for ancient historical novels, especially since there has been a rise with Greek mythology books. Teenagers will be interested to learn about ancient history, especially about the untold stories of other social classes and different ancient Greek islands and cities – besides Athens and Sparta, and the famous historical figures such as Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. I think it is important for modern people to connect and engage with the past. Penelope Lively’s statement sums up my belief really well, that “to have a sense of history is, above all, to have a sense of one’s humanity, and without that, we are nothing.” My novel, “Arisbe” represents ancient Lesvos and Ancient Classical Greece, that explores the themes of family, exile, love, ancient women writers, and political livelihood in a different part of the ancient Greek world. It The novel is told from the alternating viewpoints of Kleio and Andreas. I believe teenagers have natural interests in past societies, and reading ancient historical novels allows them to relate to characters to further their interests on periods in time; novels become more emotionally meaningful because ancient history is important for sustainability, continuity and change, and empathetic, intercultural, and ethical understanding.
I am a Hhistorical fiction and Young Adult fiction writer, and a poet writing about Australian-Greek identity and Greek Diaspora in Sydney. I have a MA in Creative Writing and a BA in Writing and Ancient History – Greece, Rome, and Late Antiquity from Macquarie University. I have published three historical fiction short stories “Helike”, “Taras’ Parthenians” and “Golden Drachmas” at Macquarie University’s English Department’s e-journal, The Quarry. "Helike" and "Taras' Parthenians" have also been cited at two archaeological research and excavation websites in Greece, The Helike Project, and the Amyklaion:The Amykles Research Project. “Helike” was also published in Macquarie’s MC2 Magazine and was read in Greek at the Helike V Conference on the 4th of October 2013 at the University of Patras in Greece by the actress, Gianna Stefanatou. I was also the Copy Editor and History in Review Columnist for Macquarie University’s Student Publication Magazine, Grapeshot, in 2014. More information about my research, creative writing, and my passion for ancient history can be found on my blog: www.clairecatacouzinos.wordpress.com
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
Claire Catacouzinos

I appreciate Claire's personalization and the fact that she clearly did her homework to make sure I was a potential fit for this query.  That is something that is extremely important to do and will help you find the right agent match!  I know it sounds obvious, but my colleagues and I get queries for genres that we don't represent all the time, and all it does is earn you an automatic reject.

She also made great use of comps to show that she knows her genre and her market.

Although Claire has done her research, the query itself is much too long.  As you can see, there was a lot I cut in order to streamline her query and make it easier to read and more concise.  However, there is still a lot of detail missing.  Claire spent a lot of time TELLING me why people would want to read her book instead of showing me with an intriguing description of her characters, plot, etc.  

I tend to love queries that succinctly describe the story in a way that hooks me and shows me that you can write.  I suggest thinking of the back cover copy on a book jacket when writing your pitch!  

Claire has a good start here; once she cuts down the extraneous information and instead shows me why her story is exciting, then she'll be good to go!

Weigh in with your thoughts in the comment section below.

8 comments:

  1. First off, congratulations, Claire, on completing your manuscript and getting to the query stage! As for the query: I like your introduction (it always felt strange to me diving right into the query without any sort of intro after "Dear Agent", but some seem to prefer it), it goes on too long. You can drop the "about the" after each title. It adds words and slows us down from getting to the meat of the query, which should be your story. And speaking of which, you should cut way back on the background in the last two paragraphs and expand on the actual story--the story is the most important thing in your query. Good luck!

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  2. Hi Carrie and JeffO,

    It is wonderful to hear I'm lucky number 8! Number 8 is also my favourite number, I was born on the 8th of June -- but back to the query!

    I didn't receive the email until today with a notification from your blog that I won the query, so my apologies of being behind and replying back late (Australia time).

    Thank you, Carrie, for critiquing my query and I completely understand what you mean by "telling" and not "showing". A definite rewrite is needed so I can get to the best parts for my readers and hook them in-- all writing is rewriting! And thank you for the comments, I understand that readers can get confused when you associate Sappho and Lesbos together -- it's a misconception that I'm trying to change about the island Lesvos (modern name) and its ancient name, Lesbos, and my interpretation of the island's history and Ancient Classical Greece.

    I think all the confusion can be answered by the beginning of my Synopsis, which in itself, needs to be edited and tweaked, and perhaps, a better choice for my query:

    Example:

    An Arisbean priestess escaping her betrothal; a Syracusan warrior voyaging the cosmos. On the Greek island, Lesbos, in 415 B.C.E, during the rise of Athens’ Empire, the Priestess of Artemis, sixteen year old KLEIO OF ARISBE, despises her peace treaty betrothal to her childhood enemy, LORAEUS OF MITHYMNA. She plans to travel Greece and be an immortal-tongued poetess like Sappho of Lesbos and Praxilla of Sicyon.

    She prepares to escape, but a week before her wedding, she is ambushed by a foreign man, eighteen year old ANDREAS OF SYRACUSE, an outlaw bypassing his military training – ordered to kill her as a human sacrifice for the Agrionia festival for Dionysos the next day. In this one moment, Kleio and Andreas are bound forever. Kleio fights him, fearful she will die, grabbing the dagger to protect herself; but Andreas catches her off guard. With the dagger to her throat, she still bickers with him, and soon discovers he has been tricked by his captain. A reluctant Kleio makes a colossal choice – she decides to help Andreas seek revenge against his treacherous captain, and with it, two journeys unfold.

    Once again, this summary in itself I'll edit, tweak, and trim the fat.

    Kindest regards,
    Claire

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  3. Congratulations Claire on winning the critique, Carrie has done an amazing job on your critique. The first thing I thought just by looking at this was it is way too long. You need to give more of what your story is about and I think you're on the right track with the example you've given above in your comment. That's about all I can say since I agree with everything Carrie said. Good luck with the new query.

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  4. What a great and valuable exercise. Congratulations, Claire! Carrie has given you a fantastic critique to help you polish your query for ARISBE: ABOLISHED CITY OF LESBOS. Good luck!

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  5. Thank you Rochelle and Wendy -- all feedback is good and constructive criticism!

    Cheers,
    Claire

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  6. Congratulations, Claire. Your book sounds ambitious, and your background is impressive. Carrie certainly has a knack for editing, so I don't have much to add except less is more and focus on story. Good luck!

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  7. Hi Claire, Good luck with your story and your querying! Winning this contest is a great opportunity, because Carrie is awesome with her feedback. The only other thing I might add is that in flushing out your story pitch, you may want to give a sentence or two from the hero's perspective - so first her goal and obstacles, then his goal and obstacles and then something tying it together. I see that I am a month late in checking out this post, so I'm sure you already have it all shiny and revised!

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