Genre: YA fantasy
Word count: 90,000
My main character is most uncomfortable with:
Alvara comes from a semi-tropical island nation, so she's used to sunny, warm winters. However, she fled from there to a much colder nation in the north to hide the prince and fell in love with the snow. To her, snow represents the safe country in which she lives now, while sunny winters are a part of the dangerous country she'd rather never return to. So the sun makes her far more uncomfortable.
Dear contest goddesses of snow and sun,
Seventeen-year-old Alvara has a secret: he's ten years old, and his name is Jacian. Despite what she tells everyone, he's not her real brother. He's the heir to the throne and magic belonging only to the royal family. His family was massacred by one of the ruthless counts who now control the country. Even if Jacian is the rightful king, Alvara won't let anyone force him onto the throne. He's her brother in all ways that matter, and she won't lose him to the bloody circus of politics.
Except Jacian's magic awakens and marks him as the lost prince. He demands answers Alvara won't give and refuses to listen when she tells him he shouldn't use his magic. In the sweltering capital where the counts have assassins lurking in the dirty alleys and informants strolling the packed streets, it doesn't take long before he's noticed.
The counts have legions of guards with guns. Alvara has only her knives. The counts have webs of subordinates, bound by law to obey or face execution. Alvara has only the disobedient Jacian, whose telepathic communication with an imprisoned woman continues to put them at risk. But she'll find a way to keep Jacian safe, even if that means she must team up with one of the counts to assassinate another.
First 250 words:
The only thing I liked about the Ellidrian King's Men was that their ridiculous uniform made them easy to notice. Even if I wasn't looking, the clacking of their high-heeled boots always alerted me to their arrival. In the quiet library, the sound was unmistakable.
When their footsteps stopped and the whispers of pages turning became the only sound again, I looked up from my book. The gas lamps on all of the reading tables around me bathed everything in murky amber. Even in the poor light, the King's Men were easy to spot beside the front desk. No one else had a silhouette like a stuffed turkey, thanks to puffy doublet jackets, equally puffy knee-length pants, and skin-tight stockings.
The stack girl perched behind the front desk pointed in my direction, and that was my cue to leave. Sure, there were other people around, too. She might not have been pointing at me, but only people who'd never broken a law in their life could afford to assume the King's Men wouldn't be interested in them. I didn't have such luxury.
I slung my bag over my shoulder and left the fraying book on the table for a stack girl to deal with later. On the chance the King's Men were leaving the library and sparing my nerves, I glanced once more over my shoulder. No luck, as always. They were waddling towards the reading tables. I slipped between the bookshelves.
Hey GUARDIAN author! Mentor Sarah Marsh here. YA Fantasies are my favorite age range/genre, so I was excited to see your entry on Team Snow.ReplyDelete
There's so much I like about your query, especially the fact that this is a story about siblings! (Not siblings by blood, of course, but family is who you choose and I like that your MC will do anything to protect her younger brother). That said, I think there are some things you could work into your first paragraph to make it shine even more. First of all: what does Alvara do? Is she a farmer's daughter? A miller's daughter? A minor noble, a musician? I felt like I was learning a lot about Jacian, but not about her. Another thing I wondered was: what type of magic does Jacian have?
I also think you could combine these two lines: "Despite what she tells everyone, he's not her real brother. He's the heir to the throne and magic belonging only to the royal family. His family was massacred by one of the ruthless counts who now control the country." I'd take them and do this: "Despite what she tells everyone, he's not her real brother. He's the heir to the throne and magic belonging only to the massacred royal family." Then you have more room to play around with adding details about Alvara, magic, etc.! It would be good to know how Jacian's magic is important to this world.
Side note: love the phrase "bloody circus of politics."
If you combine sentences in the first paragraph as I suggested, you could alter the opening of the third paragraph to read, "The men who slaughtered Jacian's family" or similar. I LOVE the stakes at the end, and your compare/contrast setup between Alvara and the counts. My only note here is that the tidbit about Jacian communicating with an imprisoned woman felt throw in last minute. Could you perhaps introduce this in the first or second paragraph, or cut it altogether? I don't think it would take away from your query to remove it. :)
Regarding your first 250: Great opening line! I also like the distinct clothing you describe for the King's Men. My only suggestion for improving this opening would be to add more tension. From these few paragraphs, I certainly get the sense that Alvara is apprehensive about the presence of the King's Men, so can you play up that tension from the first paragraph? Give us some of her physical reaction to them, perhaps, like sweaty palms or a rapid pulse. Draw out the moment of her slipping away from the guards, too. It feels too quiet as-is, though very well written. Perhaps one of the King's Men glances in your MC's direction and makes eye contact for a little too long? Or she starts to back away, knocks over some books, and bolts? I just think adding a few more details, more tension, would really hook your readers from the start.
Best of luck with this! And please follow me on Twitter so I can fangirl over this book...! :)
Hey, this query worked well for me except for one thing. Maybe it's just me, but I think the hook needs work. I thought that Alvara was telling us that SHE was the 10 and and boy named Jacien. Like maybe she was in disguise or transgendered. The rest of the query cleared it up for me but I'd hate for an agent to be thrown off right at your hook!
Everything is great up until paragraph three and four where the action speeds up. As Sarah said, you need to build that tension. The action is there but it's hidden with a few passive words and sentences. Rework those and you'll be golden!
Good luck to you in the agent round--can't wait to re-read this entry. : )
Hi! Really enjoyed your entry.ReplyDelete
Query: I think Sarah gave you great notes, because I also wanted to know about Alvara! Give me a hint earlier about what magical abilities we're talking about here. Can you clarify how much Jacian knows? It seems he doesn't know he's the heir-which I think is really interesting! But generally I love the idea about a girl protecting her brother and taking on a scary bunch of thugs, especially when the brother isn't that obedient. That just feels like real life.
First 250: For some reason "easy to notice" pinged for me. "easy to spot" would work better (for me). It's an intriguing line but noticing feels more casual than spotting. We'd know right away that she's on the lookout. (And I know you say "easy to spot" later on, but maybe change up the wording on that one.) And the description of them is funny! I also love that this is a fantasy but there are gas lamps, so it isn't the same medieval fantasy world that we see a lot. Clarify that the stack girl is pointing her out to the guards. At first I thought maybe she had some deal with the girl and this was actually a secret signal. I also love that the guards waddle. :) Good luck in your revision. I think this sounds like a great book that I would totally pick up and read! (I also love YA fantasy :) )
Mentor of Team Snow, Copernicus Nerd here! It's all subjective in this grand 'ol writing world of ours, but I hope whatever I have to say helps out at least a little!ReplyDelete
First off, awesome concept. Loving it. I'll start by saying I'm agreeing with the other mentors when they say we want to know more about Alvara! Especially since she is the one protecting the very person who is heir to the kingdom.
But I'll also say that it I was taken back for a second by the opening line of the query. I thought it was the same as what another mentor said that Alvara is also Jacian..like a disguise. It makes sense later on, but I did have to do a double take. Perhaps re-word this a little bit better to make it clear that Alvara is not Jacian (although that would be even more interesting lol). Other than that, you do a good job of stating the stakes and reeling us in with the hook.
In your 250, you do a great job building the world, and your descriptions of the King's Men are priceless. I agree with some of the other mentors that said the jump from paragraphs 1 and 2 to 3 and 4 is a little sudden. Build it up a little bit more to the action portion and you'll be pulling the readers in. You don't want to jump too much as the sudden movement can be a bit jarring. Other than that, you've got a pretty powerful voice, and your scene setting is spot on.
Great job! Good luck!
Hello, I'm Vicki Lemp Weavil, mentor with Team Snow.ReplyDelete
Seventeen-year-old Alvara has a secret: he's ten years old, and his name is Jacian. (I think this line needs a slight revision – when I first read it I was confused by Jacian being the secret. A slight rewording will fix this).
Despite what she tells everyone, he's not her real brother. He's the heir to the throne and magic belonging only to the royal family. His family was massacred by one of the ruthless counts who now control the country. (Like mentor Sarah, I think this can be condensed. Drop the “Despite what she tells everyone…” Maybe something like – “He’s not her real brother – he’s heir to a kingdom, and to magic belonging only to a massacred royal family.) But even if Jacian is the rightful king, Alvara won't let (allow?) anyone force him onto the throne. He's her brother in all ways that matter, and she won't lose him to the bloody circus of politics. (Okay, this doesn’t bring in the counts yet, but I think you can do that in the next paragraph).
Except Jacian's magic awakens and marks him as the lost prince. He demands answers Alvara won't give and refuses to listen when she tells him he shouldn't use his magic. In the sweltering capital where the counts have assassins lurking in the dirty alleys and informants strolling the packed streets, it doesn't take long before he's noticed. (This whole paragraph feels like it’s focused on Jacian, not Alvara. I think you can revise this to show this from Alvara’s POV – Maybe start with the “In the sweltering capital… line. Ex.” “In the sweltering capital, where ruthless counts control assassins and manipulate informants, it doesn’t take long before Jacian’s emerging magical abilities draw attention. Alvara can’t convince the boy that using magic is dangerous – until both she and Jacian come under attack.” I’m sure you can word this better, but I hope you see where I’m going with this – the action is coming from Alvara, and that keeps the focus on her. )
The counts have legions of guards with guns. Alvara has only her knives. The counts have webs of subordinates, bound by law to obey or face execution. (I don’t think you need the last phrase, honestly. You could just stop at subordinates). Alvara has only the disobedient Jacian, whose telepathic communication with an imprisoned woman continues to put them at risk. (Since the woman is not mentioned elsewhere, I would simply say – “… whose telepathic communications put them at risk.” ) But she'll (Alvara will) find a way to keep Jacian safe, even if that means she must team up with one of the (cut “of the”) counts to assassinate another.
First 250 words:
I don't have a lot to suggest here. I agree that there's a better phrasing for the first sentence -- "notice" doesn't work for me.
I think a few mentions of physical or emotional feelings/reactions from the MC might up the tension, as some of the other mentors mentioned. Unless you want your MC to come across as extremely cool and calm, of course!
I will be interested to see the revision on this.
Hi, Snow mentor Kate Brauning here, of Month9Books!ReplyDelete
This is a striking and compelling concept. I love it! A few suggestions:
I thought for a moment that she was saying SHE was 10 and named Jacian, like her 17yo self was a disguise. Can you make it clearer that it’s the secret who is 10?
I also assumed Jacian knew he was the prince, so I was surprised when it turned out he didn’t know. How long as he been with Alvara? I’d make it clear up front she’s hiding his identity from him, because that’s packed with conflict.
The mention of a count makes me wonder if he’s a love interest. If so, I’d build that up just a bit, because that could also be a great source of conflict and complication. You still have a some room to expand that final paragraph, so I’d capitalize on the twist elements- the telepathy, the assassination, teaming up with a count- to really show us what could happen if she fails. You have so much conflict, and that’s perfect. I think we need just another line or two about how this affects her to bring it all home. That said, this is already solid and intriguing- I’d definitely read on to see pages!
Gorgeous sensory details here. The “murky amber” really got me here. So atmospheric. You also give us action right away, and we’re not bogged down with exposition or backstory.
Lovely job setting the stage, too. I can picture the room, and I have tons of questions about why the men want her, what she’s doing in the library, and whether they’re going to find her. Great way to keep readers reading!
I do want to see just a bit more of her emotions here. She sounds very detached. I imagine she’s tough and has been through similar things before, but I’d still like to see a bit of that nervousness and danger that she’s probably feeling.
This is great writing—intriguing, atmospheric, and active! Absolutely love it. Lovely work!
Team Snow mentor Kat here!ReplyDelete
Query: I agree with the others about that first line, I thought it meant Alvara and Jacien were one person when I first read it. After that, your phrasing is excellent and really sets the tone. I wonder if you could make it clear what connects Alvara to Jacien (other than love, I mean - how did Alvara come to be his 'sister'? Why does she protect him rather than someone else?) As it is at the moment, it reads like Jacien's story, and I need to know why Alvara is critical to it rather than anyone else.
First 250: Really good tone and pacing, and it feels like it starts at just the right point - things are happening, but the reader isn't thrown into the middle of something they don't understand. You have a great opening line, and it continues solidly from there. I think this is an excellent beginning.
Hiii. Team Snow mentor here.ReplyDelete
I'm into it. I'm down. I want this book. That being said, there are a few things that can take this query letter from good to great: I'd like a little more about the type of magic you're dealing in here and why her family is taking care of the heir. And the imprisoned lady comes out of nowhere. Some people have said they want to know more about Alvara, which is valid, but I think you did a good job giving me a sense of who she is on a fundamental level. She's a big sister who will do anything to keep her baby brother safe, even if they're not related by blood. That's powerful.
My biggest quibble was this: Seventeen-year-old Alvara has a secret: he's ten years old, and his name is Jacian.
The first time I read it, I was a bit confused as, for a second, I thought the "he" referred to Alvara and I was like . . . is a ten year old boy masquerading as a seventeen year old girl? I got that that wasn't the case, but you might want to reconsider how your nouns/pronouns are arranged. Maybe just get straight to the point. Alvara has a secret: her brother isn't her brother at all, but the heir to a throne/magical prince/blah blah you get the idea.
LOVE IT. No complaints. Seriously. I'm just mad that it stopped after 250 words because I want more. You have something good here. Really good.
Just a reminder to take the feedback that works for you when revising for the agent round. It’s a lot to take in, but you’re the expert on your story and know best. If you have any questions about the next round you may ask here or on twitter.ReplyDelete
Thought you’d like to know why you were picked. As I said on twitter, I love that your MC is not the one with special powers. That really stood out among the other YA entries. Also her determination to protect her brother shines out from the query. I did like where you start you first 250 and I can't resist someone in a library! You describe the guards so well. I can picture them almost like the Keystone Cops!
Hi, fellow Team Snow member here. Following are my suggestions, for what they are worth.ReplyDelete
Um, yes, love this idea! But I have a soft spot for magic :)
Although I like what you're going for: "Seventeen-year-old Alvara has a secret: he's ten years old, and his name is Jacian." Made me think that Jacian is a ten year old boy pretending to be Alvara.
" it doesn't take long before he's noticed." By "he" do you mean Jacian or the count? And what does he notice?
There at the end you were building the tension very well, except the last sentence kind of fell flat for me. Maybe just dropping the "to assassinate another" would work.
I think in the you first line it needs to be "uniforms."
Good luck in the agent round!
I really like the whole world you've created here and all the magic sounds fascinating. Sounds like something an adult could read even though it's MG.ReplyDelete
I agree with another person about the first sentence in the query. Although I eventually figured it out, I was confused at first. I'm divided on whether or not you should fix it.
Your 250 words are really strong. The only thing that threw me off was the girl pointing in his direction, then him saying it might not have been meant for him even though it probably is because he's a criminal.
I think that the last three sentences in that paragraph are "telling". In my opinion, you should just delete them because they're unnecessary. As a reader, I understand that he's a criminal just by the fact that he knows it's his cue to leave when he's pointed at.
No need to mention that the other people surrounding him probably have nothing to worry about either.
Other than that I think you're golden and will probably get a lot of requests! Good luck!
Hello author, and thanks for putting your query out to SunVsSnow. I liked your bit about the discomfort -- bravo on managing to work both "sun" and "snow" into your query!ReplyDelete
I very much like the setup of the story: the young female protagonist, facing incredible odds, hiding and protecting a boy who's not even her real brother (and whose antics threaten their safety).
The line "In the sweltering capital where the counts have assassins lurking in the dirty alleys and informants strolling the packed streets" created two small difficulties for me: first, I thought she was hiding out in the cold north, not the sweltering capital. Second, I felt like the first part of that sentence needs a comma somewhere -- it felt almost like a run-on, even though I know it's not.
The thing that struck me most about this query is the sense of lonesomeness you've created for your MC in such a small space. It's her versus the world, and that sort of desperate circumstance always draws me in. I picked up on it in the query, and the first 250 hammered it home: here's a girl who's evolved survival instincts and needs to lay low. I like the way she described them, too; we immediately begin to get some of her personality.
I think this query is very close, I love the concept, and I wish you luck!
First off, great concept! I love that the MC is not the one w/ the magical powers, and the bro/sis type relationship immediately pulls me in. Very fresh! I'll add my voice to those saying they were confused by the first line of the query. I also want to know more about Alvara and how the young prince came to be her "brother".ReplyDelete
Moving on to the first 250, the second paragraph felt a little chunky, and you could probably cut to say something like this:
When their footsteps stopped, I looked up from my book. In the poor light of the library's gas lamps, the King's Men were silhouetted like stuffed turkeys, thanks to puffy doublet jackets, equally puffy knee-length pants, and skin-tight stockings.
One last thing, I'd definitely show more of what Alvara is feeling when she spots the King's Men.
Good luck and can't wait to read this one day!
-TeamSun member (ducks from flying snowballs).
-TeamSun member (ducks from flying snowballs).
I thought she was the one who was ten, too, as others have mentioned. That first sentence needs to be reworked so it's clear that she's protecting him. Yes, what kind of magic does he do? How did she get to be his protector? I like the scene in the library. Good luck!ReplyDelete
Hi there Team Snow author #15 chiming in.ReplyDelete
I love this concept! One question the entry raised (only because of the background you give in your answer above it) is she and the prince came from another nation, but the king’s men are looking for her where they are? Does his power extend that far? Or does your 250 start before they run away?
Anyway, I was pulled in by the first sentence of the query, that’s a big secret! I definitely want to read and find out how they became a family. Overall, maybe there is too much plot?
Watch in the 250 that both the 1st and 2nd paragraphs have a sentence starting with “Even” and you could eliminate some “was/were’s” to make your passage more active (ex. “They were waddling waddled”) . I think you could inject even more a sense of urgency in this 250. It’s not just bad luck to be ho-hum about. Isn’t she pretty scared they are coming for her?
Best of luck in the agent rounds!
I'm a sucker for sibling stories (even if they're not related by blood). Strong query and opening page! Well done.ReplyDelete
#TeamSun Leader Amy
Fellow Team Snow member here. Your book sounds fascinating and I enjoyed the first 250 (except that "stack girl" and "waddled" both seemed awkward to me. Now your query was a bit more confusing for me. What exactly is the secret: that Jacian isn't her blood brother or that he's heir to the throne? I also would like to know what sort of magic he has and how he happened to become her adopted brother. Who is her family?ReplyDelete
I also suggest ending the query with "disobedient Jacian." The remainder of the paragraph give details of the plot, not the essence that you've already set forth. Here I think simpler would be better. The set up is enough of a hook.
Hey there! Gonna dive right in, but first a disclaimer of sorts. I’m gonna offer feedback without reading what everyone else has to say. If I repeat a suggestion, it’s helpful that you know what I’m seconding instead of me giving an overall ‘I agree!’ that could be applied to everything.ReplyDelete
Answer: As far as answers to this question, and reasons why, this one is super intriguing. There’s running, hiding, a prince, oh my!
Query: I had to reread the first two sentences before it sunk in what you meant as opposed to what’s happening grammatically. I thought Alvara was ten and named Jacian, then we got to where she tells everyone that he’s not her real brother and my mind seized up like an under-oiled engine. Then I went back and realized the secret was a ten year old boy! And I felt so stupid… but that moment where I had to figure it out might catch up others, so I’d look at the possibility of reworking it to keep the wit (which I loved) and avoid confusion.
I know adverbs are a no-no, but I’m going to suggest adding one, in the sentence about him being an heir. “He’s the heir to the throne and DORMANT magic only the royal family can wield.” To me, it’s an extra brushstroke that helps embellish the picture you’re painting in all the right ways. Though the part about Alvara not letting anyone force him onto the throne, and her not wanting to lose him to the circus of politics detracts from the stakes of ‘the count will kill him if he’s revealed’. It sounds like things would suck if he became king, but his life isn’t in danger.
Second paragraph, how old is Alvara? When did this coup happen? How long has she been on her own with the prince? Does he not know anything about his powers, was he not being taught? I’m asking because he demands answers of her, and I’m wondering what kind of questions he’s asking a girl who was no older than him when he was born and raised and such. The tension in this second half of this paragraph is tight. Fantastic.
Third paragraph, you had me until there’s mention of some imprisoned woman and a telepathic connection. She’s mentioned, but that’s is. How does she tie into the story, what’s important about her (without giving away the ending) that she HAS to be mentioned in the query. She seems to sort of be tossed in there for the sake of mentioning her and doesn’t add anything. You could honestly cut her out and the query wouldn’t suffer for it. Would improve it, in my opinion.
250: The voice in this is killing it! I love it, the stuffed turkeys, ridiculous uniforms, I smiled so wide. The tension here, like in the query, is good. My only real suggestion is an overall preening of words you can do without. All, that, was, etc. Fluff words.
Examples: The only think I liked about the Ellidarian King’s Men was HOW their ridiculous…”
I’d cut the “Even when I wasn’t looking”. When you mention the sound of their shoes being the first thing she notices, you allude to the fact that she doesn’t have to see them to know they’re there.
“The gas lamps on THE READING tables,,,” cut all of the.
“Even in the poor light, I spotted the King’s Men beside the front desk” were easy to spot is passive voice.
Third paragraph, I’d cut “sure there were other people around too” cause you pretty much say the same thing, or give us the same idea of why she was leaving, with the next sentence.
Fourth paragraph, cut “once more” before over my shoulder, and “as always” after no luck.
“They waddled toward(no s) the reading tables.” Were waddling is passive voice.
Over all, really enjoyed this. Best of luck!
Teammate #6 here, stopping by to wish you luck with revisions and the agent round! I'd love to connect on Twitter, so I can keep up with you after the contest! @kranky_crowReplyDelete
Let's blow Team Sun away!
Hi Teammate # 3 wishing you the best of luck. One small point, I also had to read the first line of the query twice.ReplyDelete
I loved your 250 and the great voice you deliver it in. It's fun to read but still has plenty of tension and a bunch of questions I want answered which makes me want to read more. I live in Canada and concerning the word towards with an S in the 250, it's not wrong but -- towards is more common in Britain and toward in the US.
One again, great job. Thanks for sharing
Snow mentor Matt Sinclair of Elephant's Bookshelf Press here. Sorry I've been so late in getting to yours. The first line of the query left me a bit baffled. I hadn't assumed Alvara was a feminine name, so I didn't understand the second part of the sentence. It soon became clear, but you don't want confusion in the query -- especially not at the beginning. The story sounds like it'll keep the pages turning.ReplyDelete