Query Trenches

Hello Friends,

My story story “Fusion” is out in Apeiron Review, Issue 7.

Aaannndddd, my short story “Very Happy and Very Productive” won second place in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society contest.  I had time to read the judges’ comments, make cosmetic changes, and then the three winning stories were submitted to the editor of a prestigious magazine so CROSS YOUR FINGERS AND SEND UP A PRAYER.  Offer a goat if you should feel so inclined. I was going to sacrifice a chicken, but all I had were frozen nuggets.

In the meantime, I am still in the query trenches with my two novels, but exciting things are (slowly) happening. Each novel is having a very different experience.  But, Child of the Moon and Sea is ready.  It’s been through beta readers and I’ve made more changes to flesh out the character and I even (per a CP) took off Sean’s shirt more often. Twice instead of once. I’m proud of the manuscript.

I already had a list of fantasy agents from when I queried with Firestorm so I started e-mailing in August. I queried 18 agents and had 1 full request (still pending).  I had some ‘no’ answers and I had a whole lot of silence.  My query had been through my critique group, but it still wasn’t getting attention.  So I took a breath. I set querying aside because I didn’t want to blow through all the agents on my list.  I was sad because there were a couple I’d followed on Twitter and felt would be a good match, but my query didn’t spark interest.

Then, I won $100 for the second place story. A few days later I saw Janet Reid’s tweet that she would offer a query critique in exchange for a $100 donation to the Eldin Memorial Fellowship.  Win-Win.  My money would help other writers and I’d get a critique from THE QUERY SHARK.  If you are a writer, you know (and should follow) this site.  You know that she is fierce, mean, bloodthirsty, cold, calculating, and eats writers for breakfast.

You may not know that she is an absolute dream.  Her e-mails were fast, helpful, and direct. And, she went so far as to read the first revision.  I’ll post the before and after samples below.  The only downside of this experience?  Bear with me.

You know how critique groups are encouraging, but then you get home and you’re looking at the notes and you’ve gotten way different feedback.  One says, “Character A is too strong.”  And another, “Character A is too weak.”  And then, “Character A should be taller” and you’re like, he’s a gnome.  I’m not making him taller.

The downside of working, however briefly, with Janet Reid is that I’m now ruined.  And not at all addicted to hyperbole. I’ve experienced having ONE professional person’s instant feedback and then approval. I wasn’t alone, guessing which feedback to incorporate. I want an agent who is as invested in my novels as Janet Reid was in my query letter.

I’m taking the first ten pages of Child of Moon and Sea to critique circle tomorrow night to make sure that the pages keep the interest I’ve (hopefully) tweaked with an improved query letter.  Below are the two samples of my query. What do you think?

Before:

Dear Agent,

I thought you might be interested in my NA fantasy novel, CHILD OF MOON AND SEA. It is a style of fantasy similar to Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It is complete at 90,000 words.

Vivid dreams and bouts of insomnia have been part of Dr. Elsa Dahlquist’s life since childhood.  After a disastrous crush on her professor, Elsa’s nightmares return worse than ever. During a vacation in North Carolina, her dreams become alive with visits from Tursas, a shark spirit.  Staying at the ocean to investigate, Elsa finds another victim of night terrors. Cassie, a 15-year old orphan, is being stalked by her own nightmares. Nightmares that leave bruises and cause panic attacks.  To save Cassie, Elsa will have to hunt the dream hunters.

Cassie is not the first victim.  Two other children are damaged after these nightmares, one dead by suicide and the other driven mad.  A ball of fishing line and an extinct flower have been left behind both times. Same as in Cassie’s bedroom.  By researching ancient Finnish myths and deciphering clues delivered by the mysterious and sexy Tursas, Elsa discovers a dream realm outside her psychology textbooks.  When Elsa finally comes close to unraveling it all, the trail of pain leads back to an ugly secret thousands of years old.  Elsa must use all her empathy and courage to prevent an inevitable war between dream hunters and humans.

A section of CHILD OF MOON AND SEA was published as a short story by Abyss & Apex earlier this year. My fiction has appeared in Third Wednesday and Bewildering Stories (winning the 2013 Editor’s Choice award), I was a finalist in the 2013 Baltimore Science Fiction Amateur Contest 2013, and I am a current finalist in the 2014 contest.  My M.A is in English with a focus on comparative mythology.  I am an associate editor at The Potomac Review.

Per your submissions guidelines, I have included the first ten pages below. A full manuscript is available upon request. I am currently querying other agents at this time. I appreciate you taking the time to consider my work.

After:

Dear (fantasy) agent,

Recent grad Dr. Elsa Dahlquist wants to help patients with sleep disorders, but her first case is different than anything she’s read about in her psychology texts.  Cassie, a 15-year-old orphan, has night terrors that leave bruises and cause panic attacks.  She claims to be stalked by a dream hunter – a vengeful nature spirit who preys on human dreams.  Elsa would think that Cassie is crazy except that she had a similar experience after nearly drowning. When Cassie ODs into a coma, Elsa will have to sacrifice part of her humanity to go to the dream realm or Cassie will never wake up.

Some dream hunters, including the sexy and mysterious Tursas, are willing to help Elsa as she researches ancient Finnish myths. Others send the hunting hounds after both Tursas and Elsa for breaking the rules of secrecy. When Elsa finally comes close to unraveling it all, the trail of pain leads back to an ugly secret thousands of years old.  Elsa must use all her empathy and courage to prevent an inevitable war between dream hunters and humans.

CHILD OF MOON AND SEA is an NA fantasy novel complete at 90,000 words.

A section of CHILD OF MOON AND SEA was published as a short story by Abyss & Apex earlier this year. My fiction has recently appeared in Apeiron Review, Third Wednesday and Bewildering Stories (winning the 2013 Editor’s Choice award), and I placed second in the Baltimore Science Fiction Amateur Contest 2014.  My M.A is in English with a focus on comparative mythology.  I am an associate editor at The Potomac Review.
Per your submissions guidelines, I have included the first ten pages below. I appreciate your time in considering my work.

Anyone going to Capclave in Washington D.C. this weekend?  Please come and say ‘hi’ if you are there.

Love,

Sherri

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