First Impact: CHRYSALIS by Melissa Grebeleski

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to firstimpactAE@gmail.com. Details here.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me. I will draw a winner for January in just a few days, so get commenting.




This week we have a query for a YA fantasy. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

UPDATE (1/31, 9 AM): Melissa has posted a revised version of her query in the comments. Take a look and let her know what you think.

Query
How can an archangel be seventeen?
Seventeen year-old Ivy Chapel, an archangel with amnesia, unknowingly possesses the healing power for all mankind. While trying to remember her past, Ivy must guard her heart and soul against the enemies standing in her way.

I'd move this to the top or the bottom
of the query.
I am searching for representation for my completed 107,074-word 107,000-word young adult novel, titled Chrysalis. The book is about a girl discovering the incredible truth about her destiny. The story entwines love, loyalty, betrayal and sacrifice.

Long paragraph. Maybe split it up.

At first I thought this meant that
archangels have parents.

If she wasn't returned, does that
Lucifer's rebellion is over?

Lucian feels like he comes out of the
blue to me. And his secrets are too
vague for me to follow.
Fairy tales and folklore. T, that’s what it sounds like to Ivy. Who would ever believe that she’s an archangel with amnesia, let alone the sole guardian of God’s power to heal everything for all mankind? One person does—her parents’ new tenant, handsome and arrogant William. He tells Ivy the strangest story about an angel being hidden on Earth in the form of a baby, a child forced by her spiritual parents to remain human until the rebellion of Lucifer ended, making it safe for her to come home. But something went terribly wrong. Ivy was never returned to heaven and now that she’s all grown up she finds herself the target of every demonic being. After two attempts on her life, Ivy realizes there might be more to William’s story and that truth can be far stranger than fiction. Her new boyfriend, Lucian, is charming and sophisticated. But there’s something about him she can’t quite figure out. As she slowly regains her spiritual abilities, Ivy finds herself caught between love and loyalty. William and Lucian hold the secrets of her past and the outcome of her future. One wants her heart. One wants her soul. Will she be able to survive them both and save the world?

Chrysalis is my first novel. I’m a stay at home mother and have been writing privately for friends and family for many years.

It's up to you whether you want to
write a sequel for a story that hasn't
sold, but as far as the query goes,
just say it has series potential.
Although Chrysalis stands alone as a novel, I have started on its sequel ideas for a sequel. I look forward to the opportunity to send you a few chapters, or the entire manuscript, of Chrysalis at your request. The finished manuscript is available on request. Please feel free to contact me using the email address. Please know that I have submitted queries to other agencies. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Adam's Thoughts
I think there's an intriguing story here (if you're not sick of angel stories, which I'm not; but I've heard agents tire of it in the past so watch out). But I think it gets lost behind what looks to me like an amateur query (sorry).

Lots of these problems are structural and easily fixed. For example:
  • The logline paragraph that repeats information stated later in the query. I've talked about this before.
  • Citing word count down to the exact word (generally round to the neareast thousand).
  • Telling what the story's about instead of letting the query show it (e.g. "[It's] about a girl discovering the incredible truth," etc).
  • Big Block of Text.
  • Superfluous information in the conclusion paragraph (mostly stuff that agents assume is true).
Fix all of that, and this will already look a lot better. Now let's talk about the meat of the query.

I like the concept of a teenager who doesn't realize she's really an archangel (and it makes a lot more sense than a 17-year-old archangel :-). That's your hook. And I guess William's arrival and the attempts on her life are the inciting incident.

But then the query gets a bit vague. It brings up a character that sounds like he's always been there, but feels like he came out of nowhere. And this character has a secret, but we don't get to know what it is.

Now, you don't necessarily need to tell us the secret, but the way this is written now, not knowing the secrets makes her sadistic choice meaningless to us. She has to choose between "love and loyalty," but who's love? And loyalty to whom? "One wants her heart. One wants her soul." But which is which? And why?

This is where you need to get specific. If we don't understand the protagonist's choice, then we can't care, no matter how much we want to. What makes a choice really sadistic is when the reader understands what goes into the choice, and they still have no idea what they would choose if it were them.

That's my opinion, anyway. What do the rest of you guys think?

10 comments:

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

That's really good advice!

K Callard said...

I think you did a decent job of capturing your voice in this query, however I agree with Adam that it's a bit vague. I also don't know who wants her heart and who wants her soul - if your MC doesn't either and you want to keep that a secret, maybe your last line could be, "Now she just needs to figure out which is which"? Just a thought. Otherwise I think you need to specify so we get a better idea of the choice she has to make.

Also, you might want to watch out for cliche phrases like "truth can be stranger than fiction." It may not seem like much, but some agents think that if you use a cliche in your 250-word query, that there must be a lot more in your 100,000+-word ms.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

Matthew MacNish said...

Don't mention that you're seeking representation in a query letter. It's already understood.

Seventeen year-old should be Seventeen-year-old.

What spiritual abilities? Try to be as specific as possible.

Don't mention that it's your first novel.

Working titles of unpublished manuscripts go in ALL CAPS in query letters. Italics is for published works. No bold (if the bold was Adam, feel free to ignore me).

Otherwise, Adam give this author plenty of sound advice. This isn't bad at all for a first try, but try to be more specific, and don't include anything you don't need.

Also, this sounds a bit like Personal Demons, by Lisa Desrochers.

maine character said...

Adam really summed it up well and caught lots of issues.

Like Matt, I wondered about "As she slowly regains her spiritual abilities." It does makes us curious, but with attempts on her life, I'd like to know a bit more clearly how these powers help her defend herself. For a query, though, I think that part's probably fine.

Good luck!

Melissa said...

THANK YOU ALL so much for your helpful tips! I took the advice to heart and I hope you think the revision is better! Here it is:

Dear :


CHRYSALIS is my completed 107,000-word young adult novel.

Seventeen-year-old Ivy Chapel doesn’t realize she’s an archangel with amnesia who unknowingly possesses the healing power for all mankind. While trying to remember her past, Ivy must guard her heart and soul against the enemies standing in her way.

Fairy tales and folklore. That’s what it sounds like to Ivy when her parents’ new tenant, handsome and arrogant William, tells the strangest story about an angel being hidden on Earth in the form of a baby. A child forced by her spiritual parents to remain human until the rebellion of Lucifer ended, making it safe for her to return home.

But something went terribly wrong. Ivy was left stranded on Earth and now finds herself the target of a very dangerous demonic being, Lucian. Lucian’s charming, sophisticated and he has orders to kill Ivy and take possession of her healing power so he and his legion, The Fallen, can finally extinguish the human race.

William is the warrior angel sent to protect Ivy. He is also her true love, created to be by her side for eternity. Unable to reveal who or what he is, William is painfully aware that if he fails to shield Ivy she will be lost to him forever.

Falling under Lucian’s spell, Ivy resists William’s efforts to befriend her and ignores the emotions he constantly stirs in her. Ivy finds herself caught between William’s true love and her misplaced loyalty to Lucian.

William wants her heart. Lucian wants her soul. Will she be able to survive them both and save the world?

I’m a stay at home mother and have been writing privately for friends and family for many years.

Please know that I have submitted queries to other agencies. Thank you for your time and consideration.

KayC said...

This now reads more like a synopsis than a query to me. Also, I'm not getting any real idea of her choices. If Lucian wants her dead, then why does she have a misplaced loyalty to him? Why is she choosing between William and Lucian at all?

The second paragraph is back story and you don't need any of it.

My suggestion (for what it's worth) is don't announce that she's an archangel with amnesia up front. For me it seemed to take away a lot of the momentum.

K Callard said...

I agree with KayC, this really reads like a synopsis now, and is way too long for a query letter. I don't mind that you start with with the "archangel with amnesia" bit, since you're using that as your hook, but you could try re-writing with that at the end.

What about something like "17-yr-old Ivy Chapel has no idea she's not human. After all, she's (insert some fact about Ivy's life - star of the track team/debate club president/something) and has a boyfriend who's as charming and sophisticated as a teenage James Bond.

When her parents' tenant, William, starts telling her she's an archangel with amnesia she blows it off as nothing more than fairytales and folklore. Until people start trying to kill her.

After two attempts on her life, Ivy realizes there might be more to William's story than she first thought. Turns out she's not only an archangel, but the sole guardian of healing power for all mankind. And her dreamy boyfriend, Lucian, is willing to do anything to take possession of those powers.

Falling under Lucian’s spell, Ivy resists William’s efforts to befriend her and ignores the emotions he constantly stirs in her. Befuddled by magic, Ivy must choose between the guy who wants her heart and the one who wants her soul--and if she chooses wrong it'll mean the the end of the world."

Ok, it's not perfect, but there's my two cents. Hope this helps, Melissa. Good luck!

Melissa said...

LOL, this is harder than writing the book! Back to the drawing board. I will take my time and really try to make this better. Thanks again for the help, I appreciate it!

Adam Heine said...

On the revised version, I agree it feels a little dry. What's the story's inciting incident? I mean, where does the action start? And then what are one or two critical events that occur that lead to Chapel's choice? That might be a place for you to start.

Yeah, queries are hard (I went through 27 revisions before I got an agent with mine). But remember it takes months (or years!) to revise a good novel. You can get the query there in just weeks :-)

Oh, and I forgot to also point you to AQ Connect. There's a lot of good info and query critique forums over there as well. That's where I started.

Melissa said...

Thanks again for the help, Adam. And odd as it may sound, 27 times is encouraging to me!