First Impact: Out of the Water by Deniz Bevan

Time for another First Impact critique. Remember, if you share your thoughts in the comments, you are eligible to win a 10-page critique from Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful!

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A big thank you to long-time reader Deniz for submitting the query for her historical romance, OUT OF THE WATER. (Also thank you for coming in well under the 300-word limit. My wife and children thank you.)

Keep in mind all this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it. Any in-line comments are to the right, overall thoughts at the end.

Query Letter
Maybe mention the year right away?

Not sure how I feel about this final
Eighteen-year-old Rosa becomes separated from her family as they flee their Spanish homeland, and the Inquisition. Now her one hope of reaching Constantinople and reuniting with her family lies with a stranger, Baha, an artist returning to the Ottoman Empire. As they travel together, Rosa's drive to find her loved ones is matched by a deepening desire for the man at her side.

I think we skipped the bit where she
reunited with her family.

Again, not sure about the last line.
Yet her family refuses to accept this man of a different faith. Constantinople was meant to be her family's refuge, but when janissaries arrest her father and brother, Rosa and Baha risk their lives to rescue them. Together they will prove that their love can withstand their differences... if the Grand Vizier doesn't throw them both in the dungeons first.

OUT OF THE WATER is complete at 115,000 words. I hope you find my 15th-Century historical romance a good fit for your interests.

Italicize the newspaper title?
I have lived and worked in Turkey, and my non-fiction work, including travel articles, book reviews and personal essays, has most recently appeared in the trilingual (English, French, and Turkish) newspaper Bizim Anadolu.
Not sure whether this is necessary.
Initial drafts of OUT OF THE WATER were revised through participation in author Barbara Rogan's invitation-only Next Level Workshop.

Thank you for your consideration.
Deniz Bevan
Adam's Thoughts
You know, Deniz, this feels really strong to me. You've got a strong character, goal, obstacles, and -- if not a sadistic choice -- at least very strong stakes. I'm just going to explain a couple of my comments up there, then let the commenters at it (who, of course, may have an entirely different opinion).

Last line of the 1st paragraph. I'm not sure what strikes me as off about this line. It's minor. Maybe it's the abstract comparison of her drive and her desire, when I want something more specific (but how can you get specific about love? I don't know).

Last line of the 2nd paragraph. I didn't realize it at first, but I think what I'm missing here is a choice. Their goal and stakes are strong (save her family, possibly die trying), but it's not as compelling as a sadistic choice. I kind of assume she's going to save them, so what's going to entice me to read on at this point, to say, "How the heck is she going to do that?"

The more I think about it, the more I think that's the big lack. Everything else is here.

As for nitpicking the bio paragraphs, they look pretty solid to me. I'm very much of the "less is more" philosophy of bio paragraphs, so I do question things like whether you need to talk about your non-fiction work (though writing for a Turkish newspaper is cool) or whether agents are likely to care what workshops were used to revised it (even prestigious ones). Your story is strong enough for me that I don't think you need those things, but it's your call.

What do the rest of you guys think? Does it need a choice? Am I being too picky about the bios? Should "15th-century" be hyphenated or not? (I'm kidding. The answer to the last question is "yes.")


Matthew MacNish said...

I critiqued this query on my blog some time ago. I can't tell right away how different it is, but I remember thinking it was already in great shape back then, and it certainly still is now.

I agree with Adam's points, but I also think not every query has to have a choice. I know, I talk about the three Cs a lot, but the first two are the most critical.

Anonymous said...

I love the concept of the story and my initial reaction is "prepare to be transported!" I think your experience in Turkey and the writing workshop says that the story will be well-written and authentic with lots of accurate detail and setting. But as Adam says you may want to leave the workshop out and let the query speak for your writing style.

That said, I think the query could convey more action and conflict. By this I mean "refuses to accept" could be "rejects" and "love can withstand their differences" could be "love destroys their doubt and differences." Not that exactly, but something stronger than "can withstand" which seems passive. I think it needs more punch that relates the choices it seems she has to make throughout.

I don't like the line "I hope you find my . . . a good fit for your interests." This is the whole point of a query you don't need to say it. And again it's a bit passive. You don't really hope it's a "good fit for your interests" you hope the agent will want and need to read the manuscript immediately and love it as much as you do. You could change that sentence to something like "My 15th-Century historical romance OUT OF THE WATER is complete at 115 thousand words.

These are just some thoughts. I really think your books sounds fascinating.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Sounds like a fascinating period of time, and while I don't read a lot of historical romance, now I'm thinking I should. :)

I agree with Adam that the last line of the first paragraph needs some help. I think the struggle is that she's comparing apples (her love of family) to oranges (her love of the man) and there's not an immediate sense that this is a problem. And it should be a problem, if it's the anchor sentence of your first paragraph (the problem comes in the next sentence/paragraph). I would combine those two: "As they travel together, Rosa's deepening desire for the man at her side crashes into her family's refusal to accept this man of a different faith." (only better)

Now you have the crux of the whole romance (because the conflict in a romance is always "how in the heck will these two get together" and having your family hate him over religious differences is about as fundamental as that gets). Then I would start the next paragraph with "the complication" (i.e. now they're in Constantinople, but it's not the refuge they thought) and hints that the complication might actually be the solution as well - risking their lives to save her family might win them over, yet, they might all end up in the dungeons.

Sounds like you've got a fantastic story - you just need to get it all into that query! Good luck!!

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks so much, Adam! I'd already sorta come to the conclusion that this was a rather flat query and your comment about choices has given me a way to fix that.
*Sadistic* choices, mwah ha ha!

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks, Matthew! You got to see it when I'd just started querying... Now I'm a few months in and it's time to shake things up!

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks for taking the time to read so carefully, jedlight. I like your idea of switching up the sentences to be more action oriented, a lot!

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks, Susan! That's a great help. It's so hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes...

Steve MC said...

The story sounds great, but here's a few notes on how things are phrased.

"...returning to the Ottoman Empire." Not sure if you need this, since we know he’s going to Constantinople.

You might try something like “returning home along the same trade road,” which would help 'cause it doesn't say how they're travelling. For some reason I got an image of them sitting together on a train, and I don’t think that fits. :-)

I agree with Adam that there should be a couple words about once she finds her family. And with that lead-off sentence, in the second paragraph, it seems that the next line would explain their family's resistance further, but it’s a different obstacle altogether.

So maybe something like "What’s more, Constantinople..." or even better, what Susan suggested.

I'd also like to know why her father and brother were arrested.

And for this line - "Rosa and Baha risk their lives to rescue them" – I'd want to know more detail, such as will it be a months-long strategy of impersonation to get close to the Grand Vizier, or making contacts in the underground to get enough gunpowder to blow the dungeon doors down.

Good luck with it!

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks maine!
You're right, specific is always better. I should definitely mention that they'll be sailing. Lots of hints to be made about the close quarters on a ship :-)

Jay Noel said...

I think this query is shaping up very well.

The only thing I can say is that final paragraph where revisions took place is unnecessary.

Deniz Bevan said...

Thank you, Jay!