Thursday, April 7, 2011

Query Revision in One Word via freelance editor Cassandra Marshall

In February, I contacted Cassandra Marshall about reading a partial of "Ways To Fall" and helping me figure out where my query was going wrong. I didn't have a referral, but I'd read her blog some and seen her tweets etc., so when I decided to seek professional help, I emailed her. We did two rounds of query revision.

Here's round one, with Cassandra's notes highlighted (and with her permission!). See if you can pick out the magic word!

Dear *agent*,

*I am querying you because of your interview /client/professed love for blahablah* and hope you will be intrigued by my paranormal romance, WAYS TO FALL, complete at 105,000 words.

Lara, an empath, and her emotionally damaged (How are they damaged?)“sisters” were kidnapped by Mother from their Outsider families and given the gift of immortality. Lara never questions Mother’s policy of suppressing their memories until one sister recalls her life Outside and despairs (Why?). Mother curses the young woman with eternal Sleep, insisting there is no other way to protect Lara from absorbing the girl’s feelings. Lara hopes that if she can understand how Outsiders survive their terrible experiences, she can find a way to truly heal her sisters and save their fragile, Edenic world.

Defying Mother, Lara enters the sacred caves and is transported to a sinkhole-turned-crime-scene, where she is arrested by the FBI (You might want to mention the transition into the “real world” or the “other dimension” or whatever you’re using to signify the different worlds. Without it, the premise sounds like “Mother” is nothing more than a brainwashing kidnapper, like the old guy who kept his daughter and her kids in the basement for all those years. Clearly mark her world as not the same as ours.)as a suspected kidnapper. Agent David Hatton, an emotionally detached (Why?) behavior specialist, is fascinated by the way Lara’s skin changes colors in reaction to his volatile partner’s emotions.

He fears Lara will die (Why?) if he can’t isolate her, so with FBI approval he fakes a rescue from the field office (He what? Rescues Lara? Does she need rescuing of the FBI is okay with it?) and orders the squad to keep out of Lara’s perception range. Lara and Agent Hatton hike through the quiet woods of North Florida, and their tenuous friendship develops into a soul-deep attraction. When Lara must choose (Why must she choose? What happens to force this choice? Why is Hatton’s life in danger? Why is being in “mother’s grace” so important?) between freeing her sisters and saving Agent Hatton’s life, she discovers the cost of falling, both from Mother’s grace and into love.
I am a member of the Online Writer's Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror and hold a B.S. in psychology from the University of Florida (Does this relate to your book somehow? If not, nix it.)

Per your guidelines, I've included _#_ sample pages [and a synopsis] below.

Thank you,





So, I got that back and was like, where's my miracle? (Yep. I'm impatient that way.) I was hoping for some kind of brilliant insight about what I needed to emphasize to grab an agent's attention. Is it the geroth fruit? Should I focus more on the romance? Should I bring out that Mother is Lilith? What do I include?

Answer: Details. WHY? WHY? WHY?

Which is basically motivation. What is pushing the story? For the characters personally and through their relationship to their world. Brilliant! Even if I didn't realize it at first.

I opened up a new document, pasted in the query and revisions, and answered her questions. It was a page and a half when I was done. Then I started at the top and condensed. I eliminated some sentences, sentences I'd thought necessary, but maybe weren't as important as I thought. It was hard.

I got it down to a page, and Cassandra said, "Oooh, much more clear, well done!" She suggested just a few changes: breaking it up into smaller paragraphs (harder to skim over those, she said.) and put Mother's secret identity at the top. Done. Here's the end result:

Dear *Agent,*

Thank you for your interest in my paranormal romance, WAYS TO FALL, complete at 105,000 words.

Mother, a charismatic immortal once called Lilith, rescued Lara and her “sisters” from abusive families in the Outside World. In their secluded world, the girls nurture the emotionally-fed geroth trees whose fruit grants them all eternal life. Lara never questions Mother’s policy of suppressing their memories of the Outside World until one sister recalls her horrible past. Rather than live with the memories of the terror she endured in the Outside World, made ever more vivid by the geroth fruit, the sister chooses eternal Sleep.

Losing a sister devastates Lara, but Mother is comfortable with attrition, provided enough spiritually pure girls remain to nurture the geroth fruit. Mother can always return to Outside to find more girls to harvest the fruit, after all.

Determined to find a way to heal her sisters, Lara defies Mother and enters the sacred caves. She is transported by a mystical light to the modern world, where FBI agent David Hatton arrests her as a suspected kidnapper. Hatton is fascinated by the way Lara’s chameleon-like skin responds to others’ emotions until his partner’s anger nearly stops Lara’s heart.

He recognizes that Lara’s empathic abilities make her vulnerable, so, with FBI approval, he fakes a rescue from the field office and isolates Lara in the quiet woods of North Florida. Hatton answers Lara’s questions about Outsiders, and as he’d hoped, she offers information about Mother. Lara and Hatton’s tenuous friendship develops into a soul-deep attraction.

When the FBI gets in a bloody turf war with the DIA—a rival agency intent on conducting inhumane experiments—Hatton promises Lara he’ll return her to her world even if it costs him his life. Lara fears that if she returns home, Mother will perceive her untamed emotions as a threat to the geroth trees and force her into Sleep, or worse, make her forget how beautiful love between a man and a woman can be. Caught between the two worlds, Lara discovers the cost of falling, both from Mother’s grace and into love.

I am a member of the Online Writer's Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror and the Atlanta Writer’s Club.

Per your guidelines, I've included [#] sample pages [and a synopsis] below.

Thank you,

Kelly Bryson
(contact info)
I'm very pleased with the end product and I'll let you know what the results are!
It was great working with Cassandra, although now it's killing me not to know which agency she interns for.
Gah! Secrets!

And can I say how ready I am to put this novel to bed? Not *under* my bed- in somebody else's bed. There just aren't enough hours in the day. Speaking of which- thanks for hanging out with me even after I've been so distant:) We're moving into our house, and I have a bazillion projects going on. I've painted and unpacked enough that I expect to be able to return to once a week posting.

Any thoughts? Do you have a query break-through to share?

Happy Writing!


  1. What a difference in the two queries you've posted! The second one is so much more powerful and engaging, although the first one didn't jump out at me as being that far off.

    I struggle with my queries because I never know how much to reveal. I recently won a certificate for Cassandra's time, now I cannot wait to send her some of my stuff!!

    Good luck querying this new fabulous page!

  2. Thanks Corinne- I was starting to feel that my story was just not able to be condensed into a few paragraphs and still convey the tone!

    What to reveal- that's my struggle, too. Thanks for the comment! And congrats on the certificate- very exciting! Cassandra was a pleasure to work with.

  3. It's very good, Kelly. I like seeing the difference. I think I'm finally understanding what goes into a good query. I'll make sure to ask "Why?"

  4. That second query really makes me want to read your story. I hope it has that effect on agents! Good luck!

  5. Hey Ben- aw, thanks. I've learned so much from reading other writer's query revisions, too. I love how much information is available. Almost too much;)

    Myrna- Thanks! good luck to you too! I'll let you guys know how the next round of queries go:)

  6. Corinne, I look forward to working with you too!

    If you guys are interested, there's a live chat with ME where I'll answer editing questions on 4/13 and there will be PRIZES!

    It was a pleasure to work with you too, Kelly! Authors like you, the ones that are willing to learn and work hard to make their stuff the best that it can be really make my job awesome! I can hardly wait to see your book listed in Pub Marketplace!

  7. Thanks for posting the two versions. I love the second version, good luck!

  8. Hey Cassandra- thanks for stopping in. Publisher's Marketplace? You really think so? *heavy, hopeful sigh* Or is that too many adjectives?

    Thanks for letting us know about the chat.

    And Jen- hi! Thanks:) Good luck to you too!

    And the link to Cassandra's site now works. Sorry about that!

  9. Kelly, I like the changes, too. The shorter paragraphs make it pop, and I think you chose just the right details. I'm sure you're ready to jump back onto the query-go-round:) (Once you work through Cassandra's suggestions on your manuscript, of course. Which makes me doubly grateful that you're taking the time to read Bob. Again. I really appreciate it.)

    WORD VERIFICATION: abusings. No joke:)