Query Hack: Critique #4 – Adult Literary Fiction

Dear Query Hack,

I think The Flametenders will pique your interest because of your desire to represent literary fiction that is accessible. It is historically accurate without being intimidating and contains many magical elements that are aligned with what was practiced by Pagans in Ancient Rome during this time period.

  • Manuscript titles should be written in all caps: THE FLAMETENDERS.
  • While personalization is a key part of writing an excellent query, make sure to personalize your query for each agent you submit to. I also recommend simply starting with your plot summary. Your first sentence feels a little timid to me. You wrote a story (woohoo!); be proud of your work and what you’ve accomplished!
  • Your second sentence (starting with “It is historically accurate…”) read clunky to me.
  • If you don’t want to start your query with your plot summary, here’s a potential alternative: 

Set in Ancient Rome, THE FLAMETENDERS is an adult historical fiction with literary fiction elements, complete at 72,000 words, and weaves in magic aligned with pagan practices during that period. 

The Flametenders is a story of a barren empress, presumed dead by her vile husband, and her mission to find the powerful priestess responsible for casting a terrible curse upon her mother. The empress ends her midnight journey when she knocks on the door of this woman, the ailing Celia Concordia, the last of the Chief of the Vestal Virgins. From Celia’s deathbed, she delves into the lives of how four Vestal Virgins overcame the challenges of being pagan child priestesses with immense power amidst the volatile landscape of Ancient Rome. These stories help Maria resolve a part of her life and ultimately lift the curse, saving her mother.

  • Again, be sure to write your manuscript titles in all caps. However, I wouldn’t mention the title here. Jump right to your story and characters. In addition, be careful saying “this is a story of.” That is telling. Instead, show us what your story is about by writing a compelling plot summary from the perspective of your protagonist. 
  • I really want more of your protagonist’s perspective in your plot summary (the barren empress?). What’s her name? What are her desires and goals? What is she hoping to achieve and why?
  • What is the curse on the empress’ mother? How does it impact your protagonist? Is her mother still alive? We need more information about the motives for the inciting incident.  
  • While it sounds like you have an interesting story, we need more information about the stakes for the story and character (as well as the motives for why the character is doing what she is throughout the book). Here are key questions your plot summary should address: Who is your protagonist and what does she want? What is preventing her from getting what she wants? What actions does she take to address that? What then stands in her way? What’s at stake for your protagonist and the world at large? What happens if your protagonist achieves her goal? What happens if she fails?
  • In addition, we need more information about the setting and magic (and ideally at the beginning of your plot summary). 

This is my debut novel of 71,908 words. I self-published a children’s picture book, The Colors Out My Window in 2016, and am currently marketing a short story called Meet and Greet. My blog is called The Dark & Twisties and have some non-fiction articles published on Ehow.com.

  • You don’t need to put an exact word count. You can round up/down, as applicable. 
  • Don’t forget your age group and genre!! Many agents will automatically reject a query if you don’t have your metadata (word count, age group, and genre).
  • I rewrote how you could write your metadata in my earlier notes. I think that might be a stronger way to convey this important information. 
  • Cool bio! You have a very interesting background. (Don’t forget to provide hyperlinks in your query!)

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