Geek writing/publishing craft time: basically my first day after deciding to join this year’s Pitchwars, I won a (luck-of-the-draw) query critique from the amazing Alicia Clancy! Alicia’s an Assistant Editor at St. Martin’s Press, Pitchwars mentor for the YA group and happens to be on my on my shortlist of mentors to sub to, so score! But then I had to scramble to actually write a query and synopsis lol. I’ll post Alicia’s version first, a few notes on how it works better, and then my original last for reference if anyone wants to get that geeky with it!
In a world where hope kills and dreams are deadly, obedience is the only way to survive. But seventeen-year-old Cole isn’t like the rest of her authoritarian state Refuge’s citizens—no matter how hard she tries, she simply cannot follow the rules. being haunted by a ghost named Cadence certainly doesn’t help her situation.
When Cole once again fails her probation, Refuge abandons her to the Mara—nightmares that devour the disobedient. But with Cadence on her side, Cole flees her oppressive state, and falls into the hands of a Freedom rebel group. Ravel, the group’s charismatic leader, brings Cole into their underground world and their mission to topple Refuge’s control.
But Cole finds herself distracted by visions—visions of a silver-shrouded boy taking on the Mara. A boy that Cadence seems to know. And when people started dying in more than just her visions, Cole must risk her hard-won status, her home, and maybe even her life to expose the truth—that her society’s absolute control and guarantee of safety are both illusions—and that it’s up to them to defeat the Mara.
Combining the flawed, challenging voice of PLACES NO ONE KNOWS with the supernatural chills of ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD and the dark fantasy dystopia of THIS SAVAGE SONG, my debut novel BLIND THE EYES is ultimately a story about a girl who’s terrified of never being good enough and the lengths she will go to overcome that fear.
(Add in a 1-3 sentence author bio here)
So. For one thing, I obviously forgot to put in wordcount (shame) and skipped the bio paragraph entirely.
I’ve actually been using that first line forever, but one of the Pitchwars mentors made a point of saying how you should lead with the main character, so I pushed it to the extended syopsis. Love that Alicia brought it back to the forefront!
Another thing she does is really bring a more colloquial (younger) voice to it. I was really focused on trying to write tight and brief, to the exclusion of voice, so while the tone feels a bit off to me (because now it’s someone else’s voice, lol), it definitely gives me a push to make sure not to strip out all the tone from my queries.
And finally, Alicia really tweaked the focus on action and motivation. It got a little too far from the actual plot (which she’s never read, so of course,) but gives me a good push to both be clearer on what’s actually happening in the story and forefront motivation and stakes in my final query letter. Stay tuned for future updates, since I’m working with my editor on queries right now (see ‘hooks’ post) and will post further revisions/finals!
& Here’s my rough first version for the super geeks in the room!
Thanks so much for taking the time to look at this - I was so surprised to win the query critique after last night’s live video! It’s the first time I’ve really worked on query materials, so thanks for the motivation to get it together and start polishing.
Seventeen-year-old Cole hides a dangerous obsession with death from the repressive, authoritarian tower-state Refuge and Cadence, the ghost who haunts her. Cole has failed to obey in the past; if she can’t pass probation this time, Refuge will abandon her to be devoured by the nightmarish Mara.When Cole flunks her trial, she discovers Refuge has been lying all along. Obedience to the state never guaranteed safety from the Mara.
Fleeing, she finds an ally in the charismatic leader of the underground club and rebel enclave, Freedom. Ravel offers the power to expose Refuge’s lies - along with a hedonistic new way of life. But as Cole struggles to fit in and earn Ravel’s help, she finds herself drawn into visions of death - and to the silver-shrouded boy in them who fights back against the Mara, a boy Cadence claims to remember from her former life. In the waking world, Ravel is more focused on transforming Cole into his ideal consort than toppling Refuge’s control - and people are dying in more than just Cole’s visions.
BLIND THE EYES combines the flawed and challenging voices of PLACES NO ONE KNOWS with the supernatural chills of ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD and the dark fantasy dystopia of THIS SAVAGE SONG in a debut novel about a girl who’s terrified of never being good enough.
In a world where hope kills and dreams are deadly, obedience is the only way to survive. But when one girl learns her society’s absolute control and guarantee of safety are both illusions, she risks her hard-won status, her home and her life to rebel and expose its lies.
Probationary surveillance technician Cole is determined to cast off her reputation as a failure and pass probation in the ascetic, totalitarian tower-state Refuge. If she fails, she’ll be abandoned to the Mara, the nightmares that devour disobedient workers. But to be accepted, she’ll have to suppress her forbidden obsession with the dead, hiding it even from the ghost who haunts her, Cadence.
Cole’s fascination with death torpedoes her probationary trial when she touches a corpse and witnesses a vision of its final moments. Trying to hide her failure, she discovers Refuge has been lying; its endless regulations can’t protect anyone from the deadly Mara. Cole flees Refuge enforcers and follows the ghost Cadence to allies who will help her expose Refuge’s lies, recognizing that no one will ever listen to or follow a failure like Cole. But Cadence lied; there are no allies, and Cole is nearly taken by the Mara instead.
Cole turns to Ravel, leader of an underground club and rebel movement. He teaches her to reject Refuge’s programming. She struggles to earn acceptance in his alien society while suffering visions of Mara attacks. She’s drawn to the silver boy who fights back in the visions, Ash. Cadence claims to know him. When Cole tells Ravel of the visions, and the ghost who haunts her, Ravel blames them on Cadence. But Cole discovers Ravel’s rebellion is restricted to preaching radical self-indulgence. He has no plan to expose Refuge’s lies and abuse. Worse, the illusion of safety Ravel provides is based on a tithe of human sacrifice to the Mara.
Then the Mara attack in the waking world and Cole discovers Cadence isn’t the one lying; Ravel is. The visions are real. Cole finally chooses to stop looking for a leader to follow and fight on her own. She infiltrates Refuge to help Ash. Interrupted mid-mission by another Mara attack, Cole fights back with powers like Ash’s, powers Cadence claims Cole has been absorbing from her. Cole’s secret obsession with the dead has been a side effect of Cadence’s haunting and Cole’s growing powers. Captured by Refuge after the fight and high on her recent success, Cole tricks an enforcer, sneaks off and contacts Ash. She selfishly demands Ash join her mission instead of heading to his location. But the enforcer was watching all along, and shoots Ash on arrival. Ravel kidnaps Cole and drugs her to keep her docile. Cole realizes her priority has never really been on saving people, but rather taking revenge on the system that made her feel like a failure. Cole overcomes the drugs and her guilt-ridden despondency when she discovers Ash survived and sets off to rescue him from torture and execution.
When Ash’s escape is threatened, Cole sacrifices her own safety and hopes for acceptance to turn back and distract the pursuing enforcer. She uses her newfound powers to catch the enforcer in a Mara attack. But the enforcer is possessed by the Mara and Cole loses control of the fight. Then Cadence reveals a truth she’s only just realized herself; the ghost Cadence is what remains of Cole’s own memories and identity before Refuge captured her and wiped them. Cadence helps Cole recognizes her past failures and flaws as strengths that keep the Mara from twisting her hopes and dreams and devouring her. Teaming up with this part of herself she never knew she’d lost and owning her desires and wants, Cole defeats the Mara.
Cole is reunited with Ash, who helps her accept her fragmented self. He affirms her broken and flawed identity as Cole seeks healing and her lost memories while struggling with the implications of Cadence’s separate existence. Ash commits to partnering with Cole and breaking Refuge and Ravel’s abuses to free the people and save them from the Mara. Their journey isn’t over, but Cole has overcome her programming and learned to choose her own path and fight back. Series potential; could be tweaked to show an ultimate defeat of the Mara and destabilization of Ravel’s rule and Refuge’s supremacy for standalone publishing.