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Red Sails, Black Sails (YA Fantasy)


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#1 Tevshko

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Posted 12 January 2018 - 11:17 PM

Dear Agent

 

 

            I am currently seeking representation for my YA novel RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS. Given your interest in fantasy, I thought it might be a good fit for your list.

 

Ralph Wallaby had always dreamed of traveling the sea, and with his fathers death, his dream became reality. But when he first saw the pirate ship on the horizon, Ralph wishes he had never left home.

 

Forced to choose between the love of a village girl and the allure of the unknown, Ralph (along with his friend, Peter) embarks on a yearlong voyage across the Narrow Sea. They sail in the company of merchants, cunning men who would sell their own souls for a pouch of gold. They meet cutthroats and mercenaries, brutes and savages, priests and prophets. And when Ralph Wallaby thinks he has seen everything the world has to offer, he notices small black sails in the horizon, fast-approaching.

 

After the battle is lost, Ralph remembers the merchant kneeling and begging for his life, bartering a deal to trade his freedom for Ralphs imprisonment. Waking up a prisoner trapped in the hold of a pirate ship, the boy who once dreamt only of travel now finds himself wanting nothing more than to return home. He keeps his head low, mopping floors and loading crates, eventually learning the way of pirates, gaining their trust. On one stormy night, he overhears a secret plot to overthrow the pirate captain. And once the captain is gone, Ralph knows hes the next target.

 

RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS is a Young Adult coming-of-age fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words. The novel can best be categorized as THE ALCHEMIST meets TREASURE ISLAND. The manuscript is available, in part or in full, upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Best,



#2 pigeononthemoon

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Posted 12 January 2018 - 11:33 PM

 

I am currently seeking representation for my YA novel RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS. Given your interest in fantasy, I thought it might be a good fit for your list. [solid opening]

 

Ralph Wallaby had always dreamed of traveling the sea, and with his fathers death, his dream became reality [how is his father's death related to his dream becoming reality?]. But when he first saw sees the pirate ship on the horizon, Ralph wishes he had never left home. [first it's past tense, then it's present tense.]

 

[It feels like your query really starts here:]

Forced to choose between the love of a village girl and the allure of the unknown, Ralph (along with his friend, Peter) embarks on a yearlong voyage across the Narrow Sea [It's not a choice if he's already made it - he's chosen the unknown. But also, why does this choice exist, and why is he 'forced' to choose it? Since the girl doesn't come up again, I don't think you even need to mention her.]. They He OR He and his friend Peter [but decide wisely whether you NEED Peter in the query, because I don't see him anywhere else. I also don't think he's necessary.] sail in the company of merchants, cunning men who would sell their own souls for a pouch of gold. They meet cutthroats and mercenaries, brutes and savages, priests and prophets. And w When Ralph Wallaby thinks he has seen everything the world has to offer, he notices small black sails in the horizon, fast-approaching.

 

After the battle is lost [battle?? when??], Ralph remembers the merchant kneeling and begging for his life, bartering a deal to trade his freedom for Ralphs imprisonment. Waking up a prisoner trapped in the hold of a pirate ship, the boy who once dreamt only of travel now finds himself wanting nothing more than to return home. He keeps his head low, mopping floors and loading crates, eventually learning the way of pirates, gaining their trust. On one stormy night, he overhears a secret plot to overthrow the pirate captain. And once the captain is gone, Ralph knows hes the next target [Why? How does he know that? Why is the captain somehow standing between him and the rest of the crew?].

 

RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS is a Young Adult coming-of-age fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words. The novel can best be categorized as THE ALCHEMIST meets TREASURE ISLAND [comp titles should be recent, preferably published within the last three years. Mentioning Treasure Island tells an agent you haven't read pirate-themed books in your genre. If you haven't, that might be okay, but don't advertise the fact.]. The manuscript is available, in part or in full, upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

So this sounds like such an interesting story, but it needs restructuring. Right now it reads like this:

 

Paragraph 1: Backstory to get him onto a merchant ship.

Paragraph 2: Surprise! This is actually just backstory to get him onto a pirate ship.

Paragraph 3: THIS is where things get interesting and the stakes become real. 

 

So I think the query could start with something like, "After Ralph's merchant ship is overtaken by pirates..." or "Ralph was livin' the ol' dream on his merchant ship UNTIL THE PIRATES STRUCK." (I'm being silly now, but hopefully you get the point.)

 

I hope my comments help. Good luck!



#3 darsenault

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 03:22 AM

I'm going to follow-up on Pigeon's advice above, because I think he was dead-on.

A query has to provide several things:

The Main Character
The Conflict
The Choice
The Stakes

So start, right under "Dear Agent," with something like, "Ralph Wallaby thinks he's seen everything the world has to offer until he sees the black sails across the horizon. His ship is taken, and he finds himself enslaved by pirates. Just when he's beginning to earn the respect of the crew, he accidentally uncovers a plot to kill the captain. Now he must decide whether to join the mutinee, or protect the captain, but either decision could leave him caught in the middle of a deadly battle with nowhere to run but overboard."

 

Treat that like a skeleton, because I'm sure that's not all you have in your story. I was able to write that because it was simple, because it's been done before, so flesh it out by contradicting me. Show all of the ways your story is different from the premise I stated about in your query. Skip all the backstory.



#4 Tevshko

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 01:50 PM

Darsenault and Pidgeon, I cannot thank you enough for your amazing feedback. I have taken all your combined feedback into consideration for a new draft, a more concise, shorter (and hopefully more impactful) version. Let me know what you think! 
 
 
 
Dear Agent
 
I am seeking representation for my YA novel RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS—a Young Adult coming-of-age fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words. Given your interest in fantasy, I thought it might be a good fit for your list.
 
When choosing between the love of a village girl and the allure of the unknown, Ralph embarks on a yearlong voyage across the Narrow Sea. In the company of cutthroats and merchants, Ralph thinks he has seen everything the world has to offer, until he sees black sails across the horizon.
 
His ship is taken, and he finds himself enslaved by pirates. Just when Ralph is beginning to earn the crews respect, he accidentally uncovers a secret plot to kill the captain. Now, he must decide whether to join the mutiny, or share his secret with the captain in hopes of saving him. Either decision could leave Ralph caught in the middle of a deadly battle, with nowhere to run but overboard.
 
Thank you for your time and consideration.
 
Best,



#5 Nessa

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 08:54 PM

Darsenault and Pidgeon, I cannot thank you enough for your amazing feedback. I have taken all your combined feedback into consideration for a new draft, a more concise, shorter (and hopefully more impactful) version. Let me know what you think! 
 
 
 
Dear Agent
 
I am seeking representation for my YA novel RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS—a Young Adult coming-of-age fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words . Given your interest in fantasy, I thought it might be a good fit for your list.​[Can cut this last line because it's implied you're querying the agent if fantasy is a genre she represents. You should consider adding a line about a #MSWL element or something more specific, like an agent Tweeting about her love for unreliable narrators or something.]
 
When choosing between the love of a village girl and the allure of the unknown​[Too vague. What do you mean by the unknown?], Ralph embarks on a yearlong voyage across the Narrow Sea​[Better detail, but this still feels incomplete. Is there an extra detail you can add to help pinpoint what sort of setting we're looking at?]. In the company of cutthroats and merchants​[Has he been with them since he was a kid? Did he randomly join up after ditching the village girl?], Ralph thinks he has seen everything the world has to offer​[Doesn't read as epic or enticing.], until he sees black sails across the horizon.​[So he's been out for a while?]
 
His ship is taken, and he finds himself enslaved by pirates​[Your language could be more action-packed. Rough example: "The ship is ransacked by pirates who slap chains on Ralph's ankles..."]. Just when Ralph is beginning to earn the crews respect​[How? Why does he want their respect?], he accidentally uncovers a secret plot to kill the captain​[There's still room for details.]. Now, he must decide whether to join the mutiny, or share his secret with the captain in hopes of saving him​[Is the mutiny strong enough to overthrow the captain's supporters?]. Either decision could leave Ralph caught in the middle of a deadly battle, with nowhere to run but overboard.​[What are the stakes?]
 
Thank you for your time and consideration.
 
Best,


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#6 Springfield

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 09:03 PM

Darsenault and Pidgeon, I cannot thank you enough for your amazing feedback. I have taken all your combined feedback into consideration for a new draft, a more concise, shorter (and hopefully more impactful) version. Let me know what you think! 
 
 
 
Dear Agent
 
I am seeking representation for my YA novel RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS—a Young Adult coming-of-age fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words. Given your interest in fantasy, I thought it might be a good fit for your list.
 
When choosing between the love of a village girl and the allure of the unknown, Ralph embarks on a yearlong voyage across the Narrow Sea. Eh? This is vague, out of noplace, ungrounded, and does the village girl ever come back? Also, how old is he?In the company of cutthroats and merchants, Ralph thinks he has seen everything the world has to offer, until he sees black sails across the horizon.

 
His ship is taken, and he finds himself enslaved by pirates. Just when Ralph is beginning to earn the crews respect, he accidentally uncovers a secret plot to kill the captain. Now, he must decide whether to join the mutiny, or share his secret with the captain in hopes of saving him. Either decision could leave Ralph caught in the middle of a deadly battle, with nowhere to run but overboard. What about this has to do with fantasy, just to start with? 
 
Thank you for your time and consideration.
 
Best,

 

All I've got is someone on a ship decides whether to join a mutiny. That does not a book make -- what is his problem? I know nothing about the character, the plot, setting, anything. This reads like a generic premise -- not for a fantasy.



#7 Tevshko

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 05:59 PM

Here is version 3. I tried expanding a little on the points presented above. Why is that the query is ofter harder to write than the novel itself? I hope you will find it is an improvement on my second version, and that I am heading in the right direction. Thank you so much to all who have commented. I appreciate it so much!

 

 

Dear Agent

 

I am seeking representation for my novel RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS—a Young Adult fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words.

 

Following the death of his father, young Ralph Wallaby is forced from his family home. When choosing between the town hes always known and the allure of the mysterious lands beyond the Narrow Sea, Ralph embarks on a yearlong voyage in the company of rogue sellswords and merchants. After a year of travelling through the Kings lands, Ralph thinks he has seen everything the world has to offer, until he spots black sails across the horizon.

 

The pirates take everything. His ship is looted, his friends perished, and Ralph finds himself a slave in chains. Months pass in the service of pirates, during which time Ralph accidentally uncovers a secret plot to kill the captain. Now, he must decide whether to join the mutiny and take his chances, or share his secret with the captain in hopes of gaining enough of his respect to buy him a trip home. Either decision could leave Ralph caught in the middle of a deadly battle where victory results in triumph, and defeat in death.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Best,



#8 Springfield

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 06:53 PM

Here is version 3. I tried expanding a little on the points presented above. Why is that the query is ofter harder to write than the novel itself? I hope you will find it is an improvement on my second version, and that I am heading in the right direction. Thank you so much to all who have commented. I appreciate it so much!

 

 

Dear Agent

 

I am seeking representation for my novel RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS—a Young Adult fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words.

 

Following the death of his father, young Ralph Wallaby is forced from his family home. When choosing between the town hes always known and the allure of the mysterious lands beyond the Narrow Sea, Ralph embarks on a yearlong voyage in the company of rogue sellswords and merchants. After a year of travelling through the Kings lands, Ralph thinks he has seen everything the world has to offer, until he spots black sails across the horizon.

 

The pirates take everything. His ship is looted, his friends perished, and Ralph finds himself a slave in chains. Months pass in the service of pirates, during which time Ralph accidentally uncovers a secret plot to kill the captain. Now, he must decide whether to join the mutiny and take his chances, or share his secret with the captain in hopes of gaining enough of his respect to buy him a trip home. Either decision could leave Ralph caught in the middle of a deadly battle where victory results in triumph, and defeat in death.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Best,

 

Same exact comments as above would apply here. 



#9 darsenault

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Posted 17 January 2018 - 05:06 AM

Not to sound discouraging, but it looks about time to ask: Is this your first completed novel?

 

Your query is clear, concise, and reads well, but at this point, the issue seems to be that the plot is thin and mostly cliche. Your novel might be well-written, it might be enjoyable to read, but if it isn't original it'll be hard to sell.

 

My first completed novel was honestly just a step beyond fan-fiction. My second, third, and fourth novels are also all buried deep in a hard-drive collecting digital dust. 

 

It might not be time for you to write a query; it might be time for you to try your hand at a new story. 

 

But hey, all I've seen are a few queries. If there's more to your story that I'm not seeing, try another draft.

Either way, keep at it!



#10 Bananas

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Posted 18 January 2018 - 11:44 AM

Coming into this without having read the previous versions or comments.

Here is version 3. I tried expanding a little on the points presented above. Why is that the query is ofter harder to write than the novel itself? Because it's a completely different skill set and its abbreviated word count leaves little room for error. I hope you will find it is an improvement on my second version, and that I am heading in the right direction. Thank you so much to all who have commented. I appreciate it so much!

 

 

Dear Agent

 

I am seeking representation for my novel RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS—a Young Adult fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words.

 

Following the death of his father, young Ralph Wallaby is forced from his family home. When choosing between the town he's always known and the allure of the mysterious lands beyond the Narrow Sea, Ralph embarks on a yearlong voyage in the company of rogue sellswords and merchants. There are a lot of unnecessary filler words in this sentence. Also, the "When choosing" construction doesn't fit with the active phrasing of "Ralph embarks".  Next, be careful what details you choose to include. Is the death of his father important for this query? No. All that matters is that Ralph has been thrown out of his house. After Ralph Wallaby is thrown out into the streets, he's left with two bad options; starvation, or joining a Merchantman voyage to the King's Lands.  I'm not saying you have to use this, but it does a better job of outlining his peril. Your sentences are soft and nice and not all that dangerous. It's boring. After a year of travelling through the Kings lands, Worldbuilding detail - I don't follow how "mysterious lands beyond the Narrow Sea" could now be called "the King's lands".  This implies sovereignty/ownership, but owning the unknown is impossible. Ralph thinks he has seen everything the world has to offer, This is borderline cliche and makes me think that his year as a merchant was very nice. It sounds boring as hell too. until he spots black sails across the horizon.

 

The pirates take everything. His ship is looted, his friends perished, You've switched tenses. "is looted" and "Ralph finds" are present tense and "perished" is past tense. and Ralph finds himself write more actively. There are tighter ways of saying something than "finds himself". a slave in chains. Months pass Words like this, matter. It makes me think that there are huge stretches in your manuscript where nothing would be happening. Now, in your book you might jump forward past these parts, but mentioning them in a query isn't good. Your job isn't to tell us every blow by blow detail, it's to give us the flavour (voice) of your book and then enticing us to read on. in the service of pirates, during which time junk phrases. Cut them. Write concisely. Ralph accidentally uncovers a secret plot to kill the captain. Now, he must decide whether to join the mutiny and take his chances, or share his secret with the captain this makes no sense. Why would he help the guy who LITERALLY enslaved him? Mutiny is clearly his best bet. in hopes of gaining enough of his respect to buy him a trip home. Either decision could leave Ralph caught in the middle of a deadly battle where victory results in triumph, as opposed to what? These are synonyms, for god's sake.and defeat in death.

 

Comparable novels?

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Best,



#11 KET Writes

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Posted 19 January 2018 - 12:16 AM

I hear you on the query being so much harder than the novel!!

 

Here is version 3. I tried expanding a little on the points presented above. Why is that the query is ofter harder to write than the novel itself? I hope you will find it is an improvement on my second version, and that I am heading in the right direction. Thank you so much to all who have commented. I appreciate it so much!

 

 

Dear Agent

 

I am seeking representation for my novel RED SAILS, BLACK SAILS—a Young Adult fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words.

 

Following the death of his father, young Ralph Wallaby is forced from his family home. I'm wondering if instead of "young" you can specify the age (i.e. seventeen-year-old Ralph Wallaby). Think of the jackets on YA novels, characters aren't often described as young, despite the "Young Adult" category, unless it's because they are too young to do something specific in the story). When choosing between the town hes always known and the allure of the mysterious lands beyond the Narrow Sea, Ralph embarks on a yearlong voyage in the company of rogue sellswords and merchants. After a year of travelling through the Kings lands, Ralph thinks he has seen everything the world has to offer, until he spots black sails across the horizon.

 

The pirates take everything. His ship is looted, his friends perished, and Ralph finds himself a slave in chains. Months pass in the service of pirates, during which time Ralph accidentally uncovers a secret plot to kill their (nitpicky, but technically it's not his captain) captain. Now, he must decide whether to join the mutiny and take his chances, or share his secret with the captain in hopes of gaining enough of his respect to buy him a trip home. Either decision could leave Ralph caught in the middle of a deadly battle where victory results in triumph, and defeat in death.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Best,

 

 

It might help to add a solid one/two line hook at the start of this to set the tone. When I start the query, I think the story is about a man dealing with the death of his father, but then the second paragraph (and the conflict with the mutiny) seems to come out of nowhere. 

 

Keep up the good work though!!

 

 

 

**My editor automatically adds the word "schedule" into my posts. Can't fix it. Sorry!!

Schedule


If my feedback was helpful, I'd appreciate some thoughts on my YA Urban Fantasy Query !

 





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