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Query: Between Earth and Fire

Welcome to Query Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a query to be read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. Published authors may do so under their own name or anonymously.

Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?

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Dear Ms. Agent,

I appreciate the place (author’s name) has carved for herself writing fantasy and romance that doesn’t follow her characters into the bedroom. Since you represent her, I’d like to offer my fantasy romance, “Between Earth and Fire,” for your consideration.

Bold, clever Maurwyn Respen plans to govern her ancestral home herself–just as soon as she rids herself of the earth tremors her rare bouts of anger seem to cause. Yet her strange, elemental powers prove useful. A vengeful mage seeks to crush her homeland and only the soldier Xanier knows where to find him. Xan is smart, sly, and deliciously fun to tease, but-something’s wrong. Not with earthquakes or fire, but with the man she’s grown to love. Xan isn’t who he claims to be–and Maurwyn must defeat him before he destroys her people.

This is one of two novels I’ve written about the Respen family and I have plans for others. However, “Between Earth and Fire” can certainly stand alone.

I’ve enclosed a short synopsis, first chapter, and a S.A.S.E. for your convenience.

Thank you for your time,

Author

***

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

34 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 05:33:08

    You lost me at the first sentence. The bit about the characters not being followed into the bedroom sounds like you have a faint distaste for the genre. I’d drop that, seriously.

    Nothing that followed really inspired me. The world building needs to be more overtly described, and we could do with more about the characters – and the villain. It’s too sketchy. You don’t mention the rest of the Respen family at all, so you haven’t given us any reason to care you’ve written more about them.

    Another short paragraph could really build interest in your story without wearing out your welcome. I think you need it.

    ReplyReply

  2. Leslee
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 06:21:08

    It’s sounds promising from a reader’s perspective. What concern’s me is that she falls in love with the bad guy? That would put me off unless a little more explaining of the plot is put in. I definitely agree with Ann that you should loose the part about not following characters into the bedroom. It sounds a little disdainful and snooty. But I am interested in the story.

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  3. Leah
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 06:42:51

    I’m not into the explicit sex scenes, either, but since the agent already represents books that are more, um, chaste, then you don’t need to worry that she is going to reject yours for not being overly sexy. I like how you were able to make your query letter so succint, and I thought it interesting that there is something wrong with Xan (because hey, who hasn’t been there!), but for some reason it was still hard for me to connect the dots. And if her rages are only occasional, why should that keep her from her rightful position? I know you worked hard to make this query short and sweet, but it probably needs a teeny bit more detail. Of course, it’s 7:30 am and I have a headache, so maybe it’s just me! Best of luck–your letter-writing style is good, so if it’s indicative of your book, you’ll find an agent soon!

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  4. Shreela
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 07:36:58

    As a reader, I didn’t care to read the first paragraph. But the second paragraph hooked me, although a bit more about the vengeful mage would be nice. And I don’t understand where the fire fits in: Does Maurwyn’s tremors somehow trigger the fires, or maybe they’re caused by the vengeful mage, or perhaps Zan’s power is fire? But I’d still want to read it just from your second paragraph.

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  5. Anion
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 07:42:12

    I also dislike the first line, and if the agent in question also reps authors who do follow characters into the bedroom (as many do), said agent may be offended by it (as I was, and I think the other commenters were). Just saying you enjoy the author’s work is enough, without giving reasons why.

    And the rest…hmm. I like the idea that she’s in love with the bad guy, but the query’s focus confuses me. As written it leaves no room for the possibility of an HEA and since you’re querying this as a romance, there must be one. This isn’t the best example, but something like “But when Maurwyn uncovers evidence that Xan may not be what he appears to be, she must decide if she’s willing to bet her kingdom on their love.” Like I said, that’s not good–I don’t really know what your story is–but you see the point, which is that focuses more on the conflict in the relationship and leaves open the chance of an HEA.

    Also, there’s no word count listed.

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  6. Erastes
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 07:46:59

    Adding my voice to the disparaging comments about the sex scenes. It’s unnecessary. Not all romance has sex in it. Haven’t more to add really as Ann says everything I would have said. Could be an interesting story, but you don’t tell enough about it. This is more of a book blurb than a query.

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  7. Kathleen
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 08:11:47

    I think the first sentence should be dropped, too, and here’s why. (This is the reasoning I used for my own, which is sweet.) A book has to be written well to sell, no matter whether it’s sweet or erotic. If an agent is going to want to rep my book, then the story has to hook her, regardless of whether bedroom scenes are there or not. So that is what I need to focus on. She is my first sale. Can I write a good enough query letter (and novel, of course) to hook the agent into thinking that the sex isn’t necessary in this story? Either way, warning them up front is just focusing on the wrong thing.

    Second… I’m honestly not sure why everyone is saying that she falls in love with the bad guy. My impression is that the MAGE that is mentioned is the bad guy, and Xanier/Xan is not only the soldier who must help her find the mage, but also the good guy that she falls in love with. No wait a minute… I guess it’s the last sentence in the second paragraph, where you say that she must defeat him… him referring to the last man mentioned, who is Xan. Hmmm… I suppose this needs clarifying. I’m not sure how he can be both the vengeful mage AND the only one who can find him, which is what this says.

    Other thoughts… This sentence: “Bold, clever Maurwyn Respen plans to govern her ancestral home herself-just as soon as she rids herself of the earth tremors her rare bouts of anger seem to cause.” What is the connection between the first half of that sentence and the second half? Does her ancestral home have anything to do with the plot at all? If it does, try to include that somewhere. If it doesn’t, cut it.

    Next sentence… HOW do they prove useful? That sentence sets us up for further explanation, yet the next sentences has nothing to do with it.

    I think the query would benefit from a little more explanation of the bad guy, once you cleared up whether it’s Xan or not. If it IS Xan, then offer some hint as to his internal conflict. (I would think that a bad guy falling in love with the good girl would have some… if he DOES fall in love with her, which I just realized you didn’t say.) If the bad guy is the mage, then offer us more information about how he plans to destroy the world.

    Queries are rough, aren’t they?

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  8. Stephanie
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 09:13:56

    I agree with those who say the first sentence should go–it does sound disparaging towards writers who include sex scenes in their work and no writer ever made herself look good by badmouthing others.

    I admit the pitch paragraph doesn’t really hook me, though others have already made suggestions on how to improve it. But I think you’re leaving out an important piece of information that the agent needs to know: the word count. How long is this work of yours? If it’s 150,000 words or more, you might have a difficult time getting a nibble.

    It takes guts to post a query at all, though. So kudos for that.

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  9. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 09:56:36

    Well, I love it. I didn’t think the line about no sex is disparaging or anti-romance at all, and I write hot. I liked the title, the names, the conflict. You include just the right amount of detail, not too much, and I think letting the agent know this is not the first book you’ve written is a good thing. First projects are often practice pieces, not material for publishing, and moving on to a second book can be hard.

    Great job! Good luck with this.

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  10. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 10:33:23

    In terms of the first paragraph, I was wondering if this was an inspirational paranormal speculative fiction romance. I wan’t sure where you were going with the details, and I think that you could elimate the comments, reference the writer, and move along. I’ve heard some editors say that the referencing to another writer isn’t the best tack to take in general, so if this isn’t a bone fide referral from that specific author (have you tried to get one? Do you know her?) I’d omit, and set up the whole letter otherwise.

    This is short and lean and clear from the second paragraph on, and I liked the ideas a great deal–a very powerful female character. Full of power!

    I’d like to know what people think about the tack of “I have a few more of these puppies in my C drive” approach. I think it can work–as editors like to find the author with six in the C drive–but does it work in a query?

    Anyway, good luck.

    Best,

    Jessica

    ReplyReply

  11. Michelle
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 10:58:16

    Oh my! I did a double take when I signed into DearAuthor today and saw my title staring back at me from the top of the page.

    Thank you so much everyone for commenting on my query. I’m afraid I’ve actually revised it a lot since sending this version to Jane, and I was torn about sending her an update (it would annoy me if I was running Query Saturday and people kept sending me revisions to their queries). I’m very sorry you didn’t see the most updated version!

    As for the controversial opening line, I’ve decided to cut it–I definitely didn’t mean to mock sex scenes or the writers who include them (I love them!) Knowing a romance author was able to be successful without writing sex reassured me, since my characters (in *this* novel, not others I’ve written) don’t have sex within the pages of the novel. It just didn’t make sense for them.

    If you don’t mind, I’m going to post my revised version (and I’ll understand if you don’t feel like commenting):

    Dear [agent],

    Maurwyn realizes no man will love her if he fears her, so she hides her strange elemental powers from everyone she knows. Yet, when she learns of a northerner with power like hers–a man plotting the ruin of her family and country–Maurwyn knows she might be the only person with the power to kill the bastard…but she has to find him first.

    A soldier named Xanier is slow to accept her invitation to guide her north to her enemy's territory, but once he does, Maurwyn doesn't know which is worse: her growing doubt she'll be able to defeat her enemy, or the occasional darkness in Xanier's eyes. This attractive, disturbing man actually seems to admire her and her power, but when barbarians capture them and whip Xanier with the fury of a vendetta, Maurwyn has to fight for their freedom uncertain he's a man she should be saving.

    Has she found the one man who could love her as she is? Or does Xanier know the exact route north because he is the enemy?

    Between Earth and Fire is a fantasy romance complete at 100,000 words. I’ve enclosed a short synopsis, first chapter, and a S.A.S.E. for your convenience.

    Thank you for your time,

    Michelle

    ReplyReply

  12. vanessa jaye
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 11:44:28

    Michelle, I love the rewrite! I came by this morning, read the original and had the same opinion as everyone else. I came back to say that although there seemed to be interesting elements to the query, there was no real hook, because the conflict was missing. This is much, much, stronger, with the conflict front and center and the feeling that the romance is more central to the story.

    I’m going to nitpick a bit, (just because I can) You might want to work in the specifics of her powers (earthquakes, fire). Also, in the first query there was something about her wanting to rule her house. What was going on there? Are there enemies within her land? Is it because she’s female? Is it because others fear her power? Don’t know if you can work that back in, but it would add to the query if you could since it ups the stakes.

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  13. Lori
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 11:45:33

    Wow! Huge difference between the two and all the small questions cleared up well.

    Based on this second query, I know I would want to read more. Good luck!

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  14. Erastes
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 12:08:22

    The rewrite is much better. The only bit that confused me was this bit:

    but when barbarians capture them and whip Xanier with the fury of a vendetta,

    Not sure what this means.

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  15. kirsten saell
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 12:21:59

    I was overjoyed to see that first paragraph go, IMO, not because of the “follow into the bedroom” thing, or the comparison to another author thing, but because that kind of opening is bland and uninteresting. It is possible to grab an agent’s attention with a “why I am querying you” opening, but only if it’s: “I’m querying your agency because I have naked pictures of you and the pool guy, and if you don’t rep my book, I’ll show them to your husband.” Frankly, I don’t think that’s the kind of attention you want here.

    250 – 280 words is about perfect for your hook/plot/conflict summary. If you don’t have that much, you go back and fill in a few more tantalizing details, but this new version is wonderful.

    Has she found the one man who could love her as she is? Or does Xanier know the exact route north because he is the enemy?

    Oh oh oh, that encapsulates her internal conflict beautifully. I can’t believe the difference between the first letter and this one. Gorgeous.

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  16. Julie Leto
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 12:26:00

    The rewrite TOTALLY rocks.

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  17. Shanal
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 12:38:54

    I really like your story. It’s the kind of book I would definitely pick up.

    I’m not a professional writer but I was a little jarred by the use of the word “power” three times so close together. And I think Northerner should be capitalized but I’m not sure.

    Anyway, these are just nits. Best of luck!

    Dear [agent],

    Maurwyn realizes no man will love her if he fears her, so she hides her strange elemental powers from everyone she knows. Yet, when she learns of a Northerner who also manipulates the earth-a man plotting the ruin of her family and country-Maurwyn knows she might be the only person who can kill the bastard…but she has to find him first.

    Xanier is slow to accept her request to guide her north to her enemy's territory, but once he does, Maurwyn doesn't know which is worse: her growing doubt she'll be able to defeat her enemy, or the occasional darkness in Xanier's eyes. This attractive, disturbing man actually seems to admire her and her power, but when barbarians capture them and whip Xanier with the fury of a vendetta, (what does that mean?) Maurwyn has to fight for their freedom uncertain he's a man she should be saving.

    Has she found the one man who could love her as she is? Or does Xanier know the exact route north because he is the enemy?

    Between Earth and Fire is a fantasy romance complete at 100,000 words. I've enclosed a short synopsis, first chapter, and a S.A.S.E. for your convenience.

    Thank you for your time,

    Michelle

    ReplyReply

  18. Jeaniene Frost
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 13:23:09

    Really like the revised query. I’d pick it up, if I saw that description on the back of a book while I was browsing. However, I will second other people’s comments that this sentence “but when barbarians capture them and whip Xanier with the fury of a vendetta” made me do a little head-scratching. Clarify that sentence a bit more, and I think you have a winner :).

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  19. Jen D
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 13:38:40

    I LOVE the rewrite! As soon as I read the first paragraph I was hooked.

    Being an avid reader (10 books a week) this is definately a book I would add to my TBR pile.

    Wonderful job.

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  20. Michelle
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 15:36:35

    What encouraging words! Thank you, everyone, for chiming in, and for helping me hone my query. :)

    Vanessa, I’m so glad you came back. I’m a little gun-shy about detailing Maurwyn’s powers (she can control earthquakes, fire, wind, and water) because in previous versions it seemed to overshadow the conflict, as did Maurwyn's desire to govern her family's lands in a world where women just don't do that. I agree that it might up the stakes, but given the focus of the query, I’m at a loss to know how to include them without distracting from the conflict. Are the stakes strong enough (risk to her family & country) as is?

    Erastes (and Shanal and Jeaniene), I'm glad you singled out the line about the barbarians–it bothered me, too. The point is, when the barbarian's whip Xanier it's personal, a way to punish him (for some stuff he did to them–it's justified). It seeming personal strikes Maurwyn as suspect because she had thought this was just a random attack. I tried

    “but when barbarians capture them and whip Xanier like it's personal”

    But that seems too colloquial for fantasy. Any thoughts?

    Kirsten, yes that paragraph is long gone and unlamented for various reasons, as you so eloquently illustrated. :) So glad you like this version!

    Shanal, ooh yeah you found the other thing that bothered me: power power power in the first paragraph. Would this work better? (keeping your change to the “only person who can kill the bastard” line)

    Maurwyn realizes no man will love her if he fears her, so she hides her strange elemental powers from everyone she knows. Yet, when she learns of a Northerner with magic like hers–a man plotting the ruin of her family and country–Maurwyn knows she might be the only person who can kill the bastard…but she has to find him first.

    Oh, and since “north” in my world is just a geographic area and not a cultural appellation (like “The South” in the U.S.) I don't think I'm supposed to capitalize northerner. I could be wrong though.

    Laurie, Julie, and Jen–I'm glowing from your encouraging words. This is a first!

    And to everyone who posted regarding my old query, it helps to know that the advice I received in the Absolute Write “Share Your Work” forum was sound! Thanks :)

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  21. Stephanie
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 16:57:20

    “and whip Xanier as if he’d personally maligned them”? Or something along those lines?

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  22. Shanal
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 17:22:58

    Since you asked. Of course I have no idea how they got free of the barbarians, I just guessed.

    This attractive, disturbing man actually seems to admire her and her gifts. But when barbarians capture them and take a personal delight in whipping Xan almost to death, leaving Maurwyn with no choice but to use her powers to free them both, she’s left wondering what he’d done to earn such brutal treatment and if he’s a man that even should be saved.

    Oh, I looked up Northerner in the dictionary, they had it capitalized.

    And thank you for the thank you.:)

    ReplyReply

  23. vanessa jaye
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 18:01:11

    I like a lot about that first paragraph. Tweaking it just make the mention of her powers more specific might be more trouble than it's worth. So forget that suggestion.

    I do like what you said here though:

    “Maurwyn's desire to govern her family's lands in a world where women just don't do that”

    It not only goes towards world-building, but also towards characterization.

    Also, ‘vengeful mage' is more vivid than “Northerner with powers like hers”.

    Consider the possibility of tweaking your lastest version to something like this: (italics your original phrasing, bolded my suggestions)

    Bold, clever Maurwyn Respen desires to govern her family's lands in a world where men have absolute rule. Even the more conventional choice of marriage seems impossible to Maurwyn who realizes no man will love her if he fears her, so she hides her strange elemental powers from everyone she knows. Yet, when she learns of a vengeful mage plotting the ruin of her family and country-she realizes that she might be the only person who can kill the bastard…but she has to find him first.

    I'm glad you singled out the line about the barbarians-it bothered me, too. The point is, when the barbarian's whip Xanier it's personal, a way to punish him (for some stuff he did to them-it's justified). It seeming personal strikes Maurwyn as suspect because she had thought this was just a random attack.

    How about something along the lines of: “but when a seemingly random barbarian attack is revealed as a mission to bring Xanier to justice” Do you have to specifically mention the whipping?

    Good luck with this Michelle. Even if you make no other changes to your query, I’d say it’s good to go.

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  24. Leah
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 18:17:35

    Whoa, the rewrite is SO much better! It should be snapped right up!

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  25. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 21:22:16

    Good work on the rewrite! It’s nice to hear about your process and your work here, and I think that with the tweaks above suggested and your ideas, you are good to go.

    Best,

    Jessica

    ReplyReply

  26. Jen
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 21:22:39

    Oh my goodness, based on the rewrite, I really want to read this book! I hope you get some bites, because I’d certainly buy it.

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  27. Angelle
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 04:45:04

    I like the rewrite a lot.

    Has she found the one man who could love her as she is? Or does Xanier know the exact route north because he is the enemy?

    Can you not put those in questions? Some agents dislike (very strongly in some cases) rhetorical questions and/or pitches ending in questions.

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  28. Leslee
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 06:01:43

    Love the rewrite! I would love to sit down with this book. I wish you luck in getting it out there for us to enjoy!

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  29. Stephanie
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 08:47:59

    Rewritten query is definitely stronger–it ought to get the attention of someone who represents fantasy and probably paranormal romance. I still don’t know that I’d pick up the book but that’s more because I’m reading very little fantasy these days than a reflection of the work’s quality.

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  30. CM
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 15:53:27

    Joining those who love the rewrite.

    My only comment is watch for things like this:

    “Maurwyn knows she might be the only person with the power to kill the bastard.”

    knows she might be? That’s a very precise verb (know) coupled with a wimpy qualifier. You can know you are something; you can not know you are something; but I think that if you know you might be, you don’t know; you believe, you suspect, or you fear.

    and:

    “A soldier named Xanier is slow to accept her invitation to guide her north to her enemy's territory, but once he does…”

    Again, this feels like it could be tightened just a tad. The action is kind of weird: “He’s slow to accept but once he does” just sounds to me like you’re spending half your space describing what doesn’t happen (his not accepting) rather than what does (his grumbling about it). I think it would be stronger if you said something like “He grudgingly accepts employment as her guide north to her enemy’s territory.” (And I changed “invitation” because is it really an invitation, or can you use a more specific word?)

    But this is tiny and I’d love to read this story!

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  31. Kathleen
    Jul 07, 2008 @ 11:59:18

    I love the second one, too! I think you’ve done a fabulous job of balancing description of the world (and her powers) and the conflict. I thin it’s great NOT to immediately tell what her powers are… focusing on how they make her feel and the conflict they create within her is much more powerful and much more intriguing, too.

    I also think that your quick sketch of the conflict, in not knowing if Xanier is the enemy or not, is very effectively done.

    For me, this whole section is unclear and confusing:
    “…but when barbarians capture them and whip Xanier with the fury of a vendetta, Maurwyn has to fight for their freedom uncertain he's a man she should be saving.”

    If you can rewrite that entire section with a slight change in focus, I think it would be more effective. In other words… is it really important that he is whipped? Is it important who does it? Or is it more important that Maurwyn finds herself in a situation in which she must save them both, and by which time she’s not sure if Xanier should be saved? I’m thinking it’s the second. So see if you can re-write it to leave out details that aren’t important and more clearly explain what IS.

    Congratulations on a fabulous query!

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  32. Michelle
    Jul 07, 2008 @ 14:10:56

    I read somewhere recently that in the end, knowing what advice works for your query and what doesn’t is the hardest part of this whole process. How true!

    I considered everyone’s suggestions and implemented some of them. Others I just couldn’t make work. I tried the hardest to change the conclusion from a pair of questions to statements, but couldn’t get the same zing. I guess this is one of those instances where I have to to ignore conventional wisdom about ending with questions and go with my instinct.

    Any thoughts on this 3rd version?

    Dear [agent],

    Maurwyn realizes no man will love her if he fears her, so she hides her strange power over earthquakes from everyone she knows. Yet, when she learns of a Northerner with similar abilities–a man plotting the ruin of her family and country–Maurwyn senses she's the only one with the power to kill the bastard. But she has to find him first.

    A soldier named Xanier grudgingly agrees to guide her north to enemy territory. On the road, Maurwyn wonders what's worse: her growing doubt she'll be able to defeat her enemy, or the occasional darkness in Xanier's eyes. This attractive, disturbing man actually seems to admire her and her power, but when barbarians capture them and beat Xanier as if he deserves it, Maurwyn has to fight for their freedom uncertain he's a man she should be saving.

    Has she found the one man who can love her, earthquakes and all? Or does Xanier know the exact route north because he is her enemy.

    Between Earth and Fire is a fantasy romance complete at 100,000 words. I’ve enclosed a short synopsis, first chapter, and a S.A.S.E. for your convenience. Thank you for your time.

    Sincerely,

    Michelle

    And thank you Dear Author community for YOUR time :)

    ReplyReply

  33. Janine
    Jul 07, 2008 @ 14:29:47

    I like the third version a lot. The only change I suggest making would be to add a question mark at the end of this sentence:

    Or does Xanier know the exact route north because he is her enemy.

    Also, does the agent you’re sending it to prefer a synopsis, first chapter, and S.A.S.E. be sent? I suggest following agency guidelines when it comes to that.

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  34. Michelle
    Jul 07, 2008 @ 14:39:36

    Oh oops. Thanks Janine, that was a typo. It’s supposed to be a question mark! (holdover from my hour-long attempt to eliminate the questions)

    And yes, this particular agent does request exactly those items. I will amend it depending on the agency guidelines. Thanks for the feedback!

    ReplyReply

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