1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Query Letter 2nd Attempt at a Query Letter/Pitch Script

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Commandante Lemming, Apr 5, 2016.

    So, I posted a draft query letter for my unfinished novel a few weeks ago, and it had some big flaws, so I'm taking a second shot aiming to distill the plot a bit more and add more voice.

    (And no, I'm not going to send this to anyone before the book is finished - but I have a writing conference this weekend, I signed up for the in-person agent pitch sessions, and I'm looking to use this as the loose basis for a script.)

    So - how's this? My gut tells me it's better than the last one but still needs some finessing to distill the plot, edit out some long sentences, and emphasize my experience (and my differences from other near-futurists) without sounding arrogant.

    -----
    It's 2034, and as the Millenial Generation turns 50, the kids following them might end up as Generation Screwed. Take “local news girl” Nina Constantinos. She's 26, bright, articulate, educated, and all she's ever wanted was to be a big-time cable news personality.

    Think about how messed up that is. Cable is still a thing.

    Actually, it's more than just a thing, and Nina is about to get her wish. Rocketed out of small-town Wisconsin by one big story, she finds herself working alongside her idols at America's most trusted 24-hour news channel, WWN. Unfortunately, the thing about meeting your heroes is that none of them have that on-camera shine in person. The deeper Nina gets, the more she realizes that the network has big problems – not least the fact that her world-renowned editor seems intent on manipulating the news rather than reporting it. The quest for truth leads Nina not only to the heart of the industry, but to the dark reasons that her future evolved from our present.

    A lot of people think of “the future” as a cyberpunk fever dream or a teenage dystopia, but nobody stops to think about the real world that might await today's children. That is the world you'll see in BASIC CABLE, spun from real socio-political trends by an author who has spent almost a decade working at the heart of Washington politics. It's a world where aging alcoholics take solice in their old Taylor Swift records, while teenagers “pink out” to retro girl groups. Fashion bloggers race to decode a ticking cultural time bomb, and a newbie reporter from Wisconsin tackles the story of the decade when she meets a cardinal who would be Pope.

    BASIC CABLE is nearly complete with a target of 100,000 words, and is the first in a planned duology with series potential. Written in commercial style, it aims to please both the Science Fiction reader and fans of contemporary political dramas such as The West Wing, The Newsroom, and House of Cards. Sample chapters are available upon request, with full manuscripts planned by fall of 2016.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    The major issue here is the 2nd paragraph.
    That is the part where you're supposed to present the obstacle and the stakes for the character.
    All we know is that she is a reporter who has her first big shot in the news industry but then you become very vague and say "dark reasons" which doesn't tell us anything about what the story is actually about. Are they evil? Taking over the world? covering up murders? we just have no idea.
    Then you proceed to do some world building at the end of the paragraph.

    Talk about the character and nothing but the character and what is going on.
    Skip the sides and get to the meat to finish with the gravy. That's how you get an agent to want more.
     
  3. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    One of your biggest strengths for me is the ability to put across points clearly, but I have found your query letter to be very unclear. That is odd to me.

    What I did get from the query is that it is about a girl in the future where Cable still exists and she gets her big break. She learns the news as it is reported is manipulated. The rest becomes mumbo jumbo to me. Is there another way you can spin this?

    Some of the sentences I questioned:

    Think about how messed up that is. Cable is still a thing.

    It's only 2034 ...not that big a deal. There may be more services and more ways to interact via Cable, but is it really that messed up? Could you lose credibility if someone quickly read that and thought...Meh!

    It's only 18 years and some people could be so cheap, they refuse to upgrade from cable or what not. I mean the same cables we use to see cable TV now may still be the same technology that feeds new technology, but it's still called Cable for all we know....

    Anyway, not a cable tech but I'm unconvinced it is that big a deal.

    but to the dark reasons that her future evolved from our present.

    Awkward and reword maybe, to me it's as if you're trying to say something in a confusing way:

    A lot of people think of “the future” as a cyberpunk fever dream or a teenage dystopia, but nobody stops to think about the real world that might await today's children.

    Uninteresting to the point of irrelevant to me. It just needs to re-written I think. Go with the first half or the second half, but the combined is a mess for me.

    That is the world you'll see in BASIC CABLE, spun from real socio-political trends by an author who has spent almost a decade working at the heart of Washington politics.

    You're making the reader pause and think, hang on, is this the guy's credentials he just slipped in, or is it part of his story and he just wrote it all wrong. You make a question which breaks concentration. You need the reader focused.

    It's a world where aging alcoholics take solice in their old Taylor Swift records, while teenagers “pink out” to retro girl groups. Fashion bloggers race to decode a ticking cultural time bomb, and a newbie reporter from Wisconsin tackles the story of the decade when she meets a cardinal who would be Pope.

    I had a lot of huh and what? It's almost as if it is a lot random stuff you'll be fluffing the book up with to fit with the future world. So if this is the fluffy stuff, does it need to be in your query letter?

    Anyway, I don't mean to be a downer but as someone who is just reading your letter out of interest and not someone with a professional eye, it's not very compelling.

    It's almost as if you have taken the wrong perspective when summarizing your story. Or that you have tried to be intriguing but have instead made it confusing. Instead of drawing me in, you're pushing me out.

    I'm just not getting the strong sense of what you are really trying to achieve other than addressing how the news medium is put into question in the very near future. I can't really see the Sci-Fi connection.

    I wanted to help, so I apologize if I haven't. :bigfrown:
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2016
  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    As usual when I read queries, I'm imagining myself as an agent and that's the context for my comments.

    This isn't written in query style and unless you've got a DYNAMITE query, you need to stick to the rules. It's like an omniscient narrator talking to me about "my present" and making broad statements about what people in the real world do and don't talk about and it feels condescending. I just want to know about your story and your MC and I don't get a sense of that.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with the others on this. I think your underlying problem is you're being too vague and giving too many 'dark hints' that don't actually conjure up any vision of what might happen in the story.

    What I think would improve it is if you can be more specific about the start of your plot. Who (Nina), what (small town cub TV reporter), why (wants to work for a large network), when (set in 2034—so we'll figure out that some things have remained the same as today, while some things have changed, as this is clearly not a dystopia), and where (Washington DC.) Then give a clear picture of what the central conflict is for Nina. Then stop.

    This should read as a clear introduction to your story. Instead, it reads like a brief synopsis of the whole plot, which you're trying to make sound Very Significant and Mysterious.

    I think just simplify and focus, and you should be good with the query. I've read enough of your MS to have every confidence in the story itself.
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You had better hope the agents you send this to don't happen to be Taylor Swift fans... Just 'cause she's predominantly a teenage idol doesn't mean adults may not necessarily enjoy her music. You've made one huge sweeping judgement on all Taylor Swift fans, or more precisely adult fans, basically calling them sad - whether you meant it that way or not. That entire third paragraph comes across as extremely condescending, as though you were judging someone's character based on what kind of clothes they might be wearing.

    It makes you seem arrogant and shallow as a person, while the query promises some real-life insight into the socio-political world. That's a hot potato in the making... (eg. something to be dropped as fast as you can)

    The writing itself is of good quality. But that entire 3rd paragraph is just irrelevant and unnecessary. And actually I'm not entirely sure if it's talking about the society in your book's world, or if you're talking about real society.


    I think the confusion started here:

    "by the author" - so now we're no longer talking about the book - we're talking about you. You worked at the heart of Washington politics. "It's a world..." - so "It" must refer to the world from the previous sentence. The previous sentence spoke about YOU, the author - this tells me we are talking about the real world, not your fictional world. Next up: "Taylor Swift" - well we've all heard of her, some of us are her fans. So it is confirmed, we are talking about the real world and you're making social judgements on us all.

    Then I finally get to the last line about the Pope and I'm like... wait a second... wtf? o_O All this time it wasn't talking about the real world!?

    You see the problem.

    Also, this line:

    but to the dark reasons that her future evolved from our present.

    It's a little clumsy I feel. I didn't immediately understand what it said and had to reread it. Feels a little convoluted - there's gotta be a better way to say this?

    ETA: I'm not actually calling your arrogant and shallow, please don't kill me!
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    All good points.

    I'm on mobile now so I won't be able to respond in detail but on the Taylor Swift point - I'm actually a big fan of Taylor Swift and her writing. I think her stuff stands the test of time better than, say, Selena Gomez, which is why I use her stuff for the character who spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself and longing for the past. But I definitely want to work on the tone.
     
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  8. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also if you ever want to mess yourself up emotionally, spend 3 hours looping Taylor Swift songs and listening to them from the perspective of an adult fan who grew up with it, messed up her life, and then plays those songs when she's drunk in an attempt to reconnect with her own humanity.

    Most depressing songs EVER from that perspective. Not that I did that...but the resulting scene was fun :)
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I only really listened to Love Story - loved that one. But I think I was at uni when that came out and I lost track of the music scene from there really.

    Wait a second, so you're younger than me and you're a woman!? I always thought you were male!!!
     
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  10. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am male (and 29) The CHARACTER I was writing at the time was a 37 year old woman. I was trying to hack her brain.
     
  11. neuropsychopharm
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    neuropsychopharm Active Member

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    I like the voice you've managed to infuse throughout but have to echo others in saying we don't get a very clear picture of what it's about. Like, all the color you've added is intriguing (in my opinion only, of course) but probably ultimately unnecessary. The bit about your credentials, if you feel you need to present them, should go at the end I think. But I think it sounds like you could end up with a compelling query reworking this, certainly.
     
  12. Ahen
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    Ahen New Member

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    I think the pitch ought to hook the reader up front a bit more clearly. Once I read through the whole script, it became clear that your book is about a reporter that discovers the news is being manipulated and how that manipulation will tie with why this future is as bleak (I think that's a better word than dark based on what I read) as you describe.

    I would state that in a clear concise sentence up front and then delve into the greater detail.
     
  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    So for what it's worth. The pitch session went okay and you should NOT use a query letter as a script in an in-person session. I used about half of it and tried to get my base plot and main out along with some of the fun stuff about the world in about two minutes, and then worked on being conversational and getting the back and forth going with questions. That worked on one agent who liked my premise and didn't work on the other one who didn't. I'm going to try doing it again at another conference this fall with a lot more pitches and hopefully a far more polished manuscript - but I got out alive and with one request to see more (and learned what I need to lead with because, despite writing near-future, I had a lot better luck selling to a NON-sci-fi agent - I could sell the concept to them as political drama rather than answering questions about contemporary sci-fi titles that resemble this one on the market).

    Thanks for all the feedback!
     
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  14. mickelodian
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    I found it too long/ I'm being, or trying to be constructive here too. But I done I think what the average person that reads maybe 20 or 30 of these a day would do, I gave up half way down.

    Someone told me that if you walk into a bookshop to buy a book as we all do, then the first thing you do is look at the cover, and the second thing is look at the back cover. Well that blurb that would appear there is your query letter.

    Mine is six sentences, half a page, and my novel is a sci fi trilogy with maybe 30 characters.

    Having said that I haven't sent it to one literary agent or publisher yet! My friends are still reading my manuscript.

    In the spirit of being constructive though I compressed your query letter...

    "I am seeking [representation] [a publishers] for my science fiction novel 'Basic Cable', complete at 100,000 words.

    It's 2034, and Nina Constantinos. is 26, bright, articulate and educated, with eyes on working in Cable News. But be careful what you wish for, because when she gets that wish her world-renowned editor seems intent on manipulating the news. Why is he doing that? Further investigation leads to the dark reasons why her future evolved from our present.

    A book about the real world that might await today's children. A world spun from real trends, by an author who has spent a decade working at the heart of Washington politics.

    Attached for your perusal are the first 50 pages. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Yours
    XXXXXXXXXXXXX"


    Please pardon me for taking your words and rewriting them... that was not my intent, My intent was to take the paragraphs you wrote and condense them into something you can read in 30 seconds, because that's your deadline! Short sweet and to the point, don't sell the book sell the idea of them asking for the book.
     

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