1. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    First Query Letter

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by terobi, Apr 22, 2016.

    So, redrafting's going slooooowly (redrafting is awful, isn't it?), so I tried my hand at writing a query letter instead.

    What do you guys think?


    Dear ----------,

    When 16 year old Cassie ventures out of the outpost she calls home and into the ruined wastelands of Earth, she begins to unravel a global conspiracy - and her home is at the centre.

    Cassie is the lone, lonely teenager on the Twist; a vertical farm and research outpost working to restore the ruined Earth. When teenage bandits break in, Cassie seizes the opportunity and persuades them to show her their lives in the wastelands. Far from the savages they are made out to be, they are a close-knit commune of hardy scavengers and subsistence farmers. But why would someone be sent to burn their food stores? Why does the Twist sell its food to the cities, giving only processed scraps to the wastelanders they're supposed to be helping? And what is the link between the Twist and the shadowy Iceblade gang? Complete at 90,000 words, The Twist is a YA post-apocalyptic novel with themes of community and isolation.

    My short fiction has appeared in SpeckLit and the Londonist. I am a PhD candidate in politics, something which informs the themes and world in The Twist. I am currently working on Airborne Empire, a secondary world steampunk adventure novel drawing influences from the Napoleonic Wars and lost civilisations.

    Thank you for considering my work. I have included a stamped addressed envelope, and I look forward to hearing from you.
     
  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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    I think the main issue is the body of the query. We don't get a fully clear idea of the plot.

    Like... why would the bandits allow someone to join them who they were supposed to harm (ie: Cassie, a member of the Twist) and why is it bad that the Twist isn't actually helping the other groups (who are bandits)

    And what's her stake in all of this? She just happens to be in the right time, meet a gullible pair of bandits who befriend her, and somehow decides she's the one to fix a corrupt society?
     
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  3. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Perhaps the word "bandits" is the problem here, then - they're breaking in to swipe food because growing their own food in the poisoned ground is really difficult (which is why there's a system of government-sponsored outposts that are supposedly helping feed and treat them).
     
  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Wow, it's so much harder to critique a query when you've read the manuscript.

    I think you've probably asked too many questions and not given enough answers. I know that's natural because we're told a query is all about intrigue, but counter-intuitively it's detail that creates intrigue rather than vagueness.

    If I'm an agent in a bad mood my inner monologue goes "don't know and don't care" or "how would I know? you're the author" in answer to your questions. You need to give me enough detail to frame a question in my mind, and leave just one tantalising piece out so I MUST read and find the answer to it.

    If we frame the query around creating a burning question in the agent's mind, I think you could go with one of two things:
    1. The mystery around why Cassie's been taught all her life that wastelanders are diseased savages when they're quite clearly healthy, civilised and strong.
    2. What's really in the processed food packages the wastelanders get sent.

    Since 2 is only explored quite far into the manuscript, you might be better off going with 1. You could then start with a description of what Cassie's been taught (make the wastelanders sound scary), then the inciting incident (she comes face-to-face with them--make us go "oh shit!" and be scared for her) and then the mystery (why has she been told lies about them?)
     
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  5. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    It's a good query and engaging. Since it's YA, that means every agent in the world will be interested in representing you (or so it seems...)

    Best of luck!
     
  6. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure about that - I think the bubble for post apocalypsey YA fiction has burst. Considering mine was written as something of a reaction to the whole "government = bad" nature of that bubble (as mine instead shows an impotent government in the thrall of financial interests), it was always bound to happen.
     
  7. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    Dear ----------,

    When 16 year old Cassie ventures out of the outpost she calls home and into the ruined wastelands of Earth, she begins to unravel a global conspiracy - and her home is at the centre.
    -What conspiracy? How is her home the center of it. This is all too vague to be enticing.

    Cassie is the lone, lonely teenager on the Twist; a vertical farm and research outpost working to restore the ruined Earth. When teenage bandits break in, Cassie seizes the opportunity and persuades them to show her their lives in the wastelands (a little clunky to read). Far from the savages they are made out to be, they are a close-knit commune of hardy scavengers and subsistence farmers (and apparently thieves...). But why would someone be sent to burn their food stores (whose food stores? Cassie's? The bandits?) Why does the Twist sell its food to the cities, giving only processed scraps to the wastelanders they're supposed to be helping (no idea. Why?)? And what is the link between the Twist and the shadowy Iceblade gang (Who are these people)? Complete at 90,000 words, The Twist is a YA post-apocalyptic novel with themes of community and isolation.

    My short fiction has appeared in SpeckLit and the Londonist. I am a PhD candidate in politics, something which informs the themes and world in The Twist (Good! These are all good things to put in). I am currently working on Airborne Empire, a secondary world steampunk adventure novel drawing influences from the Napoleonic Wars and lost civilisations (leave this out. Sell The Twist first, and worry about your Airborn Empire another day).

    Thank you for considering my work. I have included a stamped addressed envelope, and I look forward to hearing from you. (Don't send anything that the agent hasn't asked from you. It's a good way to get your query tossed out)


    This is all a bit of a mess. I have no grasp of your main character, no idea what is happening in the world, and no idea what the story is past some weird conspiracy involving bandits and food.

    Take a step back and focus in on the basics.

    1) Who is the story about
    2) What are the stakes
    3) What happens if the protagonist fails

    Not all queries need to follow the same format, but this is one that usually works best and is sort of a gold standard. Also check out Query Shark, a blog run by an agent that critiques both good and bad queries. Check it out, it's a great resource for learning what works and doesn't.
     
  8. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Had another go. Any better?



    Dear ----------,

    When 16 year old Cassie ventures out of the science outpost she calls home and into the ruined wastelands of Earth, she begins to unravel a global conspiracy - and her home is at the centre.

    Cassie is the lone, lonely teenager on the Twist; a vertical farm and research outpost working to restore the ruined Earth and feed the savage masses in the wastelands. All she wants is a friend her own age who isn't on a screen - then three of them break in, seeking food for their families.

    But these aren't the savages she has always heard about. Wanting to know more, Cassie persuades them to show her their lives in the wastelands. Far from the diseased, violent thugs they are made out to be, they are a close-knit commune of hardy scavengers and subsistence farmers. But why would someone be sent to burn the village's food stores? Why does the Twist sell its produce to the wealthy cities, leaving only processed scraps for the wastelanders they are supposed to be helping? When Cassie returns to the Twist, she finds the answers may be connected.

    Complete at 90,000 words, The Twist is a YA post-apocalyptic novel with themes of community and isolation.

    My short fiction has appeared in SpeckLit and the Londonist. I am currently a PhD candidate in political theory, something which informs the themes and world of The Twist.

    Thank you for considering my work.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I know that a lot of query letter advice out there says to start your letter with a hook, but after a year of querying and pitching, and having gotten a few requests for the full ms as a result, I disagree. Before the agent (or his/her assistant) even opens your e-mail or snail-mail query, (s)he knows what it is and wants to know six things up front - the title, a one-sentence summary, the genre, the word count, that it's complete and your comparables (ideally, you should have two titles to which you can compare your work). So, that should be your first paragraph. The second paragraph should be a summary of the story. In essence, combine your first two paragraphs and that will do nicely. Your last paragraph - who you are and your credentials as a writer - is okay, but agents (and even some indie publishers) now want to know about your "platform" as a writer - what your presence is on social media and whether or not you have a blog or website. So, make sure you include that.

    Best of luck.
     
  10. HallowMan97
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    HallowMan97 Member

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    When sixteen-year-old Cassie ventures out of the science outpost she calls home (ventures from home will do. You describe her home in the very next paragraph) and into the ruined wastelands of Earth, she begins to unravel a global conspiracy - and her home is at the center. I think the problem is too much detail on the things that don't matter as the ones that do. You could cut out most of your stinger here with the unimportant facts. "Unraveling a global conspiracy"--Now that is something that needs a little more detail to truly hook me and differentiate yourself from every post-apocalyptic story ever made.

    Cassie is the lone, lonely teenager (Settle for lonely; Don't mention teenager. You already stated her age) on the Twist, a vertical farm and research outpost working to restore the ruined Earth and feed the savage masses in the wastelands. (Awkward phrasing here. Consider cutting down and rewording. Short sentences are not a crime) All she wants is a friend her own age who isn't on a screen - then three of them break in, seeking food for their families.

    But these aren't the savages she has always heard about. Wanting to know more, Cassie persuades them to show her their lives in the wastelands. Far from the diseased, violent thugs they are made out to be, they are a close-knit commune of hardy scavengers and subsistence farmers. But why would someone be sent to burn the village's food stores? Why does the Twist sell its produce to the wealthy cities, leaving only processed scraps for the wastelanders they are supposed to be helping? When Cassie returns to the Twist, she finds the answers may be connected. (Don't ask questions the agent won't know. Tell us what the MC will be doing. So far, she doesn't seem all that active)

    Complete at 90,000 words, The Twist is a YA post-apocalyptic novel with themes of community and isolation.

    My short fiction has appeared in SpeckLit and the Londonist. I am currently a PhD candidate in political theory, something which informs the themes and world of The Twist.

    Thank you for considering my work.


    Still much work to be done, I'm afraid. It is really something that has to be done over and over before even coming close, so don't feel frustrated. Focus on the MC, make us want to follow her. The world-building will come.
     
  11. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    All Cassie wants is a friend her own age who isn't on a screen - then three of them break in, seeking food for their families.

    This would make a nice opening sentence. It sets up the MC's desire and leaves us wondering why people are breaking in and seeking food. It is a much more interesting first sentence that your current one.
     
  12. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Alright - I took some advice, let it sit for a while, read the entire QueryShark archives and a dozen other querying resources to boot.

    How's this one?



    Dear ----------,

    All Cassie wanted was some friends her own age who weren't on a screen. Them breaking in wasn't exactly what she expected.

    Cassie is the lone, lonely teenager on the Twist; a vertical farm and scientific research outpost in the wastelands of Earth. The Twist is supposed to keep the wastelanders fed, so why would they break in to steal food? For that matter, why aren't they the diseased savages she has always heard about?

    Seizing her chance to find out, Cassie persuades the intruders - the intriguingly polite and proper Jak, and his wild twin sister Rae - to show her more. Life outside the Twist is hard, but the wastelanders' community spirit gets them through.

    Then someone torches their storehouse and runs. Someone carrying Twist currency and hiding a gang tattoo. Someone who exposes a link between the shady city gangs and the world's food supply. But who can Cassie trust enough to tell?

    Complete at 88,000 words, The Twist is a YA post-apocalyptic novel with themes of community and isolation.

    My short fiction has appeared in SpeckLit and the Londonist. I am currently taking a break from a PhD in political theory, something which informs the themes and world of The Twist.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.
     
  13. Infel
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    Infel Senior Member

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    It sounds really intriguing. I like the general idea of it from what I could glean; sad girl in an ivory tower learns that people outside aren't so bad. Content is great, and it sounds like it'll make a really good story.

    That said, I did have to read several sentences a few times and use my own induction to make it make sense--and that's usually a bad thing. The very first sentence was a good hook until I read "weren't on a screen" -- and not knowing this is a sci-fi, I had no idea what to make of it. A screen like on a screen door? A computer screen? It was unclear, and because it was unclear the following sentence jarred me too. Even when I decided I should interpret 'a screen' as a computer screen, the next sentence made it sound like they were breaking out of the computer screen into wherever she was. Also, since the first sentence only mentions Cassie and what she wants, "Them breaking in..." left me with a "breaking into what? Nothing's been said yet" feeling.

    I think that can be fixed by adding a few more words, like:

    "All Cassie wanted were some friends her own age; preferably ones on her side of the Twist Facility's giant computer screens. Them breaking into her research outpost wasn't exactly what she expected"

    Or something to that extent.

    Also, the "Twist", while neat, isn't a word that immediately resonates with me as a "this word brings up the image of a facility of some kind." While it most certainly may fit in the novel itself, where it has some time to be explained, I might leave it out of the query letter just to avoid confusion. You've already got a lot of names, and honestly when I read 'the twist' i think of the dance... so take that for what it's worth!

    I will say also, as someone who has read all of the Archives, that this letter doesn't have any sense of whats at stake: and I know Ms. Reid is really adamant about seeing that in a query letter. As a human being personally, I can infer that obviously torching a storehouse is bad (whose storehouse, by the way?), but why does it matter to Cassie? There hasn't been a line about her actually liking these people and wanting to make friends with them or anything.

    "Lone" followed by "lonely" is sort of repetitive in the bad way, since they're basically the same word.

    I think it would be neat to know how she persuades Jak and Rae to show her more; it would be a chance to gain insight into Cassie's character in the letter.

    Sorry this turned out to be really long! I'm in the querrying process myself, and I know little snippits aren't helpful. I'm no agent, but I hope my opinion helps at least a little! I'd read it, to be sure.
     
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  14. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the input. I did wonder about clarity with the opening line, but I think in this case the snappy line probably outweighs perfect clarity... Adding more words in there just seems clunky to me - and I think most people would instinctively read "screen" as "computer screen" these days... But you may be right about the next line sounding like they were perhaps coming from the screen (though I think "breaking out" would be the term I'd use for that).

    As for something being at stake, is the "exposes a link between the shady city gangs and the world's food supply" bit not a clear stake? I mean, I could clarify why having shady gangs in control of the global food supply might be bad... but it does feel a bit redundant to me.

    This whole thing seems to be an alchemical nightmare for me, to be honest!
     

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