1. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    For Want of a World Sample Query

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by TDFuhringer, Jan 16, 2014.

    EDIT: THERE ARE REVISED QUERIES BELOW.
    **********
    Dear (placeholder),

    Nobody loves a mage.

    So Rat the storyteller keeps his magic abilities to himself. When Rat saves a man's life using magic, word reaches Sobek, a dangerous former mage. Stripped of his magic during the war, Sobek is desperate to restore his powers. Sobek believes Rat holds the key to this, and his obsession forces Rat to flee. Rat is joined by Fenrir, the man whose life he saved. Fenrir's memories are missing, and Rat suspects magic is at fault. Along with new friends, they travel to Orgull's Keep, home to the last of the great mages. Rat believes the great mage can restore Fenrir's memories and protect them from Sobek. But Rat soon learns that his magic, Sobek's powers, and Fenrir's mind are all being influenced by a single, unstable enchantment. A spell that is disrupting the cycle of life and death itself.

    If Rat can't find a way to dispel the enchantment quickly, the imbalance will throw the world into perpetual chaos!

    For Want of a World is an adult fantasy novel, complete at 90,000 words.

    (Agent/agency specific details)

    Thank you for your consideration.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2014
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    suggestions:

    pare the summary down to a single paragraph

    type the title correctly: "For Want of a World"

    do not capitalize 'fantasy novel'

    include the market... is it for the YA or adult market?

    add why you are querying each agent... do not make it read like a generic query...
     
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  3. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Capital 'A' is a typo. Capitalized 'fantasy novel' is an oversight. Thanks for that.

    Will add market. :)

    "Dear Agent" is a placeholder (I have my short list, but I'm not putting a real name on a sample query) and I'm leaving the agent/agency specific details out. This sample is more about the summary content than the overall query.

    Why reduce the summary to one paragraph @mammamaia ? I know it can be done but I strongly prefer breaking paragraphs up into smaller, more easily readable chunks. What specific benefits would combining the summary into a single paragraph provide?

    Thanks! :)
     
  4. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    P.S. What do you all feel is a stronger first line?

    Everybody hates mages.

    OR

    Nobody loves a mage.

    (The second is more accurate to the story as some romance is a factor in the story)
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the generally accepted standard for query letters is a one-paragraph summary... if the plot is too complex to deal with in one, then 2 medium length ones are ok... but more than that is not recommended...

    neither tag line does anything for me... I'd suggest doing without any and dropping the 'so' to begin the summary there... and stop repeating the character's names so annoyingly often...

    also need to do a good proofread/edit to catch goofs like the missing commas before and after 'the storyteller'..
     
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  6. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you for the explanation hapi @mammamaia :D
     
  7. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also, what if between the first and second line I added...

    "The people of Astoria don't want to hear about magic, especially now that the Mage War is over."

    ... to suggest the reason for the hatred and clarify the setting?
     
  8. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    So Rat the storyteller keeps his magic abilities to himself. When Rat saves a man's life using magic, word reaches Sobek, a dangerous former mage. Stripped of his magic during the war by the government (since the reader doesn’t know where and when they are, or the society in which the story takes place this has no context), Sobek is desperate to restore his powers. Sobek believes Rat holds the key to this,

    (The rest of this paragraph is a synopsis. And if you could reduce the story meaningfully to ninety-three words it wouldn’t be much of a story, would it? Give the thrust and a reason the reader wants to read it. Don’t try to give the reader a synopsis. That’s what the synopsis is for.)

    If Rat can't find a way to dispel the enchantment quickly, the imbalance will throw the world into perpetual chaos! (the excitement belongs in the words not the punctuation! ;)
     
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  9. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I was just thinking about how I've completely failed to establish the setting.

    Your suggestion of "by the government" is excellent, but I am specifically avoiding saying who stripped his powers because, well... it's a major reveal and the plot's primary turning point. I can see though how I've given the wrong impression with this synopsis.

    Thanks @JayG, I'll give it some reworking.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To be honest it's probably one of the better samples I've read on this forum. I can see the characters clearly and I can see the story quite clearly too. It's not bad at all and definitely better than what I've done myself lol.

    I'd say, in your query, keep as much of your writing voice as possible - it's meant to give the agent a taste of the way you write, as much as anything. If it hooks the agent, I don't think having more than one paragraph is going to affect anything, esp when your "extra" paragraphs are well, one sentence long lol.

    Personally I prefer "Nobody loves a mage" over "Everybody hates mages".

    However, I see little point in the line. In this respect I'm with maia - I'd be inclined to remove the line, not because of industry standards for queries but rather because it basically adds nothing to the story.

    The story is this: Sobek wants his magic back and seeks Rat. Rat doesn't wanna, instead he wants to help Fenrir find his memories and for that, they travel to Orgull's Keep. A mysterious and dangerous enchantment connects the 3 of them and Rat must dispel it before it destroys the world.

    I got it right, right? So tell me, how does "nobody loves a mage" or "everybody hates mages" add anything to the story? There's no need to know the reason for Rat keeping his abilities to himself, as you have not made the point significant. The significant point of your story is 1. how Rat's gonna escape Sobek and 2. how Rat's gonna dispel the enchantment with the mystery points being how the 3 are linked and what this enchantment is. I see nothing that refers to people hating mages, and nothing to suggest that my knowing that people hate mages is important.

    Your final line: "If Rat can't find a way to dispel the enchantment quickly, the imbalance will throw the world into perpetual chaos!"

    It falls flat. Why? Because, who cares about the world? I care about Fenrir's memories, I care about what Sobek hopes to do with Rat, I care about how they are linked - these are the points you've raised in the query, THAT's the story. So what do I care about the world that I know zero about?

    It is also vague - "quickly", "imbalance", "world" and "perpetual chaos" - 3 of these are basically generalisations and/or buzz worlds. "Quickly" is an extremely weak adverb. It suggests no tension. What's "perpetual chaos" anyway? Let me see what's at stake. "Perpetual chaos" is just another way of saying "terrible". It's vague and does not paint a picture.

    Last thing, drop the exclamation mark there. It makes it look very childish, especially when you contrast the enormity of the words "perpetual chaos" with the exclamation mark. To explain myself better, it's a little like, "We are all doooooomed!" (it's not as bad as that lol but it has a similar feeling to it. Because the words you use are already strong, to add the exclamation mark becomes overkill.) To be honest, I'd suggest not to use any exclamation marks in an query.

    Overall, the query lacks a spark for me. I read it, it is good, it has a story, it sounds interesting enough, and I have a glimmer of desire to maybe read it. Problem is, a glimmer of desire to maybe read it is an extremely weak response - and this is coming from someone like me who doesn't have a slush pile to go through. Your query needs to make the agent want to read it and read it NOW - like how a blurb is meant to entice the reader to sample the book and then hopefully buy it. Your query does not hook or excite, so I'd work on that, as it seems your summary skills are pretty good already.
     
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  11. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Mckk thank you for your insights! I see the merit of what you're saying, especially the fact that I haven't shown the significance of "Nobody loves a mage." Also the final line does fall flat (amateur !!! aside ;) ) because it does nothing to address the true conflict of the story, which I have suggested but not stated strongly enough.

    It's a query, not a blurb. I think I'm worrying too much about not spoiling the story, when I should be considering how to 'sell' the story.
     
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  12. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    You probably don't even need to say who or what stripped his powers. The point is that this formerly powerful mage lost his power, wants it back, and thinks Rat is the key.
     
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  13. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    FIRST REVISION (SECOND REVISION IS FURTHER DOWN)
    Here's another stab at the query. This one with a bit more information. Thoughts?
    **********

    Dear (Agent),

    Nobody loves a mage. Rat, the storyteller, wants to be loved, so keeps his magic abilities to himself. He wants to put the horrors of the Mage War behind him and forget any of it ever happened. But Sobek doesn't want to forget. A former mage, stripped of his magic during the war, Sobek loves being feared, and having control over life and death. He wants his powers back.

    When Rat saves a man's life using magic, Sobek becomes convinced Rat holds the key to restoring his lost power. Sobek's obsession forces Rat to flee. Rat is joined by Fenrir, the man whose life he saved. Fenrir's memories are missing, and Rat suspects magic is at fault. Along with new friends, they travel to Orgull's Keep, home to the last of the great mages. Rat believes the great mage can restore Fenrir's memories and protect them from Sobek.

    But Rat soon learns that his magic, Sobek's powers, and Fenrir's mind are all being influenced by a single, unstable enchantment. A spell that disrupts the cycle of life and death itself. No children are being born, and the dead aren't staying dead. To dispel the enchantment, Rat will have to face his past, admit who he is, and risk losing the love and respect of his friends; all to restore a world that despises what he is.

    For Want of A World is an adult fantasy novel, complete at 90,000 words.

    Thank you for your consideration.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2014
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    still way too much summary...
     
  15. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Argh. Back to the drawing board.
     
  16. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    It may be too much summary, but more than half the query examples I've read that got an agent to request pages, have a higher word count than my piece. In some cases (where the manuscript got published) more than twice the word count. I'm having trouble reconciling the massive disparity between "successful" query examples.

    The only thing that seems to be 100% consistent is "No longer than one page".

    Also a "one paragraph summary" rule is not something I'm seeing consistently in articles about writing queries, or from the handful of agents whose blogs I read. Is this a relatively new rule? (I realize things can change quickly, and what worked in a query five years ago may not work as well now)

    EDITED TO ADD: Here's a question. Is it ok to completely spoil the plot in order to make a query really shine?

    EDITED TO ADD: Here's just one example of query word counts discussed by an agent... http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/09/query-stats-by-word-count.html
    He says 250-350 words is the "sweet spot".
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2014
  17. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMO, it was boring until the third paragraph. I didn't care about Rat or Sobik or the Mage War, and Fenrir seemed irrelevant. For me, the concept shines where Rat has to show his true self at the risk of becoming shunned/hated. Maybe centralize it on that?

    I would:
    -Change 'Sobek' to something like 'A familiar face who wants to abuse the powers of Rat's past.' and only mention him once, maybe twice if really needed.
    -Omit 'Orgul's Keep'
    -Remove all instances of 'Fenrir.' Only mention him as 'his odd new companion, and man he saved with the very magic that taints him' and maybe hint at the fact that his memory is something important
     
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  18. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok. That gives me some ideas.

    The whole second half of the book centers around Orgull's keep, but I suppose for the purposes of the query, that's not really important.

    I'm writing a completely different query now. After that's done, I'll try one from the perspective of Rat showing his true self (the actual point of the book)

    Thanks @Okon :)
     
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You've hit on my problem with this revised query. These names don't connect with the characters yet. In fact, I assumed—at first anyway—that Rat is a ...well, a rat—which doesn't really square with him being a mage, unless this is a story with animal personifications. Is it? Is Rat a rodent?

    And Sobek? Is Sobek a person, an animal? If he's an animal as well as Rat, this should be made clear. We should be told his relationship to Rat, if there is one. Are they friends, enemies, schoolmates? They obviously know each other. I feel that knowing their relationship: ie Rat's best friend Sobek, Rat's former teacher Sobek, Rat's worst enemy Sobek doesn't want to forget, will thrust the reader of this query further into the story.

    Could you try re-writing this using NO names? It might unlock the story synopsis better for whoever reads this letter. (You could stick the names back in, once you've made clear who these people (?) are and what their role in the story will be.)
     
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  20. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    SECOND REVISION
    **********
    Dear (Agent),

    What do you do when the dead won't stay dead? In the world of Astoria, when people die, they come back to life with the sunrise. And nobody remembers a thing. Well, almost nobody.

    Ratatosk “Rat” Stormcloud, a former mage turned storyteller, doesn't use magic anymore. Deep down, he knows something isn't right. When he has use magic to save a man's life, he exposes himself and is forced to flee. Pursued by a rival mage eager to restore his lost powers, Rat travels across Astoria, making new friends and allies. But he soon realizes they can't fix what's wrong with the world; only he can.

    To restore the natural cycle of life and death, Rat will have to face his past, admit what he's done, and risk losing the love and respect of his friends; all for a world that despises him.

    For Want of A World is an adult fantasy novel, complete at 90,000 words.

    Thank you for your consideration.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2014
  21. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Judging from your revised version, are you sure it's an "adult" fantasy novel? It sounds kinda... well, YA. Maybe even younger. Rat sounds like a teenage boy desperate to be loved (by no one in particular too, it would seem) and Sobek sounds similar, only desperate for respect/fear rather than love. The final bit re how Rat's gonna lose all his friends make the story sound even more for a school-age audience. You get where I'm coming from, right?

    Your plot is still not connected. You've introduced all the characters whose story is: run from Sobek, retrieve Fenrir's memory, Sobek wants to catch Rat. Then you have a second story: mysterious enchantment and wham suddenly it's the dead won't stay dead and etc. It really sounds like I should be getting a lot more of this enchantment before the final paragraph, and less about the character introductions. (if the dead won't stay dead and kids aren't being born, then the effects of the enchantment is obvious way before Rat even saves Fenrir - why is this not mentioned earlier?) At the moment, the two stories are not connected except for including the same character (Rat).

    Does Fenrir even need to feature in your query? I don't see how he contributes.

    Btw, if you wrote, "The 3 of them are all influenced by...", that would save you a couple of words.

    Your final line again falls flat for me: "Rat will have to face his past, admit who he is, and risk losing the love and respect of his friends; all to restore a world that despises what he is."

    His past, who he is, risk loving the love and respect of his friends, a world that despises what he is - these are *all* buzz word phrases. Esp "face his past" and "admit who he is". They mean nothing considering I don't know who he is and what the stakes are if people knew (if the stakes are "nobody will love him" then first I need to know why that even matters - I don't even know who he wants love from in the first place, so what do I care that he's gonna lose this love, which judging from the query never existed anyway? Like, I don't see who loves him in the query).

    It sounds like the real story is this:

    Since the mage war, there's been discontent and hostility between the people and mages. Meanwhile, children are no longer being born and the dead aren't staying dead for inextricable reasons that no one can explain, but when Rat finally goes to Orgull's Keep, the home to the last of the great mages, he discovers the cause for the great disaster his world has fallen victim to - that is, a mysterious enchantment that is somehow connected to him and the two strangers he's found himself with: Fenrir and Sobek, the first a man without memories and the second a power-hungry mage who would do anything to have his magic restored.

    To break the enchantment, Rat will need to *insert exciting stake here*.

    Btw, in answer to your question, yes, make your query shine because if it doesn't, the agent would never read your book. So don't worry about spoiling the plot - just make it shine. Don't hide the story - that's the very thing the query was meant to reveal, after all.
     
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  22. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's very close to the main plot yes. Nice job! :)

    Grr. I see what you mean about the YA tone. I can see some YA readers enjoying it, but given the explicit sex and violence, and the rather cerebral character-driven plot (rather than action), I'd say it's NOT a YA novel. I need to make that clear in the tone, don't I.

    Thanks @Mckk . PS did you see the revision right above your post? It still has some problems, but I'm wondering what you think of it?

    EDIT: You're right Mckk, that last line is limp as cold pasta.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2014
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  23. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is a lot stronger, I like it :) I love how nobody remembers how the dead won't stay dead - that's a very intriguing twist.

    However, you imply Rat does remember, but that isn't really made clear. Does he remember?

    And this next question doesn't necessarily have to be in the query, but I'm just curious - what about all the physical signs of death? Say, dead horses, broken carriages, buried bodies and fresh graves? The undertaker who's been paid to prepare a funeral? The diggers who are half-way finished with a new grave? Where do the dead reappear and are they still human? Would expanding on the consequences of this in say, one short sentence be worth it?

    You write "he exposes himself" - exposes himself to whom? He's a mage turned storyteller, but there's nothing to imply that using magic is a crime - so why is he forced to flee? The logic doesn't work here.

    Btw, it should be "When he uses magic to..." rather than "When he has use magic".

    Ditch "making new friends and allies" - it doesn't matter and it's far too vague. Save on your words.

    You write "they can't fix what's wrong with the world" - who's "they"? I only know there's Rat - who else is there? I'd change it to "no one" or "ordinary magic" or something.

    What's the twist regarding why Rat is the only one who can fix the world? It might be worth revealing a little of that without revealing too much.

    Last line - lose "face his past, admit what he's done" - keep the rest. His past is not important because you haven't mentioned it till now, and we haven't a clue what he's done and it seems what he's done doesn't matter, because it's not been mentioned till now. (or if you really wanna keep it, which it does seem like you do, then be more specific - just *what* has he done and why is this important?)

    I like the last clause with "all for a world that despises him". I'd question though WHY the world despises him?

    I think you could also omit the whole Rat saves someone with magic. Again - this someone isn't important. How about simply: "When a rival mage eager to restore his power pursues Rat, he is forced to flee across Astoria..."?
     
  24. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Apologies for only addressing a few points, I have so much to say but have to go out the door in a minute.

    Rat doesn't remember (until Sobek proves it to him at Orgull's Keep). Rat is the one who fucked up the world, he cast the spell that is raising the dead , stopping the babies and messing up everyone's memory (including his own). Rat saving Fenrir with magic is the inciting incident and his journey with Fenrir (and friends) is the bulk of the story. Rat works his shit out during the journey, enabling him to dispel the magic.

    Thanks for the insights and encouragement!
     
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  25. Alix465
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    Alix465 Banned

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    Your query is poorly written with bad grammar and punctuation, poor choice of words, lousy sentence structure, no unique voice… showing me that you can’t write.
     

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