1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Query Letter Query in need of critique

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Commandante Lemming, Mar 17, 2016.

    So, I'm taking my first crack at a query letter, and since I've stared at it enough, I figure I'll post it here and let y'all stare at it instead. I'm not sending it out yet, but I'm attending a conference next month and signed up for a pitch session with an agent, assuming I'd have a completed manuscript in hand by now. That didn't work out, but they tell you if you're not done and have signed up for one of those things, go anyway. Hence, I'm putting together queries and such for a book that isn't done yet.

    I know the first problem this thing has is unpunctuated run-on sentences - which I'm trying to break up without lengthening it. I'm also trying to plug my Washington, DC work experience since I'm writing political sci-fi - but that's hard to do with out sounding pompous. So, yeah, enjoy hacking this up :)

    Nina always dreamed of being on a big-time cable news network - but now that she’s made it, the job is more of a nightmare.

    The year is 2034, and local TV reporter Nina Constantinos has just gotten the break of her life. One big story has rocketed her from her hometown station in Appleton, Wisconsin to a plum gig as WWN’s youngest political correspondent. Now, she’s working alongside her idols in Washington, and finding that all of them have been wrecked by the network’s dysfunctional culture and psychotic editor-in-chief.

    Oh – and the Pope just died. So that happened.

    Through a stroke of fate, Nina finds herself vaulted into the highest levels of both the network and the Vatican itself. Everything she’s ever wanted is on her doorstep, but the industry isn’t built for idealistic kids from Wisconsin. Just how much of herself is she willing to sacrifice in pursuit of stardom?

    The answer to that question may be only the beginning, as it becomes increasingly clear that the entire edifice of Nina’s life is built on a ticking time bomb of societal stagnation and resentment. After all, wasn’t cable TV supposed to be obsolete by now?

    BASIC CABLE is a witty but sometimes disturbing look at what could await today’s children. Commandante Lemming draws on his Global Politics education and years working in the Washington machine to build a world that eschews the tech-laced fever dreams of many near futures. Instead, the book draws on real-world demographics, polling, and political science to build an all-too-real future. The result is futuristic take on an Aaron Sorkin-style political drama, a story that could appeal to readers of both Sci-Fi and commercial fiction.

    Nearly complete with a target of 90,000 words, BASIC CABLE is the first in a planned duology with series potential. Partial manuscripts and sample chapters are available upon request, with completed manuscripts planned by June 2016. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    All the best,
    Commandante Lemming​
     
  2. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    As someone who is awful at writing query letters, there's not much I can offer other than I believe general consensus is that you shouldn't start querying a novel that isn't yet finished (at least as a new author). I could be wrong or other opinions might suggest otherwise, this is only what I've heard/been told.
     
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  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi, Commandante,

    With a grand total of zero successful queries behind me, this is all my own opinion...based on keeping the word-count down in the interest of not boring the pants off the agent/publisher.

    Good hunting!
     
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  4. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Right. I have no intention of sending this to agents before it is done. I'm doing this so that I have one in my pocket for a writers conference I'm attending, and since I signed up for an agent pitch session as practice (which is something Writer's Digest says is OK for an unfinished novel), I wanted to have one written just in case.
     
  5. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll answer a few of the questions posed just for discussion. I referenced Aaron Sorkin because it's generally considered a good practice to bring up writers who do similar themes - especially if you're mashing genres together. Aaron Sorkin is one of the best known writers in Hollywood and is very specifically famous for witty ensemble political/business dramas - The West Wing, The Social Network, and The Newsroom are all Sorkin creations. I'm not saying I'm as good as him, I'm saying I write that type of stuff - but with a futuristic rather than contemporary setting.

    Sci-Fi can be "commercial fiction" but that term is usually used for contemporary pieces that aren't pitched as "literary" or "upmarket" - so your mysteries and crime dramas and political thrillers or whatever. SciFi is generally pitched as it's own thing rather than "commercial" - although I am looking for better phrasing to get across what I'm trying to communicate - which is that this is technically SciFi but it would also appeal to people who like things like The West Wing or House of Cards.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Shadowfax's deletion of the first line - it's not catchy enough to justify the repetition of information we get elsewhere.

    I'm not sure about "wrecked" - feels a bit vague.

    I don't like "So that happened" - it feels inappropriately flippant, PLUS it's old slang that makes me wonder if the rest of the book is similarly dated.

    Mostly, though, I feel like I don't really know what this story is about. Like, what's the central conflict?
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    The central conflict is Nina's conflict with the editor, who doesn't share her ethics, with the subcinflict of how much of those ethics Nina is willing to sell out for the sake of winning.
     
  8. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely agree on "wrecked" - tried several other words and haven't found a good one. "Scarred" maybe.

    And on the "So that happened." I definitely see the potential problem there. I wanted at least one purposefully flippant statement in there to mimic the style of the book, but that might not be the right one.

    And regarding "dated" - is it that it sounds to "current" for the future? I'm in my 20s and I hear it from people younger than me almost daily. I assume they'll still be using elements of that verbiage when they're in their early 40s. Although I do try to police "millenialisms" among my younger characters, I do want to leave some underpinnings of the cultural lexicon in place. Although, for the really young characters I do actually have a lot of new cultural lexicon that I've installed.
     
  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe different milieus have different timelines for colloquialisms - I was hearing that phrase a lot a few years ago, but haven't heard it at all lately.

    I like the idea of catching the voice of the work in the query, but maybe one example is not enough? It felt a bit jarring, to me, with only one, but if there were several, it might not have.

    So I'd recommend having more voice all through the piece, if possible, and maybe reworking it a bit to make it clearer what the central conflict is. The last paragraph, about "isn't cable TV supposed to be dead by now" made me think there was some sort of larger conspiracy or social issue that was going to play a large part in the story... but if the central conflict is the MC's ethical struggle, I'd have the last note of the plot summary be something more about that.

    And maybe more about how the stakes are huge for the MC? In real life, having to chose between your ethics and your career is a big deal, but in fiction, I think we tend to expect more.

    Is the pope story a big part of all this? If not, I'd leave him out; if he's important, I'd make it it more clear how he's connected to everything else.
     
  10. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    The pope thing is relevant in that it acts as an accellerant. The MC stumbles into scoring an interview with the new pope, which moves her from "expendable cub reporter" to "biggest new star on TV". So the papal election and the run-up to the big interview are what drive the plot.

    The cable TV thing is the social background that makes this SciFi rather than poltical drama. The world is extrapolated from neglect of the physical infrastructure of the internet, and just neglect of major social issues in general.

    The plot has a good bit of complexity and I hit a lot of aspects of society, because it's Sci Fi, but I was trying to keep the query itself to the main plot.

    The other thing about the ethics nature of the plot is that the villain's goal is to actively manipulate the public's perception of the news in a decidedly radical direction, which makes a lot of Nina's conflict about what it means to "tell the truth" (objective vs. subjective truth is a big theme), and because the struggle determines how a major news event is covered, the outcome of the network's internal power struggles affects public opinion in massive ways. Theres also a lot about objectification of women in the news media (one of the options before the MC is to leverage her own on-air sex appeal as a weapon against the villain - which opens it's own Pandora's box)
     
  11. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can definitely add more voice. And focus more on the stakes.
     
  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing is - agents aren't going to read your explanations here. So, assuming you think my questions are things agents might want to know, you should try to find ways to work that information into your query itself.
     
  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah that's the fundamental question. How to distill it all down to something simple that isn't as long as the novel and focuses on the central element while still selling the bells and whistles. I don't think I did that so far, so probably a complete rewrite.
     

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