1. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Query Letter: The Brazos Formation (Sci-fi Thriller)

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by mrieder79, Mar 6, 2016.

    Below is the current version of my query letter. Any suggestions are appreciated.

    _________________________________________________________________________


    What if an oil survey ship found ancient caverns beneath the Gulf of Mexico? And what if the caverns weren't empty, but contained terrifying creatures? That is the concept of The Brazos Formation, an 115,000-word science fiction thriller set on the Gulf Coast of Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico. The book is action-packed and similar in theme to The Ice Limit by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.


    In the story, we meet protagonist Rich Plithers, who has dedicated his life to Glasco Oil. The company is failing and its last hope is the Brazos Formation: an enormous oil deposit recently discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. Everything is jeopardized when the survey ship disappears under mysterious circumstances and is presumed lost at sea. Rich and his team must find the lost ship and survey data to save the company, but when they discover the shipwreck, the mission turns from recovery to survival.


    I am a physical therapist and received my doctorate from The University of Saint Augustine for Health Sciences in Saint Augustine, Florida. I have written dialogue for Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition, a computer role-playing game, and authored an unpublished young adult novel. The Brazos Formation is my first full-length novel.


    I’d be happy to send you a synopsis and sample chapters upon request.
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel like you have a few too many filters - they're not bad, exactly, but they're not standard, so they stand out. "What if," "That is the concept", "In the story," etc. Most queries are written in a more immediate style.

    Maybe something like:

    Geologist [or whatever he is] Rich Plithers has dedicated his life to Glasco Oil, and Glasco Oil is failing. The company's last hope is the Brazos Formation, an enormous oil deposit in the Gulf of Mexico. So when the Glasco survey ship disappears under mysterious circumstances, Rich and his team are rushed to the site to find the lost ship and its survey data, but what they discover is much more ominous. Huge, ancient caverns, previously undiscovered, lie beneath the shipwreck, and as the geologists explore, they find that the caverns are far from empty.

    The recovery mission turns into a fight for survival as the team battles terrifying creatures that [and explain something about what makes them terrifying].



    And then I'd leave out the part about you being a physiotherapist - it's not relevant to this story, as far as I can see. I'd also leave out the unpublished YA novel - pretty much every author has an unpublished novel rattling around somewhere. But maybe play up the Baldur's Gate aspect - "I learned to craft clean, exciting dialogue while working on..." or something like that?
     
  3. Guttersnipe
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    Guttersnipe Member

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    BayView pretty much nailed it. The query should be simple: who is the protagonist, what is his motivation, what is he up against, what are the stakes.

    Asking questions in the query is rarely a good idea. Using superlatives like "action-packed" is also a bad idea. Agents don't like to be led. They want you to tell them what the story is about, how long it is, what the genre is, and not much else. The comparison to The Ice Limit is nice, but could hurt you if your book is too similar or suffers by comparison.

    Writing queries is nothing like writing a story. They are so much harder, and require a different mindset. We hates them.
     
  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    One more thing - do NOT start with a question! Lots of agents hate that and will reject you off the bat.
     
  5. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Thank you all for the feedback. What I posted was actually a re-write by an instructor at a recent writing seminar. He added the questions. Since I'm a noob, I put them in there. Below is the original version of my query. Thoughts?
    __________________________________________-

    Dear ***



    I am contacting you because you represent writers in the science fiction/thriller genre. I have recently finished work on my first full-length manuscript, The Brazos Formation.


    Rich Plithers has dedicated his life to Glasco Oil. The company is failing and its last hope is the Brazos Formation: an enormous oil deposit recently discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. Everything is jeopardized when the survey ship disappears under mysterious circumstances and is presumed lost. Rich and his crew must find the lost ship and survey data to save the company, but when they find the shipwreck, strange sightings terrify the recovery crew. As they learn the truth of the lost ship, the mission turns from recovery to survival.


    The Brazos Formation is a science fiction thriller set on the Gulf Coast of Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico and runs 115,000 words. It is similar in theme and content to The Ice Limit by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like this version better than the other, I think.

    I'd leave off the "I am contacting you" line unless you have a more compelling reason (like, "I'm contacting you because we met at X conference" or "I'm contacting you because I read your interview at Y and it hit on all the points of my new work" or whatever). Actually, that whole first paragraph seems unnecessary - does the agent need to know you've recently finished the book?

    I still want to know what Rich's qualifications are - why is he suited for this mission? And I think you should be more specific about the "strange sightings" - aliens, ghosts, monsters, natural phenomena - I don't know, based on this query. It's kind of a "show, don't tell" situation - I want to know what's so terrifying, not just be told that it is.

    And I think the Baldur's Gate stuff is relevant enough that it should be included.
     
  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If you add in the specifics I've highlighted, I think all that's missing is a sense of your main character. His life is in danger: good stakes. But I need to care about Rich to care that his life is in danger. Does he have someone waiting for him back home? Something simple like that. If not, WHY has he dedicated his life to a company?
     
    BayView likes this.
  8. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Thank you for the very helpful advice. It is really helping. After work, I'm gonna take another crack at this and then post the result.
     
  9. Guttersnipe
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    Guttersnipe Member

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    Yeah, your original version is much better than the one at the top of this thread.

    Agree with everyone about paragraph 1. You could actually move paragraph 3 to paragraph 1 and it would read fine.
     
  10. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    The latest version:

    __________________________________________________

    THE BRAZOS FORMATION is a science fiction thriller set on the Gulf Coast of Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico. It runs 115,000 words and is similar in theme to THE ICE LIMIT by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

    Rich Plithers has worked his way to the upper echelons of Glasco Oil by setting aside his personal life. Now the company and the people who work there are all he has. Glasco Oil has staked everything on the Brazos Formation: a deposit that appears to be the largest oil reserve ever discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. Rich is staggered when the survey expedition disappears amid a mysterious tidal wave, taking his mentor and a host of close friends with it.

    Thrust into leadership, Rich organizes a mission to recover the vital survey data aboard the lost ship, but when the team reaches the shipwreck, they find a chasm in the ocean floor that turns out to be part of an enormous undersea cavern. Within are a host of bizarre and dangerous creatures, including metal-devouring gastropods, a colony of giant spider crabs, and an eel-like leviathan. Rich must lead his crew to safety before they are claimed by the denizens of the Brazos Formation.
     
  11. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I want to read this now! I'm a sucker for tidal waves (I know that sounds odd) and mysterious sea creatures.

    I think you're missing a trick with the stakes though. The emotional part here is "taking his mentor and a host of close friends with it", but it's buried at the end of the first paragraph. Even if it doesn't quite reflect the book, I'd frame your query as Rich desperate to find out what happened to them. Readers can relate to a character determined to find out what happened to his loved ones much more than we can relate to one willing to risk his life for a company.

    At some point, does Rich have to make a difficult choice? E.g. loyalty to his company vs loyalty to his mentor? If he does, I'd give a hint of that at the end. Escaping from sea monsters is intriguing enough, sure, but it would be even better if there was an internal conflict as well as external.

    I hope that makes sense... I haven't had my coffee yet.
     
  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like the new version - I think my only remaining question is whether they're in submarines, or scuba, or if there's somehow air in the chasm... I don't need a detailed explanation, but I'm trying to picture the story in my mind and I'm kind of getting stuck on that detail.
     
  13. Guttersnipe
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    Guttersnipe Member

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    Yep, you're down to the fine strokes now. A query is never 'done', though, so at some point you'll just have to cut it off.
     
  14. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    How about this:
    ____________________________________________________________

    THE BRAZOS FORMATION is a science fiction thriller set on the Gulf Coast of Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico. It runs 115,000 words and is similar in theme to THE ICE LIMIT by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

    Rich Plithers has worked his way to the upper echelons of Glasco Oil by setting aside his personal life. Now the company and the people who work there are all he has. Rich is left reeling when his mentor and a host of close friends disappear at sea amid a mysterious tidal wave while searching for oil in the Brazos Formation, a newly discovered geological anomaly in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Rich finds himself working with Anita Plant, a consultant hired by Glasco Oil to manage the disaster. Initial hostilities turn to mutual respect and growing attraction as Rich and Anita plan a recovery expedition to retrieve vital data lost aboard the missing survey ship.

    When Rich and his team reach the shipwreck, they find a chasm in the ocean floor that turns out to be part of an enormous undersea cavern. Within are a host of bizarre and dangerous creatures, including metal-devouring gastropods, a colony of giant spider crabs, and an eel-like leviathan. Rich must lead his crew to safety, but their only hope is a suicide mission in a deep-sea diving suit to seal the chasm with explosive charges. Rich must choose whether or not to sacrifice his life and future with Anita to save his crew from the denizens of the Brazos Formation.
     
  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your first paragraph is your first, and best, chance to make an impression. I feel like you're wasting your on details of geography.

    And honestly, the Anita bit feels kind of tacked on. Maybe this is just because I've read several previous versions where she wasn't mentioned, but...

    For my taste, I'd take your version from post ten, move the first paragraph to the end, add in the bit of the diving suit and the suicide mission, and send it out to a few agents to see what kind of response you get.
     
  16. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm rooting for Rich now. The Anita stuff works for me, because it ties into the opening sentence (he's finally got a shot at a personal life, and he might have to give it all up) and it raises the stakes. However, since it's a sci-fi thriller where the emphasis should be on the thrill rather than the romance, I would swap the second paragraph around to something like:

    Determined to find his lost friends, Rich leads a recovery expedition. Anita Plant, a consultant hired by Glasco Oil to manage the disaster, is only interested in retrieving vital data lost aboard the missing survey ship. As hostilities turn to a growing attraction and Rich realises there's more to life than work, they reach the shipwreck and find...

    But worded better than that, obviously.

    I'm wondering if it's worth you having two versions of your query - one for agents who only accept sci-fi/thriller and similar genres (a version like BayView recommended) and ones for agents who also like softer stuff - the version here, with a hint of romance. Maybe send out 10 of each and see if either version gets requests (10% is a good request rate) and then rethink.
     
  17. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    How about this:

    Rich Plithers has worked his way to the upper echelons of Glasco Oil by setting aside his personal life. Now the company and the people who work there are all he has. Rich is left reeling when his mentor and a host of close friends perish at sea amid a mysterious tidal wave while searching for oil in the Brazos Formation. The Brazos formation is projected to be the largest oil reserve ever discovered in the Gulf of Mexico and Glasco Oil pushes forward with plans to exploit the deposit. Rich and his team must undertake a mission to retrieve vital data lost aboard the missing survey ship. As he prepares for the mission, a growing attraction to the team's disaster management consultant, Anita Plant, provides Rich with a sense of meaning and purpose previously lacking in his strictly professional life.

    At sea, the search efforts are hampered by bizarre events. There are strange lights in the water, mysterious insectile forms lurk in the shadows of the recovery vessel, and the expedition's divemaster is attacked by an unseen predator on the ocean floor.

    Despite this, Rich and his team find the lost ship, but they also find a chasm that turns out to be part of an enormous undersea cavern. Within are a host of bizarre and dangerous creatures, including metal-devouring gastropods, a colony of giant spider crabs, and an eel-like leviathan. Rich must lead his crew to safety, but their only hope is a suicide mission in a deep-sea diving suit to seal the chasm with explosive charges. Rich must choose whether or not to sacrifice his life and new-found future with Anita to save his crew from the denizens of the Brazos Formation.


    THE BRAZOS FORMATION is a science fiction thriller set on the Gulf Coast of Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico. It runs 115,000 words and is similar in theme to THE ICE LIMIT by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2016
  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    For my taste, you're down to the "little details" stage:

     
  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I thought your version in post #14 was better - briefer, tenser. But like @BayView said, I think that shows you're getting down to the fine-tuning stage.
     
  20. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Thanks for sticking with me on this. This discussion is helping me evaluate more than just my query letter, but fine-tuning on my book as well. Most appreciated.



    Rich Plithers has worked his way to the upper echelons of Glasco Oil by sacrificing his personal life. Now the company and the people who work there are all he has. Rich is left reeling when his mentor and a host of close friends perish at sea amid a mysterious tidal wave while searching for oil in the Brazos Formation. With Glasco on the edge of bankruptcy, Rich and his team must undertake a mission to retrieve vital data lost aboard the missing survey ship.

    At sea, the search efforts are hampered by bizarre events. Strange lights shine in the water at night, mysterious insectile forms lurk in the shadows, and the expedition's divemaster is attacked by an unseen predator on the ocean floor.

    Rich and his team find the lost ship, but they also find a chasm that turns out to be part of an enormous undersea cavern. Within are a host of bizarre and dangerous creatures, including metal-devouring gastropods, a colony of giant spider crabs, and an eel-like leviathan. Rich must lead his crew to safety, but their only hope is a suicide mission in a deep-sea diving suit to seal the chasm with explosive charges. Rich must choose whether or not to sacrifice his life to save his crew from the denizens of the Brazos Formation.

    THE BRAZOS FORMATION is a science fiction thriller set on the Gulf Coast of Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico. It runs 115,000 words and is similar in theme to THE ICE LIMIT by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

    I have written dialog for Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition: The Black Pits II. My work is featured in many quests and discussions, but most notably the character of Voghiln the Vast. I am also the creator of The Wizard's Apprentice series of modules for the Neverwinter Nights 2 RPG.
     
  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think you're making it better any more, just moving words around. I think that's a sign that you need to take the plunge and start sending it out to see what response you get. I've highlighted one thing that I think is better in this query than others, and one that I think is weaker. But really, just pick a version and run with it. :D

     
  22. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    My biggest struggle is how to introduce the love affair between Rich and Anita without making appear overpowering. It's a motivation for Rich, but it's not a big part of the book.

    I agree that the choice between his future with Anita and his crew is a fantastic quandary. I really want to get it in there, but every time I put it in the query letter it feels tacked on, like bayview pointed out. The thing is, they don't know each other very long, about five weeks, but they are both past middle age and pretty damn lonely, facing the possibility of spending the rest of their lives alone. This is how I explain their sudden and intense relationship.

    Putting that in a query letter is challenging.
     
  23. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    I think I got it:

    Rich Plithers has worked his way to the upper echelons of Glasco Oil by sacrificing his personal life. Now the company and the people who work there are all he has. Rich is left reeling when his mentor and a host of close friends perish at sea amid a mysterious tidal wave while searching for oil in the Brazos Formation. With Glasco on the edge of bankruptcy, Rich and his team must undertake a mission to retrieve vital data lost aboard the missing survey ship.


    At sea, the search efforts are hampered by bizarre events. Strange lights shine in the water at night, mysterious insectile forms lurk in the shadows, and the expedition's divemaster is attacked by an unseen predator on the ocean floor.


    Rich and his team find the lost ship, but they also find a chasm that turns out to be part of an enormous undersea cavern. Within are a host of bizarre and dangerous creatures, including metal-devouring gastropods, a colony of giant spider crabs, and an eel-like leviathan. Rich must lead his crew to safety, but their only hope is a suicide mission in a deep-sea diving suit to seal the chasm with explosive charges. During the chaos, Rich has found a newfound significance in life with Anita Plant, the company's disaster management consultant. Now he must choose whether or not to sacrifice his life and future with Anita to save his crew from the denizens of the Brazos Formation.
     

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