1. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Query Letter Alexa Undead (urban fantasy)

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by KaTrian, Feb 9, 2019.

    I've been losing my mind trying to write this hook and summary over the past week, so it would be wonderful to get some feedback on what I've got now. Just so I know if I'm headed to the right direction. And no, my novel doesn't actually have a title. :( I probably have to query with the placeholder name, and honestly, I'm not sure if that's a problem?

    I tried to incorporate the tone of the novel (it's in first person, a little snarky and tongue-in-cheek), but it's harder than I thought, especially cos I'm super over-analyzing everything.

    I'm also worried about the genre. I personally always saw it as urban fantasy, but the synopsis makes it sound like paranormal crime, and I guess in a way it is, but urban fantasy elements are also very strong (the presence of the city as the backdrop for the story, UF staples like vampires and vampire hunters, witches…), so I wouldn't want to mislead the agent. Any tips would be more than welcome. Maybe comparisons to similar works would help?

    Anyway, here we go.

    ***
    Dear [insert name],

    I’m writing to seek representation for my 88 770-word debut fantasy novel, ALEXA UNDEAD. [add personalized comments about the agent's list, how they represent other urban fantasy titles so Alexa would be a good fit etc.]

    Alexa Galindez didn’t know death had a return policy. Yet here she is, fresh from the grave, resurrected by the magic of Detective Jai Arobin, who needs her help to solve her own murder.

    Life after death is not a plug-in-and-play kind of situation; it takes getting used to. Alexa’s body carries the scars the killer inflicted on her as constant reminders of what she’s lost. Now all she has left is revenge. Call it unfinished business, but she is determined to catch her murderer, and when she finds out her mind is connected to the killer’s, it’s only a matter of time before she corners him. There’s just one ’but,’ one tiny detail Jai neglected to mention: the Guardian of Death never agreed to relinquish Alexa back to the world of the living, and now he wants her back.

    ***

    Thank you in advance!
     
  2. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Personally I like it. My only thing is, I feel like a lot is used for set up, if you get me. "Now all she has left is revenge" is really where the goals/stakes begin, which means you use 2 full sentences for describing Alexa's state. I feel like it could be shortened without losing much, perhaps Alexa's state and her goal could be merged into one sentence if restructured.

    What does "connected to the killer's [mind]" really mean? It's too vague, but it's interesting, and I wonder if your query might benefit from having this explained a little?

    Overall, I feel you've clearly communicated the premise and basic plot/stakes, but perhaps - esp if it's Urban Fantasy where the flavour of the city is supposed to be a significant feature or even "character", there could be something about it in your query?

    I adore the last line about the Guardian of Death wanting her back. It has a nice punch to it and is a brilliant closing to the query.

    I'm hardly experienced with writing queries but truth be told, I'd read yours based on your current version of the query anyway. I do wonder if there's something you can drop in there that would set your book apart from the other undead crime novels out there though? What's the essence of your book that really sets it apart for you?
     
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  3. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    I like it, let's see:

    Death has a return policy. Nobody told Alexa.

    She is fresh dug from the grave, cold, bloodied, her hip rested on a headstone, and resurrected by the magic of Detective Jai Arobin. She shivers, palms cross her body. This first night the detective provides her underwear and a t-shirt. In exchange he requires her help solving her own murder, or so he says.

    Can Alexa discover the bill of receipt and prove her mortality to the council of Beelzebub?

    Yours is best :)
     
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  4. Allan Dyen-Shapiro

    Allan Dyen-Shapiro New Member

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    <Alexa Galindez didn’t know death had a return policy. Yet here she is, fresh from the grave, resurrected by the magic of Detective Jai Arobin, who needs her help to solve her own murder.

    One problem with the above: ambiguous pronouns in the last clause. Yes, I think the grammar would be technically correct, but the reading tripped me up. I think you need to replace one or both with a character name.

    <Life after death is not a plug-in-and-play kind of situation; it takes getting used to.

    The above line doesn't add anything for me. I don't know any more about the book, and I'm no more hooked. I think you can delete.

    <Alexa’s body carries the scars the killer inflicted on her as constant reminders of what she’s lost. Now all she has left is revenge. Call it unfinished business, but she is determined to catch her murderer, and when she finds out her mind is connected to the killer’s, it’s only a matter of time before she corners him. There’s just one ’but,’ one tiny detail Jai neglected to mention: the Guardian of Death never agreed to relinquish Alexa back to the world of the living, and now he wants her back.

    Here, I would delete the words "just one 'but,".

    That's as much as I can help without having read your book and be sure of what I'm saying. Now, I'm going to make some guesses, and make suggestions based on them. The only thing you told me about the Detective is the name. I don't know gender, I don't know if he/she is the one who is a magic user. If there is nothing at all that's cool about your detective, one of two characters you find important enough to mention, you have much bigger problems than this letter, and you aren't ready to query. Think about it: what's the coolest thing about the Detective that could provide a hook. Something nonstandard that an agent hasn't seen a million times. Whatever it is, include it.

    As for the UF standards that you are missing, is there any unique twist you put upon them? That's what I'd try to include. If they are merely scenery, I wouldn't worry about it.

    The biggest hook for me in your query was the mind being connected with the killer's. I wouldn't lose that. Now, do you have any personal qualifications that would allow you to write that in a unique way? Do you have a background in the psychology of criminals? If you do, absolutely include it in the query. "I drew from my background as a Ph.D. psychologist whose thesis focused on serial killers... " Something like that. It would tell an agent you've got something more than just a standard UF trope.

    To consider: did Alexa do anything interesting in her life? We know nothing about her. If you started this, "Lawyer for the mob, Alexa Galindez... " or "Punk-rock drummer, Alexa Galindez.. " or "Adult film actress, Alexa Galindez... " you catch at least some percentage of agents with only 2-4 more words. If she isn't interesting for her occupation (or for some other reason), again, you have more problems here than a query letter. Why do we care whether she got murdered? I'm not sure I'm interested in paying money for a book about an insurance agent in Topeka who got murdered.

    Was the murder interesting? If it's a mystery, there's something she doesn't know. Was she poisoned with something unique? Shot while doing something interesting?

    You can tell an agent this is UF by putting the word urban in front of fantasy in the first sentence you have. I think you want to stress why your UF is different from generic UF and thus cool.

    Disclaimer: I am soon to query my first novel. I've never queried anything. Therefore, take everything I say with a grain of salt. Questions for you to ask yourself, rather than answers from anyone with a track record. If the questions get you somewhere, great! If not, this is a free forum, so you didn't pay anything for the advice: ignore me.

    Allan
     
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  5. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Gotcha. I'll shuffle it around a bit. I wouldn't want to waste words on fluff that doesn't add much.

    I'd be happy to expand on it. I think I have to just experiment, see how much I can describe it and still keep things tight.

    Yeah, maybe. I think I have to look for some examples on queries for UF novels to see how they've introduced the urban side of it.

    Glad to hear that!

    I have to do some research on other novels with a similar premise. Would probably be a good idea to mention them unless they're super obscure and try to explain how Alexa differs... I mean, every book is different of course, but I think I know what you mean.

    Thank you for your thoughts!

    Gotcha. Something like, "Jai Arobin, who needs Alexa's help to solve her own murder"? I just realized I never mentioned his gender, haha. Should probably do that...

    I think I was trying to be clever... But you're right, if there's something that's fluff, it can go.

    I was wondering if it was a bit much... I kinda had this feeling it's padding, like I could've been talking about the contents of the book but I'm not really saying anything, you know?

    Ok, gotcha. He's a Bellringer, a type of sorcerer that can resurrect the dead, but not just any dead, just those who are 'of the old blood' and who sleep in the garden of Marvos, the guardian of death. They also don't return fully restored, they're like Alexa, walking and talking corpses basically. Jai exists in perpetual reincarnation, meaning when he dies, he will be reborn with his powers and some memories of his old lives. He also has a backstory that serves as a subplot of sorts (he tried to resurrect his daughter after she died due to complications caused by her drug addict mother's drug use during pregnancy).

    I guess the coolest thing would be that he can reanimate the dead and he's virtually immortal? Though to Alexa the first mystery about him is seeing a mug that reads "World's Number One Dad" in his cupboard but there's no kid around.


    I think if I introduce some of the "supporting cast", I could also show what UF staples I've used? I tried to do it in an earlier draft, but I couldn't quite nail it. It got too long. There's a vampire huntress, a vampire who fancies himself the protector of the city's undead, Jai's brother Danny who's a sorcerer, and Samael, an angel of death. Maybe I can find a way to bring them in in a concise way.

    Alas, I don't have any other qualifications except an imagined PhD in the science of Hey Wouldn't It Be Cool If. :(

    She didn't have a traditional job. Would a Twitch streamer/cam girl confuse an agent? Though I'd imagine many of them, especially of the younger generation, would know what it means. I guess I could call her a party girl... Her death was ritualistic and she's been badly mutilated. I could mention some of these details too, like how she met a cute guy at a club, left with him, and got murdered in a stolen car.

    Thank you for your thoughts. They were extremely useful!

    I feel there's a lot I could mention, but I should present them in a way that's unique, but also keep it tight. Flesh it out but not too much.

    Back to the drawing board...
     
  6. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Regarding the gender of Jai and the line "needs Alexa's help to find her own killer" - you could just resolve it by saying "the killer" instead. "Jai needs Alexa's help to find the killer".

    Ooh you should totally mention Alexa's murder is part of a ritual. That immediately makes it more interesting than a random murder and implies an intriguing plot.

    When I asked what makes your novel different, I guess I am asking what makes your book yours? What's the strongest thing about your book that really makes it awesome? Never mind whether that's similar or different from other published UF books out there - I'm not really thinking of comparisons. What's the thing that made you write and stay with this book, you know?
     
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  7. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    @Ka_trian, Like you I'm a big fan of the hollywood-esque style of blurb. Cool catch phrases and big concepts. Unfortunately, from virtually all the advice I've gotten on queries, this is supposedly not the ideal approach.

    Think about your opening sentence (in the blurb). "Alexa Galindez didn’t know death had a return policy." Sounds cool. But did you know death had a return policy? Did I know death had a return policy? Does anyone actually know death had a return policy? This line isn't telling us anything specific to your MC. Sure, the line suggests she might be coming back from the dead, but the very next sentence again tells us exactly this anyway.

    With cool but generic catch phrases like that lining up your blurb, ultimately we're left with very little material and even less that is unique to your story. We know Alexa was resurrected from the dead by magic. That she was murdered. That a detective brought her back to help him solve that murder. That she has a connection with her murderer. And that the guardian of death (we don't know what that is) wants her back.

    I could be wrong, but my hunch from checking out queries is that this sort of plot might be being shopped around quite a bit right now (nothing wrong with that, probably most of our plots are), so you when you just describe the basic boilerplate plot, you're not really selling it, you're just letting the reader know which basic plot they would be buying.

    Supposedly, one way to sell your plot is to use this basic format. Who is your MC? What does she want? What is her big obstacle? How does she overcome it?

    Revenge is obviously your motive here, but as spelled out in your query it's pretty generic. Maybe Alexa was just finishing her residency when she was murdered. And now she's mad at her killer because she never got to be a doctor. This is the sort of context you might want to consider (very concisely and elegantly) weaving into your plot in the query.

    Plus side, I haven't mentioned anything about voice because I don't think that's an issue here.
     
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  8. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @123456789 Good thoughts, thank you! I'm trying a new approach, make it more about Alexa. By the way, the resident doctor who never got to be a real doctor cos she became undead is the premise of the TV show (and comic) iZombie. :D I didn't know about the show before I wrote Alexa, but I'm not really worried cos Alexa isn't a zombie and she doesn't munch on brains. Hmm, I guess the kind of undead she is could be a separating factor here. And I should probably be careful not to advertise it too much like it's a crime novel or whodunnit. In a way it is, but about as much as Anita Blake, Mercy Thompson or Harry Dresden novels are... Actually probably even less.

    Gonna take a couple of days to get this new version down, but I'll be posting it here.

    Thanks everyone for your comments!
     
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  9. MilesTro

    MilesTro Senior Member

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    Sounds interesting.
     

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