1. orenshved

    orenshved Member

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    Query letter for a multiple viewpoint book

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by orenshved, Nov 29, 2021.

    Hey all, I'm having trouble writing a query letter for my speculative near-future thriller. It's about a world in transition. Where we, as humans, are tossed into a maelstrom of being ruled and controlled by the first artificial superintelligence.
    The book has multiple viewpoints (5 of them) since it's not really about any one of them more than the other. Each of them has an arc that deals with their connection to what's happening.
    As the plot progresses, the viewpoint changes back and forth through the characters (each time to the one most relevant to what's happening at that moment).
    To make things worse, the hook has to do with the first POV, who is killed very early in the book (her assassination is the inciting event).
    I've tried drafting something that focuses more on the world-building and atmosphere, but it feels to me like it doesn't work when I don't talk about characters at all (since it's obviously expected), it doesn't work if I talk about just one of them, since it leaves too much of the plot out, and it doesn't work if I talk about all of them because that would make the letter too long.
    Help! Any ideas?
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2021
  2. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Senior Member

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    It might help to look at different, well-known books with multiple narrators and see how they are described in the cover blurbs or other summaries. For instance, the Amazon blurb for Jerry Spinelli's middle grade novel Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush?, which would serve as a pretty good pitch:

    Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush? Sibling rivalry at its finest! Whether it's on the hockey ice, at school, or at home, Greg and Megin just can't seem to get along. She calls him Grosso, he calls her Megamouth. They battle with donuts, cockroaches, and hair. Will it take a tragedy for them to realize how much they actually care for each other?

    Or for something completely different, Faulkner's As I Lay Dying:

    ...[The] members of the Bundren family must take the body of Addie, matriarch of the family, to the town where Addie wanted to be buried. Along the way, we listen to each of the members on the macabre pilgrimage, while Faulkner heaps upon them various flavors of disaster.

    Okay, that one's not as good. But I think the key thing in both blurbs is what holds and drives the characters together, and the possibility of increasing tension and development for good or ill.
     
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  3. evild4ve

    evild4ve Active Member

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    It might be useful to know if this is the OP's first novel. As I think that might make a difference to how multiple viewpoints are received. Also if it's okay to post the logline here that might help us to be more focused.

    The OP raises 2 things that for me would be red flags:-
    "The book has multiple viewpoints (5 of them) since it's not really about any one of them more than the other. Each of them has an arc that deals with their connection to what's happening."

    If only for salesmanship's sake it might be worth the query letter anticipating these 2 objections:-

    - is this story going to be about its characters? or are the characters going to be just viewpoints into the author's fantasy?
    - is the plot serving the character arcs or the other way around?

    When these objections are relevant to a spec. fiction work (and I'm not saying that they are relevant to the OP - just that the letter might want to head them off), they're really stemming from a single underlying problem to do with fantasy authors thinking a story's fantasy elements are interesting in themselves. (When from the reader's perspective they are only interesting to the extent they reveal character.) I think it's a constant hazard, but perhaps moreso for new writers because this is something that can slip through many or all stages of editing unnoticed. I'm not sure if it has a specific name, but for now I'll call it 'storyworld-vertigo' because it tends to over-focus the storyworld to such an extent that the characters serve it.

    Loglining might be a useful exercise before the query letter - by that I mean boiling the whole novel down to a single sentence with an irony in it. If there is storyworld-vertigo the logline will be inordinately difficult to come up with - and that (possibly, I'd suggest) might necessitate a further stage of revision to reorganise the text around a logline.

    If the existing text is able to be loglined, the query for a story with multiple povs might benefit from leaning strongly on the logline: so that the agent or publisher can see the story-structure is solid. Loglines are a bit artificial in their language, and the 1-sentence requirement loosens up in the query letter, but the idea I'm suggesting is to start from that kernel and present it in a salesy and emotive way.

    I had a look at the OP's past posts - which I only guessed are about the same WIP - and if the pov characters are family or a close-knit group, it might be possible to combine them into a single unit in the query letter. I think that's what @Le Panda Du Mal 's second example does actually.
     
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  4. orenshved

    orenshved Member

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    Thanks, Le Panda, Good idea. I will definitely look into it.
     
  5. orenshved

    orenshved Member

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    Thanks, Evild4ve, all valid points. And yes, it is my first novel. It doesn't feel to me like I have 'storyworld-vertigo.' (might be wrong obviously). The plot is actually extremely character-centered, and like I said, each character has an arc relating to *their connection* to what's happening. It's about them and their character. I think that's actually a big part of what I'm struggling with. It's very easy to think of the story as "renegade AI grows too powerful, plans to rule humanity." This is, of course, a terrible logline. It is technically true but completely fails to capture the essence of the book. For instance, one of the POV characters, Parker, spends more and more time in VR with the avatar of his dead wife (Allison, the first POV in the book). As the aforementioned AI grows stronger, it makes the available tech give an experience that is so lifelike, that Parker eventually decides to stay with her in the simulation indefinitely (a gross simplification of his arc, but it's just in order to make a point).
     
  6. evild4ve

    evild4ve Active Member

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    For the sake of the exercise, this wouldn't be a logline because it doesn't contain an irony. To be useful it needs to be something like
    "SHODAN thought being an AI would enable her to rule humanity, but as she falls deeper in love with a 1980s scientific calculator she realises intelligence might not be everything."

    The story might not be ironic - it's that solid character arcs can be rearranged into the form of an irony. E.g. "Benjamin thought throwing the humans out of Animal Farm would give the animals their freedom, but he realises the pigs are even worse."

    Sometimes there can be latent loglines under the surface, e.g. "Dorothy thought the USA adopting the gold standard would bring about full employment, but as she follows the path to unilateral currency revaluation she realises the necessary agricultural, industrial and military reforms may be desirable for their own sake."

    I'm still critiquing - it's impossible to be of much help without the text open - but what I'd worry about here isn't the level of sophistication, it's just that the character arc (a few times in this and the other threads) hasn't been expressed in terms of who Parker is, or how he changes internally to him, or what conflicts he has with other characters - but in terms of what happens in the plot. Which is the only thing I know doesn't matter.

    As I would see it, Parker's choice to stay in the AI perhaps shouldn't be because it is so lifelike, but because of something inside him. When writers put the determinant outside in the storyworld, there is often a reduction of the character's agency - in extreme cases to them being a human pinball. Is there anything that could have made the story more inconvenient to write? E.g. what if the avatar of his wife is dreadfully unrealistic and talks in a mixture of non sequiturs and quotes from a UN policy manual that they trained her with, but it turns out (like in that macabre story about Sartre) that he prefers her that way.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2021
  7. orenshved

    orenshved Member

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    Ok, I see. I could do that really easily with any one of my POV characters, but it would just be the ironic logline for *one* of them... So now what about the rest of them? I'm reminded of the thin red line. That's actually a pretty good analogy for my book. It's set in WWII, and it tells different stories of the different soldier and officers in C company in a very personal way. (And again, thanks a lot for your help, really appreciate it).
     
  8. evild4ve

    evild4ve Active Member

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    Ah - again, it does have to be a single logline for the whole story. If the text can't reduce to one logline, only to 5 loglines, then it's really 5 stories and might need to be re-framed as a collection of short stories around a theme or central event (which is a perfectly valid thing to do)

    If it's ok to put the logline on here in a post (or feel free to PM it) that might be 80% of the work toward the query letter and a wide range of people will have insights on how to present it
     
  9. orenshved

    orenshved Member

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    Well, then, going back to the thin red line. That's not a collection of short stories...
     
  10. orenshved

    orenshved Member

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    This is the back cover:
    "They are the men of C-for-Charlie Company--"Mad" 1st/Sgt. Eddie Welsh, S/Sgt. Don Doll, Pvt. John Bell, Capt. James Stein, Cpl. Fife, and dozens more just like them--infantrymen in "this man's army" who are about to land grim and white-faced on an atoll in the Pacific called Guadalcanal. This is their story, a shatteringly realistic walk into hell and back.

    In the days ahead some will earn medals; others will do anything they can dream up to get evacuated before they land in a muddy grave. But they will all discover the thin red line that divides the sane from the mad--and the living from the dead--in this unforgettable portrait that captures for all time the total experience of men at war."
     
  11. evild4ve

    evild4ve Active Member

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    The logline, the blurb, the synopsis, and the query letter are 4 different exercises in 4 different writing disciplines. Thin Red Line almost certainly was logline-able down to 1 line, not a line for each infantryman. But if that can't be done for your story, the exercise may still be valuable in highlighting if the text needs to be split up differently before submission. (Better to reveal if that applies prior to submission)

    With Thin Red Line I've had a quick look and it was the author's 4th novel: if his other ones had been successful I suppose they might have been relaxed about publishing something with a vague structure. Also, it's historical fiction so can derive value from historicity (as I think this one did) which sci-fi and fantasy can't usually do. Lastly it's unusual for the blurb to reel off a list of characters when the reader doesn't know any of them - so I wonder if that might be from an edition after it was adapted to film. Just thoughts as always.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2021
  12. orenshved

    orenshved Member

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    So, I think I've managed to condense it into a query letter that works. This is what I have so far:


    Dear Ms. Agent name

    I've queried you because I saw on manuscriptwishlist.com that you *enter interest here*, and I think you might enjoy the *relevant elements here*

    In a near-future Boston, Allison Evans, a programmer, AI researcher, and entrepreneur is assassinated during her keynote talk about the creation of her revolutionary "Majestic" AI. Her brother, Ryan, a Cyber-investigator who struggles with his mental health, takes it upon himself to try and figure out what and who was behind it. The only problem is that Allison was killed because she had invented something that might just prove to be the last invention humanity will ever create.

    When Allison's startup and the Majestic AI are bought by the Gvision corporation, a data giant led by CEO Alex Gardner, Majestic is given near-unlimited resources to grow. As a result, the AI develops a new technology in the form of a Neural Reality headset that lets the user experience everything as if they were the ones experiencing it, and then forms a following in the shape of a new-age religion called - "The Fold."

    Told through multiple viewpoints, we whiteness the maelstrom that pulls humanity into a spiral of addiction and escapism. It is now up to Ryan, his family, and Allison's avatar "ghost" to try and stop this descent into madness by what now has become a bonafide God. If the matrix raised the question, "What if we are unaware that we were subjugated by machines?" this book asks, "What if we went there willingly?"

    "LET THE EARTH OPEN" is complete at 84,000 words. This is a standalone book but could serve as the first in a series.

    I'm a game designer, creative director, and entrepreneur with many years of experience in the VR and startup worlds.

    The first three chapters are in the body of this email, per your submission guidelines.

    Thanks for taking the time to review my query. I look forward to hearing from you.


    Sincerely,

    Oren Shved.
     
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  13. evild4ve

    evild4ve Active Member

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    It is easy to be over-critical of query letters because they have such a low success rate at the best of times. Also with this one there is some privileged insight because I know that it's a first novel and that it hasn't been through a process of redrafting the entire thing around a logline. But that aside, what objections might someone raise on seeing this? For me:-

    1. Some key plot points seem super-convenient to the author

    - Her brother, Ryan, a Cyber-investigator (what if he delivered pizzas?)
    - Majestic is given near-unlimited resources to grow (what if they were just asset stripping it to improve their book recommendations?)
    - It is now up to Ryan, his family, and Allison's avatar "ghost" (and not e.g. the United Nations)

    =====

    2. Familiar premise

    - a new-age religion called - "The Fold."
    - humanity into a spiral of addiction and escapism.
    - It is now up to Ryan, his family, and Allison's avatar "ghost"
    - what now has become a bonafide God.
    - "What if we are unaware that we were subjugated by machines?" this book asks, "What if we went there willingly?"

    Rightly or wrongly this reminded me of Wild Palms (Bruce Wagner, 1990 - adapted for tv in 1993), but with some elements resembling other mainstream cyberpunk. The investigator's mental health problems - Neuromancer; Avatar ghost - Ghost in the Shell; Subjugated by machines - Terminator. Majestic - Deus Ex. And then the conscious intertextual jumping-off-point is the Matrix. The assassination at a keynote speech at a technology conference is also bugging me but I can't place it off the top of my head - maybe one of the Batman films?

    There is a long-running question with cyberpunk of when it becomes what it hates. Personally I think that process had already finished 10 or 20 years ago; that it's a literary subset of punk which now has moved on to send up and deconstruct other genres than sci-fi; and that the settings and symbols it bequeaths to popular culture have little-to-no intrinsic value (whether it is wetware or animated neon adverts). A possible objective for the query letter might be to avoid or react against that theory-of-literature, in case the agent already subscribes to it.

    To avoid it, possibly remove everything that is familiar and only highlight what is new.
    To react against it I think would need a 1-sentence counterargument - cyberpunk is still relevant because

    =====

    3. Is the story driven by its characters?

    - three characters are mentioned:- Allison, Ryan, and Alex
    - Allison is dead which may have removed tension for her (has she been fridged?)
    - Ryan has a mental health problem that isn't key to the plot, so might be a throwaway flaw concealing a Gary Stu
    - Alex doesn't have a character conflict mentioned, so he might be a plot device
    - I think the only character conflict mentioned in the summary is Ryan's family trying to protect his mental health (which arguably isn't a true character conflict if the mental health problem is something he has more than who he is.

    =====

    4. There were some typos and verbal redundancies that I have just put an underline under below

    In a near-future Boston, Allison Evans, a programmer, AI researcher, and entrepreneur is assassinated during her keynote talk about the creation of her revolutionary "Majestic" AI. Her brother, Ryan, a Cyber-investigator who struggles with his mental health, takes it upon himself to try and figure out what and who was behind it. The only problem is that Allison was killed because she had invented something that might just prove to be the last invention humanity will ever create.

    When Allison's startup and the Majestic AI are bought by the Gvision corporation, a data giant led by CEO Alex Gardner, Majestic is given near-unlimited resources to grow. As a result, the AI develops a new technology in the form of a Neural Reality headset that lets the user experience everything as if they were the ones experiencing it, and then forms a following in the shape of a new-age religion called - "The Fold."

    Told through multiple viewpoints, we whiteness the maelstrom that pulls humanity into a spiral of addiction and escapism. It is now up to Ryan, his family, and Allison's avatar "ghost" to try and stop this descent into madness by what now has become a bonafide God. If the matrix raised the question, "What if we are unaware that we were subjugated by machines?" this book asks, "What if we went there willingly?"

    =====

    I'd suggest to cut this down from 3 paragraphs to 2, and to focus it on the central character conflict. If Ryan's choice is between save-world or don't-save-world; or go-mad or don't-go-mad, that's possibly unsatisfying. Is it about money? Is it a conflict between getting justice for Allison or preserving her legacy? Is the Fold the church he always wished he could be part of? A getting-things-done church that puts eschatology into practice? A church where he doesn't have to stand around selling tea to old ladies?
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2021
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  14. orenshved

    orenshved Member

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    Thanks a lot, D4ve, actually, a lot of the assumptions you made are pretty far off from what's actually in the book. Just to name one, there's no need for me to defend cyberpunk because the setting isn't at all cyberpunk. I even nod at it in the book, saying how "Boston didn't turn into Neo-Boston full of Android detectives and cyber prostitutes. People didn't fly their cars around in a perpetual night, and the buildings weren't covered with huge billboards that lit the steam-covered streets. People were just... people, and Boston was still just Boston, only poorer." So I should try and see if I can find a way to mitigate these assumptions.
     
  15. evild4ve

    evild4ve Active Member

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    Those weren't the cyberpunk tropes I found familiar. It was more the CEO of a company selling VR headsets that offer access to a new reality which is addictive and gives rise to a religious cult and a new bona fide God - which initially resembles Wild Palms. That story uses a missing person investigation rather than a murder, and rather than an AI it's that the CEO plans to insert himself into the VR world as its god once everyone is hooked.

    Structurally, an abducted character and a murdered character whose ghost survives as an AI might be quite similar if they are mostly offstage but can still speak. And the CEO self-inserting might have been for reader relatability, or to save making the software a secondary antagonist.
     
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  16. EnderMorph

    EnderMorph New Member

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    Hi, the query letter just has to make the agent want to read more, and it only should cover the first 1/3 of your book anyway. So it seems fine to me to introduce us about the chacter and get us really involved, you don't have to tell us she dies in the query. Leave it as a cliff hanger.
     

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