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  1. Whitelocke

    Whitelocke New Member

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    Query Letter Space Outlaw Kira (YA Sci-fi)

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Whitelocke, Nov 19, 2018.

    Hi, I'm new here and this is kind of a test run. My query isn't a rough draft, but it is just the core plot without any of the author bio etc. Your help is much appreciated.

    Kira always dreamed of living the outlaw life among the stars, but she was an otherwise normal fifteen-year-old when pirates came to her backwater planet. A stolen pirate ship was all Kira needed to escape, but jumping to an unknown system came at terrible price: leaving her beloved friend Heather to an uncertain fate.

    Now, after two years of smuggling, dogfights, and heists, Kira’s seen enough to know you take what the galaxy gives you. And she’s just been given Queen Cassandra du’Kisetria and her son Charles. Naïvely attacking Kira in a lawless stretch of space, the nobles violate a treaty and put a bounty on all their heads. Just trying to do the right thing, Kira pays a slaver to smuggle the unfortunate pair to safety. But it doesn’t take long for her to remember Heather, and realize she’s just abandoned two more people to the whims of an uncaring universe.

    Kira sets out to find Charles and Cassandra to see them to safety, but in so doing finds herself involved in a conspiracy by the family’s powerful political rivals. What’s more, the pirates from Kira’s past are back, and they want revenge. Armed only with her stolen ship, a revolver, and a dangerous mix of impulse and luck, Kira prepares to face down an entire kingdom to make up for past mistakes.
     
  2. Carriage Return

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  3. Carriage Return

    Carriage Return Member

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  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I agree that it needs more clarity and punchiness. It may help to think of this part of the query as being sales copy rather than a strictly accurate plot summary? What's the big idea of your story? What is it that's unique and exciting and going to appeal to your audience? Focus on that stuff, and don't worry too much about giving us every detail of the character's origins.
     
  5. Whitelocke

    Whitelocke New Member

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    Anyone know how I can edit the original post? Here's an updated version of the query. I'll pay it forward with other peoples' queries when I get a chance.


    Dear [agent],

    I’m writing to ask you to consider SPACE OUTLAW KIRA (YA sci-fi, 68,000 words), a space-punk adventure with series potential. The story is told through the eyes of Kira, a gutsy counter-hero, and two other points-of-view.

    Fifteen-year-old Kira always dreamed of traveling the stars as an infamous outlaw. Her wish came at a terrible price when pirates touched down on her backwater planet. A stolen pirate ship was all Kira needed to escape, but jumping to an unknown system meant leaving her friend Heather to the pirates.

    Now, after two years of smuggling, dogfights, and heists, Kira knows you only get what the galaxy gives you. And she’s just been given Queen Cassandra and her son Charles. When Kira finds the royals, they’re hiding in a junky old ship with a huge bounty on their heads. Trying to do the right thing, Kira pays a slaver to smuggle the unfortunate pair to safety. But it doesn’t take long for her to remember Heather, and realize she’s just abandoned two more people to the whims of an uncaring universe.

    Kira sets out to free Charles and Cassandra from the slaver and finds herself involved in a conspiracy by the family’s powerful political rivals. What’s more, the pirates from Kira’s past are back, and they want revenge. Armed only with her stolen ship, a revolver, and a dangerous impulsive streak, Kira prepares to face down an entire kingdom to make up for past mistakes.

    I am a writer and PhD in Social Research and Cultural Studies. My nonfiction can be seen in Playboy, South China Morning Post, and The Daily Beast.

    Below, I have included [requested query materials]. Please let me know if you would like to represent this novel.

    Best wishes,

    [Me]
     
  6. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think you're definitely getting there.

    But... I'd be tempted to abandon the first paragraph ("Fifteen-year-old Kira...") and focus on the main part of your story. The first paragraph feels like a prologue, to me, and doesn't necessarily add that much to the gist of the story? I mean, it probably adds a lot to the novel itself, but I don't think it's necessary for the query. You could give the necessary context in a few words in the later paragraphs. Maybe. The two-year jump was jarring, to me. And I don't really think Heather needs to be involved at all.

    Then I feel like the "given" bit in the next paragraph is a bit awkward. I like the style of it, but the idea of her being "given" people is a bit strange. This part feels like a "darling", maybe, in the sense of being something that really feels right to you but that doesn't necessarily feel right to others? I get what you're trying to do and when I work through it I'm okay, but on the first reading it didn't work for me, and that's not good when you're writing advertising copy.

    Then, more concretely, I'm not sure why she thought it would be a good idea to pay a slaver to transport the royals and then decided the royals needed to be rescued. What changed, there? Just remembering Heather? If Kira was really trying to do the right thing in the first place, why does she decide it's no longer the right thing? Or maybe she wasn't really trying to do the right thing, just trying to do the easy thing? In which case I think a rephrase would be useful.

    I think this version is an improvement, though, for sure!
     
  7. Whitelocke

    Whitelocke New Member

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    Yeah the answers to those types of things are very complicated, unfortunately. There's a lot of emotional and psychological conflict involved in the setup to the plot, and the motivations. That's why I came for advice - trying to figure out ways to cut out the complicated stuff while still conveying the story, the personality, and the deep questions the main characters ask themselves. Oh well, I'll keep chipping away at it.
     
  8. Carriage Return

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  9. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    It doesn't sound like YA. It's an adventure where the MC can do anything, just like a cartoon character. That's not very relatabe to a young adult. Nothing is too difficult for Kira, no obstacle is a problem. She's pretty much a superhero. She also begins with the wish of becoming an anti-social character (an infamous outlaw) and the story doesn't explain if this intent changes in any way. At some point she becomes an outlaw (there's smuggling and heists) and... stays that way. That's not acceptable for YA either.
     
  10. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    This seems like a pretty rigid view of YA boundaries...
     
  11. Whitelocke

    Whitelocke New Member

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    Haha no DeeDee is right. No person in their mid teens to early twenties is interested in superheroes, especially not counterheroes like Wolverine or the Hulk. Likewise, no teen is ever antisocial, and they all have clear definitions of morality and respect for the law.
     
  12. Whitelocke

    Whitelocke New Member

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    Okay, so the origin story/Heather thing was obviously a problem. It was too many words for too little payoff. Maybe the novel shows why Heather is a motivation and representation of past guilt (maybe not, the jury's still out) but it wasn't working in the query. So, two possible solutions were take Heather out, or lean into it. I tried leaning into it, and this is what I got. I think it's better, but I'm not sure if the first paragraph is smooth enough.



    Dear [agent],

    [personalized message]. I’m writing to ask you to consider SPACE OUTLAW KIRA (YA sci-fi, 68,000 words), a space-punk adventure with series potential. The story is told through the eyes of Kira, a gutsy counter-hero, and two other points-of-view.

    Every time Kira closes her eyes, she sees Heather – desperately reaching for her as the door of the Kitty Hawk seals shut. And every time, Kira tries to convince herself that’s just the way it goes. She may only be seventeen, but after a couple years of smuggling, dogfights, and heists, she knows everything in the galaxy has a price. When she took the Kitty Hawk from those pirates, the cost was Heather.

    That’s why she refuses to feel pity for her two latest problems: Queen Cassandra and her son Charles. When Kira finds the royals, they’re hiding in a junky old ship with a huge bounty on their heads. It’s not Kira’s job to babysit civilians, so she pays a slaver to smuggle the unfortunate pair to safety. But it doesn’t take long for that image of Heather to flash before her eyes, to make her realize she’s just abandoned two more people to the whims of an uncaring universe.

    Kira sets out to free Charles and Cassandra from the slaver and finds herself involved in a conspiracy by the family’s powerful rivals. What’s more, the pirates from her past are back, and they want revenge. Armed only with the Kitty Hawk, a revolver, and a dangerous impulsive streak, Kira prepares to face down an entire kingdom to make up for past mistakes.

    I am a writer, ESL teacher, and PhD in Social Research and Cultural Studies. My nonfiction can be seen in Playboy, South China Morning Post, and The Daily Beast.

    Below, I have included [requested query materials]. Please let me know if you would like to represent this novel.

    Best wishes,

    [Me]
     
  13. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I like this version. For me, we're down to the nitpicking, like... "finds herself involved in a conspiracy by" feels a bit vague... is the "by" referring to the conspiracy, or to the involving? Like, do you mean the family's rivals involved Kira in a conspiracy, or do you mean the family's rivals created a conspiracy? Clarification might be useful.

    Other than that, I'll bow out and we can hope for fresh eyes to give more feedback. Good luck with it!
     
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  14. Carriage Return

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  15. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree your latest version is the best one so far. However, I'm confused about one thing - Kira pays a slaver to smuggle them to safety. That sounds pretty generous to me. So why on earth is she looking for them suddenly? I'm not quite seeing the logic - if the slaver smuggles them to safety, then it can be assumed the royals will be all right. And what makes her think finding them would help remove the bounty on their heads? I'm just not seeing the link.

    Then I take issue with the next paragraph where Kira sets out to free them from the slaver. I thought she paid him to get them to safety? So what in that deal translates to the royals being enslaved? I understand a slaver is someone who owns and trades slaves, but that doesn't have to mean he took the royals as slaves, esp if the premise was Kira paid him to take the royals, rather than the other way around.

    The other thing is, I'm not entirely sure you really told me what the story is. The first paragraph is the backstory of how she became an outlaw - is this necessary? The second paragraph is the premise of your novel, so that's fair enough, but shouldn't that therefore be your first paragraph? The meat/plot of your story is clearly the conspiracy surrounding the royals and how Kira gets involved - that's where the stakes are - except you've glossed over that with buzz words.

    I do like how you've characterised Kira well, so I am interested in her as a character. However it sounds like a colourful premise but I still have no idea what the story really is. What makes your conspiracies a more compelling story than other YA conspiracy adventure stories? No idea - you didn't expand.

    Mind you, if it gets your sample read, which your query looks like would do the job so far, then it doesn't really matter. :)
     
  16. Whitelocke

    Whitelocke New Member

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    I can answer your first question with a question: Would you trust a human trafficker to smuggle a woman and child to safety? People that own slaves are by definition horrible pieces of S***. So, in this version I've tried to emphasize that idea, but after fiddling with many ways to phrase it, I'm not sure if I've landed on the perfect solution.

    As for Kira's backstory, it serves as the driving motivation for her character (and to be honest, her character is more important than the plot in my opinion), including the reason she realizes she's being stupid when she trusts a slaver. The story itself is actually about tracking down that slaver and freeing the royals (and the other two points-of-view are Cassandra and Charles trying to escape from inside the ship). So, the conspiracy is for flavor/extra conflict/a means of clearing their bounties. It's too complicated to go into detail about it, but I've added more information about it and I think it does work better.

    So, overall I think that was useful feedback. Hopefully my explanation adds more context for you, and here's my latest try:

    Dear [agent],

    [personalized message]. I’m writing to ask you to consider LUMINAL BOOM (YA sci-fi, 68,000 words), a space-punk adventure with series potential. The story is told through the eyes of Kira, a gutsy counter-hero, and two other points-of-view.

    Every time Kira closes her eyes, she sees Heather – desperately reaching for her as the door of the Kitty Hawk seals shut. And every time, Kira tries to convince herself that’s just the way it goes. She may only be seventeen, but after a couple years of smuggling, dogfights, and heists, she knows everything in the galaxy has a price. When she took the Kitty Hawk from those pirates, the cost was Heather.

    That’s why she refuses to feel pity for her two latest problems: Queen Cassandra and her son Charles. When Kira finds the royals, they’re hiding in a junky old ship with a huge bounty on their heads. It’s not Kira’s job to babysit civilians, so she pays a slaver to smuggle the unfortunate pair to safety. But no matter how she tries to ignore it, that image of Heather keeps flashing before her eyes. It doesn’t take long for her to realize how stupid it was to trust a human trafficker, to see that she’s just abandoned two more innocent people to the whims of an uncaring universe.

    Kira sets out to free the royals and uncovers a plot by their powerful rivals – one that involves her ship and its original owner. If she can get that information into the right hands, she just might be able to clear their names. There’s only one thing Kira can do: Armed with the Kitty Hawk, a revolver, and a dangerous impulsive streak, she prepares to face down an entire kingdom to make up for past mistakes.

    I am a writer, ESL teacher, and PhD in Social Research and Cultural Studies. My nonfiction can be seen in Playboy, South China Morning Post, and The Daily Beast.

    Below, I have included [requested query materials]. Please let me know if you would like to represent this novel.

    Best wishes,

    (Me)
     
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  17. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Whitelocke - I find the latest version more intriguing story-wise, except now it feels just a little bit long. It may not be a problem though if it hooks the agent :)

    These lines from your query:

    But no matter how she tries to ignore it, that image of Heather keeps flashing before her eyes. It doesn’t take long for her to realize how stupid it was to trust a human trafficker, to see that she’s just abandoned two more innocent people to the whims of an uncaring universe.​

    I feel like that first sentence went into "show" rather than "tell" and also reads a little less elegantly than the tone you've adopted for the rest of the query. The two sentences also don't link too well - Heather and abandoning two more people link well, but the sentence starts with "how stupid it was to trust a human trafficker" (and yes, that does sound rather dumb...) and so the connection isn't as smooth as it could be, I think.

    Also, isn't it more accurate - and may link better too in terms of ideas - to say she's just abandoned two innocent people to the whims of a human trafficker? She put them in that particular situation, so she rightly feels responsible. But the "whims of an uncaring universe" is less convincing for me - they have a bounty on their heads through no fault of Kira's and if she chose to move on, it wouldn't be her fault. That she basically put them into the hands of a slaver, however, is her fault. I get that you're trying to link it with Heather, hence the more generalised "universe" idea but I'm not convinced by it. (note: I'm a nitpicker. This may not concern other readers)

    As well as that, "innocent" is surely debatable - the royals have a bounty on their heads. For all Kira knows, they're criminals.

    A little aside - is it believable that someone as world-wise as Kira would have actually trusted a human trafficker? I find that naive, but she doesn't come off as someone who's naive. I understand this late into the querying stage, it may not be a plot point that's possible to change anymore though.

    I'm also not sure why "Armed" is capitalised? It is preceded by a colon, so grammatically it's all still one sentence.

    Anyway I do like your first paragraph :) I'm curious, what did you write for the SCMP? I'm from Hong Kong (when I feel like it), so I read that occasionally.
     
  18. Whitelocke

    Whitelocke New Member

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    Yeah, everything you said were the same thoughts I had, so I'll just have to keep tweaking it. The first thing I did actually was to change it to "she's just abandoned two more innocent people to the whims of a human trafficker," but the word "more" implied she abandoned Heather to a human trafficker too. So, it's a puzzle that has a correct combination somewhere, and I'm going to find it.

    Actually, the royals are innocent, they get the bounty on their heads when they stumble upon Kira on a mission that was supposed to be secret and don't kill her or die trying. That's all too complicated, so I fudged the facts to make it work. Still, I'll keep the "innocent" issue in mind.

    Some people like to capitalize after a colon if the clause can make a complete sentence. I'm one of them.

    Kira trusts him because she doesn't have many options that won't just lead to their deaths or torture and therefore to Kira's death because she gets a bounty in their encounter too and they are clearly bad at keeping secrets. She also sees herself as a badass outlaw and doesn't want to get caught up in sappy emotions. So, in a lapse of judgement, she decides to turn to a fellow outlaw even though she hates slavery. Again, that's a really complicated psychological struggle, so if you can think of any way to boil these down to, like, zero words I'd appreciate it haha.

    I wrote a thing about Taiwan's Fengpao fireworks festival for SCMP. The editor really schooled me on showing instead of telling for travel pieces and it's helped my writing in all areas infinitely.
     
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  19. Carriage Return

    Carriage Return Member

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  20. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I had to look up the colon issue and it appears you're right there's debate surrounding whether or not to capitalise after a colon. However, I'd advise you to do whatever is most common - and I would have thought lower-case is more common. But then again clearly I didn't even know a capital letter was acceptable to begin with so my opinion is hardly authoritative. Anyway, my theory is simply that - if you happen to come across an agent who didn't know it could be capitalised, then it'd be taken as a typo, and it doesn't matter that the agent is wrong. It'd still give a bad impression. But if capitalisation is more common, then keep it. Perhaps it would vary too depending on which side of the pond you query.

    Re Kira - you could say something like, "Distaste for authorities means Kira turns to a slaver to transport the royals to safety"? I must say I didn't understand all those connections about the royals leading to Kira's death etc, but as you say, it's all complicated plot stuff that is probably unnecessary in the query.

    "A slaver is still better than the police and more trustworthy - or so she thinks until the memory of Heather returns to haunt her. It wasn't long before she realised she's fooling herself if she thinks the slaver was going to keep his end of the bargain, and she's abandoned two innocents to the hands of [insert some description/noun that links it with Heather] yet again."
     

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