Monday, October 28, 2013

Dueling Query Letters!

This time around we have two variant query letters for the same project, courtesy of Amy Judd.  Let's see what we can do for her:

Version One:
Genieve Hart is about to grow up –but not in a way she expected.
              
Born one of the Marked, Genieve expected to learn about her gift in her home city-state. That was until a benefactor betrayed her to the Council. Wrongfully accused, Genieve faces incarceration or a fantastical escape with the help of sky pirates. Getting in contact with the Resistance was easy, as easy as falling face first into the middle of an uprising war. Haunted by strange dreams, and an all-knowing spirit Genieve begins to understand exactly what her Mark’s power is. In the meantime discovering who’s her friend and who’s her foe, but not before it’s too late.

Aleister Malakim is willing to sacrifice anything – or anyone to conquer the City-States.  Even if that means kidnapping, using his own Mark, or filling the atmosphere with falling air ship, all trying to cash-in on the bounty on Genieve’s head.  All he needs to make the Malakim Regime’s rise to power absolute is Genieve’s cooperation.

MECHANICS OF FATE is a Steampunk Fantasy novel, complete at 109,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,

Amy Judd

Version 2:

Dear Mr. Maresca,

Genieve Hart is about to grow up---but not in the way she expected.

Born one of the Marked, she expected to learn about her gift in her home city-state. That is until one of her supposed benefactors betrayed her unusual talents to the Council. Falsely accused of a terrible act, Genieve faces incarceration. She chooses instead to make an escape with the help of sky pirates. Getting in contact with the Resistance was easy, so easy that she fell face first into the middle of a civil war. As Genevieve is haunted by strange dreams and an All-Knowing Spirit, she becomes fully aware of her power designated by the Mark. Discovering who’s her friend and who’s her foe is important but it’s too late…

Aleister Malakim is willing to use anything or anyone to conquer the City-States even if that means kidnapping or using the power of his Mark. His ambition succeeds in filling the sky with air ships all trying to cash in on the excessive bounty on Genieve’s head.  What he needs to make the Malakim Regimes’ rise to power absolute is her cooperation.

Mechanics of Fate is a steampunk fantasy novel, complete at 109,000 words.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Amy Judd

In both cases, I think that first sentence is doing you more harm than good.  That sentence is almost a clich√©, and even if your story is following that trope, announcing it right off the bat will probably shut more agents down.  Plus you should consider using that first space for a more personalized greeting of the agent in question.

FIRST PARAGRAPH (both versions) : I think you're trying to overpack a lot of concepts in here, that may go above an beyond what you ought to do in a query letter.  It's loaded with high-concept key words: Marked, gift, benefactor, sky pirates, Resistance, All-Knowing Spirit, etc.  It's a bit overwhelming.  Remember that you don't have to explain everything in the query.  However, while at the same time, there's a certain vagueness which can make the whole thing sound generic. 

Generic is the last thing you want. 

Case in point: "her city-state".  Does it have a name?  "Her gift", "her power".  Is this about magic, or something else?  "Resistance"-- who are they resisting, and why would Genieve find that useful?  Are they resisting "The Council", who are similarly vague in their nomenclature?  "A terrible act"-- what, exactly?  "All-knowing Spirit"-- what is that?

The second version is stronger-- "falsely accused" is a bit better than "wrongfully accused", for example (the former implies malignant intent, while the latter merely a mistake).  Same with "middle of a civil war". 

Also, "who’s her friend and who’s her foe" is a bulkier way of saying "who she can trust". 

SECOND PARAGRAPH- The way you've put this together, I'm getting the impression that you're going to be doing some sort of alternating-POV in this book: a chapter of Genieve,  a chapter of Aleister, and back to Genieve.  That's what I infer when I see two separate paragraphs about two different characters.  However, their stories are clearly intertwined, so you might consider dropping this format. 

In general, consider the merits of integrating the two paragraphs to represent the narrative flow a bit better. 

OVERALL:  I think the thing that's hurting this query letter the most is you're going for breadth over depth.  You hit a lot of elements in a generic way as opposed to a few in a specific way, and I think the latter will present a stronger hook.  From my read, these are the points you should focus on, as they represent the drive of the narrative:
  • falsely accused
  • escapes with sky pirates
  • face-first into civil war
  • price on her head
  • haunted dreams
  • who can she trust?
Hope this helps!

Anyone else have a query letter they want an opinion on?  Send it my way.

2 comments:

Shadowkindrd said...

I'm with Marshall on that first sentence. Ditch it. You don't need it.

I'm also with Marshall on the breadth vs. depth. However, I don't entirely agree with the how-to-fix-it. A blurb is there to get the agent/editor hooked. You don't need to show flow of the story, integrate anything, or even represent the entire story. You just need to get the interest flowing. You don't need to integrate the paragraphs, IMO. You need to emphasize the conflict. One POV will do the job just fine.

Here's the pep squad version of what you need to do in a blurb: BE SPECIFIC! BE BE SPECIFIC! Use specific names, specific intstances, specific places.

Also, drop irrelevant details that don't add to that spine of the conflict in the story. Marshall has that spine mostly right, but when you rewrite the blurb, everything needs to be specific: falsely accused of what terrible act? Do the Sky Pirates have a name? Face-first into a civil war WHERE? Tie the price on her head to the specific people concerned in the who can she trust, and consider if you really need to mention the dreams or not.

About the benefactor: in the blurb, we don't need to know who. We just need to know it happened.

I've been writing blurbs a long, long time, for both novels and scripts, and my best advice is this: be specific, and be short. Fifty to one hundred words are the best ones. Tie the blurb to either conflict or theme, and do it in the fewest words possible. Focus on the exciting stuff (hence conflict), and don't be generic ANYWHERE.

Good luck. :)

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

I'll just follow up Shadowkindred's message by saying I think they're on point. It's a very good second opinion.