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Author Topic: Query: Big Powwow
wbriggs
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Any suggestions? Thanks. This is for mailing to a particular agent, but w/o previous contact.

...,

I have an SF novel, regarding a city moved by a time-travel event from present day to 1520's America; I hope you will consider it. It's complete at 124,000; its beginning was workshopped in Orson Scott Card's novel-writing class. Here's a brief blurb on what the story is about:

When a particle accelerator accident transfers a small Appalachian city to the 16th Century . . .

. . . for an abused teen, it's the first-ever opportunity to get away from his parents.

. . . for an archaeologist, it's a chance to meet her own ancestors, that she's been studying.

. . . for the mayor, it's the prospect of mass starvation and food riots, if a way can't be found to fuel the tractors.

. . . and for the son of an Indian chief, it's convincing himself he's still a brave man, when facing a people that can make vast cities appear out of nowhere.

Let me know if you would like to see the complete MS. Thanks for your attention.


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mommiller
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Hmmm.

WBriggs, have you taken a peek over at AgentQuery.com. Under the column, "Writers," there is a heading titled. "How to Write A Query," that is chock full of helpful pointers.

As it is, what you have here is informative, but rather bare bones in my opinion for all that you have going on in that novel, which is a lot of interesting stuff, that this version barely touches on.

Nor do I feel that it really introduces me, acting as a prospective agent, to who you are.

Query writing is almost an artform unto itself though, but reading this, sort of left me cold to your project. I guess it needs to, "sell you," more, for lack of better words.

Does this make sense?

Contact me off-list if you want to...

[This message has been edited by mommiller (edited April 04, 2007).]


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InarticulateBabbler
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The words look rushed.

IMHO, for what that's worth, it could use a little tweaking:

quote:

. . . for an abused teen, it's the first-ever opportunity to get away from his parents.
{Suggestion: ...for an abused teen, it's an escape from his personal hell.}

. . . for an archaeologist, it's a chance to meet her own ancestors, that she's been studying.
{Suggestion: ...for an archaeologist, it's a a rare chance to meet the ancestors she's been studying}

. . . for the mayor, it's the prospect of mass starvation and food riots, if a way can't be found to fuel the tractors.
{Suggestion: ...for the mayor, the only salvation from riots and starvation is to find an alternative fuel-source for the tractors.}

. . . and for the son of an Indian chief, it's convincing himself he's still a brave man, when facing a people that can make vast cities appear out of nowhere.
{Suggestion: ...and the Indian Chief's son will have to be brave in the face of a powerful magic - a magic strong enough to make an entire city appear!



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gooeypenguin
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wow, looks pretty interesting. can i read? :-)
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darklight
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As Mom says, go over to AgentQuery.com - I've just been there and and there's some great advice. I've just re-written my query letter (pity its a bit too late) and now its more concise, reads better and everything is in the right order.
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wbriggs
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I'll have a look and post a revised version -- thanks.
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mommiller
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WBriggs.

While you are poking around that site, why don't you check out some of the agents listed there as well.

There's no law against querying more than one agent, at least not that I know of.

High time you got this published and on one of my local bookstore's shelves, eh?


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hoptoad
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quote:

its beginning was workshopped in Orson Scott Card's novel-writing class

This is an interesting inclusion.
I am in two minds about whether it is a good idea or not.

Perhaps it will lend credentials to your story, especially considering your IGMS and other credits

I don't know, but hope it works for you.

Good luck Will.


PS: I'm really interested in whether the archaeologist ever found any evidence of this enormous city... Imagine that, arrowheads made from knapped window glass or 500 year old styrofoam coffee cups or fossilised spark-plugs

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited April 07, 2007).]


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Elan
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Miss Snark and Rachel Vater (Lit Agent X) have both recently run a series of query hooks, and given detailed feedback on what works and what doesn't.

Here's Miss Snark's advice:

quote:
Right here: you need the outline of a plot in your query letter, such that hero, villain and conflict are clear.

Anything more than 50 words, or a paragraph, is heading to Synopsisville. A full page and you've gone way way way too far.

Now, for all of you screaming with anguish about not being able to pare down your 226,000 word novel to 50 words, yes you can.

Here's how:

My hero is:
He faces this problem in the first 50 pages:
His sworn enemy/treacherous friend/love interest is:
A twist in the plot is:

Answer those questions and you're in. Start giving me genealogy and/or a police blotter report, and you're out.

It took me 25 seconds to type this.

It will take you 25 days to construct it.
Writing briefly is insanely difficult.
I know this first hand.
I write cover letters and pitch emails for a living.
I don't feel your pain cause I medicate it with gin but I know it's there.


And another comment from Her Snarkiness:

quote:
Just answer these questions:

Who is the protaganist?
What dilemma does he face?
How does it get resolved?

Answer each question in less than 25 words. That's the skeleton for a good query letter. It may not be your finished version, but it will give you the bone structure you need.

If you CAN'T do that...don't query me. Your novel needs the work then, not the query.


Both quotes can be found in the bowels of her blog at:
http://misssnark.blogspot.com/

Rachel Vater can be found at:
http://raleva31.livejournal.com/

A note-- both agents refer to the query letter as the "hook". I found it confusing at first because on Hatrack we refer to the first 13 lines as the "hook".

And as an aside, I tried to write a 50 word hook for my novel and couldn't. Miss Snark is right... if you can't summarize your novel in 50 words, there's a problem, and it lies in the book, not the hook. This painful exercise revealed to me that I needed to do some serious work on my core plot. Miss Snark says: "If you can't summarize your own book in 50 words, how do you expect me to be able to do so when I pitch it to editors?"

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited April 10, 2007).]


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kings_falcon
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Will, ship me the revised query when you get a chance.

The hard part to remember is that all the neat little twists in the story CAN'T make it into a query. Also, check out what Evil Editor does to query letters on his blog. Watching Miss. Snark, Agent X and Evil Editor take apart queries, including mine, has been very helpful to me. I think I'm almost at one that I'm happy with now.


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wbriggs
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I am really having a problem with this. Specifically this advice (from here, LH, and elsewhere):

quote:

Who is the protaganist?
What dilemma does he face?
How does it get resolved?


What I need to say in the letter, somehow, is:

quote:
Big Powwow is in disaster-novel format, like The Stand: there is no single protagonist, but four, each interacting with a unique set of problems from the event. There is one that is most prominent: the abused teenager.

I think this is why I have been slow to reply here: I am not sure how to resolve this problem. I welcome suggestions. Also, I haven't really added here the *resolutions* of the 4 characters' problems. The sample query letters I saw didn't either, but that doesn't mean it's not a good idea.

Here is my latest revision; I ask for comments. IB, you rock.

quote:
In my SF novel Big Powwow, a city is moved by a time-travel event from present day to 1520's America and faces a range of disasters: starvation, civil war, and attack from its new neighbors. The novel is complete 124,000 words; its beginning was workshopped in Orson Scott Card's novel-writing class. Here's a brief blurb on what the story is about:

When a particle accelerator accident transfers a small Appalachian city to the 16th Century...

...for an abused teen, it's an escape from the personal hell that is his family -- and a stark exposure to the shame of his own inadequacies in both modern and ancient worlds.

... for an archaeology student who is herself an Indian, it's a rare chance to meet her own ancestors and the subject of her study. But 1520 is about the time smallpox swept through this area. If they distrust the modern people with their vaccines, will she have to watch them die?

...for the mayor, the only salvation from starvation and food riots is to find an alternative fuel source for the tractors. There'll be no way to defend the crop fields if the Indians get angry -- and there may be no way to keep the peace.

...and an Indian chief's son will need to be brave in the face of a powerful magic -- a magic strong enough to make an entire city appear from nowhere. To prove his bravery and keep his people safe from sorcery may take betraying his father, violating the new city's peace, and bringing on a war he cannot win.

I have a recent publication in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show , and another to be published in the next issue.

Let me know if you would like to see the complete MS. Thanks for your attention.



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KayTi
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What happens in the first 50 pages? Are only one or two of the MCs at the forefront there? can you try a version of the query with just the answers to Miss Snark's questions for those? I love her blog, as obnoxious as it is, it's a huge window into the world of agents and shopping manuscripts.

No promises on quick turnaround, so I'm useless to you if you need that, but if you wanted to send me the first 50 pages I could try to give you my version of a synopsis. If so, let me know and I'll email you my email. I'm paranoid about spam so I don't post it.


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kings_falcon
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Focus on the abused teenager. While he/she is not your sole POV the teen is your primary one.


MB - John Jones thought he had avoiding the next beating from his drunk father was as bad as life could get. That was before he, and his entire town, found itself thrown back in time to 1527.

Tell me his struggle. Let me know the other's stuggles as they affect the teen.


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Lolo
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Disclaimer: this is my first post, so take it for what it's worth.

First, I really like what you've done so far. It sounds like a great story with a lot of interesting characters.

I really liked this:

quote:
there is no single protagonist, but four, each interacting with a unique set of problems from the event. There is one that is most prominent: the abused teenager.

I suggest the only thing that might make it tighter is to add a little more about how the characters interact. It's not four separate stories that happen to share the same setting; from what you said, it sounds like the interactions between these characters are what really make the story work. I'm not sure if it would be better

  • just to add another line...basically "they must work together to survive" or "the conflict escalates as they each work toward conflicting goals" or whatever happens in your story, or
  • to focus on the abused teen, and introduce the other characters as they relate to him, or as he sees them, or something like that.

I hope this is helpful. Something to consider, anyway...
PS sorry about all the 'or' phrases. I was trying to list too many options at once.


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DebbieKW
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I think that the latest revision is much better, for what it's worth. It gives us a better idea of the plot than the first version.

Also, did you mean "The novel is complete [at] 124,000 words"? (i.e. I think you're missing an 'at'.)


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wbriggs
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In the first 50 pages, we get the teenage runaway; the archaeologist going to meet her ancestors (she suspects, but doens't know, that that's who they are); the mayor is dealing with power outages, an earth tremor, and not knowing why nobody can communicate with the outside world.

I *could* only mention the teenage runaway, but that wouldn't give an accurate sense of the book, since less than half the text is spent with his POV (40%?).

So I'm not sure. I'll look over Her Snarkiness today if I can.


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kings_falcon
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Look at Evil Editor too. He worked over the Omn's Tears query (by one of our very own). Omn's Tears has the same issues you do, multiple MCs who are all POVs. There were some suggestions on how to deal with it.

Also, Agent X just did a query fest - there is a Sci Fi fantasy one that has the same issue and did a decent job of it.

Sort of:

An unlikely set of people to save a universe.
X is a Y and his issue is Z.
A is a B and his issue is C.
G is a H and her issue is I.
L is a M and her issue is N.
But, when they . . . . .

Your current version makes it sound like 4 minibooks rather than one book and there isn't an overarching conflict. The issue comes down to the conflict between modern thinking and life and life in the 1520's. It seems to me that the modern/past conflict is the antagonist/ central conflict and should be more prominent in the query.


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mommiller
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quote:
It seems to me that the modern/past conflict is the antagonist/ central conflict and should be more prominent in the query.
I gotta agree with King's Falcon here along with linking these separate POVs into the main arc of the story.

I'm glad you've mentioned your previous Pubs, they're important in letting the agent know your ability. I find the fact that it was workshopped, less so.

What needs to be added to this query is a bit more about yourself though, and why I should be interested in the book.

Minor nit.

quote:
small Appalachian city
Umm, I'd either call it a city, or a town, and it really needs to be named in your query.

[This message has been edited by mommiller (edited April 11, 2007).]


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wbriggs
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It's a fictional city. If I name it, won't the agent wonder if she's supposed to have heard of it?
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darklight
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I don't see why. Lots of novels are set in fictional towns, countries, worlds. If you're not sure though, just say the fictional town of... whatever its called.
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PatEsden
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I feel your pain. I just worked for weeks on my query letter and had the good fortune of having my entire manuscript requested by the first agent I sent it to.

What helped me was to remember that the query is only the hook to get the agent to read your first pagesó-it's like giving someone a bowl of icecream to entice them to eat dinner.

My first suggestion is that you cut the entire first paragraph and begin with a basic letter (somewhere on this site there's a thread showing a great query letter by Mary Robinette). I do think mentioning that your beginning was workshopped could create a problem. As an agent I would figure that I was going to read three great chapters and then the rest of the novel was going to be a messó-donít give the agent any reason to resist requesting to read more. Your credits are good enough without the class.
Your second paragraph is an excellent hook. And the rest of your query letter is intriguingóit actually is giving the same information that was in the first paragraph only it is presented in a more engaging manner and in more detail.

Though everything tells me to agree about suggesting you stick to the teenís pov, Iím going to disagree. I think for your synopsis you should do that in order to show the spine that holds your novel together, but I think for the hook giving a glimpse into each character may work well. I'm not totally sure though--I'll have to think a bit more. I donít like the use of ellipsis because they make it hard to read and ellipses are often a pet peeve of editors and agentóagain donít give the agent an excuse to not read any further.

The last thought I have is that Iíve noticed that successful hooks give a feeling of the writerís voice. Unlike a synopsis there is room for dash of creativity. Iím not saying your voice doesnít come through in this query, Iím saying donít loose it when you rewrite.

[This message has been edited by PatEsden (edited April 11, 2007).]

[This message has been edited by PatEsden (edited April 11, 2007).]

[This message has been edited by PatEsden (edited April 11, 2007).]


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InarticulateBabbler
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quote:

Who is the protaganist?
What dilemma does he face?
How does it get resolved?



How about:
A particle accelerator accident forces future to collide with past, sending a modern city into 16th century Appalachia. Four people will shape an entire city's destiny:

An abused teen...(Though I'm not sure why he's relevant, if he just figures out life sucks in both worlds. Doesn't he affect anyone or anything?)

A Native American archaeology student comes face to face with her ancestors, just in time to save her tribe from a smallpox epidemic...

The mayor, who must arbitrate between his citizens and the unstable, untrusting local tribe...

...and the Chief's Son who will disobey his father, violate a treaty, and fuel an unwinnable war to protect his people from an evil magic strong enough to make a city appear.

(This would be a good place to describe the ultimate resolution: the one that ends all four stories.)

I hope this helps.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited April 11, 2007).]


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wbriggs
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As I've noted, I'm having a devil of a time with this. It looks like I should have one more note, on how these threads come together. I'm going to brainstorm a little here.

Until the bold, it's all the same.

quote:
When a particle accelerator accident transfers a small Appalachian city to the 16th Century...

...for an abused teen, it's an escape from the personal hell that is his family -- and a stark exposure to the shame of his own inadequacies in both modern and ancient worlds.

... for an archaeology student who is herself an Indian, it's a rare chance to meet her own ancestors and the subject of her study. But 1520 is about the time smallpox swept through this area. If they distrust the modern people with their vaccines, will she have to watch them die?

...for the mayor, the only salvation from starvation and food riots is to find an alternative fuel source for the tractors. There'll be no way to defend the crop fields if the Indians get angry -- and there may be no way to keep the peace.

...and an Indian chief's son will need to be brave in the face of a powerful magic -- a magic strong enough to make an entire city appear from nowhere. To prove his bravery and keep his people safe from sorcery may take betraying his father, violating the new city's peace, and bringing on a war he cannot win.

It is the estranged teen who convinces his new tribe to intervene in the city's conflicts, rescuing the mayor's forces and building, with the archaeologist, an alliance that will save history from a bloodbath of disease and war. (Sounds like I'm checking those characters off a list...which I am.)

Together they struggle to build an alliance that will save history from the coming bloodbath of disease and colonization. (Not quite true; the brave is trying to tear it down.)


Other details that might help: the archaeologist is trying to set up a relationship of trust so her people will accept modern medicine (and so that the city will give it to them), to prevent the 90%+ mortality rate when smallpox and typhoid hit. The teen is happy, finally, in his new home, but unhappy with the imminent conflict, both the possibility of Indian v. city war and city civil war due to an attempted coup against hte mayor. He urges the tribe to help the mayor. The brave is exiled, but gets to come back during the civil war because the city's too busy fighting itself to hunt for him. The resolution is that Indian forces tip the civil war in favor of the mayor.

So: what do you think of those 2 proposed last paragraphs? I don't even know if I can fit them in -- I'm at a full page already! But some of IB's suggestions may help me cut length.

Thanks for your patience and help.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited April 17, 2007).]


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InarticulateBabbler
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With a little tweaking:

quote:

When a particle accelerator accident transfers a small Appalachian city to the 16th Century...

... for an archaeology student who is herself an Indian, it's a rare chance to meet her own ancestors and the subject of her study. But 1520 is about the time smallpox swept through this area. If they distrust the modern people with their vaccines, will she have to watch them die?

...for the mayor, the only salvation from starvation and food riots is to find an alternative fuel source for the tractors. There'll be no way to defend the crop fields if the Indians get angry -- and there may be no way to keep the peace.

...and an Indian chief's son will need to be brave in the face of a powerful magic -- a magic strong enough to make an entire city appear from nowhere. To prove his bravery and keep his people safe from sorcery may take betraying his father, violating the new city's peace, and bringing on a war he cannot win.

...for an abused teen, it's an escape from the personal hell that is his family -- and a stark exposure to the shame of his own inadequacies in both modern and ancient worlds. This estranged teen will convince his new "tribe" to intervene in the city conflicts. It will rescue the mayor's forces and help forge an alliance that will stop a bloodbath of disease and war.


Maybe:
...for an abused teen, it's an escape from the personal hell that is his family -- and a chace to unite them all as a new tribe. A tribe that will not only save the mayor and his forces, the [Native American Tribe's name] from and epidemic that would wipe out 90% of the people, but stop the inevitable bloodbath brought by colonization.

Sorry if I mistook the Estranged Teen for the abused kid. From what you wrote, I assumed they were the same.

I hope this is helpful.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited April 17, 2007).]


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hoptoad
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getting too wordy IMO
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darklight
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Fior what its worth, here's a few suggestions/thoughts.

quote:
When a particle accelerator accident transfers a small Appalachian city to the 16th Century...

Why not cut the when. A particle accelerator accident transfers a small Appalachian city to the 16th Century.

The ...s put me off.

then go into:
This enables an abused teen to escape the horrors of his family.

Or something along those lines. I'm not sure you really need what comes after that. Then try to link the characters. If the abused teen comes in contact with, say for example, the indian chiefs son, say then he (the abused teen) helps the son of an indian chief, who himself must be brave in the face of... And give the names of your characters. An abused teen, Fred, ...

Personally, I think it would read better if you linked them all, instead of listing each one seperately then adding a little to link them at the end.

quote:
Together they struggle to build an alliance that will save history from the coming bloodbath of disease and colonization. (Not quite true; the brave is trying to tear it down.)
I wouldn't say something that isn't quite true; say what actually happens.

Hope this helps.


[edited to correct spelling mistakes]

[This message has been edited by darklight (edited April 19, 2007).]


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Elan
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Here's the best advice I've seen on how to write a query letter.
From Miss Snark:

quote:
How To Write A Query in 40 Simple Steps

by C.J. Redwine

1. Pour yourself a small glass of gin & tonic.

2. Sip slowly, savoring the taste, as you carefully list your novel's main characters and conflicts.

3. Struggle to label your work with the appropriate genre.

4. Pour more gin and tonic to boost brain power.

5. Craft a first sentence that both grabs the reader's attention and conveys the essence of your novel.

6. Re-read first sentence.

7. Acknowledge that first sentence is absolute horse-s*** and delete the entire thing.

8. Pour more gin and tonic, minus the tonic.

9. Skip first sentence and dive into character descriptions.

10. Re-read character descriptions.

11. Acknowledge that character descriptions cannot be three paragraphs each and delete all but a few sentences.

12. Drain gin bottle.

13. Toss in a few sentences describing the conflict.

14. Re-read sentences describing conflict.

15. Acknowledge that the conflict sounds rather weak.

16. Toss in a conflict that isn't actually in the novel but could be, if the agent asks for a partial.

17. Wander to the kitchen for more gin.

18. Wonder who the hell put that wall in your way.

19. Return to desk.

20. Re-read query.

21. Drink two swallows of gin straight from the bottle.

22. Decide that "I have a fiction novel that totally kicks Dean Koontz's sorry ass" is an acceptable first sentence.

23. Study the problem of deciding on a genre.

24. Take a few swallows of gin for fortification.

25. Realize you now see two keyboards on your desk instead of one. Choose which one to use.

26. Type madly for thirty seconds before realizing you are simply banging on your desk.

27. Swallow some gin and choose the other keyboard.

28. Decide that literary-paranormal-romantic-suspense-thriller-with-historical-sci-fi-elements is an acceptable genre for your novel.

29. Re-read query.

30. Insert adverbs generously and prolifically throughout to spice up the prose.

31. Print.

32. Spend five minutes cursing the foul beast of a computer for refusing such a simple request.

33. Turn printer on.

34. Print.

35. Sign name.

36. Realize you've misspelled your name.

37. Curse the gin.

38. Apologize to the gin.

39. Re-print, re-sign, seal in an envelope.

40. Send query.



Posts: 2026 | Registered: Mar 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
kkmmaacc
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Hi Will! It looks like a great novel.

Have you read either of Donald Maass's books (Writing the Breakout Novel and The Career Novelist)? He has some good suggestions for writing query letters. (BTW he also represents a lot of SF and Fantasy authors.) I only have the Career Novelist with me at the moment. He says that the query letter should stick to answering three questions:

1. Where is the story set?
2. Who is your hero or heroine?
3. What is the main problem they must overcome?

Then, question #4, is "Where do you think this novel fits into the marketplace", but that is not apparently as central as the first three.

I think that the part you added in your last revision is actually most like what Maass seems to be asking for, viz:

quote:

It is the estranged teen who convinces his new tribe to intervene in the city's conflicts, rescuing the mayor's forces and building, with the archaeologist, an alliance that will save history from a bloodbath of disease and war. (Sounds like I'm checking those characters off a list...which I am.)

Together they struggle to build an alliance that will save history from the coming bloodbath of disease and colonization.


So my whack at it would be:

-----------------------------
Dear Ms. _______,

I am writing to query you on my recently completed science fiction manuscript, Big Powwow (124,00 words).

The story is set the contemporary Appalachian town of Lumpsville, which has been transplanted to the year 1520 during a particle-accelerator accident. The main protagonist is John Doe, an abused teenager who finally feels safe among the Native Americans of the past. But to save his own future, he'll have to forge an alliance between his new tribe and the city dwellers he would rather leave behind. Secondary protagonists include the city's mayor, the Indian Chief's son, and an archaeologist who both studies and is descended from the local tribe. Each has their own agenda (such as finding fuel for the city's tractors), which form separate story lines leading to the final conflict between [I'm guessing here] the alliance of those willing to work together across cultural divides and those who would rather stick to their familiar way of life no matter what the consequences.

My short story "XXXX" appeared in the xxx volume of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and a second, "YYY," will appear in volume yyy.

Would you care to read the full manuscript for Big Powwow, or sample chapters and synopsis? I have enclosed an SASE for your reply. I look forward to hearing from you.
--------------------------------------------

Some of that, especially the closing paragraph, are based directly on the sample query letter in Maass's book. I'll look in the other book, Writing the Breakout Novel, to see what is said there, although I remember it being pretty similar.

I don't know if that was at all helpful, but I find that seeing other people's thoughts (even if they are way off base) can get my own attempts percolating in a new way. So, if there was anything helpful in that, take it and leave the rest.

Good luck!

Best,

K.


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