Help me with my Query Letter!
Saturday January 1, 2011 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging
I am seeking representation for my completed science fiction space opera novel of 110,000 words, titled BULLETPROOF SOUL. It can be sold as a standalone novel, but begins a trilogy which traces the action through a series of intrepid events and political intrigue.
My novel is dual tracked with Anneliese Trahan, a brash young pilot working for the military wing of Nollevelle Corporation trying to make a new career for herself after breaking away from the cushy life of her family trade ship. Her once promising career is spiraling out of control and one pitfall after another vector her onto a collision course with Laurent La Jeunesse, an entrepreneur responsible for the breakthrough and deployment of the Quantum Gates that drove the diaspora of humanity throughout the galaxy. 300 years ago he lost control of these gates to the ruthless Nollevelle Corporation, and watched them manipulate who got access and who didn’t, choking interstellar growth and trade in the process, as well as bleed the economies of countless star systems. As BULLETPROOF SOUL begins, Laurent’s plan to wrench back control and free the masses of their oppression is ready to trigger. Using a secret syndicate, he thinks he’s planned for every contingency but he doesn’t realize his real nemesis is an old ally that he hasn’t seen in over 600 years whose been plotting his downfall for centuries.
Does this make you want to read the book? Ok, I’m asking for some critiques, so help me out please! It’s a work in progress, so it likely change over time.
Just some thoughts. I'd start off with the Nollevelle Corporation problem/threat first, making that clear. Then add in the MC, blaming himself for their having gained control and his efforts to regain or rebalance the problem. Then that he has a plan that he can't carry out alone so is forced to work with an ex-ally, a relationship that further complicates an already difficult if not possible mission. I'd rewrite the Bulletproof Soul description to something like: is a fast paced, action adventure with many twists and turns that will keep the pages turning. The manuscript is complete at 100,000 words, #of chapters. Synopsis or entire mss available upon request.Do spell synopsis correctly or you'll lose it right there.My thoughts are simply that you want to interest the agent/edit/publisher/reader with the problem first then the intent of the MC to fix the problem but with no guarantee of success and foreshadow problems which will give the story its interest and readability. Hope this helps.
Thanks very much Wulfie for the input and for taking the time to write a critique! I had a few minutes yesterday to start this process, as I'm closing in on the end of the manuscript. I really appreciate your suggestions!
Okay, you asked for it, so I'm going to give it. Nollevelle Corporation has a stranglehold on all interstellar commerce in the galaxy, benefitting from all the perks that go with that kind of power, and Laurent La Jeunesse blames himself. Revenge was a common theme for his kind; he was a Nemesi, a vampire for lack of a better word. (I find this paragraph sort of useless and not a great hook. It doesn't do anything dramatic, and personally I'd leave the vampire part out. I'd go with what's wrong with the stranglehold–what are the results? How is it damaging? What has changed in 300 years? But this might come better later).300 years ago Laurent watched in horror as he lost control of the Quantum Gates that propelled mankind to the stars. (this is sort of a nothing sentence for me because it doesn't set up character or plot. Again, it relates to the problems of now–what was the impact? Why the horror?) For 300 years he’s been planning, using a secret syndicate, carefully mapping out a blueprint for retribution and the stage is now set for the final moves. (again, nothing. Partly because there's no sense of the stakes or what he might do or what might change as a result)No one will stop him from bringing his plan to fruition, except maybe Anneliese Trahan, a young hot shot pilot that reminds him of his long dead wife or Radomir Novak, an ex-ally turned enemy who he hasn’t seen in almost 700 years. (are these people supposed to be good or bad? And what's the impact of their role on him or what have you? Again, this goes toward dramatic impact and hook).Bulletproof Soul is a fast-paced Science Fiction Adventure novel. The manuscript is complete at 100,000 words, 30 Chapters. A synopsis or the entire manuscript available upon request. ((don't say fast-paced. They need to figure it out from your query and it's not fastpaced from you query. There's no sense of the adventure and drama. Gotta work that in there. Don't give chapter count.)If it helps, we did a plot synopsis project: http://difrancis.livejournal.com/163553.htmlAnd here's one for query letters we did: http://difrancis.livejournal.com/214545.html#cutid1Good luck!
Hi Todd,First of all, I'm not sure I agree with starting off with Nollevelle Corp. I guess it depends on the POV of the story. If the POV stays exclusively with Laurent, then I think the query should start with him – what's his current situation and his motivation? If the POV moves from him to the bad guy, then it doesn't matter as much.Mostly, I see sections to tighten. Tighter sentences make for easier reading and move the pace faster. The only extraneous things should be for voice. For example, do we need the clause about \”benefiting from all…\”? It doesn't seem to add anything to the query and doesn't change the reader's impression of the situation.Similarly, I don't think we need the sentence about revenge. It sounds too \”telling\” to me, and we don't need to know the world-building aspect of *what* he is. We get in the next sentence that he's some sort of \”other\” (as he's been around for 300 years), and I don't think we need to know the specifics behind it.To me, \”lost control\” when you're talking about a mechanical thing like a gateway to the stars makes me think of a mechanical problem – like they stopped responding to input, fell out of gravity field, etc. So I'd like to find a better way to word that.For a massive tightening attempt, I'd suggest something like: 300 years ago, Laurent La Jeunesse watched in horror as Nollevelle Corporation stole away control of his Quantum Gates that propelled mankind to the stars.You don't need to repeat 300 years, so maybe change to \”Since then,…\”. The the phrase \”the stage is now set…\” is a huge cliche. You don't need it. And I'd get more active with this section while tightening a lot. Maybe: Since then, he's conspired with a secret syndicate to get his retribution. (Maybe add something in your voice here, along the lines of: Revenge will be his. <– That emphasizes the revenge theme in a non-telling, voice-y way.)The last sentence needs to be tweaked to show the stakes more. Work on showing the stakes and mention these other characters only in *how* they'll cause difficulties. You don't need to name them here in the query. Maybe something like: But to succeed in his plan, he'll have to overcome a young hot-shot pilot who [put obstacles here: triggers memories of his long-dead wife, or something] and his former ally who now [put more obstacles here: vows to destroy him, or something].Add one more sentence to nail the stakes down. What will happen if he doesn't succeed? What are the consequences of Nollevelle having this stranglehold?In that last paragraph, I don't think you need to mention how many chapters it is. I've never seen that being relevant.So, the final impression is that you have a unique premise with lots of potential, you just need to tighten the focus to make it punchier. 🙂
Thanks Diana! You gave me a lot to think about. I think it definitely is too much tell and not enough show, trying to figure out how to lay that out and be succinct at the same time. I really appreciate the time it took for you to write the critique!
Hi Jami! All great comments! I agree there is too much stuff that is irrelevant and it needs to be tighter. I really do appreciate you spending the time to help me make it better. I need to go back to the drawing board I think. =)
I've read some good advice that says to start short and then grow. I think it was Miss Snark who said (IIRC) \”Give me three sentences that tell me Who, What, some of How, and Why I should give a [bleep.]\”Once you have the bones, you can add in enough emotion, detail, and background to make it grabbing, I think. Sounds like a good story!
Thanks KD! My problem is that I have a two track novel with two protagonists and trying to gt it all in there and still be short and have room for all the other stuff. I realize that my first effort was not great. I am posting a new version.