#9 – Eye on Orion, Revised Again

Doctor Query!

I’m so excited to see another post on your blog.  I wondered about you since there hadn’t been any activity since December.  Have you been well?  Or are you just getting back into the swing of things after the
holidays? 🙂  I had revised my query and sent it to you.  Maybe it was lost in transit.  I’d like to submit the revised version for your comments.  Thank you

Thank you for your insight and comments.  I took such a wide detour before because when you told me my two main paragraphs were underwhelming after the strong opening sentence, I tried to just hit the highlights.  Then, as you told me in my second try, it was boring, confusing, convoluted, complicated, unclear, and so on.  I hope this works better.  I’d hate to think I took a query in pretty good shape
and just completely destroyed it.

Dear Doctor Query,

Holly is a 16-year-old girl who falls in love with her new neighbor, gets mistaken for the princess he is supposed to be protecting, and kidnapped by a man who wants to take her back to his planet nine
billion light years away.

Skip this.  You don’t need it, and the way you have the query now, you have not one but three kicky cute openings in a row.  I know I’m contradicting my suggestions below, but that’s because you keep changing the query.  Never waste words saying something twice in a query.

Falling in love with your gorgeous new neighbor isn’t a bad thing.  Falling in love with the bodyguard of an alien princess who looks similar to you can cause you a lot of grief.

Okay, that’s your hook.

Holly is six feet tall and hates it, would rather study than date, and loves to look at the stars.  When Jai and Amira, two tall, beautiful strangers who remind her of royalty, move into the house down the street, she is immediately drawn to them.  As they become friends, she starts noticing strange and unusual things about them.  They don’t act like normal teenagers, they are multilingual, use strange herbs that make them telepathic, and can heal others by touch.

One night as they are stargazing, the truth comes out.  Jai is Amira’s bodyguard.  She is royalty in disguise hiding from Shander, an evil but charismatic man, who wants to marry her by force in order to take over the kingdom her father rules on another planet.

We need to know that Jai is a guy, and he’s the guy your protagonist is hot for.  But do it quickly and without a lot of verbiage.  Like this:

“Jai, the cute guy down the street?  Not the brother of Amira.  Jai is her body guard.  And Amira is a princess.”

Sometimes, after you’ve written a story, you know the characters and details so well that you forget that it’s not obvious to us.  Simple things like a funky name make your query confusing because we don’t know who’s who.

Also, lose the word “evil.”  Too hoary and antiquated.  Try nasty, mean, or malevolent.  And avoid using “royalty in disguise” as a phrase.  Anything that sounds hackneyed or cliched makes an agent’s eyes roll.  And makes your query more likely to land in the reject folder.

You use the word strange twice in the second paragraph.  Make one of those “peculiar” instead.

Mistaken identity, a botched kidnapping, and a first kiss that bonds Holly and Jai for life, aren’t too hard to handle, but when Shander himself believes her to be the princess, things get dangerous.

EYE ON ORION is YA science fiction, complete at 81,000 words.  The manuscript is ready to send upon request.  Thank you for your consideration.

You’re almost there.  Tighten it up a bit (DON’T make it any longer… short and sweet… leave ’em wanting more) and then send it out.

Voice is the second most important element in your query.  First is having an indication of what actually happens in the story, and showing that there is conflict.  If your voice is appealing, an agent may believe you can, in fact, write an entertaining book.

Stop messing with this.  One more quick run-through, and then send it out!

I hope you’ve been writing your next book.  That’s how you learn to write.  Doing it.

Thank you for your concern about Doctor Query.  Doctor Query is busy!

That is all.

Doctor Query

Earlier Revised version:

Dear Agent:

Holly is a 16-year-old girl who falls in love with her new neighbor, gets mistaken for the princess he is supposed to be protecting, and kidnapped by a man who wants to take her back to his planet nine billion light years away.

Falling in love with your gorgeous new neighbor isn’t a bad thing.  Falling in love with the bodyguard of an alien princess can cause you a lot of grief.

Break the paragraph here.  This is your strong opening, funny and short.

Yet, even learning that BJ is from another planet isn’t enough to prevent her from falling for him.  Their first kiss forms a bond that allows them to feel each others emotions, and sense each others presence.  It also means they’ll both be devastated when he has to return Princess Amira to her home.

This is muddy and hard to follow.  I don’t think you’ve gotten the point yet.  Short.  Snappy. Clear.

Along with telling the agent about the book, you are selling him on your voice.

And you took out the best part!  Put this back in:

“Holly is 6 ft tall and hates it, would rather study than date, and loves to look at the stars.  When BJ and Amira, two tall, beautiful strangers who remind her of royalty, move into the house down the street she is immediately drawn to them.  As they become friends, she starts noticing strange and unusual things about them.  They don’t act like normal teenagers, they are multilingual, use strange herbs that make them telepathic, and can heal others by touch.

One night as they are stargazing, the truth comes out.  BJ is Amira’s bodyguard.  She is royalty in disguise hiding from Shander, an evil but charismatic man, who wants to marry her by force in order to take over the kingdom her father rules on another planet.”

Things get worse when she is kidnapped by an agent of Shander who mistakes her for the princess he is sent to get.  Pretending to be the princess, she convinces the agent to change loyalties and not take her to Shander, but return her to her friends.  In an effort to avoid Shander who has followed her to Earth, Amira returns home to her planet and grants BJ permission to remain with Holly.  Shander discovers their location, kidnaps Holly believing she is Amira, and plans to take her home to marry her in order to take over the kingdom. She must figure out a way to stop him from traveling through space with her, and keep him from finding the real Amira.

You don’t have to tell the whole story.  Just make us interested. Wrap it up very quickly with something like “Mistaken identity, intergalactic kidnapping, and interspecies crushes follow before Holly gets to go home again.”

Somehow you have made the query too complicated.  Keep in the good parts.  Lose the convoluted, unclear, boring parts.

EYE ON ORION is YA science fiction, complete at 81,000 words.

The manuscript is ready to send upon request.  Thank you for your consideration.

And here’s the original:

Dear Doctor Query,

My first work is a 81,000 word story for young adults with a hint of science fiction titled EYE ON ORION.

Sounds like YA science fiction.  Why not call it that?

Use “an” before 81,000.  If your first sentence sounds poor, a agent stops reading.

Don’t tell us it’s your first.  Make it this simple sentence:

EYE ON ORION is YA science fiction, complete at 81,000 words.

But instead of putting it at the beginning, put it at the end.  Start with your strong suit:

Holly is a 16 year old girl that falls in love with her new neighbor, gets mistaken for the princess he is supposed to be protecting and kidnapped by a man who wants to take her back to his planet 9 billion light years away.

That would be “a 16-year-old girl who,” and please use a comma after protecting, for clarity.  I like the over-the-top surprise of 9 billion light years away.

Holly is 6 ft tall and hates it, would rather study than date, and loves to look at the stars.  When BJ and Amira, two tall, beautiful strangers who remind her of royalty, move into the house down the street she is immediately drawn to them.  As they become friends, she starts noticing strange and unusual things about them.  They don’t act like normal teenagers, they are multilingual, use strange herbs that make them telepathic, and can heal others by touch.  One night as they are stargazing, the truth comes out.  BJ is Amira’s bodyguard.  She is royalty in disguise hiding from Shander, an evil but charismatic man, who wants to marry her by force in order to take over the kingdom her father rules on another planet.

Spell out six feet.  Ordinarily you want to spell out numbers under 10.  Including the nine in nine billion.

Comma after street.

Holly is mistaken for Princess Amira and kidnapped by an agent sent by Shander.  Acting as the princess, she convinces the agent to change loyalties and not take her to Shander, but return her to her friends.  Holly and BJ fall in love and they form a bond that is unlike any bond here on earth allowing them to feel each others emotions, and sense each others presence.  Just as things seem to be going great for them, Amira and BJ learn Shander himself has come to earth.  Holly is again mistaken for Amira, this time by Shander.  She must figure out a way to stop him from traveling through space with her, and keep him from finding the real Amira.

I am querying multiple agents simultaneously.

You don’t have to say this; it’s understood.

The manuscript is complete and ready to send upon request.  Thank you for your consideration.

This is in pretty good shape.  I like your story; it sounds quirky and provocative.

One problem is that your strong opening sentence sets up the entire story, and then you go back in time to put in the details.  After that power start, it’s underwhelming.  Instead of the next two paragraphs, just hit some highlights — quick and juicy.  Something about her falling for BJ, the otherworldly nature of their relationship, and then Shander himself coming and how scary it is.

Trust your voice, because it’s good.  I can tell from your first sentence.

Tell the story very briefly — hint only.  Tell it like you would a friend on the phone.  The purpose of this kind of query is merely to whet the appetite of an agent, and get him/her to ask for more.  Agents are human.  They like to be intrigued.

Oh, and you might reconsider calling your hot guy BJ.  It is YA after all.  Just sayin…

You’re lucky, because YA is surging right now.

Are you going to come back and tell me you’ve sold this already?

Fix it up and make it great, send it back for review or send it out!

That is all.

Doctor Query




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Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 9:25 am  Comments (1)  
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#10 – Back of Beyond

Here’s a pinata for you to whack.

That is all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Doctor Query,

Back Of Beyond (98K words) is historical suspense that follows the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow of Argentine president Juan Peron.

We want to know title, genre, word length, and whether or not it is complete (it is, yes?) but the second part of your sentence is unnecessary, since you give us that information in the next paragraph.  By the way, historical suspense is not a genre.  Better would be:

Back of Beyond is a thriller, complete at 98,000 words.

(We get that it’s historical as soon as we read the name Peron.)

Agent Kurt-Gustaf von Arnheim goes to Argentina to persuade the CIA’s chosen candidate to oppose Peron. This will be von Arnheim’s last job. He’ll use the bonus money to buy land to replace his family’s vineyards lost behind the iron curtain.

In Buenos Aires he befriends fellow vintner Enrico Freiberg, Argentina’s chief spy catcher and a key player in the army’s plot to remove Peron. Von Arnheim is drawn into the military plot as well as the competing plots of the communists and the Catholic Church. He becomes everyone’s target: the church group dupes him into an attempt to assassinate Peron, the military wants him as their conduit to the CIA, a bomb-throwing courtesan is enamoured with him, and a fanatical Peronista simply wants him dead.

When the military coup fails, the CIA fires von Arnheim. He threatens to write a tell-all book. The CIA assigns his termination to Angela Abruzzi, their top contract assassin, not knowing von Arnheim is the man she loves.

As in the novels of Ken Follett, Len Deighton and Alan Furst, Back of Beyond follows documented events with multiple threads converging at the end.

My time in military intelligence, clandestine activities, and special operations gives me insight into the details of spy craft. I am an active member of the -XYZ- Writers Association and a winner in their 2009 fiction contest.

Thank you.

This is a good, basic query.  If an agent is interested in this type of story, he might request some pages.  After that, it’s all in the writing.

I don’t love the title — it sounds a bit comedic, and as though it takes place in a backwater, which Buenos Aires is most certainly not. What was that other title you had in mind?

Do not query until you have finished writing, rewriting, and polishing!

That is all.

Doctor Query