QueryDice #29

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

“No sense wishing the past was any different because you can’t change anything.” Those were the words Magnis lived by until the morning he woke injured, not far from the presumed remains (the presumed remains? Was he hurt in a graveyard, or is there a corpse somewhere it shouldn’t be?) of his wife Laura. Grief stricken and lost without his other half, he sets out to find her killer.

This sentence was passable to me until I read the rest of the query. I don’t think you need it. Why waste the words? It’s more frugal to begin your query with something like, “When Magnis’ wife, Laura, is murdered, he joins ranks with Nowhere, a group of mechanically enhanced fighters with goals that will change the entire planet. Nowhere’s mission is to ___________, and Magnis is on-board. But he also has an ulterior motive: to find Laura’s murderers and avenge her untimely death.This way, you’ve done away with the need for the entire first paragraph and the following sentence. Obviously, you would use your own (hopefully adding adjectives, so we can get to know your character and his world/organizations) You can tie in the thought about Magnis’ intent on avenging Laura’s death with his being sent to investigate the Institution, further paring down the next paragraph.

His search puts him in league with a group called Nowhere—a capable band of mechanically enhanced fighters with goals that will change the entire planet. He soon makes a link between a powerful collective that recently attacked one of Nowhere’s recruiting parties and Laura’s murderers. When he is sent to investigate the hostile group’s presence in the same town they attacked his brethren, it becomes an opportunity to draw the clues together.

Over the course of his mission, he discovers the source behind the assault is The Institution, a well-organized grouping of people group able to tap into hiddenpowers of the brain they call a spark. Are the hidden powers called a spark, or is the ability to employ them called a spark? If that latter, this sentence needs some re-arranging.

They absorb individuals possessing this strength into their ranks to one day purge the world of all non-spark humans, ultimately evolving humanity—and they’ll be damned if Nowhere’s existence hinders their plans.

Ah-ha! That’s your major conflict: that Nowhere and the Institution have competing motives. They both want to change humanity, but the plans of each will hinder the other. The who’s-gonna-win thing is always useful, but what I’m really wondering is what effect the outcome will have on Magnis. He’s the focal point, not necessarily all of humanity. It’s great that the stakes are so high in this, because I’m always thinking, “Jeez, if the stakes were just higher…” but the stakes being really, really high only works if that’s an extrapolation of the stakes for the protagonist. Think about it: who cares if all of the world will suffer if the eyes and ears to that world–your protagonist–doesn’t care, suffer or have enough to lose?

As Magnis eagerly pursues a greater purpose (and what purpose is that?) and foreseeable revenge, a vital detail lies masked within the walls of The Institution; Laura is alive.

Well, well. The ol’ but-she’s-alive twist. I’m not making fun of you. I happen to really like this twist in a book, if its done properly. I’m the person who gasps audibly at the pages and then tells my mom about this great story. The thing is, though, that Laura’s being alive has nothing to do with the struggle for the power to change the world going on between Nowhere and the Institution. This twist might be great for the book and for the synopsis, but I’m not so sure it belongs in the query, and it feels like you threw it in as a cliffhanger.
[redacted] is the separated couple’s entwined tale of two organizations battling (that doesn’t make any sense. How can it be the couple’s tale of organizations battling? The organizations battling is not the couple’s tale any more than the couple is the battling organizations’ tale. What you mean, I’m sure, is that the couple’s tale is entwined with that of the organizations) for the right to control the world’s future in the mid-22nd century after a global nuclear war ended the complications of government a hundred years prior.

I really like that you put the “what-makes-this-post-apocalyptic” information at the end. Because, really, it doesn’t matter that much except as backstory and you’ve let the other, more important aspects of your story shine while still letting us know that you have built a world into your story. Nice.

[redacted] is a completed sci-fi novel of 155,000 words (this might be a bit long) and is the first in a proposed series, yet is capable of standing alone.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



I would reject this query because I didn’t feel like the conflict was big enough, at least in the query.



Posted on April 19, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Every time I’ve tried to write this query I only want to say: “A complex situation causes Laura and Magnis to believe each other is dead, and follows each of them as they end up on the opposite sides of the war between Nowhere (a group with raw strength mixed with futuristic science) and The Institution (an organization with mental powers combined with a master race complex).”

    But the difficult question is, can I really be so blunt?

    Also, I think I kind dropped the ball on saying both Laura and Magnis share equal page time and alternate their POVs by saying, “the separated couple’s entwined tale.” I’m kind of embarrassed I wrote it like that.

    Thank you for the lovely and detailed feedback, Lauren. A thank you to the rest of you who commented as well.

    • I think in some ways it’s much harder to share your query than actual pages because it seems so difficult to sell the idea in as succinct a manner as possible. It’s laying your idea naked in front of an audience without the space to fully explain it or justify certain words or ideas. So well done for putting it out there!

      I’ve found it’s really easy to “drop the ball” and skim over phrases I’ve read hundreds of times without giving them equal consideration, or thinking about how I could simplify. But I think you got some very helpful feedback here. Best of luck with this!

    • Text box didn’t like the brackets I used. It should read, “and TITLE follows.” Sorry about the mistake.

  2. Michele, since Lauren’s not answering, I will… I’ve never heard of an agent responding to a query in that way. They do one of two things: reject, or request pages.

    • Ella, thanks for filling in. I’m attending a conference so I’ve been tied up.

      Michele, agents don’t request more information in that way. If they were I satisfied they would just reject. Thank you do much for participating and for your question!

  3. I noticed that there is no introduction of the novel before the synopsis, and there is also no background on the writer after the synopsis. Do you prefer this in a query letter? If so, is this a common preference for agents?

    I’ve been sending out query letters recently, and the research I’ve done suggested that I should state the word count and genre, then jump into the synopsis, then give a background on myself (all the relevant facts, at least). Your thoughts?

  4. This is just a minor thought, but I’d love to see the organizations have more interesting names than Nowhere and the Institution. The Institution feels like when a comic book names a capitol city “Capitol City.”

    And Lauren, I’m glad you’ve decided to come to the Dallas Writer’s con in May!

  5. Lauren,
    Judging by your comments above you seemed half interested in the idea. Would this be a situation where you would send back the query with the above questions and ask the writer to address them and resubmit? Would you request the first three chapters or just disregard all together?

  6. Part of the reason we’re not feeling anything for the character is the voice in this query. It’s formal, almost pedantic. The sentences are long and the words are not words people use in everyday life. Try to rewrite the query in a voice similar to (I hope) the voice you use in the novel.

    • That is a very good point. I’m guessing I got bogged down by the rule of thumb that says to have the blurb equal 250 words and neglected to match my novel’s voice.

  7. I found this helpful given that right now I’m shaping my query for my current WIP, to try to flesh out the plot succinctly. It’s a great reminder not to focus on surprise twists within the query that aren’t integral to understanding the plot. It’s temping to put them in, but I think in my case they’ll distract the reader from the meat of the story. Thanks for sharing!

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