Thursday, April 24, 2008

Query / Pitch Critique.... Part II

I originally posted an offer to critique pitch and query letters here The offer still stands, so if anyone’s interested in working on their query, pop over and drop yours in the comments section there. For an idea of how this works, you can check out the lovely, Julie Weather’s Query Critique here.

Gina, who came up with the idea in comments on one of my previous blogs, has volunteered her own query. And here we go:


Dear Agent,

“Faithless” is my 100,000-word space opera set in the 70th century, in human-inhabited systems several light years from Earth.

It’s tough enough surviving the world as a human. Try doing it as a resurrected being in the body of a human. That’s Ilana, an impoverished, rebellious eighteen-year-old with strange urges and bad nightmares. She’s a Voth resurrected in the body of a human, but she has no idea—just the feeling that something isn’t right. Her world is turned upside down when her existence comes to the attention of emperor Xim, the only other known Voth resurrection. Imprisoned, and then forced into his service, Ilana manages to win over his treacherous military elite and masterminds a powerful assassination plot against him. But just as she’s poised to strike, she learns her true identity from a terrifying encounter with the alien race Cyon, former slaves of the Voth that are now hunting them. As her current life rapidly loses meaning, she is torn between searching out other Voths in the virgin depths of space, or staying with humanity. But how do you give up the money, power and fame that you struggled so hard to get… for an uncertain life among your own kind?

Here are the first few pages. The story opens in a city on planet Yurin, where eighteen-year-old Ilana is wasting time racing speeders before she is first picked up by the empire:

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,
Author.

Wow, you know, I have very little to nitpick here, which is a good thing, since I’m fairly nitpicky. I think you did a great job of keeping it short and to the point, especially since there seems to be a lot going on here. I won’t say anything about the names, as you pointed out posting this that the names will be changed... actually, I wouldn’t say much either way, except maybe about the planet name... he,he...

I’m not really well versed in sci-fi, so maybe someone else has something to add with the storyline itself. The only thing writing wise is to edit out the ‘But’, in this sentence:

“But just as she’s poised to strike, she learns her true identity from a terrifying encounter with the alien race Cyon, former slaves of the Voth that are now hunting them.”

– also, I had to read that sentence twice to get it (which may be because I’m not a sci-fi buff, so I’ll put that up for another opinion too) I think you could edit it down, cutting either the name ‘Cyon’ or cutting the phrase, ‘alien race’, because they’re explained in the next few words.

I really liked your introduction to the scene in your closing paragraph, it’s unusual, but it had a very star wars kind of feel to it, and I thought it was a nice addition.


I hope that helps some, I know I didn’t give you very much in the way of crit, but I really didn’t see very much to crit. Many thanks to Gina for posting her query for our critique. I invite all of you to offer your crits in the comments, as these work best when they’re interactive with a lot of participation. Same rules apply, all honest feedback welcome, nothing derogatory.

17 comments:

Gina said...

OMG! I cannot believe I overlooked that planet name! I feel so stupid! sorry, I am in some trying circumstances right now and haven't been able to sleep too well! I will definately be changing that, I really appreciate you pointing that out to me.

I am thrilled that you couldn't find too much wrong with the letter, I guess I really have learned something from the blogs. If any other criticisms come to mind, do let me know. anyone else have any comments on this letter? have a fantastic day!!

Julie Weathers said...

Gina, I want to read this again tomorrow with a fresh eye, but I have to agree. It's pretty good.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Guys,

Sorry about the delay in participation, a lot of bloggers are busy right now at Evil Editor's Second Anniversary Bash... I'm not putting up a new post for a few days though, so hopefully we'll have some other writers stop in with a critique.

jjdebenedictis said...

*waves* Sorry I'm late. *takes off her EE party hat*

I thought this query was pretty strong and competent also, although I'm not finding it particularly gripping, unfortunately.

First I'll address my one nitpick. This sentence:

But how do you give up the money, power and fame that you struggled so hard to get… for an uncertain life among your own kind?

Seems to come out of the blue because it isn't clear in the query how Ilana got rich, powerful and famous. I know it has to do with the plot to kill Xim, but that isn't coming across logically in the query.

As for the issue of why this isn't gripping me, I think it's that the conflicts aren't well fleshed out. Ilana's inner conflict is dealt with well ("Am I a Voth or a human?"), but her conflict with Xim isn't. Xim is a description here, not a person, so Ilana's fight with him feels a little antiseptic, and thus lacks impact.

Also, although I find Ilana's reaction to finding out she isn't human believable, an assassination attempt involving a militia doesn't stop just because the instigator lost her sense of purpose. It seemed a bit weird that this issue simply disappears (from the query) as soon as Ilana discovers her true identity.

My recommendation would be to add emotional impact to the query. Give Xim some personality, get more specific about why Ilana should hate him, and maybe play up the larger stakes (the assassination) at the end of the query. It's great that you end the letter with Ilana in crisis, because it encourages the agent/editor to read the book, but I think you should end with the assassination plot in crisis also (rather than shifting the focus away from that entirely.)

Good luck with this!

Gina said...

I appreciate all the comments, thanks everyone for taking the time. I'll do a rewrite. JJ-I knew I was losing emotional impact when I cut down the backstory. Looks like I must squeeze more details in there somehow.

Merry, I'd like to post my rewrite (in a couple days, I'm going to wait for more input), hope this is okay?

Josephine Damian said...

Have you heard? Spread the word!

http://lafreya.blogspot.com/2008/04/what-it-looks-like-when-dream-comes.html

Merry Monteleone said...

JJ,

Thanks for stopping in - you rock, by the way.

Gina,

Absolutely, I'd love to see the rewrite.

Josie,

Thanks for the shout out - I'll stop over there in a few.

Julie Weathers said...

Try doing it as a resurrected being in the body of a human.~

This seems to be done a lot in queries, and apparently it doesn't bother some agents. However, it might be best not to do anything that seems repetitive. It's hard being a cat, but try doing it when you're really a dog, etc.

You might have even more impact if you said, "It's even more difficult as..." I might be totally off on this.

I agreed with JJ, it would be hard to undo a military coup once it has started just because a young girl changes her mind.

Cyon sounds very much like Cylons in Battlestar Galactica.

I would start out where the book starts out instead of inverting it.

I would also specify how many pages you are sending.

I think you're very close with this, just a little tweaking.

Julie

Merry Monteleone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merry Monteleone said...

Josie reminded me earlier, but Janet Reid put up a new blog just to critique queries... I can't think of a better set of eyes to test your revised versions on, if you're interested. The announcement blog is up at her place but the new blog is Query Shark

Julie Weathers said...

Merry, I noticed that. I am going to post the new Paladin query here. I hated to hog your blog, but you were so gracious, I would like to end this thing here.

Copious ackowledgments when the book comes out of course. *wink

I wish I could have been more helpful with Gina's but it was so close there wasn't much to add.

Gina said...

Keep the comments coming, this is great! I might post on query shark, the only thing is, she's not sci fi and I believe we have more good sci fi people commenting on this blog!

Okay, I did a completely new version of my query. Please comment:

Ilana’s plan for revenge against her emperor is going swimmingly until she hits a snag: she finds out who she really is—a Voth in the body of a human. Well that explains all the strange urges and nightmares. Now all she wants is to find the other Voths… or is it? In my 100,000-word debut space opera “Faithless” Ilana finds out the hard way that it’s not that easy giving up money, power and fame, even if it’s in exchange for a life among your own kind.

Originally plucked out of her poverty-struck civilian life and forced into emperor Xim’s service—because he's aware that she’s the only other existing Voth resurrection besides him—Ilana proves her mettle to his military elite and now she’s heading a powerful assassination plot against him. Nothing—not the money and fame Xim throws at her following her meteoric military success, nor their eventual lust-ridden nights together—will soften her desire for revenge against him… until she discovers her real identity. Now her life’s unraveling, Xim has crushed her plot and publicly executed a key plot member as an example, and the Voth’s ancient alien enemies are coming for her—all while she wrestles with her psyche, torn between her human existence and finding her own kind among the stars. Making things worse is her discovery that Xim has a sinister plan to use her as a weapon against the Voth’s enemies. As Ilana grasps desperately at everything she once valued in a final bid for validation, she’s forced to let them go…finding out at last what it really means to be human.

jjdebenedictis said...

This is really good also! I've got some little nit-picky comments about it, but I definitely think you're closer.

1) My brain keeps tripping over:

Now all she wants is to find the other Voths… or is it?

I think it's ungrammatical, not that I'm an expert on grammar. I think it would work better with ...or does she? at the end.

2) I felt like "plot" shouldn't happen twice so close together in this line:

Xim has crushed her plot and publicly executed a key plot member

Maybe you could use the phrase "one of her key allies"?

3) In the following, I think you can delete the second instance of "that":

...finds out the hard way that it’s not that easy giving up...

Alternately, I think the sentence is stronger if you instead say:

...finds out it’s not easy giving up...

4) The first paragraph doesn't explain that Ilana is a resurrected Voth, so the term "Voth resurrection" in the second paragraph is a little jarring. You might fix that by putting "Voth resurrection" in quotes, or by explaining a little more earlier--although I like your first paragraph as is, and wouldn't suggest disturbing the flow by making it longer.

5) It's still not totally clear to me from the query why Ilana wants revenge against Xim. He plucks her out of poverty and makes her a military star--so why does she want revenge?

6) I'm not wild about the line where she's "wrestling with her psyche". I liked the description of her breakdown you had in your previous version of the query better.

7) The final sentence doesn't quite work for me. The grammatical logic is a little off. Maybe rearrange it a bit like this?

As Ilana grasps desperately at everything she once valued in a final bid for validation, she finds out at last she must let it all go to see what it means to be human.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Julie,

Feel free to post here, and at any blog where crits are happening! I did a lot of work on mine at JJ's (you can tell how good she is at this just from her participation here) but I also posted at BookEnds, Moonrat's, and Janet Reid's first query roullette - I'm all in favor of working on it wherever you're able and some of the agent and editor blogs are really great because you not only get feedback from other writers, but from the agents/editors too.

Hi JJ *waves back*,

sorry it's taken me so long to get back here, but you've added even more than I would have, so thank you for working on them in my absence. My son's communion was over the weekend, so I was offline most of it.

Gina,

I would second everything JJ said. The last line specifically didn't work for me - the other thing I might work on is cutting out the adverbs.

Janet Reid didn't stipulate genre for the query shark blog, I think she's taking everything - mine's middle grade and she still posted that one for the query roulette.

Ello said...

Hey Merry! Sorry for the delay - things are really rough for me these days with end of semester. Anyway about this query. It has one of the best hooks I've heard but then it becomes very confusing for me. However, I'm not sure if it is because I don't read Sci-fi so perhaps take what I say with a grain of salt.

“Faithless” is my 100,000-word space opera set in the 70th century, in human-inhabited systems several light years from Earth.

(Is this supposed to be sort of tongue in cheek or are you quite serious about this? It was just sort of funny to me when I read this - especially the space opera part.)

It’s tough enough surviving the world as a human. Try doing it as a resurrected being in the body of a human. -- (this hook is awesome!)

That’s Ilana, an impoverished, rebellious eighteen-year-old with strange urges and bad nightmares. (love this part)

She’s a Voth (but what the heck is a Voth?) resurrected in the body of a human, but she has no idea—just the feeling that something isn’t right. Her world is turned upside down when her existence comes to the attention of emperor Xim, the only other known Voth resurrection. Imprisoned, and then forced into his service, Ilana manages to win over his treacherous military elite and masterminds a powerful assassination plot against him. But just as she’s poised to strike, she learns her true identity from a terrifying encounter with the alien race Cyon, former slaves of the Voth that are now hunting them.

(at this point I am completely scratching my head because of the Cyon intervention.)

As her current life rapidly loses meaning, she is torn between searching out other Voths in the virgin depths of space, or staying with humanity. But how do you give up the money, power and fame that you struggled so hard to get… for an uncertain life among your own kind?

(Honestly this last paragraph didn't make any sense to me at all - what are you trying to say? Why are Voths in space? What money power and fame? This part frustrates me.)

Here are the first few pages. The story opens in a city on planet Yurin, where eighteen-year-old Ilana is wasting time racing speeders before she is first picked up by the empire:

(I've never seen anyone do that in a query. It seems odd to me.)

Thank you for your consideration.

Great hook and then the query becomes very vague. If you could match that hook, you would have a killer query.

Angela Williams Duea said...

Wow, I've learned a lot from all these comments. Thanks to all of you for pitching in! I'll have a query of my own this summer so I'll probably ask y'all for help then.

Gina said...

Ello-tell me what you think of the rewrite.