Monday, September 8, 2008

Let's talk about queries.

My editors, hard at work.
So like I said I would, here are two potential forms of my query letter. At the moment, I'm asking which is the better form, but I'm also open to any and all crit. They're still fluid and malleable, but once they harden a little bit (and once one of them is slated for execution), I'll float them through the sewers of forums and see what kind of germs they attract. I learned real hard not to post anything there until I thought it was pretty darn good. Anyway, back on topic, which style would be more effective?


Style #1: "The classic synopsis."

They are Nephilim: descendants of fallen angels and mortal women.

God sent His great flood, in part, to wipe out every trace of their abominable civilization, yet a remnant survives to this day, hidden beneath ocean and earth, striving to redeem themselves under a suspended form of their punishment.

When fourteen-year old Noah Fiersom finally meets his real family, he is thrilled to find that they are fabulously wealthy. But strange events soon begin to erode that joy. His father is reclusive and mysterious. His five siblings are secretive and petty. And after only one week at Fiersom Manor, Noah’s new home is invaded by soil-borne demons. So begins a cross-country race for answers. Where have they taken the Fiersom’s father? Who is he, really, and why does it seem that he’s lived many lifetimes? What are these strange powers awakening within the Fiersom teens? And the most frightening mystery of all… what’s in the bassinet?


Style #2: "Risky first-person."

I’m fourteen years old, and I just met my real family. My name’s Noah Fiersom, and I’ll make this quick – you’re probably won’t believe it anyway. Turns out my father’s 300 years old, my siblings have mental powers, and we’re descended from Nephilim – fallen angels – like in the Bible.


So here’s what’s going on…. Some time in the past, like lifetimes ago, our father made this horrible mistake, and all kinds of fun people came looking for him: high-tech pagan commandos, soil-borne demons, Nepheel Inquisitors, you name it – if they’re freaky and scary, they’re hunting him.

Long story short: they found him. They blew up our mansion on stilts, broke into his secret lab to steal our old bassinet, then they captured our father. And now – they’re after us. I don’t know why, we never did anything to them, but they want us bad. The only thing we’ve got going for us is a few fake credit cards, some minor martial arts training, and yes, mental powers (which aren’t all that impressive until you need to prank one of your jerk brothers). We’ve also got a backpack full of ants. Sounds weird, I know, but it turns out to be important. You’ll see why if you take a chance and read our story.


Here are some factors that will surely muddle your opinion-forming proccess. I like the classic synopsis, but no matter how hard I try, any attempt to list the major events of this book, as well as any attempt to summarize the central concept, winds up with a strong 'horror-esque' feel. Not neccessarily bad, considering I think what I have is compelling, but should any agent ask for sample material, what he gets will bear very little resemblance to the query letter. "What the hell is this? I ask for horror and he sends me kitsch?... I'm crossing him off my Christmas card list."

The risky first-person version is, well... risky. I fully expect every writer and agent on every board to remind me that it has to be in third person. You can't write a query in first person because nobody writes queries in first person and agents aren't expecting to see queries in first person and you're probably gonna make their eyes bleed, and if you make their eyes bleed, they're not gonna want to risk looking at the rest of your manuscript.

Frankly, this argument doesn't really bother me. What bothers me is that the sentences and paragraphs in this version are like wet paper. I'm having a heck of a time tweaking it because pieces of it keep dissolving beneath my fingertips. In other words, it's one tricky, slippery eel of a thing to write. I'm completely open to suggestions in this regard.

There you have it. Any and all thoughts would be appreciated, even from my non-writing friends. I'm simply asking you to pretend you're a literary agent. and tell me which letter is more likely to make you want to see more of my story. Then, I'm asking you to criticize all the spelling and structure and whatnot, rewrite it so it's proper, then send it to every agent your research shows to be appropriate for young-adult urban fantasy. Let me know if any of them offer representation. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Despite the fact that I have no clue what in the hell a query letter is (although I think I can guess from the context), I vote for the traditional version. It's the one that makes me want to read more.

If you're going to break rules, do it because you have something fantastic and the rules are holding you back. It kinda seemed like you just gave us another version of events in a different voice. I would maybe try focusing the summary on the mystery of the old bassinet (maybe because I don't know what a bassinet is) and then kind of slip in other important details in passing or something. Kinda go in close and let the other things whiz by and leave the agent reader whoever wanting to catch up.

Ray Veen said...

"If you're going to break rules, do it because you have something fantastic and the rules are holding you back."

Totally agree. That's how I feel exactly. Problem is, every little bit of polish I put on it somehow tarnishes it more. It's weird. Anyway, thanks for your discerning and speedy response.

Totally unrelated, but do you still attend Lakeshore Community Church? Cuz I took my family there yesterday.

Vikki said...

Okay, my official vote is for both. Meaning, you should find a way to bring the upbeat tone of the first person version into traditional, third person version. If Noah had to tell it third person, how would it sound?

If I had to absolutely, "gun to the head", choose one, it would be the traditional version. But I would just incorporate some of the more interesting things you mention in the second version (the house on stilts, backpack full of ants, etc.) These are details that would catch an agent's attention, I would think. They're looking for new and inventive. They need those details, because "a cross-country race for answers" is every other book out there.

This story sounds REALLY cool, btw. I love the opener of your traditional query, but your first-person version is the one that makes me WANT to read the book! You must find a way to bring them together. Mix them, meld them, squish them. Go, little grasshopper. Make query soup.

Elizabeth said...

My gut reaction is to go with number one. I liked how it read much better but have no techy talk or quotes to back me up.

Ray Veen said...

Hmm... query soup. I fear I do not have that recipe, and yet, I shall try, for you, Vivi. Because it was such an outstanding idea. I think it'll start something like this: the 'They are Nephilim' part, 'God sent his great flood...', and then:

Playing pranks on your jerk brothers is easy - when you have mental powers. Using those same powers to defend a mansion on stilts against high-tech, pagan commandos - not so easy. That's one of the first things 14 year old Noah Fiersom learns when he finally meets blah blah blah...

I don't know.

Whatever I end up doing, I'll be real slow and deliberate about it. You people and your input are already turning out to be invaluable.

God bless you all. Even you Elizabeth. I see you hanging out down there at the bottom. Didn't think I'd notice? Ha. "V" sees all.

Ray Veen said...

Trying something. Don't look , kay?

Dirge for a Clone

Tracey said...

The second version definitely makes me want to read the book more. Though I can understand your hesitation to use a format that just "isn't done". I've never written a book query (only for articles) so can't offer any advice - sorry! Not much help here...

Maybe you could expand on your above idea and write a third person intro that leads into your first person version (the whole thing, not just on excerp). Just my (very inexperienced!) 2 cents.

colbymarshall said...

The first version is my vote, but I think the first two paragraphs you don't need (GASP!) Yep. I think you should start with what you have as the ending and flesh it out a bit more.

Ray Veen said...

Thank you Tracey and Colby. I appreciate your input, but man, I thought there might be more of a consensus by now.

You know what this means? That's right -- 'Death-match'.

Everybody into the ring. Winner gets their advice followed to the letter.

Jewel Allen said...

I'm like Colby. Loved that third paragraph in the first query. It's traditional but definitely not boring.

The second one is cool, but might risk offending some agent who likes "traditional".

*any attempt to summarize the central concept, winds up with a strong 'horror-esque' feel. Not neccessarily bad, considering I think what I have is compelling, but should any agent ask for sample material, what he gets will bear very little resemblance to the query letter. "What the hell is this? I ask for horror and he sends me kitsch?... I'm crossing him off my Christmas card list*

I can totally relate! I have a ghost story, which sounds like "horror" at the pitch, but the story is not horror, really.

bunnyjo georg said...

To keep my thoughts clear of any influence, I haven't read any of the comments here; if I am redudant, that is why.

I like the classic query letter because it is easy to understand and builds interest in the story. The first person query letter, while more intriguing, also is somewhat wordy and tries to put too many ideas into too short of a space.

I really don't think the classic query sounds like a horror story, but perhaps that is because I am uninitiated into the art of writing a query letter for any genre, horror or not. However, from my perspective, I doubt your concern has much merit. For one thing, it is the story the editor would be interested in, not the genre per se. If it is a good story, it speaks for itself and the query letter becomes a moot point.

Ray Veen said...

Consensus evolving. Answers, becoming clearer... I see a figure parting the mist, yet I cannot see his face... he draws nearer... and I think it's... yes... the traditional synopsis.

Good God. I am such a dork sometimes. Anyhow. Thanks to all of you for all of this outstanding advice. I will now focus my efforts more on the traditional synopsis style query, and try to work in a few more of those quirky details like the backpack full of ants.

All in favor say 'aye'.

DCveR said...

Huuummm... I'd go with the classical synopsis. The first person one gives me the feeling something was missed already, the feeling I'm boarding a moving train.

Ray Veen said...

Good point, DCver.

Very nice to see you hanging around blogs again, too. There has been a serious deficiency in mummy-wrapped comments for quite some time now.

Anonymous said...

I vote for the first, traditional one. It sounds more professional - the teenage voice in the second one sounds almost like you as an author are the teenager, and would put me off actually reading the book. Don't get me wrong, I love the teen voice in fiction. But I think the letter is the wrong place for that sort of tone.

Just my opinion, take or leave as wished.

I think I'd leave a mention of the bible out as well, especially saying that God messed up and missed a few when he was trying to kill them off. That's just bound to freak someone out. Leave out the mention of Noah and the flood, and I think you'll be better off.

Ronald L. Smith said...

I like both, but have to vote for the classic. I also agree with Colby on dropping the first two paragraphs. Maybe you can add them elsewhere. I think you need to jump right in: When fourteen-year-old...

But maybe I'm just saying that because it feels so familiar, tried and true. I do like your first person voice, and you often hear of queries that bucked the traditional thinking that went on to get requests.

It's a tough decision.

Lot of help I am.

VeeFlower said...

I totally vote for the classic query style. I think W.E. is right, though, when you mention any kind of religion you put yourself into a whole new genre, thereby turning off agents who would otherwise be interested in the story. I think you can get away with "God." To a point. After all, even atheists are known to say, "OH MY GOD!" as the knife comes at them, snicker-snack...aren't you glad you asked. OH, and hmmm, it's already Wednesday as I write this and no one from the Irish Festival committee has called me yet to notify of my winnings. However, I am keeping my cell phone battery charged just so I don't miss that call. How about you?

Ray Veen said...

Veeflower - I haven't heard anything either, which leads me to believe that they've not completed the judging. I'll let you know when my confirmation of winning arrives.

VeeFlower said...

Congratulations! I couldn't be prouder if I had won myself.