Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXV

December 18th, 2009 • Kate

killershoesKiller shoes by Chanel for Sara T., whose query we’re taking a look at today. I expect lots of comments — you’ll have a full week before another Daphne post! Ready?

Dear Kate Schafer,

When a Master gives an order to their personal assassin, they’re supposed to obey with no questions asked, but Katana Starr is about to refuse her Master’s word and risk everything to find out one thing—the truth.

Kat remembers every detail of the man standing over her sister’s dead body, and all she can think about is how to find the son of a bitch to make him suffer till his last pitiful breath. There’s just one problem, her Master forbid Kat to go after that man. So Kat does what any reasonable assassin would do. She finds Vic, a local detective that owes her a favor from their questionable and forbidden past, to help her out.

When her sister’s killer misses Kat during a sniper attack, Vic and Kat realize she’s his new target and he’ll stop at nothing until he fills her body with bullets. It takes a sudden turn when the killer, Blake, tells them he has a score to settle with Kat’s Master. Blake knows all about the twisted secrets Kat’s Master has hidden from her, but Kat doesn’t know who to trust—a fellow assassin who might be trying to get their target or the Master she’s thought of like a father who coordinates all of her kills and training.

The three ultimately decide to work together so they can get to Kat’s Master’s manor for the answers they all want. These two assassins should be unstoppable, even without Vic’s help, but Kat’s Master somehow already knows everything they’re up to and is ready to ensure Blake and Kat never realize who—and what—they really are.

And there’s only one way to make sure these three never talk—death.

A Thriller Science Fiction Romance story, WITH HER BLOOD, is complete at 63,000 words. The story moves at a fast pace with action, lies, love, and twists for the characters set in a familiar real world setting with advanced technology and ideas. It has a strong leading female protagonist fighting with her killer instincts and who to trust while dealing with an old love she simply cannot ignore, no matter how hard she tries.

(All my publications/magazine work here.)

A complete manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,
Sara T.
(Contact Info)

Sara, I think you might have something very cool here, but I’ll admit to having a hard time finding it. I think the main story is about Kat teaming up with her sister’s killer to find out the truth about the man who commands her every move. But before we get there, I have to sift through a lot of mentions of the very generic-sounding “Kat’s Master”. And Vic. I’m not entirely sure how he fits into the story. Is he a love interest? Is he going to be the guy we THINK will be the love interest, until Kat actually falls for her sister’s killer?

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, I’m curious about how long ago Kat’s sister was murdered. Did the inciting event of this story take place last week or ten years ago? You might want to start with the second paragraph, and bring details of the first into it. Something like:

Kat remembers every detail of the man standing over her sister’s dead body, and all she can think about is how to find the son of a bitch. As an assassin, she knows a million ways to make him suffer. There’s just one problem: her Master forbids it. And when a Master gives an order to their personal assassin, they’re supposed to obey with no questions asked.

Given what you tell us about how the Master/assassin relationship normally works, I don’t believe that Kat using Vic to find her sister’s killer is what any “reasonable assassin” would do. What can you tell me about Kat, about her character, that makes this a reasonable decision for her?

Moving on, paragraph three and four takes the story in a surprising new direction: Kat starts working with her sister’s killer to learn more about her Master. Since this seems to be another important turning point in the story, you might even consider starting the query here. Maybe. Otherwise, I’d clean it up:

When Kat suddenly finds herself targeted by her target, she expects it’ll end with bullets. She’s completely thrown when her sister’s killer — a fellow assassin named Blake — reveals he’s got a score to settle with Kat’s Master. Blake knows all about the twisted secrets Kat’s Master has hidden from her, but Kat doesn’t know who to trust—a fellow assassin who might be playing mind games to get to his target or the Master she’s thought of like a father who coordinates all of her kills and training.

When Kat and Blake team up to confront her master, they should be unstoppable. But Kat’s Master somehow already knows everything they’re up to and is ready to ensure Blake and Kat never realize who—and what—they really are.

You might want to play with it more yourself. But I think you want to try to refine the story as much as possible, limiting characters — unless, of course, someone who might otherwise seem unnecessary turns out to be the big bad.

I think I’d also try cutting one of the terms in your description of the book as a “Thriller Science Fiction Romance”. What if you just refer to it as a “thrilling sci fi romance”? Or a “sci fi thriller”? There’s not much about romance in this query. I’d also cut entirely the next two lines. Find a way to show in the query what these lines are otherwise telling.

That’s my opinion. What do you think?

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9 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXV”

  1. Kater Says:

    Is Sara completly in love with the name "Katana Starr?" Because I laughed out loud when I heard it. If it's not meant to be a humorous book, she might consider choosing something that sounds more like a real name and less like a wrestler's stage name.

    If it's set in a near-future sci-fi world, she might want to play that up a bit in the query. Sci-fi action thrillers with female protagonists are thin on the ground.

  2. Krista G. Says:

    A few grammatical issues jumped out at me right away: In the first paragraph, you use "their" and "they're" to refer to single people. You might try something like, "When a Master gives an order to HIS personal assassin, SHE'S supposed to obey with no questions asked." Also, in the second paragraph, I wanted a stronger punctuational break in the sentence "There's just one problem, her Master forbid Kat to go after that man." I think a colon, semicolon, or long dash would work better than a comma.

    I'm also not making some of the jumps in logic you're wanting me to make. What do I think any reasonable assassin would do in the wake of her sister's murder? Kill the murderer herself, no matter what the Master says (especially since, a few paragraphs later, Kat seems perfectly willing to defy his orders). Also, how do she, Vic, and Blake team up? One minute Blake's taking potshots at them, the next they're BFFs. Clarifying these points will tighten up your plot summary.

    Your genre description comes across as a genre soup. You might try cutting it down to the most important descriptor(like the section in which you'd expect it to be shelved at Barnes and Noble) and leave it at that. And then the rest of that paragraph you can just cut – it's all telling, no showing, and it does nothing to enhance your query.

    There's nothing about this that says sci-fi to me, and yet that could be the most interesting part of the book. Sprinkling in a few of the sci-fi elements will give us a better sense of the world you've built – and make your query more unique.

    Hope that helps. Good luck!

  3. amy sue nathan Says:

    I was simply distracted because it was so long. I read so much every day that if one paragraph simply leads to the next without the meat of info, I lose interest.

    Think of agents – the queries probably run together – until one stands out. You want that one to be yours!

  4. Sara T. Says:

    OH! I am loving all of this, including the above comments! You're all on top of your query game! And the shoes–perfect! =D

    As for her name being Starr, there is a reason behind that explained in the book. Assassin's aren't allowed to use their 'real' names per say. It really does make sense when everything is revealed.

    I do believe most queries call for full names when introducing their MC–right? Or should I maybe use her real name, but it might confuse the reader going in.

    Opinions on this? I'm open to hear them.

    I can see where cutting the two sentences at the end wouldn't hurt much, with length or info, but I put them in because some agents want to know what makes your book stand out in their query guidelines (some agents have really specific guidelines).

    True, this is making some time jumps with how everything goes. I will def. try to smoooth those out and really stick to who's vital to the story so it's not so crowded.

    I will be playing with this later tonight and taking in everything for consideration and post a new one up. As for now, I have to go to Macy's and work! It's my last day due to my big move!

    Thanks so much everybody! =D

  5. Adam Heine Says:

    I really like this story idea. I would totally read this.

    I pretty much agree with what's been said. I don't see any sci-fi elements — either add them or drop that label from the genre. Most of the description in the 6th paragraph is already shown, all but the love interest — either show it or don't, but I agree with Daphne: drop it from the paragraph.

    I think you can shorten the query to just paragraphs 2 and 3 (with some tweaking, of course). One of the reasons it reads long, I think, is because it is trying to be a synopsis. In a query, it's okay to stop at the turning point like "she doesn't know who to trust."

  6. Laura Diamond Says:

    Hi there!

    This sounds like an interesting read, however, I found the query letter to be a bit confusing. I did not get a sense of the central theme–okay, an assassin is after an assassin and her boss won't let her find the assassin…right? Um, I'm not sure what's unique about this premise, per se, but I think with some tweaking (like giving more of the MC's voice in there so I can connect with her better), the tension can really be pulled out and highlighted.

    I have two conflicting responses happening at the same time as I read this query. On the one hand, I feel there is "too much detail" in some spots, while on the other, I get a sense of vagueness that leaves me feeling confused. All this stuff is happening around your MC, but I don't really know WHO she is, other than an assassin stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    I hope that's helpful.

    Now I have a question for Daphne:

    This is a really neat opportunity for feedback. How does one submit a query for your review/critique?

    Happy Holidays!

  7. Kate Says:

    Thanks for your comments, all! Please keep them coming! And Laura — I post these "About My Query" critiques every Friday. After the New Year, I'll open up again and ask for a few — keep your eyes open. I try not to plan them too far in advance, since authors seem to always be tinkering with their queries, and I like to keep these posts as useful as possible — a detailed review of a query you're no longer using isn't very helpful!

  8. Rachel Says:

    Hi Kate & all–new reader here. I'm not an agent, but I've been writing for years (oodles of 'em, really), so please take these comments with a grain of salt.

    I think, like the others have said, that you have something good going on here, but that the writing is throwing people off. I'd work on tightening up sentences like "Blake knows all about the twisted secrets Kat's Master has hidden from her, but Kat doesn't know who to trust—a fellow assassin who might be trying to get their target or the Master she's thought of like a father who coordinates all of her kills and training." to be shorter and, well, I hate this word but punchier.

    And I'd use her real name rather than "Katana Starr," though I like Kat as a nickname. Maybe you can just call her Kat throughout?

  9. Stina Says:

    I thought this was an interesting query, but I was curious about the Sci Fi part. How dominant a role does it play in the story? Can you pull some of that into the query without making it confusing? Krista G had a very good point about the bookstore. Where would you place it? Maybe it would be better to call it just Sci Fi. I write YA, and don't go beyond that section (other than to buy my kids books), so I'm unsure if you would call it a Thriller or Sci Fi.

    I agree with the Katana Starr comments. To me, it sounds like her stripper stage name. Best keep to her real name in the query, IMHO.

    Good luck with it!