Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXXIV

November 11th, 2011 • Kate

valentino_jenniferskogBecause it’s Friday, I like to do things a little differently with my About My Query post. Rather than posting my thoughts first, I want YOU, my readers, to first give the author your thoughts, advice, and criticism on their query. I’ll chime in over the weekend with my comments.

Why do I do this? Not because I’m lazy, I promise! But I think authors often get “I agree with Daphne” comments on their queries, and I KNOW you guys are brilliant in your own right. I want to let you opinions SHINE! So, are you ready? Have at it!

Dear [insert agent name]:

Ingrid Stone does not mind her job. Apart from the Martian Sheep and fire-breathing lizards, being a customer service representative at Wyborg Supercenter #5279 really is not that miserable a profession.

Well, maybe it is, but Ingrid hardly considers it worth complaining about. Not when compared to what could have happened, had Earth not experienced an entire corporate takeover, courtesy of the Wyborgs. What with an incredibly pathetic disease wiping out the vast majority of the human population, the entry of this exceptionally business-like race was really a relief from the moping.

However, Ingrid has forgotten things, memories more crucial and frightening than she would like to believe. When hyperactive and over-enthusiastic alien Vogel Stratus falls through the roof of her house, Ingrid is drawn into an adventure that pulls her from the consistency of her daily routine, and into a position of constant danger . The more she is forced to confront the notions she possessed about her present and past, the more it becomes apparent that she has been sitting complacent while her last chances at freedom die. Who is truly evil? Why can she not remember two years of her life? What had she done so terrible that she would be forced to forget?

Overhead is the first in a series of five Young Adult science-fiction novels following Ingrid’s break from work in the Wyborg Supercenter, and her fight to preserve her dignity, and find love within the chaos of existence on the constant verge of extermination. Infused with dry humor in the fashion of the Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the book’s focus is on the relationships and dialogue of characters fighting a battle that has already been lost. The completed manuscript runs at approximately 80,000 words.

I am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and have won awards for both poetry and short fiction on the local level. The full manuscript has been completed, and can be sent to you upon request.

Sincerely,
A.V.

Can’t wait to read what you think!

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14 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXXIV”

  1. Krista V. Says:

    I liked the first two paragraphs but lost interest in the third. The first two paragraphs have a lot of interesting, specific details, but then the third falls prey to empty phrases like "Ingrid has forgotten things, memories more crucial and frightening than she would like to believe" and "an adventure that pulls her from the consistency of her daily routine." What has she forgotten, and why are those memories so important? What is the adventure? What do she and Vogel have to do, and what's preventing them from doing it?

    Also, that third paragraph lacks the voice of the first two precisely because of all the empty phrases. I liked how you presented Ingrid as kind of a mind-numbed Wyborg robot, but I wanted to see her snap out of it in that third paragraph. I wanted to get a better sense of how she's going to evolve throughout the story.

    To be continued…

  2. Krista V. Says:

    Lastly, I'd cut everything from the fourth paragraph but the title, genre, and word count. If you rework that third paragraph and give us a better idea of how exactly the plot unfolds, you'll have already shown us all of this and won't have to tell us.

    Good luck with this. I definitely picked up on the dry, HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE-like wit, so it sounds like a fun read:)

  3. Lindsay F Says:

    To start things off I'd like to say that overall, I'm intrigued. My first suggestion for you would be to mention Ingrid's age. To be honest, when I got to the second to last paragraph and found out this was YA, I didn't really get it. Ingrid seemed more like an adult to me mostly because all we ever learn about her is that she's a customer service rep. No mention of high school, no friends. Just work.
    My second suggestion is to maybe write more about the kind of danger Ingrid is in. Is she running from the Wyborgs? Leftover humans? Another alien race? I don't understand what the stakes are.
    Thirdly, I believe that Daphne asks for the first 10 (5? maybe) pages to be included with the query. So I think you should fully take out your very last line.
    Also, I'm confused because earlier on in the query you say that Ingrid's been sitting complacent while her last chances at freedom die. I read that as she still had a chance, but then later on you say that the characters are fighting a battle that has already been lost. So she doesn't have a chance? I guess I'm mostly confused about how, if this battle has already been lost, does this story stretch over 5 books. I'm not going to want to read 5 books to find out that the main character never attains her goals. One, yes, but 5? No.
    I think with some reworking, this could be very good (the story, not necessarily the query). Also, lastly, I wonder if you'd reconsider the series potential. Maybe it would be better as a standalone with the possibility of more books? But then again, I'm neither an author nor an agent, just a reader, so I think you should take everything I say pretty lightly.

  4. Kendall Says:

    I think it's not bad. There's a nice energy, and I got the "Hitchhiker's" reference before the author mentioned it, which is a good sign.

    There are a few things I would change and get straight: looking at the overall flow of the query, it starts with a lighthearted tone (I thought Douglas Adams, Philip K. Dick) and then takes a sudden turn into something more serious, with the character running for her life and (seemingly) playing a part in Earth's destruction. The idea of an alien corporation taking over Earth and solving all its problems is pretty funny, but the third paragraph implies that it's not supposed to be funny. While I think you can have plot twists and darkness with dry humor, there was a shift in tone that confused me and made me second-guess what kind of story this really was.

    I also was curious that the author specifically said this was one of 5 novels. Does that mean all 5 have already been written? Is there a reason it has to be 5 (and not 3 or 10 or 20?)? If all 5 books have already been written, it would make me a bit leery, as typically you write one book and work with an agent and editor to decide where the next one should go before writing it.

    A few lines took me out of the story as well. In the first sentence, she mentions "Martian Sheep and fire-breathing lizards," but this made me think she was on a different planet, and I couldn't figure out why an alien race would bring different species to Earth. I also don't think think the author needs the sentence "the book's focus is on the relationships and dialogue of characters fighting a battle that has already been lost." Every book focuses on the characters' relationships, "dialogues" sounds a little awkward, and if it's a battle that has already been lost, why would I bother wanting to read about it?

    I also was curious about Ingrid. Is she a teen? Generally, YA main characters are the same ages as the readers, but if Ingrid has a home and a house, she sounds like an adult, making this adult sci-fi.

    Overall, I thought the author did a nice job of bringing in some major plot points and setting up the stakes in the novel, although I would suggest a more consistent tone that reflects the tone and focus of the story. I also think restructuring the query around the main character and eliminating some of the backstory will help the query get right to the plot (which presumably starts when the alien crashes through her roof, not with the Wyborgs taking over Earth).

  5. Bess Says:

    I think everyone has made great points. I especially agree with the tone issue from paras 1 and 2 to para 3 and zeroing in on the YA audience right away. I agree that this sounds like a fun book and I like the specific details in the query letter that manage not to be confusing but instead draw me in. I also, again, like the tone of the first half of the query. I also agree that you shouldn't mention the other books in your series because my guess is that the agent and the editor will want to have the option to have it be a series. You may have a little line that you have ideas or material to make it into a series but show how this one stands alone. Finally, just nit-picking, I thought this sentence doesn't play up how the Wyborgs "saved" the humans: "Not when compared to what could have happened, had Earth not experienced an entire corporate takeover, courtesy of the Wyborgs." I think that because "entire corporate takeover sounds menacing (which we know it is, but Ingrid doesn't, yet). Great start!

  6. Arielle V. Says:

    Thank you all for your criticisms so far! It's hard finding people who can give impartial, constructive feedback IRL, and a lot of the things you all have suggested make a lot of sense. The tone shift now seems glaringly obvious, and I probably could do with a serious reworking of that third paragraph. It's refreshing to hear that it's not a complete disaster, though! I look forward to hearing more from other readers (and Daphne, of course!), and will definitely use your comments when revising.

  7. Stephanie M. Says:

    My very first thought, who is Ingrid Stone? Followed by, what are Martian Sheep? and What is Wyborg Supercenter, and why does it go by #5279? This introduction feels like it is dumping me into the middle of a story or a movie and I'm supposed to fill in the blanks from here on out. This is a query, not a chapter, I shouldn't have lingering questions. There will not be a page for me to turn, and have all of my questions answered. It should begin introducing.

    I'm still wondering what a Wyborg is … I'm being told what's happening with the plot, but I still haven't been properly introduced to the main characters.

    "Pathetic disease" isn't quite the right way of phrasing what you're trying to say. You're telling me the disease itself is pathetic, not its effects. Now I'm thinking a simple head cold has managed to wipe out mankind. Where are my Clorox wipes? LOL!

    Wyborgs are business men? Welcome business men …?

    "Ingrid has forgotten things, memories more crucial and frightening than she would like to believe." I was following this sentence along effectively until I got to the end, "than she would like to believe." This makes it sound like she is upset that she has forgotten important memories. But she's forgotten them, how can she be upset by something she isn't aware of?

    "When hyperactive and over-enthusiastic alien Vogel Stratus falls through the roof of her house …" This is great! This sounds like the introduction to your query. I should be introduced to Ingrid and the Wyborg's this way. Take this and run with it!

    "…position of constant danger …" Not sure of the word choice here. I'm thinking something other than "position" would suffice better.

    " …the notions she possessed about her present and past …" A) Past and present. B) She's possessed by these memories? Like she's having flashbacks in her dreams? This information should be included with you initially telling me she has forgotten memories, but has begun waking up with senses of deja vu from her sleep.

    "…the more it becomes apparent that she has been sitting complacent while her last chances at freedom die." I was never told what danger there was or where it was coming from. Who is the foe? I've only been told about welcomed businessmen.

    "Who is truly evil?" This is a very good question, and has a different connotation than you're meaning at this point. I'm certain you mean to create mystery, but it only echoed my thoughts.

    "What had she done so terrible that she would be forced to forget?" This brings up a whole new series of questions. I was never told she had a direct impact to her losing her memory. I had sort of assumed someone or something (don't know who or what) had done this to everyone.

    "…find love…" There are romantic elements? I need to know who she is developing a fondness for.

    "Infused with dry humor in the fashion of the Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the book’s focus is on the relationships and dialogue of characters fighting a battle that has already been lost." This is a fabulous sentence!

    I think this is a good first draft query. You have all of your elements laid out. But they are done a bit haphazardly, and that has left me with more lingering questions than I started with. Rearrange the elements, introduce me to your protagonist, her foe (still not sure who it is, if it's the Wyborgs, the disease, the guy who dropped into her house …), and her love interest is. Then proceed into the tale of events, ending it as you have it now. The conclusion was the most well constructed piece of this query.

    I hope my thoughts help. Good luck to you!

    Steph

  8. Teri Willis Says:

    I agree that there needs to be more work on this query, but the story itself seems like something I would like to read.
    As for you saying it is the first of a series, I don't see anything wrong with that.
    You may have had the story already written, but it was way too long for a debut novelist, so you had to break it up into several novels.

  9. @Robin_Weeks Says:

    I really like the first two sentences–the second one more than the first. Great hook.

    Most of what I wanted to say has been adequately covered by others, so I'll focus on the last two paragraphs:

    <<Overhead is the first in a series of five Young Adult science-fiction novels…>>
    ALL CAPS the book title. Also, debut novelists have enough trouble selling one novel. Telling agents up front that there are five might make many of them balk. I'd suggest you stick with "series potential" and be open to a rewrite of books 2-5, once you tell your agent that they exist. 🙂

    <<…following Ingrid’s break from work in the Wyborg Supercenter, and her fight to preserve her dignity, and find love within the chaos of existence on the constant verge of extermination.>>
    I'd suggest that you weave this information into the main query blurb. Which really could be shorter. 🙂

    <<Infused with dry humor…>>
    This is a lot like tooting your own horn. Like calling your book a "pulse-pounding thriller," there are some things you need to leave for others to say. "Dry humor" MIGHT be fine, but don't use "infused."

    <<…in the fashion of the Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,>>
    I'd suggest "Readers of HGttG will enjoy the [something that shows dry humor without saying it] of OVERHEAD."

    <<…the book’s focus is on the relationships and dialogue…>>
    This makes me think it's trying to be literary. I like my genre fiction to focus on plot.

    <<…of characters fighting a battle that has already been lost.>>
    You mentioned that humanity was decimated by a virus–is THAT the battle they're fighting, or a whole new lost battle? Confusing elements in your query don't inspire people to read more–it makes them wonder if they want to.

    <<<The completed manuscript runs at approximately 80,000 words.>>>
    Which is just a rewording of the standard "which is complete at 80,000 words." Also, you call your manuscript compete both here and in the next paragraph. While agents demand completed manuscripts, they generally assume that, if you're querying, it is following their preference. Don't reiterate something they'll assume anyway.

    <<I am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and have won awards for both poetry and short fiction on the local level.>>
    Not sure any of this is relevant to how you're the perfect person to write this book. Consider sticking to "this is my first novel."

    <<The full manuscript has been completed, and can be sent to you upon request.>>
    See comment above–I'd suggest cutting this sentence entirely. This is a given.

    Good start–and take my comments with a grain of salt. 🙂

  10. Adam Heine Says:

    I agree with Daphne. Wait…

    This definitely sounds like an interesting story. For me, the main improvement this query needs is specificity in the third paragraph. Vogel falling through her roof is great, but then things get vague while Ingrid is "forced to confront" things and other things "become apparent." We need to know what secrets, specifically, she learns, and what impossible choice that leads her towards. (For example, you suggest she has to decide who is truly evil, but I don't even know who she's choosing between.)

    And I completely agree with Krista on the fourth paragraph. Don't pitch a series, just pitch this book (there's no guarantee that this first book will sell well enough to justify a series). And the Douglas Adams' humor is shown really well in the query already (well done!), so there's no need to tell it as well.

    This is a strong start, though, and I'm already interested in the story. So you're not far off the mark! Just don't be afraid to give your secrets — maybe not the ending (i.e. what choice she ultimately makes), but enough so the agent knows what kind of book they're getting into and wants to request it.

  11. @lizwrites Says:

    I really like the voice and the concept sounds fun. But, my first thought is that this sounds like adult, not YA. Mainly because you start with Ingrid's job. Many teenagers do have jobs, but they don't see them as the focus of their life, like adults do.

    All I know about Ingrid is where she works and that she doesn't mind it. In fact, you focus on the fact that she doesn't mind it quite a bit. Instead of focusing on the "does not" aspect, why not focus more on who she is? What does she want?

    I'd also move up the bit about not remembering 2 years of her life. That seems like a pretty big thing.

    The third paragraph has a lot of vague bits, such as " drawn into an adventure that pulls her from the consistency of her daily routine, and into a position of constant danger." What is the conflict preventing Ingrid from getting what she wants? Be specific.

  12. Liberty Speidel Says:

    It feels a little long to me.

    I'd combine and shorten the first two paragraphs, tighten what would become the 2nd paragraph if possible.

    Also, comparing your work to such a great work as "Hitchhiker" is a little dangerous, especially if it doesn't live up to expectations. If you've had several (i.e. more than 5) beta readers say the same thing, you may be okay there, but I'd hesitate before comparing my work to any of the big names in fiction. Let someone else (like an endorser) do it at a later time… like when your book is published. 🙂

    Also, you stated in two different paragraphs that it was complete. It should be complete, or you shouldn't be querying. Redundant on both counts. 😉

  13. Teri Willis Says:

    Okay. Do your thing and get published. I want to read it.

    Time for fresh meat. Throw someone else to the lionss. Grrrr. : )

  14. DaphneUn Says:

    Thanks to everyone for your great comments on this query! I agree with all of you — just kidding!

    But seriously, as I suspected, you made some very great points. My main concerns are with setting this up more clearly at the start of the novel as YA. Otherwise, I read it as adult science fiction — especially with the Douglas Adams sensibility. Which brings me to my next point — in a case like this, I absolutely didn't mind the reference to Hitchhiker because it *sounds* like the voice of Hitchhiker.

    I'd love you to get a little more specific about the plot — you have the tone down so well, but I don't really know what's going to happen.

    As others have said, telling agents this is a five-book series (with the connotation that those books are written already) is a little terrifying. Go with "series potential", but do make sure your book has a conclusion, otherwise you risk annoying the reader who gets through 80,000 words only to hit a "To Be Continued". Argh!

    Hope that helps!