About My Query 15

March 10th, 2017 • Kate

[Note from Kate: Sara is out of the office today, dealing with a personal matter, but asked me to post her latest About My Query critique.] Thank you so much for sending this query in for a critique – let’s dive in…

Dear KT Lit,

A failed assassination attempt is the first warning Major Katja Kryzanowski has that she’s become entangled in a war she knows nothing about. Deep in the lightning-filled clouds of the Æster, a dark mystic, Asher Koora, has seen that she could threaten his ambition to rule the skies.

Katja’s career as an officer in the elite Rescue Service is her whole life. As much as she loves what she does, she’s haunted by those she’s failed to save and the friends she’s lost along the way. When the man she loves asks her to leave active service for a safer posting on the ground, she breaks things off with him. She’s heartsick, but it’s just one more sacrifice in a long string she’s made to have the life she’s chosen.

As always, her closest friends and adopted family – her shipmates, are there to fall back on. They understand what living up to the motto, “That None Should Be Left Behind” requires. When their ship, the Tomahawk, is drawn into a trap and attacked by one of Asher Koora’s ships, that family is threatened. The enemy ship is defeated in a brutal ship-to-ship slugfest but the Tomahawk is crippled and Katja injured. But there’s no time to recover. With casualties mounting, she joins the only fight that matters, to save their ship and themselves. In a final desperate attempt to save the Tomahawk’s crew, the acting captain crashes them into a mysterious floating island in the sky – one of the fabled “Hanging Gardens.” For two days, Katja is entombed in the wreckage, assaulted by traumatic memories and visions, leaving her badly shaken. But once again, there is no time to recover. She is the only senior officer left standing. She must take command.

In his distant floating capital, Asher Koora’s arcane efforts to confirm Katja’s death turn increasingly desperate and inhuman. But within the breathtakingly beautiful Hanging Garden, Katja finds some peace – and an unexpected ally, its gentle, monastic caretaker, Jinn. The survivors discover that there is more truth than fiction in the mythical stories about the gardens. A rescue fleet is undoubtedly searching for them, but to have any chance of contacting it, Katja must risk the lives of all the survivors – even the destruction of the garden. Jinn shows Katja that healing from her crippling losses is possible. But she also warns that there is more going on in the sky than anyone on the ground suspects. A war is brewing that threatens to engulf not just the sky, but the entire world.

The Tomahawk Incident is a complete ~110k word military sci-fi adventure story set in a reimagined space-style world where shielded warships and titanic sealed platforms float in a nebula-like landscape of supercharged clouds. Part Honor Harrington and part “Lost Horizon,” I wrote The Tomahawk Incident because I loved those “good old fashioned” sci-fi stories of far flung alien places and hidden empires. I was drawn to submit to you after reading that you wanted big adventures in complex worlds. The Tomahawk Incident can stand alone, but is truly the first book in a series that pits Katja and her friends against Asher Koora in a secret war to prevent him from ruling the skies. As a US Navy veteran, writing about life aboard ship was as natural as breathing and I wanted to give readers a glimpse into the harsh but extraordinary world of being part of the military family.

Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to hearing from you!

There is a lot of potential here and I love military science fiction! The crew-as-family angle is one I adore and the description of the beautiful “Hanging Garden” is compelling – great work!

In terms of critique, the first thing I notice is that this query is too long. Even queries for epic science fiction novels should be boiled down to one or two (or, at most, three) paragraphs. We want the query to sound like the back cover of a novel so…think short.

The first paragraph should be the pitch. I like the, “…entangled in a war she knows nothing about” angle but found the introduction of Asher Koora to be awkward. The next two paragraphs are almost entirely backstory and character description. My suggestion would be to trim way way back in these paragraphs. Being “too long/wordy” is a very common mistake in queries and especially in SF/F queries so resist the temptation to explain too much. We don’t need to know about Katja’s career in the military or even about her love life – we just need to know who she is and what the conflict of the story will be. For example, we could delete most of the first three paragraphs and say something like this instead, “The crew of the spaceship Tomahawk is like an adopted family and their leader, Katja, will do anything to save them when a failed assassination attempt embroils them in a war they knew nothing about.” That’s all we need to learn who the story is about, where it’s set and what the protagonists are up against.

From there, my suggestion would be to introduce Asher Koora as the antagonist and say a bit about the plot. I like this line from that very first paragraph, “a dark mystic, Asher Koora, has seen that she could threaten his ambition to rule the skies.” – trim it up a bit and use it after the pitch. Perhaps we say something like, “A dark mystic, Asher Koora, has seen that Katja could threaten his ambition to rule the skies.” Then add in a sentence or two about Asher’s plan to bring down Katja’s ship, how Katja learns about what she’s up against and what the crew will have to do to win this fight.

The resulting query should be around two paragraphs. Not only will it be shorter but it will be more succinct and compelling.

Finally, it’s ok to leave in the last paragraph with info on your inspiration for the book as well as your biography.

I hope that helps – happy writing!
-Sara Megibow

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