Thanks so much for dropping by for this week’s About My Query! Hilary will be reviewing and making suggestions this time around.
Dear Lovely Ladies at KT Literary,
ONE THOUSAND STARS THAT BIND is a gender-bent YA alt-history retelling of ALADDIN, set in communist, steampunk’d Romania during an era where the country’s leaders have to make a history-changing decision: remain under communist rule, or embrace democracy.
Seventeen-year-old Alina lives on the streets of Bucharest, stealing what’s needed to survive. With no home and no family, she daydreams about life within the Palace of Parliament, where worries become the thought of yesterday, and luxury is as normal as the rising sun. Within those palace walls, eighteen-year-old Iulian is heir to Nicolae Ceausescu, leader of the Romanian communist party. But he wants nothing to do with his father’s views, expectations, or even the place they call home—to Iulian, it is a prison.
When Alina is caught stealing, she’s given a choice—retrieve a cursed oil lamp, or be sent to a labor camp for her crimes. Valuing even her impoverished life, she accepts. The lamp in question is believed to hold a mistic tigan, or mystic gypsy; a tribe of people who have the ability to control the senses, but are bound to an object with the abuse of such powers—if you believe the folklore, that is. And folklore becomes reality when Alina awakens Gypsy, the a-gender tigan bound to the lamp, and she becomes their new master. A tigan’s soul won’t pass on to the afterlife until they fulfill the desire of their master’s heart. Gypsy believe this means making Iulian fall in love with Alina, but Alina’s true heart desire is saving her country from the squalor she’s lived her entire life in. Iulian will soon have the power to do that, but to utilize it, he’ll need the proper persuasion. He’ll need Alina.
The dual POV follows Alina and Iulian on their intertwining journeys—one to escape Romania, the other to save her—and the romance that grows in between. ONE THOUSAND STARS THAT BIND is complete at 66,000 words. As a full-blooded and proud Romanian, I’m excited to present a story that shines light on a dark time in the country’s history, while praising its unique cultural facets.
THOUSAND STARS THAT BIND is my debut novel.
Thank you for your time and consideration, Author
Thanks so much for sharing your query with us. I think you have some really interesting elements here, and I love that your own history and culture are represented, but I do have a few suggestions on how to make it even stronger so I’ll jump right in.
To start, your opening has a lot going on, and while there are certainly some interesting elements here that caught my attention (steampunk’d Romania, gender-bent retelling), it was a bit too much to swallow in one pass. I’d suggest maybe dropping the alt-history mention to streamline, as the other elements really do set it apart and could pique an agent’s curiosity.
Dual POV in a query is a tricky beast to tackle, and the jury appears to be out in terms of the best way to do so. I’ve seen some say focus on the main character’s viewpoint. I’ve seen others say introduce both, though I’d caution you to do so separately for the sake of clarity. More on that in a moment.
From what I’ve seen of your pitch, and please note this is a limited understanding of your project, I think it might be beneficial to stick with Alina’s story line only and then simply mention it’s dual POV. You can mention who the other POV character is and perhaps just a bit about how he relates to Alina’s story at a later point in the query letter as you’ve already done. I have included a couple links for your reference.
References on writing queries with multiple POVs:
If you feel it’s important to include Iulian’s POV in the pitch, then I’d suggest introducing his separately from Alina’s. I’d nail down the plot as it relates to Alina’s POV, then shift gears with a simple transition to Iulian and his story. Something like, ‘But her plans are interrupted when she meets the 18yo heir to the Ceausescu throne’ or something to that effect. Then in the next paragraph you could briefly shift to show Iulian’s character and his story as it relates to Alina’s.
Overall, I think the pitch could use some streamlining too, and this may arise naturally when you sort out the POVs, but to illuminate my point, here are a few examples. The explanation of the tigan is important, but too wordy as it stands. I’d suggest trying to find a way to pare it down to convey the most important aspects only. Also, I don’t think you need the ‘if you believe the folklore, that is’ phrase. Show us that Alina believes by her choices and leave the doubt for the story itself, if it’s truly relevant.
Another thing to keep in mind – the word ‘gypsy’ is triggering/offensive to many Romani people as you may well know. In consideration of #ownvoices, the agent/editor/publisher/sales team may ask if the author is Romani. In the case of any book with protagonists of diverse background, it’s important to have an answer prepared for the question, “who are you to write this story?”
One last suggestion in regards to comp titles: You did mention Aladdin early on, but I don’t think that’s enough. I’d recommend finding two recently released titles that have similarities in tone or plot to your own to show you know where it should sit on shelves.
So, overall, I think you have some unique and compelling elements to this story and with a little streamlining and organizing, this query can really shine. I hope my thoughts have been helpful – best of luck to you!