Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Evolution of a Query Letter

One of the most difficult things writers have to face is the dreaded query letter. Most hate it--some have nightmares over it. Whatever your response is, take deep breaths and try to avoid the straight jacket. Take my advice, it is not comfy.

I thought I might show you a progression of one of my query letters. You can see both the evolution of the story and the query through these.

Draft #1

Nine-year-old LEXI PARKER watched her best friend’s expression change from laughter to terror in under a second. Jo’s deafening screams tore through the small room. She backed away until she was cornered, then her fingers and hands scraped the walls around her, looking for a way out. Lexi’s best friend, her only friend, was desperate to escape her.

When Lexi witnessed the reaction her telekinetic abilities incited in her closest friend, she vowed never to let anyone else know about her so-called talent. Six years later, this fifteen-year-old has alienated herself from potential friends and even her family in her desperation to keep it a secret.

When a random thunderstorm transports her to another world, Lexi finds that abilities like hers are anything but obscure. After all this time, she must learn to accept herself as she is, not as the freak she believes herself to be.

This new world, SOLARA, is embroiled in an endless war. As they hover on the brink of defeat, they request Lexi’s help to find others like her on Earth to help strengthen their ranks. In exchange for her assistance they offer to train her and let her stay with them in the first place she has ever felt normal.

As they near the completion of their task, the man who killed her parents, METUS, returns to hunt her down and finish his assignment to murder her family. Lexi must assist her new friends in finishing their quest before Metus can find them. For every darkness, there is light, and at the end of the day she will finally discover just how unique she is.

ORACLE is a completed 75,000 word young adult urban science fiction. It is set primarily in a small town in Arizona. I have outlined four more novels to follow this one in a series, but it also has the ability to stand alone.

Yes, that's right... you read nine-years-old and YA in the same query letter... now you've officially seen it all.

Draft #2

When fifteen-year-old, Lexi Parker witnessed the horrified reaction her telekinetic abilities incited in her closest friend, she vowed never to let anyone else in ORACLE know about her so-called talent. She has alienated herself from potential friends and even her family in her desperation to keep her secret.

When a random desert thunderstorm transports her to another world, Lexi finds that abilities like hers are anything but obscure. After all this time, she must learn to accept herself as she is, not as the freak she believes herself to be.

This new world, Solara, is embroiled in an endless war with the Munin. As they hover on the brink of defeat, they request Lexi’s help to find others like her on Earth to help strengthen their ranks. In exchange for her assistance they offer to train her and let her stay with them in the first place she has ever felt normal.

As they near the completion of their task, the man who killed Lexi’s parents, Metus, returns to hunt her down and finish his assignment to murder her family. He is a Munin, enemy of the Solarians. Lexi must assist her new friends in finishing their quest before Metus can find them. For every darkness, there is light, and at the end of the day she will finally discover just how unique she is.

ORACLE is a completed 75,000 word young adult urban science fiction. It is set primarily in the small town in Arizona. I have outlined four more novels to follow this one in a series, but it also has the ability to stand alone.

Not bad, but it could still use some tightening and more voice. It garnered one request.

Draft #3

I understand that you’re interested in young adult fiction. I’d like you to consider ORACLE, my young adult novel with a science fiction twist. This story is science fiction for people who don’t necessarily like science fiction—it is extremely character driven. In marketing terms—visualize X-Men meets Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Lexi Parker is telekinetic, and she hates it. Now, if only that was her worst problem.

Nope, that would be too simple for this fifteen-year-old. When a random desert thunderstorm sends Lexi to the world of Solara, she realizes her abilities aren’t so rare and freakish after all. Her power comes in a distant second on the weirdness scale compared to her experiences in this strange and beautiful world, such as:

~ Explaining that she isn’t a spy to a council of aliens
~ Watching her new friend pack a bag the same way Mary Poppins does
~ Drying her hands on a mini hurricane that invades her bathroom

She makes a deal with the Solarians—if they help her get home, she will help them find others with abilities like hers on Earth. After all this, Lexi is more than happy for life to get back to “normal”—then again, normal has never been Lexi’s strong suit. She never imagined what awaited her back in Oracle, Arizona would be far worse than anything she’d seen on Solara.

~ Getting knocked to the ground by a flying ottoman
~ Breaking a boy out of jail
~ Seeing lifeless eyes looking out from a friend’s face

All that—and she still can’t beat her sister at a game of Cups.

Maybe Lexi should’ve just stayed in Solara—but, it’s too late now. She must quickly learn to accept her own abilities and figure out how to use them. If she doesn’t, the powerful murderer stalking her will insure that no one on Earth who develops these powers will ever survive again.

Still not perfect, but it was good enough to receive 8 requests. And, yes, I queried too early. It wasn't ready yet.

Draft 4

Lexi Porter is sixteen-years-old, she’s telekinetic, and she hates it. Now, if only that was her worst problem. When a random desert thunderstorm sends her and a teenage escaped convict, Cam, to the world of Solara, life gets much more complicated.

Her powers come in a distant second on the weirdness scale compared to her experiences in this strange world. To start, she doesn’t appreciate having her worst memories displayed on the wall like a freakin’ movie, or explaining that she isn’t a spy to a council of aliens. But hey, at least they left a mini hurricane in her bathroom so she had something to dry her hands.

Maybe it isn’t all bad. At least her abilities aren’t as rare and freakish as she’d always thought.

She makes a deal with the Solarians—if they help her get home, she’ll help them find others with similar abilities on Earth. She’s even willing to put up with Cam. He might drive her nuts, but at least he’s fun to look at.

Lexi never imagined what awaited her back in Oracle, Arizona would be far worse than anything on Solara. But when she sees lifeless eyes in the face of a friend, she must decide what she’s willing to fight for.

Maybe she should’ve just stayed in Solara—it’s too late now. She must quickly learn to embrace her own abilities and figure out how to use them. If she doesn’t, the powerful murderer stalking her will insure that no one on Earth who develops these powers will ever live to use them.

I understand that you’re interested in young adult fiction. I’d like you to consider ORACLE, my young adult novel with a science fiction twist. It is complete at 66,000 words.

This time it evolved because my story changed. I did several massive rewrites and needed to change my query to match it. This one has too much going on and doesn't focus enough on the love interest that I added.

Draft #5

Lexi Porter is sixteen-years-old, she’s telekinetic, and she hates it. Now, if only that was her worst problem. When a random desert thunderstorm sends her and a teenage escaped convict, Cam, to the world of Solara, life gets much more complicated.

Her powers come in a distant second on the weirdness scale compared to her experiences in this strange world. To start, she doesn’t appreciate having her worst memories displayed on the wall like a freakin’ movie, or explaining that she isn’t a spy to a council of aliens. But hey, at least they left a mini hurricane in her bathroom so she had something to dry her hands.

On top of all that, Cam seems determined to drive her nuts. Lexi knows he isn’t what he seems. He’s full of contradictions and impossible to understand. As far as she’s seen, Cam only has one redeeming quality—he’s fun to look at. (fixed per AmandaJ, thanks! )

So, her abilities aren’t as rare and freakish as she’d always thought. Maybe it isn’t all bad—at least that’s what she thinks until the Solarians tell her that anyone like her on Earth is in danger. They offer to train Lexi, but she must quickly learn to embrace her own abilities and figure out how to use them. If she doesn’t, the powerful murderer stalking her kind will insure that no one on Earth who develops these powers will ever live to use them.

I understand that you’re interested in young adult fiction. I’d like you to consider ORACLE, my young adult novel with a science fiction twist. It is complete at 66,000 words.

This is my most recent version. I still don't think it's perfect... I will probably do some fine tuning before I send it out. What do you think? Does this help you guys at all? Someone told me that it might be useful to post these and I know I always love seeing what other writers do with their query letters. By the way, if you read all the way down here... you get a cookie. :)

17 comments:

  1. Okay, I will admit, I only read the first one and the last one. :) Huge improvement! Thanks for posting this. I've thought about doing that, but I'm a chicken, I guess. Maybe, I will some day.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Cookies? I like cookies! :)

    Thanks for this post, I'm nearing the end of my first draft and I've already got queries on the brain. It was great to see the evolution of yours, and now that I've read all five I'd really like to read more!

    On a different note, there's one line in the last version that is bugging me:

    As far as she’s seen, his only redeeming quality—he’s fun to look at.

    I feel like it should read "As far as she's seen, Cam only has one redeeming quality-he's fun to look at." The wording is just a little awkward for me and this seems to flow better.

    Thanks again for posting, can't wait to read more about them! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I read them all - definite and obvious improvement with each draft. Well done!

    And I agree with Amanda's re-wording it makes it flow better.

    I can't wait to hear what happens when you start sending this out!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Lazy Writer - It was kind of cathartic. :) lol

    AmandaJ - See?! This is why I did this! LOL I knew there was something awkward about that sentence, but my brain was too fried to figure out what. Thanks! :) You definitely earned the cookie :)

    Megan - Thanks! I agree with Amanda too :) I'm sure I'll be updating when I send it out.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A cookie? What kind? Chocolate chip with pecans? Yum!

    Actually, we should give you the cookie. You are both brave and cool to post all of this. It helps writers to see another writer REALLY tackling this stuff in such an honest way.

    Well done!

    Shelley

    ReplyDelete
  6. Glad I could help! And I mean really, one sentence out of the WHOLE thing and it was an easy fix. That's definitely cookies for you!

    ReplyDelete
  7. storyqueen - Thanks! We'll all have cookies! :D

    AmandaJ - I know, but it's those easy fixes that are the hardest to figure out sometimes ;)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for sharing your query letters with us. I always struggle with those and it's nice to see the way other people have approached theirs.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I skimmed them all, but only read the LAST carefully. (I accidentally typed first on my first comment.) If you want thoughts from someone whose supposedly gotten good at ripping these things apart, here goes. (If not, delete this comment. I won't mind.)

    I think it's still a bit long and could benefit from some cutting and condensing. I'm not one of those who claim that the pitch part of a query should be only one paragraph (though some agents claim that)...but I think two or three should be the max.

    "Now, if only that was her worst problem."

    This sentence doesn't make sense, if you haven't read all the rest of the query versions. Uually this sort of statement follows a predicament that already seems bad. Yet, the only "problem" you've stated is that she hates her power. You haven't explained why (which I think a reader would wonder), and you haven't placed her in a predicament. So I think an agent would think, "huh?" Not to mention, it's a lot of words that don't really say anything. Stating that life gets more complicated seems an understatement, and again, it's wasted words that don't SHOW anything.

    Going through the rest of the first four paragraphs...I can see the trails from the earlier versions, and frankly, I think you need to start from scratch. Your story and your hook are touched on in paragraph #2, but then you start over again in paragraph number four. Actually, "until the Solarians tell her" is where your pitch story takes off, gets clear, and gets interesting. Almost everything before that is rambling, in my opinion.

    See if you can condense all of those first three paragraphs down to one or two sentences that portray the pertinent information:
    1) She's grown up telekenetic in a world where that is unheard-of, and therefore freaks people out.
    2) Therefore, she's kept her gift hidden.
    3) Until a freak thunderstorm sends her and a handsome but really annoying escaped teenage convict to a different world. (BTW... I hope this happens in your first chapter, because I think this is where your story begins.)

    Then put the information in the last two and a half sentences of your pitch. That will give the whole thing balance. BEFORE she hid her power and was a freak. But _x_ happenend, and NOW she must learn to embrace and use her power. That's your story right there. Wrap everything around that, rather than burying that in little details that don't show us anything about the characters or plot.

    Also, I don't think you really need any of that other information about Cam, although the pitch might benefit from a hint as to why he's important to the plot.

    It also might benefit from a hint as to who the powerful murderer is and WHY he's stalking her kind. (And is he stalking them on Earth, or on Solara?)

    Break the pitch down to a bulleted list of statements that each sentence portrays about your story. Then make a bulleted list of what information NEEDS to be in your pitch. Plot points, character points, etc. Compare the two to figure out what should be cut and what needs to be added.

    I hope this helps!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I want my cookie :)..... No that was very interesting to watch as things have changed. I hope you will post any updates you make to it as well.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I definitely see the improvements...and you're inspiring me to write better queries. I don't think mine are nearly as detailed and I may need to pare down my paragraph on ME and beef up the story paragraphs.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Wow, lots of feedback. Like I said... it isn't a finished version and I appreciate the feedback.

    I mostly did this to help other writers know we all work hard on queries and they suck for nearly all of us. :) yay for not being alone!

    *gives out more cookies*

    ReplyDelete
  14. Well, I already had a few Oreos, but sure, I'll take a cookie. ;)

    I love seeing a query's birth and growth. Thanks for sharing this with us, and best of luck to you!

    ReplyDelete
  15. It's nice to see someone else has as many versions of their query as I do. One day I'll be brave and post mine. You definitely see a growth to the letter.

    Hope you have luck with your final version.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Jenni, you rock! I've been curious as to how your book has been coming. Thanks for the update!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Janna - thanks! and yay, Oreos! :)

    Patti - Yeah, and I'm sure there are more to come.

    Carrie - Thanks! :) It's still changing, but I think it is almost done now. FINALLY :P

    ReplyDelete