Thursday, June 04, 2015

Query Critique: Science Fiction

I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog.

Dear Query Queen,

As the last surviving human on Dragonworld, Speaker for the People would do almost anything to feel like she belongs, but she lacks the tail, set of mid-limbs, and claws which all her adoptive family have. Worse than that, at twenty-five, she’s terrified of responsibility.

Now the Others are returning to Dragonworld.

Speaker has been chosen by her adopted parents to protect Dragonworld from the Others, despite a betrayal she knows nothing about. She will face lies, slavery, and interstellar politics at the hands of her biological kin, and hatred and accusations of blasphemy from her adopted relatives.

And all that is before she gets to Old Earth.

In SPEAKER FOR THE PEOPLE, a 90,000 word stand-alone science fiction novel, Speaker struggles against the corruption and stagnation of an empire. The novel explores the agony of making the best choice possible when all the options are bad, as well as the ability of people (despite the skin, scales, or fur they wear) to overcome horrendous adversity.

This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I'm going to preface this by saying that science fiction is not my area of expertise. For that you'd have to talk to either Moe Ferrara or Beth Campbell at BookEnds. However, I do think that in many ways a strong or weak query is the same no matter what genre you represent. A really great query should grab the reader no matter the genre. In fact, just the other day I read a query that was amazing, but not at all a subject matter I was interested. I rejected it, but forwarded the query to everyone on the BookEnds team thinking one of them might be intrigued. I do believe another agent requested material.

There is nothing technically wrong with this query. You have all the facts, bits and pieces that are required. The only thing I felt was missing was anything that made the story itself stand out. Personally I'm intrigued by Dragonworld. I know it's something that's been done a number of times, but it's a storyline that I've always been fascinated by. 

Speaker and her story feels YA to me, SF YA, but still YA. And it's not just her age. The storyline feels more suited to YA. It also feels very done. Like something I've read a thousand times before. Now of course it's possible that there's a bigger hook in there that you failed to tell me about, but my job is to make a judgement based on the query and based on the query, "likes, slavery and interstellar politics" sounds like a typical SF. What makes this different?

Personally I also really dislike queries that tell me what themes the book explores. I'm not sure anyone buys a book because it, "explores the agony of making the best choice possible when all the options re bad." That tells me nothing about the book. In many ways, that describes almost every YA ever written (slight exaggeration there).



Elissa M said...

I agree that this query sort of works but doesn't stand out. It's possible you might get a few agents requesting pages, but since I'm not an agent, I can't say. As a reader, I might pick up the book and skim the first few pages to see if it draws me in.

I think you're trying to be too coy about what species Speaker is. I'm guessing she's human, but it's just a guess. I need to feel more connection to her and her specific problems. This line: "She will face lies, slavery, and interstellar politics at the hands of her biological kin, and hatred and accusations of blasphemy from her adopted relatives" is very generic.

I think the query would work better if I had a clearer idea of the story basics. What does Speaker want? Who is trying to stop her? In what way(s) are they trying to do so? What is at stake? What will happen if Speaker fails? Answer these questions as specifically as you can, and the story won't sound generic and done to death.

This looks like it could be an enthralling story. Have the query show that, and you'll get much more enthusiastic responses. Good luck!

AJ Blythe said...

It definitely sounds like a book I'd at least read the first couple of pages of if I was standing in the bookshop, but I'd really like more specifics in the 3rd paragraph. Expand on the lies, slavery etc. I'm sure your word count would allow another paragraph in there =)

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Suzanne said...

If it involves dragons and fur-clad people, this makes me think it's more science fantasy - or just plain fantasy (like the Pern novels) - than science fiction.

Not knowing the MC's name - unless she's referred to as Speaker the entire novel - also seems a bit distancing somehow. I don't really know what's at stake for this character or what the true source of conflict is :(