Monday, July 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Queries

Last Friday, I discussed the difficulties of writing query letters, especially for science fiction/fantasy novels. Today, I'm going to post part of my original query letter and a second I wrote to address some of the concerns my reviewers had. I'm just posting the part specifically about my novel, Across Two Universes; it's the same length in both queries.

Query #1:

On the day Paul’s mother was murdered, he didn’t perform his key scene in Hamlet. But when he realizes his Great-Uncle Jack may have been behind his mother’s death, his life becomes more like the play than he ever wanted. As the clone of a 20th century rock star, Sean Quinn, seventeen-year-old Paul is the heir to musical talent his great-uncle yearns to possess. Now that Paul’s mother can’t stop him, Jack plans to force Paul to become a full-time Sean impersonator and give up his acting career.

Paul temporarily escapes his great-uncle by returning to the spaceship where he lives. Every year, the spaceship makes a round-trip passage through a wormhole to an alternate 20th century universe where Sean is still alive. If Paul can persuade Sean to let him make a holo-likeness, then he can impersonate Sean’s ghost and trick a confession out of his great-uncle. But before Paul can meet the man he was cloned from, he first must convince other wary time travelers to let him visit the 20th century Earth. Sean himself is slated to be murdered soon, something Paul’s mother tried to prevent. Would Paul honor her memory more by saving Sean or incriminating Great-Uncle Jack? If Paul chooses to save Sean, he could strand the spaceship in the 20th century—assuming he doesn’t die in Sean’s place. With his life at risk in one universe and his freedom in another, Paul will need his friends, his holoprojector costume, and a quantum talent he didn’t know he had to avoid tragedy.

Query #2:

Every year, the spaceship Sagan passes through a wormhole to an alternate 20th century Earth. Time travelers visit this planet to observe historic events as they occur and to take genetic samples back to their century. Sometimes they take samples from famous people, such as Sean Quinn, a rock star and peace activist.

Seventeen-year-old Paul lives on the Sagan with his family. After his mother is murdered during leave in the 22nd century, he learns he’s Sean’s clone, created at his great-uncle’s insistence to be a new Sean. Although Paul loves acting, he doesn’t want to be stuck in the same role all his life. He suspects Great-Uncle Jack had his mother murdered to make Paul’s life more like Sean’s, but there’s no evidence. Paul decides to trick a confession out of his great-uncle by impersonating Sean’s ghost. He feels the best way to do this is to meet the man he was cloned from. But the other travelers refuse to let him do so, fearing Paul could change the 20th century Earth’s history if he warns Sean about his own upcoming murder. Paul manages to escape from the time travelers to find himself caught in a horrible dilemma: continue with his original plans and let an innocent man die, or risk his own life to save Sean’s. Even that may be preferable to returning to face Great-Uncle Jack, who is plotting to use Paul’s girlfriend against him. Facing risks in two universes, Paul will need a quantum talent he didn’t know he had to avoid tragedy.

Which one do you think works better, and why? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? I'm planning to pitch this book as YA as well as science fiction; do you think one version would work better for that market than the other? Thanks in advance for your comments!

10 comments:

Tara Maya said...

Okay, I see what you mean. Starting with the Sagan visiting the past does immediately establish the query as sf. It's not too involved, so I think it works.

The second paragraph is still a little bit convoluted. I would suggest paring it down, removing mention of any subplots.

It sounds like the storyline echoes Hamlet, wherein the play's the thing to catch the conscience of the king, but I'm not clear how that would work, or how holo-ghosts come into it. And I'm not sure you can really explain that in a query. My suggestion: simplify.

What is "quantum talent"?

Tara Maya said...

Every year, the spaceship Sagan passes through a wormhole to an alternate 20th century Earth. Time travelers visit this planet to observe historic events as they occur and to take genetic samples back to their century. Sometimes they take samples from famous people, such as Sean Quinn, a rock star and peace activist.

On the day Paul’s mother was murdered, he didn’t perform his key scene in Hamlet. Seventeen-year-old Paul is Sean’s clone, created at his great-uncle’s insistence to be a new Sean. Although Paul loves acting, he doesn’t want to be stuck in the same role all his life.

Paul suspects Great-Uncle Jack murdered his mother. He decides to trick a confession out of his great-uncle by impersonating Sean’s ghost. To do this, he must to meet the man he was cloned from, and risk changing Earth’s history .

Facing risks in two universes, Paul will need talent he didn’t know he had to avoid tragedy.

Tara Maya said...

Opp, the line "On the day Paul's mother is murdered, Sean doesn't perform his key scene..."

Present tense, like the rest.

The second paragraph in the version posted above is still disjointed. Maybe you can smooth it out.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Thanks, Tara! That really does simplify it a lot. It may be better to save some of the other details for the synopsis.

Liz Fichera said...

Sandra, I like the first query better because there is more of a hook. Your first sentence in any query has to be killer, in my opinion. Otherwise, you lose the agent/editor's interest.

That said, I think the best queries are the ones that can boil down the story in no more than 5-6 sentences giving the reader just enough of a tease to beg you to send them more. Longer than a handful of sentences, and with too much backstory, and you're writing a synopsis.

Just my opinion, for what it's worth. Good luck with querying--I feel your pain, believe me! :-)

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Liz. I wrote a third query on my lunch hour and kept it short, as you suggested. Perhaps tonight I'll post it on the Water Cooler for critique.

barbaraannwright said...

I like the second one better. I got a little lost in the first one as to who was doing what and why. The second one, though, I had not trouble following.

Maria Zannini said...

I think the second one is more focused. I would look at tightening the query a little more, and keeping strictly with the gist of the story.

T'were it me, I'd probably pitch it as YA/SF.

Lots of YA out there. And lots of SF (that isn't selling) But I think you can find a niche market in YA sci fi.

The pond is smaller and it gives you a better chance of being noticed.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Thanks for your comments, Barbara!

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Maria, I think what you're suggesting makes sense, at least for this book. The only problem is that in the sequel I have planned, Paul and his friends would be in their early-mid twenties, too old for YA. I think that would lead to marketing issues. I could maybe make Paul a year younger here, but I still want him to have some life experiences for the next book. We'll have to see how it works out.

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