Friday, May 29, 2009

Query letter #2: SF Writer

Sarahlynn made a comment about the word count for the previous query - I hadn't said anything about it, as I was trying to limit my feedback to the letter itself, rather than commenting on storylines and word counts and whatnot. But I realise it may be more helpful to writers to actually give the 'personal feedback' too. So I'll do that, where appropriate - please bear in mind these comments are all my opinion only and you won't like some of them - but this is really what I'm thinking as I read the letters, so it should give you an idea of how quickly the guillotine comes down sometimes.

Dear Agent,

I am seeking an agent
[Really? Thanks for telling me - I wasn't sure why you were writing to me.] for my 90,000-word science fiction thriller: TimeSplash. [Don't use a colon - it's not the correct punctuation for the sentence and immediately makes me think that you don't know what you're doing.]

Set in Europe in the near future, TimeSplash is the story of two young people, Jay and Sandra, both traumatised by their involvement in the youth cult of timesplashing. [But I don't know what timesplashing is, so I just have no idea what any of this means and thus I've already stopped caring. Ideally, you should put a comma after 'timesplashing' and explain it right there.]

All Sandra wants is to see her former boyfriend, Sniper, dead. The glamorous German timesplasher [Sniper is glamorous? The BOY gets to be glamorous? Now I'm envisaging blond tips and loafers without socks - Don Johnson with a Rhinelander accent] dragged her back in time to witness an horrific killing spree which left her terrified and institutionalised. The same timesplash created a temporal anomaly that destroyed the Dutch town of Ommen, and killed Jay's best friend. [Apart from the glamorous distraction, this is a concise, clear paragraph.]

All Sniper wants is to cause a timesplash so big it will make him a legend. [This doesn't sound like much of a reason - if he's the villain, you need a stronger villainous hook than 'he wants to be a legend'.] He doesn't care that this will wipe out central London as effectively as if the city had been nuked. To do it, he and his crew plan to go back to 1902 and murder Lenin. [You're presuming that everyone knows who Lenin is, and the Red Revolution was so long ago - most of the kidz these days will just think this is a misspelling of Lennon and then wonder why you think The Beatles were around in 1902. So you either have to explain who Lenin is or change this plot point - dead Communists aren't compelling story drivers any more.] Every intelligence agency and police force in Europe [They're after him in 1902? Or they're after him in the present day for murdering Lenin in 1902? If it's the latter, why do they care? If Lenin died in 1902, no one knows who he is and there's still a tsar running Russia. If it's the former, you'll have a hard time convincing anyone that an early version of the KGB was in operation in 1902 because, well, that Tsar Nicholas II was a softie.] is after Sniper, but only Sandra and her new ally, Jay [How do Sandra and Jay meet?], know where to find him. Yet Sniper has powerful backers with deep pockets - and they have a mole within MI5 [No! This is too much Day of the Jackal and James Bond - forget MI5, England is SO 1967.] , keeping Sniper one step ahead of his enemies.

One by one, every plan to stop Sniper fails until all that is left is to send Jay and Sandra back to Edwardian London to save Lenin's life. [Here you've officially lost me - Edwardian London in a science fiction thriller? I don't care.] But just being there in the past is enough to cause deadly anomalies and this desperate last stand might be as dangerous as taking no action at all. [This storyline sounds interesting if the historical detail is extracted - if the reader isn't interested in Russian history or Edwardian London, they're going to be turned off immediately. I guess this is why science fiction is usually set in the future.]

I attach a 3-page synopsis of the manuscript and the first three chapters.. [I've left in the two full stops because this is something that I will notice in a letter - is the author trying to do an ellipsis? Does he/she not know that an ellipsis is three dots? Or is it an extra full stop? See, now the punctuation has distracted me from the letter.]

I have recently had stories published in the anthology, U, and in the magazines; V, W, X, Y and Z. This month, one of my short stories was announced as third place winner in the Very Prestigious Writing Contest. My previous novel Time and Tyde was chosen for an Orbit manuscript development programme in May last year. My writing credits also include three children's science books and over a hundred magazine articles. My blogs currently attract over 500 unique visitors a month from around the world (mostly the USA, the UK, and Australia). [This is all great experience, but now I'm wondering how someone with that many writing credits can make elementary punctuation mistakes AND think that anyone who likes science fiction wants to read about Edwardian London.]

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon. [Don't say you're looking forward to hearing from me soon - that means you're going to call me in a week and ask why I haven't responded to you yet. All I need to know at this point is whether the manuscript is available if I want to read it.]

S. F. Writer.

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