Mar 16, 2009

QUERY - XENOLITH

Bearing flowers to the cairn erected in his vanished wife's memory in the wilderness of Belize, an ambush awaits Dr. Robert Bowen and his heart.

Bound and bruised on the forest floor, he battles a potentially fatal arrhythmia while his captors bicker in an obscure tongue. They ignore his wallet and passport. He thinks they might be drug runners. He couldn't be more mistaken.

For millennia, the Philosophers of Ubabaor denied the existence of xenoliths -- stones rumored to mediate convergences between worlds. For centuries they had witnessed the advance of earthly technologies and summarily rejected them.

When a brutal invasion overwhelms their country's defenses, their military commandeers the stones to open corridors through our world to support the covert strikes and strategic evacuations that enable their country to persist under siege.

Robert's exile to Ubabaor for witnessing a convergence rekindles hope that his wife still lives. Seeking other exiles who might have seen her, he roams a war-ravaged landscape, facing Ubabaor's enemies, as traces of Elizabeth, faint but unmistakable, lead him closer to a possible reunion, if he can keep his balky heart beating long enough.

XENOLITH, an urban fantasy, is complete at 110,000 words. I am a Harvard-trained, tropical disease ecologist whose many forays in developing countries and innumerable bouts of culture shock help inspire my depictions of exotic cultures and settings.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Please let me know if you would like to see more.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not commenting on anything specific. And I'm not commenting on this particular query. This is a general comment, because I'm curious.

I've noticed something interesting in a lot of queries I thought I'd mention...strictly objective.

When I was querying, and I did it for a long time, I was always told to keep it as short as possible. I even read one book written by an agent that suggested if you could get the query into one paragraph with three or four sentences, it was always best. Some said you don't even need to mention any character names; just get to the storyline and hook them with that.

And, even though most queries now are electronic, the query itself, from what I was always told, should fit into one typed page with 12 pt font if it were to be sent through snail mail. Most e-queries I see would not fit; I've actually checked to see.

And the most positive responses I ever received, were from queries where the plot description didn't go over one paragraph. And, trust me, I have my own fair share of rejections.

There also seems to be a trend to get right into the description and leave the introduction and contact info for the last paragraph. Maybe this is something new? I don't know. I'm curious. I've seen it a lot lately.

If I were an agent, I think I'd like clarity: a set up in the first paragraph. Who the writer is, what genre the book is, how many words it contains. That way I know what I'm about to read.

I'm going anon this time. I don't want to be attacked by the query warriors. But I do have an agent now and I've been doing this for a long time, so I figured I mention something general.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

This reads more like a synopsis than a query. You might want to google the internet to find how to tighten this.

Also, different agents want different things. Some like info on the book upfront, while others will let you get away with putting it somewhere in the body of the query. You've got yours at the end, and that may complicate things a bit. A good start, though.

Anonymous said...

To the Anon before,
I think the reason we see it in this order by newbies is because on some of the blogs the agents are suggesting to hook them with the book first. Then go into the details. I do agree alot of these are way too long.

To Xenolith,
I was confused by this "When a brutal invasion overwhelms their country's defenses, their military commandeers the stones to open corridors through our world to support the covert strikes and strategic evacuations that enable their country to persist under siege." I think there is a word wrong in there, although I was having a rough time pinpointing it. You do have my fascination piqued though.

Judy said...

I am not an expert, but I might have something that might be helpful.

The first thing I noticed is the length. I think it is way to long. I know it is hard and frustrating to condense a full length ms down to a paragraph or two.
Decide what the whole book is about. The main theme. Is it the ambush, the xenoliths, or his wife possibly being alive?

With that said, I like your first sentence. I think that is a good hook (of course I do not know), but it did catch my interest, though you might want to cut the part about his heart. The reason I mention the heart is because it sounds like the ambush is waiting for his heart.

Your story sounds very interesting.
The best of luck.

TonyK said...

Thanks everyone for the helpful advice, but I think I'd better quit while I'm (ahead? even? behind?) with this particular query.

The order of information that agents expect (at least according to what can be googled) seems to run the gamut. Nathan Bransford, for example likes author info first. 'Miss Snark' prefers a hook and brief synopsis.

It's funny to hear advice like: "a good start" when this is probably my hundredth iteration draft of this particular query (I'm not kidding!) and "you might want to google" (I've been to dozens of agents' sites). I guess I just lack the capacity to craft a decent query.

I agree that brevity would be wonderful but some genres don't lend themselves to abbreviation when a world completely different from our own needs to be explained. Shorthand seems much more possible when stories take place in familiar environments.

It could be that this is just a personal failing as well, that I'm just incapable of distilling a complex plot into a few sentences without oversimplifying and deceiving the reader.

I think I'm just going to give up querying this one and wait till I have a simpler book. Next time, maybe I'll even write the query first! In the meantime I'm just going to enjoy revising and polishing this one, and find a nice hard drive to ensconce it in.

"Ambush of the heart" was intended to be metaphorical, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Hi TonyK,
I'm a little scared to offer advice, thus the annon, but am in earnest with my advice to you.

You can combine information from several of these paragraphs to tighten it up. Obviously, I haven't read your ms, so I may cut something of incredible importance, but from what I know, if you go on about your story for more than two or three paragraphs, editors and agents start to get fidgety or grumpy or a combination thereof.

First paragraph:
While pilgrimaging through the wilderness of Belize to the makeshift shrine in honor of his vanished wife, Dr. Robert Bowen becomes unwittingly embroiled in an inter-dimensional war.

Brief 1 or 2 sentence description of reason for war(who, what, where) and incorporation of use of Xenoths. Because Bowden witnessed the use of Xenoliths, he is taken prisoner (or words to that effect). Then relate in one or two sentences Dr. Bowen's goal of finding his wife and returning to Earth. Paragraph 5 is good, but could be shortened. (for ex. cut "seeking other exiles who might have seen her")

At this point I wouldn't mention the faulty heart. Focus on his mission. In a tiny query, the heart issue doesn't raise tension, it provides distraction from the "heart" of the story. (sorry couldn't resist.) Bring it up in the synopsis.

Last paragraph, short and sweet. Xenolyth is a 110,000 word urban fantasy. In my work as a tropical disease ecologist, my many forays into developing countries and innumerable bouts of culture shock helped inspire my depictions of exotic cultures and settings.
(I'd drop Harvard trained, it can be a little off-putting.)
Also drop the very last sentence.

I wouldn't abandon this story. The premise is intriguing. It's just really hard to cut your own darlings.

I hope this is helpful and wish you much luck and future success!

Anonymous said...

I'm the first anon.

The one thing that I see that hasn't changed when it comes to queries is that nothing is standard. It would be nice, just once, to see the AAR come up with a standard set formet so writers know what to do.

Judy said...

I would not give up with the query. It takes time and most say that it is harder than writing a book.

All plots are complex, twisting and turning within each other, but there is only one main theme that is the main focus of the whole entire ms. A plot that the others surround. Find this. It is there.

As I first started to write a query letter, I kept focusing on what my MC did. After a jillion times of rewrites it dawned on me that he is not the plot. He did something with the plot, the main theme. I started my first sentence of my query what the book was about, not the characters involved.

If you have two big main themes, ask yourself this question- which feeds into the other?
ie: his wife disappeared. Why? Was it because of these stones? I don't know but you do.

As for the differences in query requests. Write your query first, like you would a resume, and then fashion it to each individual agent. If an agent wants a synopsis, that is seperate from the query, do not put both together.

Keep out of queries-metaphors, clich├ęs, reduntant phrases. Direct, to the point. BAM! This is what my book is about.

Once again, I like your first sentence. It grabbed my attention and raised questions. Of course, I am not an agent.

Back to the point. I wouldn't give up. You seem to write well, and your ms seems very interesting. Just find the central theme-the whole point that brings the others into existance.

TonyK said...

Thanks again everybody for the encouragement and advice.

I'm just a little exasperated after struggling with this query for about nine months now. I'm going to put it to bed, but by no means will I give up working on the book. I'm about halfway through some exciting revisions and just trimmed about 10,000 of my 'darlings' away last weekend.

When I've looked at trimmer versions of this query (and I've had some superconcise iterations) it sounds generic and uninspired, and if I were an agent my first thought would be: #queryfail. Though, I don't presume that this bloated version would inspire anything different.

Unfortunately, you've caught me not at the beginning of the process but near my wit's end, thus, my apparent ease at abandoning this effort.

But I remain obsessed with polishing my story and am eager to continue with that. This query stuff needs a rest, though. Maybe around May or so, I'll revisit.

Rick Daley said...

Tony,

I think you have an interesting premise. As you finalize your revisions I'm sure you will think of new ways to spin the query.

The best query advice I've received to date was from Nathan Bransford, when he had me sum up all 120,000 words of my novel in a single sentence. Start small, then build up from there. It's the easiest way to keep the query from growing into a full-fledged synopsis.

I hope you found this exercise valuable - frustrating as it may be. Thanks for submitting. If you can, keep stopping by to offer feedback to the others.

Best of luck!

TonyK said...

"If you can, keep stopping by to offer feedback to the others."

LOL. As if I had a clue how to write a proper query!

But thanks so much for hosting this site. As my case illustrates, there certainly is a burning need for this kind of advice.

Anonymous said...

I'm brand new to this board and to the idea of a "query community," so forgive me if my comment is out of line or unhelpful, but isn't that first sentence built on a dangling participle? The first half of the sentence talks about something bearing flowers, and the second half shows us that the thing bearing flowers is...an ambush?

Rick Daley said...

"As if I had a clue how to write a proper query!"

Hey, I'm not good at golf, but I can pick out some bad elements of someone else's swing ;-)

Anonymous said...

Tony,

I love the idea of this book. Please don't give it up. It's difficult getting everything into a query, and keep it trim. Just keep working on it and reading the blogs. It gets easier.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

I'm Anon 12:42

This is what got me interested in your book:

For (a) millennia, the Philosophers of Ubabaor denied the existence of xenoliths -- stones rumored to mediate convergences between worlds. For centuries they had witnessed the advance of earthly technologies and summarily rejected them.

When a brutal invasion overwhelms their country's defenses, their military commandeers the stones to open corridors through our world to support the covert strikes and strategic evacuations that enable their country to persist under siege.

LOVED IT...though the last sentence could be tightened a bit.

Now to be honest, the whole doctor
looking for his wife did nothing for me. Why? Because you have such an exciting premise here that the doctor (imho) drags it down.

Your book has the potential to be an exciting page turner if your world building and action flows.

If I may correct something I stated. That the doctor drags it down. It's not that the premise of the doctor looking for his wife couldn't be exciting, but what does she add to an already advanced civilization? Is this a romantic urban fantasy? is she enslaved?
Is this where she's originally from and he didn't know it?

You've got something here if you can get more to the marrow. The first sentence (you have a great command of language, but sometimes less is more)of him getting attacked by a simple action makes me wonder why would they bother with him? And as a reader, why should I identify with him? Because he's looking for his wife?
I guess what I'm trying to say is this...when you write your query,
why should a reader want to buy your book. If you look at the back jacket where most of the hook is written, that's when you have to capture their attention.
For me, it was your world building and the travel between worlds.

Remember to, that if agents are getting a massive amount of queries now, even more than previously, you have to make your book stand out. I think you've got something here and still say you're close. My very best to you.

Anonymous said...

Further validating everyone's cogent and helpful comments, my blurb didn't make the cut to 2,000 in the Amazon ABNA.

A dangling participle in the opening hook! *bangs head on wall*