Apr 23, 2010

Query: Launch On Need (first revision)

Click here to read the original query.

Dear Agent,

The war with Iraq is imminent, America’s wounds of 9/11 still weep, and former CNN science correspondent John Stangley is desperate to restart his life after losing Claire to cancer.

When Stangley receives a scoop from a source at NASA, the ten-month-long depressive fog lifts, and the spirit that once impassioned him, returns.

Stangley convinces CNN to let him do an exclusive live report from the Kennedy Space Center. During the seven o’clock newscast he tells his audience how Columbia’s international crew of seven may be in grave danger.

Mission management chair Julie Pollard watches the clock, as every minute it seems, Columbia’s problems grow in scale and complexity. First the media learns foam struck Columbia’s wing during launch, then shadowy, satellite images of Columbia prove inconclusive. Finally, a spacewalk confirms catastrophic wing damage. But Pollard has an idea. She wants to use Atlantis to rescue the crew of Columbia.

While engineers work to implement Pollard’s idea, NASA’s public relations department begins an ambitious program to rekindle America’s interest in the space program by granting the media unprecedented access. Stangley covers everything from rescue crew training, prayer vigils in towns across the country, public taste tests of astronaut food such as thermostabilized tortellini, and each milestone Atlantis reaches en route to the launch pad.

As Columbia’s seven astronauts wait to learn their fate, orbiting an impossible twenty-five days aboard a battered, powered-down spacecraft, one thought never leaves their minds. If the ground crews can’t ready Atlantis in time, a simple sensor fails at the launch pad, or a winter storm closes the launch window, they die in space.

Launch On Need, complete at 97,000 words, is a novelization of NASA’s rescue plan as detailed in the final report from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.


Ju Dimello said...

Am also a relative newbie to all this..but just putting my thoughts across.

I guess we should also mention specifics of whether the story is a "fiction" or a "non-fiction" and if fiction - then what genre etc.

Am not sure if the query must contain writing credits.

I guess, I'll wait for more comments to "learn" and see if any other opinions jog some more thoughts.

Rick Daley said...

Ju- the author said it is a "novelization" which implies fiction. A big pet peeve of many agents is calling a book a "fiction novel" (which is redundant).

Genre classifications are not the most important part of a query, and ultimately it is a publisher who will determine the genre. While it is generally considered proper form to include a genre in the query, from all I have gathered the absence of genre does not a form rejection make. I think Yoda said that.

Some notes on the query:

Is Claire his wife, sister, fiancee, etc.?

In the spirit that once impassioned him, returns. drop the comma.

Would CNN grant him the exclusive, or would that be up to the Kennedy Space Center? CNN would grant the crew to do the live report, but how could they guarantee that Fox is not also there?

in as every minute it seems, Columbia’s problems grow in scale and complexity. drop the comma.

The remainder of the query ventures into synopsis territory, and I suggest condensing the play-by-play in the last three paragraphs into a single paragraph that describes the general conflict.

This is an improvement over the first draft, but I think you have a little more work to do before it's in prime shape.

DG said...


Thanks for your suggestions and comments. Stangley does the exclusive since he's the one who received the scoop. The other channels get involved later after Stangley breaks the story.

Could you elaborate on how my query is heading into synopsis territory? A lot happens in this story and I was trying to portray the level of tension and seriousness the characters are in while still keeping it to one page.

Ju Dimello said...

Rick, thanks for the clarification.

DG, as to query vs synopsis, am not too sure. But there is a post by an agent on something similar. Posting here - hopefully should help.


DG said...

Ju- I follow Nathan Bransford closely but don't remember seeing that particular link. Thanks for the tip.

scott g.f.bailey said...

Who is this story really about? The reporter, or the shuttle crew? You need to focus on one or the other. Also, "a novelization of NASA’s rescue plan as detailed in the final report from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board" sounds deathly dull, honest. Don't say this.

Rick Daley said...

If the crew is not rescued, they die in space. Those are the stakes. The protagonist has to convince NASA the threat is real, and does so using the power of the media. That's the challenge and how he overcomes it. Now add in a slice of personal development Stangley goes through - dealing with his own celebrity, the realization that he is a hero, a family meltdown because he is working too hard, whatever you have in there - and you'll have it. All the other details are unnecessary.

DG said...


Thanks for your suggestion about the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. I've struggled with this from the onset. The point of mentioning it in the query is to lend credibility to the rescue plan--It's what NASA said they could have done, not me making up some ridiculous rescue story.


Thanks for the specifics.