Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

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BlackSuit
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Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by BlackSuit » July 5th, 2011, 12:02 pm

I would dearly welcome your critique of my query letter!

Dear Agenty person,

In the blink of an eye the world's children vanished, taken by an alien power intent on killing or enslaving those left behind.

A platoon of British soldiers, led by rookie Lieutenant Joseph Branston, experienced missing time during a secretive military experiment which may have signalled the attack. As confused and overwhelmed as his men, Branston struggles to hold his unit together and come to terms with what has happened.

As they travel across the ruined city of Worcester, Branston begins to feel conflicted about his duty to defend an apparently defeated country. Especially after a bloody rescue of a slave group attracts the deadly attention of the invaders.

But little is as it appears. A faceless alien in a black suit has an unusual plan for Branston and his followers – one in which even his own people are expendable pawns in a struggle for cosmic power against a little girl haunting Branston's dreams.

Survival depends on making difficult choices. But is Branston the one to make them?

SWANSONG: THE FALLEN is a science fiction novel complete at 108,000 words. It is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Nicole R
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by Nicole R » July 5th, 2011, 4:25 pm

This is a good start and sounds like an interesting concept. I think you can make it more compelling with some additional specifics. See my line edits below.

Good luck!
BlackSuit wrote:In the blink of an eye comma the world's children vanished, taken by an alien power intent on killing or enslaving those left behind.

A platoon of British soldiers, led by rookie Lieutenant Joseph Branston, experienced missing time during a secretive military experiment which may have signalled the attack. As confused and overwhelmed as his men, Branston struggles to hold his unit together and come to terms with what has happened. The transition to this paragraph is a bit jarring. At first, it seemed to have nothing to do with the missing children. Consider something like: Caught in the secret military experiment that may have signalled the attack, rookie Lieutenant Joseph Branston loses XX hours of his life. He emerges from the time-loss confused, overwhelmed and determined to lead his platoon against the aliens.

As they travel across the ruined city of Worcester, Branston begins to feel conflicted about his duty to defend an apparently defeated country. Why is he conflicted? Does he want to just give up and surrender to the aliens? In the previous sentence, he was all gung-ho about leading his troops - I want to know, specifically, why that's changed. Especially after a bloody rescue of a slave group attracts the deadly attention of the invaders. How bad was the original attack? If it was truly that bad, we need to hear details about the devastation and slavery in addition to the missing children.

But little is as it appears. This sentence is too vague to be interesting. A faceless alien in a black suit has an unusual plan for Branston and his followers – one in which even his own people are expendable pawns in a struggle for cosmic power against a little girl haunting Branston's dreams. This sentence confused me. I think part of it is related to your use of "his" - "his followers" refers to Branston, but "his own people" refers to the alien...I think. Is the alien struggling for power against a little girl? I wanted more details about the actual conflict. You literally have a faceless villain right now. :) What are his unusual plans for Branston?

Survival depends on making difficult choices. But is Branston the one to make them? I actually like this question. I was expecting the typical "how will he choose between difficult choices" dilemma, but here you question his authority or right to make ANY decision. However, the first sentence here is another vague one. Of course survival depends on difficult choices - what specific choices or obstacles does Branston face?

You start out the query with these missing children but never come back to them. I'm guessing that's somehow tied to the little girl in Branston's dreams, but the connection isn't clear right now. I'm left wondering why the children factor so importantly in your opening.


SWANSONG: THE FALLEN is a science fiction novel complete at 108,000 words. It is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

corriegarrett
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by corriegarrett » July 5th, 2011, 8:54 pm

Hey, interesting story line! I agree with the last poster, that I could use more detail though. I've read that a good query is usually between 250-350 words, and I think yours is less than 200 - so you have conceivably 150 more words to use!

Anyway, a few thoughts....
BlackSuit wrote:I would dearly welcome your critique of my query letter!

Dear Agenty person,

In the blink of an eye the world's children vanished, taken by an alien power intent on killing or enslaving those left behind.

A platoon of British soldiers, led by rookie Lieutenant Joseph Branston, experienced missing time during a secretive military experiment which may have signalled the attack. As confused and overwhelmed as his men, Branston struggles to hold his unit together and come to terms with what has happened.

As they travel across the ruined city of Worcester, Branston begins to feel conflicted This feels like a little too much telling. I know we have to do a lot of telling in a query, but it seems like there might be a better way to show that he changes his mind. "Haunted by dreams of a little girl, he begins to wonder if he's going crazy... and whether he should bother defending a defeated country." Or something, obviously you know your character more than me, but you see what I mean. about his duty to defend an apparently defeated country. Especially after a bloody rescue of a slave group attracts the deadly attention of the invaders.

But little is as it appears. Yeah, this sentence threw me, mostly because I kept wanting to switch it and is in my head. I think you could just drop it and give us more info about the black suited alien. A faceless alien in a black suit has an unusual plan for Branston and his followers – one in which even his own people are expendable pawns in a struggle for cosmic power against a little girl haunting Branston's dreams.

Survival depends on making difficult choices. But is Branston the one to make them? I agree, definitely like this line.

SWANSONG: THE FALLEN is a science fiction novel complete at 108,000 words. It is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
So, great premise, I mostly just want more to flesh it out! Good luck.

BlackSuit
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by BlackSuit » July 6th, 2011, 4:06 am

Thanks for the great critiques guys! It's really encouraging to know that the story line is good! Okay, I've had a go at fleshing it out as pointed out in the edits. How is this?

Dear Great sage of Agenty wisdom,

In the blink of an eye, the world's children vanished, taken by an alien power intent on killing or enslaving those left behind.

Caught in the secret military experiment that may have signalled the attack, rookie Lieutenant Joseph Branston loses two weeks of his life. He emerges from the time loss confused, overwhelmed and determined to lead his platoon against the aliens.

Unable to raise even civilians on the radio and haunted by dreams of a little girl telling him to 'save the knight', Branston begins to wonder if he's going crazy...and whether he should bother defending a defeated country. When his men discover a brutalized slave group, he mounts a bloody rescue which attracts the deadly attention of the invaders.

But a faceless alien in a black suit has an unusual plan. A test to single out a member of Branston's group who he feels may be 'the knight' whom the little girl is so concerned about saving. With decades of clandestine work on the line, he is willing to use even his own kind as expendable pawns to achieve his end.

With no idea where to go and the slaves' health quickly failing, Branston's group's survival depends on difficult choices being made. But is Branston the one to make them?

SWANSONG: THE FALLEN is a science fiction novel, the first in a series complete at 108,000 words. It is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Matt_X
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by Matt_X » July 6th, 2011, 11:06 am

Hi there,

Intriguing story idea, and I think you've made this a much tighter and better query letter. Here are my humble comments!

BlackSuit wrote:
Dear Great sage of Agenty wisdom,

In the blink of an eye, the world's children vanished, taken by an alien power intent on killing or enslaving those left behind. A minor thing, but I would consider "killing and enslaving." Context makes it clear they wouldn't kill and enslave the same person. More broadly, I think it could add some color to say a thing or two about these aliens. What's unique about them? What are they called?

Caught in the secret military experiment that may have signalled the attack Do you mean 'caused the attack' or 'precipitated the attack'? It's not clear what 'signalled the attack' means. Signalled to the aliens that it was time to attack? , rookie Lieutenant Joseph Branston loses two weeks of his life. He emerges from the time loss confused, overwhelmed and determined to lead his platoon against the aliens.

Unable to raise even civilians on the radio and haunted by dreams of a little girl telling him to 'save the knight', Branston begins to wonder if he's going crazy...and whether he should bother defending a defeated country. When his men discover a brutalized slave group, he mounts a bloody rescue which attracts the deadly attention of the invaders. This jumps a bit. At the end of the last paragraph, he was determined to fight. Then in this paragraph he lost his determination, and then apparently got it back again, but it's not really clear why. Why did he decide to mount a bloody rescue if he couldn't see the point of defending a defeated country?

But a faceless alien in a black suit has an unusual plan: A test to determine whether a member of Branston's platoon is 'the knight' whom the little girl is so concerned about saving. With decades of clandestine work on the line, who, Branston or the alien? is willing to use even his own kind as expendable pawns to achieve his end. It could heighten the tension here to know more about what is at stake. What kind of test is this? Deadly? Psychological? Whose clandestine work is on the line? If it's Branston's, I'm a little confused because I thought he was a soldier, not a spy. If he's a spy, cool (very cool) but maybe tell us earlier. If it's the alien's clandestine work, why should I care if he has something on the line? He's a faceless alien--I feel apathy... unless you add something to make us care about his fate.

With no idea where to go and the slaves' health quickly failing, Branston's group's survival depends on difficult choices being made. But is Branston the one to make them? Definitely dramatic...but this makes it sound like the question of whether or not Branston is qualified to lead the group is the most central, pressing issue of your plot. What does the climax hinge on? What hope is there for the humans to survive? A question on that subject might provide more effective tension. On a side note, Query Shark advises against asking rhetorical questions, because the agent will be tempted to answer them in a way other than you intend.

SWANSONG: THE FALLEN is a science fiction novel, the first in a series complete at 108,000 words. It is my first novel. Is there anything else you can add about your writing credits?

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Once again, this sounds like a cool book and best of luck!

Collectonian
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by Collectonian » July 6th, 2011, 12:29 pm

Interesting premise :-)
Dear Great sage of Agenty wisdom,Snick - I needed a smile today :-)

In the blink of an eye, the world's children vanished, taken by an alien power intent on killing or enslaving those the adults left behind.Why did they take the children? Were they killed? Vaporized? Or are they truly missing and no one knows their fate? Changed those to adults as those could be read to imply the children, of which there should be none left?

Caught in the secret military experiment that may have signalled the attack, rookie Lieutenant Joseph Branston loses two weeks of his life. He emerges from the time loss confused, overwhelmed and determined to lead his platoon against the aliens.If he is a rookie, how is he a Lieutenant? Lieutenant of? Army, Air Force, World police? You hinted at it in the first version. I think you can reword this to be a stronger, more actiony statement (note, added some guesswork on details). I'd also move to the front, as he seems to be the center of the piece.

Example for illustration: "British Special Forces Lieutenant Joseph Branston awakens from a two week coma to a quiet world. According to his platoon, every child in the world vanished in the blink of an eye, followed by the arrival of an alien power that seems intent on enslaving the remaining population and killing those who resist. Now only Branston and his platoon remain, somehow overlooked by the alien sweepers (how did they not get enslaved or is the enslaving still in progress?). Though still confused as to the identity and true purpose of the aliens, Branston can't just stand by and let them take over his world. With only his platoon as back up, he is determined to fight back and rescue the enslaved.

Unable to raise even civilians on the radio is this to indicate everyone else is already gone? if so, needs to be clarified how Branston and his platoon made it throuhg, especially if he was out cold for two weeks. and haunted by dreams of a little girl telling him to 'save the knight', Branston begins to wonder if he's going crazy...and whether he should bother defending a defeated country.So are they only taking over England? If so, what is the rest of the world doing, just watching? When his men discover a brutalized slave group, he mounts a bloody rescue which attracts the deadly attention of the invaders.I can see why Branston would be back and forth on whether this is a good idea, but I don't think we need to see as much back and forth in the query. Anyone would have second doubts, but for the query, the important thing is does he succumb to them and give up, or does he give up? If seeing the slave group is the impetuous to get him to act, move it up before where its declared he intends to fight back, along with the bit on questioning if dying for freedom is better than living as an abused slave.

But a faceless alien in a black suit has an unusual plan.Does he approach Branston about this? If not, make it clear that Branston is unaware of this. If so, why would Branston and his men not just kill him on sight, considering what the aliens are up to? A test to single out a member of Branston's group who he feels may be 'the knight' whom the little girl is so concerned about saving.Needs to be slightly clearer, is it the alien or the Branston who believes this member is "the knight"? If the alien, how does he know about the dreams? If Branston, based on what? With decades of clandestine work on the line, he is willing to use even his own kind as expendable pawns to achieve his end.Again, need some pronoun clarity - which he is which?

With no idea where to go and the slaves' health quickly failing,presuming this means he did rescue them? why is their health failing? Branston'sthe group's survival depends on making some difficult choicesbeing made.Like what? And where does the alien's plan play into all this? But is Branston the one to make them?Generally a rhetorical isn't good in a query as you can't guarantee how someone will answer. Perhap a reword to something like: But Branston isn't sure he is the right person to make them.

SWANSONG: THE FALLEN is a science fiction novel, the first in a series complete at 108,000 words.saying it is a series indicates you've already started writing the series without the first one getting accepted, which agents for better or worse seem to feel is amateurish. Instead, can end the series up with "It is a standalone work with series potential" or something along those lines. Indicate potential, not existence :-). It is my first novel. It is generally a bad idea to state "this is my first novel" as most agents say it immediately makes them think it is your first ever, which comes with negative preconceptions.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Nicole R
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by Nicole R » July 6th, 2011, 1:38 pm

This is already looking MUCH stronger. You're on your way!

I agree with Collectonian's latest comments, especially:
Collectonian wrote:and whether he should bother defending a defeated country.So are they only taking over England? If so, what is the rest of the world doing, just watching?
You start with world chaos, then focus only on England - it makes the action seem smaller than it really is. Maybe just change it to "a defeated world" (or planet, or race).

BlackSuit
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by BlackSuit » July 13th, 2011, 11:32 am

These are some really great and helpful comments, great food for thought! I've had a good long workup on the query and come up with some changes. Hopefully this will make the query stronger still? (Just as a side note, the entire platoon experience missing time after taking part in the experiment. They more vanish out of existence/this dimension than they do enter a coma)

Dear Gatekeeper to the sacred realm of publishedness,

Rookie British Army Lieutenant Joseph Branston and his platoon emerge from a bizarre case of missing time to a world ravaged by an unknown assailant. Overwhelmed by the sudden turn of events, Branston struggles to keep his unit together as they try to work out what happened.

The discovery of a slave group, being worked to death by alien guards promises answers. After a bloody rescue, the slaves tell how every child in the world vanished in the blink of an eye, followed by the arrival of an alien power that seems intent on enslaving the remaining population and killing those who resist. Only Branston and his platoon remain, spared by their absence from reality. Though still confused as to the identity and true purpose of the aliens, Branston can't just stand by and let them kill off mankind. With only his platoon and the slaves as back up, he is determined to find a safe place for the civilians to live and rebuild.

But a faceless alien cleric, wearing a human business suit, has an unusual plan for Branston's group. He knows Branston is haunted by dreams of a little girl, begging him to save a person she calls 'the knight' – he can walk the dreams of humans too. Obsessed with learning everything he can about this all-important knight, he manipulates his own people's invasion forces to set in motion a series of deadly tests for Branston and his followers.

With no real idea where to go and the slave's health failing due to an implant the aliens placed in their bodies, the group's survival depends on making some difficult choices. But with both the little girl and the aliens shepherding him to the place this nightmare may have started, Branston isn't sure he is the right person to make them.

SWANSONG: THE FALLEN is a science fiction novel complete at 108,000 words. It is a stand alone work with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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ryanznock
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by ryanznock » July 13th, 2011, 10:10 pm

Ha. If nothing else, your 'To:' lines are making my day.

(Just in case, though, you understand you're supposed to use the agent's name in the real query, right? *grin*)

I'm still not a fan of rookie Lieutenant. Maybe just rookie. Or 'newly-promoted'?

I like the first sentence here, but I generally think queries ought to be a bit shorter. (Then again, I don't have an agent, so what do I know?) How about:


British Army Lieutenant Joseph Branston and his platoon emerge from a bizarre case of missing time to a world ravaged by an unknown assailant. When they free a group of slaves from their alien taskmasters, Branston and his men learn how every child in the world vanished in the blink of an eye.

Branston rallies his unit and the freed slaves to fight back, but over weeks of guerrilla engagements (I'm just speculating here?) some of the men die to illness, and even their victories seem pointless. Branston starts to be haunted by dreams of a little girl telling him to 'save the knight,' and he wonders if he's going crazy, and whether he should bother defending a defeated world. But a faceless alien, wearing a human business suit, has an unusual plan for Branston's group: one that will lead them back to the unit's old base, exactly where this nightmare started.

Joel Q
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by Joel Q » July 15th, 2011, 3:57 pm

BlackSuit wrote:
Good start
Need some clarifications and a better ending
JQ

Rookie British Army Lieutenant Joseph Branston and his platoon emerge from a bizarre case of missing time to a world ravaged by an unknown assailant. Overwhelmed by the sudden turn of events Cliche , Branston struggles to keep his unit together as they try to work out what happened. (rework that phrase, write stronger)

The discovery of a slave group, being worked to death by alien guards promises answers. After a bloody rescue, the slaves tell how every child in the world vanished in the blink of an eye, followed by the arrival of an alien power that seems intent on enslaving the remaining population and killing those who resist. Only Branston and his platoon remain, spared by their absence from reality. Though still confused as to the identity and true purpose of the aliens, Branston can't just stand by and let them kill off mankind. With only his platoon and the slaves as back up, he is determined to find a safe place for the civilians to live and rebuild.

But a faceless alien cleric, wearing a human business suit, has an unusual plan for Branston's group. He knows Branston is haunted by dreams of a little girl, begging him to save a person she calls 'the knight' – he can walk the dreams of humans too. Obsessed with learning everything he (He? The cleric? I'm guessing??) can about this all-important knight, he manipulates his own people's invasion forces to set in motion a series of deadly tests for Branston and his followers. (not following how the dreams, the Knight and learning have to do with the tests. I think you could delete this info and not hurt the query.)

With no real idea where to go and the slave's health failing due to an implant the aliens placed in their bodies, the group's survival depends on making some difficult choices. it usually does, that's telling, not showing. But with both the little girl and the aliens shepherding him to the place this nightmare (word choice, because you talk about dreams, so is this story really a dream?) may have started, Branston isn't sure he is the right person to make them.

Show us whats at stake, what are the choices, what are the consequences of the choices

SWANSONG: THE FALLEN is a science fiction novel complete at 108,000 words. It is a stand alone work with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

BlackSuit
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Re: Query: SWANSONG: THE FALLEN Sci-fi thriller

Post by BlackSuit » July 16th, 2011, 7:14 am

Lets of great food for thought there, thanks guys! I'll have a good long work on this and post up the result. 8-)

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