Query: The Robertson Institute (YA Fantasy)

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Cjc217
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Query: The Robertson Institute (YA Fantasy)

Post by Cjc217 » February 24th, 2010, 8:17 am

Update: Scroll down for a revised copy


Thanks in advance for any feedback. It is truly appreciated.

Dear ____:

I am seeking representation for The Robertson Institute, a 95,000-word fantasy novel for young adults.

In a country where magic has always ruled over science, fifteen-year-old Charles Howe arrives at the Robertson Institute with a single suitcase and a host of questions. Why do the professors all seem to know him? Why are the students reluctant to speak to him? And most important, what does a school for science want with a boy who has studied only magic?

As Charles tries to unravel these mysteries, he must uncover the truth about his past. All his life, he knew his parents had been killed in a magical accident, but as Charles befriends one of his teachers, he learns the mysterious organizations of magicians, the Guilds, may have been involved in their deaths. Respected scientists, Charles’ parents made a breakthrough that could spell the end of magical domination. Their discovery proved deadly, and now it seems their secret has been passed down to Charles.

Suddenly the focus of Guild attacks, the Institute—and Charles—face a fight for their lives. It’s a battle that could remake Charles’ world, but no matter who prevails, Charles must be wary. Trust is hard to come by at the Robertson Institute, for even in bonds of friendship and promises of protection, treachery waits just beneath the surface.

Below, I have included a synopsis and the first five pages. At your request, I would be happy to send sample chapters or the full manuscript.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my work.

Sincerely,

Me
Last edited by Cjc217 on February 24th, 2010, 4:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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theWallflower
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Re: Query: The Robertson Institute (YA Fantasy)

Post by theWallflower » February 24th, 2010, 10:14 am

I am seeking representation for The Robertson Institute, a 95,000-word fantasy novel for young adults.
I would start with something personal about the agent. It can even be as simple as "I am querying you because of your interest in science fiction" or "I read your blog". If you've got nothing, kill this sentence.
In a country where magic has always ruled over science, fifteen-year-old Charles Howe arrives at the Robertson Institute with a single suitcase and a host of questions. Why do the professors all seem to know him? Why are the students reluctant to speak to him? And most important, what does a school for science want with a boy who has studied only magic?
-Right off the bat, this sorta sounds like a Harry Potter rip-off. Not that this kills you in the water, but you need to make sure you highlight what's new and different about your story. For example, what's special about the Robertson Institute? What kind of science do they specialize in? Give a little back story. Maybe tell the terms of how Robertson accepted him. Also I'd like to know Howe's background (great name, BTW). Is there anything special about him?
-I'm a little confused about "magic ruling over science". The two are not exclusive.
-The questions are more telling than showing. Give specific examples from the text rather than generalities.
As Charles tries to unravel these mysteries, he must uncover the truth about his past. All his life, he knew his parents had been killed in a magical accident, but as Charles befriends one of his teachers, he learns the mysterious organizations of magicians, the Guilds, may have been involved in their deaths. Respected scientists, Charles’ parents made a breakthrough that could spell the end of magical domination. Their discovery proved deadly, and now it seems their secret has been passed down to Charles.
-Kill the first sentence. Too generic. It's obvious from the plot and questions that he's going to do this.
-Also kill the last sentence, too generic.
-Remove the definition of the guilds. We can infer its definition.
-This paragraph does nothing to assuage the Harry Potter parallels.
Suddenly the focus of Guild attacks, the Institute—and Charles—face a fight for their lives. It’s a battle that could remake Charles’ world, but no matter who prevails, Charles must be wary. Trust is hard to come by at the Robertson Institute, for even in bonds of friendship and promises of protection, treachery waits just beneath the surface.
-What is that fight?
-This paragraph tells me nothing about the story. I want specifics.
Below, I have included a synopsis and the first five pages. At your request, I would be happy to send sample chapters or the full manuscript.
As always, only do this if the agent requests it. Scrutinize each agent's submission guidelines, and you've got a much better chance of getting in.

Overall, I think the problem with this query is that the scope is too high. It's more about the world and underlying backstory. You need to better identify the protagonist, what problem he faces or what is his goal, (specifically-there must be events that happen. Say "the first weird thing he encounters is...") and thirdly, what he's going to do to solve that problem. See the query questionnaire I linked to in this post - viewtopic.php?f=12&t=894.
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Cjc217
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Re: Query: The Robertson Institute (YA Fantasy)

Post by Cjc217 » February 24th, 2010, 1:49 pm

Thanks for the advice. I suspected the letter was too generic, but hearing someone else say it makes it much easier to make changes.

Revisions to follow, hopefully soon.

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Re: Query: The Robertson Institute (YA Fantasy)

Post by Cjc217 » February 24th, 2010, 4:36 pm

Here's a new draft of the letter. Thanks again for any advice.

Dear _______:

I am seeking representation for THE ROBERTSON INSTITUTE, a 95,000-word fantasy novel, and thought you would be interested because [specific reason].

Charles Howe should have had a new life. After a lonely childhood of magical education in an austere Guild school, studying science at the Robertson Institute should have given the fifteen-year old orphan a chance to forge a new career in his country’s burgeoning technological industries.

But the problems begin as soon as he arrives. Brent Everard, another student, seems to hate Charles, and inexplicable dreams of a dark figure trouble his sleep almost from the first night. His professors, meanwhile, have impossible expectations. Faculty members from the kindly Humboldt Wallace to the brilliant Daniel Robertson himself seem to think Charles can revolutionize their society. By combining magic and science, they believe Charles will heal injuries, cure diseases and save lives in ways no one would have dreamed of before.

At first, Charles is puzzled by their anticipation, but not nearly as bewildered as when he begins to fulfill his professors’ hopes. In Chemistry, Mechanical Philosophy and Biomancy, Charles outstrips his classmates, and he soon masters new techniques for synthesizing scientific principles and magical energy.

His success, however, brings only more trouble, as Charles’ talents threaten the status quo. For decades, the Guilds have tried to suppress science out of fear technology would replace their magical monopolies. Charles’ achievements make the Institute a focus of Guild attacks, and as fires break out and explosions rattle buildings, it becomes clear someone is an agent of the Guilds trying to destroy the Institute from the inside.

Charles’ life is suddenly at stake, and even as he tries to learn why he possesses such phenomenal abilities—and what his long-dead parents have to do with it—he must struggle to avoid the Guilds and save himself. Above all, he must decide whom he can trust. Anyone at the Institute could be the Guild infiltrator, and anyone he knows might betray him in the end.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my work.

Sincerely,

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maybegenius
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Re: Query: The Robertson Institute (YA Fantasy)

Post by maybegenius » February 25th, 2010, 1:21 pm

Cjc217 wrote:Here's a new draft of the letter. Thanks again for any advice.

Dear _______:

I am seeking representation for THE ROBERTSON INSTITUTE, a 95,000-word fantasy novel, and thought you would be interested because [specific reason].

Charles Howe should have had a new life. After a lonely childhood of magical education in an austere Guild school, studying science at the Robertson Institute should have given the fifteen-year old orphan a chance to forge a new career in his country’s burgeoning technological industries. (This hook is a little bland. I might try a hook that reveals that he's bridging a gap between two powers that don't want to be bridged, and someone will do anything to stop it)

But the problems begin as soon as he arrives. Brent Everard, another student, seems to hate Charles, and inexplicable dreams of a dark figure trouble his sleep almost from the first night. His professors, meanwhile, have impossible expectations. Faculty members from the kindly Humboldt Wallace to the brilliant Daniel Robertson himself seem to think Charles can revolutionize their society. By combining magic and science, they believe Charles will heal injuries, cure diseases and save lives in ways no one would have dreamed of before. (Streamline this paragraph - beware of info dumps and introducing several characters by name. You could cut these last two paragraphs and replace them with something more concise, like "Charles's blended magical and scientific training could save lives in ways never dreamed of before.")

At first, Charles is puzzled by their anticipation, but not nearly as bewildered as when he begins to fulfill his professors’ hopes. In Chemistry, Mechanical Philosophy and Biomancy, Charles outstrips his classmates, and he soon masters new techniques for synthesizing scientific principles and magical energy. (More info dumping. You could simply say he "excels in his scientific studies," and merge with the above paragraph somewhere.)

His success, however, brings only more trouble, (what trouble was there before this point, other than a kid that doesn't like him and bad dreams?) as Charles’s talents threaten the status quo. For decades, the Guilds have tried to suppress science out of fear technology would replace their magical monopolies. Charles’s achievements make the Institute a focus of Guild attacks, and as fires break out and explosions rattle buildings, it becomes clear someone is an agent of the Guilds is trying to destroy the Institute from the inside.

Charles’s life is suddenly at stake, and even as he tries to learn why he possesses such phenomenal abilities—and what his long-dead parents have to do with it (cut... unimportant the central story in your query)—he must struggle to avoid the Guilds and save himself. (Just himself? Is he unconcerned with anyone else?) Above all, he must decide whom he can trust. Anyone at the Institute could be the Guild infiltrator, and anyone he knows might betray him in the end.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my work.

Sincerely,
You have a lot of information you're trying to pack in, and there are a few points where it's bogging you down. I'd focus most on your central point: Charles is the first (I'm assuming?) student to attempt to bridge the worlds of science and magic, and the people in power really, really don't like that. They're so desperate to avoid it, in fact, that they resort to terrorism and attacking a school filled with (presumably) innocent children and scholars. If you have information that doesn't pertain directly to that central theme, cut it. Try not to include your subplots - which is so hard when you feel they're important to the story, I know! - and hone your query to a point.

One question I have - why is Charles so keen to switch over to another area of study? If he was raised to be part of the "status quo," why did he decide to take the road less traveled? Was he forced to when he was orphaned? Did he actively choose to because he suspected the magic-users of killing his parents? Does he think science has more merit?

Hope this helps! :)
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Cjc217
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Re: Query: The Robertson Institute (YA Fantasy)

Post by Cjc217 » February 26th, 2010, 7:20 am

Thanks for the comments. They're very helpful.

I feel a bit torn between getting bogged down by providing too much information and failing to accurately convey the story by providing too little. Combining a few of the middle paragraphs sounds like a good compromise, though, so I think I'll try that and see where it takes me.

Thanks again.

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Re: Query: The Robertson Institute (YA Fantasy)

Post by ivanpope » February 26th, 2010, 7:51 am

maybegenius wrote:
Cjc217 wrote:Here's a new draft of the letter. Thanks again for any advice.

One question I have - why is Charles so keen to switch over to another area of study? If he was raised to be part of the "status quo," why did he decide to take the road less traveled? Was he forced to when he was orphaned? Did he actively choose to because he suspected the magic-users of killing his parents? Does he think science has more merit?

Hope this helps! :)
I'd go with this. I'm often amazed at how from revision to revision on the query it seems to be a different book being talked about. The second version hints at something much more interesting: a world where the longstanding belief in magic is being challenged by upstart science. Of course, this is both an historic truth and also a sort of inversion of our current situation, where science is often challenged by magical thinking.
The issue of why Charles is so interested in the science side is potentially key, if you have a good reason that links in his dead parents and his own charater.
Sometimes I think writers just set up a battle and then let it run, i.e. magic v. science, that's a good one, let's let them war. But surely there needs to be something bigger than the theory that is causing such battles, you need to bring it in. Is there a power struggle going on in the outside world, is there great wealth for the victor, something more than just, because ...

Cheers,
Ivan

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