1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

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gsfields2004
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1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by gsfields2004 » July 30th, 2010, 4:47 pm

This is my first attempt at a query letter. I've read Nathan's blog on the subject along with many other blogs. I've read some books that give advice and I've read a lot of the letters and advice in this forum. Having no personal baseline with which to compare this letter, I'm hoping to get your thoughts and suggestions.

Letter Begins Here:
________________
Disillusioned and disgruntled Air Force Major Jarv Guerra, drinks too much, drives too fast, and takes too many risks. Assigned a dead end, staff officer job at a NATO headquarters in Italy, the only thing keeping him sane is his Italian girlfriend, Regina, and his dream of retiring in Italy. However when he starts having dreams about natural disasters before they occur, he begins to question his sanity. When an ancient oracle tells him he must go on a journey to unveil a shroud that hides the truth of an ambition that will destroy humanity; he fears the question of his sanity is answered.

The oracle guides Jarv on a journey of danger and deceit; a journey Jarv doesn’t want to take until he realizes that it is up to him to prevent the cataclysmic event that not only threatens the woman he loves, but the lives of every man, woman, and child on the planet.

Jarv finds himself the unwilling pawn in a game of revenge between Sibyl, the Oracle of Cumae, and the Sun God, Apollo. He must risk his life to recover the Lost Sibylline Books of Prophesy, decipher the secrets within them, and decide whether he should stop an event that could lead to the end of mankind.

The Oracle’s Revenge is an 85,000-word fantasy thriller novel. I am a retired United States Air Force officer and this is my first novel.

Upon your request, I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript. Thank you for your consideration and time.

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cheekychook
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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by cheekychook » July 30th, 2010, 5:06 pm

I have no experienced words of advice to offer, but I can tell you I like the tone of this query. Although this is not a genre I generally choose to read your voice and description sparked my interest, and I think that's very important for a query letter. You have a good balance of character description and plot.

I would delete the word "however" from your first paragraphs---the "When" sentence is a popular thing in the query-letter world.

I would also cut the line about this being your first novel (no need to state that, probably better not to mention it at all). Also there's mixed opinion about saying that your manuscript is available upon request---it's good to get in there the fact that it's complete (because it's important for agents to know that) but it's generally assumed that it's available if they want to see it.

If this is your first query letter attempt I'd say you're off to a good start! Best of luck to you!
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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by tchann » July 30th, 2010, 5:20 pm

I agree about omitting that last paragraph (or at least I have been similarly informed!). And I'm sure any agent you send your query to will automatically assume that you're willing to send the manuscript if they so request it, so that last line is unnecessary.

Something that stood out at me when I read through was the sheer number of commas throughout. I'm not a grammar expert, but I believe many of them could be removed to help the query flow better, for example:

"Air Force Major Jarv Guerra drinks too much, drives too fast, and takes too many risks. Assigned a dead-end staff officer job at a NATO headquarters in Italy, the only thing keeping him sane is his Italian girlfriend and his dream of retiring in Italy."

I took out the 'disgruntled and disillusioned' bit because it felt like too much description just to get to the main character's name, and took out Regina's name because she's not mentioned again by name in the query anyway. There's also something off about Italy/Italian/Italy all in the same sentence, but I can't think of how to fix it offhand. ^.^;;

gsfields2004
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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by gsfields2004 » July 30th, 2010, 6:12 pm

Really good suggestions. I mentioned my newbie status in that line based on something I read on a blog, but it was something I wasn't comfortable putting it in, so I'm glad to have a reason to take it out.

tchann's comment regarding the 3 Italians in a sentence (which sounds like either the start of joke or the name of an Italian Restaurant), is right on the mark. That was the kind of blind spot I was hoping someone would find. The fix seems relatively easy:
gsfields2004 wrote:Air Force Major Jarv Guerra, drinks too much, drives too fast, and takes too many risks. Assigned a dead end, staff officer job at a NATO headquarters, the only thing keeping him sane is his girlfriend and his dream of retiring in Italy.
Great comments.

By the way, I've had problems deciding on a genre. I've picked fantasy thriller, although it is more thriller than fantasy. Where genre does a story that involves Roman Gods and ancient oracles fit into?

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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by Quill » July 30th, 2010, 6:56 pm

gsfields2004 wrote: Disillusioned and disgruntled Air Force Major Jarv Guerra, drinks too much, drives too fast, and takes too many risks.
I like the beginning, especially up to "drinks too much".

"Drives too fast" seems both ordinary (just about everyone drives over the speed limit) and unspecific (too fast for what?).

"And takes too many risks" is somewhat intriguing, but lacks info; I can't imagine what sort of risks you refer to.

Assigned a dead end, staff officer job at a NATO headquarters in Italy,
Good. I'm liking the setting. Omit "officer" as redundant to "staff" and also to "Major".

the only thing keeping him sane is his Italian girlfriend, Regina, and his dream of retiring in Italy.
I'm liking it.
However when he starts having dreams about natural disasters before they occur, he begins to question his sanity.
Comma after "However".

"Question his sanity" is awkward, following "the only thing keeping him sane." If only two things are keeping him sane (Regina and retiring), wouldn't he have been questioning his sanity already many times and perhaps regularly? Can you find another way to say it, like now he thinks he's really going off the deep end, or something like that?

When an ancient oracle tells him
Unclear. What oracle? If in a dream, might best say so. If meeting in real life, say that.
he must go on a journey to unveil a shroud that hides the truth of an ambition that will destroy humanity; he fears the question of his sanity is answered.
Comma after "humanity", not semi-colon.

Unclear: "a shroud that hides the truth of an ambition". No idea what that is.

Awkward. "He fears the question of his sanity is answered". Odd sentence structure and too much emphasis on the character's sanity. Find a new way to get the info across.
The oracle guides Jarv on a journey of danger and deceit; a journey Jarv doesn’t want to take until he realizes
Comma after "deceit", not semi-colon.

Unclear. Again, is this a dream oracle or real life person. How is the guiding done? In his dreams? Together on a road trip? We need a little more specificity here.

Awkward. He doesn't want to take a journey he is already taking? That's what it sounds like. If so, could it be stated more elegantly (and clearly)?
that it is up to him to prevent the cataclysmic event that not only threatens the woman he loves, but the lives of every man, woman, and child on the planet.
Understand what you are saying, but it's wordy. Any way to streamline? For one thing, you already told us the problem threatens to destroy humanity, so "but the lives of every man, woman, and child on the planet" actually doesn't have a whole lot of punch.
Jarv finds himself the unwilling pawn in a game
Cliche. Best to go original all the way in a query.
of revenge between Sibyl, the Oracle of Cumae,
Confusing. Is this the same oracle that is guiding our hero?
and the Sun God, Apollo. He must risk his life to recover the Lost Sibylline Books of Prophesy,
Confusing. I thought he was after a shroud.
decipher the secrets within them,
Why him? Did we ever get why this character is chosen?
and decide whether he should stop an event that could lead to the end of mankind.
Why would he decide he shouldn't?

I think this is the third time in this query we are reading about the possible end of mankind. I suggest omitting at least one of them. Something may need to change with the overall structure of the query to avoid this. With this repetition, and with the seeming changing of quests, the query feels vaguely circular when it should read straight as an arrow's flight.
The Oracle’s Revenge is an 85,000-word fantasy thriller novel. I am a retired United States Air Force officer and this is my first novel.
It is not usually recommended to mention that it is one's first.
Upon your request, I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript.
Omit. It is a given by dint of you querying.
Thank you for your consideration and time.
Good.

gsfields2004
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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by gsfields2004 » July 30th, 2010, 7:22 pm

Now that's the kind of shredding I was hoping for, Quill. Some excellent points.

I hope I'm not the only writer whose intimacy with the story creates blind spots when trying to describe it to others. Thanks for taking the time to provide an excellent critique. Back to the grind stone.

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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by thewhipslip » July 30th, 2010, 8:46 pm

As always, Quill has served you well. I have nothing more to add.
http://elenasolodow.blogspot.com/ - Submit your 250-500 word excerpt to be read out loud in a vlog post!

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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by J. T. SHEA » July 31st, 2010, 4:15 pm

Just a couple of points, Gsfields2004. Capitalize the whole title, THE ORACLE’S REVENGE. And do you mean a literal shroud, as in the covering of a corpse?

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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by gsfields2004 » July 31st, 2010, 6:41 pm

During my research for this book, I read some translated Greek oracle prophesies. As you might expect, they reveal future events through ambiguous imagery and cryptic messages. The oracle in this story gives prophesies in the same way. I borrowed one of hers and used it in this query:
gsfields2004 wrote:a journey to unveil a shroud that hides the truth of an ambition that will destroy humanity
.

From the comments and suggestions, I can see that this line is best left in the context of the story rather than in the querry leter. Just another lesson learned on my journey towards becoming an author..

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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by hulbertsfriend » August 2nd, 2010, 9:07 pm

gsfields2004 wrote:This is my first attempt at a query letter. I've read Nathan's blog on the subject along with many other blogs. I've read some books that give advice and I've read a lot of the letters and advice in this forum. Having no personal baseline with which to compare this letter, I'm hoping to get your thoughts and suggestions.

Letter Begins Here:
________________
Disillusioned and disgruntled Air Force Major Jarv Guerra, drinks too much, drives too fast, and takes too many risks. Assigned a dead end, staff officer job at a NATO headquarters in Italy, the only thing keeping him sane is his Italian girlfriend, Regina, and his dream of retiring in Italy. However when he starts having precognitive dreams about natural disasters before they occur, he begins to question his sanity. Is how he is told too long to insert here?When an ancient oracle tells him he must go on a journey to unveil a shroud that hides the truth of an ambition change this word that will destroy humanity; he fearsthe question of his sanity is answered.

The oracle guides Jarv on a journey of danger and deceit;. journey Jarv doesn’t want to take until Remind us of his strengths/weaknesses to accomplish the task He he realizes that it is up to him to prevent the cataclysmic event that not only threatens the woman he loves, but the lives of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Really long sentence

Jarv finds himself the unwilling pawn in a game of revenge between Sibyl, the Oracle of Cumae, and the Sun God, Apollo. He must risk his life to recover the Lost Sibylline Books of Prophesy, decipher the secrets within them, and decide whether he should how to stop an event that could lead to the end of mankind.

The Oracle’s Revenge is an 85,000-word fantasy thriller novel. I am a retired United States Air Force officer and this is my first novel.
Upon your request, I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript. Thank you for your consideration and time.
A fine start! I like your first sentence, you also mention a ton of charaters with few words (4 or 5). With the plethera of fantasy thillers being pitched, brevity combined with action will attract more interest. I could be wrong, but the agent blogs I've read seem to reward less with more. Keep up the great work! Let me know when you repost! DougM
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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by Thermocline » August 9th, 2010, 11:31 am

gsfields2004 wrote:Disillusioned and disgruntled The list of drinking, driving, and risks that follows suggests he is unhappy with life. I think you could cut "disillusioned and disgruntled." Air Force Major Jarv Guerra, drinks too much, drives too fast, and takes too many risks Many people do these same things. Are there any specifics about his actions that would show us something unique about him?. Assigned a dead end, staff officer job at a NATO headquarters in Italy, the only thing keeping him sane Sane seems to be pretty strong since they first thing you've mentioned is him being disillusioned and disgruntled. What are Regina and his dream keeping him from doing? Quitting? Shooting somebody? Starting a war? is his Italian girlfriend, Regina, and his dream of retiring in Italy. However when he starts having dreams about natural disasters before they occur, he begins to question his sanity Why doesn't he think he might have a gift?. When an ancient oracle tells him This is not an every day experience for your readers. How does this happen?he must go on a journey to unveil a shroud that hides the truth of an ambition I'm a little confused. He has to find a cloth that hides an ambition? that will destroy humanity; he fears the question of his sanity is answered. This is a very dramatic line, but it doesn't give me specifics about the task at hand.

Most of the sentences in this paragraph started with dependent clauses. Try to vary your structure.

The oracle guides Jarv on a journey of danger and deceit What kind of danger? What kind of deceit?; a journey Jarv doesn’t want to take until he realizes How? that it is up to him to prevent the cataclysmic event that not only threatens the woman he loves, but the lives of every man, woman, and child on the planet.

Jarv finds himself Specifics - how does he find out.the unwilling pawn in a game of revenge between Sibyl, the Oracle of Cumae, and the Sun God, Apollo. He must risk his life to recover the Lost Sibylline Books of Prophesy, decipher the secrets within them, This is good. Now we know what he is trying to do. and decide whether he should stop an event that could lead to the end of mankind. Why wouldn't he? This seems like a pretty obvious choice. Show us why this is even a question.

The Oracle’s Revenge is an 85,000-word fantasy thriller novel I'm not sure fantasy thriller is a genre. I think it would be fantasy.. I am a retired United States Air Force officer and this is my first novel. You don't have to highlight that it is your first novel.

Upon your request, I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript.Unnecessary, as this is assumed. Thank you for your consideration and time.
Your story sounds like it's got some good conflict. Show us some of those specifics. Right now you're describing what happens in your book rather than showing your characters reacting to it from within the story. I hope my comments help.

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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by burnburn » August 9th, 2010, 6:18 pm

Hi - Below are my thoughts. This is not a genre I generally read so keep that in mind if any of my comments seem off for the type of novel this is. Although, I should point out this actually sounds pretty interesting to me despite the fact it's not a genre I typically read.
gsfields2004 wrote:This is my first attempt at a query letter. I've read Nathan's blog on the subject along with many other blogs. I've read some books that give advice and I've read a lot of the letters and advice in this forum. Having no personal baseline with which to compare this letter, I'm hoping to get your thoughts and suggestions.

Letter Begins Here:
________________
Disillusioned and disgruntled Is it repetitive to use both adjectives here?Air Force Major Jarv Guerra, Not sure the comma is needed.drinks too much, drives too fast, and takes too many risks. What kind of risks? This sounds pretty generic. Is there a particular type of risk he takes that might add some color to the sentence/description?Assigned a dead end, Not sure the comma goes here?staff officer job at a NATO headquarters Usually, there is one primary headquarters - is this a NATO regional office?in Italy, the only thing keeping him sane is his Italian girlfriend, Regina, and his dream of retiring in Italy. This might just be me, but I'm thinking he has a job in the place where he wants to retire and he has a girlfriend he loves there - so what's the big deal? Why is that keeping him sane? Maybe a sentence explaining what is so bad about his job or the lifestyle the job forces on him that makes him need these two things to keep him sane.However when he starts having dreams about natural disasters before they occur, Would it be better to say he starts having premonitions about natural disasters - might streamline the sentence a little bit.he begins to question his sanity. When an ancient oracle tells him he must go on a journey to unveil a shroud that hides the truth of an ambition that will destroy humanity; The whole first part of the sentence is really confusing to me. Who/what is the ancient oracle? Where did he come across this oracle? I don't really understand what it means to unveil a shroud? Isn't a shroud a piece of cloth that someone is buried in? How would he unveil the shroud? The shroud hiding the truth of an ambition seems very awkwardly worded. Is there a way you can rewrite this sentence for clarity?he fears the question of his sanity is answered.

The oracle guides Jarv on a journey of danger and deceit; a journey Jarv doesn’t want to take until he realizes that it is up to him to prevent the cataclysmic event that not only threatens the woman he loves, but the lives of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Good stakes, but I wonder if another sentence or two desribing the journey might be in order?

Jarv finds himself the unwilling pawn in a game of revenge between Sibyl, the Oracle of Cumae, I'm confused as to whether Sibyl is the same oracle mentioned above or a new one? (Then again, I'm often confused. :)) If it's the same, it might be helpful to give the name when the oracle is first introduced.and the Sun God, Apollo. He must risk his life how must he risk his life?to recover the Lost Sibylline Books of Prophesy, decipher the secrets within them, and decide whether he should stop an event that could lead to the end of mankind.I like that he has to decide whether to stop the event. Normally, you would think that of course he will stop it. But I love stories where the answer is not so clear cut. For me, this is a good thing. I'm not sure if you might want to add anything here to give a hint as to why he might not stop the event? You might even want to separate that question into it's own sentence to give it more impact.

The Oracle’s Revenge is an 85,000-word fantasy thriller novel. I am a retired United States Air Force officer and this is my first novel.

Upon your request, I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript. Thank you for your consideration and time.
Good luck with it!

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Re: 1st Query Letter - The Oracle's Revenge

Post by froggfeathers » August 9th, 2010, 11:03 pm

Hi. I'm new to the board. Not much to add to the crit's you have already received. Just a few thoughts below. You've heard some already, but I thought I'd round them up just the same.

Nice start and it sounds like a great story. As someone else said, this isn't my genre, but I was intrigued just the same.

Your beginning sentence is strong. I agree with earlier posts that you need to delete some of the description and Regina's name. Also, only keep the first reference to Italy.

As for the rest, just one opinion, but it needs thinned out. Step back from your story and focus on only the key plot elements. Jarv begins having premonitions about natural disasters. His search to explain this freakish curse entangles him in an ancient feud between a Greek god and a vindictive oracle. He then must use his knowledge and talents to avert a possible apocalypse. That is the core of your novel.

Now, if you use that core and only flesh out key information, you will have a nice tight query. For example, do we need to know in your query that they are the Lost Sibyline Books of Prophesy? Do we need to know that the God is Apollo and that he is the Sun God? Can he be a Greek god instead? You get the point.

Also, like everyone else has said, leave off the first novel. Sounds like a fun read. Hope you found this helpful and I look forward to seeing the rewrite.

Frogg

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