Query Critique

ColGray

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Appreciate any thoughts:

Dear _____,

Eigyr Bhatia salvages nightmares: it’s lucrative, exhilarating, and devouring her sanity.

Wormhole bridging technology miscalculations contort parts of ships and souls into Bents: fractal origami monstrosities. Eigyr’s team kills bent people, collapses bent ship parts and sells the clean bits. When she discovers a seemingly normal infant born to a dying bent, she does the only sensible thing: lies and ditches the baby on her overachieving twin sister Ronna’s doorstep.

Seventeen years later, Ronna’s career is in shambles, sacrificed to protect her daughter, Maeve, from corporate recruiters’ attempts to acquire the teen prodigy. After a kidnapper leaves Ronna with a blast crater for a door, she hastily joins a deep space exploration fleet searching for mythical aliens. Four years of chasing legends in uncharted territory sounds safe and easy—until Eigyr reappears. Now Ronna, Maeve and Eigyr must navigate the secrets, lies and half-truths that have defined their lives without jeopardizing the fleet’s mission.

BENT (115,000 words) is the first in a series. With a rotating POV that includes LGBTQ+ and neurodiverse characters, BENT explores guilt and culpability against a backdrop of family drama and adventure.

It will appeal to readers of Christopher Ruocchio (Sun Eater/Empire of Silence), Becky Chambers (Wayfarers/A Psalm for the Wild Built) and Emily St. John Mandel (Sea of Tranquility).

My blog, Born with Cancer, explores pediatric cancer and parental grief and has generated $150,000 in donations for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute & Boston Children’s Hospital to support Neuroblastoma research. My prior fiction reached the Top 1% on Royal Road and was a rising star in Science Fiction, Drama and Horror.

I work in the technology field, studied anthropology at Hamilton College and I’m currently working towards my MBA at Boston University. A neurodiverse man, I live in Massachusetts with my wife, son and dog.
 
Interesting, sounds like science fiction book series in the making. Keep to a minimum technobabble concepts and descriptions, give reader just enough to keep enough keep them interested. Too much description and details can weigh down story a discourage the reader .
 
This sounds like something I would probably enjoy reading, but I am put off by the first line in the second paragraph of the description. It doesn’t flow naturally for me, and the technospeak referring to ‘technology miscalculations’ doesn’t quite make sense to me either. It suggests, to me, that reading the book would be hard work, and that might put off a potential publisher.
 
Disclaimer: Not a published author. Wouldn't know the first thing of what an agent looks for.

Wormhole bridging technology miscalculations contort parts of ships and souls into Bents: fractal origami monstrosities. Eigyr’s team kills bent people, collapses bent ship parts and sells the clean bits. When she discovers a seemingly normal infant born to a dying bent, she does the only sensible thing: lies and ditches the baby on her overachieving twin sister Ronna’s doorstep.
This is a lot of space for what seems like backstory

Seventeen years later, Ronna’s career is in shambles, sacrificed to protect her daughter, Maeve, from corporate recruiters’ attempts to acquire the teen prodigy. After a kidnapper leaves Ronna with a blast crater for a door, she hastily joins a deep space exploration fleet searching for mythical aliens. Four years of chasing legends in uncharted territory sounds safe and easy—until Eigyr reappears. Now Ronna, Maeve and Eigyr must navigate the secrets, lies and half-truths that have defined their lives without jeopardizing the fleet’s mission.
Even the first part of this seems to be backstory.

It sounds like the story starts at "Four years of chasing ..."

I'm missing the link to the bent, mentioned before. I'm missing some more detail on the actual story, character motivations and conflicts. This is what I would work on.

My blog, Born with Cancer, explores pediatric cancer and parental grief and has generated $150,000 in donations for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute & Boston Children’s Hospital to support Neuroblastoma research. My prior fiction reached the Top 1% on Royal Road and was a rising star in Science Fiction, Drama and Horror.

I work in the technology field, studied anthropology at Hamilton College and I’m currently working towards my MBA at Boston University. A neurodiverse man, I live in Massachusetts with my wife, son and dog.
To me this is very strong credentials, especially with hints that you have star power (I don't mean this in a disrespectful or crude way) but I'm not an agent.
 
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Disclaimer: Not a published author. Wouldn't know the first thing of what an agent looks for.


This is a lot of space for what seems like backstory


Even the first part of this seems to be backstory.
You're instincts are dead on.

It is a lot of backstory (Character A, world conceit, Character B/relationship) but it's also why I'm trying to punch hard with the opener: hey, gimme a chance to explain an intriguing opening line.

It sounds like the story starts at "Four years of chasing ..."

I can make this clearer -- swap, After a kidnapper, to, When a kidnapper, to make it clear this happens in the book (Act1 climax followed by resolution of joining the expedition).

I'm missing the link to the bent, mentioned before. I'm missing some more detail on the actual story, character motivations and conflicts. This is what I would work on.
The tie in to the bent is ... I'm legit ignoring about 60% of the manuscript to condense this down this far. But your point is well made and well taken. It's backstory and not story. I can adjust that. I've also tried (unsuccessfully) to convey a complete arc/motivation/story with one character and it falls flat bc they story isn't one character.

To me this is very strong credentials, especially with hints that you have star power (I don't mean this in a disrespectful or crude way) but I'm not an agent.
No disrespect/crudeness taken. I'm legit uncertain as to whether that is compelling or shrug-worthy. I've had a couple conversations with people about the audience cross over between, People who want to read about a dad in his feelings, and, People who want read about guilt and science's role in warfare, and I tend towards, it's pretty low--but different people feel differently.

It's really helpful feedback and I'm thinking on it. Thank you
 
This sounds like something I would probably enjoy reading, but I am put off by the first line in the second paragraph of the description. It doesn’t flow naturally for me, and the technospeak referring to ‘technology miscalculations’ doesn’t quite make sense to me either. It suggests, to me, that reading the book would be hard work, and that might put off a potential publisher.
lol, yes: that's a very good call out. It feels so techno-word-salad. I can streamline it.

I find that I keep trying to explain deep, nuanced ideas but with optimal concision and... yeah. I end up with something that not only fails to explain the concept, but is so clunky, it's a turnoff. Real win/win for losing! :LOL:
 
I’ll third what others have said - it is too much about the back story and not enough about the hook. That’s the job of the synopsis, not the query.

I have one book that is easy to sell amongst my little back range. It is also the only one of mine to gain an agent. The sales pitch is generally a variant of ‘Belfast, post-alien invasion. The locals aren’t happy.’ any expansion doesn’t hook people more than that.

Some books lend themselves to this better than others.

I think your opening line is good - although it might have a wee bit more ‘drop the mic’ to it if you play with punctuation and paragraphing. But then it moves to backstory and I’m like… meh. It makes things sound like they’ll be complex and info-dumpy, and I move on. Instead, I want to know why I should care, not what I need to understand.

The bit about yourself is good, but making reference to number of followers etc feels more relevant to a non fiction work, where that is so important, than fiction. I’d be more general, but it’s not a deal breaker either way.

Hope that helps!
 
I would tell this summary from the point of view of Ronna, and only introduce the backstory as it affects her. Ronna's daughter is kidnapped - then, for reasons, she joins the exploration team - the her sister reappears, having been involved with dubious tech. Now Ronna must do something important (give some details, preferably concrete ones about going somewhere, defeating somebody etc), but the biggest surprise about her daughter is still to come.

Incidentally, I don't know if you know this, but "bent" used to be an insulting word for "gay" in the UK. I've not heard it for a while, though.
 
I would tell this summary from the point of view of Ronna, and only introduce the backstory as it affects her. Ronna's daughter is kidnapped - then, for reasons, she joins the exploration team - the her sister reappears, having been involved with dubious tech. Now Ronna must do something important (give some details, preferably concrete ones about going somewhere, defeating somebody etc), but the biggest surprise about her daughter is still to come.

Incidentally, I don't know if you know this, but "bent" used to be an insulting word for "gay" in the UK. I've not heard it for a while, though.
Um, nope-- didn't know that! Like a year ago someone told me "bent" was an old time slang in New Zealand or Australia for people born with birth defects. People are so kind to one another... :confused:

I'm not sure how to even frame these questions--and this is out of my own ignorance and not in any attempt to insult/belittle/denigrate anyone-- but, I'm assuming it's derogatory, yes? Is it slang that's partially used today? Is it older generation slang or guys have had a few in the bar and say it under their breath? TLDR: How common is it and how bad is it? (sorry, coffee hasn't kicked in and I'm trying to parse the relative potential offensiveness of a word in a culture not my own to a group I'm not apart of.)

That's a good call on writing it from Ronna's perspective. I'll give that a try.
 
I think your opening line is good - although it might have a wee bit more ‘drop the mic’ to it if you play with punctuation and paragraphing. But then it moves to backstory and I’m like… meh. It makes things sound like they’ll be complex and info-dumpy, and I move on. Instead, I want to know why I should care, not what I need to understand.

Hope that helps!
That is helpful, yes.

I initially had the opening cadence as: "Eigyr Bhatia salvages nightmares for scrap and tech. It’s lucrative. It’s exhilarating. It’s devouring her sanity." to try and capture that cadence and mic drop element but had like 3 people tell me the impact is lost due to the punctuation. I like the punctuation heavy cadence more and it's truer to my voice. I'm going back!

Just so I'm tracking, is it too much world building info, or is it, just tell me about the characters not the world?

The bit about yourself is good, but making reference to number of followers etc feels more relevant to a non fiction work, where that is so important, than fiction. I’d be more general, but it’s not a deal breaker either way.
That's an interesting question. I ended my Royal Road account when I decided I wanted to try trad publishing as I didn't want to be tempted to post something up there. And their algo for ranking is interesting-- AFAICT, it's a blend of [Followers]+x[Ratings]+y[Reviews]+z[Page Reads]+w[Readers] with each assigned different weighting. I only had about 100 followers, but I had like 25 Reviews (more in depth than a rating) and about 50 Ratings (combined avg rating of 4.92/5.00) and a high page read (engagement stand in). Given RR tends to cater to litRPG and progression more than anything else (people with 20k followers, who publish 2500 words/day 5 days/week, etc.) I took this as, When people found me, they really liked what they read, but RR doesn't attract a large audience seeking non-litRPG/Prog fantasy.

Notably, i don't have any basis for this other than my own conjecture/ego/self-narrative.

Born with Cancer is a harder follower count. Grief and pediatric cancer, in particular, charges an emotional toll for visiting and engaging. There are times when visits spike and times when they drop to 0. Trying to measure engaged followers is as much a question of "when" as it is, "over what time horizon"? I also know i'm too heavily invested, emotionally, to be objective about it.

Super helpful thoughts -- thank you!
 
I'm not really the person to ask, being straight and not up to date with slang, but "bent" never seems to have been adopted by the gay community the way "queer" has. At least, I've never heard it used that way, and it has a hard, unfriendly quality. I think it really means "broken" or "not right", as it's also used to imply corruption ("bent copper" is London/UK slang for "corrupt policeman").

Out of interest, I've got a copy of A Game of Thrones where the back cover only mentions Eddard by name and gives the impression that he's basically the lead character, despite being an ensemble story. Obvious that's different to a query letter, but maybe explaining a complex story like that makes a summary easier to follow.
 
I've heard the GoT suggestion before --thank you. I've tried to follow that line of thinking/blurbing and it's just such an outlier (1. he wasn't a debut, 2. it's 835 pages!, 3. The blurb is heavy backstory) and from a different era in publishing, I've struggled to find it useful.

Of note, here's the opening paragraph of Game of Throne's blurb:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. To the south, the king’s powers are failing—his most trusted adviser dead under mysterious circumstances and his enemies emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the king’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but the kingdom itself.

5 sentences and 102 words before a character is introduced!
 
I'm not sure how to even frame these questions--and this is out of my own ignorance and not in any attempt to insult/belittle/denigrate anyone-- but, I'm assuming it's derogatory, yes? Is it slang that's partially used today? Is it older generation slang or guys have had a few in the bar and say it under their breath? TLDR: How common is it and how bad is it? (sorry, coffee hasn't kicked in and I'm trying to parse the relative potential offensiveness of a word in a culture not my own to a group I'm not apart of.)
Purely on anecdotal evidence, it's not a word that I've heard out 'in the open' since probably the seventies and early eighties (also Bender was used around the playground as another term for a gay man, but a certain robot has kinda taken a bit of the old meaning out of that one.) .... but then remember sex between men over the age of 21 was only decimalised in Scotland in 1981 :oops:!

But it's definitely derogatory though and clearly quite a few of us remember. Derogatory because heterosexual people were/still are described as 'straight' which comes from morally straight therefore bent in this case implies immoral. Thus can also be used, as Toby states, in the term 'bent copper' etc.

Perhaps if we turned it round, to give you a sense of what it feels like to me. Both the word Fag and Faggot have innocuous meanings in the UK, namely a cigarette and either a bundle of sticks or a northern culinary delight. But if I published a book called either of those, I assume it would set off alarms in the US?
 
Re the term bent, it's only the phrase "bent people" that I noticed. You could easily reword to avoid that.

It does have a meaning in the US too: the phrase "get bent" (as said many times by Bart Simpson) apparently has its origin in bent=drunk, the opposite of "straight" (as in drug-free).

I don't know that it matters that you have a title with possible unintended meanings. People aren't going to assume those other meanings, nor (I would have thought) be put off by them alone, even if they know them. In fact, if they do know them, it might make them more likely to check the book out to see in what sense the title is meant. It's a strong syllable, and there can't be many titles that short** that haven't already been used. I wouldn't worry about it.

**ETA: though this does make it un-Googleable.
 
Re the term bent, it's only the phrase "bent people" that I noticed. You could easily reword to avoid that.

It does have a meaning in the US too: the phrase "get bent" (as said many times by Bart Simpson) apparently has its origin in bent=drunk, the opposite of "straight" (as in drug-free).

I don't know that it matters that you have a title with possible unintended meanings. People aren't going to assume those other meanings, nor (I would have thought) be put off by them alone, even if they know them. In fact, if they do know them, it might make them more likely to check the book out to see in what sense the title is meant. It's a strong syllable, and there can't be many titles that short** that haven't already been used. I wouldn't worry about it.

**ETA: though this does make it un-Googleable.
You make a good point, the title by itself, if we didn't have this discussion, would probably be uncommented on, I think.

I did have a quick look for books titled 'Bent' and it seems there's quite a number. And there's, on first glance, a preponderance for those referring to the LGBTQ+ meaning of the word.
 
Purely on anecdotal evidence, it's not a word that I've heard out 'in the open' since probably the seventies and early eighties (also Bender was used around the playground as another term for a gay man, but a certain robot has kinda taken a bit of the old meaning out of that one.) .... but then remember sex between men over the age of 21 was only decimalised in Scotland in 1981 :oops:!

But it's definitely derogatory though and clearly quite a few of us remember. Derogatory because heterosexual people were/still are described as 'straight' which comes from morally straight therefore bent in this case implies immoral. Thus can also be used, as Toby states, in the term 'bent copper' etc.

Perhaps if we turned it round, to give you a sense of what it feels like to me. Both the word Fag and Faggot have innocuous meanings in the UK, namely a cigarette and either a bundle of sticks or a northern culinary delight. But if I published a book called either of those, I assume it would set off alarms in the US?
That's helpful -- thank you!

It would definitely set off alarms in the US -- though the terms were definitely socially prevalent and "dumb college student" acceptable through the early 2000's in the US.

Understanding the context also helped me realize why there's a few M4M romantic/erotic novels with, Bent, in the title--i had assumed it was a physical denotation and not a double entrendre.
 
I did think after posting that I should have checked my "not already used" assertion! But it isn't a well-known SFF title, at least. That I know of.
Yeah, Bent is a play, about 10 erotic novels and then a lot of variations on, Hell Bent ____,

I just really like one word book titles. Everything in SF/F right now is titled, A <Noun> of <Noun> <and> <Noun/Adverb>, or, The <Adjective> <Noun>. It's like everyone started copying GoT (bonus points for GRRM: he had both, A <Noun> of <Noun>, plus, A <noun> of <noun and noun>). It all blends together.

Benedict Jacka's series was all one-word titles and i thought they really stood out because each book title just hit.
 

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