Query Critique

I agree. One formula that I've used successfully for blurbs is:

1) Explain who lead character is
2) Explain what their problem is
3) Explain what they must do to solve problem.

Bob Smith used to be the CIA's lead criminal profiler, an instinctive genius who specialised in finding serial killers. But when spacemen go missing on the US moon-base, his former employers turn to him for help. Bob cannot ignore the rising danger - especially since his daughter Brenda is an astronaut. Now Bob must conquer his fear of flying and defeat his most cunning enemy yet - in space...

Yes, this is stupid and cheesy and could be much better, but you see what I mean.
 
  1. Three characters are named. Who is important? The most important?
  2. Why is Ronna's life in shambles? Is it because she's trying to keep Maeve safe?
  3. Is Maeve a "chosen one" type of character? Is this YA or teen?
  4. Does the book cover 17 years? Or does it start when Maeve is 17?
  5. Both Eigyr and Ronna sound like they run from problems. Is this intentional?
That's legit super helpful. Here's some quick answers, but your questions give me a good roadmap for clarity:
  1. None is most important--there is no main character. Each drives the narrative in their own way and the narrative is incomplete without each of their contributions/omissions. Each has about 22% of the overall narrative (and there's another primary POV i haven't mentioned because i can only stuff so much into this sausage!)
  2. Yes: The first scene with Ronna (chapter 1) is a state "recruiter" approaching her to offer bribes and threats and confirming that they've bribed anyone who would hire her to try and drive her desperation.
  3. Maeve is not a chosen one and it's not YA.
  4. There's a prologue that has the inciting incident (Eigyr finding the baby) and then a 17 yr jump between the prologue and Ch. 1 that happens entirely off-screen.
  5. They each deal with and run from particular types of problems, intentionally the inverse. Eigyr likes a physical fight, but struggles/avoids emotional work. Ronna's a merchant and an officer: emotional intelligence is key to her previous achievements.
Maeve has just bent a whole ship full of baddies with her mind and she is scared and exhilarated. Her stuffy "mother" Ronna is of course furious at her. But,as Maeve has recently found out, Ronna isn't her real mother. Figures. But her much funner and more adventurous aunt Eigyr is also mad at her. Says she's summoned demons from another dimension or something. Why's Eigyr acting stuffy all of a sudden? All this makes Maeve want to run off by her self. Find her real mother. But she can't just leave Ronna behind. She did take care of her for 17 years. Lost her cushy job in the process too, saving her from those mysterious men in black chasing them. And aunt Eigyr knows something about the msyterious fractal wormholes of the bent. And the bent is where her real mother is.

You're beginning at the end of the story but you hit enough character points and motivations that I'm feeling pretty good that I'm conveying the nature of the characters. Ronna's more about fear and anxiety than anger, but, yeah fear can easily manifest as anger.
Why are people doing things? And what is stopping them?
I'm not sure if I'm mentally oversimplifying or if it's unclear or what, but the motivations (i think?) are simple: Eigyr doesn't want to be tied down/be a mom, Ronna wants safety for Maeve, Maeve wants to be 17 (some freedom, finish her studies, do her own thing) and corporate states want to capture the first physics prodigy in a generation.

Am I overcomplicating that in the query?
 
(You shouldn't mind me too much: I probably have some kind of attention disorder - so it's possible you've written down something, and I read it and it didn't register)
You're beginning at the end of the story but you hit enough character points and motivations that I'm feeling pretty good that I'm conveying the nature of the characters. Ronna's more about fear and anxiety than anger, but, yeah fear can easily manifest as anger.
I then missed the story, because in my reading, my made up summary was the start of the story based on your query - when it's really the end of the story.

I'm not sure if I'm mentally oversimplifying or if it's unclear or what, but the motivations (i think?) are simple: Eigyr doesn't want to be tied down/be a mom, Ronna wants safety for Maeve, Maeve wants to be 17 (some freedom, finish her studies, do her own thing) and corporate states want to capture the first physics prodigy in a generation.
Yeah, I probably just am mixed up. Right now in my mind Eigyr giving Maeve to Ronna and Ronna raising Maeve to 17 all happens in Prolog/Ch1. Then if Maeve summoning the aliens is the end of the story, what's happening in the middle? Is it the running from the baddies and rescuing people?

If that is true, then that bit needs to be elaborated more, because, at least in my head, a lot of space is taken up by the start and end of the story and not much about the middle.
 
Anyone have thoughts on the latest version?

Eigyr Bhatia salvages nightmares. It’s lucrative. It’s exhilarating. It’s devouring her sanity.

Wormhole miscalculations cause Bents: fractal origami contortions of ships and souls that draw alien attention. Eigyr and her team kill the Bents then salvage what remains. When she discovers a seemingly healthy infant born to a dying Bent, she does the only sensible thing: ditches the baby on her overachieving twin sister Ronna’s lap.

Seventeen years later, Ronna’s life is in shambles. Divorced, demoted and nearly destitute, she's sacrificed for her daughter, Maeve. Because that's what a good mother does. The first physics prodigy in a generation, corporate polities have targeted Maeve for "enhanced recruitment" since she was twelve. When the latest attempt leaves her front door a charred ruin, Ronna signs on to crew a lavishly outfitted boondoggle searching for mythical aliens and their made-up homeworld. If she can’t deal with her problems, she can wormhole away from them.

They’ve barely settled in when Eigyr reappears, revealing the aliens aren’t mythical, just reclusive and hateful towards wormhole travelers. The trio of women grapple with decades of secrets and lies as fleet obligations slow progress towards the safety of deep space. Detouring around inhabited systems, stopping to rescue an old scientist and settling debts gives corporate polities one last chance to re-engage. Done with fleeing, Maeve chooses to create safety: ambushed and outnumbered, she unleashes a questionably ethical weapon. When a fleeing ship is Bent, reality tears and summons supernal aliens, upending the terms of survival for the women and all aboard their fleet.
I found the opening and first paragraph super hooky. Then I glazed over.

Agents have a few minutes to read a query. I felt the below did that. Then round off with the stakes. Ditch the worldbuilding. Hook hard first

Hit the ground running. Hook. Finish. Your synopsis does the rest.

Eigyr Bhatia salvages nightmares. It’s lucrative. It’s exhilarating. It’s devouring her sanity.

Wormhole miscalculations cause Bents: fractal origami contortions of ships and souls that draw alien attention. Eigyr and her team kill the Bents then salvage what remains. When she discovers a seemingly healthy infant born to a dying Bent, she does the only sensible thing: ditches the baby on her overachieving twin sister Ronna’s lap.

Seventeen years later, Ronna’s life is in shambles. Divorced, demoted and nearly destitute, she's sacrificed for her daughter, Maeve. Because that's what a good mother does.

Add the stakes. Hit me hard. Leave the rest
 
I found the opening and first paragraph super hooky. Then I glazed over.

Agents have a few minutes to read a query. I felt the below did that. Then round off with the stakes. Ditch the worldbuilding. Hook hard first

Hit the ground running. Hook. Finish. Your synopsis does the rest.

Eigyr Bhatia salvages nightmares. It’s lucrative. It’s exhilarating. It’s devouring her sanity.

Wormhole miscalculations cause Bents: fractal origami contortions of ships and souls that draw alien attention. Eigyr and her team kill the Bents then salvage what remains. When she discovers a seemingly healthy infant born to a dying Bent, she does the only sensible thing: ditches the baby on her overachieving twin sister Ronna’s lap.

Seventeen years later, Ronna’s life is in shambles. Divorced, demoted and nearly destitute, she's sacrificed for her daughter, Maeve. Because that's what a good mother does.

Add the stakes. Hit me hard. Leave the rest
I like it -- and that's helpful --but i'm not sure how i establish stakes without establishing some kind of antagonist and interpersonal conflict. There's an external arc of: (trio v kidnappers) v aliens, and an internal arc of: (Eigyr v Ronna v Maeve). Having stakes, in my mind, means having something where they're opposed and in conflict with one another for motivated reasons. Any suggestions around that?

I may remove the aliens as antagonist/threat. It's a complication with no time to be developed
 
I like it -- and that's helpful --but i'm not sure how i establish stakes without establishing some kind of antagonist and interpersonal conflict. There's an external arc of: (trio v kidnappers) v aliens, and an internal arc of: (Eigyr v Ronna v Maeve). Having stakes, in my mind, means having something where they're opposed and in conflict with one another for motivated reasons. Any suggestions around that?

I may remove the aliens as antagonist/threat. It's a complication with no time to be developed
For me, the stake is what they stand to lose if they fail (for query purposes)
 
I like it -- and that's helpful --but i'm not sure how i establish stakes without establishing some kind of antagonist and interpersonal conflict. There's an external arc of: (trio v kidnappers) v aliens, and an internal arc of: (Eigyr v Ronna v Maeve). Having stakes, in my mind, means having something where they're opposed and in conflict with one another for motivated reasons. Any suggestions around that?

I may remove the aliens as antagonist/threat. It's a complication with no time to be developed

Disclaimer: I am not a published writer

I don't know if you're still working on this but I wanted to bump it because I think it is a fantastic example of why writers should develop their log line and pitch looong before their final draft.

Do you feel like if you had done so, you would have a better, more coherent, cohesive story today? Saved a ton of your time?

When one is reading a pitch that contains a lot of unnecessary and disproportionate detail, it is usually a sign that the story is short on the necessary details... the things publishers and readers want: a sympathetic protag with a drive toward a goal, who faces strong opposition that threatens their emotional and/or physical state. Those are the details a pitch has to give us.

Instead we get three paragraphs to describe chapter one. Almost none on the rest of the story. Non sequiturs like "devouring her sanity" that aren't followed up on. Superfluous detail like "origami." Big attention-grabbing words like "boondoggle" for a minor, largely irrelevant-to-the-core-story detail. Short on conflict, tension, stakes. Long on cutesy wordplay and ambiguity and hints.

Nothing exposes a story's problems like trying to distill it into a short pitch or a log line. I think it is obvious the problem isn't your execution of the pitch, but the story you are pitching. That's typically the case and all the arrows here are pointing in that direction.

Dear writers, publishers are going to want you to demonstrate that you know who your protag is, what they want, what stands in the way and what the potential costs are. It's the story's main protag, through-line and emotional stakes that are going to sell your book to both publisher and reader. You should be able to write that in one clear sentence early in your writing process. A log line.

Also... Four equal protags are something that a Stephen King can get away with. Not a first-time novelist. Prove first you can handle one. And to do multiple protags well takes hundreds more pages than a typical novel. Every one of those protags needs roughly the same weight and screen time. Even ensembles typically have a leader of the ensemble. And remember, deeper is always better, more meaningful than broader.

ColGray, you should be commended for finishing a book, creating characters and a world, and now looking for a publisher. And I do commend you. Well done. If it's your first book, you have to be honest with yourself, though, it's likely sh*t. It sounds from the pitch like it is. That's okay, that's where we all start. And no one will become a real writer till they've crawled through that pipe. You did. Good for you for doing so. you learned. Likely got better. That's awesome.

But most of all thank you for being brave enough to post this query up for critique and revealing to the community how important it is to get this stuff down much earlier in the writing process. People get so focused on world-building, they forget about story-building.

So, I think you have two options:

First, self publish it.

Two, use it as a resource for future stories. You have multiple protags, so you have the kernels for multiple stories. The Bent, KILLING Bents, sanity, wormhole, Eigyr thing sounds like the foundation of a pretty unique story. Find a suitable plot template, protag goal, develop an antag, externalize/mirror the sanity conflict, etc and write away.

Prodigy running and hiding from relentless government pursuit sounds far less unique, prima facie, but could still provide the basis for another story. It's no less unique than the heist plot template Sanderson is always going on about for eg. Find it a unique hook and some interesting, believable context and dynamic characters.

Hope things have been going well since you first posted this now months ago. Best of luck. :)
 
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I appreciate the thoughts, Paul, but you've made some wild assumptions--both generally and specifically--and would politely suggest tempering those assumptions without supporting evidence. I'm currently querying agents and sitting around 12% for full manuscript requests (and based on /r pubtips anywhere 5%-10% is good).

A story can be hard to distill for a number of reasons or a combination of reasons: there's not much to it, there's too much to it, it's complex, it's broad, it doesn't fit in the standard query box, someone's not skilled at distilling 100k+ words into 250 hooky words, etc.

Querying follows a standard structure: Someone Interesting Does an Interesting Thing. It's intentionally reductive and bares a passing resemblance to the actual book. Suggesting that because a manuscript strays from or doesn't fit neatly into the standard format means its incoherent, simple or beyond the capabilities of someone to write is a big assumption.

Do you feel like if you had done so, you would have a better, more coherent, cohesive story today?
I don't. I think the story would be templatized and the characters reduced to flat archetypes.

Why? A) Writing a novel and writing a pitch are fundamentally different skills. B) The idea of writing dynamic, flawed characters based on a pitch seems at odds with the goal because pitches reduce characters to a hook and a trait.

Could I have gotten to a query ready draft faster? Maybe? I've done three major revisions and I'm not sure I could have landed where I am any faster with a pitch -- or that writing to a pitch would have produced a good manuscript. My first draft was ~200k words. It generally spent too much time on things I found fun but which weren't central to the plot (e.g. extra, longer interactions, etc.) Draft 2 was 165k. Draft 3 was 141k. Draft 4 is 115k and, based on my own reading and multiple betas, the coherence, story and characters absolutely work--but also, it works because of the interplay, not in spite of it.

Am I Stephen King? No, of course not. But multi-POV writing isn't reserved for legends and I write multi-POV better than I write single POV--I've seen me do it!

And finally I would caution against suggesting self-pub--especially if someone is querying lit agents. Self-publishing is great, but having self-pub books that don't sell well is a massive black mark against someone trying to move into trad publishing.
 
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