Welcome back! Today, let’s look at a partial query for a YA sci-fi.
Before: In the year 2201, seventeen-year-old High Princess Jane Smith finds herself graduating from the Commando Academy a sergeant in the Six Worlds of Genesis Fleet. It’s unheard of for a princess or prince to graduate a commando. And it’s even more unheard of for anyone to graduate with such a high rank, which she accomplished by breaking every record in every course at the Academy. Jane also carries two secrets with her: the first, she has the ability to see glimpses into the future and read minds. The second is so horrible it could destroy what’s left of the human race.
After: Seventeen-year-old High Princess Jane Smith is the first royal to graduate from the Commando Academy. Not only that, but she’s the first graduate to be awarded the rank of sergeant—a rank she earned by breaking the academy’s every record. But as Jane accepts her commission with the Six Worlds of Genesis Fleet, three secrets threaten her hard-won status. First, she can glimpse the future. Second, she can read minds. And third…well, the third could destroy the human race.
Commentary: 1. This is nitpicky, but I omitted the year because the rest of the query screams futuristic fantastical world! The year seemed unnecessary.
2. Whenever your query has a character “finding herself,” that’s an opportunity to tighten. Does she find herself graduating, or does she simply graduate?
3. Just like you don’t want to info dump in your manuscript, you don’t want to info dump in your query. This author asks the slush reader to unpack a lot of information in that first sentence: a year, an age, a title, a name, a school, a rank, and a military unit. Whew! Break that up a bit. Here’s what I suggested in the after:
- First sentence: age, title, name, school
- Second sentence: rank, Jane’s tendency toward overachievement (character development)
- Third sentence: military unit, threatening complications (hinting at plot/conflict)…etc.
See what I did there? In your query, as in your manuscript, weave expository details together with character-development and plot details! Get to goal and conflict ASAP.
4. Speaking of conflict, the before doesn’t have much. Look closely. The fact that Jane has secrets is introduced with “Jane also carries two secrets with her” (which could be tightened to “Jane has two secrets,” but I digress). The word “also” means you’re making a list. What you need to make are connections. How are Jane’s secrets going to spell trouble for her as she moves into her new role as sergeant? Conflict, conflict, conflict! Get it on the page. Here, in an attempt to make a connection, I suggested that her secrets will “threaten her hard-won status.” But, sadly, I don’t know if that’s what will actually happen in the manuscript.
5. I had some trouble with this author’s math. Jane’s “first” secret is actually two secrets (she can glimpse the future and she can read minds), so why not call them out as such? Also, TOO MANY WORDS! “She has the ability to see glimpses into the future” is the same thing as “she can glimpse the future.” Tighten, please.
Join me next time!