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Okay, so, someone told me the hardest part of writing a novel is writing the novel. Did they not try to write a query? Sheesh this is hard. I won't bother with the 27 earlier drafts and the 3/4 full notebook of scratch-outs. I'll just plug the newest attempt in here and ask for some feedback.

Micah is ashamed of his Cloud-mark.  He thinks it makes him a monster, less than human.  The villagers of Skykom couldn’t agree more.  But how would they react to his hidden secret?  He is the only male in history to possess the Blessing, rare mental abilities only found in Cloud-touched women?

When a dragon appears, Micah volunteers to investigate.  Maybe the dragon can convince them there are worst things that him.  Instead of a monster, Micah finds a crashed jet of the ancients piloted by a mysterious foreigner.  Meeting her reenergizes Micah’s childhood dream of solving the great mystery of the ancients and stopping the Cloud.

With his Blessed sister and brother-in-law, Micah leaves Skykom, ready to discover more.  He discovers horror instead.  The Norads, extreme touched who worship the Cloud and offer human sacrifices to swell their numbers, have enslaved survivors in the ruins of a great city.  These Norads are the monsters he always feared.

To stop them, Micah must explore the secret of his own power and unite the survivors in a revolt.  Because the Norads have a secret of their own.   They have been hunting for Micah.   And they will destroy the entire city just to find him.

The Cloud (103,000 words) follows Micah’s struggles against prejudice and oppression, topics of great issue today.  I live a quiet life, thanks to the pandemic, caring for my mother.  This is my first novel.

Thanks for your input.

Comments
  • Hi Stephen, 

    Can I just ask a couple of question? Is this just the blurb part of your query or your whole query? You mention the word count and the fact it's your first novel however it doesn't specify genre, and comp titles.

    What's the genre?

    Thanks

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    • Well, crap.  I left the top line out...  It's Science Fiction.  As comps go, I'm not really sure where to go for it.  I've read but I can't say I'm fully versed enough to find a comparable title dealing with the scifi element.


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      • Thanks for the additional  info. Comp titles don't have to match on all elements. The example I like to use it Katie Khan's Hold Back The Stars which is One Day meets Gravity. Each comp related to a different element 1) One Day tells me it's a romance with a different time-structure element and 2) Gravity tells me about the Sci Fi element and the critical and deadly situation in space.

        About the query itself, it feels very disconnected and very vague. The first paragraph is vague set up. Then the paragraph about the dragon. The  fact that Micah is male and has the mark means nothing to me and how it's so bad. If people have seen the dragon, surely they know how bad it is. Why does Micah think investigating the dragon will help? I could understand if he decided to kill it to show his people he can protect them.

        Then the dragon discovery comes across as a plot device just to give him a reason  to go on a quest then we jumped to the Norads.

        In my opinion you are trying to cover too much of the story in a short space hence the vagueness and confusion. I would try to concentrate on introducing the first act of your story and then hint at the bigger picture.

        The Bone Shard Daughter's  blurb is a great example of detailing the start and hitting at the bigger picture:

        "The emperor's reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire's many islands.

        Lin is the emperor's daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

        Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright - and save her people."

        I  hope this helps.

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      • Well, I've been struggling with this query for four months.  I've submitted various drafts for review with the same core responses each time: too vague or too detailed.  It is maddening to write a novel, revise it to death, make it readable, and then EF the query time and time again.

        The usual demand for query critiques is to wait 7 days and percolate.  Such really isn't possible for me.  My mind races faster than a super-charged light particle.  I haven't been able to find a middle ground for four months and the need to work at it, chip at it, drives me to work constantly.  I hope my response isn't too forward in that regard because right now, the query is my Kryptonite and I need a lead shield before my mind melts in jagged frustration.  So, round two.  At least this way, you can watch how my brain works and maybe identify just what the hell is so wrong with it that it can't grasp the "simple" query.


        The Cloud rules this world just as surely as it destroyed the old one.  The survivors are separated into two classes: those touched by the Cloud and the mundane who have been lucky thus far.

        To the mundane village of Skykom, Micah is a monster.  He wants to belief differently but its hard to do when you don’t look like everyone else.   Micah is touched, bearer of the physical deformities caused by contact with the Cloud.  It is these marks the villagers see.  The marks are a constant reminder of their fear of the Cloud and that Micah exists outside the natural order of humanity.  Micah has heard it for so long, he’s begun to believe it himself.

        But, if they hate him for being touched, how would they react knowing he is the only male in history to ever carry the Blessing?  These mental abilities occur in only the rarest of touched women.  Men?  Never.   Micah hides his Blessing, refusing to explore his unique abilities.  He stands far enough outside humanity as it is.

        When Micah alone sees a dragon, he rushes to find it.  Maybe they’ll realize he’s more like them if he can show them a monster that truly stands apart from humanity.  But instead of a jet, he finds a crashed jet from ancient times and the mysterious foreigner who piloted it.  Though their meeting is brief, the pilot reenergizes Micah’s childhood dreams of solving the mystery of the ancients and stopping the Cloud.

        But the world outside proves no better than Skykom.  Micah meets the Norads, a society of touched using technology to conquer and enslave based on a doctrine of superiority.  When Micah’s Blessing catches their eye, he will discover the true mean of the word monster.

        The Cloud, a Science Fiction novel of 103,000 words, follows Micah’s struggles against prejudice and oppression, topics of great issue today, set in a dystopian world of tomorrow.  This is my first novel.

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        • Hi Stephen, 

          Have you tried working through Jericho Writers agent submission builder? It takes you through a step-by-step process for how to write a suitable synopsis and query letter. It's freely available from their homepage (jerichowriters.com - scroll down to the bottom of the page, where it says 'free gifts'). You don't need to be a paid up member of Jericho Writers, you just need to give them your e-mail address in order to download it.

          I don't think I can really add to what L said, except that I noticed a couple of typos in your query, which, of course could be an immediate put-off for an agent...

          Maybe the dragon can convince them there are worst things that him.

          I am assuming this should say Maybe the dragon can convince them there are worse things than him.

          Instead of a monster, Micah finds a crashed jet of the ancients piloted by a mysterious foreigner. I would put a comma between ancients and piloted. I've been watching Debi Alper's mini self-editing course on the Jericho Summer Festival and she advises reading your work aloud, pausing only at punctuation, and see if it reads as you expect it to.

          He discovers horror instead. - instead of what? He sets out to discover 'more' but saying he discovers 'horror' instead of 'more' doesn't make sense to me because more is emotionally neutral. Could you say He is horrified by what he discovers?

          Hope these thoughts are helpful.

          Paul.

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          • Hi Stephen,

            I think this works much better than your original. But there are others on here much more familiar with the exact requirements of a formal query, which is something I've never officially done (the few stories I've had published in the past were sent on spec in a rather naive way and I guess struck lucky!).

            Some thoughts that occurred to me as I was reading it, from a reader point of view.

            The Cloud rules this world just as surely as it destroyed the old one.

            I wonder if 'the new world' might be clearer and a stronger mirror of 'the old one'? 

            The survivors are separated into two classes: those touched by the Cloud and the mundane who have been lucky thus far.

            How have they been lucky? I kind of needed to know the effects of the cloud to get context for the 'luck'.

            To the mundane village of Skykom, Micah is a monster.  He wants to belief believe differently but its hard to do when you don’t look like everyone else. 

            'it's hard to do' is a bit vague and weak. Can you find something that expresses Micah's shame and distress at his 'monstrousness' more vividly?

            Micah is touched, bearer of the physical deformities caused by contact with the Cloud.

            Aha! That's what I needed to know earlier! 😃 

            It is these marks the villagers see.  The marks are a constant reminder of their fear of the Cloud and that Micah exists outside the natural order of humanity.  Micah has heard it from others for so long, he’s begun to believe it himself.

            Don't think you need the first sentence; it's implicit.

            But, if they hate him for being touched, how would will they react knowing if they discover he is the only male in history to ever carry the Blessing?  These mental abilities occur in only the rarest of touched women.  Men?  Never.

            A bit clearer that they don't know yet, maybe? I think I need a bit more specificity about the 'blessings' other than that they're 'mental abilities'.

            Micah hides his Blessing, refusing to explore his unique abilities.  He stands far enough outside humanity as it is.

            When Micah alone sees a dragon, he rushes to find it.  Maybe they’ll realize he’s more like them if he can show them a monster that truly stands apart from humanity.  But instead of a jet dragon, he finds a crashed jet from ancient times and the mysterious foreigner who piloted it. Though their meeting is brief, the pilot reenergizes Micah’s childhood dreams of solving the mystery of the ancients and stopping the Cloud.

            A lot of new information to unpick here! I think we need to know that the sighting of a 'dragon' is a very rare event. Maybe more detail about the circumstances of its sighting?   'They'll'? 'The villagers' would more clearly refer back to the earlier paragraphs. Micah wouldn't know that it was a 'jet', would he, having grown up in a society that thinks of such things as 'dragons'? Or have the concept of a 'pilot'? So far we've seen his world through his eyes; suddenly we're being told things that you know, but he wouldn't. Or if, he does know about jets and pilots, we need to understand how. How does the meeting with the pilot re-energise Micah's childhood dreams? What does the meeting do to Micah emotionally to start him on his journey (assuming the meeting is the 'inciting moment'?

            But the world outside proves no better than Skykom.  Micah meets the Norads, a society of touched using technology to conquer and enslave based on a doctrine of superiority.  When Micah’s Blessing catches their eye, he will discover the true mean meaning of the word monster.

            We need a bridge to the sudden mention of the 'outside world, I think. What decision or events takes Micah away from the village and 'into the woods'? Micah 'meets' the Norads is a bit weak - how does he meet them?

            The Cloud, a Science Fiction novel of 103,000 words, follows Micah’s struggles against prejudice and oppression, exploring topics of great issue very relevant today in a dystopian world of tomorrow. This is my first novel.

            I suspect one of the more experienced authors will again prompt you to provide a couple of comp titles! Hope this helps. Feel free to ignore any or all of the above! 😃

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            • Take this with a health warning, because I'm not very good at blurbs. But some thoughts.

              On someone else's post, Rick said the blurb should be about the middle of your story, not the beginning, which made sense to me. That's probably where all the action is, while the beginning is more set up.

              So, if we look at your second and third paragraphs, these are very much set up and back story. I wonder if you need to cut these to the bone so you can move forward into the central part of the story.

              Could paragraph 2 be as short as 'Driven by hatred and prejudice from his childhood home...' That would tie in with your theme and cut out the ephemera which isn't adding anything to the blurb. Could you then continue with what his quest is? '...Micah is determined to find a place where he is accepted as normal.'

              Your third paragraph talks about how Micah's gift are only usually found in women, but while this fact might be relevant to the story, in the blurb this idea is never revisited, so again I think it's backstory you could cut completely.

              The next question is, how important is the dragon to the story. If it's just a device to get him out of the village, maybe you don't need.

              What does happen in the middle of your story? What is the catalyst that brings Micah's unusual abilities out. It's a turning point and maybe what you need in the blurb, and might be the point where you reveal the Cloud has given him unusual abilities. And maybe that turning point leads to the Norad's interest. 

              Obviously I'm guessing here, but I think it's worth having a think about the mid section turning points and see if they would fit into the blurb better.

              I like the last paragraph, and Jon's tidied it up a little with his suggestions.

              To do this backwards, I like your opening paragraph, but maybe it needs a few extra hints in there. Just the odd word to suggest more rather than a big expansion of it. Jon's mentioned about what exactly being touched is, but I also wondered about the Cloud itself.

              In Terminator, Skynet was computer technology, so it could be something like that. There's cloud storage which might add to that. Or the Cloud could be some powerful council of old tech people. Or it might be a nuclear cloud. Just a word could push the reader one way or the other. 'Toxic' might suggest a polluted Cloud. 'Tech' might suggest something else. It depends how much you want to reveal and what you want the reader to think.

              I hope some of that is food for thought and hasn't muddied the waters too much. I'm writing mine in the next few days so will be feeling your pain!

              Good luck. I'll look out for the next version.

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              • I'll go a step further on Kate's Cloud descriptor. This is the really advanced and subtle version thereof, which is to use a descriptor that only creates those additional associations subconsciously. Something that gives the answer away, but doesn't hit you over the head. Then, once you reread the blurb after the story, you see how blatant and obvious it was. (No, I can't give you any good examples of this. It's a subtle wordcraft thing I have seen, in blurbs and stories themselves, but never noted down instances, mostly because the relevaltion happens after the fact, once the original clue is so long ago that digging it out would take a lot of rereading.)

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              • I'm going to have to disagree with Kate, and by extension Rick when I say that I have never heard and never seen a blurb that covers the middle of the book. The blurb in some ways does the same job as a novel opening, it pulls the reader in and makes him want to know more.

                Where I agree with Kate (there's no way I would completely disagree with her) is about cutting the superfluous details she suggested. Yes the  blurb covers the opening on your novel but the above goes too far (and too long) and it almost verge on synopsis territory. You can't tell everything that happens, the subtlety of a query is to pull out the key details that will make people want to know more without being too vague. I know it's tempting to want to show all the great and interesting happening but thee blurb should only the relevant and what hints at the bigger picture (I suspect the dragon is not one of those hints)

                I'm assuming that you are looking to query US agents as the query format you're using is the US one. Unfortunately working on your query for months is pretty much the standard when looking to submit. I had a UK and a US query letter when I submitted to agents and it took me months and feedback from my critique partner and a couple of friends to finally get something I was satisfied with and still I did some more fine tuning halfway through the submission process.

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                • I beleive, if I remember the comment Kate was referencing, my suggestion of the blurb covering the middle of the book wasn't so much about the plot in the middle of the book - which is what is being implied here - but about touching on the theme, as it relates to the protagonist's personal flaw they must overcome in getting past the midpoint of the story.

                  Basically, the blurb is not an abreviated synopsis; it is a summary of interplay between setup and theme.

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                • Okay, first off, thank you all for the input.  While there's a little dissension in the ranks (haha), it just goes to show how difficult query-writing can be.  I read everyone's input several times, trying to get an understanding of how best to proceed.  Using that and some of Jon's fantastic advice, I've gone ahead and redone the query again.  This time, I took out as much backstory as I could.  No more dragon, no more Blessing.  The book needs those things... the query does not.  I've focused solely on the underlying topic of prejudice.  I hope I've done a passable job of it.  This ordeal isn't over (not by a long shot) but I think I made a few good strides getting my head wrapped around this conundrum of a task.  As for the comps, I'm still trying to figure it out but that will be a task for another day.

                  The Cloud rules this new world as surely as it destroyed the old one.  The survivors are separated into two classes: those touched by the Cloud, bearing the monster-like physical deformities its touch brings, and the mundane, who have somehow avoided the shimmering mist that floats on the wind, bringing ruin.

                  To the mundane village of Skykom, Micah is a monster.  He desperately wants to be accepted but how can he when he doesn’t look like everyone else?   The marks of the Cloud on his face are a constant reminder of their fear of the Cloud.  Those marks put him outside the natural order of humanity.  Micah has heard it from them for so long, he almost believes it himself.  Then, the Cloud attacks Skykom, devastating the village.  Micah must flee the wrath of the panicked village.

                  But the world outside proves little better.  Searching for a place he can be accepted, Micah runs afoul of the Norads, an extremist touched society that uses ancient technology to conquer and enslave based on their doctrine of superiority.  He finds himself in the ruins of Los Angeles, where two communities, one touched, one mundane, separated by a century of hate, now suffer under the heel of the Norads.   Micah must find a way to end their hatred of each other and help lead a revolt that will free Los Angeles… or destroy it.

                  The Cloud, a Science Fiction novel of 103,000 words, follows Micah’s struggles against prejudice and oppression, exploring topics very relevant today, set in a dystopian world of tomorrow.  This is my first novel.

                  Obviously, there's some spoilers here.  The idea that this is our world isn't made clear until Chapter 5 but mentioning Los Angeles spoils that a bit.  Sorry for that.  :)

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                  • This feels much more like the heart of your story. Hopefully someone with a knack for these can help you polish.


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                    • Thanks.  All your help thus far has been especially appreciated, Kate.  Hopefully, I'm narrowing it down in a good way!

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                    • I agree that it is a step in the right direction and it is a lot more engaging but I think this can be made a lot tighter. For  example, the 2nd paragraph which repeats on a lot of the same information.

                      Not  saying that's what you should write but to illustrate my point: "To the  villagers of Skylom, the marks on Micah’s body makes him a monster. After Skylow is left devasted after The Cloud attacks, Micah has no other choice than flee to escape the wrath of the survivors who hold him responsible."

                      This is 41 words and conveys what take 87 words in your second paragraph. This can be apply to the rest of the blurb. Just a suggestion but with a blurb I find it easier to start with the bare minimum and slowly add the right touches of a word here and there to keep it all tight rather than starting with too much and then try to whittle it down (but that's me.)

                      A spoiler is fine, this is a blurb for an agent not a reader so mentioning L.A  shows a nice twist in your story and how it's unique.

                      Unfortunately I don't read much fantasy so I can't help with comp titles.

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