Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured most recently here would like feedback on this new version of the query:

Three years ago the alien took Parker Rhodes's father away from him, though Parker didn’t know it at the time. “He died during an important mission overseas” was the lie the Government told Parker and his mother, Dorothy Rhodes. But now the alien has returned, and before the day is over Parker will learn the truth.

Parker had just had the worst day of his 13 year old life, and that was a huge understatement. [There's no way that's an understatement. It's either exactly correct or it's an exaggeration.] As if the alien invasion that wiped out his home town of Wakesville, MD wasn’t enough, he had been chased by aliens, in a car accident, almost killed a half a dozen times and shot, and those were just the things he remembered (being knocked unconscious three times in one day plays tricks with a kids [kid's] memory). [Items on your list should have parallel construction. As you use past-tense verbs (chased, killed, shot) in the other items, add a past-tense verb (injured? involved?) to "in an accident."]

The day didn’t start out bad; in fact it started out pretty awesome, [period.] Parker had just been accepted into the most prestigious high school in Wakesville, he had actually held a conversation with Danielle Rochester, the girl of his dreams, without looking like a total dweeb and his mom had bought him the soccer cleats he had been wanting since forever when she heard the news about his acceptance. [One list per query is plenty. If you want us to think he's had a horrible day, don't provide evidence to the contrary.] But then the day took a nose dive when he turned on the TV and saw the alien that had crashed on earth three years ago, uniting mankind to fix its ship and left earth as a celebrity had returned. [Terrible sentence. The longer you make a sentence, the more chance you have of losing your way.] The alien, named “The Omega” by humans because of a pendent it wore shaped like an omega symbol, [Lucky for him he didn't wear his other pendant, the one shaped like a penis.] was talking about finding earth, which it called “The Seed”, and how the discovery was going to change the course of the Universe. [You've now provided the approximate amount of information a query's plot summary should have. And it appears we're only half through.] The Seed was a planet of legend and is believed to have the ability to revitalize the Universe [Inconceivable that someone besides us thinks Earth is an important planet.] into its former glory by sharing its resources with other planets and bringing those planets back to “life” but there was only one issue, humans. They seemed to be destroying the resources of the Seed and paid little attention to the other planets in the Universe in need of restoration, [How thoughtless of us not to preserve our resources for planets in other galaxies.] so the Omega felt its only course of action is to eliminate humans from the earth. It drove this point home by assassinating the Vice President, [As there've been a couple dozen assassination attempts on presidents, four of them successful, while no vice president has been assassinated, the Omega figured killing the vice president must be much more difficult and thus much more impressive.] detonating a bomb that whipped [wiped] out Wakesville, MD and releasing an army of seemingly invulnerable dog like creatures to wipe out all humans slowly, as to not cause too much damage to the planet. [If you're going to release creatures that will wipe out all humans, what's the point of first bombing Wakesville, Maryland? Just release the creatures in Wakesville.] 

Luckily, Parker and his mother survived the blast, [It wiped out the whole town, except for Parker and Dorothy?] though Dorothy was knocked unconscious leaving Parker to find transportation to get him and his mother to safety. [Luckily he's able to summon a car using the Uber app.] During his search he meets a fearless boy no older than 5 years old, dressed in a cowboy outfit and in search of his own parents named Billy. [Both of his parents are named Billy?] The two boys soon became threated [threatened] by one of the alien creatures and in an act of defiance [defense?] Billy shot at the creature with his toy six shooter killing it, inadvertently discovering the aliens’ weakness, the plasticizer phthalate. [Why was that sentence in past tense?] The boys meet with General Carter, President Maria Martinez [A woman president? You expect anyone to buy that?] and a few army soldiers recovering from a failed attack on the alien and held [holed] up in a secret base. With the information learned from Parker and Billy on how to stop the aliens for good, the Military personnel, along with the President, [No need to capitalize "military" or "president." "Or vice president" or "universe" or "government."] formulate a plan to take the invaders down. [They equip the entire military with toy guns.] Parker, focused on getting [back] his mother, Dorothy Rhodes, back [No need to tell us her name again.] who had gone missing, sneaks a ride to the alien ship hoping his mother had been taken hostage there. Once in the ship the military men fight the remaining aliens [Are these aliens like the Omega or aliens like the dog-like creatures? Is the Omega vulnerable to toy guns?] while Parker searches the ship and soon finds himself in the middle of the gun battle. He is hit by a stray bullet that had passed through the Omega, the mixture of the Omegas blood with his own gives him the same incredible speed and strength that was displayed by the Omega. With these new powers Parker is able to defeat the Omega and send it fleeing off the planet, but not before reveling [revealing] it had something to do with the death of Parkers [Parker's] dad. [The Omega tries to kill us all, and we send it fleeing instead of capturing or killing it?]

This 60,000 word book is complete and ready for your review. I would be delighted to send it to you.

Best regards


When I said we wanted to know what happens in your book, I didn't mean everything that happens. You've got to condense this into about ten sentences, and I don't mean sentences as long as the first one in paragraph 3.

The story is how Parker saves us all from the alien. Everything up until he goes after the Omega is the setup, and you get one three-sentence paragraph for that. Something like:

Thirteen-year-old Parker Rhodes learns that the alien who kidnapped his father three years ago has returned to Earth and released invincible dog-like creatures that will eventually kill all humans. Parker swings into action, teaming up with Billy, a five-year-old boy in a cowboy outfit. Turns out Billy's toy six shooter contains the plasticizer phthalate, which happens to be the creatures’ weakness. 

Now you can tell us how we plan to defeat the Omega and what goes wrong, and what will happen if we fail again.

This switches between present and past tenses too much, sometimes within the same sentence. When in doubt, use present.

It's also riddled with errors. No agent or editor is going to want to read a manuscript full of errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. We have no reason to think your manuscript doesn't have just as many errors on every page as your query has. In fact, since your query is the key to getting requests for the manuscript, and thus has been proofread numerous times, I would expect the manuscript, which you probably proofread only a couple times, to have an even greater density of errors.


InkAndPixelClub said...

You're focusing on showing what's in your story instead of telling us how great the writing is, how relatable the character is, and how much like villains from other book s the villain is. That's good. I had ten minutes to read your query before I had to go and walk my dogs and I couldn't finish it. That's bad. Your average editor or agent is probably going to give your query a similar amount of time or less. If the errors don't get you a rejection letter, the length almost certainly will.

When you put an idea at the start of the query, I expect it to be very important to the story. Parker's dad being abducted is not very important to the story. It's not even mentioned again until the last paragraph. It has nothing to do with why Parker is fighting the alien, since Parker doesn't even know that the alien is connected with his dad's disappearance. It's coincidence. Your story is about Parker saving the world from aliens, so you want to start with something related to that.

There are tons of details in here that you don't need. None of the items on list of the bad things that happen to Parker have any bearing on the rest of the story. (Parker is nearly killed multiple times, knocked unconscious repeatedly, and involved in a car accident, but he's fine?) The good things that happened can also go. The lists don't add anything to the story and you jump back in time from where your query starts twice (I think?), which makes it hard to tell what happens when. We don't need to know Parker's mom's name. We don't need to know why the alien is called the Omega or the whole legend that prompts it to try to wipe out humanity. (Just "to preserve the Earth's resources for the rest of the galaxy” is fine.) We don't need the vice president, the name of Parker's hometown, the general, or President Martinez.

Parker acquires superpowers very late in the story. I don't see why he needs superpowers, since he's already figured out that the Omega and its dog troopers are vulnerable to plastic. (Unless the Omega itself is not vulnerable to plastic, in which case you need to show the characters realizing that.) Also, it seems like your hero saves the day because he happened to get superpowers. You want the reader to feel that Parker is the hero because of who he is and what he chooses to do, not because he was in the right place at the right time to get alien superpowers. If the hero of your story could have just as easily been the general, Dorothy, or Billy, I would strongly suggest reworking the ending.

You have to demonstrate good writing skills in your query. Read your query over carefully, probably multiple times, to check for typos, spelling errors, bad punctuation, grammar problems, and awkward wording. Give it to someone else to read and see if they can understand it. You can have someone proofread the query for you, but it's a skill you should be developing yourself. Try reading the query out loud. It can help you catch errors that you might miss, determine if a sentence is too long, and hear when your phrasing doesn't sound right. Hopefully if you read

"Parker, focused on getting his mother, Dorothy Rhodes, back who had gone missing, sneaks a ride to the alien ship hoping his mother had been taken hostage there."

out loud, you will realize that it's long and awkward. If you don't hear the problems, then you will need to work on your ear for the English language.

You can try putting together a slim and trim query with short, exciting sentences and only the details you absolutely need to tell the story. But I'm getting increasingly convinced that your manuscript needs work first. If you were able to hear how awkward that sentence I quoted from your query is, try picking out a few passages from your novel and reading them out loud. If you're hearing the same awkward prose, put the query aside and go back to editing.

Evil Editor said...

Presumably what the author was trying unsuccessfully to say was that Parker hoped he was going to the right place to find his hostage mother.

Parker, focused on getting back his mother, who had been taken hostage, sneaks a ride to the alien ship, hoping to find her there.

InkAndPixelClub said...

EE> I got the intended meaning, but the prose was still clunky. I could easily see someone having to go back and read it a second time to sort out who was missing and which character snuck on board the alien ship.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Also, I still don't know why a genicidal alien is taking hostages, let alone taking a suburban single mom hostage.

Anonymous said...

Author, congratulations on writing a book. I hope you have enough passion and enthusiasm to see this project through to the end.

Unfortunately, "I've taken classes, worked with a writing coach, and revised lots of times" are not magic words that will get your book commercially published. You need to prove to the agent/editor that you have written and correctly punctuated comprehensible English and that the words you've written are strung together to form a comprehensible, mostly logical, and entertaining story that they can sell.

The means you are attempting to use to do this is the query letter. Your entire query, including Dear [Agent Name] at the beginning and [Contact me these ways] at the end, needs to fit on a single piece of paper using a normal font size and reasonable margins. This is true even if you are querying by email. (This gives you around 100-150 words to talk about your story.) All the text in your query should use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The agent will probably look at your query for ~30 seconds. (If you doubt this, look at Miss Snark's crapometer for query letters and pay attention to the time stamps) Make sure you've got the most interesting bits front and center.

Information about your book should approximately cover act 1 of your story. The agent needs to know, as briefly as possible, the background/set up/who the most important characters are and why they should care. They also need to know what the good guys are up against, what they plan on doing about it, and how things are going to get rough for them.

As a worksheet, http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2015/08/wpa.html may be helpful.
Note: All agents have separate guidelines. Find out what they are before querying.

If the agent likes what they see in the query, they will ask for pages (part or all of the manuscript). The pages also need to use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If you really can't see the problems in this version of the query then you have a very long road ahead of you involving a lot of time, effort, frustration, and work.

If that sounds like too much, you might want to think really hard about whether you really want to be commercially published and what your long term goals in doing so are. There are other options.

The way you describe your story says you don't have a good grasp of which information is necessary, which also doesn't give me confidence that your story is well told. Both EE and InkAndPixelClub have pointed out some odd story logic which I hope is adequately explained. Bombs are conveniently destructive, but they don't match up well with invisible dogs, and you either have a scaling issue or that's a lot of invisible dogs. What are they eating? Just humans? How did they all fit on the spaceship? What's keeping them from being environmentally destructive? Super powers are cool and all but they need to have a reader-satisfying reason for being in the story. (For more discussion on super powers, see the comments on the query before this one.) Your aliens need to have a workable strategy for wiping out humans that you are aware of. You don't need to explain it to your reader, but it should look like they know what they're doing from the outside.

A lot of the issues brought up here have been present since the very first version of your query. Go back, read through what you wrote and all the comments on each version. If there are problems with the plot, fix them. If there are spelling, grammar, or punctuation issues, fix them. If you don't see problems yourself, find a way to do so. It's all just words. Words can be changed. You can make it work.

Matt said...

Author, you need to read this out loud. If you did and you still don't recognize how clunky those sentences are, I feel you.

When I read out loud I start to focus on the sound of my voice. "Do I talk like Michael Cera or Morgan Freeman? How did David Attenborough get so good at this? I'm thirsty…" And then I miss a comma that should have been a period.

But reading out loud is essential. Thankfully there are a lot of text to speech apps that help. My favorite is Natural Reader. The voices sound close to real and you can adjust the speed. Plus it's free.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ink and Pixel Club for your insight. I think my issue is trying to find the happy median from giving too much information to giving too little. I think with my first (Most recent) query I was trying, unsuccessfully, to play cloak and dagger with the story. Opposed to this one I am trying to lay it all out there. I had a feeling it was too long but being so close to the project its difficult to cut things out knowing they play a role in the story.

I see what you mean by the first line being a little deceptive from the rest of the query. Again I would contribute that to me being so close to the project. I want to make this a series and his dad being taken by the alien is a big reveal that would play a major roll in any following books, but despite that this book needs to stand alone and pushing a story line that has little to do with the current book doesn't really help here.

Your point of Parker obtaining his powers pretty late in the book is also true, again with the mind set of the book being a series this is why I added this element. Parker Rhodes is a book of a lost boy looking for his mom, and your "right place, right time" assessment is correct. He does not set out to save the world and fight an alien, he sets out to rescue his mother and sort of falls into the roll of saving the world because he just happened to be the one to get the powers. I do feel this could be presented differently but I must disagree with reworking the ending because I do not feel it takes anything away from the book. Seeing as it is a source of confusion, I need to find a way to explain why it is harder to kill the Omega with the bullets then it is to kill the dog creatures.

Again, thank you for the comments. Any further help you can give me based off what I have said above would be great. I am determined to get it right this time and I will be taking more time to work out the kinks.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Author, your enthusiasm is admirable. Loving your story and believing in it are important, especially during the parts of writing and trying to get published that aren't much fun.

What you just wrote, that Parker Rhodes is a lost kid who just wants to protect his mom but ends up saving the world? That is a better summary of what your story is about than anything in the query. Now I get the emotional core of your story. Parker is a kid who already lost one parent. Now he's in danger of losing his mom and he can't let that happen, even if it means he has to fight aliens. That's your story. Now you just need to dump everything that's not about that from the query and tie everything that's left into that main theme.

If Parker needs to get superpowers in the end, then he gets superpowers in the end. What you need to do is make it feel like Parker has earned those superpowers, even if he gets them by chance. You don't want an ending that reads like "jWhen everything looked hopeless, Santa Claus arrived and saved the day!" You want the reader to think that Parker is a hero even without superpowers because of the choices he makes. Maybe he could get hit by the bullet because he's shielding somebody else. Maybe he goes after the Omega before he knows he has superpowers, hopong he can stall it long enough for everyone else to escape. Or maybe the Omega offers to lead Parker to his father in exchange for Parker letting the Omega go.

Take your time with the next draft. You want to make sure it is free of errors and that every word is essential or adds something to the story. Here's another rough sentence from this draft:

"During his search he meets a fearless boy no older than 5 years old, dressed in a cowboy outfit and in search of his own parents named Billy."

It's not the longest in the query, but it could definitely be tighter. And as EE showed you, it sounds like the kid's parents are named Billy since "his parents" is the closest noun to that phrase. Let's start by making it clear who Billy is.

"During his search he meets a fearless boy named Billy no older than 5 years old, dressed in a cowboy outfit and in search of his own parents."

Better, but it could definitely be shorter. What words could we lose or replace with something simpler?

"During his search he meets a fearless five-year-old named Billy, dressed as a cowboy and looking for his parents."

That's got the word count down, but we could still lose more.

"During his search he meets a fearless five-year-old named Billy, dressed as a cowboy."

The parents could come back in if they get mentioned again in the query or if finding them becomes important in the query. But since they're currently never heard from again, we don't need them. There are plenty of reasons for a small child to be running around on his own during an alien invasion. The reader can fill in the blanks or simply not question it.

We could stop here, but the sentence is still telling more than it's showing and it doesn't pack much punch. Let's try adding some action.

"During his search, he discovers a five-year-old in a cowboy outfit aiming his toy gun at a snarling alien beast."

Now we're talking. We can see that Billy is fearless because of what he's doing. There's excitement; what's going to happen to the kid? And it's still shorter than the original.

Could you still do better? You know your own story way better than I do, so I bet you could.

That's the kind of thinking you're going to have to go through with ever sentence in you new draft of the query. Hopefully you'll start with a sentence that's stronger than this one was to begin with, but you're still going to need to look at it and see where there's room for improvement.

Good luck!

SB said...

Author, reading your comments, it's clear that the problems with grammar and language in the query are not flukes. You need to do a lot more research, as the way you punctuate and put words together in your comment does not make you look like a professional writer. There are even words and phrasing that you use incorrectly, which is a thing that, in a book, will rip your reader right out of the narrative. You said you've done some study. That's good. You need to do a lot more. Just remember that having passed a class or two--or even having gotten a degree--is not the point. A certificate or a degree will not convince an agent or publisher that you're a good writer. Only being a good writer will prove that.

Mister Furkles said...


There is little to add to the previous comments. So, allow me to list some helpful web sites:

You already know about MissSnark.blogspot.com and queryshark.blogspot.com. On the query shark site, pay particular attention to the good queries.

Then you may want to look up these other websites:

(1) grammartips.homestead.com – gives easy to remember rules about punctuation, grammar, and syntax issues.

(2) public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html – lists about 3000 common usage errors which, unfortunately, must be memorized because there is nothing logical or easy about them.

(3) conjugator.reverso.net/conjugation-english.html – provides full conjugation of nearly all common verbs. It's worth checking to be certain you've got things right. (I frequently catch lie/lay errors by good writers.)

(4) No particular website. But find an online critique group. You may want to checkout two or three before deciding which to join.

Remember that writing is a craft. Unlike singing, it doesn't require much talent to be fairly good. Great talent helps you learn faster but you needn't be Milton or Shakespeare to write well. Story telling is another matter. There are many aspects that contribute to it and it does take real talent to master it.

Even if you never publish a story, learning to write well will serve you in many other endeavors.

Anonymous said...

Author, you probably feel exasperated as hell with our advice. "First you tell me to be more specific -- then you tell me I'm using too many details! Then you say to show, not tell -- so I show, and you say I need to cut it all!" The query letter is a tiny little genre unto itself, the rules of which are not intuitive. You may have to read dozens or scores or hundreds of the darned things before you get a feel for how yours should look. There are a few websites where writers post the query letters that snagged them an agent. Dig around at querytracker.net and absolutewrite.com (you may have to get free membership to get to those parts of the sites). Read, read, read, read, and read.

More generally, the art of conveying as much as possible in as few words as possible is important to all your writing. "Wordy" and "verbose" are never compliments. It's another art that takes study and practice to master. You've probably come a long way since you started, so DO NOT STOP NOW.

Little story, I was crushed by a professional editor's remarks about one of my manuscripts when I first started writing. She quit a third of the way through it, saying even the most dazzling ending could not save the wreck. I read all the books she assigned me and I banged my head on my desk; surely I had done everything those books had said! I could point to the page, the line!

Whatever, I flung the thing down and started writing something else, then something else. I noticed as I went on that my work was "magically" improving. You know where this leads. I eventually won a contest for one of my manuscripts. Then I got one of the top five fiction agents in the biz. I also wrote a proposal for a non-fiction book and got one of the top five non-fiction agents in the biz. Heheheheh. Neither agent could sell my projects, so I'm at work on something else now. The rejection never ends, the effort to write something salable never ends, and your determination to keep writing must never end.

Twick said...

I think you'll have to explain why your villain, who has a plot to kill everyone on Earth starts by assassinating one person (a second-level leader, not even a first), and then blowing up a small town. Perhaps this makes sense in the book, but in the query it sounds quite random.

Tk said...

Here is how I would put the story of a boy looking for his lost mom. (And I would leave out all the bits people have been questioning).

Parker Rhodes is having the worst day of his 13-year-old life. An alien ship just landed on his hometown, Wakesville, Maryland, detonating a huge explosion that flattened Parker's house and knocked his mom unconscious. Because his father, international superspy James Bond, has been away on a mission for three years, a desparate Parker knows it's up to him to help. *

Crawling out of the wreckage and racing through the devastated town, Parker meets five-year-old Billy. Now he has two people to protect. But when the boys run into a firefight between soldiers and dog-like alien creatures who seem not at all bothered by bullets, all Parker can do is panic. It's Billy who steps up and tries to shoot the aliens with his toy gun, inadvertently discovering the creatures’ weakness: the phthalates in plastic. **

As Billy takes the soldiers to the nearest toy store, Parker notices the aliens dragging people - mom among them - on board their ship. Now he has no time to waste, no one to help and no time to panic. He sneaks onto the spacecraft. Armed with just the lego model x-wing in his pocket (97 pieces), can Parker do what Dad would: take down the threat to Earth and rescue his mom? ***

* set-up of plot and character growth arc

** escalation of plot, low point for character

*** the bit where you stop giving away plot right before the climax and present the protagonist's stakes and dilemma.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tk, that was awesome. Exactly what I needed.

Author said...

Instead of doing yet another submission to EE I decided to post the updated query here.

I borrowed heavily from Tks suggestions and made a few changes to relate it closer to the story.

Parker Rhodes is having the worst day of his 13-year-old life. An alien ship just landed in his hometown, Wakesville, Maryland, detonating a huge explosion that flattened Parker's house and knocked his mom unconscious. Because of the mysterious death of his dad the last time an alien came to earth, a desperate Parker knows it's up to him to get both him and his mom to safety.

Crawling out of the wreckage and racing through the devastated town, Parker meets five-year-old Billy. Now he has two people to protect. But when the boys run into a dog-like alien creature who seem not at all bothered by bullets, all Parker can do is panic. It's Billy who steps up and tries to shoot the alien with his toy gun, inadvertently discovering the creatures’ weakness: the phthalates in plastic.

The boys pass this information to the soldiers who mount an attack on the ship. Parker learns the aliens have been taking hostages and fears that his mom may be among them. Now he has no time to waste, no one who seems willing to help and no time to panic, he sneaks onto the spacecraft. Gaining unbelievable powers during the struggle, Parker is the only human with the abilities required to take down the alien. Before Parker can deliver the final blow to the alien it escapes and Parker is left with more questions than answers. Where did his new powers come from? Will the alien return to finish what it started on earth? And, most importantly, how did the alien know about Parker's father’s death? Was it the reason his father is dead?

Evil Editor said...

P1: I don't believe detonate is the right word. You don't detonate an explosion, you detonate the bomb (or whatever) that explodes.

P2: Having just said it's up to him to get both him and his mom to safety, I would expect him to try to revive his mom or drag her out of the wreckage rather than race through the town. "seem" should be "seems". If they've seen only one creature, then creatures’ should probably be creature's. Maybe there IS only one.

P3: You say no one is willing to help, but the soldiers have mounted an attack on the ship. If the soldiers are invading the ship, wouldn't they find his mother if she's inside the ship? If the soldiers are merely attacking the ship from afar with bombs, why would they do that if it's known the aliens have been taking hostages? How can Parker sneak onto a ship that the soldiers are attacking? Why is Parker the only one who can take down the alien? Anyone with plastic should be able to do it. I don't like all those questions at the end. You say Parker has more questions than answers, but I don't see that he has any answers. I especially don't like the suggestion that there's no satisfying ending. The alien's gone. no word on whether mom was on the ship, was rescued, is alive. What are these powers Parker has, and why does he need them if the alien's weakness is plastic? How does Parker know the alien knew about Parker's father's death?

InkAndPixelClub said...

Keep in mind that one of the purposes of a query is to show off your writing style and abilities. It's certainly all right to take suggestions or borrow a great phrase or two from somebody else. But if the majority of the query is Tk's words, you're advertising with writing that's not yours. Take Tk's version as a framework if you want to, but tell the story in your own words.

I'd get to the alien invasion in sentence one if possible. Agents and editors see queries about teens having the worst days of their young lives all the time. This isn't a sentence that's going to grab their attention.

There's not a clear relationship between dad's death and Parker realizing that he has to get himself and his mom to safety. If the idea is that Parker is the only one left to help his mom, then all we really need to know is that Dad is dead, not that it was under mysterious circumstances or that it happened when the alien came to Earth previously. If the point is that the alien already killed his dad and Parker isn't about to let it kill his mom too, then that needs to be the focus: Parker needs to save his mom because she's all he has left.

I've never been sure why phthalates are in the query. How would anyone, let alone two kids, know that phthalates are the creatures' specific weakness? Why not just say they're vulnerable to plastic?

You've borrowed heavily from Tk's draft of the query, but I think you've missed the summary of how each paragraph works. Tk's third paragraph introduces a clear challenge for Parker (rescue his mom from the aliens), explains why its up to him (he sees mom being taken away and Billy and the soldiers aren't around), and suggests what the remainder of the story will be (Parker battling the aliens to rescue his mom) without giving away the ending. Your version goes well past this part, reveals that Parker suddenly gets superpowers for no clear reason, and leaves off at a point where I have no idea what the remainder of the book looks like. Does Parker pursue the alien looking for answers? Does he team up with the military to defend Earth while trying to learn what happened to his dad? Are the questions you present here even answered in this book?

I'd start over. You'll want to follow the basic outline Tk suggested, but not every word. Start with the setup: Parker's hometown is destroyed by aliens and he needs to rise to the challenge and get help for his injured mother. Then the story goes on, the stakes get higher, and the character hits a low point: Parker runs into Billy and they're attacked by the creatures. Parker wants to protect the kid, but he panics and Billy ends up saving him instead. Finally, lead up to the climax without revealing the outcome: Parker finds out that his mom has been taken hostage by the aliens. (Be specific here. Tk's version works because Parker actually sees the aliens taking his mother. If he just learns that they're taking hostages and fears that his mother is among them, we're left wondering how he found this out and why he believes his mom is one of the hostages.) He has to act fast to save her, which means going into the ship and confronting the alien invaders solo. Can he do it?

Anonymous said...

From previous versions, I believe what you have here in the query is all there is to this book. The query is not the place to give a summary of the story. You do that in the synopsis if the agent asks for one.

How does racing through the town protect his mother? If he's going for help, say that. If he's stunned from the explosion and doesn't know what to do, say that.

Ditto on the why phthalates? You, as author, know that's what it is. How/why does anyone else realize it? Is it vital to the importance of the story (let alone the query) that anyone knows this specific thing is the aliens' weakness as opposed to plastics in general as Ink suggested?

Alien creature not bothered by bullets... Should I assume someone else is shooting it? Has Parker acquired a gun somewhere that you didn't mention?

Maybe mom's on the ship, so let's sneak aboard... Um, maybe she's back at the house where Parker left her? Has he checked? Does he have evidence that would indicate she's on the ship?

Gaining unbelievable powers... This is vague. Be specific.

Don't raise questions that aren't going to be answered in the query, except for maybe one at the end that states the equally understandable options of the MC's critical choice. "Can he rescue his mother before the alien ship takes off?" would be weak but acceptable. "Will he rescue his mother and let the alien go free, or blow up the spaceship to protect earth from further invasion?" might be stronger, if that's the choice he needs to make.

PLaF said...

I think the trouble may be you’re focused on just the action in the story and complicated by the hope of a sequel. Avoid the frenzy of activity. Start with Parker and stick with him. Drop all references to the kid, the army, and the phthalates.
What does Parker do/want before the aliens appear? An alien ship appears, flattens his house, and takes his mother hostage. Now he has a new goal: rescuing mum. How will he do it?
Word to the wise: accidentally gaining unbelievable powers is something akin to pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Tread carefully or your tale loses credibility.
This reminded me a little of the story/film Battlefield Earth. Advanced knowledge was imparted to a human via alien technology so that the human could illicitly mine gold for one of the aliens. The human of course turned the tables on the alien using this knowledge.

Author said...

I went through taking the advice of everyone and started from scratch. I hope this is closer to what I need.

Parker Rhodes’ life is turned upside down when an alien ship lands in his hometown of Wakesville, Maryland, detonating a bomb that flattened Parker's home and knocked his mom unconscious. Because of his dad’s death a few years back, a desperate 13 year old Parker knows it's up to him to get both him and his mom to safety.

Crawling out of the wreckage and racing through the devastated town, Parker leaves his mother behind and looks for a way to transport them both out of town. During his search he comes face to face with the ruthless alien creatures on several occasions, each time barley escaping with his life using only his wit and will to survive.

With the battle for earth playing out around him, Parker’s plan hits a snag when he realizes his mom is not where he left her. Now, Parker must do everything he can to find his mom and get them both out of town alive, even if it means facing the aliens himself.

Evil Editor said...

Here's a tidied-up version of what you've written:

Parker Rhodes’ life is turned upside down when an alien ship lands in his hometown of Wakesville, Maryland, detonating a bomb that flattens Parker's home and knocks his mom unconscious. Because his dad died a few years back, a desperate 13 year-old-Parker knows it's up to him to get his mom to safety.

Parker crawls out of the wreckage and leaves his mother behind, searching for a way to transport her out of town. During his search he comes face to face with the ruthless alien creatures on several occasions, each time barely escaping with his life using only his wits and will to survive.

With the battle for Earth playing out around him, Parker’s plan hits a snag when he discovers his mom is not where he left her. Now, Parker must find his mom and get her to safety, even if it means facing the aliens himself.

The last phrase, "even if it means facing the aliens himself" doesn't seem so dramatic considering he's already come face-to-face with the aliens several times. "Even if it means sneaking onto the aliens' ship" is stronger. There's room for a couple more specific bits of information. For instance, "During his search he joins with/rescues/recruits a five-year-old kid named Billy. The two come face-to-face with . . .

InkAndPixelClub said...

Sentence one and two are long and contain too much information. You could save yourself several words by simply saying that the alien ship destroys Parker's hometown rather than having it land, then detonate a bomb, which then flattens Parker's hometown. (We've never needed to know his hometown's name.) That's one sentence. Sentence two: Parker is okay, but Mom is unconscious (and maybe injured?). Sentence three: Because Dad died a few years back, Parker is the only one who can save Mom. (I still think it could be clearer that Dad's death means there's no one else around to help Mom.)

You can just say that Parker is searching for help. I'm not sure how he could transport her out of town as he's only thirteen and can't drive and Mom might require medical attention before it's safe to move her anyone. The more I think about it, having her injured or pinned under debris (or both) is better than having her unconscious. Why doesn't Parker just wait for her to come around so he doesn't have to leave her?

Several encounters with the aliens is not interesting. This is all to vague to keep my attention. Pick one or two encounters and describe what happens. What do the aliens do and how does Parker escape? If you just say he runs into them a bunch of times and escapes every time, the aliens cease to be a credible threat, even if you tell us they were all narrow escapes.

First sentence of paragraph 3 has a dangling modifier, and it's once again too long. It's also not clear who is battling around Parker. Did he find a way to get himself and Mom out of town, or is he just going back to check on her? I think it would be better to end with Parker knowing or strongly suspecting that Mom is on the alien ship and a bit about how tough it will be to rescue her.

Anonymous said...

Double, triple, and quadruple check your grammar and word usage, and then have someone else look at it too. Anyone you send your query to will auto-reject with this many mistakes.

Your setup paragraph is ok for content, but it could be more concise.

The second paragraph says what Parker's purpose is (looking for transportation), good. Unfortunately, the rest of it is back to being vague rather than specific.

In some ways, this needs to be like a mini short story (where the ending is cut off) that could only be an extremely condensed version of your book. Talk about the critical events that propel the story forward.

Aliens invade; his mom is injured. <- setup and a call to action
He looks for transportation. <- his attempted solution
He finds Billy who shoots an alien dog-thing? <- Both ally and further problem
He finds help for mom but gets back and finds her missing? <- what goes wrong/gets in the way
??? <-How he finds mom.
Sneak onto the ship? <-How he tries/plans to rescue mom (might be a good note to end the query on).

Author said...

I added a little bit more and cleared up some of the questions that have been asked. I hope I don't cause more questions.

Ink, thank you for your suggestions. I changed the the opening paragraph and broke the longer sentences up. I have to disagree with Parker not being able to drive seeing as the town was just blown up and I doubt police would still be giving out tickets. Also, with aliens around I think it would be worth it for Parker to attempt to move his mom.

I have an example of an encounter instead of saying "several occasions" and describe how Parker gets out of the situation. This also ties into him "taking on" the aliens at the end. I am hoping it is implied that "taking on" the aliens is a last resort seeing as he doesn't know where his mother is so he assumes the aliens must have them. If there is a way I can make this clearer please let me know.

Parker Rhodes’ life is turned upside down when an alien ship detonates a bomb that flattens his home town. Parker manages to survive but was panicked to discover his mom had been knocked unconscious. Because his dad died a few years back, a desperate 13 year-old-Parker knows it's up to him to get his mom to safety.

Parker crawls out of the wreckage and leaves his mother behind, searching for a way to transport her out of town. During his search Parker teams up with a five year old kid named Billy whose parents have gone missing. The two come face to face with one of the ruthless alien creatures which force them to run for their lives. When they hit a dead end, its Billy who steps up and shoots his toy gun at the alien inadvertently discovering the aliens weakness; plastic. The two are discovered by members of the military and the kids pass on the information about the alien’s weakness allowing the army to mount an attack.

With the battle for Earth playing out around him, Parker must focus on getting back to his mother and leaving town. After finding a car, his plan hits a snag when he discovers his mom is not where he left her. Now, with the military focusing on running the aliens off the Earth for good, it is up to Parker to find his mom and get her to safety, even if it means taking on the aliens himself.

Anonymous said...

You still have grammar and punctuation issues. A lot of the writing could be tighter. Also, you don't need to tell us obvious things like "Parker Rhodes' life is turned upside down" or "Parker manages to survive".

As to content, you're doing slightly better in paragraph two, but then we're back to vague in paragraph three.

A few notes on plot:
Part of the military's job is to get civilians to safety. They're not going to say "thanks for the info kid, see ya later"

No one's going to be giving him a ticket for driving a car, but there's finding one with a key unless he can hotwire one, being capable of driving the car, and having streets that are clear enough to drive through.

You could simplify things by having him tell the military types where his mother is, and he can go with to give them more specific directions as to where in the rubble she is, they have cool vehicles that can get over rubble and medical types who could help with any injuries.

If you want strong suspicion mom is now aboard the alien ship, Parker & military guys could find a nosy neighbor who chronically video tapes everything & who was either trapped by rubble or is a coward and hiding, and who happened to film mom being taken by aliens, or could just give an eye-witness report. Then, you just need a distraction so Parker could sneak away from the overprotective grown-ups. Or, more easy, have the aliens capture them all, so Parker now needs to break himself, the military guys (aka meat shields), and the neighbor out of alien lock up (smaller size has potential) and find mom somewhere on the alien ship.

I also have this vision in my head of Parker carrying Billy while running/climbing and the five-year-old choosing that moment to shoot the attacking dog creature. Anyway.....

You do need to be specific about what happens in your version.

InkAndPixelClub said...

It'd be faster to just say "when the alien ship destroys his hometown." We don't need to know exactly how and what you have now makes it sound like the bomb was already there and the aliens merely caused it to explode.

"Was panicked" is the wrong tense and doesn't feel like the right word. Take the time to read your query drafts over before you post them. Try reading them out loud. You need to make sure both the query and the manuscript are as error free as possible. We can help you catch errors on the query, but if you turn in pages that still need a bunch of editing, it's going to hurt your chances of getting published.

I still think you'd be better off having Mom get injured and/or pinned under the debris rather than merely knocked unconscious. If she's just unconscious, why doesn't Parker wait for her to come around and bring her with him instead of running off and leaving her alone and defenseless? An injury or heavy piece of debris also gives Parker something to look for other than a car, which the anonymous minion above explained the problems with.

I'm starting to believe that Dad's death doesn't belong in this query. The important thing is that no one else is around to help Parker and his mom, family or otherwise.

"Which force them" should be "which forces them."

"Its Billy who" should be "it's Billy who," though you could simplify and just say "Billy shoots his toy gun at the alien," since you haven't created any expectation that Parker would do something like that and you don't show Parker reacting to having the five year old save him instead of the other way around.

"The aliens weakness" "Aliens" should be the possessive plural: "the aliens' weakness."

Too much going on in the last sentence of paragraph two. Consider splitting it into two. Again, it's "the aliens' weakness."

Like the Anon above me pointed out, once you bring the military into the equation, you need to explain why they aren't helping Parker. Yes, they're battling aliens but since the aliens are all over the place, can't they shoot them with Legos while driving Parker back to his house? There needs to be a clear reason why this is still Parker's fight after he and Billy meet up with the military.