Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #1

Dear Ms. Smith,

Seventeen year-old Marc Andrews attends an exclusive prep school, but he should be in reform school. He’s stolen a test, blackmailed a teacher, and taken advantage of more girls than he can remember...and that’s just this semester. Then he meets Bethany. Not only hot, she calls him on his usual s***. He respects that. And he’s shocked to realize he genuinely likes her. But after their first date, Marc wakes up in a mental institution. He’s told he killed Bethany after passing out while driving drunk. Marc imagines life can’t get any more messed up…until he discovers the loony bin’s a fake and he’s been kidnapped by aliens.

The aliens can see the future where Marc’s the President who starts World War III.  Because he proved himself unable to become a better person, they’ve replaced him to prevent Earth’s destruction. Finding out he killed Bethany was bad enough, but Marc’s shocked he’d have caused the deaths of millions. And with the aliens’ empathy machine, he’s forced to experience his victims’ suffering from the averted future.

Initially, Marc’s grateful his captors prevented him from becoming a monster. That is, until he learns an alien faction, including the doppelgänger who replaced him, want Earth for themselves. And they’re conspiring to kick off Armageddon as previously scheduled. Marc can’t let the horrors he’s experienced happen for real. It’s up to him, with help from Bethany (apparently an alien and not dead), to escape, save the planet, and maybe even become a decent human being in the process.

I understand from your agency website you’re looking for YA in a range of genres including science fiction. I hope you’ll enjoy my 94,000 word YA Sci-fi novel, ALIEN PREP SCHOOL CONSPIRACY. The first 250 words are included below. I’d be happy to provide the rest of the manuscript.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind regards,


When Gil and Lew came to my dorm room with the idea of stealing the physics final, I normally wouldn’t have considered such a dumba** move. It wasn’t that I had any moral objections to cheating or stealing. An “A” in one class, even Jeffrey Taylor’s, just wasn’t worth the risk of getting kicked out of prep school.

But these were special circumstances. I had opportunity, thanks to Gil and Lew. I had motive, thanks to a s***ty semester with Mr. Taylor. And I had an ace-in-the-hole, thanks to hooking up with a pretty freshman in Mr. Taylor’s classroom.

It was snowing by the time I reached Maple Street with its tidy cottages. The white stuff powdered the sidewalks and clung to the branches, sweetening the already cloying New England charm. It made me want to puke.

I slipped to the back of Mr. Taylor’s small Cape. Gil waited for me near the backdoor.

“Door’s locked.” His breath was visible in the cold.

“I’ll open it,” I said.

Gil gave me a classic Gilbert and Lewis vacant look. The two of them might as well have been brothers, both with Nordic good looks, several inches over six feet…and not too bright.

I took out my tension wrench and wide-tipped pick.

Gil’s jaw went slack. “I’ve seen this s*** on TV, Marc. You’re going to pick it?”

“Yeah, if you shut up and let me concentrate for a minute.”

The doorknob turned loosely in my hand. Broken, so, I’d only the deadbolt to deal with.


Anonymous said...

Wow, the last line in the first paragraph of the query totally caught me off guard. On one hand, I love that. On the other, some agents might feel like they were misled in the early part of the paragraph.

I got a bit confused in the third paragraph. I don't really understand why the aliens kidnapped him if they're going to do things the way they would have happened anyway. Is it that he didn't actually start WWIII? That they just told him he did?

The voice in both the query and first 250 is great. Good luck!

Janelle said...

Overall I think you have a lot of cool elements in this plot & the potential for an interesting character arc for your MC. This is great because the story wouldn't feel one-dimensional. And that you conveyed that through your query--yay!

I think you might have trouble getting an agent to sympathize with your MC, though, especially if s/he didn't have time to read in very far. My gut reaction to hearing he killed Bethany in car accident (even though he didn't) was that the writing wouldn't be sensitive enough with such an intense topic. Adding something to this sentence, such as: He’s told he killed Bethany after passing out while driving drunk, even though he's sure he didn't have even one beer, let alone get in a car could help with the sympathy factor in case someone stops reading there. And it would transition the reader into that shocker of a last sentence.

I get that this guy is going to go through a transformation, but if he really did drive drunk and get in an accident . . . the way it's handled in this paragraph, especially since it's been established that he respects this girl, feels a little blunt.

As for the first 250, the narrative moves forward at a nice pace. I get a clear picture of where we are & the time of year. If we could get some tiny hint of *why* this dude is so angry at the world, it would prob help him feel a teensy bit more readable.

Agree with previous poster about the voice being well-established in your query & first page. Good luck with this!

Megan Reyes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jocelyn Adams said...

My first impression without reading a word is that this query is too long. Making it more concise and shorter is more inviting to the eyes to read.

I'd suggest stripping away everything but the main conflict/resolution and keep just enough voice and details about your MC to keep the interest going.

Queries are so hard, aren't they? Good luck with this!

Megan Reyes said...

What an interesting premise. I thought it was going to be a boy-meets-girl story (perhaps it still is?) and was pleasantly surprised to see that the actual depths of the plot were far more complicated.

There are definitely many layers of surprise in your first paragraph! Wakes up in a mental institution! He’s told he killed Bethany! No—he’s actually been kidnapped by aliens! Wow, talk about a bad day. I was definitely thrown for a loop here (I actually said “wait—what?” out loud), and I’m not sure whether an agent would appreciate that or not?

Also Bethany’s reveal as an alien (and the fact that she isn’t dead) might come a bit sooner?

The voice definitely shines throughout the query and first chapter, as michelleimason already pointed out. So good job with that. I’m not sure that Marc is a character that I can warm up to and root for, but I’m guessing we’re supposed to feel that way in the beginning?

I would be very interested to see how you turn him around—I’m a sucker for a good character redemption story. :)

Kelsey-plain and simple said...

Definitely was caught off guard by this being sci-fi. Like Michelle above, I have mixed feelings about this.

I agree with other posters about the query being a bit long. Perhaps cut some things that we can easily be shown in the book but aren't inherant to know right off the bat?

Voice is wonderful and we definitely get a sense of what's going on. Well done!

Anonymous said...

I was preparing to type that the alien part caught me off guard, and I see that a lot of others did, too. This might be a red flag for me that the beginning may be very "normal" that might turn off the Sci-Fi crowd that this is aimed at.

Also, I may be wrong, but this feels very long and complicated. (The query) You might do yourself a service by cutting down to the main plot or making it more concise.

That's just my opinion though. This sounds wildly original, and you might get a read just to see what the heck is going on.

Meradeth Houston said...

I don't have much to say about this other than I *seriously* want to read all of it! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm fine with the sci-fi elements. I like stories where someone has to content with what someone else has seen as "the future."

I wanted the query to get to the action faster. Cut the back story. Cue up the stakes.

Good luck!

Alexa D. said...

There's something about the query that both is and isn't working for me. The bait & switch of "normal YA... but then aliens!" is certainly hook-y but I think it takes too long to get there (that's a long first paragraph). I think you could cut down those first two sentences simply by saying something like "Bad boy prep school kid Marc Andrews"... we all have a stereotype of the douchey prep school kid; you can let the reader imagine for themselves instead of having all the extra stuff. Or: Seventeen-year-old prep school kid Marc Andrews is an administrator's nightmare: he's stolen a test, blackmailed a teacher... and that's just this semester. (cut out a bit and condense) There are lots of ways to to it, but I would definitely cut down that first paragraph.

I know you were going for the voice of your MC, but when the only thing a guy says about a girl is that she is hot... I turn off. You need your character to have a good arc, but right off, I dislike your character enough not to read the book. You do need Bethany in your query, but I might restructure how you reference her -- especially the fact that she's an alien and not dead, because I completely missed that the first time, since it was an aside buried in the last paragraph.

A few logic leaps further down: how did he prove himself unable to become a better person? He didn't kill Bethanny, so I wouldn't say it in the 2nd paragraph. You could say something like: "Thinking he killed one person is bad enough, but then the aliens force him to experience the suffering of the millions he was destined to kill." (or something; I would change the construction around to make things more concise)

I liked your 250, though it didn't really kick off for me until the dialogue; then I sailed through and really liked the voice/scene. I got a bit stuck on your 2nd paragraph, because you say there are special circumstances... but don't actually tell us what they are. (if it's just opportunity; that wasn't really enough for me. I would think "special circumstances" would be "if I don't cheat I'll fail and get kicked out" or something)

One last suggestion, re: your title. Alien Prep School Conspiracy has a very MG feel to me. It's not a deal-breaker, and the kind of thing an agent/editor can work on, but for me it doesn't sound very YA.

For me, the most intriguing part is the averted WWIII genocide storyline -- I might play that up, because it's a good hook!

Jane said...

I find your MC interesting but not very sympathetic. I am wondering a bit about his motive--why does he steal tests? Just for the challenge? Or is there something more in it for him? Knowing some of this might convince me that there is going to be some depth to him, and keep me reading.
I agree that the end of the first paragraph is too abrupt--I'd like a few sci-fi type words sprinkled in the earlier sentences to give me a clue that this is more than just a Prep-School boy meets girl story.
All this said, I would definitely keep reading. Your opening 250 are very intriguing and I like the voice. You have a lot going on plot-wise, and this is a very good thing, but it might help grab an agent's attention if you could trim some of the plot lines addressed in your query. I felt I had to reread it a number of times to get what all was going to be happening. I'm not sure every agent would take this time.
I'd focus on the MC and show his arc from something of an egotist to the horror of realizing he's going to be responsible for mass destruction and how this changes his behaviors--a more condensed query.
Sounds very interesting, and I would definitely keep reading. Best of luck!

Bridget Smith said...

I’m a little confused about the aliens’ motives here. For one, why do they care whether or not an Earth-wide war happens? Why is this the method they choose to prevent it? And why does the faction want it to happen anyway? You might have answers for all these questions, but they’re not coming through in the query, so I’m left wondering why the aliens are playing God. But the voice is great: vivid and engaging. I also think it has the potential to be a fascinating story with intriguing moral nuances.

Also, as others have said: the first paragraph is a bit misleading. I don’t feel tricked, but I was expecting a very different story to follow and it’s hard to overcome that first impression. If you can condense that first paragraph into just a sentence or two, you can cut down on that impression.

On the whole, however, this is a compelling query.