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Covers, Blurbs, 1st Line, Query > Query Adult Sci-Fi (intended audience is female)

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message 1: by Alessandra (new)

Alessandra Johnson | 4 comments Long story short, I received a query + first 5 pages critique back from a literary agent. She doesn't represent my genre (she's nonfiction) but per Writer's Digest random generator, she was my assigned agent for the critique. Her feedback was my pages are ready for submission but I need to tweak my query (especially since your query is the gatekeeper to your pages). I've revamped the query and now I'm hoping for some feedback. Two things, though, I haven't figured out my comps yet and I don't insert fake personalization (I leave that for the real query).

Obviously I'm just trying to make this the most enticing it can be within the 250-300 words allotted for the query. I've researched queries a lot, I follow agents on their social media and blogs to get industry/publishing/writing/query tips, I feel like I've beaten it into the ground and yet, I still struggle to capture an enticing query. I'm hoping you guys can help with that. I'll be checking comments sporadically since I'm insanely busy lately but any help is appreciated. Thank you!


SKIES ABOVE is an 80,000 word adult sci-fi. It will appeal to the fans of X X X and Y Y Y. SKIES ABOVE is a standalone with series potential.

For the past seven years, twenty-six year old Charlie has been raising her adopted younger sister, Celeste. It’s been difficult; a nightmare; a blessing; one hell of an accomplishment. With Celeste entering her last year of college, Charlie can relearn how to focus on herself again. Maybe get that college degree she put on hold.

Except, Charlie’s apartment gets shot up… on purpose. Apparently, Celeste’s life is in danger after the revelation her biological parents are 1. Not from Earth and 2. They’re powerful leaders newly murdered. Their enemies now hunt Celeste to make sure she never makes it back to claim power.

Two men are sent to bring Celeste safely home but Charlie can’t imagine her or Celeste ever leaving Earth behind. It’s everything they’ve ever known, but it might be Celeste’s only option for safety. Can Charlie risk Celeste’s life for her own selfishness? Or can she face the reality of saying goodbye to her family, her everything, forever?

I’m one of four children and I’m also best friends with identical twin sisters. My family dynamic, as well as theirs, has inspired Charlie’s and Celeste’s relationship. I was born and raised in STATE and I work in JOB. Below are the first five pages. Thank your time and consideration.

message 2: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments First, keep in mind that my advice is based on research, not anything that got an MS request. Second, reading successful queries tells me that there is no formula, so clearly any advice you get from anyone is suspect.

That being said, the most glaring thing to me is your word count. Eighty thousand words seems really on the short side, leaving you no room for world building. Perhaps you don't need to do much, given you appear to center the story on present-day Earth, but the scifi audience (of which I am a firm member) expects aliens, exotic worlds, different cultures, etc. and a 'scifi' book that fails to deliver that might be a hard sell to agents, publishers and ultimately, the reading public.

I will also say, as a genre fan (most of my bookshelf is scifi, with a sprinkling of fantasy), that I'm not taken by your blurb. Normally, I wouldn't suggest this, but because your first paragraph is pedestrian (frankly, boring) and seemingly on Earth, perhaps starting with the second would be better.

In addition to not grabbing me, your blurb is also a bit 'too long' at 171 words when the supposed sweet spot is 100-150. I'll PM you a link to a blog post I wrote based on the blurb help I've offered here.

Finally, I'm really not sure how being one of four children or being best friends with identical sisters feeds into selling the story. The same thing could be said of any sisters or best friends. For me, the bio section is stuff that can help sell your book. For instance, my first novel is called "Diary of a Contract Killer" and I mention that I've served in my country's military and intelligence community (and a bunch of other stuff that's probably irrelevant but I never cut out). That tidbit can provide a hook to readers (which agents and publishers start out as) that entices them into giving the story a chance.

I'm sorry to dump on you with what you probably don't want to hear, but I figure there's little value in sugar coating advice. Your concept feels like it might have potential, but the blurb, as written, would never entice me to take a look.

Good luck!

message 3: by Alessandra (new)

Alessandra Johnson | 4 comments Keith wrote: "First, keep in mind that my advice is based on research, not anything that got an MS request. Second, reading successful queries tells me that there is no formula, so clearly any advice you get fro..."

To be honest, I don't like characterizing it as sci-fi because it's not your traditional sci-fi story. But if it's labeled solely as adult fiction, people get thrown when it turns out Celeste is not from Earth and they're like "This is sci-fi. Label it sci-fi." My book is nothing like the books I expect sci-fi fans to read; it's not like Star Trek, Star Wars, The Expanse, etc. My entire book takes place on our modern day Earth so I have no real world building to do. Obviously there are descriptors and explanations for some non-Earth items like suits, their different technology but the first book isn't even what I'd expect from a stereotypical sci-fi novel. The second book, on the other hand, will take place on a different planet and I expect my first draft to be around 120k with all the world building, culture differences, etc. and then I'll do my best to pare it down to 100K. The first book feels more contemporary to me but it has aliens. I can't escape the fact that it has aliens and therefore it's weird not to label it sci-fi; people get "mad" if it's not labeled sci-fi. (but maybe I've just royally screwed myself writing a story that doesn't seem to fit nicely into one category?)

I'm not too, too concerned that it's considered "too long" since 1. it still fits under 250-300 words and 2. every agent I've ever spoken with is like "No agent wastes their time counting to make sure you didn't go over the word count." What I care more about is grabbing the agent's attention and so long as the query does it's job, the word count is more guidance than anything else.

I really like the suggestion of starting with the second paragraph and am kind of irritated I didn't think of it myself. lol. Obviously I'll tweak it so it makes more sense to an agent reading it the first time. But suggestions like that is exactly why I posted this in the first place! So thank you!

As for my bio, I've got no credentials. Like no awards or published pieces in writing magazines, etc. and as cool as it would be, I'm not an alien. lol. So the agent who did my critique just suggested saying I'm one of four and my siblings inspired the story, since at the heart of it, this story is about Celeste and Charlie's relationship and not so much about aliens and life or death situations (hence why it feels more contemporary to me than sci-fi but aliens). I know the bio is supposed to sell yourself but I've got nothing to sell myself and honestly I'd rather leave my bio out but agents want some type of bio even if it is something as lame as I'm one of four kids. At least, that's what I've been told from agents in the industry and since I want to do it the traditional way instead of self-publishing, I'm doing my best to adhere to their standards. The bio and comps, though, are a work in progress and I've got time to figure it out since I'm not technically finished writing this book. When I take a break from writing/editing the novel, I focus on the query (which is what I'm doing right now).

Anyway, like I stated before, I really like the suggestion of starting with the second paragraph. So I'm going to play around with my query for the next few days and hopefully create something better. Thank you for your help!

message 4: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments Genre bending makes it a challenge to get people's attentions (which includes agents and publishers). I know because I did exactly that with my first. After getting input from a number of beta readers as well as a couple of editors, this is the ridiculous novelette I came up with:

"Adult contemporary fiction, with elements of spy, crime and espionage, tied together with a love story."

Surprise! I didn't get any MS requests. You may get lucky; I'm a firm believer that luck plays a huge part in getting a traditional publishing deal. And your publisher may find a way to appeal to readers interested in the 'cross domain,' but I do suggest it will make more challenging.

But don't let this Debbie Downer keep you from your goals!

Post back here when you get another version ready.

message 5: by D.C.P. (new)

D.C.P. Fox (dcpfox) | 7 comments As someone who has also written a genre-bending novel that didn't receive ms requests, I'm curious how this turns out with agents in terms of which genre you choose.

My editor of my genre-bending book, who is also an agent, put it like this: what is so darn special about your novel? Put *that* in the query. If that's sci-fi world-building, put it in there. Is it cool technology? Are the "two men" aliens or humans? If human, are they from another planet anyway? If they're humans from Earth, what is their relationship with the aliens? Either way, that makes for an interesting bit. Or is it a mystery? That would also be interesting. But "two men" is not. I'm not saying that is what is most special about the novel, but it's an example of how you have left out an interesting part, and as a reader it *is* special.

As far as the genre, I'll add my 2 cents, but keep in mind I'm learning how to classify my own genre-bending novel (which I've never received ms requests for):

As the query is written, I believe this is commercial fiction or a thriller. There's plenty of examples of commercial fiction with genre elements. Find some with sci-fi, and there are your comps. However, if there is more sci-fi there than in the query, put it in the pitch. (And then you have the problem that agents will view 80k as too short). Finally, if you do come to realize that it's commercial fiction, then market it to agents as such, maybe as a thriller. There's a much bigger audience for commercial/thriller than for science fiction. Maybe, just maybe, you'll get a bite from agents of commercial fiction. And if you start with the second paragraph (as Keith suggested), then they'll see the sci-fi elements anyway.

So what to do if 80k is too short? Maybe nothing, and hope agents can get past the short length. Personally, I find the narrow range of word count that agents go by troubling. But ask yourself this: are your follow-up novels going to have sci-fi world building? Because you may consider adding 20-30k of sci-fi world building of the other world. If you bristle at this, then that's probably not the right thing to do, but it may be worth thinking about.

Good luck! Please follow-up!

message 6: by D.C.P. (new)

D.C.P. Fox (dcpfox) | 7 comments I forgot to mention that I've read that 80k is short for sci-fi (95-115k), but not for commercial fiction, for agents looking at an unpublished novelist. Good luck!

message 7: by Cate (new)

Cate Wells | 11 comments I'd re-write this sentence thusly:

It’s been difficult; a nightmare; a blessing; one hell of an accomplishment.

It's been difficult: a nightmare, a blessing, one hell of an accomplishment.

The second and third semi-colons aren't correct.

Hope that's helpful, and I'm not repeating feedback!

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