First Impact: INGENICIDE by Joan He (Query)

Despite all the noise ($2M in two days, guys! Keep it going!), it's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

The random numbers have favored critiquer Melodie Wright for February's prize. Congratulations, Melodie! And the rest of you remember: anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have the query for a YA dystopian from Joan He. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Query Letter
I think the phrase is "the sky is the
limit," but also it's a bit cliche. You
can do better.
For sixteen-year-old Sibyl Kenschild, the sky is her limit when it comes to interior design--that is, until the Genocide reaches Alexandria, Virginia, and gatecrashes the graduation party.

Why is Peers capitalized?

What's Ingenium?

At the moment, I think her life is
more important than these things :-)
In a matter of hours, Sibyl’s world is shattered. Chaos erupts, Peers are slaughtered, and Sibyl has no idea why the Normals have resorted to mass killings of the Ingenium. All she knows is that she’s too young to die. She must survive and protect what remains most important to her--her heart, her spirit, and her sanity.

My confusion in the 2nd paragraph
is making this one impossible to
So when the leaders of the Genocide present a selection of Ingenia with a second shot at living, Sibyl decides play their game. Four Peers will have to summon all that they have learned to create unparalleled rooms for the enemy headquarters. It is a competition that puts at stake the dearest price; with each assignment, one Ingenium is exterminated. As she grows closer to her competitors—in particular, a troubled but gentle boy who designs chillingly twisted rooms—Sibyl is not sure if she has what it takes to win. And if she does, she just might not have enough strength to ignore the fates of the others.

INGENICIDE is a YA dystopian/adventure novel complete at 58,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration!

Adam's Thoughts
First of all, I love dystopian novels, and this sounds like it has some cool stuff in it.

Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time figuring out what that cool stuff is. Who are the Peers? Who are the Ingenium? Which one is Sibyl? And why are they designing rooms? That part, in particular, sounds potentially cool, but I can't tell because I don't understand it.

Now understand, the way to fix this is not necessarily to add the information into the existing query. Very often that leads to a bloated query that just raises new questions. Look for things you can cut so that you don't even raise the questions to begin with. For example, do we really need to know about Peers and Ingenium? Maybe you can just say "Sibyl's people," and use the space you save to explain the rooms. Which way you go is up to you and what you want to convey in the query. Just remember, it's okay to skip stuff; the goal is to make the agent want to read more.

What do the rest of you guys think?


Angela Brown said...

I read through it twice, the first time ignoring the comments so I can try and see what I get from the query itself. Then with the comments.

I'm getting the feeling there's two rivaling factions: Ingenium and those that are part of the Genocide. Because genocide evokes such strong connotations, I was admittedly taken aback by the second chance offer. At the same time, I found the concept of survival of fittest by room design very different than the usual Hunger Games "violence takes all" angle so that really intrigued me.

Like Adam, the jargon is probably what is throwing me off the most. Simplifying that could probably go a long way in strengthening this query.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I'm with Adam. i was really confused by all the terms. I had a hard time figuing out which was which, and since you don't really explain anything about any of the groups (who are these people, why are they segregated, etc) there's no weight behind them.

So i'm with Adam. Probably the best bet is to drop the terms that you don't need. Peers most likely. Any that you do keep, you'll need to give us a snipet (as short as possible) explaining them.

But this sounds exciting and fun! And the query structure is there and ready to go, you just need to make sure you don't lose us before we get to the conflict and choice at the end

Patchi said...

I like the premise that something most would find fickle is what might save a population from genocide, but I agree that this query is very confusing. Focus on the interior design, if that is the heart of the story. Tell us why the second chance competition is for teenagers and not more experienced designers.

Good luck!

Laurie Gienapp said...

First, I wonder if perhaps "the sky is HER limit" was an intentional modification of the standard phrase... and I expected to find a further explanation of that.. but it never came.
Next, to have a Hunger Games type of situation... the leaders (?Normals?) against the downtrodden (?Peers?, or perhaps Ingenia?) but have the competition be something other than violence, is not a bad concept.. but I just can't get into the notion of the winning downtrodden being the one who creates the best room for enemy headquarters. If you want to use something other than strongest/most violent/smartest... I think it needs to either be more significant than interior design, or you need to make me care about interior design.

Matthew MacNish said...

Normally, specificity is the key to a great query, but with certain types of stories, especially spec fic, you can't get too specific in the query, or no one will know what you're talking about.

Steve MC said...

First of all, for a guy who makes charts - that one about the fundraiser is all wrong. You're supposed to work up to your goal, not soar away from it. :p

For the query, I got confused, too. I get how she's using group names, but she uses both the Normals and the leaders of the Genocide to mean the same thing (I think). It's also not clear if the Genocide is an event or a group.

Unique spin with the decorating over the usual gladiator games.

Joan He said...

Hey guys! Thanks SO much for all your lovely feedback :D I definitely agree with all the points that you have made--since submitting this I've tossed out the unnecessary terms so yay!

Jay Noel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.