The third in our Before and After Queries – Mini-Series. This one comes from author Kosoko Jackson and features the very first query, as well as the query that landed him an agent. Commentary follows each. Let’s dig in!
First Query Ever (2014):
Dear XXX Agent,
For the past 5 years, Charlie has lived in The December Zone –the remainder of the world where the nuclear war has left everything completely covered in snow, ice and blood hungry creatures; some animal, some human, some a grotesque mix of both. The lucky people who escaped the explosion, or who bought their way into the safe haven, live in The Summer Domes all over the country. Sometimes, Charlie can’t help but wonder what his life might have been like if he had listened to his best friend Trevor and left his family behind to live in the safety of the warm and bountiful walls. But those days are sealed away and nothing but a pipe dream. But when Charlie’s younger sister gets ill and the only medicine available lies within one of The Summer Domes, Charlie has no choice but to wander down and use the trump card he’s been saving for so many years in order to get inside of the walls. Charlie knows who brought about the nuclear explosion that created this endless winter , and he knows where the culprit, the most hated person in the world, lives. But he has no intention of actually giving the information. After all, how do you live with yourself when you give up your father? His only hope is to get in, get out and never have to tell the truth.
But The Summer Dome not only keep the cold out, but keep the citizens inside. A prison is only a prison when the outside world is better than the world inside and Charlie quickly discovers leaving will be significantly harder than entering. Things get more complicated when he meets Trevor 5 years laterand sees the life he could have had…and the life he still can have if he just tells the truth. No matter what, the choice is clear: Someone’s life hangs in the balance of Charlie’s choice. The only question is will it be his sister or his father and will they take him down with them.
The December Zone has a strong theme of ‘choices have consequences’ and deals with a lot of things many young adults deal with commonly, including the temptation of drugs, sex, ‘teenage rebellion’ and sexuality. Charlie, struggles during the novel with coming to terms with romance, something he never had in The December Zone, which is even more jarring when romance happens with another male. The novel’s is peppered, not saturated with science fiction themes and heavily focused on weighing pros and cons of choices, while at the same time dealing with those actions. Charlie’s biggest struggle, and something many young adults can relate to, is discovering they cannot control everything and finding their place in the world while not letting the harshness of reality overpower them…even though for many, it does.
The December Zone is 81K and the first installment in a trilogy.A full ten pages are seen below. I hope to hear from you soon.
Why It Didn’t Work:
- I trimmed the query, but the actual query? 650 words. YIKES – FAR too long.
- The last 2 sentence paragraph was actually 10 sentences. The bio should be short, sweet, and accent what makes YOU the best person to write this story–too many random details.
- The query reads like a (boring) synopsis. A big no no.
- It has a very much of “then this happened, this then happened” feel to it, not an enticing story.
- It takes too long to get to the meat (again, remember, the FULL query is 650 words!)
- This was 2014, the last leg of dystopian literature.
- I assumed it would be a trilogy, and sell as one, instead of a singular story.
- Also..it’s just horribly written, cliche, and lots of ‘ugh!’.
The Query That Got an Agent (2016-2017):
Through letters to his older sister enjoying her freshmen year at George Washington, James describes his days navigating a new country, a crumbling parental unit, and Tomas, the son of a Brazilian sanitation engineer. While his sister reads about the sweet romance developing with Tomas, the reality is much worse.
Ethnic tensions between the Albanians and Serbians have boiled over, trapping James far from his family. As James struggles to survive a world saturated in war, armed with only his wit, family lessons gathered from years abroad, and a loyal boyfriend, he must not only decide if he’s willing to do anything–or become anyone–he needs to in order to survive, but if survival is something he even wants. Especially when he discovers the secrets surrounding his family’s questionable involvement in the genocide.
A KISS OF BLOOD AND GUNPOWDER is a YA historical fiction novel, complete at 60,000 words. Told non-linearly through a mix of first person narrative and epistolary styles, it will appeal to fans of Code Name Verity and How I Live Now. I have 2 personal essays published on The Advocate.Com and Thought Catalog, as well as one short story publication in RFD Magazine & one in my college anthology. I’m also a2016 Pitchwars Finalist.
Thank you for your consideration.
- MUCH shorter – 250 words.
- Shorter, cleaner sentences help to keep the pace and feel.
- The query only gives away the first 70 pages, and is enticing for the rest – A good trick when writing a query.
- The ending is much more of a cliffhanger, but gives enough that you know the story.
- There is world – and character – building without it feeling dull and like reading a manual.
- There is voice too – something the first query really lacked.
- COMPS, though not a requirement, very much help to establish where your book would go on the shelf. The more unique the book, the better the comps – this, unlike the one above, has them.
- ALSO, there were two typos in this query – try not to do this, but don’t think its the end of the world if you have one (or two…)
A huge thanks to Kosoko for contributing! As always, we will end with this final encouragement about the querying process:
Time and practice build the necessary skills to survive in this industry. If your first queries slip through the hands of agents, do not fear or worry. You will get better at this. Your writing will improve. Put the time in and I expect the same kind of leaps you see above. We can’t wait to read your stories.