Sunday, August 27, 2006

Inspiring Tomorrow's Space Explorers: A New Query Letter

After my rejection last week by Writers House, I decided I need to punch up my query letter to emphasize the business opportunity my book presents.

Although I started writing the Onyx Sun series as a fun book for my son, Aiden, I am realizing it could also encourage kids to engage in math and science through the technologies those subjects enable. My book is replete with technology developed by Zack's grandfather, like large robots, rocketships, and fast jets, which should inspire kids. This is important because I've learned while working at Riverdeep that American kids score lower than almost every other developed nation in math and science scores. I am starting to think my book might be able to help turn the tide.

One of the keynotes at this year's NSTA (National Science Teacher's Association) emphasized during her speech that before we can expect kids to spend long hours pouring over textbooks, we have to inspire them to want to do so. In America we have a strange anomaly compared to the rest of the world whereby math and science are considered geeky. Maybe it's our sport-oriented culture, maybe it's just random, but the fact is kids don't want to study math and science because they don't think it's cool. They are not inspired.

My book can help change that. In an increasingly technological world, I think math and science have to become cooler if we're going to keep up. Gone are the days I grew up in when playing PC games was just for geeks. Now, kids of all ages, as well as adults, play XBox, PS3, and PC games. That's a step in the right direction, and books can help more than they currently are.

When you look at the bookshelves in bookstores today, you see a lot of YA fiction that centers around one of two categories: (1) fantasy or (2) reality. There's little-to-no science-fiction, which is interesting to me because sci-fi straddles these two genres. Sci-fi has a historical precedence of taking crazy ideas and making them reality. The Internet, space travel, genetic engineering...these were all considered science fiction until they gave way to science fact. Issaac Asimov and Jules Verne inspired people who became visionaries like Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

That's what our kids need! They need inspiration in what could exist but doesn't quite yet! I don't care how you slice it, no matter where we head in the next two hundred years, this planet will never see one dragon, elf, or fairy. While those things are fun to read and write about, they will never exist, while walking on Mars, settling the Moon, and exploring outer space will.

So, if we're going to inspire our kids in math and science, let's start reading them books that talk about attainable dreams. We're already exploring space, but we need to inspire them to take today's efforts further. So much awaits us out there: potential motherloads of raw materials, alternative sources of energy, new colonies to develop, etc.

So, it is with this passion and vision for how my book can help this that I have revised my cover letter to the following:


Specific Person

Dear (Agent/Editor’s Name):
I am seeking representation for my young adult chapter novel The Incredible Origins of the Onyx Sun, complete at 83,500 words.

My book follows ten-year-old Zack Goodspeed, after he discovers his grandfather has invented a spaceship powered by an infinite energy source called the Onyx Sun. Stowing away on the ship, Zack is stranded on the Moon, thrown into life-threatening conflicts, and forced to confront an enemy bent on using the Onyx Sun to wipe out all life on Earth.

I believe my book will be popular with young adults for a number of reasons:
- Space 2.0: Children have always loved space. It provides a realm of infinite imaginative possibilities, and now we near a Second Golden Age of Space. Virgin Galactic is creating the first space tourists. A human will walk on Mars. My book is part of these events, which will define the next generation.
- Engagement in Math & Science: We need to inspire American kids to engage in math and science if we are to maintain our international competitiveness. I have designed my book to present plots, characters, and environments that will engage children in the exciting possibilities of technology and space.
- A Series Novel: This book is the first in a series, which will maximize backlist potential. I have already started the sequel: The Wicked Adversaries of the Onyx Sun. Five novels will ultimately comprise the series covering space exploration, colonization, interplanetary war, and first contact with aliens.
- A Familiar Format, an Underdeveloped Genre: With my book, I have used familiar elements from popular young adult novels in an environment (i.e. space) I am passionate about and consider underdeveloped as a mass market genre.
- Relevant to World Events: My book explores terrorism, alternative energy, and internationalism to help young adults understand their lives in a global context.

I have published several articles and poems. I currently work for educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Riverdeep Group and understand how to capture kids’ attention. My business background and education (BA, Northwestern; MBA, Babson) have given me the skills to sell my novel to parents, teachers, and children. I am a member of SCBWI.

In my research, you have consistently arisen as a quality source of representation. I hope you will contact me at your earliest convenience for the entire manuscript.

Christopher Mahoney

What I Like About This Letter
  • Makes a full business case: I mention several reasons my book is unique and a good business opportunity. In a bulleted list, these issues are easy to scan and assess.
  • Synopsis is tight: The book synopsis is concise, perhaps too much so.

What I Don't About This Letter
  • Too formal: Looks like a business proposal. Is not enough of a compelling story. The bullets especially look business-y.
  • Too scattered: The fact I didn't focus on just one or two appeals for why my book is so unique looks scatter-shot.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The First Rejection

Well, after two months of waiting on tenterhooks for Writers House to review my entire manuscript, I heard back today. They were very courteous to give me a personalized write-up of my manuscript, but of course I can't help but be disappointed. I know how hard it is to get published, but for a glimmer of a moment, I thought Writers House initial interest might translate into one of those rarefied occasions when a new author gets picked up immediately.

For posterity's sake, here's the letter: