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Query Saturday: Mission to Zulaire

Welcome to Query Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a query to be read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. Published authors may do so under their own name or anonymously.

Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?


Dear _____,

Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane has just started thinking about how to spend his retirement bonus when HQ assigns him one last mission: rescue a civilian woman stranded on a planet on the verge of violent civil war. Someone has pulled some serious strings to get her plucked out of the hot zone by Deverane and his team.

Andrianda Markriss isn’t about to pack up and leave Zulaire just because of Deverane’s orders, though. Deverane’s never met anyone so hard-headed- or so appealing. Just as he manages to persuade her to leave with him, rebel fighters infiltrate the village to brutalize and massacre everyone. Andi, Deverane, his team, and two other survivors manage to escape the slaughter, and are forced to hike through dense forest and enemy territory to get to the relative safety of the capital. On their frantic journey through the mountains they discover evidence that Zulaire’s so-called civil war is part of a larger plot in an alien race\’s terrifying attempt to subjugate the entire Sector.

Deverane, busily falling in love with Andi, fights his way across half of Zulaire, trying to protect her from rebel fighters and the dangers of the planet’s treacherous wilderness. His only hope: that he can get his people to the capital in time. If he does maybe he can stop the planet from being consumed in a massive bloodbath that would destroy all of Zulaire, and maybe take the rest of the Sector with it.

Mission to Zulaire is a 95,000 word science fiction novel. I have included a SASE for your convenience and the complete manuscript is availible upon request. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.



Interested in participating as an author or an aspiring author? Send your query to jane at All queries are kept confidential.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Erastes
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 05:12:43

    I have to say that I’d probably read it if someone gave it to me. Would I pick it up if I were an agent or a publisher? I don’t know – it doesn’t have anything different to offer by the information offered in the query, it’s a story seen 100 times before. It’s the African Queen with aliens.

    However, if the writing was impressive – perhaps. Nothing that much wrong with the query apart from the typo though, and that’s the point.

  2. Kathleen
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 05:51:31

    I was thinking the same thing. There actually isn’t anything wrong with this query, except it doesn’t “pop.” At least to me. But I’ll admit that I’m not a sci-fi fan, so don’t let that bother you.

    I’m wondering if there’s some way to make the characters stand out a little more? As in, what’s special about them? Not in what they are, but in WHO they are, and the emotions they go through. Is Deverane frustrated and about to pull his hair out over what this woman puts him through, or is he matter-of-fact, calm, cool, and collected? Is Andriana a brainless bimbo or she highly intelligent? Is she a help or a hindrance on this quest? (Once she agrees to come.) Is their relationship one where sparks are constantly flying because they’re both vying for control, or do they quickly learn to become a team as they tackle what comes up against them?

    I’d see if you can include the answers to some of these questions to make us more interested in your characters. And that second paragraph can probably be condensed if you feel the query is getting too long.

  3. Treva Harte
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 05:55:42

    Please give a reason why our heroine refuses to leave when the Special Forces show up just for her (wonder why her in particular?) because otherwise I immediately form an impression of a TSTL heroine and wonder why our hero falls in love. I also have the impression, though this may just be how the query is worded, that the aliens are merely a backdrop to the story. If this isn’t so, you’d need to make that more clear, other than saying at the end it is a science fiction novel. Right now the query reads as more of a romance novel with some science fiction elements. It may well matter to a publisher or agent because some market more of one genre than the other.

  4. Ann Somerville
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 06:35:32

    It’s a pretty standard plot for an adventure novel but I’m wondering where the sci-fi is? You can’t just stick an ‘African’ rebellion/war type scenario in space and call it sci-fi. I’d like to see a little more evidence of the ‘speculative’ side which makes this genre distinct. Maybe a couple more words than just ‘an alien race’.

    We know what the hero does for a living. The woman isn’t at all well sketched out – what is she doing in the ‘hot spot’? Is she a doctor, diplomat or drug pusher? A minor point but her name irked me as being overelaborate – and ‘Andi’ didn’t strike me as an obvious contraction for ‘Andrianda’. We need more about her, especially if this is being sold in the romance genre. At the moment, she’s a token love interest. “Busily falling in love with Andi” is a little odd too. It would help if we had some reason why he might find her attractive.

  5. Anion
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 06:45:15

    Ditto what Treva said, that bugged me the second I read it. When Special Forces shows up to take you to safety, you GO, idiot. And I also ditto the part about what sets this apart from every other science fiction story–but then, I don’t read science fiction so it’s possible this is very different.

    Saying that, the writing is tight (misspelled “available” in addition to the typo on “alien race/’s”) and the story is well-explained. So good job on that, but make sure you run spell check before sending it to agents.

  6. Leah
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 08:18:02

    I thought it was a very good query letter, but I also wonder why the two main characters fall in love–or does Andi even fall in love with Tom? Also (and this might be dumb), how can Tom save Zulaire–aren’t there other military forces available? Or is it just that he is the only one who realizes that something bigger is going on? Good job, though–I bet that if you do just a little tweaking, you’ll have an agent soon.

    Good luck!

  7. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 08:58:56

    I think this is a good query. Ditto the comment that the heroine needs a reason for refusing to leave. I was wondering why the hero would put his team in danger to “persuade” her.

    Andriandra sounds like android. Is she?

  8. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 09:18:25

    This letter is clean and clear and needs a little more oomph and information.

    This is sci fi in terms of setting, but it also reads as a romance. In the last paragraph, you need to make clear the genre, as it reads romance to me. Also, some sci fi folk don’t like sci fi, and want the word “speculative” in from of fiction. You’d have to tune it toward the agent you were sending this to.

    There’s a flatness to the plot, but you can add some detail. What “worlds” are they on? What makes each of these characters worth reading about? There has to be some defining detail you can throw in that won’t drag this letter down or make it too long. Your brevity is actually a nice thing for me. No one likes reading these letters, plot synopsis being the most boring thing on the planet or any planet, for that matter.

    So great start here, clear story–a few details, and I think you can jump into the mix (assuming that this novel is done!).

  9. Catherine
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 09:26:52

    I thought it was ok. It didn’t really make me want to buy it though. When I got to the part about the retirement bonus I got stuck. All I could think was when did they start giving out bonuses for retiring? Then I kept reading and got to the part about the girl not wanting to go with them. All I could think was TSTL. I thought it was a contemporary, but then aliens were brought up. It kind of lost me. I don’t mind the alien thing, but if it’s going to be a big part of the book it should really be made to see more important.

  10. ilona andrews
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 09:34:01

    Oooh, ooh, SF!

    Good query. The only thing that’s missing are the shiny specifics. Basically, you have to figure out how to insert those extra bits of coolness into it.

    What is so special about the main characters? What is so scary about the alien armada? Why is the threat so dire? It’s almost there, just kick it up a notch.

  11. Bernita
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 09:36:50

    ” This letter is clean and clear and needs a little more oomph and information.”
    Agree with Jessica.
    You’re nearly there.
    And I like your plot – your story sounds like a good read.

  12. Anne Douglas
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 10:11:57

    I’ve seen this before – quite literally. Just add in Bruce Willis and that french/english actress Andi? something or other, and some nuns and you’ve detailed the movie.

    As people above had said, it needs a few of the shiny scifi aspects added to differentiate.

  13. Maya
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 11:30:49

    I’m with Ann Somerville above –
    a whole lot of description of what’s going on with the hero, but the heroine (and at this point, I’d have have use the term loosely) is pretty much invisible. Why in the world is she there, why does she refuse to leave, how does she contribute to their escape, etc. etc.

    Otherwise, as others have stated, the query is clear and straightforward.

  14. kirsten saell
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 12:25:51

    a whole lot of description of what's going on with the hero, but the heroine (and at this point, I'd have have use the term loosely) is pretty much invisible.

    Is this a sci-fi romance? Is the book written solely in the hero’s POV? If you include the heroine’s POV in the novel, you should include it in the query, too. Even if you’re basically saying the same thing, switch the second para to the heroine’s “POV”:

    Andrianda Markriss isn't about to pack up and leave Zulaire just because of Deverane's orders, though. She has important work to do, combing Zulaire’s jungles in search of a vaccine for the Blue Space Plague, and no man is about to stop her efforts. But the more she sees of him, the more convincing the ruggedly handsome beefcake operative is. Unfortunately, by the time she succumbs to his smoldering persuasion, rebels bent on massacre infiltrate the village. Andi, Deverane, his team, and two other survivors manage to escape the slaughter…

    All right, that was pretty cheesy, but you get the point.

  15. Tori
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 12:37:22

    I would definitely pick this up if I saw it in a store. The one critique I have is what several others said-you need more of a hook…this almost reads more like a brief synopsis than a query. All that’s really missing is one or two brief lines at the beginning to draw the reader/agent in…make me want more!

  16. Heather
    Jun 21, 2008 @ 17:01:01

    If the author ever gets this published as a science fiction romance (and you’ll probably double the number of agents you can query if you call it that), I’ll buy a copy to give away on my blog.

  17. Rosario
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 02:36:22

    I’d definitely buy this. Have I read similar plots before? Yes, some, but I don’t particularly care. I’m always up for seeing what a new author does with a well-loved theme. Plus, there still aren’t enough futuristic / sci-fi romances out there.

    I especially liked: the bit about the retirement bonus. I thought “ohhh, older than usual protagonists”. Of course, I would have liked some assurance that the heroine is also in the same age range.

    Disliked: this has been mentioned already. The heroine’s name sounds a bit too much… cheesy and silly. Also, the whole thing about her refusing to go with him makes her sound possibly TSTL. A little assurance that she has good reasons to do that and isn’t just being a twit would be welcome.

  18. Lorelie
    Jun 22, 2008 @ 21:17:24

    Okay, this is probably totally piddling of me but my first thought upon finishing was: “Why would an Army pay a retirement bonus?” The US Army has on occasion made payments to encourage people to get out *before* they hit retirement, in return for giving up benefits. I don’t think I’ve heard of a military giving a bonus for doing your full tour.

  19. Shreela
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 03:55:41

    I really liked kirsten saell’s “cheesy” addition.

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