Here's the letter.
Dear Agent TK,
[TK personalized introduction]
Seventeen-year-old Syna Karras knows there’s no such thing as murder. Let me stop you right there. This line is a nice hook, and it definitely makes me want to read on, but I don't think you should get to it so fast. For one thing, this query is short, so you've got room, but for another, don't jump right into plot and world based elements until you've got us caring about your character. There is nothing more important in STORY, or a query for that matter, than CHARACTER. Think about it - what's the most successful movie in the theater right now? The Fault in Our Stars, right? You know why people love that book? The CHARACTERS. Not much happens in the plot, right? But we would have followed Augustus and Hazel Grace anywhere, wouldn't we? That's because we care about them. We are sympathetic to their plight. Make sure you do the same with your query (as much as room allows). It doesn't take much. Just a few choice words about what kind of person Syna is before her story begins. It’s 2055, and thanks to the software embedded in everybody’s minds, criminals are arrested before they commit a crime. Which is why Syna should believe her father died of natural causes.
But she doesn’t.
Other than my nitpick about your CHARACTER, this is a pretty decent opening. I'm curious to know more about how this software works, but that's probably too complicated to explain in a query, and curiosity is a good thing when it comes to wanting to read on.
As for your hook, it's pretty solid. We know there's some Minority Report style pre-crime enforcement going on, which has been done, but not in YA, to my knowledge, so that's kind of a good twist, and more importantly, you've set it up so that world building element directly effects the conflict, which sounds like a nice little mystery.
Not when the autopsy reveals his healthy heart abruptly stopped beating. Not when her father raised her on stories of serial killers of the past, slipping gruesome details into dinnertime conversation. And not when he left behind top-secret government files with blacked-out phrases and a warning of danger.
Richard made a point yesterday that these are sentence fragments. He is technically correct, of course, but I don't have a problem with it. Sometimes, for style and voice, ignoring grammar rules can be effective. Here, the syntax conveys a sense of urgency, and frustration, and fear. As least that's how it reads to me.
On a more story level scale, this certainly heightens the tension, raises the stakes, and provides for excellent conflict potential.
When a family friend dies in the same mysterious way as her father, Syna’s convinced murder is as real as the slice of a knife across soft flesh. This sounds a little off. Of all the things that would sit solidly in the realm of "this is definitely real," why would Syna think of a knife slicing across soft flesh? Without some context to clue us in to why her mind would go there, it sounds a little out of place. She’ll do whatever’s necessary to take down the man Does she know it's a man? Minor detail, but still. who stole the most important person from her life—even team up with her arrogant ex-best friend Linden Pearce to gain access to files his father, the Secretary of Defense, might have hidden. They have to work fast, because more people are dying, people who have a connection to her dad. What connection? This is vague, and the last thing you want in a query is vague language mucking up the impact. Just tell us what her father did when he was alive, and it will make much more sense. And with the killer aware of her investigation,
See how that packs a little more punch at the end? Obviously not the most sadistic choice ever, since we know she's not going to give up, but phrasing the end of a query with a choice always gives the reader more incentive to be interested in the pages than ending on something that wraps it up more neatly.
Complete at 79,000 words, ABERRATION is science fiction without the dystopia, I don't think this is necessary, but I get the feeling you chose this phrasing for a specific reason. Besides, pre-crime sounds pretty dystopian to me. set in a Minority Report–like world. It will appeal to fans of sci-fi mysteries such as
Okay, so in summary: I think this query is in decent shape. The plot, conflict, and story elements are all there, and are all strong. Be more specific about who her dad was, and why he knew what he knew (and probably therefore why he got murdered), and then tighten up your final line so that your reader has no choice but to want to see the pages, and then your story elements will be just about perfect.
Which leaves us with your opening, and its lack of character. Don't worry too much, I read a lot of queries, and the most common thing they seem to lack is introducing a character in such a way that we immediately care about and sympathize with them. CHARACTER is the most important of the three Cs (CHARACTER, CONFLICT, and CHOICE), and if you don't have a character we want to root for, everything that comes after carries less weight, no matter how cool it is.
Introduce us to an interesting, unique person we can care about and sympathize with right away. It doesn't matter if she's kind and humble, or brash and clever, as long as she's interesting, she will shine, which I'm sure she does in the manuscript, so make sure she does in the query too.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
What do you all think? Anything I missed? Anything you disagree with?