I’ve worked and re-worked the pasted query below. It’s on the long side but I’m not sure what to cut.
Before Commander Alexander Price’s foot sinks into Martian soil, he spots a black-tentacled probe take off from the planet’s surface. Samantha and Harriet, the other two astronauts on the first manned mission to Mars, didn't see it, and no one back home believes him.
This entire query clocks in at 339 words so it's not completely outside the ballpark for word count. That said, it can use some tightening. How do you tighten a query?
First, simple declarative sentences are your secret weapon.
Consider: Alexander Price, commander of the first manned mission to Mars, spots a a black-tentacled probe take off from the surface as he and the other two astronauts arrive. Neither of them see it . No one believes him.
44 to 39 words. Not much BUT you've tightened the narrative here in two ways. You've simplified the sentences and reduced the word count.
Alexander is ostracized and mocked for his wild claims by NASA
He's not ostracized. Ostracized means to exclude someone. It's clear Samantha isn't excluding him.
You're also awash in details. Too many details overwhelm the query.What do we need to know here?
We need to know that NASA mocks him. That's ALL we need to know.
74 words down to 11.
Determined to prove he isn’t crazy and find out the truth, he steals data from NASA’s new administrator, Harriet, risking jail time and the little dignity he has left.
Unless Harriet is on Mars, you've got a location problem here. When last we saw Alex, he was on Mars.
Did you notice that you use the full name of your main character, the man, but only first names for the lady characters? In case you're wondering, that's something I notice, and draw conclusions about. Those conclusions are not in your favor.
NASA's data show some thing is watching Earth, and it lives in the Alpha Centauri system. Harriet realises the implications of the data, forgives Alexander and asks him to join her on an interstellar mission. By the time he gets there, eighty years would have passed on Earth. Samantha, the love of his life, will be long dead.
Here's where I stop reading. The logic of this plot eludes me.
What does the black-tentacled probe on Mars have to do with anything here?
Why is Harriet in possession of data that only one man seems able to interpret. From what I know about NASA, there are some pretty smart people working there, and it boggles my mind to imagine that anyone would have data that no one else has seen. NASA is not a solitary sport.
Why would the administrator of NASA be on an interstellar flight at all? Isn't that why there are astronauts?
The folks who read science fiction are pretty picky about facts. They'll give you the big leap of imagination (interstellar flight for people is a reality) but the little facts (like how NASA works) have to be right.
The dark mystery he wants to solve on Alpha Centauri’s planets may provide personal redemption and vindication for abandoning Samantha. Or he may have pursued a ghost he only imagined in the stolen data.
This is the gist of the plot I think. What's the mystery on Alpha Centauri?
Also, "abandoning Samantha" makes me kind of crazy. If Alexander's job is being an astronaut, and he's asked to go on a mission, he's not abandoning Samantha, he's doing his job. Clearly there are some sacrifices (given she'll be dead when he comes back, IF he gets back) but it's not like he's leaving her for the lady next door.
THE FINAL JUDGMENT is a 90,000-word SF novel with series potential. This first contact story will appeal to fans of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s, Children of Time and Emma Newman’s SF mystery, Planetfall.
I drew on my experience working with narcissists-in-denial to create my characters.
This is the best line in the query and makes me think you probably have a pretty good sense of humor.
I, on the other hand, am a down-to-Earth omnipotent surgeon. I use my scientific background to weave real science into stories.
Don't waste your time on trying to personalize queries.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
The problem isn't word count. The problem is you haven't told me about the plot. You've told me about Alexander who seems entirely too drippy to be an astronaut.
It seems to me that the plot is what are those guys on Alpha Centauri up to, how do we find out, and do we need to interfere?
What you've got here is the set up, but not the plot.
In answer to your question, here's how to cut words from a query:
1. Use simple declarative sentences to build the foundation of your query.
2. Talk about the ONE thing we need to know about the book.
3. Add detail only when needed for clarity.