One of the key aspects of any story is the setting. Sometimes the setting plays a major part in the plot of the book, while in other cases, it mostly stays in the background, simply providing a backdrop. One of the things I'm struggling with in marketing The Serenity Solution to agents is how much emphasis to put on the larger setting that the novel takes place in.
Here's a brief overview of the setting. Basically, around 150 years before the book takes place, World War III happened. Most of the planet got nuked and was turned into a wasteland. Over the decades since, various city-states were built in areas that were still inhabitable, and it is in these safe havens that the majority of humanity lives on.
Those of you who are well-read in science fiction literature are probably seeing where my dilemma starts to come in. The "post apocalyptic" setting - whether it was created by nuclear war, a plague, or even aliens - has been rather overdone. Movies and books both have beat this setting to death, and it would take an extremely unique and gripping plot to make another book in such a setting stand out.
The reason I chose a post-apocalyptic setting for my book was because it was the only one I could conceive of in which 1.) there are only a few city-states on the entire planet, and 2.) though some technology is much more advanced than we see today on Earth, a lot of it (primarily the weapons) remains similar to today's technology level. Furthermore, the plot of the book has almost nothing to do with the nuclear war or the wastelands that were the result of the devastation. All action in the plot takes place in a few of the city-states. However, I feel that making a note of the setting (including the nuclear war) is important to have at the beginning of the book; it's the foundation for why a lot of things in the plot are the way they are. It's true that setting can be integrated throughout the action of the book, rather than in a bulk paragraph at the introduction, but in the case of The Serenity Solution I feel this would leave readers in the dark for too long.
The problem is, getting agents to see past that intro and get into the main part of the book. Part of the reason why I think my first couple submissions met with polite rejection is because I emphasized the "cataclysmic war" that led to the creation of the city-states a bit too much in my query letters. This latest round of submissions have included query letters and a synopsis that tone that down quite a bit, referring more to the action of the plot rather than the setting - which is something I should have been doing from the beginning. But, I'm learning as I go.
Now that I've shared the woes of this issue with you, let me provide a few more details of the actual settings of The Serenity Solution. Most of the plot takes place in three different city-states.
Serenity: Serenity is the home city of Captain Zakariah Atheeda, Sergeant Avery Halberd, Officer Amber Kynterle, and Officer Chrissa Maxwell. Ranked as the second-safest city on Earth (after Unity), Serenity hasn't been involved in a war for over forty years, and it enjoys a remarkably low crime rate. Its citizens are highly independent and proud of their ability to sustain themselves, adopting a nearly isolationist attitude. Because of their self reliance, the average citizen sees very little need for the art of Politics. Unfortunately, this attitude has rendered the general populace sadly naive about the world outside their own city, and they are generally unprepared for any sort of "foreign" threat. They rely heavily on their Police Department for safety, although they regard those same Officers with a great measure of suspicion and distaste. Serenity is a beautiful city. Its building are predominantly white, arranged in concentric circles, with the buildings at the center of the city being the tallest, and all other building gradually built lower as they get closer to the edge of the city. The city prefers to use blue and turquoise lighting, which makes the city sparkle like a sapphire at night.
Intensity: During the course of the plot, Zak and his team find themselves undercover in the city of Intensity. Intensity is the most dangerous of all the city-states. Law and order collapsed there over two decades ago, and some people believe that the Tribunal actually allowed this to happen, for reasons unknown. People are allowed to do whatever they can in order to get ahead in Intensity. Those with the most money fare the best, as they are able to hire mercenaries to defend their assets or attack and destroy those of their rivals. Life expectancy is extremely short in Intensity, as an unwary traveler can be shot simply for trying to help someone in distress. Corporations are the ruling force in the city, as they have the resources and the manpower to enforce their will. The city itself is huge, the largest on Earth, and it is a danger in and of itself. Building are constructed wherever open space can be found, often one right atop another. In most places of the city, the ground hasn't been visible for years. The various streets, walkways, and bridges form a warren in which even an experienced street dweller can get hopelessly lost.
Serendipity: Serendipity is a city-state which has been constructed in orbit over earth. It originally started as a large space station, but was gradually expanded over the years to become a full-fledged city. Though it takes up considerably less space, Serendipity hosts a population comparable to Serenity's. It is one of the richest city-states, home to several large corporations, and it is constantly expanding as more and more people move there. As home to the Tribunal, Serendipity sees itself as better than its Earth-bound sister cities, and its citizens have adopted a rather haughty attitude.
That's just a very basic overview of the settings in which the plot takes place.
In other news, I made another submission today, this time via e-mail. I included my rewritten, shortened synopsis, and the first two chapters of the book. Hopefully, I'll hear something back within the next two weeks. I still haven't heard back from my previous two submissions, but those could take up to another two months, as they were sent by regular mail. Here's hoping.