Friday, August 28, 2015

Face-Lift 1274

Guess the Plot

Keeper of the Woods

1. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, so someone else can take over my job as . . . keeper of the woods.

2. In a woodsy world where all the people are half-animals, a half-dog and his half-coyote sister must rescue their father from the half-weasel's soldiers. It seems hopeless until someone who is 100% human arrives and saves the day, thus demonstrating the universal truth that humans are better than animals.

3. Margot asks too many discomfiting questions, so she's expelled from her coven of teen witches-in-training. As she wanders deep in the woods, she meets a hoary old character who has some answers for her. His dark, brooding grandson with pointy ears and a wicked aim with a cross-bow is also kinda cute.

4. Alexis Hightop has had her fill of random men and sloppy sex. Now she's determined to find a worthy substitute in the local sex shop. After months of research, she's got a box full of "toys" and she's ready to share her knowledge with other women.

5. As man continues expanding his domain at the expense of other creatures, soon there is only one who stands between nature and humanity's encroachment: the superhero known as  . . . Keeper of the Woods.

6. Priapica is flushed down the Schwongo. But who killed the curator of the Boner Museum? And what species of testosterone-devouring gnat inspired the murder weapon?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

My name is X. I was born and raised in New Jersey [I am completely objective when reading queries; no need to try to win my sympathy.] and am currently working as a middle school Special Education teacher. I would like to send you my novel, Keeper of the Woods, for your consideration. It is a 56,000 word middle grade fantasy novel. The story takes place in a world where by the age of eight everyone takes on physical characteristics of an animal which mirrors their personality, all except for one person. [Just for my own enlightenment, would someone whose personality mirrors that of an elephant simply become larger than most people, or would he grow a trunk? Or maybe I should ask if he would have an elephant's head on a man's body or a man's head on an elephant's body.] [Also, do animals take on the physical characteristics of people who mirror their personalities? Like you could have one bear that looks like Russell Crowe and another that looks like Stephen Colbert.] [Wait, I have an even better idea. People who take on the physical characteristics of whichever vegetable mirrors their personalities. Boring people would look like iceberg lettuce and sexy people would look like jalapeƱos. Ideally you would want to look like an ear of corn.]

Rae the half-dog and his sister Arella the half-coyote [She's very coy.] break every law [Is that an exaggeration? Are there laws against murder, rape, kidnapping, child abuse?] trying to survive while their father leads the rebellion against the weasel King Nalvero. [I assume he's the king, and half weasel, rather than the king of the weasels, right?] When word comes that their father has been captured the two quickly devise a plan to get him out [Out of what? Is he in a cage, a prison, a POW camp?] with the help of the strangest creature ever found-a human girl named Ana. Ana rescues the two from Nalvero’s soldiers, [Wait, last I heard "the two" were devising a plan to rescue Dad. Suddenly it's the two who are being rescued?] the Red Guards, [so named because they have taken on the physical characteristics of cardinals,] and joins them under the impression they can make her part animal like the rest of the world. [Making her part animal would be dangerous if her personality is shark-like.] Red Guards, a panther bounty hunter, curses, [a polar bear dentist,] prophecies, and Rae and Ana’s constant arguing [Sounds like Rae should be half cobra and Ana should be half mongoose. Consider making the change.] complicate the journey further. [What journey? Where are they going?] In the end Ana must choose who to trust in order to fulfill a destiny far beyond her choice. [Is it truly her destiny if she has to make the right choice to fulfill it?]

Keeper of the Woods will fit in well with audiences who enjoyed the spirit of friendship in the Percy Jackson series or the unusual world of the popular TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The main character will also appeal to those who related to Frozen's Queen Elsa and her fear of being a monster and subsequent isolation. [In addition, those who admire Wile E. Coyote's persistence will identify with Arella, Rae will appeal to fans of Scooby Doo and Mr. Peabody, and the weasel King Nalvero should remind those who enjoyed Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz of those works' villains.] Your website indicates you are seeking projects with animal stories and a multicultural aspect. I believe my series contains these by demonstrating universal truths in unusual circumstances [If we knew more about your plot we might have an idea what universal truths are demonstrated.] and the amusement of animal behavior [Are you saying the book has cat videos? If so, count me on board.] combined with average people. Per your website's instructions I have attached the synopsis below. This is my first novel for submission and it is the first in a series of three books, which have all been written [completed]. If you do become interested my contact information is as follows: cell phone X and e-mail: X [Having an email address that's the same as your phone number could be confusing. Like the phone rings and you answer, but there's no one on the line because it was an email.]



It may seem reasonable to devote much of the query to yourself and movies and TV shows instead of your story when you're also attaching a synopsis, but that's only because you have somehow convinced yourself that the recipient will read the synopsis. Once the recipient reads the query there are three possibilities:

1. This plot doesn't appeal to me, so I'm sure as hell not gonna plod through the synopsis.

2. This plot sounds exciting, original and brilliant, but I'd better plod through the synopsis to make sure it doesn't turn into another Harry Potter ripoff.

3. I'm on the fence with this plot; should I plod through the synopsis or . . . Hmm, that next query on the pile has an intriguing font.

As you can see, the best you can hope for is #2. So you need to tell us a good story that will leave us reluctantly resigned to having to plod through your synopsis.

Is their main goal to rescue Dad? To overthrow the weasel king? To complete their journey to wherever? To turn Ana into an animal? What happens if they fail? 

Why are weasels always the bad guy? Just once I'd like to see a book where weasels are enslaved by evil kittens.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Feedback Request

Another revision of the query most recently featured here.:

Dear Evil Editor,

When Charlie's five-person video game team are exposed to radiation during a lightning strike, team Valor acquires [I would say "they acquire" rather than make us figure out that team Valor is the name of Charlie's team. I did suggest in my notes on the previous version using a pronoun there.] the magical abilities of their game characters. At the same time they find out Charlie's brother Rick is missing in action. [At the same time? You mean during the lightning strike?] 

Team Valor is now in a hurry; [Can they use magic to transport over? I only ask because if they need to take a plane from Tokyo to, say, Tel Aviv, that'll take over sixteen hours in the air, and that still leaves them about four hundred miles from Iraq. A direct flight from Tokyo to Istanbul is closer to twelve hours, but now they're twice as far from Iraq. This assumes there are still seats available. What I'm saying is, if you're a hurry to get to Iraq from Japan (or just about anywhere), you're out of luck.] Isis has kidnapped Rick and his squad and are beheading one man every eight hours. Team Valor will use their new abilities to sneak into Iraq and find Rick. At first Charlie thought sneaking into Iraq and getting out again using magic would be easy, but he quickly realizes how dangerous the situation is. Isis isn't a small group; it's a large group of heavily armed fanatics.

They have found and freed the hostages [Wow. That was easy.] and now must escape on foot across Isis territory. The first enemy engagement teaches them they can't rely on defensive magical abilities; the enemy is too numerous, the hostages too weak. Charlie will lead his team into battle armed with his magic spells, a stolen fire ax and a garbage can lid. [Those last two weapons are a joke. If his magic makes them useful, that's fine in the book, but in the query it just sounds like he's an idiot.] Accompanied by the rest of team Valor, a rogue who can kill ten men in ten seconds, [Isis is beheading three soldiers a day; this guy can kill 86,400 Isis members a day. Valor may not get to Rick in time, but Isis is in trouble.] a mage who can blow up tanks with fireballs and lightning, and a ranger who never misses what he shoots at, the odds of escaping increase despite the overwhelming force they face. [I don't see how the odds of escaping increase because Charlie is accompanied by these people if they're the same people he's been accompanied by the whole time.] [It's still not clear that the ranger, mage and rogue are the members of Valor rather than added allies. Also, I'd prefer that you refer to these people by their names rather than by rogue, ranger and mage. Also, when you start the sentence "Accompanied by the rest of team Valor... you eventually want to get to who it is who's accompanied by the rest of team Valor, namely Charlie. Also, you should include Sara on this list of people accompanying Charlie. In other words: Accompanied by the rest of team Valor--Bob who can kill ten men in ten seconds; Jimmy who can blow up tanks with fireballs and lightning; Eli, who never misses his target; and Sara, who can throw up impenetrable force fields--Charlie just might beat the odds and get his brother to safety.] With Sara behind them, shielding them with her magic, team Valor is a force to be reckoned with.

Valor is a 78,000 word YA fantasy.

Thank you for your consideration,


If rogue, mage and ranger are terms from the video game the kids play, then readers won't be familiar with them. The less you talk about the video game, the better. Millions of role-playing games have been played, and the players probably think their games are worthy of being novelized, but game players would rather play games than read about other game players.

Also, it's better for superheroes to fight super villains than armies. Superman could win a war by himself, but he focuses on Brainiac and Lex Luthor.

I appreciate the attempt to address earlier comments, but overall I don't think this is an improvement.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured most recently here would like feedback on this new version of the query:

Three years ago the alien took Parker Rhodes's father away from him, though Parker didn’t know it at the time. “He died during an important mission overseas” was the lie the Government told Parker and his mother, Dorothy Rhodes. But now the alien has returned, and before the day is over Parker will learn the truth.

Parker had just had the worst day of his 13 year old life, and that was a huge understatement. [There's no way that's an understatement. It's either exactly correct or it's an exaggeration.] As if the alien invasion that wiped out his home town of Wakesville, MD wasn’t enough, he had been chased by aliens, in a car accident, almost killed a half a dozen times and shot, and those were just the things he remembered (being knocked unconscious three times in one day plays tricks with a kids [kid's] memory). [Items on your list should have parallel construction. As you use past-tense verbs (chased, killed, shot) in the other items, add a past-tense verb (injured? involved?) to "in an accident."]

The day didn’t start out bad; in fact it started out pretty awesome, [period.] Parker had just been accepted into the most prestigious high school in Wakesville, he had actually held a conversation with Danielle Rochester, the girl of his dreams, without looking like a total dweeb and his mom had bought him the soccer cleats he had been wanting since forever when she heard the news about his acceptance. [One list per query is plenty. If you want us to think he's had a horrible day, don't provide evidence to the contrary.] But then the day took a nose dive when he turned on the TV and saw the alien that had crashed on earth three years ago, uniting mankind to fix its ship and left earth as a celebrity had returned. [Terrible sentence. The longer you make a sentence, the more chance you have of losing your way.] The alien, named “The Omega” by humans because of a pendent it wore shaped like an omega symbol, [Lucky for him he didn't wear his other pendant, the one shaped like a penis.] was talking about finding earth, which it called “The Seed”, and how the discovery was going to change the course of the Universe. [You've now provided the approximate amount of information a query's plot summary should have. And it appears we're only half through.] The Seed was a planet of legend and is believed to have the ability to revitalize the Universe [Inconceivable that someone besides us thinks Earth is an important planet.] into its former glory by sharing its resources with other planets and bringing those planets back to “life” but there was only one issue, humans. They seemed to be destroying the resources of the Seed and paid little attention to the other planets in the Universe in need of restoration, [How thoughtless of us not to preserve our resources for planets in other galaxies.] so the Omega felt its only course of action is to eliminate humans from the earth. It drove this point home by assassinating the Vice President, [As there've been a couple dozen assassination attempts on presidents, four of them successful, while no vice president has been assassinated, the Omega figured killing the vice president must be much more difficult and thus much more impressive.] detonating a bomb that whipped [wiped] out Wakesville, MD and releasing an army of seemingly invulnerable dog like creatures to wipe out all humans slowly, as to not cause too much damage to the planet. [If you're going to release creatures that will wipe out all humans, what's the point of first bombing Wakesville, Maryland? Just release the creatures in Wakesville.] 

Luckily, Parker and his mother survived the blast, [It wiped out the whole town, except for Parker and Dorothy?] though Dorothy was knocked unconscious leaving Parker to find transportation to get him and his mother to safety. [Luckily he's able to summon a car using the Uber app.] During his search he meets a fearless boy no older than 5 years old, dressed in a cowboy outfit and in search of his own parents named Billy. [Both of his parents are named Billy?] The two boys soon became threated [threatened] by one of the alien creatures and in an act of defiance [defense?] Billy shot at the creature with his toy six shooter killing it, inadvertently discovering the aliens’ weakness, the plasticizer phthalate. [Why was that sentence in past tense?] The boys meet with General Carter, President Maria Martinez [A woman president? You expect anyone to buy that?] and a few army soldiers recovering from a failed attack on the alien and held [holed] up in a secret base. With the information learned from Parker and Billy on how to stop the aliens for good, the Military personnel, along with the President, [No need to capitalize "military" or "president." "Or vice president" or "universe" or "government."] formulate a plan to take the invaders down. [They equip the entire military with toy guns.] Parker, focused on getting [back] his mother, Dorothy Rhodes, back [No need to tell us her name again.] who had gone missing, sneaks a ride to the alien ship hoping his mother had been taken hostage there. Once in the ship the military men fight the remaining aliens [Are these aliens like the Omega or aliens like the dog-like creatures? Is the Omega vulnerable to toy guns?] while Parker searches the ship and soon finds himself in the middle of the gun battle. He is hit by a stray bullet that had passed through the Omega, the mixture of the Omegas blood with his own gives him the same incredible speed and strength that was displayed by the Omega. With these new powers Parker is able to defeat the Omega and send it fleeing off the planet, but not before reveling [revealing] it had something to do with the death of Parkers [Parker's] dad. [The Omega tries to kill us all, and we send it fleeing instead of capturing or killing it?]

This 60,000 word book is complete and ready for your review. I would be delighted to send it to you.

Best regards


When I said we wanted to know what happens in your book, I didn't mean everything that happens. You've got to condense this into about ten sentences, and I don't mean sentences as long as the first one in paragraph 3.

The story is how Parker saves us all from the alien. Everything up until he goes after the Omega is the setup, and you get one three-sentence paragraph for that. Something like:

Thirteen-year-old Parker Rhodes learns that the alien who kidnapped his father three years ago has returned to Earth and released invincible dog-like creatures that will eventually kill all humans. Parker swings into action, teaming up with Billy, a five-year-old boy in a cowboy outfit. Turns out Billy's toy six shooter contains the plasticizer phthalate, which happens to be the creatures’ weakness. 

Now you can tell us how we plan to defeat the Omega and what goes wrong, and what will happen if we fail again.

This switches between present and past tenses too much, sometimes within the same sentence. When in doubt, use present.

It's also riddled with errors. No agent or editor is going to want to read a manuscript full of errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. We have no reason to think your manuscript doesn't have just as many errors on every page as your query has. In fact, since your query is the key to getting requests for the manuscript, and thus has been proofread numerous times, I would expect the manuscript, which you probably proofread only a couple times, to have an even greater density of errors.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of Valor (see post below this one) would like feedback on a revision.

Dear Evil Editor,

Charlie and his team are traveling to Japan to play in a video game tournament. Mysterious lightning hits the plane making them ill, but they continue to the tournament where they play brilliantly. [Do we need to know how they played?] By the end of the tournament they are so sick they are admitted to the Naval Hospital with radiation poisoning. In a fever ridden delirium Charlie intercepts the healer; he realizes what he just did [What did he just do? I don't know what you mean by "intercepts."] and begs her to heal them. Sara heals her team and they find themselves able to use the magic their video game characters had. [I suggested in the original version that you change the phrase "they all can do the magic that their characters had" (10 words) to "they have acquired their characters' magical abilities." (7 words) Instead you changed it to "they find themselves able to use the magic their video game characters had." (13 words) Why?] At the same time they find out Charlie's brother Rick is MIA.

Team Valor is now in a hurry; Isis is beheading the soldiers they kidnapped, [Whoa. You say that as if we know all about it. All you said was Rick was MIA, nothing about ISIS or kidnapping.] Charlie's brother Rick could have only hours to live. Stasia will use her new ability to become invisible to find a way to sneak over the border of Turkey into Iraq. Oz gets them aboard a helicopter using forged papers and magical disguises. Once in Isis territory Oz can use his locate spell to find Rick. Hawk can sense locations of people and animals in a six hundred yard radius, [semicolon] he's the perfect scout.  [Oz can use his locate spell to actually find Rick, so why do they need Hawk's ability to determine whether they're within 600 yards of Rick? If anyone's the perfect scout, its Oz, not Hawk.]

They have found and freed the hostages, but now must escape on foot across Isis territory. Charlie is a protection warrior intent on not only saving the hostages, but the girl he loves. The first enemy engagement teaches them they can't rely on defensive magical abilities; the enemy is to [too] numerous[comma] the hostages to [too] weak. [One use of "to" when you mean "too" is a typo. Two, and I'm worried you either don't know the difference or you didn't even bother reading this before submitting it. Either way, I'm moving on to someone else's query.] Charlie will lead his team into battle armed with a stolen fire ax and a garbage can lid [semicolon] his magic spells make him nearly invincible. Add in a rogue that [who] can kill ten men in ten seconds, a mage that [who] can blow up tanks with fireballs and lightning, and a ranger that [who] never misses what he shots [shoots] at [and] the odds increase of them escaping despite the overwhelming force they face. [Whattaya mean add them in? Who are they? Where'd they come from? The odds are even better if you add in Superman and Green Lantern, but unless you have them on speed dial, they aren't showing up. You've got a team of five people, one of whom is almost invincible, and they can't rescue Rick without help from three more superheroes? The three added heroes have better powers than team Valor. Fireballs and lightning are much better weapons than an ax and a garbage can lid. You'd never see the Avengers calling in the X-Men to help them rescue a guy.] With Sara behind them shielding them with her magic[comma] team Valor is a force to be reckoned with.

Valor is a 78,000 word YA fantasy.

Thank you for your consideration,


Sending a revision the same day your original query appears on the blog is never a good idea. It's been proven time and again.

When I suggested you trim the plot summary to three paragraphs I didn't mean three paragraphs that were twice as long as the paragraphs in the original. I meant three paragraphs the same length as your original paragraphs. For instance, this is enough info for a setup:

When Charlie's five-person video game team are exposed to radiation during a lightning strike, all of them acquire the magical abilities of their game characters. Charlie phones his mother to report they're okay, and learns that his brother Rick is MIA in Iraq. And "Team Valor" has its first mission.

I suggest you set the query aside and work on polishing the writing in the book. Your mechanics in this letter suggest that the book will be filled with comma splices, misused words, improper punctuation, etc.

Maybe you should write a book starring the rogue, mage and ranger. They could wipe out all of ISIS by themselves, while your team can't rescue one guy without help.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Face-Lift 1273

Guess the Plot


1. For years Johnny Maxwell has dined out on the stories he tells of his time in Afghanistan: thrilling tank battles, narrow escapes, firefights . . . But when his girlfriend Lorna digs into his records, she learns the shocking truth: Instead of a front-line hero, Johnny worked the laundry detail in Alabama. Should she confront him with the truth, and break their son's heart, or stay quiet while Johnny sorts the socks from the panties?

2. One night, 16-year-old Elrican gives shelter to Harlequin, another 16-year-old of noble bearing, in the humble iron forge where Elrican works. Elrican forgets to put the grate over the fire and Harlequin falls into the fire pit in his sleep. The next morning when soldiers show up looking for their prince to lead them into battle against the Dragon-Trolls, Ellrican assumes Harlequin's identity. Thus begins his unsought life of valor.

3. While traveling to a video game tournament, the five members of Team Valor are struck by a lightning bolt that gives them radiation poisoning but also gives each of them the magical powers of the character they play in the video game. Sara uses her healing power to heal them all. Then they head for Iraq where they use their powers to rescue a battalion of Marines from terrorists.

Original Version

Valor Book One is 77,559 words. It's a fantasy story about five teenagers that receive the magic of their video game characters and what they decide to do with it. [Change the first sentence to Valor is a 78,000-word YA fantasy, and put it toward the end of the query. Dump the second sentence, which tells us nothing that isn't restated in the next few paragraphs.]

Charlie Hayes, Sara the girl of his dreams, and three [four] of his best friends are traveling to Japan to participate in a video game tournament. Lightning blows through the window Sara is sitting next to [Sara's window] and travels through her hitting [hits] all of them. Team Valor is knocked unconscious and the plane makes an emergency landing.

At first they seem to make a full recovery and go on to play [brilliantly in] the tournament where they play brilliantly despite becoming increasing ill. By the end of the tournament they are so sick they require hospitalization. The doctors determine it's radiation poisoning and they [They? The doctors?] are put in isolation and treated[comma] as investigators try to find out where they were exposed.

Charlie's heard the doctors talking while they thought he was unconscious and knows they [They?] are all dying. In a feverish delirium he tries to intercept the healer using the same spells as his video game character. He finds himself by Sara's bedside where he realizes what he just did and begs her to pray for them all.

She does. At first using traditional prayers and then at Charlie's urging her video game character[apostrophe]s prayers. She is able to heal them all. They realize they all can do the magic that their characters had [have acquired their characters' magical abilities]. They tell no one[comma] hoping to return home and explore their new abilities before others find out. [Those four paragraphs are the setup. In video game terms, the setup is the part where you slip the Final Fantasy XXVII disk into your Xbox and read a bunch of crap before you take control and start battling creatures. If you're writing a synopsis, you can spend four paragraphs setting up the situation. In a query letter you should condense the setup into one paragraph of three or four sentences.]

Unfortunately, Charlie's brother Rick and his entire Marine battalion go MIA in Iraq. [A battalion is 300 to 1200 marines. That's a lot of people to go MIA.] They [They? The battalion?] decide they will use their new abilities to sneak into Iraq and try to rescue him. They also decide to tell Charlie's mother[comma] who helps them reluctantly. [We don't need to know about Charlie's mother.]

They sneak on and off both ally and enemy bases searching for Rick. [If Rick is MIA, what makes them think he might be on an allied base?] Charlie knows hiding on Incrilik airbase in Turkey is no place to declare his undying love for Sara, but when he realizes she isn't as aloof as she seems he can't stop himself.

When they finally find Rick they have to fight the terrorists that have him to escape. Their secret is now out[comma] their abilities known.

At one time in my life I was an avid video gamer and a member of serious raiding guild. [You seem to think whoever reads this will surely know what you mean by "a member of serious raiding guild." Think again.] A common theme in guild chat was what would you do if you could cast the spells your character could. With over ten million people playing of all ages the answers always amazed me. [You kids think you're so special. Don't you know your parents and grandparents used to fantasize about what they'd do if they had the powers of characters in the Fantastic Four or the Justice League or the X-Men? Ancestors you never met fantasized about being the Invisible Man or Merlin or Hercules.] [When I was young I fantasized about being Superman. When I got older I fantasized about having sex with Wonder Woman. Nowadays I fantasize about having a good bowel movement.] I hope you enjoy reading Valor as much as I enjoyed writing it. [Fascinating that you were amazed by the answers of ten million other people, but what we really want to know is what were your answers?] [I was joking! We don't care about your answers or anything in that paragraph. Get rid of it. It's killing you.]

Thank you for your consideration.


The writing isn't polished. Possibly it's a rough draft, and you can whip it into shape. You use a lot of words to say what would be clearer in half as many.

You need a paragraph in which you tell us a video game team acquires the powers of their characters. and two paragraphs in which you tell us the story of the rescue, by which I mean what's their plan, how do their powers come into play, what goes wrong, etc.

Then wrap it up with the title, word count, genre. 

Also, some editing of the actual book may be in order. I have a feeling you can get this down to 65,000 words without losing any of the plot. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of Antonov's Diamonds, most recently featured here, would like feedback on the latest version of the query:

Former quixotic FBI consultant turned pawnbroker Flynn Christopher is asked by a friend at the FBI for a favor, Flynn's help in a bureau sting to recover a diamond once owned by Peter the Great.

Then he is asked to just a little further, the Feds need a brick and mortar storefront to lure a ruthless ex Russian Colonel, Alexei Antonov, into a trap, but Flynn is in over his head. Instead of a simple credit card scam in his pawn shops, Antonov tells Flynn his plans to rob a diamond mine deep in the wilderness of the Ural mountains. Antonov wants to use Flynn’s connection to over five thousand members of the American Pawnbrokers Association to sell his stolen diamonds. Who better, thinks Antonov, than pawnbrokers to move stolen goods. The problem is, Antonov is a psychopath. He double crosses then savagely kills everyone he comes into contact with. In a twist of fate, he thinks Flynn double crossed him and has stolen millions of dollars in diamonds from him. Now Flynn is marked for death.


If you want to convince people that your writing can make them more money than it costs to produce and distribute thousands of copies of your book, you're going to have to do better than this. You need to connect ideas and tell a coherent story.

It seems the whole point of telling us about the Peter the Great diamond is to explain why the FBI requests Flynn's help trapping Antonov, but having told us Flynn is a former FBI consultant, you don't need to further convince us. Especially as you don't even reveal whether the Peter diamond was recovered. Get rid of the Peter the Great sentence.

That brings us to the first sentence of paragraph 2, which is horrible, and not a sentence.

The sentence after that states that Antonov plans to rob a diamond mine, but a few sentences later Antonov thinks Flynn stole the diamonds. You're leaving out important steps. Like how the diamonds got into Flynn's possession so that he could steal them.

I'll take your word that pawnbrokers are the best way to move stolen goods. Out of curiosity, when the members of the American Pawnbrokers Association get together for their conventions, do they have panel discussions on how best to move stolen diamonds?

You can only savagely kill everyone you come in contact with so long before the authorities follow the trail of bodies to your door.

Here's a more cohesive version of what you've provided :

Former FBI consultant-turned-pawnbroker Flynn Christopher is contacted by an old friend at the Bureau. Seems the Feds need a brick and mortar storefront to lure a ruthless Russian ex-colonel, Alexei Antonov, into a trap. Supposedly Antonov wants to use pawn shops to run a simple credit card scam.

Wrong. Turns out the Russian has millions of dollars in stolen diamonds he wants to unload, and he's decided  pawn shops are the way to do it. He gives the stones to Flynn, who is to use his connection to the 5000-member American Pawnbrokers Association to move them. Flynn is in over his head, but you don't say no to a psychopath like Antonov.

Unsure what to do with the diamonds, Flynn turns them over to the FBI. He wants out, but Antonov wants to be paid, and he thinks Flynn has double crossed him and stolen the diamonds. Now Flynn is marked for death. But hey, what pawnbroker hasn't been marked for death a few times?

That wasn't a totally accurate summary, but at least it doesn't trigger more questions than it answers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Face-Lift 1272

Guess the Plot

Bending Livi

1. Sheena thought Latin was stupid. Then Bella brought that funny-looking scroll to class. Now they have Livi as Latin teacher, and Sheena can't wait for 6th period.

2. When cat burglar Livi is given court-ordered community service in a retirement home, she feels like a fox ordered to work in a hen house. Will the retirees win her over and help her straighten out her life, or will she rob them blind? Also, Russian acrobats.

3. Livi's strict kosher parents promise to stop ragging her about her taste for Daisy Dukes and halter tops and purple hair and McRib's if she spends a summer at the kibbutz. She agrees (anything to get out of the house) and packs off for a camp somewhere outside Tel Aviv. Then the vampires show up.

4. Olivia is a headstrong businesswoman with no family ties to slow her down. Matt is a soft-hearted midwesterner who just made partner in his law firm. But when Olivia is accused of murder and needs Matt to save her, he's got his hand full trying to make her likable to the jury. If only she'd bend just a little and stop wearing that "I kicked Satan's ass" t-shirt.

Original Version

Seeing as how you represent mainstream fiction, I submit to you Bending Livi, It is a Southern woman’s tale mixed with humor and personal grit about becoming someone better. [Not the best opening to a business letter. "seeing as how" is too informal. Just say "Because." Or mention where you learned this information. Also, the first sentence needs a period at the end, not a comma. The second sentence is vague. We don't know what you mean by "personal grit" or "becoming someone better." It's information you can show with specificity in your plot summary. I recommend dumping the whole first paragraph.]

Who is Livi? A loving caretaker? Or a thief who preys on the city? [You can save some more space by starting with the answers instead of the questions.] Livi is a stubborn young woman who finds herself on the wrong side of the law, a cat burglar with extraordinary athletic skills. [Saying that a cat burglar "finds herself" on the wrong side of the law is like saying a chef "finds herself" in a kitchen. It's not an accident.] At the risk of losing her brother to the court, she is required to do service [to serve] in an [a] retirement community home, in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the late 90s. [Punishing a thief by making her work in a retirement community is like throwing Br'er Rabbit into the briar patch.] [Also, when the courts start ordering thieves into my retirement home, I start looking for a new retirement home.] Her boyfriend, E.J., is a negative force, drawing Livi deeper into a life of crime. Detective Woodard, whose father is at the home, believes that she’s more than just a caretaker. His logic says she’s one thing, his police intuition casting doubts on Livi, [Is it a secret from the police that she's there because of court-ordered community service?] but his heart says something else as he sees the care she gives his father. Will Sergeant Major, a family of Russian acrobats, a retired entertainer, and a broken-down boxer, the Groundskeeper, [No reason to capitalize "groundskeeper" . . .  unless it's the broken-down boxer's stage name. Which would make more sense if he were a professional wrestler. I wouldn't mind seeing a match between The Undertaker and The Groundskeeper.] [Also, isn't sergeant major a fish?] help Livi change her life? [Actually, I'm more likely to buy that she turns her life around because of a fish than by joining a Russian acrobatic troupe. Have her steal an aquarium from one of the retiree's, and then learn life lessons from watching the sergeant major deal with a broken filter and a pesky Siamese fighting fish.] The duality of emotions and morals is the conflict that Livi has to navigate.


You're not telling us your story. You're telling us the main character's situation and listing your other characters. Basically, this is the setup: When cat burglar Livi is caught in the act, she's given a choice:
perform community service in a retirement home or lose custody the little brother she's raised since their parents died. She makes the obvious decision, but Detective Woodard, whose father lives at the home, is wary . . . until he witnesses the loving care Livi gives his dad.

Now you have plenty of room for a paragraph in which you show us what happens when horrible E.J. enters the scene and how Livi deals with him, and what goes wrong. Then a paragraph in which you show us Livi at the crossroads and tell us what will happen if she takes the left fork or the right.

I don't think Tiffany's would put up with courts ordering convicted jewel thieves to work in their stores. I suppose there's an explanation of why the owner of this retirement home is okay with a convicted thief working there? Seems like a bad business decision.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured most recently here would like feedback on the newest version.

When sixteen-year-old Skye Bryar is abducted and taken to an island inhabited by the Naturae, people who can control the elements of earth, air, fire or water, she learns why the sun shines brighter when she’s happy, while the rain falls exactly when her tears do. [And why the snow falls when she's cold.] She is the daughter of Mother Nature, and can control all four elements.

With the humans devastating nature at an alarming rate, the Naturae have become as sick as the planet itself. But Skye remains strong, her father's human blood keeping the illness that grips the pure Naturae at bay. Drained of her health and powers, Mother Nature has become cold and spiteful, obsessed with putting an end to the humans [humans'] destruction of the Earth. Now her powerful daughter is the only one left who can stop them, and she has been brought back to the island to do just that. [I think this paragraph needs some minor reorganization. Also, it gives away the fact that Mother Nature is a villain, even though Skye doesn't stumble upon this secret until the next paragraph. I would go with:

With humans ravaging nature at an alarming rate, the Naturae have been drained of their health and powers. But Skye, whose father's human blood keeps at bay the illness that grips the pure Naturae, remains strong. She is the only one left who can stop the devastation, and she has been brought back to the island by her mother to do just that.]

Though for Skye harnessing the elements proves to be easy, from controlling the tides to making balls of fire out of thin air, [Next to controlling the tides, which could affect the entire planet, making fireballs sounds like a parlor trick. I'd go with spawning an earthquake.] life on the island is anything but. Not everyone can be trusted, the one romance she longs for is forbidden, and Skye misses the father and half-sister she left behind. And then Skye stumbles onto a terrible secret. Mother Nature doesn’t just want to heal the Earth, she wants to eliminate the threat of humanity completely. And she will use her daughters [daughter's] powers to do so- whether Skye is willing or not. Now Skye must figure out how to escape the island where she is suddenly held prisoner before she finds the blood of all humanity on her hands. [I think you need a better goal for Skye than escaping the island. Does getting off the island prevent the desecration of the planet or help the Naturae recover their health? Can she use her powers to save both humanity and the Naturae?]

NATURAE is a YA paranormal novel, which puts a dark twist on the usual perceptions of Mother Nature. It is a standalone novel but preferably a series [with series potential], complete at 50,000 words.

This is about ready to go, with a few minor fixes. No doubt you've put the novel itself through as rigorous an editing process as you did the query?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Feedback Request

This is my second time submitting a query for The Adventures of Parker Rhodes to Evil Editor. After reading some of the comments from last time I was inspired to really put my heart into writing and learning the craft. After numerous writing classes, working closely with a writing coach and revising my book for what seemed like the hundredth time I feel I am ready to show the world what I can do. I just want to let the Evil Editor take another look and help me tighten up the query.

Thanks for the help.

It had been three years since the alien took Parker Rhodes [Rhodes's] father away from him, though Parker didn’t know it at the time. [He didn't know it had been three years or he didn't know an alien took his father away? If you change it to Three years ago the alien... there's no ambiguity.] “He died during an important mission overseas” were the lies [was the lie] the Government told Parker and his mother, Dorothy Rhodes. But now that the alien has come back, before the day was over, Parker would learn the truth. [But now the alien has returned, and before the day is over Parker will learn the truth.]

The Adventures of Parker Rhodes is the story of an ordinary young man, full of humor and audacity, who finds himself in an extraordinary circumstance. Just when his [Parker's] life seems to be taking a real upswing, departing from the sad years after his father's alleged death, the alien who was there when his father died, returns to earth, causes mayhem, and threatens the existence of Parker, his mother, and the entire world. [I'm gonna kill everyone on this planet, but before I do that I'm gonna kill you and your mother.] Parker joins with the grizzled General, a character who knew and distrusted the alien from the first time it visited, a lisping tiny cowboy, and a cast of other characters as he fights, with his new found superpowers, to save them all. [I assume the General has command over an army, and Parker's superpowers are more like Superman's than Aquaman's, but I don't see how a tiny cowboy with a lisp brings so much to the table that he's worth mentioning in the query.]

The Adventures of Parker Rhodes is told in a language that compels, excites, entertains and sparks the imagination. [According to . . . you. It's not your fault that we don't trust your opinion about your book, but we've been fooled once too often.] It brings to life a hero for a new generation in the form of a sarcastic, clever, resourceful, and funny teenager, with whom kids all over the world can relate.

A cross between Saint Dane (The Pendragon Adventure) and President Snow (The Hunger Games), [You've already told us he's threatened the existence of the entire world. Do you really need to compare him to other bad guys?] the alien is on earth to do the wrong thing [Destroy the world.] for the right reasons [For kicks.].

I am a lifelong reader of sci-fi and a great fan of Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson series) and Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl series). I have written this, my first book and the first in a series in honor of the great writers of YA Science Fiction. I work in IT, an improbable spot for a novice writer, yet it puts me in a unique position to get my work in front of a diverse, creative and open-minded audience. I have studied novel writing both independently and alongside professional writers. I completed this novel with the assistance of a professional editor. [I don't see that anything in this paragraph is helpful. Better to use the space telling us what happens in your book. All we know is that an alien who was here three years ago is back and threatening our world, and a cast of characters including Parker who suddenly and inexplicably has superpowers, is going to try to save us.]

This 60,000 word book is complete and ready for your review. I would be delighted to send it to you.


Why is the alien threatening our existence, what powers or weapons does he have that make him a threat, where did Parker acquire superpowers, and what are they? How does the "battle" go in the early stages? If we're losing, what do our heroes plan to do to turn things around? 

Everything you've told us could happen in the first chapter or two. We want to know what happens throughout the book.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Face-Lift 1271

Guess the Plot

Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People

1. Sixteen-year-old Jenna James is leading a pack of teenagers hell-bent on getting out of their small town. There's only one problem. They can't get across the raging river ridiculously called Black Lick Creek. Then Jenna hatches a plan. They can break off branches from the trees and make a bridge. Only she doesn't realize those trees are magical people, and they don't take kindly to meddling kids breaking them. Bedlam ensues. Oh, and a praying mantis.

2. The Tarrant trio (father, son, and blonde, teenaged grandson) are taking a trip across country when they make a wrong turn off the I-10. They find themselves in a city that's populated with folks suffering from various mysterious, crippling symptoms. Then they discover that somehow they can't go back the way they came in and the town is NOT ON THE MAP -- but a cave with a water formation named Black Lick Creek is, and it seems to be the only way out of the town.

3. Undead backpackers converge on Hell Central to discover angels have split EVIL in two. Fiends line up along the creek, zombies team up in the City, every nightmare soul eager to battle to the death — or kiss and make up.

4. Carla, Dean and Lyle love to frolic down by Black Lick Creek, but when they aren't doing that they're a vigilante team of abused 10-year-olds out for revenge on their abusers and any abusers who would break the spirits of children.

5. The city of Black Lick Creek holds a writers convention. Unknown to the city fathers, Black Lick is also scheduled for the Semi-Millennium Demons' Convocation. Writers flock to the venue but due to a NYC snowstorm, few agents or editors are able to attend. The writers mistakenly sit in on Satan's black mass. Afterward, over drinks at the hotel bar, the writers decide it must have been Evil Editor's symposium.

6. ehosephat "Black Lick" Creek has been riding the wild canyonlands of the west for years, never staying in one place. In a side canyon of the Snake river, he runs into a town of...well, people, he guesses, even though so many are crippled and twisted it's a bit hard to tell. Can he help them secure their town from the raging flash floods? And will he be able to do so without having to marry all seven of the ugly, one-eyed Olsen sisters?

Original Version

Title - “Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People”

Manuscript completed - about 96k words - dark YA fiction with dreams and a psychic [Most people care as much about fictional characters' dreams as they do about real peoples' dreams.] 

I am an attorney with a background as an assistant prosecutor in juvenile court. In an earlier career I was a clinical psychologist. I have drawn on experiences in both careers to formulate my storyline [in which the main character ditches a promising and lucrative career as a clinical psychologist for a low-paying, dead-end career dealing with drug-dealing, crack-smoking punks]. Thank you for your consideration

Overview: [No need to label each section of a business letter.]

Suppose an abused child fights back. [Good for her.] Suppose three of them, each 10 years old, form an unbreakable pact to protect each other from the depredations heaped on them by the adults who should have loved, nurtured and kept them safe. [Yes. I like it. What are their super powers?] They are more than close friends. Their lives meld into one entity and one purpose - to love, protect and succor one another through all adversities. [Screw love and succor. If you want this to become a blockbuster movie they have to form a vigilante team, kill their own abusers, and then go after all abusers.] Carla, the ostensible leader of the threesome, began her life in a home of privilege but was suddenly placed in the care of a selfish aunt and predatory uncle. Dean was forced to murder his psychotic mother [Now that's what I'm talking about.] to keep her from murdering him. Lyle, a skinny, introverted genius, harbored an obsession for revenge against his two half-sisters twins for their false accusation of sexual abuse by his father leading to his death. [Lyle doesn't seem to belong. You said there were three abused children, but Lyle wasn't abused, and apparently his sisters weren't either, and Lyle didn't have depredations heaped on him by adults (or are the twin sisters adults?)] Seeing and experiencing life in a way that at times resembles combat, only two of them survive. [Yes but how many baddies did they take out before one of them succumbed?] 

First three sentences:

Chapter 1
God how they played! All three of them, ten years old, ran as hard as they could through the field, jumped the ditch, vaulted the fence and scooted down the loose rock bank to the creek. Elmer Gantry was drunk. [Yes he was, often. But what's he got to do with your book? Is Elmer Gantry preaching down by the creek? Is he one of your characters? If only you had provided four sentences.]


Three sentences? Anyone who wants a sample included with the letter will want at least three pages, possibly three chapters. Check their submission guidelines.

I'm sure both of your previous careers required you to write business letters at times, and they probably didn't begin:


Dear Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence,


I regret to inform you that your son Barry is a sociopathic delinquent.


Sincerely yours,

This is the first example of your writing the reader will see, so use sentences and paragraphs.

This is just a list of your characters and their backstories. What led to their forming a pact is interesting, but your story is what happens after that. You need to tell us that story, providing specific information about the trio's goals, obstacles, plans, setbacks, dilemmas. Summarize the story in about ten sentences that connect logically to the each other.

I'd put the part about your careers at the end rather than the beginning.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1270 and slightly more recently in this Feedback Request has submitted a new revision, and craves your opinion.

When sixteen year old Skye Bryar is kidnapped and taken to an island in the middle-of-nowhere by her new classmate named Holt, she is relieved to discover that she isn’t crazy after all. [No need to hyphenate middle of nowhere. However, sixteen-year-old should have hyphens.] She has always believed that her emotions were controlling the weather, and now she knows the truth. She is part of another type of people, the Naturae, who can control the pure elements of earth, air, fire or water. [No need to tell us the Naturae are another type of people. We can figure that out from their element controlling power. Perhaps: She is one of the Naturae, a race of people who...] And their ruler, Mother Nature, is her birth mother, giving Skye immense power over all four elements. 

[I'm not crazy about the first sentence, as it suggests that being kidnapped is what tells her she isn't crazy. I've been kidnapped by the new kid and taken to a strange island; apparently I'm not crazy after all. Try: 

Sixteen-year-old Skye Bryar always thought she must be crazy, what with believing her emotions were controlling the weather. But then her new classmate Holt takes her to an island inhabited by the Naturae, a race of people who can control the pure elements: earth, air, fire and water. And it turns out their ruler, Mother Nature, is Skye's birth mother.]

Skye has grown up hidden in the human world from Mother Nature’s enemies, the Avarice, who have wanted to kill Skye since the day she was born. They know that she is the key to a dark revolution. The humans are killing the Earth, and with the help of her daughter, Mother Nature plans to put an end to the devastation of her planet for once and for all. The spilling of Skye’s blood as the moon rises on her fast-approaching 17th birthday will allow Mother Nature to harness her daughter’s powers and release a virus to kill all those with human-only DNA. Unaware of Mother Nature’s sinister plans, Skye settles into her new life on the island, learning how to control her powers, determining who she can trust, and struggling to understand why Holt keeps her at a distance despite their strong chemistry. And while she is enthralled by the magic around her, she is torn between this new world and the family she left behind. But when Skye discovers what Mother Nature has in store for humanity, she is faced with a horrific choice. Kill her own mother to save the humans, or help her mother save the Earth, and the Naturae, by extinguishing the human race. Or will the Avarice get to her before she even has a chance to choose sides?

[I don't see the Avarice as important to the query. The Avarice are doing what Mother Nature wants to do, namely killing off humanity. They're just doing it more slowly. A query doesn't need two villains, and Mother Nature is the one who needs to be stopped first. It's also not clear how Skye is the key to a dark revolution. If Avarice wants a dark revolution, and Skye is the key to one, why do they want to kill her? We don't know what a dark revolution is, anyway. I'd cut this paragraph down to:

Skye has grown up in the human world, hidden from Mother Nature’s enemies. But now Mom needs her. Humans are killing the Earth, and with the help of her daughter, Mother Nature can put an end to the devastation once and for all. The spilling of Skye’s blood as the moon rises on her fast-approaching 17th birthday will let Mother Nature harness her daughter’s powers and release a virus to kill all humans. 

Unaware of her mother’s sinister plans, Skye settles into her new life on the island, learning to control her powers and wondering why Holt keeps her at a distance despite their strong chemistry. Though she is enthralled by the magic around her, she misses the family she left behind. And when Skye discovers what Mother Nature has in store for humanity, she is faced with a horrific choice. Kill her own mother to save the humans, or help her mother save the Earth, and the Naturae, by extinguishing the human race.]

Are those the only options? Wipe out 7.3 billion people or kill this one person I met a month ago? Can't she come up with a virus that kills only those humans who refuse to recycle?

The other advantage of leaving the Avarice out of the query is that it's such a horrible name for the bad guys, an agent would toss the query on that basis alone.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1269 would like feedback on the revision below.

Pawnbroker Flynn Christopher is a diamond and jewelry expert. When asked by a friend [he?] uses his expertise and knowledge to work with the FBI providing hands on training to undercover agents, whose unit is investigating the jewelry and pawn business. [A friend asks him to work with the FBI? I have a lot of friends, but I can't imagine any of them asking me to work with the FBI, unless they were being sarcastic. Something like:

Me: Some kid stole my newspaper but I chased him down and got it back.

Friend: Yeah, incredible. You oughta get a job with the FBI.]

[I can imagine a roomful of FBI agents who've been trained in bringing down bank robbers and kidnappers and serial killers having to sit through Flynn's Powerpoint presentation on how to tell the difference between a diamond and a cubic zirconia. He'd get heckled off the stage.]  

Now, a diamond once owned by Peter the Great is stolen from a Baltimore museum [This isn't the Smithsonian Don't they have a diamond owned by Lord Baltimore or Stringer Bell? I doubt you'd find a home run ball hit by Cal Ripkin in a St. Petersburg museum.] and the FBI sets up a sting using Christopher to recover the stone. Who better than a local pawnbroker with an FBI connection to help recover a purloined diamond? [Pawnbrokers are where you sell the diamond you stole in a mugging. You'd get a thousand times as much selling a museum-quality diamond steeped in Russian history to some rich Russian.] Meanwhile the FBI is running another operation in Philadelphia on Alexei Antonov, a ruthless ex Russian Colonel, that ends with two dead. Before he is caught Antonov returns to Russia where he steals untold millions in diamonds from a mine deep into the Ural mountains and smuggles them back to the U.S. The FBI once again sets its sights on Antonov this time using Flynn and his connection to over five thousand members of the American Pawnbrokers Association as the bait. Antonov needs an outlet that asks no questions and he thinks Flynn is tailor made to sell ANTONOV’S DIAMONDS. [There are over 5000 pawn shops, and the one Antonov chooses just happens to be the one whose owner is working with the FBI?] [If I stole millions of dollars in diamonds I'd probably take them to some Arabian sheik. What's Antonov's plan? Walk into a pawn shop with untold millions in diamonds and say, "What'll you give me for these?" Hoping the guy behind the counter doesn't lowball him with, "I'll give you 1.5 million, take it or leave it."? If you're pawning something worth millions to someone who doesn't ask questions, do you expect him to have that much money available?]


If investigating the jewelry business falls under the FBI's purview, wouldn't they have their own expert to train agents? 

Does Antonov have anything to do with Peter the Great's diamond? If not, I'm not sure why Peter's is in the query. Your main plot is that the FBI asks Flynn to help them get Antonov. Set that up with one paragraph. Then just tell us what they want him to do, what goes wrong when he does it, how he plans to recover from this setback, what happens if he fails.