Sunday, July 31, 2011


Guess the Plot

Bear Tamer

1. They call Vincent Forrester II the Bear Tamer--he knows how to make money even when the market is down. But when it comes to love, he's never been serious until Tatiana comes to work for him. Can this fiery Russian tame the bear tamer?

2. A seventeen-year-old girl--and her bear--is the only hope of the world as an evil tyrant seeks to unleash a plague of destruction. Also, a werewolf.

3. When Milton Griggs answered the ad in the South Spockett Gay Times, he never dreamed "Bear" would turn out to be Mr. Griffith from the filling station. Not that he's complaining, mind you.

4. A teenager befriends an enormous bear, and together they defeat an evil dragon which has terrorized the countryside for generations. Injured in the battle, he's taken to a nearby noble's house, where the elderly nurse recognizes him as the long-lost heir to the throne.

5. Jim and Larry live in a trailer near Jackson, Wyoming. Their favorite game is "bear tamer," but Larry's tired of being the bear, and Jim refuses to switch. Maybe it's time to go fishing.

6. What if the Indians had been able to domesticate Grizzly Bears and built an empire out of “bear-power” before the Europeans first arrived? This alternate history novel not only explores the ramifications of the Great Bear Empire, but extrapolates it out to the 22nd Century, as the “Old World” struggles to break free from the yoke of the Bear Empire’s dominance.

Original Version

It’s been one thousand years since the “plague” nearly eradicated the population of Mayall’s world. Is history doomed to repeat itself? BEAR TAMER is a 99,000 word fantasy, adventure novel.

Far away from her home, [Whose home? Oh, right, Mayall's.] at the root of civilization, trouble is brewing in the form of a narcissistic tyrant. He is intent on controlling the world with a power that grants his needs and wants, the same “plague” that destroyed the world so long ago. [I see "plague" is going to be in quotation marks each time we use it. Meaning, it's not really a plague; it's just a "plague."] One mysterious woman is on the hunt for a hero who will defeat him, but time is getting short as the tyrant’s power continues to grow.

Mayall is the most skilled archer among the bear tamers at the age of seventeen. Her brother, on the other hand is a clumsy pain-in-the-butt, a surly boy passionate only about his solitude. When refugees file into Mayall’s mountain home they tell of frightening occurrences that have driven them from their farms: unnatural storms, vague messages carved into trees, and werewolves. [Werewolves? Did you say werewolves? Suddenly you have my attention.] The tamers and the refugees are baffled by the attacks, [What attacks? You haven't mentioned any attacks. I guess we're supposed to assume that where there are werewolves, there are attacks. See, that's the trouble with being a werewolf. Even if you're a good werewolf, you have to hope the bear tamers are on the ball, because you just know you're gonna get blamed for any bear attack within fifty miles.] but too frightened to do anything about it.

In a desperate urge to take action, [In desperation,] but without proper volunteers, the council of tamers and refugees [The refugees just got there. Already they're part of the council?] agree to send one person [an improper volunteer, apparently] for information. [Conversation in the council of tamers and refugees:

The tyrant grows more powerful every day. The "plague" is upon us.

We're desperate. The world was destroyed last time this happened.

I suggest we pin all our hopes on one person.

Yes! One person.

But what can one person do against such massive power?

He can gather information.


When that one volunteer dies under the paws of her bear, Mayall takes his place, dragging her guardian, Eas, and pain-in-the-butt, Kufa, into the far west. [Let me get this straight. The council chooses a hero, but before the hero can do anything, Mayall's bear kills him? Mayall, the great bear tamer? And now, despite this monumental screw-up, Mayall becomes the replacement hero, instead of being locked in the pillory?] [Does her bear go on the mission? Or did they put it down after it killed the hero?] She is determined to gather more than just information. [What else will she gather?] Justice must be served.

The three fight through sieges, brave the storms, tackle the werewolves, [ponder the vague messages carved into trees, and] evade mercenaries, while facing the accusation placed on the bear tamers for the attacks. [Who is accusing the bear tamers? The werewolves?] The mysterious woman [You keep calling her that. What's so mysterious about her?] tracks them down with the answer they’ve been looking for, the location of their true enemy.

The woman bestows her special gift on Mayall. The gift grants her the ability to see into people’s hearts and awaken their highest potential. [Of course, awakening the highest potential of someone destined to be a sculptor or a florist doesn't do much good against Mohrgonn, lord of the dark realm.] [I think I know what's mysterious about the mysterious woman: her "gift" is capable of bringing down Mohrgonn, yet it never occurs to her to just bring him down herself.] With this she confronts the enemy that has taken over her world, accused her people for it, and killed her parents. [Hello. My name is Mayall. You killed my father. Prepare to die.] Unknown to Mayall, her enemy is aware of her ability, and plans to use her as a puppet in his scheme. Their battle is a battle of will. In the end, the real hero may be someone never suspected. [If you mean the clumsy pain-in-the-butt brother, I suspected him from the beginning.]

Enclosed is my SASE. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Revised Version

When refugees file into Mayall’s mountain home, they tell of frightening occurrences that have driven them from their farms: unnatural storms and werewolf attacks. A thousand years ago a similar “plague” nearly eradicated the population of Mayall’s world. She wonders: is history repeating itself?

As the crisis worsens, Mayall sets out to find its source, accompanied by her brother and her guardian. The three brave storms, battle werewolves, and evade mercenaries as they make their way to the root of their civilization, where a tyrant with great magical power is intent on controlling--or destroying--the world.

Unknown to Mayall, her enemy waits with open arms, planning to use her as a puppet in his scheme. But Mayall has powers of her own, and carries the hopes of her people. What follows is an epic battle of wills upon which rides the fate of a world.

BEAR TAMER is a 99,000-word fantasy adventure novel. The manuscript is complete and available on request. Thank you.


It was too long. If you aren't going to tell us anything Eas and Kufa do, you may as well leave them out. The revised version is short enough to allow you to add a few bits of important information.

Speaking of Eas, what kind of "guardian" agrees to let their teenaged ward go off in search of the lord of the dark realm?

What kind of first name is Mayall? Did you consider naming her Clapton? Leadbelly?

"The "plague" is a power that grants the tyrant's needs and wants? Can you be more specific? Are the storms and werewolves and vague messages on trees part of the "plague"?

Your plot is: A teenaged girl who's an archery whiz takes on a powerful evil overlord with only her ability to look into hearts and bring out the best in people. (Let's hope she also has her bow and arrows.)

What's the importance of taming bears? The only thing a bear does in the query is kill one of the good guys. Why do they tame bears, and why are they so bad at it?

There's too much vagueness. What are Mohrgonn's powers? What information do they send the hero after?

How does Mayall use or plan to use her gift? To look into the heart of Mohrgonn, and bring out his good side? To turn his minions against him? To convince other people to join the fight? Make it clear how her abilities are useful.

Selected Comments

150 said...I sort of fail to see how archery would be a talent that a bear tamer would need to develop. It doesn't seem like it would be any help in taming bears. Still, it might make sense in the book, and EE's revision eliminates the question. That's probably for the best.

Anonymous said... This has many interesting & attractive elements but your description of the story line gives me the impression that you haven't been able to focus your narrative. You basically have a quest plot, which starts when the protagonist sets out with her honchos to achieve the Goal, which is to get or destroy some clearly defined thing/entity. The protagonist should identify the goal and embark on her quest by about the third scene of your book, although with this wandering narrative in the query, I suspect that doesn't happen until about page 150 as you have things written now. Everything that happens before she embarks is backstory or set-up. A quest plot query needs to succinctly tell us four things: 1] what's amiss, 2] who the 3 or 4 main characters are, 3] what the protagonist and her quest buddies must do to restore order: throw the evil ring into the fires of hell, poke the devil in the eye, steal magic beans from the wicked witch, or whatever, 4] what Big dangers and obstacles the protagonist faces. If agents can't discern these four things in your query [and after reading this query, I can't do that], they'll probably think the book isn't ready. As written, this query gives me the impression your Act 1 was squandered on establishing a protagonist who you then decided was no good, so he succumbs to a bear attack in Act 2, and readers must now get over him and transfer their attachment to Protagonist #2, Mayall. Generally speaking, readers don't like this kind of manuver. It would probably be better to rewrite the beginning without having a protagonist switch, or perhaps rewrite the query so it doesn't look like you have a protagonist switch.

sylvia said...Loved GTP number 3. I thought the revised version was very effective in refining it down to the main storyline whilst acknowledging that subplots were required.

phoenix said...Author, I have only two things to add. First, twists are great in a book, but you don't want to play too loose with what you've set the reader up for. Not in category fiction. Here you use bait-and-switch twice, setting up the hero first as the volunteer killed by the bear, then as Mayall, then as the person no one expects. It's like, in a romance, if you dangle a potential lover in front of the heroine only to have him killed, then invest 80,000 words setting up another guy as the love interest, only to have the heroine choose the guy's oafish brother over him in the last couple of pages. Hey, a twist ending, but kind of a letdown for the reader.

The second quibble is with the "mysterious woman." In the query, she's being set up as pretty god like. She knows the antagonist's true identity and location, AND she can dump power on people at will. Traditionally, heroes can have guides that provide help along the way. But not too much help. This mystery woman seems to go beyond the role of guide, and as such leaves me wondering, as EE implied, why she doesn't just go take on the bad guy herself. She needs some flaw or boundary that makes her incapable of doing so; otherwise, readers will just come to expect her to show up at the most opportune moment to dole out the saving information or power. No suspense there. The hero can't find the villain? Don't worry. Yawn. The mystery woman will be right along. Notice EE has conveniently left her out of his revised version. Good luck with your rewrite!

pipsqueak said...I hate first novels that are, essentially autobiographical.

pacatrue said...I love the "vague messages on trees". I keep imagining things like:

"Suzie loves J..." or "Suzie has mixed emotions concerning Jake and cannot decide what she should do."

"Werewolves may or may not have taken my child whom may or may not be a girl with dirty-blonde hair."

"For an OK time, leave a scroll for Jane in some place she might come across it."

"The 'plague' has 'come'. We shall all 'die'."

By the way, author, I like the idea of the story. I'm just amusing myself.

pacatrue said...

Following EE's comment, "why are they so bad at it?" I keep imagining the following scene:

Scene 1. At council.

Elder 1: Page, you have done the bear people great honor.

Elder 2: Yes, you have lived your life as a bear tamer should and all can learn the way of the bear from you.

Elder 1: For your prowess with the bear, we bestow upon you this quest upon which all of our lives depend.

Page: I shall not fail you, elders.

Page exits.

Elder 2: There is no better with the bear.

Scene 2. 20 feet from the council. Page stops to pick some berries from a bush. A bear rises up from behind the bush.

Page: Holy crap!! It's a bear!! Auughh!!!

Page slaps at bear infuriating it until it mawls him with a great swipe, killing him.

Scene 3. Back at council.

Elder 2. Ironically, he was the best.

Elders all nod.

Elder 1. Next on the agenda is a motion to change the clan's name to the Weasel Tamers.

Elder 2. Weasels? I hear they can bite.

Elder 1. Do they? Hmmm... How about "The Lords of the Moth?"

Elders murmur assent.

Dave said...You guys are so mean. You guys would rewrite AIDA so that Radames dies when they crown him Head of the Army and the Triumphal March becomes his funeral procession. (Slaves and elephants at your funeral can't be that bad!) The Ethiopian's feel so bad for the Egyptians, they just give up and surrender out of grief. In gratitude, the Egyptian Priests bury the Ethiopians in Radames' Masoleum.

Evil Editor said...Yes, I was just thinking the same thing.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Guess the Plot

The Academy

1. When Aspen enrolls at uber-exclusive, ultrasnobby Rutherford, she has no idea she'll soon be leading her minions in battle against the ruling clique known as the Uppers. It's 21st-century LA, and all-out war has come to . . . The Academy.

2. In a post-apocalyptic future, an elite group of extrasensory mutants are stolen as children and brought to a secret school to be trained as assassins. Marco escapes at sixteen intending to expose The Academy and bring about the downfall of those who run it, but his world is turned inside out when he finds that it's actually a benevolent organization taking out evil megalomaniacs.

3. Sarge Stiff was the deadliest combat specialist in Iraq - in 2006. Now, he's just another drunken has-been, working at the only civilian job he could get - counselor at a second rate military school for rebel rejects. When terrorists try to take over the school they get a surprise as the sergeant without a cause leads his charges in a fight to save . . . The Academy.

4. Newly-minted literature professor Christine LeBrock knew her department was full of the usual gossip & politics. What she wasn't expecting was a full-blown Satanic cult operating beneath Childers Hall. Is sacrificing a bright senior a fair price for tenure?

5. Combining the studies of Vlad Dracul, Jack the Ripper, Billy the Kid, Ted Bundy and Seung Hui Cho, The Academy analyzed the most violent of killers throughout the centuries and created the newest breed of serial killers. But can they also create the profilers to stop them? Game on.

6. Jennifer enrolls at the Academy of Fine Arts, then finds her acting instructor dead on the floor, a bullet in his head. It's a classic murder mystery, but as amateur sleuth Jennifer investigates, she encounters a major problem: all of the suspects are great actors.

7. All her friends are going to the Academy next year, but Brianna doesn't have the grades. She hacks into the school computer, but one wrong keystroke changes her life. Rather than Phillips Exeter, she's headed for Annapolis. Can she find happiness among 5000 midshipmen?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am an unpublished author, looking for an agent or publisher. I have absolutely no experience, [Especially in how to lie to make yourself look good.] but I feel that the first book (which I've finished) will be a success. [Okay, I was wrong; but can't you come up with a lie that sounds half-believable?]

First of all, I feel that I understand the market for my book series. I have researched endlessly the market for my audience's age group, [Telling us that you understand your market and that you've researched your market is not so important; telling us what your market is, is.] and have built wonderfully complicated characters. [Mini-robots.] [If they're mini-robots, I'll ignore everything that's wrong with the query and send you a six-figure advance. We've never had mini-robots. And when have we ever had a character more complicated than a mini-robot? Do they have transparent skin so you can see their gears turning underneath?] The Academy isn't just a cliched series about mean popular girls dissing girls that they don't like. [It's about mean popular mini-robots dissing girls that they don't like.] It shows each character's vulnerable side, [For instance, mini-robot 452968G cries when watching soap operas.] and many life lessons are learned throughout the books. [Sample life lessons: Never go out to dinner leaving your dog and your mini-robot alone together; do not give a mini-robot you've recently reprimanded access to the cutlery.] It is a multi-cultural series, so that readers that are non-Caucasian can also relate to the characters, and their dilemmas. [Finally we get to your market: Caucasians and non-Caucasians.]

The Uppers have ruled ultrasnobby, uberexclusive Rutherford Academy in Los Angeles for as long as they first stepped foot into the school. Kate Cordelle, Melanie Behr, Alancia Peterson, and Lia Wong, [the non-Caucasian,] collectively known as the Uppers (because they are the uppermost section of the upper class) [They sound like downers to me.] are the creme de la creme. Being wealthy, pretty, and powerful (theourh [anagram: U R The Ho.] a combination of threats, blackmail, and manipulation), they have never been challenged. The trouble starts when a middle-class girl from Greenwich, Aspen Thomas, arrives. Aspen is destined to overthrow the Rutherford Academy hierarchy: she gets inducted in the exclusive, only-wealthy-girls clique, when they see that she is charismatic, and popular whether they like it or not. Alancia is the girl behind Aspen's induction, and soon her true motives become clear: that she wants Aspen as a replacement for herself. [In the end, Alancia replaces herself with a mini-robot so she won't have to attend classes.] The tables are turned on Aspen, who gets booted out of their clique, and later joins forces with Alancia and her Lesser friends (so named because they are lesser-known, less-influential, and are everything lesser than the A-Listers), [They're the skim de la skim.] to rule Rutherford with nicer tactics. [They use tactics to rule the school, and their main selling point is that their tactics aren't as bad as the old regime's tactics?] Kate and her posse play down-and-dirty, and Aspen fights back. They both land in detention [If you're trying to make this sound like World War III, I'd leave out the part about detention.] when they take their fight too far, and Aspen and Alancia soon realize that they were holding their power the same way as Kate did, which was with manipulation. Kate apologizes too, [Too?] and the natural balance of things is restored. [Meaning the uppers are up again?]

This is a great work of mine, [That should have been the first sentence in the query. It would have saved us a lot of time.] and I am confident that we can work as a team to improve it, and make it even better. [I recommend we make it better first, and then improve it; we don't want to do too much at once.] I would be delighted to send you the complete manuscript for the first book. Thank you for your time reading this, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.



You said The Academy was the series. Is it also the title of the first book? If not, mention the title. Along with the word count and the age group being targeted.

First you say The Academy isn't just a cliched series about mean popular girls dissing girls that they don't like; then you describe a cliched series about mean popular girls dissing girls that they don't like. What sets this book apart from others? (Hint: did you notice how much better it sounded when it was about mini-robots?)

"It is a multi-cultural series, so that readers that are non-Caucasian can also relate to the characters, and their dilemmas." Translation: Asian readers will relate to Lia Wong's struggle to maintain her position of power.

Uppers and Lessers? Doesn't have the same cachet as Sharks and Jets or Bloods and Crips or Jocks and Nerds.

Trash this whole thing. Here's your plot:

The trouble begins when Aspen Thomas, a middle-class girl from Greenwich, arrives at Rutherford Academy. Her immediate popularity doesn't sit well with The Tribunal, a ruling clique that includes Kate (the dictator), Melanie (the invisible girl), Alancia (the turncoat), and Lia (the non-Caucasian). Is war inevitable?

When Alancia decides she wants to leave The Tribunal and join another clique known as The Oppressed, the bylaws require her to find a replacement. She chooses Aspen, but Aspen doesn't last long with The Tribunal. Kicked out, she allies with Alancia, and the battle lines are drawn. War has come to Rutherford, and third grade will never be the same.

I think you can take it from there.

Selected Comments

BuffySquirrel said...This reads like a query whose author has taken to heart all the Don'ts thinking they're Dos. I'm afraid EE's right: it's not salvageable. Please do get rid of the first, second and last paragraphs at the very least--they give a very bad impression. The way to let the recipient of your query know that you understand the market for your book is to describe that market and where your book fits into it. Nothing less will do--the woollier you are, the more apparent it becomes that you're clueless.

Sarah said...I'm having a hard time with this one. It's hard to find good things to say when someone's tooting their own horn this loudly. Author, I think I get what you're going for here in trying to point out how your book is different from the others out there. But it's coming across as you not being pleasant to be around and your book being same old same old. Maybe the problem lies in telling rather than showing. If you try to show how your book is different rather than put so much into telling that your book is different, that would help. Take the focus off you and your research and put the focus on your story and how it stands out from the crowd. Not the concept, but the story itself.

Whirlochre said..."I feel..."In formal correspondence, this is the kiss of death. At very least, 'think' - or better still, outline the fruits of your judgement by stating the facts. Sorry to say it, but your second sentence makes you sound delusional: upon what basis do your feelings transform your lack of experience into potential success? So, para 3, pared down - either EE's version or your own - is the one to go for.

Anonymous said...This query reads as if the author decided "what this market of snotty prep school books needs is multiculturalism." And then went ahead and named the protagonist Aspen. A ski resort whose name is a veritable beacon for fierce multiculturalism and class equanimity. And fur coats. "School Ties" this ain't. The focus on marketing in the early graphs is more like a non-fiction book proposal except it's lacking any true details.

Heather Wardell said...Unless Lia's Asian-ness is used as more than just "lookee, the book's multicultural", unless it actually MEANS something to the story, you'd be better off having her yet another blonde chick. Less objectionable, I think. And, EE, "skim de la skim" is my new favourite saying. May I... borrow it? Like, permanently?

Evil Editor said...Only if you agree to dedicate your first published book to Evil Editor. Don't worry, if your relatives can't handle waiting for book 2, they don't love you as much as you thought anyway.

writtenwyrdd said...Start with paragraph 3. Then delete that last rather arrogant paragraph. Make the story sound like something important is at stake to your main character, and this sounds like a book that will sell.

Anonymous, to those who think there is no culture- kate is french. melanie is german. alancia is black. and lia is chinese. they're the cashmere mafia. and i guess that at least one person noticed why i made her name aspen. asspen and aspirin are two names kate calls her in the book. also, she was named after the tree, the aspen pine, not the resort. her mom was a botanist, who died in a freak accident.

pjd said...Since the query is, as Buffy says, unsalvageable, I will critique only the blue text. Here's my critique: Very, very, very funny. Every line. Though I think you might have pulled a few punches, just to be nice. I feel a need to be like Simon Cowell and start by saying, "I'm not being rude," but this to me sounds like a book that you will one day be very glad never made it to print.

benwah said...Anonymous, you still haven't convinced me what separates this particular cashmere mafia prep school story from any other. While I appreciate the origin of Aspen's name, it doesn't particularly speak to the character what makes her suited to being your protagonist. Surely she's not somehow the "better person" because her mother died?

Dave F. said...You say that they are the Cashmere Mafia and this in as international school. I would use those words or similar words in the query. Aspen Thomas, middle class HS student, is all for multiculturalism until she transfers to ultra-sheik, mega-sexy Excelsior Preparatory School for Fine Ladies and meets the Cashmere Mafia Clique that runs the school by their rules. That's over the top, but it's a place to start. The "journey" (as my Daoist friends say) is from plain girl to powerful girl and back to plain girl. Unknown waters become raging rapids and finally smooth, deep pools. She's the girl who learns what Midas learned. Money, Flash, Bling and fine clothes are not the basis of a life. She's the girl who reaches the top only to find it cold and lonely, so she reaches out to those around her and learns how to live fully.

Another question, do each the other girls have troubled backgrounds. And do we learn about those backgrounds. That's what Amy Tan did in The Joy Luck Club - wrote of four immigrant families from China. If all four girls learn a lesson, and all four are of different lineage, then that might be a point to include in the query. Parents and kids want to experience different cultures.

Anonymous said...Author, you'll soon learn that EVERY unpublished author knows the audience/market, has written a non-cliched masterpiece and is certain that any agent would be THRILLED to work with them. Welcome to our world!

Elissa M said...What I want to know is, what difference does it make which little clique of stuck-up, snotty girls thinks they're running things? Seriously. As one of the middle-of-the-pack majority in school way back when, I paid zip attention to the group who thought they were oh-so-hot. That's assuming my school had such a clique since I never noticed them. Classic Jock vs. Nerd - who makes more money than any single professional athlete (actually, more than several of them combined)? Oh yes, those battles in school matter so much in the real world, don't they? I think most YA readers instinctively know this as well. What about this book makes it relevant to a young reader in a real school today?

Anonymous said...benwah-she tries to be better, then gets caught up in everything. she's really not the nicer one, though. she's power-hungry, just like kate. she's stubborn, but not mean-spirited. alancia's really the nice one (the saint), who finally makes her realize what she is doing. then, everyone learns a lesson. except for melanie and lia, who are always fighting for power amongst themselves. the book/series is a cashmere mafia for the younger set. it's kinda complicated. wait until the book's published and then you'll see. and yes, it's already in the publishing/agenting process.

talpianna said...I can't figure out the character of Alancia. First she's an Upper, then she wants to leave and be replaced by Aspen, then she's allied with Aspen against the rest of the girls? Nobody here has any convincing motivation. I suggest you read a few books like ODD GIRL OUT and REVIVING OPHELIA to see how such cliques operate.

Anonymous said...I can't say anything more without simply piling on. I'm going to latch on to what 150 said and presume that this is a young writer who maybe has a thing or two to learn about the process (and boy, what a lesson this is!). You've come to the right place. Author, when you've maanged to pick yourself off the floor, don't take all this too hard. Pretty much all of what's been said here about the mechanics is right, and once you can step back and recover from the ego-pummeling, I think there's a lot here that can help you. You could also try posting your opening as a New Beginning: we'd love to help you just as much with that. Good luck with your writing, Author; this or future novels.

stick and move said...Late to the party as usual, so instead of rehashing the other comments (we're called Evil Minions for a reason, but there is truth in the truculence), I'll try to offer some encouragement. Author, many among us have written a query of similar grade when starting out. You did the right thing by submitting it here, the comments, though harsh, will save you some professional embarassement. You broke just about every rule in the book. Focus the query on the story, the main character, the obstacles she faces and what's at stake. Spend maybe three sentences on yourself, and include the genre and word count of the first book. No need to mention you're unpublished, the agent will figure it out quickly, or Google you if the query is professional enough to make them think you might be published. Chin up. Delete this one from your hard drive, or maybe print a copy first, then delete it, and light the copy on fire as a symbolic action to prove to yourself that you're moving past it. Then, read the archives of this blog and start over. Don't feel bad, we've all been there. Good luck!

freddie said...You could have a gang called the Downers and have a huge rumble between the Uppers and Downers, a la The Outsiders. Only with mini-robots. And pills. Seriously, I think your best bet here would be to rewrite this query, telling the agent only about the plot. No comments about how you feel or what you understand. Those comments, along with you admitting you have no experience, make you look like . . . you have no experience. I don't think it's a cardinal sin to admit you're not published yet, but you sound rather defensive about it in the letter. Not the impression you want to give an agent, I think. Good luck with this.

Anonymous said..."it's kinda complicated. wait until the book's published and then you'll see. and yes, it's already in the publishing/agenting process." Then what, praytell, are you doing here?

pjd those who think there is no culture- kate is french. melanie is german. alancia is black. and lia is chinese.
then, everyone learns a lesson. except for melanie and lia, who are always fighting for power amongst themselves

Benwah said...As for whether kids recognize that these clique battles in school don't matter so much when they grow up...I'd argue that it's hard for many kids to have that kind of foresight. Just because where you sat at lunch in junior high won't matter 20 years down the road doesn't mean that it can be of huge import to the kids in the midst of it. As for the author, well, I haven't got much else to add since I get the impression that you think we should be honored to have the privilege to read your book. Good luck.

BuffySquirrel said...Yes, it is very hard for young people to think past the present into a future where these things don't matter. Equally, it's pretty hard for someone to whom these things never did matter all that much to try to care about them umpty-um years down the line :).

Anonymous said...This will be a hall of fame Facelift. It's one of the greatest ever. When there's an overconfident new author and a plot full of cliches, the recipe has everything it needs. Dare I say a 'perfect storm'?

Anonymous said...I would add "...the plot features a Frog, a Chink and a Kraut.." to stress the deep multiculturalism.

Nora Coon said...I know Aspen is meant to be named after the tree and not the ski resort, but I think anyone reading it will automatically think of Colorado and rich people. Also...French and German don't exactly equal multi-cultural. I mean, in the sense that they are both cultures, they do, but they're both very Caucasian cultures. Unless one of them is French Algerian or something. I would cut out most of the beginning and focus on what makes this book really different from every other book about girl clique wars at rich private high schools.

AR said...buffysquirrel: re the American obsession with high school. I agree. And I think it's because a lot of us lost our self-respect back there and we want to go back and get it, vicariously. That and the fact that America is a nation of adolescents. (Just watch our politics this year: every candidate and proposal has to be sold as essential to some highflying ideal while no one acknowledges the real-life interests at stake.) Someday we'll finish growing up but for now we're only two centuries old so give us some time!

Anonymous said...nora coon-kate and melanie are intermixed caucasians. kate's half-french, but asians (like me) usually go by the male lineage. really, kate is half-english, half-french. and let's just say that melanie is a WHOLE lot of things.
this is perfectly normal for alancia. alancia was, actually, based on me in high school. I was REALLY confused. and, this was inspired from a true story. we circled around the "kate", and as a group, fought for power in the school. we would also fight amongst ourselves, too. every few days, we would shun maybe one of our members, after creating a whole drama, then apologize. This went on, and we never learned from it. That's why i wrote this book and series "melanie" and "lia" weren't friends, and we really weren't friends with them, but had to be, for, let's say, political reasons. "Lia" was nice on the outside, probably the niceset-seeming, and the cruelest, sickest girl ever. She was like Ivan the Terrible. we all were mean on the outside, but saints on the inside.

Anonymous said...This is getting surreal.

Anonymous said...Agreed. The clocks are going to start dripping off the trees any minute. "Lia was nice on the outside, probably the niceset-seeming, and the cruelest, sickest girl ever. She was like Ivan the Terrible. we all were mean on the outside, but saints on the inside."

That's some serious hyperbole. Are we talking heads on pikes? Gum in hair? Replacing birth control pills with tic tacs? (Sawbuck to the person who places the reference.) Voting for the fat girl for homecoming queen just to make fun of her? Pigs blood?

Anonymous said...So, what's at stake, then? I'm still not clear what the stakes are. This sounds like exactly what you said it's not, author. If it's just about you and your friends and the usual teenage manipulations, which seem extremely special to you because they are your experiences, you'll probably want to rethink the plot. If the manipulations are the backdrop for something serious at stake, point it out in the query.

pjd said...alancia was, actually, based on me in high school. I was REALLY confused. I reiterate my original comment: "this to me sounds like a book that you will one day be very glad never made it to print."

Anonymous said... In somebody's "On Writing" (John O'hara? George Higgins?), the author makes the point that writers need a certain amount of seasoning. This isn't to say that everyone needs to travel the world, etc, but it helps to have travelled beyond adolescence. Adolescence is such a provocative, tumultuous time. And to the person going through it, it seems that it's the most amazing experience in the world. As if you're the first person to ever feel outcast, the first person to ever fall in love, the first person to grow and blossom into a young adult. Everything seems so very important to you. Those things are true, but they're very individual. Most people, particularly once they've passed those stages, don't find those things terribly interesting in others. It's like watching somebody else's vacation slides.

Anonymous said...i read stephen kings' "On Writing" already. Yes, it might sound stupid to you, but i am attached, very, emotionally to this series. I had started this in california, and i had to move to tampa, when i started getting homeschooled. i missed all my friends, how school felt, i missed everything. this piece of writing has been my saving grace. It has, in a lot of ways, helped me cope. yes, the girls all learn life lessons throughout the series. dave f.- actually, "lia" was mean. period. she gossiped about us, you never knew when she would turn on you, she'd sometimes just stare at you for minutes on end, like summing you up. but, she helped us. she helped us, when things got sticky with rivals. the friendship was very, very complicated. We all didn't know how, and why we were her friend. but she taught us lessons, life lessons. we knew to be forgiving toward enemies, to (sometimes) be friends with the emos, losers, geeks. "Lia" taught us to at least, to get allies. she was the one that pulled the alliances. She knew what we were thinking, so usually, she got away with really bad things. she was like a politician. sorry for the sermon. i guess that i have nobody to talk to. i am pretty let-down because of the face-lift hall of fame part, but i have to thank everyone, for giving me such good advice. bless you all.

Evil Editor said... There's no Face-Lift Hall of Fame (though that's not a bad idea). But if there ever were one, the inductees would not be chosen on quality (or lack thereof) of the query, but rather on whether EE was much funnier than usual; and to have one's query in the Hall of Fame would be the highest possible achievement of any author. In fact, I recently spoke to a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, who informed me she would gladly give up her award to have her query critiqued on this blog. So stand tall and be proud. Also, send us the first 150 - 200 words of your book so we can render more sound advice while breaking your spirit again.

Anonymous said...Author, don't get too down. I know from experience how it feels because I've been trashed here too -- brutally. But I still consider these people to be friends and you should too. There were a few problems, but I don't think you would have been roughed up so much if your letter showed a bit more humility. The minions hate that, and so will agents. Don't give up. Write your book your way! That's the only way it can work.
...dave conifer

Evil Editor said...King's "On Writing" is good, but George Higgins book on writing is of the same name. Equally sound advice within.
But let's face it: I'm hard pressed to say which one has the more boring title. And they both pale next to Why You Don't Get Published.

Wonderwood said...Dang, long post got lost due to Blogger maintenance. Oh well. In a nutshell: Chin up, writer, don't be discouraged. Every one of the true Minions has taken their beating here, it's like initiation. Welcome to the club, you're officially a Minion now. You have a big emotional investment in this book. Okay, so stick with it. Give this story some stakes. Maybe one of the Downers needs a life-saving operation but her family doesn't have the cash and Alancia and company overcome their infighting and manipulations to raise the money for the poor girl's operation, but Kate nearly blows it or something and and they have more obstacles to overcome but somehow manage and save the day and learn their lessons or whatever, but give us a reason to root for someone here, someone to cheer for and feel good about at the end of the story, after we've lived and breathed with them for 70,000 words or so. Don't give up, but try to learn and see what your story lacks, then rework it. This is a tough road you've chosen, but hang in there and keep at it and you'll get there. Keep hanging around here, you can learn a lot from EE and The Minions. Good luck!

stick and move said...Was it over when Wham! broke up? HELL NO! George Michael kept on pounding away! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? HELL NO! Was it over when- I'll stop, but you get the point. Writing is a journey until you reach your destination...

Robin S. said...I can't believe I missed this. Where the hell was I? Oh, well. OK- so now you've been here, and you had the courage to post your query, and good for you for doing that. Honestly. Better to be target-practice fodder here than after having sent that puppy out into the world, asking for representation. I'm not nuts about self-congratulatory pats on the back, simply as a matter of course, so I wasn't crazy about yours in your query. But now you know more, so take that and move on, and don't worry about it. I think others have said this - but just about anyone here has had their query reemed if it needed reeming. You're not alone, believe me. And there's a difference, quite a difference, between a query desperately in need of an overhaul (which you've just been given, and that's a good thing, not a bad thing), and a bad idea, or a badly written novel.

I know it's been a major drumroll out there that to prove you can write a novel, you need to prove you can write a query. In all honesty, I think these are two different skill sets (and I think a lot of other things about this process that I'd better keep to myself).

But it's a skill that has to be learned, apparently, in order to be considered worthy of passing muster on any other level - as in having a human being read the work you've done - so there you go. You learn it.

But I really think the negative comments about the subject natter of your work can be ignored. If it's written well, it's written well.

Hope you stay around.

Anonymous said...thanks. I read somewhere that agents hated apologetic tones- they think, if the author doesn't believe in their work, then why the hell are they emailing me for? evil editor- would you say that you were extra humorouss in my query? but hey, I sent that email query and got an interested agent.

Evil Editor said...While it's exciting to get interest from an agent, if you're new at this you might want to make sure it's not a scam agent by checking them at Predators and Editors.

Author said...This was a revised version, but I decided that I hated the third paragraph: sounded too passionate, self-assured, confident, etc. So I deleted it. But I included the paragraph in because I had sent it to an agent and got rejected. =(

Dear Evil Editor:

Rutherford Academy's social hierarchy structure has stayed the same since 1896: the kids from the wealthier, more influential families automatically inherit the throne. The poorer, scholarship students dutifully polish their rulers' already-gleaming shoes, and attend to doing the dirty work. And, of course, social and economic classes are more segregated than a fifth grade boy-girl dance. But that's all going to change. Enter Aspen Thomas, a middle-class suburbanite from Greenwich, Connecticut, who arrives at Rutherford. Aspen is charismatic, charming, and drop-dead gorgeous. She is also blissfully unaware of the unwritten private-school rules. Aspen is soon intertwined in the lives and friendships of four popular eighth graders of Rutherford: Kate Cordelle, Melanie Behr, Lia Wong, and Alancia Peterson. Unwanted gossip about one of them breaks out across the school, forcing Aspen and Alancia to kill off their connections to Kate, Melanie, and Lia. Together, the two social-suicide offenders make decisions that will change the course of Rutherford Academy forever…

The Academy is a 32,000-word young adult fiction manuscript, which I am currently seeking representation for. It is also my first real stab at publishing my fiction.

There is a need for books that teach meaningful life lessons and are entertaining to read at the same time, aimed at the middle grade-to-young adult audience, in the marketplace. There needs to be books that teach morals and life lessons, and to not measure their self-worth by how much money they have. Many people subconsciously know that there should be books that celebrate diversity and make girls of color feel like they belong in pop-culture, consumer America. There has to be books that make teens with different skin tones, different languages, and different traditions feel like they are equal in worth, equal in chances, and equal in spirit to the blue-eyed. blond-haired majority. And that's why I wrote The Academy.

The complete manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Anonymous said...I think you should take out the last paragraph(before the thanks) about why you wrote the academy. Focus on the story, and nothing else, unless you have been pubbed before, then mention your credits.

150 said...I'm sorry, this is still dreadful. Try this:

At Rutherford Academy, the rich rule and the "scholarship slobs" settle for their scraps. When middle-class Aspen Thomas arrives, her looks and charm earn her a spot in the eighth grade's most coveted clique. But [SPECIFIC THING HAPPENS*], and the clique snaps into two vicious halves. Aspen--and whatever allies she can gather--must [SPECIFIC GOAL] before [SPECIFIC CONSEQUENCE].

The Academy is a middle-grade book that celebrates acceptance and diversity. It is complete at 32,000 words.

*NOT general like "rumors start to fly", specific like "someone writes LISA IS PREGNANT on the bathroom wall".

Notice especially how I killed the wordiness in the first and last paragraphs. You don't need all those words to say what you say.

Would you like me to give you a quick and dirty beta-read? This is short, and reading it, I might be able to work up a better summary. I like middle-grade stuff and it's always good practice to write other people's queries.

(Blue-eyed blondes aren't the majority; blondes are only 10% of the world.)

Anonymous said...That third paragraph -- absolutely horrible. Even if it wasn't full of misplaced self pity and misguided social commentary, no agent is going to accept that you should be the one to determine what books are 'needed'.

author said...agreed. so that's why i deleted it.

author said...Wait- to EE, or anyone kind enough to answer: do I include the third paragraph if the agent wants to know why the book is going to be good? Or why it's unique? I'm confused.

author said...150, Thanks. That really really helped, cutting out the wordiness... but I could use some of your synopsis, right?

Evil Editor I include the third paragraph if the agent wants to know why the book is going to be good? Or why it's unique?

There's nothing of value in that paragraph. You've already told us it's for young adults. You've (presumably) already shown us it's entertaining. It's likely we can assume from the plot description that lessons will be learned. If you don't trust us to do so, you can throw in a sentence saying that in the end Kate and Alancia come to realize whatever.

150 said...I could use some of your synopsis, right? If you're asking to use what I wrote, then go ahead! :) If you're asking whether you need more than just what I put, you do--fill in the details and make them as specific and juicy as possible.

author said...Thanks, EE. And also to 150. I'm going to add stuff in, though.

author said...My manuscript is 36,00 words in total- including fictional journal entries, etc. Should I put that amount, or the bare-bones 32,000?

Evil Editor said...Count everything and round up.

stick and move said...The revised version is a huge improvement over the original. HUGE. And with the suggestions from EE and 150, it will be even better. You've received some excellent direction here, author. And kudos to you for taking your beating the first time around, learning from it, and coming back for more. It's the only way to improve. Take your lumps, learn your lesson, apply it and move forward. This won't be your last lesson. I suspect if you get a knowledgeable beta reader (I highly advise you to take 150's offer to do the job, I'm confident you would get some outstanding insights), your manuscript will probably require a good bit of revision. Do it. Stay with it. You'll get there if you hang with it. Bravo for your persistence. Good job, young Minion.

Whirlochre said...This is much, much better. You've tightened it up and wrestled heartily with those demons enthusiatic about para 3. Plus - nice to see your chin grew back.

Anonymous said...Thanks for the suggestions, stick and move and whirlochre. 150, I was hesitant on your offer of a beta-read because 1) I have no idea what a beta-read is (remember, i'm homeschooled and my mom uses casual terms), and 2) I have no idea to send it to you (no offense, EE, but offering my manuscript for public review on your blog is a bit more than my fragile, newly-repaired ego can handle). And, should I hire a book doctor/freelance editor/query writer? I think I've gone through about 5/8 to 3/4 of the literary agencies that handle young adult books, and have either gotten a "i like it, but not what we're looking for" note along those lines, or no reply at all. Is it because my plot sucks or my query-writing sucks? I know as a fact that at least one of the aforementioned does. Thanks in advance.

Evil Editor said...And, should I hire a book doctor/freelance editor/query writer?


150 said...I'm sorry, I thought the term "beta read" was pretty universal online. It's an informal read-through and edit job by one of your peers (i.e. not a pro editor) where the reader tells you anything from plot problems to where your grammar's wrong. You usually get back either a marked-up copy of your book or a letter describing the good and bad parts. It's always free, although you might offer to read something of theirs in return. Email me at 150words at gmail dot com if you want to chat; I've beta'd for a few people on here already, and it's always fun to see someone else's work. Don't hire an editor or book doctor; if no one wants this one, then just move on. What are you working on now?

Anonymous said...I'll beta read it too, FWIW...

author said...thanks. I'm working on my second book in the series, by the way. But I really want to get the academy published. and not self-publishing.

Anonymous said...This was a very funny one by EE, and I hope you took it in that vein, Author. Rereading this comment trail, though, I think this novel falls firmly in the Mary Sue line, and I would let it sit for a bit before submitting it. You might find (after you write a second novel) that this one, like many Mary Sue stories, is more about what you wanted to see happen than about writing a good story others would like to read.

In any case, do keep writing!

Friday, July 29, 2011

New Beginning 872

She did not feel the knife cut. She did not notice herself bleeding. But she did see the look on his face as he thrust at her again and again. It was twisted. Maniacal. She still had a coffee in her hand. She was still in a commute mindset, trying to avoid offending others.

Suddenly another man who was not in commute mode. He picked up her attacker and threw him to the ground. The attacker backed up saying he was sorry, saying he wouldn't do it again, swearing he had rights. Linda was already on her knees.

The man kicked her attacker, then grabbed his wrist. He was ready for the knife thrust and her attacker screamed. It was a high-pitched wail, followed by cries of 'I've got rights, I've got rights.' But Linda Gurman was already lying down in a pool of her own blood.

“You can't have this one, brother. I will make her sleep and dream healing dreams.”

“I never take what's yours. It is always you who cheat me of whatever you can. It's one of your most endearing traits. But I am not after her. I am here for that man.”

Morpheus looked where his brother indicated. An overweight man sat dozing in the corner, drool forming at the edge of his open mouth, his hair slicked down like a wet otter. And those muttonchops . . . like the contents of the lint catcher on a clothes dryer had finally been cleaned out after six months and glued onto his jowls.

Morpheus was about to say, He's all yours, brother, when his iPhone dinged. He listened awhile, then said, "Sorry, you can't have this one either. Apparently he has a deal with the devil. Gets to live till he's sold every copy of Novel Deviations."

"Shit. You know what that means? He's virtually immortal!"

"True, but look on the bright side," Morpheus said. "Someone finally got the best of Satan."

Opening: D Jason Cooper.....Continuation: Evil Editor

Cartoon 960

Caption: Whirlochre

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Face-Lift 935

Guess the Plot


1. When her guardian is kidnapped by the god of nightmares, Penny must develop the ability to manipulate dreams in order to rescue him.

2. The well-known Adobe web-building application must lead a band of elite software products to save the world from the evil Emperor Analog. When Adobe is unable to decide on a single partner, PageMaker and Illustrator fully integrate with her in a seamless, turnkey solution.

3. A lonely programmer's quest to sell his website creation program to the world. Versus an unscrupulous group of hackers who want to keep website creation exclusive, and will stop at nothing to...stop him. Based loosely on the story of Adobe Dreamweaver.

4. Larry and Sam set out to be the best web designers in Milwaukee, but it all goes bad in a bout of rum-fueled madness in which Larry kisses their first and only client on the lips. Mistook him for a girl, somehow. Turned out he's a vampire. And now, so is Larry.

5. Just as Jayna finishes the sixth in her best-selling series, writer's block hits. Desperate to fulfill her contract, she resorts to weaving single plagiarized sentences from other books into one unified novel. And she would have got away with it, if it weren't for the nerd fan wiki started by those meddling kids.

6. The true story of Tennessee Walking Horse Dreamweaver, her devoted family, and their long journey to a national championship.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Penny can't sleep. Well, it's not that she can't, she just doesn't want to. [Are you aware that your second sentence would be unnecessary if your first sentence were Penny doesn't want to sleep? Of course you aren't. That's the difference between a writer and a world-famous editor.] Dreaming of an ocean full of bodies and one helluva scary dude every night is no fun at all. A strange guy named Nyxon shows up and can hopefully explain her freaky dreams. ["Strange" is vague. Either delete it or elaborate.] [And why is she hopeful that a complete stranger can explain her dreams? Who even tells a complete stranger her dreams?] Instead, he tells her she's not entirely human. [People tell me that all the time. I don't think they mean it as a compliment.] Then, her family-friend-turned-guardian is kidnapped and there's not much Penny can do about it without this stranger's help. [Didn't Penny's family-friend-turned-guardian ever tell her not to talk to strangers? She not only talks to this stranger, she's become unhealthily dependent on him.]

Nyxon is part human and part dream god – an Oneironaut – and has spent years training to become a leader of his kind. Now, he's been sent on a mission to find Penny, whom the god of nightmares, Icelos, finds very interesting. [Has he been sent by Icelos, or to protect her from Icelos?] When Penny's talents of manipulating the dream world start to equal his own, Nyxon isn't sure he wants to help her hone her powers. [Just when I was thinking Nyxon helping Penny find her guardian was the main plot, you've abandoned it for this rivalry over dream manipulation.] [Last I heard, Penny didn't even want to sleep; suddenly she's a master dream manipulator?] Another thing he'd like to figure out is why he finds her so damn fascinating. [The god of nightmares finds her very interesting and the dream god finds her damn fascinating. If you thought Frost/Nixon was tense, wait till you see Icelos/Nyxon.]

With the help of Nyxon and the other Oneironauts, Penny must prepare for what she might meet in the dream world in order to save her guardian. In her dreams, Penny sees things that make her think Icelos is not just a small-time kidnapper, but something much worse. [A big-time kidnapper.] [How does she know Icelos is the kidnapper?] And, while she is just discovering who and what she is, the god of nightmares is plotting to make his sinister dreams become reality.

DREAMWEAVER is a YA fantasy complete at 60,000 words. It is the first in a planned trilogy, the second of which is my current work-in-progress [and the third of which is my future work-in-progress]. (A sentence or two about why I am querying this particular agent) Thank you for your time and consideration.


What I gather from the Google Dolls (That's what I call the women I hired recently to do my Googling.) is that oneironauts study and interact with their own and other people's dreams, as in The Cell and Inception. Not that they're any kind of god. I suggest calling your dream god a dreamweaver.

How old is Penny? When I hear that name I think of someone no older than eight.

Why didn't Icelos kidnap Penny?

Are you wedded to the name Nyxon? Everyone's gonna think of Richard Nixon. It's like calling him Hitlur. Distracting.

I would start with the kidnapping. Then Nyck shows up and introduces himself as? And reveals to Penny that her guardian was kidnapped by Icelos? And that she can save him if he helps her hone her dreamweaving skills? Which he'll do if she agrees to be his girlfriend? Am I getting any of this right? Basically, focus on Penny's problem and her plan and what happens if it all goes wrong. And try to work in who Penny is. Is she a high school student? Do these gods who find her fascinating look like teenagers or old men?

Cartoon 959

Caption: John

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Beginning 871

The small crowd applauded at the previous answer, the contestant sat with the others, all pretty, all done to the nines. Make-up just so, dresses all alike, smiles fixed on with Vaseline petroleum jelly.

“And now we'll hear from Miss Des Moine, Jennifer Haynes.”

Jennifer Haines walked up in stairs and to the microphone. She looked to the audience, her smile as in place as her brown hair.

“Distinguished judges, ladies and gentlemen. If I could be anyone in history, I would be Adolf Hitler.” The audience sucked its collective breath. “I don't think I could be as smart as Cicero, as courageous as Winston Churchill, or, alas, as honest as George Washington. But I would also not be as evil as Hitler, I could stand and say no to the things he did. I could turn away from wrong. And if the world seems to lack heroes, maybe it needs to start with people who will just say no to doing wrong.”

The applause was more than polite, it was stunned polite. People were out of sync, starting way too early or way to late, and sometimes starting, stopping, and starting again.

“Did you get that? Did you get that?”

“It's not like a war or sporting event, I point the camera and it gets all the action. Jeez, Jekkie, like I don't know what I'm doing.”

“It's not like that, Henry. I'm going to lead with this, tonight. It's gold.”

"I'll admit it was refreshingly original," Henry said. "But no one will care unless she wins."

"She'll win. The parade of Abe Lincoln and Sarah Palin wannabes was putting everyone to sleep."

The contestant had returned to her seat and Miss Cedar Rapids had moved to the microphone. "If I could be anyone in history," she said, "I would be Osama bin Laden."

Jekkie's mouth hung open. "You gotta admit one thing, Henry," he said. "For once the Miss Teen Jewish Princess of Iowa Contest is worth covering."

Opening: D Jason Cooper.....Continuation: EE/Anon.

Cartoon 958

Caption: Redstar

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Face-Lift 934

Guess the Plot

Outcasts of Velrune

1. In a totally unprecedented twist, it turns out that the gritty underground resistance to a feelgood totalitarian society is actually where it's at. The kickass heroine doesn't know whom to trust. And the fate of a planet hangs in the balance.

2. Kal'Ta'Rel, Herenvas, and Jolue are sentenced to hang for the murder of popular Dike Nakora. But before they can swing, the wizard KarKaChel frees them, sending them stumbling down the street. Now all they have to do is kill that pesky demon, Archy.

3. When the frontier planet of Velrune decides to clean up its act, it banishes a prostitute, a procuress, a drunk, and an infamous gambler. The four hapless Outcasts, led by the gambler, meet up with a pair of runaway lovers. The rest is history. If you can call something that happens in the future history.

4. Three Velrunian criminals are exiled to the Gohr prison planet, Lycus IV. Of course, what passes as major crime on Velrune (spitting on the sidewalk, undertipping a waiter) doesn't exactly prepare one to live among mass murderers and cannibals. Can these three plucky outcasts not only thrive, but rise to lead a revolution?

5. On a distant planet known as Velrune, humans are supposedly coexisting with Lacarna, a race of human-like beings with cat features. But the humans have enslaved the Lacarna, and a plot is afoot to wipe them out. It's up to two teens, one a human and the other a Lacarna, to prevent genocide . . . and find true love.

6. The nerds and fat kids and skaters are high school outcasts on Earth, but on Velrune it's the athletes and preppies and beautiful people who are outcast. Can Muffy and Landon show the world that there's no stigma to being being attractive and popular?

Original Version

My 84,000-word novel, Outcasts of Velrune, is a fantasy adventure set in its own world [We assume a book is set in its own world.] and features two races, Humans and Lacarna. [The first sentence of a query isn't the place to work in the number of races your novel "features." I'm sure Dan Brown's query didn't proclaim in sentence 1 that "The Da Vinci Code features one race: Humans."] The Humans are like us, [We assume Humans are like us.] with the exception of a few that live for centuries. [If the only difference is that a few of them get older than we do, you're spending too much time contrasting them to us. Basically, they're us.] The Lacarna are Humanlike, [Okay, I think I've got it now. The Humans are like humans, whereas the Lacarna are Humanlike.] but have ears, tails and claws similar to cats. [Ah, the Lacarna are like the performers in Cats.] [Saying a race is Humanlike when it has ears, tails and claws like cats is like saying they're catlike but with arms, legs and heads like humans.] [Or, to get my point across more clearly, it's like saying, They're Humanlike, but with an elephant face, a giraffe neck and a stegosaurus tail.] A few Lacarna can transform into large [Humanlike] panthers. [Out of curiosity, are we going to get to some characters and a plot?] Both races can learn to manipulate the spirits that exist in all living things [and are fascinated by yarn, while neither race has an interest in horticulture or Creole cooking].

The story centers on Maxwell, a 16 year old Human boy, and Evangeline, a 15 year old Lacarna girl. When Max is 6, his father is murdered by bandits. [Once you've declared Max to be 16, you might want to use past tense for the part when he's 6.] Max is raised by his god-father in a small village where he meets and befriends Evangeline. It is Max’s goal to become a Protector, like his father before him. The Protectors are the peacekeepers of Velrune. [Also known as the SS.]

It is not long on Max’s journey to join the Protectors that he learns their ideal [idea?] of peacekeeping is to enslave the Lacarna. [This is the plot of Avatar. Are the Lacarna blue?] He and Eve must both confront the ideals and rules between the races to maintain their friendship. ["Confront the ideals and rules between the races" means nothing to me. Do you mean they must endure racial prejudice?] Once Max does join them [He still joins the Protectors after learning that they're enslaving the Lacarna?] he is given a simple mission that leads him to other characters who sit on one end or the other of the Lacarna/Human issue. [I'd rather know what his mission is than that it leads to his meeting other characters.]

These other characters relay [relate?] the history of Velrune and the differences of the two races. ["They have tails and claws. We don't."] A plot by the Protectors to eliminate the Lacarna is uncovered and Max even learns that his father was in league with another Human to overthrown [overthrow] the Protector leadership.

In the end Max chooses to help set the Lacarna free and destroys the leaders of the Protectors. [He's a kid. Are his spirit-manipulating super powers stronger than the Protectors' powers?] As he and his friends set out to reorganize the Protectors [That was the problem with the Protectors: poor organization.] they are greeted by a mysterious woman who claims her kind created both races and placed them into a small section of the planet. She had been watching the two races to see if they could learn to live together. With Max’s recent actions she decides they are ready to enter into the rest of the World so opens a gap in the surrounding mountains. [Lemme get this straight. The mysterious woman has been watching to see if the two races can live together. When one race enslaves the other she's still on the fence. But when one 16-year-old kid decides to destroy a few of his own kind to impress a girl, this proves that the races are compatible?] We leave Max and Eve [Maybe he should be called Adam to avoid comparisons with the biblical Max and Eve.] ready to venture into the new world as an accidental kiss brings the two closer together. [Sorry, I didn't mean to kiss you. I . . . tripped.]


We need less about the races and a stronger focus on the main characters.

These sound more like different species than races. Are they identical other than the cat features?

So the mysterious woman's people decided to try an experiment: create two races, identical except that one of them has tails and claws? To determine what? Do the Lacarna lack opposable thumbs? Because all other things being equal, it seems like those claws would have given them a big advantage over the Humans.

Cartoon 957

Caption: Whirlochre

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Success Story

Dave F. reports that his short story based on the April 2010 Charity Date Auction writing exercise ( has been accepted for publication in Joe Jablonski's anthology "FIRST CONTACT IMMINENT" at Red Skies Press. The "Call for Papers" is open until 23 December 2011 for any minion with a story.

Face-Lift 933

Guess the Plot

Insulin Junkies

1. At a camp for diabetic teens, someone is playing games with campers' lives. Did one of the counselors sneak in a pecan pie? Or is there a killer on the loose? Also, an incontinent dog.

2. Thanks to genetic engineering, the war on drugs is finally over. People just can't get high anymore . . . until eighteen-year-old 'Bones' Jackson hits on the bright idea of selling insulin to the local kids. Also, a corrupt dentist.

3. Diabetic cop Duke Davis has seen it all, but when he catches wind of a string of murders carried out using insulin as a weapon, he's plunged into the murky world of...INSULIN JUNKIES!

4. Hito is the leader of a group of Japanese schoolkids fleeing Fukushima who become morbidly obese on California public school system food. When puberty triggers their genetic metamorphosis into blood-sugar craving vampires Hito realizes their dependence on high fructose corn syrup-infused victims means they can never go home again.

5. It started as a support group for diabetics. But now the tavern is on fire, Miss Laverne's petunias have all been trampled, and twenty pissed-off seniors with low blood sugar and Vespa scooters are terrorizing the sleepy village of Hamlet. Can Constable Cymbolist Mack stop them before they destroy everything in their hunt for low-fat snacks?

6. In the late '60s, earnest diabetic Lori Steinman sets out on her bicycle from West Quoddy Head, Maine, to cross America and prove women don't need no men. At the same time, addict Mike "Sugarman" Sanders sets out on his Harley from Cape Alava, Washington, to cross America and bed as many women as he can. What happens when they meet in Wichita is a secret, but it's sure to astound you.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Eva knows something’s wrong long before the doctor diagnoses her as an insulin junkie, a.k.a. a diabetic. [A doctor calling a diabetic an insulin junkie before she starts on insulin? That's like the time I told one of my psychiatrists I was thinking of starting a small press and she called me a heroin addict.] No seventeen-year-old wakes up having wet the bed for the fourth time in as many days and thinks, “Yep, this is totally normal.” [I would think, I gotta stop drinking a six pack and taking three Ambiens right before bedtime.] [No need to put quotation marks around something not spoken aloud.] She’s blamed it on the mildly incontinent dog that sleeps in her bed, but there’s no fooling a blood glucose meter. [I can't tell if she blames the dog when her mother notices the sheets are wet, or if she blames the dog because she's in denial. It seems like you mean the latter because of the "no fooling a blood glucose meter" comment, but it seems to me that whatever she wears to bed would be wet, thus getting the dog off the hook even without the glucose test.]

The diagnosis ends Eva’s plans for a post-graduation road trip [to Hershey's Chocolate World]. Instead, she’s off to Camp, [You might want to name the camp, if you're going to capitalize the word.] where the counselors are fellow insulin junkies and every bunk bed comes with a syringe of Glucagon. It’s meant to teach teenage diabetics to take care of themselves, and Eva goes only to placate her grieving mother. [Implying that she doesn't think she needs to learn to take care of herself?] ["Grieving" seems a bit strong. Maybe "distraught," "fearful," "worried"?]

Two of the counselors – known by their Camp names, Rider and Natron – take it upon themselves to teach the lessons not sanctioned by Camp administrators, things like how the campers function with dangerously low blood glucose levels, how alcohol affects diabetics, and how to skirt the rules. Eva, fascinated by Natron and unfortunately attracted to Rider, listens eagerly. [Delete "unfortunately" or explain it.] But when one of the ‘lessons’ puts someone in the hospital, Eva has to figure out who she can trust to teach her about diabetes…and who’s playing with all of them.

INSULIN JUNKIES is a 65,000-word contemporary YA novel. The first five pages follow this email. I’ve had type 1 diabetes since 2000; I also have three YA nonfiction books published: The Diabetes Game (Rewarding Health, 2005), Teen Dream Jobs (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003), and It’s Your Rite (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003). Thank you for your time.



This sounds like a story that will appeal to teens who identify with Eva, and others as well.

The last plot paragraph needs to clarify what it's saying. I'm not sure if you're saying Rider and Natron are teaching secret things a teen diabetic needs to know, even though they aren't sanctioned by the administration, or if they're teaching how to get away with actions that are potentially dangerous. I can't tell if "skirt the rules" refers to rules diabetics must adhere to to stay healthy, or camp rules, like No going in the boys' tent after dark. I can't tell if "playing with all of them" implies that someone is intentionally trying to harm them.

In other words, is there a villain? Is it a mystery? Someone is responsible for someone else ending up in the hospital, and no one is confessing? Is someone in the hospital from a forcibly administered Glucagon overdose or from eating a hunk of cheesecake on a dare?

You might want to cut your set-up to one paragraph: When seventeen-year-old Eva is diagnosed with Diabetes, she cancels her post-graduation road trip and registers at Camp ___________, where the counselors are fellow "insulin junkies" and . . .

That gives you an extra paragraph to fill us in on what's going on in this camp: the conflict, the danger, the stakes, the romantic angle.

Cartoon 956

Caption: Jeanne Lowery Meeks

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Guess the Plot

Black Butter- flies White Fences

1. Can Mike Buchanan, a severe ADD sufferer and international spy, remember his enigmatic password without the help of his meds? And what’s on the line if he can’t? Well, just a little thing called . . . the WORLD!

2. In this alternate history, General Mills incites race riots in 1962 Golden Valley, Minnesota when they choose inappropriate marshmallow shapes for their new kids' cereal, Lucky Charms. Sambo the Cuckoo Crow, who’s “wiggin’ for Darkie Puffs,” doesn’t help either.

3. She's rich, white, and married. He's single, black . . . and her son's basketball coach. Will their love lead to heartache? Or to the NBA championship?

4. In the cover of night, a band of rogue butterflies are defacing fences throughout the city. Can Detective Bumble assemble a dragnet to catch them?

5. Tasha Cohen's essay about an African-American girl's experiences in an all-white town won her a scholarship. But there's a problem: she wrote it in first person. What happens when the scholarship panel finds out she's not a sistah, but a JAP?

6. White paint is causing the rapid extinction of the black-winged air cleaner moth, but no one is listening to environmentalist Bill Blossom. Can he stop the chain of destruction in time to preserve the environment's only hope against Global Warming? Also, a talking vulture.

Original Version

Dear Mr. XXXX;

I’m writing to you because back in 1997, I sent you a query for my first completed novel; you promptly wrote back, said that I had talent and should keep writing, but that you were not “enthusiastic enough” about that particular work; [Are you going to end all your sentences with semicolons?] I misinterpreted your comment, and to my now chagrin, sent you balloons to show my enthusiasm. [Let me get this straight. You misinterpreted a rejection slip as a purchase order for balloons?] Does this sound at all familiar? [On the off chance that it will sound familiar, I recommend against opening with an admission that you're the one who sent the balloons.] [Now, are you going to talk about your current book?]

You have always been my first choice for an agent and have been keeping tabs on your agency from the time you first launched XXXXX's career, [A little research is a good thing; if you've been keeping tabs on an agency for ten years, you have too much time on your hands.] to the more recent and previously unknown, XXXXX. I also remember reading somewhere that Mr. XXXX credits you with “plucking him from obscurity,” and may I say that I wouldn’t mind the same plucking. [WTP? Do you just like to correspond with agents who've sent you rejection slips, or do you actually have a new book?]

Your early encouragement was taken to heart and during the past ten years have continued to write, raised twin boys, completed an English degree and graduated cum laude, (I’m an RN by trade, but my heart has never been in medicine), [Nice to know that when my nurse is drawing my blood, her mind is on getting plucked.] but more importantly, have continued to work on the craft of writing and tried to learn as much as I can about publishing. [Apparently you missed the lecture on writing a query letter, possibly while keeping tabs on agent XXXX. Your book. You're supposed to be talking about your book.]

BLACK BUTTERFLIES WHITE FENCES is commercial fiction and approximately eighty-two thousand words, and is about the lasting bond of friendship and love that develops between a white married woman of means, and her son’s black basketball coach. [That's all we get? Half of a sentence? Your paragraph about Mr. XXXXX had more information. Heck, My Guess the Plot was more informative.]

I have enclosed the first thirty pages for review and appreciate your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Agents don't remember ten-year-old query letters, and until you're their client, they don't care about your life story. They want to know about your book. You're selling a product, and you need to make that product sound so interesting the agent simply must check it out. Read the other "Face-Lifts" on this blog. Then start over.

Selected Comments

Anonymous said...I can only imagine that even if the agent remembered you after this many years, there isn't enough information about the story for anyone to decide if they'd want to read it. The one-sentence hook isn't bad though.

Anonymous said...Start with that one sentence hook - leave the rest out and focus on the meat of the book. What are the main events? How do the main characters change?
EE said it well, your goal is to make this story so interesting that an agent wants to read pages.

Anonymous said...I don't think this letter could be classified as a query. It reads like the rough draft of bad fan letter.

blogless_troll about the lasting bond of friendship and love that develops between a white married woman of means, and her son’s black basketball coach.
Until his team gets smoked by the Warriors in the playoffs and Mark Cuban fires his ass. Now, struggling with self doubt, Ms. Nowitzki must finally admit her son is overrated.

writtenwyrdd said...Oh boy. You make yourself sound like a wannabe stalker with those first three paragraphs! Delete them and give us the story. It sounds like it could be interesting, based on what you say in that single, lonely sentence.

Dave said...That is a scary letter. Unless you are going steady, or want to go steady, or in love with a person, or seriously involved emotionally with a person, NEVER write a letter like that. This is the start of a business relationship not a personal relationship. Write about your book. Your agent is merely that, an agent - nothing more or less.

takoda said...Oh my. But I've made sooo many mistakes, and I've only been writing a year. I am pretty sure I've made every single mistake Miss Snark warns against. Just once though, and I move on to other mistakes. What's my biggest one? At a conference last year, when I just barely started writing, I wrote a poem making fun of an agent. I knew it was funny because it made an editor of a mid-size company crack up. As well as half the people in the hallway after lunch. I wrote it FOR the agent, because I wanted him to remember me. I was sure he would think it was hysterical. Everyone else did. Oh well. I guess balloons would have been better.

Robin S. said...Hi Author, Sounds like you are a caring and sincere person. Also looks like you may have a tendency to wear your heart on your sleeve, which I think is offputting and really has a bit of a backfire effect when speaking/writing to a stranger about the potential for the beginning of a working relationship. (That was one helluva long sentence, even for me. Sorry.) Hope you're not offended by the comments, but, instead, use them to revise your query letter.

150 said... Oh, wow. Author, please write a query about your book, not yourself! If you do a rewrite (following the format of previous queries posted on this site), we'll critique that for you. There just ain't much to go on right now.

Anonymous said...Author, don't take our nastiness to heart. The fact is, 90% of the minions haven't gotten any further than you have with agents. Don't let us fool you with our haughty criticism. Ignore the shock and indignance expressed about your query letter. If you spend a few hours reading this blog and Miss Snark's Hook Crapometer you'll get an idea of what a query letter should be.

Robin S. said...Author, Anonymous 7:19am is absolutley correct. It's much easier to do a double-take on YOUR query than it is for most of us to write an amazing version of our own. Believe me when I say, mine was (and remains) the opposite of artfully done. Best of luck to you.