Monday, January 31, 2011

Query 56: Redux

Spirits of the Unknown

Tilvanau is the oldest son of The Family Government which has ruled three quarters of the planet Suvino for generations. The peaceful life style they have established is now in jeopardy when an assassination plot kills his father and younger brother.

His second brother Sanaido flees with his family for the nearest livable planet, Earth, not knowing the murderer is inside the ship. The murderer kills everybody aboard then escapes back to Suvino. On auto-pilot, the ship then takes off for Earth, where the U.S. government has taken possession of the ship, which is haunted by the ghosts of his family who try to disclose the killer to earthlings who don't understand.

Being the only member of the family still alive, Tilvanau must face a brutal civil war devastating his planet, brought on by a new dictator trying to conquer the planet, along with rumors and suspicions that he has killed his own family to gain sole control over the entire planet. Although the woman he loves can help him, he doesn't know if he can trust her, since she also has motive and opportunity being the secretary of state, the only one left to take command if he dies. Due to work and other excuses he never married her, but he always planned to. Now he doesn't know what to think of her.

With the killer still at large, Tilvanau heads for Earth to find clues in his brother's ship. He must find who the murderer is before he becomes the next victim. But will he find the answers there, or will he walk right into the killers trap?

Comments

I think the needle is moving in the right direction. However, I also think you're focusing a little too much on the commenters' questions rather than asking yourself if the basic structure of the query is the best way to present your story.

I like that you've come back at the end and let the reader know Til heads for Earth -- it provides a necessary tie to the ghost ship earlier. What I saw as a huge plot hole in the query (I trust it isn't so in the novel) is that it seems Til ditches his responsibilities during a huge period of unrest, civil war and a new dictator in town to go skipping off after clues to find an assassin to save his own life. Putting his life first when his planet is in danger doesn't make him overly sympathetic. I think we need a reason for him to go gallivanting off-planet to look for those clues in the middle of a civil war.

My revision smooths out the logic a bit but still leaves plenty of room for improvement with details only you know and only you can provide.

My Revision

After an assassin kills his father and youngest brother, Tilvanau -- oldest son of his planet's ruling family -- faces a brutal civil war. Amid rumors that he killed his own kin to gain sole control of the government and the rise of a powerful new dictator in the west, Tilvanau gets a grim reminder the assassin is still out there.

Tilvanau's second brother attempts to flee the whole mess with his family, but the assassin hijacks the royal starcruiser, kills everyone aboard, and escapes planet-side. Meanwhile, the ship, haunted by the ghosts of the murdered, jumps to its programmed destination: Earth.

With conspiracies around every corner as the government crumbles, there's only one person Tilvanau might be able to trust to help: the secretary of state, who also happens to be the woman he loves. But she's now next in line to take command. She has motive and opportunity to see him dead, and Tivanau is all too aware empires have fallen before because rulers trusted power-hungry lovers. She could well be his greatest enemy or his greatest ally.

Discovering the assassin's identity has become of paramount importance -- finding him or her may well be the key to suppressing the civil war. Boarding his own starcruiser, he follows his brother's ship to Earth where he'll either find the answers he needs -- or walk right into the assassin's trap.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

E-Publishing Just Got A Whole Lot Messier To My Mind

Recently, one of our talented blog followers threw a wrench into the whole e-pubbing business when she asked for advice regarding ebooks and whether they are a legitimate way "to get a foot in the door and get publishing credits." That question is pretty easy to address, even for someone like me who only studies the market as a hobby and has no better insight than your average interested party.

I was, however, quite taken by surprise when she mentioned she was in dialog with an agent who only reps ebooks.

Surely she'd mis-typed that and meant to say "editor" rather than "agent." But no, she meant an agent. In fact, she had received a revision letter from the agent and was working on those suggestions. She just wanted reassurance that she wouldn't be blowing her future chances with traditional publishing if she hopped on board the e-pubbing train or whether it would mar her record in the same way self-publishing does.

So, an observation, an answer and a couple of questions for YOU.

Observation

I'm intrigued. I haven't heard of this agent model before now. The closest one I know about is agencies that have set up their own publishing arm to handle the backlists of their clients. Think Richard Curtis and E-Reads. But an agent who makes a living subbing to e-pubs is a new concept for me. Still, if the agent is part of a larger house who can rally together to handle the work when its status changes, then this may well be the wave of the future.

Some things to consider and clarify up front, I would think:

  • Most e-pubs accept unagented subs. There are a handful of respected indies that produce mainly ebooks that do require an agent, but those are very, very few.
  • Most e-pubs have a set, non-negotiable contract regarding their advance policy and royalty payments.
  • The majority of e-books placed with e-pubs have low sell-through.
  • E-pubs make money by having lots of product. This would mean an agent would have to have LOTS of clients or that her clients would have to be extremely prolific, turning out multiple books per year.
  • Most e-pubs offer a very low advance or no advance altogether.
  • E-pubs offer a higher royalty rate than traditional pubs, but with far less sell-through, the total money is generally far less, too.
  • So how does the agent make a living? With low-selling titles, there are generally no opportunities for subsidiary rights.
  • What does the agent offer in the mix?
  • E-pubs provide cover art, editing, some promotion, and take care of electronic distribution.
  • Many of the editors operate on a commission basis. Many have complained they've wound up editing books for free or next-to-free because the books never sold very well. How long will an agent be able to stay in business in this climate?
  • How does the agency determine which books to try to get published traditionally and which to try to get e-pubbed? And will that broaden the stigma e-books have traditionally had in the industry?
  • Will working with that agent ensure your books are forever e-published? Or is the agent sort of a junior agent grooming junior authors for eventually working with other agents in the agency once the author proves themself with a couple of e-book sales?
Agents have to absolutely start looking at other models that include digital publishing. Having an arm in the agency that handles e-pub rights sounds like a step forward. But is it a step in the right direction?

Personally, I'm struggling with whether an e-publisher can do significantly more for a writer than self-e-pubbing can. Throwing whether an agent can offer anything into that mix just makes my head whirl.

Answer

As to whether or not having a book e-pubbed is wise or not, here's the answer I gave:
  • I know a lot of writers who got their start in e-books and moved on to traditional publishing, so yes, a great foot-in-the-door, and certainly a solid credit to offer up on your next book should you want to get an agent for it.
  • It's not at all the same as self-publishing and with a reputable e-publisher you get a professional edit, nice layout, pro cover, and some help with marketing -- all on their upfront dime.
  • You don't generally get an advance (which is why most agents shy away), but royalties are generally pretty nice -- averaging 30-40%.
  • Some e-pubs only request your rights for 2-3 years, after which you can renegotiate or they get returned to you. That means if you sell another book to a print publisher and it does well and you become a "name", you might be able to sell your e-book to them as well. Some e-pubs also do an occasional print run of some of their titles, in which case, royalties are usually a bit higher than traditional publishers (but still no advance, generally).
  • I also know several writers who love their e-publishers and their audience and how quickly their books can get to market compared to the 1-2 years it takes traditional publishing, and they've decided to stick with their e-pubs. They're making a living e-pubbing, BUT they're also able to write quickly and turn out 3-4 books a year.
I will caveat this with new insight that came out of the Digital Book World conference last week. I followed some of the tweets, so these observations are raw and unverified on my part, but interesting if they prove true:
  • More than half of Amazon book sales are now ebooks.
  • Random House predicts their ebook sales will reach 50% by 2015.
  • It came as a surprise to some agents/editors that romance has a lot of legit e-publishers who are doing quite well. (Are people in the biz really so ignorant as to what's going on around them, even if it's a genre they don't handle? This would tell me they aren't doing their research as the tsunami of digital publishing comes crashing against their door.)
There's a round-up at http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/digital-book-world-2011-roundup/ for anyone who has the patience to slog through it all.

Questions For YOU
  • What advice would you give this author about ebooks and/or about working with an agent who only reps ebooks?
  • What have YOU heard about this agent model?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Celebrating Success!

For most of us, writing for publication is a sloooooow process. It takes time to write and edit the novel. Time to write and revise and revise and revise the query. Time to send the query out. Time to get back responses. Time to re-evaluate, rewrite, and submit some more.

Along the way, we need to be good to ourselves. Like happy lab rats, we need rewards to keep us motivated. And because we're social beasts and care about our own, we get satisfaction in others' success, too. (Except for maybe those people who get 7-figure deals -- then the satisfaction needle moves dangerously into jealousy territory.)

So every few weeks, I would like to post out YOUR successes. Did you finally start querying? Did you get a request for a partial? For a full? Did you get a revision letter? An agent? A contract? Did your new book get released?

We're all on this journey -- some of us have been on it quite some time with multiple projects. Some of us are just starting out. We may all be at different points, but regardless of where YOU are, each milestone you pass is an important one.

If you'd like to add your recent sucess(es) to those we're celebrating today, note it in the comments and I'll update the list as we go.

Here's to each of you!
  • Michelle received THREE requests for HEARTSOULS. One of those requests led to a revision letter. (She also posed a question we'll talk about over the weekend.)
  • Chelsea received a request for a partial and for a FULL for THE S-WORD.
  • Anonymous 1 says she cried when she received her first request for a FULL based on the query we helped her with here.
  • Anonymous 2 says she's gotten two requests for partials with her new query when she wasn't getting any bites before.
  • Anonymous 3 got his first-ever partial request just two days ago.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Query 55: Redux

The City in the Bottle

Sometimes Jacob Cohen's wishes come true, but always in the worst possible way. After an argument with his father, and an impetuous wish, he has to live with the guilt of causing the accident that left him an orphan. Now, he has moved in with his grandfather and has to rebuild his life at fourteen. There are only two rules at grandpa's house: don't touch the stones in the garden and never, ever, go into the attic. Jacob breaks both by the second day.

Jacob's new neighbour, Samantha Steinbach, was crippled six years ago by what she thought was a Rottweiler. At home, her father terrorizes her and her mother is too scared to help.

When Sam tells Jacob about what her father does to her, he can't resist wishing to help her. The price, however, is more than either of them is willing to pay. It unleashes a demon from a bottle in grandpa's attic and it has had millennia to plan its revenge. It turns Jacob's grandfather to stone.

It then traps Jacob and Sam in the bottle. Inside, Jacob's power grows stronger and infects his every thought. Sam also starts to change, but she is turning into a demon. They're only hope is to learn to control the changes affecting them.

The City in the Bottle is a YA fantasy, complete at 74,000 words, about two teens cursed with powers that they don't know how to control.

Comments

This version is moving in the right direction. By introducing the attic and the garden stones, you're helping to tie some of the plot points together. There are still some loose ends here, though, that are probably clear to you but not to someone who doesn't know your story. You're at Stage 2 in my patented revision process. I'm betting you can skip Stage 3 and go right to Stage 4 with your next revision.

The setup in the first paragraph is fine, I think.

Jacob's new neighbour, Samantha Steinbach, was crippled six years ago by what she thought was a Rottweiler. At home, her father terrorizes her and her mother is too scared to help.

Since this paragraph isn't in Jacob or Sam's POV, withholding the identity of what the thing was that crippled Sam doesn't work. The reader doesn't know if Sam just got the breed wrong (it was actually a Doberman/Mastiff cross) or if it was something supernatural. If the latter, then we probably need a hint of what it was if it has bearing on the demon Sam starts to become.

When Sam tells Jacob about what her father does to her, he can't resist wishing to help her.

I think you can combine this sentence with the one before and gain a little space to go into more detail later: When Sam confides that her father terrorizes her and her mom is too scared to confront him, Jacob can't resist wishing to help.

The price, however, is more than either of them is willing to pay.

Had they bartered the price beforehand, this sentence would be OK. Since they have no choice in paying the price, you either need to rephrase entirely or change to a weaker "would have been willing to pay." I'd rephrase to lose the cliche.

It unleashes a demon from a bottle in grandpa's attic and it has had millennia to plan its revenge. It turns Jacob's grandfather to stone.

Watch your pronouns here. The first "It" grammatically refers back to the price, although I think you mean the wish unleashes. Because of the independent clauses set up in parallel, the second "it" grammatically should be referring to the same noun the first "it" does. But the second "it" -- and subsequent ones -- refers to the demon.

I like that this version ties back the bottle in the attic to the admonishment to never go into the attic. Good. However, turning gramps to stone still seems a rather random act of revenge if the demon's been locked up for thousands of years. I'm assuming that there's also some connection between the stones in the garden and gramps becoming stone. Are the other stones Jacob's ancestors? Help the reader start to figure it out here.

It then traps Jacob and Sam in the bottle. Inside, Jacob's power grows stronger and infects his every thought.

As far as the reader knows at this point, Jacob's only power is that certain things he wishes for happen. How does this wishing power grow stronger? Is he able to wish them out of the bottle? No. Is he able to wish the demon away? No. Is he able to wish none of this had ever happened? No. So what IS he now able to do and how is it infecting his thoughts?

Sam also starts to change, but she is turning into a demon.

If this is foreshadowed earlier, it won't come as such a "what the heck?" moment here. Think cause and effect.

They're only hope is to learn to control the changes affecting them.

Their (sp) only hope for what? To get out of the bottle? To defeat the demon (is that even on the agenda?)? To live a quiet life within the bottle for millenia? The query needs to spell out what their specific goal is.

The City in the Bottle is a YA fantasy, complete at 74,000 words, about two teens cursed with powers that they don't know how to control.

Cap the title of the book. Also, with the title coming right after saying the two are trapped in the bottle, I'm thinking there's more to the bottle story than is being hinted at here. The word "city" implies that.

The second part of this sentence simply repeats what you've already told us. Either give us something more of the theme here or just delete.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Query Revision 56

Face-Lift 861: Spirits of the Unknown 

Tilvanau's family governs three quarters of the planet Suvino. After a murder plot to kill every member in his family, he doesn't know who to trust, and grief may be clouding his judgment.

His brother with his family attempts to escape in a ship with the murderer hidden inside. Before he is killed he sets a course for the nearest livable planet, earth. The murderer leaves the ship using an escape pod.

The U.S. government has possession of the ship which is haunted by the ghosts of his family who try to disclose the killer to earthlings who don't understand their language.

Being the only member of the family alive, Tilvanau must face a brutal civil war which devastates his planet. Although the woman he loves can help him, he doesn't know if he can trust her, since she also has motive and opportunity being the only one left to take command if he dies. Due to work and other excuses he never married her, but he always planned to. Now he doesn't know what to think of her.

As he struggles to find the murderer before the murderer kills him, he finds that his own people suspect he has betrayed them by killing his own family to gain sole control over the entire planet.

SPIRITS OF THE UNKNOWN is a science fiction with a twist, complete at 95,250 words.

Comments

I'm afraid this still comes across as sounding like two separate stories. As written, there is really nothing here to tie the brother's escape, the murderer and the family ghosts to Til's struggle with civil war on Suvino. If the twist in the story is the thing that eventually unites the story lines, the reader will need to know what it is; otherwise, no one's going to want to take a chance on a novel with two distinct personalities like this.

Tilvanau's family governs three quarters of the planet Suvino. After a murder plot to kill every member in his family,

The original version of this query led us to believe everyone in Til's family was murdered, which wasn't quite the case. Phrased this way, though, the reader has no idea if the plot was ever even carried out. So when we're told in the next sentence there is indeed a murderer, we're taken by surprise. At this point, has anyone been murdered?

he doesn't know who to trust, and grief may be clouding his judgment.

The "grief" phrase works only if we see him actually trusting someone -- or at least thinking about trusting them. Since he seems to not be trusting anyone at this point, that bit can be deleted.

His brother with his family

Does the second "his" refer to the brother or to Til? The "he" pronouns in this paragraph are a little confusing; you'll want to be sure the reader understands this whole paragraph is about the brother not Til.

attempts to escape in a ship with the murderer hidden inside. Before he is killed he sets a course for the nearest livable planet, earth. The murderer leaves the ship using an escape pod.

It took me a couple of reads, but I think I understand that the family and the murderer board the ship, the brother sets the course, but before the ship gets underway, the murderer kills everybody aboard and escapes back down to Suvino, which they're still orbiting. On auto-pilot, the ship then takes off for Earth (capitalized).

On a first read, this comes across that the murderer is off-planet and no longer a threat to Til.

The U.S. government has possession of the ship which is haunted by the ghosts of his family who try to disclose the killer to earthlings who don't understand their language.

So now we need a little world-building. Does Til's world have FTL technology? How long does it take for the ship to reach Earth and, when it gets there, is this the Earth of today or of the future? If there's a ship just waiting around for someone to program for the nearest inhabitable planet, the assumption is that earlier ships have been there already. And do Suvinian ghosts typically carry on conversations? Are ghosts normal in their world?

Being the only member of the family alive, Tilvanau must face a brutal civil war which devastates his planet.

What's the cause-and-effect here? Did the civil war break out BECAUSE the rest of the ruling family has been murdered? If so, you probably want to mention that upfront. Or has the civil war been going on and now that Til is the last of his family, he has to face uniting the planet on his own now. Also, by using "devastates" you imply the war has already devastated the planet. If it's still going on, you'll want to say "which is devastating".

Although the woman he loves can help him, he doesn't know if he can trust her, since she also has motive and opportunity being the only one left to take command if he dies. Due to work and other excuses he never married her, but he always planned to.

"The only one"? If that's the case, then the planet really is in trouble. Do you mean that she's next in line to take command? Is this from a military or political perspective? Most concubines don't stand to inherit the throne if the king dies. Or is she like a brigadier general in the army?

Now he doesn't know what to think of her.

As he struggles to find the murderer before the murderer kills him, he finds that his own people suspect he has betrayed them by killing his own family to gain sole control over the entire planet.

I think the reader needs a more solid understanding of why the planet is embroiled in civil war to understand why the populace would think this.

SPIRITS OF THE UNKNOWN is a science fiction with a twist, complete at 95,250 words.

What's the twist? I haven't read anything in this query that sounds like a twist. Nothing has been alluded to that is twist-like. If the twist is in one of the loose ends here, then that connection should be made. You don't have to TELL us what the twist is, but you should hint pretty strongly at what it is, otherwise it just falls flat.

Round your word count to the nearest thousand and delete the "a".

Overall, I think you're too close to your story. Coming into this cold, I have no idea how the ghosts and the U.S. government figure into any of this. Without some sort of tie-back at the end, I'm left thinking maybe a spaceship was grafted into this novel just to make it "different". Show us why it's important to the plot.

Also -- and I could be entirely wrong about this, it's just the impression I'm getting -- the writing here sounds like it isn't written by a native speaker. It's just a little too stilted, a little too "off". Adding a little passion and emotion to the writing itself would do wonders for how it comes across. Help us to feel Til's fear and uncertainty.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On Rejecting - A View From The Other Side

Submissions for EXTINCT have picked up as we get nearer the deadline, which is awesome. Thanks!

What I'm finding harder than I thought is sending out rejection letters.

Now, if you've been following the blog you'll know I'm pretty straight-forward. I'll tell you right out and honestly what works and doesn't work in my opinion. For the short story subs, I'm taking time and trying to articulate my reasoning in a few paragraphs in hopes that the feedback will help craft a stronger story, whether you resubmit it here or submit a revised version elsewhere.

I have no trouble writing up that feedback. What makes sending that feedback out different from the feedback I offer on queries is that queries are an artifice. Writers don't choose to write a query because they want to (well, OK, some of us do, but we're in the minority). Writers, however, write short stories because they feel motivated to, because they need to, because not to write stories is not to breathe, not to feel, not to live. It's far easier to suggest a writer hasn't quite mastered the skill of query writing because no one stands up and says, "I want to be a great query writer some day." But when you have to write a rejection letter and suggest an author needs to master the basics of storytelling or grammar before they can hope to compete on a professional level at something they want so desperately, it's soul-sucking on a whole different level.

I recently submitted a short story to Beneath Ceaseless Skies and was very thankful to read an exchange in the forums that makes offering revision advice -- and accepting it! -- a little more palatable.

One writer, W Knight, said: So far, every story I've submitted to BCS has been rejected. That being said, I've taken the advice offered in those rejections, revamped the story and managed to sell them elsewhere.

Editor-in-Chief Scott Andrews replied: You are not alone--stories that have been rejected from BCS have, upon revision, gone on to sell to such great venues as Realms of Fantasy and to win Finalist status in the Writers of the Future contest.

I'm not saying my advice or reasons for rejection will be as brilliant as that offered by others, but now when I write my rejections, I think how thrilling for me personally it would be if any of those writers were to stretch themselves just a little more and find happy homes for the stories they revise.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Query 55

The City in the Bottle

Sometimes, Jacob Cohen's wishes come true. After an impetuous wish, Jacob has to live with the guilt that he caused the fatal accident that made him an orphan. A month later, he has moved in with his grandfather and has to learn how to build a new life at fourteen.

Samantha Steinbach lives next door to Jacob's new home and she was crippled six years ago by a Rottweiler. Her right hand is a frozen claw that she can barely move. At home, her father terrorizes her and her mother and Samantha constantly wishes for some way to escape.

When she meets Jacob on the path behind her house, her wish comes true. The price, however, is more than either of them is willing to pay. When Jacob tries to use his power to help Sam he unleashes a demon that turns his grandfather to stone.

Jacob and Sam flee from the demon and become trapped inside a magic bottle. Now, they must find a way to stop the demon, get out of the bottle, and turn Jacob's grandfather back.

The City In The Bottle is a completed YA fantasy of 74,000 words about two young people who travel to a magical world and discover who they are and what they can become.

Thank you for your consideration.

Comments

This has a nice, easy style. That kind of works for the first 2-3 paragraphs, but then the query doesn't really seem to blink about the reverse-genie that's pulled. Considering the title talks about a city in a bottle, I really feel we need something more about what it means to be imprisoned in the bottle and what's in there besides Jacob and Sam.

Wishes and magic bottles lead me to speculate that Jacob in a jinn. Except that maybe the demon is a jinn. Is anyone a jinn?

Sometimes, Jacob Cohen's wishes come true. After an impetuous wish, Jacob has to live with the guilt that he caused the fatal accident that made him an orphan.

I'm assuming Jacob throws out a "I wish you were dead" comment right before the accident. But is that the first wish that's come true? Does he throw out that reckless wish knowing his wishes sometimes come true? Since most everyone has a wish or two that comes true, does Jacob's wishing have a better track record than most?

A month later, he has moved in with his grandfather and has to learn how to build a new life at fourteen.

Samantha Steinbach lives next door to Jacob's new home and she was crippled six years ago by a Rottweiler. Her right hand is a frozen claw that she can barely move.

I think these sentences can be streamlined a bit more. If you say she lives next door, that it's next to Jacob's new home is implied. The detail of the Rottweiler is good for the book, but I don't think it's necessary here. And unless her crippled hand figures some way into the plot, I don't think it's needed here either. That she's being terrorized/abused seems to be the important bit.

At home, her father terrorizes her and her mother and Samantha constantly wishes for some way to escape.

Wouldn't Sam wish for her mom to escape, too?

When she meets Jacob on the path behind her house, her wish comes true. The price, however, is more than either of them is willing to pay. When Jacob tries to use his power to help Sam he unleashes a demon that turns his grandfather to stone.

If Jacob is wracked with guilt thinking he wished his parents dead, why does he agree to try to help Sam fulfill her wish? A little insight into his motivation will round him out here a bit better.

Turning Jacob's grandfather to stone seems rather random, even for a demon. Does the grandfather do something to draw the demon's attention? Or is the demon targeting things Jacob loves? Even villains need motivation.

Jacob and Sam flee from the demon and become trapped inside a magic bottle. Now, they must find a way to stop the demon, get out of the bottle, and turn Jacob's grandfather back.

This is where I think we need a little more about what's inside the bottle and some indication that Jacob and Sam CAN escape. I'm assuming it's not as simple as Jacob simply wishing his way out. Is being in the bottle the only danger, or are there other dangers in that world?

I get demon = bad, but I also think we need to know what the demon is planning. Is he going around turning more random people to stone? What do J & S need to stop the demon from doing?

The City In The Bottle is a completed YA fantasy of 74,000 words about two young people who travel to a magical world and discover who they are and what they can become.

Cap the title.

If you set this sentence up by having let the reader know earlier that the world within the bottle and not just the bottle itself are magical and to ground us more in how these kids have to draw upon inner resources that have been bruised and battered to overcome their circumstances, then this close can work. As it is, though, it seems to be a bit of a non sequitur.

My Version

When Jacob Cohen's parents die in a fatal car crash, he's sure he caused it. After all, the last words he flung at them when he stormed out of the house were, "I wish you were dead!" Now, a month later, he's living with his grandfather and having to build a new life at fourteen.

His next-door neighbor, Samantha Steinbach, has a crippled hand, which would be a big deal if the way her father abused her and her mother didn't overshadow just about everything else in her life. Her mother refuses to leave, but Sam wishes for nothing more than to escape.

Jacob is terrified about using his wishing power to help her, but he's heard her crying in the night. Without knowing quite how he does it, he wishes them away -- only to find he and Sam have been thrust into a magical bottle with no way to escape. Worse, it seems he's summoned a demon intent on turning people into stone. The magical world inside the bottle is full of dangers as well, monsters enough to match the imaginary ones that have been haunting Jacob's dreams and the human one that's been terrorizing Sam. If Jacob and Sam can't find a way to get out of the bottle, without wishing themselves into even worse danger, they may well find themselves running from their demons forever.

THE CITY IN THE BOTTLE, complete at 74,000 words, is a YA fantasy about two teens with fragile, tortured souls who travel to a magical world and discover who they are and what they can become.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Call For Success Stories

I think it's time for a little celebration, don't you?

Have you taken a query or synopsis you've workshopped here and gotten a request for a partial or a full?
Have you snagged an agent or a publisher?
Have you had a book published?

Tell us about it! No accomplishment is too small to brag about. Every success is a step up the ladder and something to be proud of.


Email me your success(es) and I'll run them in a CELEBRATION POST this Friday. You can ask me to post your success anonymously, if you'd like. Send to phoenixsullivan @ yahoo.com (close up the spaces, of course).

I'm looking forward to a lot of back-patting!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Taking Opportunity By The Tusks - A Question For You

The science weebs have been abuzz this past week with news about a Japanese-Russian team-up to harvest DNA from a frozen mammoth, implant the genetic material into the e-nucleated egg of an Asian elephant, stimulate the egg to divide, implant the resulting cells into a surrogate elephant mom, and bring a baby mammoth to term within the next 4-5 years.

News sites are encouraging folk to answer polls about whether extinct animals should be brought back and, if they are, what to do with them once they're here.


This is GREAT news, not just for the science involved but because:

1) How cool that we'll be able to capitalize on folks' curiosity and excitement to market the EXTINCT anthology! I'm saving links now for using to support the underlying theme of the anthology: Extinct Doesn't Mean Forever. Yay!

2) How cool that I'm shopping a story now that is predicated on the cloning of Ice Age mammals -- with disastrous results for the human race. See the SECTOR C tab on this page above.

The problem, of course, is timing. There is now potentially a narrow window for putting out my near-future thriller before "near-future" becomes "near past."

I try not to talk about my writing too much here since I know how tedious someone talking about their unpubbed work can be. But I'm indulging a little today because of the dilemma. I have something extremely timely ready NOW. The soonest I could even hope to see it out were I able to sell it to a tradional publisher, though, would be at least a year on. That said, I'm still working on getting an agent. So far, I've had 7 requests for partials, 9 requests for fulls and 2 requests for revisions that take the story in directions I'm not prepared to take it just yet. The main complaint seems to be it's too plot-driven, although feedback otherwise has been pretty positive:
  • I very much admire your style of writing : you are brilliant at establishing character and at pacing
  • I loved the concept and the writing
  • You're writing is very strong and the story is compelling and unique - the near-future sf angle felt strong
  • You're a good writer and I like this very, very much
Currently, I have 3 fulls and a couple of partials out with agents, and I just sent out another round of queries where I mentioned the news stories from this past week. I'm wondering, though, if it would be wiser to start submitting to pubs that take unsolicited mss (most of them ask for exclusives).

Of course, things historically move slowly in publishing. My fear is that the recent news stories, while great for marketing efforts, will also spark other authors to write similar stories, and what small advantage I might have NOW will disappear in a few short months. So then I wonder if my best bet is to ride the wave and self-publish the novel now since I've gotten industry validation that at least the writing is strong and it wouldn't be an embarrassment out on Amazon. I'd like to be ahead of the curve, if possible.

Given the choices, what would YOU do?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Query 54

The Forbidden Fruit of Faerie

Seventeen-year-old Taren Alder lives in emotional solitude. Between the death of his brother and his parents’ deteriorating marriage he’s never felt more alone. When he meets Elora, a girl who appears to be a teenage runaway, he believes he’s finally found the friend he so deeply desires.

But the daughter of the Unseelie Queen has different plans for Taren. Born into a world of corruption, she's determined to free her people from her mother’s tyranny. If she can obtain the willingly offered blood of a human, the final ingredient in a spell to bind her mother, she can crush the Dark Court and bring equality to faerie kind.

In "The Forbidden Fruit of Faerie," a 75,000-word YA urban fantasy, Taren does everything he can to help Elora start a new life, even introducing her to the world of high school. But in his quest to protect her from the dangers of the human world, he fails to recognize the biggest danger of all: falling in love with a princess of the Dark Court.

I have a BA in English Literature and the magazines "Illumen" and "Sounds of the Night" have published my writing. Thank you for your time.

Comments

I have a question and would really like to hear what others think. I know I've seen a few agents who say they would like to see more YA romances told from the male POV. I get that it's different. I get that YA romance is hot right now and publishers would love to capture more of a male audience. But is a sensitive male in love with a strong supernatural being the recipe for delivering that audience? Who do YOU see as the audience for a tale like this?

The author tells me she's switched focus to the male lead since her first draft of the story, apparently after writing another book that she's shopping now and for which we've recently seen a very attention-grabbing query. If you want to compare the current story line with the original, her query was Face-Lift 578 over at Evil Editor's place.

Seventeen-year-old Taren Alder lives in emotional solitude. Between the death of his brother and his parents’ deteriorating marriage he’s never felt more alone.

I think you can combine these sentences -- "emotional solitude" and "he's never felt more alone" both tell the reader pretty much the same thing.

When he meets Elora, a girl who appears to be a teenage runaway, he believes he’s finally found the friend he so deeply desires.

Since this is his POV, I think you can delete "a girl who appears to be" and use that space to tell us something about why he thinks she's the friend he needs.

But the daughter of the Unseelie Queen has different plans for Taren. Born into a world of corruption, she's determined to free her people from her mother’s tyranny. If she can obtain the willingly offered blood of a human, the final ingredient in a spell to bind her mother, she can crush the Dark Court and bring equality to faerie kind.

I think it would help here to know just how much of Taren's blood she needs so we understand the stakes. Are we looking at a betrayal of friendship if Elora succeeds in getting Taren to simply stab his finger to become her "blood brother" (in which case he never needs to know the truth about what Elora is), or does she need to take Taren back to Court with her, slit his throat with his permission and drain him dry? Is it Taren's trust/heart at risk or his life?

In "The Forbidden Fruit of Faerie," a 75,000-word YA urban fantasy,

Having the title/count/genre here feels off. It would feel more natural, I think, to come at the very beginning, right after a hook sentence (which you don't have in this query -- and that's OK), or at the end. It interrupts the story flow for me being here.

Taren does everything he can to help Elora start a new life, even introducing her to the world of high school. But in his quest to protect her from the dangers of the human world, he fails to recognize the biggest danger of all: falling in love with a princess of the Dark Court.

This paragraph confuses me. The failing to recognize line makes me think he knows Elora is fae. But if that's the case, what line did she feed him that he thinks she is trying to start a new life with humans? If he still thinks she's a human runaway, does he think she's been on the run for 3 years since I'm assuming she's about the same human age as Taren and wouldn't they be juniors? If he does think she's human, maybe phrase it that he's introducing her to HIS high school rather than "the world of high school."

But then I'm back to wondering if he knows what Elora is when I read "dangers of the human world." And I wonder what dangers that means because most teens in the U.S. don't feel particularly endangered, do they? Or are you talking about keeping her away from iron and silver and such?

Because we don't really know what Taren is risking by falling in love with Elora, the "biggest danger" bit falls somewhat flat. It goes back again to whether Elora is out to betray his trust or take his life.

I have a BA in English Literature and the magazines "Illumen" and "Sounds of the Night" have published my writing. Thank you for your time.

I think you're reaching a bit in your bio. Sorry. I'm guessing the work for "Illumen" was poetry, which doesn't really qualify as a cred. Nor does the BA. If you sold a short story to "Sounds", then I think you can focus on that: My fantasy short story, "Title," appeared in the Fall 20XX issue of "Sounds of the Night." Your cred being in the same genre as the novel is a plus, although really only a pro pub is going to make an impression.

Now, I've sold a handful of stories to pro venues when I was part of a famous SFF author/editor's stable of writers. But that was quite awhile ago and I don't mention it unless someone specifically asks for a bio. I don't list any creds in my queries and I've gotten many requests for partials and fulls for a couple of novels without them. So really, using that space to elaborate just a bit on your story may be a better use of the real estate.

I have to say, I'm not much in love with the title; it's not grabby, though it does convey salient points of the story. Alliteration doesn't put me off nearly as much as it does others, but there will be folk, I think, who'll sniff at it. But titles are pretty subjective.

This author has in the past demonstrated a terrific ability for taking raw feedback from commenters and turning it into gold. I look forward to posting her redux soon (hint, hint). (awwk, feeling the pressure yet?)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Extinct Update and Empty Query Queue


 12 days and counting to submission deadline!


I'm holding 38 stories right now. I recently replied to "anonymous" in the comments on the submissions page when they asked if I'd be offering feedback:

________________________

I've already explained to a few folk why their stories were being rejected. I'm hoping a percentage of them will revise and resubmit or submit something new.

With the exception of a couple that were really quite well-written but just "off" from being a fully realized and satisfying story, there are some main issues I'm seeing for those I've returned.

1) The writing just isn't polished enough. I'm happy to edit but not rewrite.

2) The story doesn't quite hang together. Either not enough set-up or, even more frequently, the ending is rushed.

3) A couple have had plot contrivances that over-strained credibility.

A handful of submissions have had a mix of these problems.

But even for those stories that I'm holding till the final cut, I'll let people know why theirs didn't make it. Caveated by that refrain I know we're all tired of hearing: In my subjective opinion.
________________________

Thank you to everyone who's already submitted -- and if you haven't yet, why not?

And yeah, more queries needed for evisceration the queue!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Query 20: Redux

Redemption

Dear Agent:

BANE THOMAS knows a thing or two about demons; in fact, as soon as they succeed in killing him, he’ll become one. Which is why an Armistice Zone, an area of land where demons can do no harm, would be a god send, and rumor has it twenty-year-old REIGHLYN ANDERSON has such a zone somewhere on her property. The problem is – she’s not selling!

Bane finances Reighlyn’s crisis center in hopes to persuade her to sell, but instead falls in love with her. After Reighlyn witnesses what can only be explained as reading minds, manipulating thoughts, and super human powers, its clear there’s something different about Bane, but she doesn’t care; she’s in love with him. That is- until she discovers he’s the capitalist pig after her land and throws him out on his ass, love or not.

In an attempt to explain his deceit, Bane reveals a secret he’s never told anyone; he’s a descendant of The Watchers. But with that truth come dangers, and soon a punished demon arrives, determined to use Reighlyn’s death as a means to gain Satan’s forgiveness. And after a successful kidnapping, Bane’s in a race against time and a battle against evil to rescue the one person he never thought could literally exist - his soul mate.

REDEMPTION is a complete 93,000-word Paranormal Romance. At your request, I’d be happy to provide sample chapters and a more detailed synopsis. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Comments

This version is SO MUCH better than the last. Great job in getting it focused down. Now for the tweaking.

BANE THOMAS knows a thing or two about demons; in fact, as soon as they succeed in killing him, he’ll become one.

Good hook!

There's some debate whether character names should be capped on first mention in a synopsis, but in a query, I think the consensus is not to.

Which is why an Armistice Zone, an area of land where demons can do no harm, would be a god send, and rumor has it twenty-year-old REIGHLYN ANDERSON has such a zone somewhere on her property.

I would divide this sentence into two. Depending how you do that, the last half could be combined with the next sentence: Which is why an armistice zone -- land where demons can do harm -- would be a god send. Rumor has it Reighlyn Anderson has such a zone on her property; problem is, she's not selling.

And because we don't know Bane's age why is it necessary for us to know Reighlyn's? If she were very young or very old, it might be more telling -- or might be needed to categorize it as Adult, New Adult or YA. As it is, "New Adult" hasn't quite caught on yet, and if that's the audience, it should be mentioned later when you tell us the genre. In fact, one could start wondering how old Bane is that he's bankrolling her - the query makes him sound older than he likely is.

The problem is – she’s not selling!

Be very conservative with exclams. You've told us this is a problem, so I don't think you need to oversell it with punctuation.

Bane finances Reighlyn’s crisis center in hopes to persuade her to sell, but instead falls in love with her.

Why "but instead"? Does he cut off the financing? Does he not want her to sell any longer? Does his falling in love negate all that?

After Reighlyn witnesses what can only be explained as reading minds, manipulating thoughts, and super human powers, its clear there’s something different about Bane, but she doesn’t care; she’s in love with him.

I don't think the "it's clear there's something different about Bane" works here. It's pretty redundant after that list of things he can do. The "she doesn't care" bit also seems a little flippant. WHY wouldn't she care? I think the answer to that will give us greater insight into her.

That is- until she discovers he’s the capitalist pig after her land and throws him out on his ass, love or not.

I'm not loving "capitalist pig" here. Maybe it sounds dated?

What does "That is" counter? The sentence before, we're left with R being in love with him, and this sentence ends with the implication that she still loves him. "That is" is a fine convention to use in a query; it just needs to tie thoughts together logically. In this case, it would work had the sentence before said something like: "...she's in love with him and thinking about how his ring would look on her finger." That way she's thinking about marriage before her discovery and afterward she's not.

In an attempt to explain his deceit, Bane reveals a secret he’s never told anyone; he’s a descendant of The Watchers.

Unless Bane makes several attempts to explain, you can safely delete "In an attempt." "Secret" implies not telling, so "he's never told anyone" can be deleted (also, the semicolon would work better as a colon or dash). Still, how important is it that we know it's a "secret"? How about just "Bane reveals"?

So I expect the revelation to be something meaningful; instead, I'm told he's a descendant of The Watchers. First, does being a descendant of them make him one, too? Is he a Watcher or not? Second, what's a Watcher? Is it like The Watchers in Buffy who train their charges or in Highlander, folk who record but can't interfere with the people they're charged to watch? And do all Watchers have supernatural abilities? A reader will expect the revelation to be followed by at least a couple of words to explain what it means.

But with that truth come dangers, and soon a punished demon arrives, determined to use Reighlyn’s death as a means to gain Satan’s forgiveness.

The setup at the beginning of this sentence makes it sound like cause-and-effect. That because Bane revealed the truth, the demon arrives. What I think you're meaning is that because Bane's a Watcher he's always in danger and the demon's coming is predicated on Bane being what he is, not because he revealed the secret.

We need a little more about why the demon happens to target Reighlyn. I'm thinking that she can be used somehow against Bane; otherwise, why does the demon kidnap her and not just kill her if she has to die to satiate Satan? Or does the demon kidnap her so Satan can kill her? Basically, why is she kidnapped and not just killed?

And after a successful kidnapping, Bane’s in a race against time and a battle against evil to rescue the one person he never thought could literally exist - his soul mate.

I think "literally" is misplaced here. The reader needs to understand that "soul mate" is not just a euphemism, and that if R dies, her death will have some sort of a physical impact on Bane. Will he die too?

At this point, you'll also want to let the reader know how your really good hook at the beginning plays into Bane's decisions here at the end.

REDEMPTION is a complete 93,000-word Paranormal Romance. At your request, I’d be happy to provide sample chapters and a more detailed synopsis. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Make that "completed". I would delete two of the last three sentences -- of the ones offered, I would delete the "At your request" sentence since the agent will decide if she wants samples or a synopsis and the "I look forward" sentence. Honestly, after seeing word count and genre and that it's completed, I'm sure most agents won't even read the rest expecting it to be the same as everyone else's close. So the shorter the sweeter.

I think you have the right direction now with the format of this query. By getting rid of some of the redundant words and ideas, you'll free up some space to give us just a little more characterization of R and a little more motivation for the demon.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On the Ghost-Written Query: A Follow-Up

In the comments around Wednesday's discussion on rewriting queries and submitting rewritten queries as your own, Matt linked to this "successful query" post on Kristin Nelson's blog and pointed to the comment where the author reveals one of Kristin's other bestselling clients actually wrote the query in question.

If you're too lazy to follow the links where the author confesses that she couldn't crank out a decent query (and in truth the attempts she offers up as proof are a bit awkward, though no better or worse than many queries we see right here) or to look at Kristin's subsequent post, the nutshell is this:

  • Courtney Milan won a query crit from bestselling author Sherry Thomas
  • Courtney struggled with the query and Sherry, in exasperation, wrote it for her
  • Sherry also read Courtney's ms and referred Courtney to Kristin
  • Still, even without the intro, Kristin would have requested from the query
  • Courtney not only wound up with representation from one of the most savvy agents in the biz, she snagged a 6-figure deal for 2 books at auction
  • Kristin then makes a statement that I must have been channeling when I wrote the post on Wednesday:
"Sometimes it is difficult for a writer to write his or her own query. The writer is very close to the material and can’t often see the forest for the trees. If you’ve struggled with the query writing process, I don’t think it’s playing unfair to have another person write the query on your behalf, or with you, or revise it for you. As long as you end up with a strong letter that you believe fully represents your work, I, as the agent, will not ask if you wrote your own query letter. It can be your own deep, dark secret.

"The point of the query is to win an agent’s attention and get a request for sample pages. Now, your sample pages have to hold up. The greatest query letter in the world is not going to compensate for unready sample pages.

"And if somebody else ends up writing your query, make sure they are good at it!"

All of us have seen agent remarks that disagree with what Kristin says, so obviously there's no right or wrong. Like most things in this business, it's follow your gut and do what's right for you, whether it's writing about controversial topics, following the market, or letting someone else write your query letter.
 
But maybe this alleviates just a teeny bit of guilt?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Query 38: Redux

Kindar's Cure

Dear Agent:

Soothsayers have long predicted an Empress would birth three daughters and one would rise as the savior of her people. For Kindar, the middle daughter, fulfilling prophecy was the least of her expectations.

A weakness pushes Kindar to the margins of court life. From childhood, the gods have seen fit to mark her as flawed by sending her a devastating disease of cough and slow suffocation. Kindar’s choke lung has everyone, including the Empress, debating her place. Her elder sister’s grand wedding only another challenge in holding her head high and defying their predictions.

When her sister is murdered on her wedding night, the killer uses magic to conceal the deed and leaves behind a clue that implicates Kindar. In the space of a night, she moves from insignificance to stricken from the succession. Her efforts to find her enemies and clear her name mired by the stigma of the choke lung.

Banishment looms over Kindar when a wizard approaches her with his own untested vision. For enough coin, Maladonis Bin will lead her to a barren land where volcanic fumes just might cure the choke lung, allowing her to search for the true murderer. Her resolve will be tested in an area controlled by rebels with a young wizard who is a bumbling novice in his profession. With prophecy calling, Kindar must rally all her strength for a fight, not just for life and throne, but respect.

Kindar’s Cure is a fantasy with elements of romance, complete at xxxxxx words. Sample pages and synopsis are below.

Comments

Overall, I'm still trying to figure out why Kindar is a sympathetic MC. I'm hoping it's a fault with how the story is presented in the query. Her sister is dead but everything in Kindar's world seems to revolve around me, me, me. Her name is mud and she's wanting to find the murderer so she can reclaim her place in the succession. Is she truly so cold-hearted? If not, then just a few words to assure the reader that she wants retribution for her sister's murder would be good.

Soothsayers have long predicted an Empress would birth three daughters and one would rise as the savior of her people. For Kindar, the middle daughter, fulfilling prophecy was the least of her expectations.

I'm not thinking the Chosen One trope is your friend here. Why do the people need a savior? If you lead with this, I expect the query to follow through and let me know what fulfilling that prediction will mean. As it is, the whole prophecy thing seems to just get dropped.

A weakness pushes Kindar to the margins of court life. From childhood, the gods have seen fit to mark her as flawed by sending her a devastating disease of cough and slow suffocation. Kindar’s choke lung has everyone, including the Empress, debating her place. Her elder sister’s grand wedding only another challenge in holding her head high and defying their predictions.

I'm not sure "defying their predictions" works here in so close proximity to the prediction of one of the daughters becoming a savior. Nor do I see any predictions being made as everyone is still debating what should be done with her. Also, do the people see the prophecy as referring to THIS Empress? If so, most folk would probably look first to the eldest daughter as being the One, then skip the sick one, then look to the younger, who doesn't even really get mention here.

When her sister is murdered on her wedding night, the killer uses magic to conceal the deed and leaves behind a clue that implicates Kindar. In the space of a night, she moves from insignificance to stricken from the succession. Her efforts to find her enemies and clear her name mired by the stigma of the choke lung.

Here's where I think the reader needs assurance the MC has some sort of reaction to her sister's death other than that being implicated for murder pushes her out of succession. It's also a bit of a jump to conclude that pinning the murder on her makes the murderer HER enemy and not just a convenient way to slip justice.

Banishment looms over Kindar when a wizard approaches her with his own untested vision.

A cold reading of this query will leave a reader scratching their head over what "untested vision" might mean. I don't think it's necessary. Especially the "untested" part as what vision is pretested?

For enough coin, Maladonis Bin will lead her to a barren land where volcanic fumes just might cure the choke lung, allowing her to search for the true murderer.

With three thoughts going on in this sentence, you propbably want to separate out the last thought into its own sentence.

Her resolve will be tested in an area controlled by rebels with a young wizard who is a bumbling novice in his profession.

Maybe give us some reaction here: Kindar placed her trust in a young wizard only to find out he's a bumbling novice. If there is a romantic element in this story, here is where the reader likely needs a hint of it. Otherwise, Bin doesn't come across any more likeable than Kindar does.

With prophecy calling,

Still not sure how or why prophecy is calling.

Kindar must rally all her strength for a fight, not just for life and throne, but respect.

So if she loses her life and the throne, she'll be happy with post-death respect? The sentence order here is a little confusing.

Kindar’s Cure is a fantasy with elements of romance, complete at xxxxxx words. Sample pages and synopsis are below.

My Version

If being the Empress's middle daughter wasn't challenge enough, the gods marked Kindar in childhood with a wasting disease of cough and slow suffocation. Seventeen-year-old Kindar's choke lung has everyone, including her mother, debating her place, pushing her to the margins of court life, and hoping the problem will simply resolve itself. After all, there's a third daughter available if the unthinkable should happen to the first.

When the eldest sister is murdered on her wedding night, the killer uses magic to conceal the deed and leaves behind a clue that implicates Kindar. Devastated by her sister's death, Kindar tries to comprehend why anyone would go to such lengths to keep her from succeeding to the throne. With threat of banishment looming over her, she agrees to a young wizard's outlandish scheme. For a small ransom in coin, Maladonis Bin will break her out of her cell and lead her to a barren land where volcanic fumes just might cure her. Once time and health are on her side, she'll have the resources needed to search for the true killer and uncover the reason behind the conspiracy.

But first she's going to have to rally strength enough to fight: Fight for life in a wilderness controlled by rebels, fight for love when the young wizard's bumbling antics touch her heart, and fight for throne and respect when she discovers who killed her sister -- and why.

KINDAR'S CURE is a fantasy with romantic elements, complete at xxxxxx words. Sample pages and synopsis are below.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Are You Up For The Challenge?

I had been happily tooling along for awhile, sending out queries and fulfilling requests for partials and fulls, when I was confronted not once, not twice, but three times this past week with agents asking for a 1-page synopsis.

I have two mss circulating and each has a tidy synopsis that clocks in at 1.5 - 1.75 pages. Some agents don't stipulate a page count and most that do ask to see a 1-2 page summary. The guidelines for the initial query package are usually specific yet pretty standard as to what's required and it's easy-peasy to anticipate and prepare what you need in advance: query; separate short bio; 800-900 word synopsis; 5 pages and 10 pages formatted for pasting into an email; 10, 20, 35 and 50 pages formatted as attachments; and, of course, the full ms in both .doc and .rtf formats.

It's those requests that can throw you.

I know writers who plan their query submission strategy around which agents require synopses upfront. The only thing that buys these writers, though, is a lot of headache as they scramble to put something coherent together late at night with no vetting by their critique partners when they do get a request.

So, as I was chopping into my synopses, trying to squeeze a couple of ugly step-sisters' fat feet into delicate glass slippers and, most importantly, tinkering creatively with line spacing, it occurred to me that YOU, too, may one day need to produce a skinnied-down synopsis on the fly. So, for those of you who have already played the 1000-word max game as well as for those of you who haven't, I'm throwing down the gauntlet and daring you to do what I didn't do myself: Tighten the word count on your synopsis to less than 550. Make it fit that single page and adorn it with lots of pretty, pretty white space all around. Flood the page with voice without scrimping on characterization, motivation, or plot. Give us an ending that makes us laugh or cry or sigh. Distill all the thrills and chills, love and heartbreak, yearning and complex twists of your grand opus into fewer than 550 words squiggled across the page.

You think writing an engaging query is hard? Honey, it's a whole lot easier to flirt and tease than it is to stare your audience right in the face and tell them exactly what you're going to do to them before you do it -- and make them beg for you to get started. We'll be waiting. 
  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Query Goblin

Most of you have probably noticed that comments and traffic really slack off once a query for the same book makes its third appearance or so on a site -- any site, not just this one. It's the reason most bloggers who critique dissuade more than one revision, two at most, with some sites not even allowing one.

For those of you who want to continue working on your query but prefer a bit less snark in your crits and are avoiding submitting your revisions to Evil Editor for that reason (because really, what other reason do you have for not submitting a query there, other than that you already have?), there's a new option in town: The Query Goblin.

And remember when we discussed query rewrites as a legitimate critting technique yesterday? The Goblin promises to do rewrites-as-critiques exclusively.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rewrites: Legitimate Critique Technique or Unethical Ghost Writing?

Posters on critique forums seem divided over whether critters should rewrite queries as part of their critiques. Some folk feel having their queries rewritten is insulting. Others feel it's lazy or unethical to submit a query to an agent/editor that's been written by someone else.

What's your take? Feel free to discuss the pros and cons in the comments!

Not surprisingly, I don't see anything wrong with rewriting queries and it's never my intent to insult anyone by it. Though I've never explicitly stated it, anyone who submits a query here can ask that I not rewrite it. Conversely, they're welcome to ask that I specifically provide a rewrite. If neither is requested, I'll do a rewrite when I feel it's the best way to show how the suggestions I'm making can come together and still make sense. Sometimes I do a rewrite just because it's fun.

The Crit Line

I think authors are sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of feedback they get and the questions being asked. It's hard for someone so close to the work to see how they can possibly address all the concerns and still remain within an acceptable word count range. A rewrite shows in broad strokes how it can be done.

A rewrite can be anything from a framework that the author of the novel can use to hang their own words on to a polished piece that the author uses as part of their submissions package. In the end, it's the author's decision how much or how little of the rewrite to use.

The Agent Factor

Agents generally advise against submitting queries the author hasn't written themselves. Yet, curiously, many agents will rewrite the author's query when submitting the work to editors. I suppose the argument could be made that by that time the quality of the author's writing has already been vetted by the agent, but really isn't it done to put the best face possible on the submission? The query is a sales tool. And, all things being equal, the sales presentation that is most interesting and/or polished usually is the one to make the sale -- which in this case is enticing the agent/editor to read a few pages. Ultimately, it's the pages that will make or break the deal anyway.

Many hands shape a book. The author isn't asked to write their own backcover or flap copy. They aren't required to nail the title or design a cover. All these things influence a reader's perception of what the story and style and tone will be before they even crack the spine. The reader's interest is whetted before they even read a word the author wrote. Why should the agent or editor experience be any different? In the end, does it really matter who gets the agent excited about reading the story? After all, it's up to the author alone to make good on the follow-through.

Call for Queries

The queue is empty. Send more!

Tomorrow, I'll have details for you on a new query critiquing site you can submit revisions to for yet another perspective.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Query 32 : Re-redux

Eyes of Stone
(originally titled All Things Together for Good)

Anaiiya is a monster. She just doesn’t know it until the deranged Queen, seeing only traitors in every species that isn't human, hires a group of ‘pro-human’ fanatics to destroy the gargoyle tribe who adopted Anaiiya. Panicked at the thought of losing the only family she’s ever known, Anaiiya blacks out—and awakens covered in the blood of thirty men with no memory of how it happened.

The battle and the bloodshed awaken something in Anaiiya. Now the river boils when she sings and drops of blood show her visions and play symphonies only she can hear. Her burgeoning powers are accompanied by a bloodthirsty darkness within her, which Anaiiya ignores so she can use her abilities to defend her beloved tribe.

But Anaiiya’s attempts to save her family draw the attention of far more dangerous creatures than militant humans or mad Queens. Now beings of dark magic use the gargoyles as pawns to control Anaiiya and the powers she is only beginning to understand. The last gargoyle tribe is in greater danger than ever, and only Anaiiya can save them—if the darkness growing like a cancer within her soul doesn't destroy them first.

EYES OF STONE is a 109,000-word fantasy.

Comments

Much better title!! And I think placing the focus so tightly on Anaiiya and her gargoyles has helped this query a lot.

I'm not so sure leading off with "Anaiiya is a monster" works, mainly because the reader has no grounding yet whether this is meant to be figurative or literal. Maybe a reversal here would work better? See what you think in my version.

I also think with this tighter focus, adding in the fanatics is noise. And the way it's written, it seems Anaiiya blacks out because she panics, which I don't think is quite what you want to convey.

My Version

Anaiiya's always known she's human. Even living among the last of the gargoyles the certain knowledge of who and what she is has always been with her. But when a deranged queen who sees only traitors in every non-human species launches an attack on the gargoyle tribe, Anaiiya discovers a dark truth: there's a monster inside her waiting for the right trigger to free itself. Seeing her family assaulted, she blacks out -- and awakens covered in the blood of thirty men, with no memory of how it happened.

Now the river boils when she sings and drops of blood show her visions only she can see. The thing within, the thing she is, overwhelms with a bloodthirsty darkness that demands to be sated. Flexing her newfound powers, she turns them to defending her beloved tribe.

But Anaiiya's attempts to protect her family draw the attention of far more dangerous creatures than a mad queen and her militant army. Using the gargoyles as pawns, immortal beings of dark magic war for control of Anaiiya's powers. Because of her, the last of the gargoyle tribe is in greater danger than ever and now only she can save them —- if the darkness growing like a cancer within her soul doesn't destroy them first.

EYES OF STONE is a 109,000-word fantasy.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Query 51: Redux 2

The Family Grim

[Author's note (feel free to discuss in the comments): I found myself changing the query to the point that it no longer remained true to the story (I wonder if that happens to others?) Anyway, the new version remains true to the story ...]

Dear Agent:

Two hundred years ago Death’s most feared servant, the infamous Grim Reaper, sacrificed his immortality for the woman he loved, entrusting his eternal duty to his future descendants: the Family Grim. Three generations later, Jude Grim struggles to balance his deathly duties as a reaper with his life as a high school student buried in the shadow of his twin brother Drew, the local golden boy.

The twins may share the same unusual bloodline, but that doesn’t make them friends. Drew’s lust for blood and Jude’s compassionate soul have turned the two of them into bitter enemies. Adding to the rivalry is Skylar Petersen, Drew’s girlfriend and Jude’s lifelong crush. One night Drew goes too far, abusing his powers to murder a classmate who embarrassed him at school and then hiding the body in a nearby river. When Skylar discovers his secret, Drew adds her to his body count.

A heart-broken Jude is determined to save her. He pursues a forbidden remedy: seeds from the legendary Tree of Life. The seeds hold the power to reverse a reaper’s kill, but will only work for a short time following the victim’s death. With Drew hot on his trail and Death watching their every move, Jude has twenty four hours to find the tree and bring Skylar back before she’s lost forever. If Jude succeeds, his future will then be decided by Death himself, a man not known for his forgiveness.

THE FAMILY GRIM, a young adult fantasy novel, is complete at 72,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

Excellent!

I'm left with only a few minor nits that probably won't matter much in the grand scheme whether you choose to address them or not.

P1: I'm not sure "buried" is your best word choice to go with "shadow" (although it works well with the whole death theme!).

P2: The "lust for blood" description makes it seem that Drew may have already gone too far in the past, so going too far now seems a bit off. Plus, adding Skylar to his body count when there seems to be just one in the count so far seems a bit hyperbolic.

P3: Delete "then". And is Death really a man? Maybe just change to "someone" or "Death".

What I especially like about this storyline -- and about The Guardian Legacy storyline we saw earlier -- is that these have male MCs in a category dominated by female MCs. I'm betting this will get requests simply based on that. Above and beyond that, though, this is a great query that will likely garner requests from those agents who might be on the fence about the male MC.

Best of luck, and let us know how the agent hunt goes!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Query Revision 53

Facelift 819: Bent
(Original Title: The Nine Lies of Calliope Druthers)

Flynn Monroe’s life reads like a rap sheet. Steering clear of Coppers and Guild officers when there isn’t a warrant out for his arrest is easy. Unfortunately, at a time when he wants to clean up his past, his biggest mistake waltzes back into his life followed by a hail of bullets and shattered glass. When Calliope Druthers left him for dead with a ticking time bomb in his lap five years ago he hoped their first reunion would give him the chance to pump her full of lead. Now, as the barrels of his revolvers press into her forehead he balks as she tells of the daughter she’s hidden from him.

The girl bears an uncanny resemblance to Flynn and though he can’t be sure that she’s his, Calliope reveals the Guild is after their daughter for medical experimentation. Agreeing to get them out of the space station is one thing, ferrying them across the galaxy into the hands of the resistance is another. Flynn must decipher which of Calliope’s tales are false and find the secrets hidden behind the four-year-old girl’s eyes all the while dodging Guild assassins.

Please consider my science fiction novel, BENT, for consideration. It is complete at 91,000-words. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

At the sentence level, this is well-written. Coming cold into it, though, I had a little trouble keeping up. I do think you made the right move focusing this from Flynn's POV. I kinda liked the original title; Kill Bill, after all, wasn't so much about Bill. Bent kind of lays flat for me. Hopefully others will weigh in. Also, FWIW, the medical experimentation and ferrying and revolvers and Brown Coats (er, the resistance) reminds me a lot of Mal and Firefly and that's the type of story I was thinking of reading this.

Flynn Monroe’s life reads like a rap sheet. Steering clear of Coppers and Guild officers when there isn’t a warrant out for his arrest is easy.

Since the next sentence indicates Flynn is trying to go straight, I think you mean that Flynn finally doesn't have a warrant out for his arrest. However, on first read, it seems like Flynn sometimes has a warrant out on him and sometimes doesn't and you're simply informing the reader it's easier to steer clear when someone's not after him. Which really isn't much of a revelation.

Unfortunately, at a time when he wants to clean up his past, his biggest mistake waltzes back into his life followed by a hail of bullets and shattered glass. When Calliope Druthers left him for dead with a ticking time bomb in his lap five years ago he hoped their first reunion would give him the chance to pump her full of lead.

IMO, that last sentence is a better hook to start with.

Now, as the barrels of his revolvers press into her forehead he balks as she tells of the daughter she’s hidden from him.

The word "tells" really dilutes the impact this sentence could have. I would opt for a more visceral word choice to go with the rest of the tone. Also, I don't think you need the detail that Calliope has hidden the girl since Flynn and Cal haven't connected at all in 5 years.

The girl bears an uncanny resemblance to Flynn and though he can’t be sure that she’s his, Calliope reveals the Guild is after their daughter for medical experimentation.

Using "though" here implies a relationship between Flynn not knowing the kid is his and Calliope letting him know the Guild is after her. I don't think one is really related to the other.

I expect the next sentence to explain why the Guild wants that one particular girl when there are likely orphanages full of kids to choose from. What's special about HER?

Agreeing to get them out of the space station is one thing, ferrying them across the galaxy into the hands of the resistance is another.

I usually like details being dropped in and just letting the context explain them, but the detail of the resistance is one I can't figure out, from there even needing to be a resistance (what are they resisting?) to why Calliope thinks they could be a safe haven.

Flynn must decipher which of Calliope’s tales are false

It sounds like Flynn knows that Calliope is lying about something. Is that the case? From the query, I only get two tales from Cal: the kid is Flynn's and the Guild wants her for some kind of experimentation. From the info here, I can't see how whether she's his child or not matters much since he's already risking his life for her.

and find the secrets hidden behind the four-year-old girl’s eyes all the while dodging Guild assassins.

Please consider my science fiction novel, BENT, for consideration. It is complete at 91,000-words. This is my first novel.

Nix the "my first novel" reference. If you don't mention other works, that's implied. And I think you meant to use "representation" rather than "consideration" above. But since you say "consideration" again below, I would just go with: BENT is a Space Western, complete at 91,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

My Revision

When Calliope Druthers left Flynn Monroe for dead with a ticking time bomb in his lap five years ago, he vowed to pump her full of lead the next time they joined up. Now she's waltzed back into his life amid a hail of bullets and shattered glass and the only thing keeping him from pulling the triggers on the pair of revolvers pressed into her forehead is her wild tale about a daughter he's never met. A daughter with [bene gesserit power so strong] it has the Guild salivating to get hold of her.

And that's a problem because Flynn's been trying to clean up his rap-sheet past, steering clear of Coppers and Guild officers and avoiding any contact with his old friends in the resistance. Even if the girl is his -- and yeah, there is an uncanny resemblance there -- agreeing to get them out of the space station is one thing, ferrying them across the galaxy into the hands of the resistance is quite another.

Besides, Flynn is sure Calliope is lying about something -- she always is -- he just doesn't know what. And with a posse of Guild assassins on their tail, if he can't decipher which of Calliope’s tales this time is false and find the secrets hidden behind the four-year-old’s eyes, [he's going to lose not just his reputation and his freight operation but maybe even the thing he guards the most: his heart].

BENT is a Space Western, complete at 91,000 words. I look forward to sending you the manuscript.

Sincerely,

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Interlude - Little Horses!

While we wait for more queries to come in (just one in the queue for tomorrow -- send more!), here are some gratuitous shots of the horses. The filly and her mom have been united with the other 3 horses now for about 2 weeks. The filly is still pretty small, but now that she has the rest of the herd around her I feel comfortable not leaving her and her mom locked in the barn at night to protect her from coyotes. The older horses may be little, but they're pretty fierce.

Cody (left), Ricky (middle), Bella (mom on right), and Bonita (foal)
 
Bonita at 3 months
 
Inside the barn at suppertime.

There are 3 stalls and a feed/work area in the barn in addition to the common area you see above.
1 stall is large enough for a standard-size horse and the other two are miniature/pony sized.



This shot from the back of the barn is from last year about this time. No snow here yet this year.

Today is my last official day at work. Having been on vacation/holiday for the last 2.5 weeks I can already tell there is not enough time in the day to get everything done even without a job taking up 9 or 10 hours. Must lower my expectations as to how much I'll be getting done around the place and how quickly I'll be getting through that loooong to-do list. Not that I'm complaining! Not by a long shot ...