Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Face-Lift 313

Guess the Plot

The Reign of Seoul

1. Seoul has just become leader of his people, a race of warriors. Will he survive his first night? Will his reign last through the coming world war? Or will he be a non-factor in the exciting sequel?

2. Three generations of Korean women hand-wrap dumplings as an extended metaphor for life's journey; i.e., it's monotonous, never-ending, and you could have just bought them frozen at the store.

3. Kim Lee's Al Green tribute band rules the Seoul underground, but it's his day job as a gangpeh that really pays the bills. When a major label promises to make him an international superstar, can Kim escape the dark half of his life?

4. Jody travels to Seoul for the 2006 World Cup and encounters an intergalactic plot to mutate the fans into flesh-eating half-dead slaves of the Gorgulls. At least it's not as frightening as a football match in Manchester.

5. Celebrity Nawlins chef Jackie Dupres drops étouffée, gumbo, and jambalaya from the menu and switches to all kimchee. Soon they're drinking the fermented chili-coated veggies in Peoria.

6. Captivated by both the Korean Wave and American music, Japanese tour guide Yuki gets two wishes: to move to Korea and to sing like Aretha Franklin.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

Is all fair in Love and War? The Reign of Seoul dedicates itself to testing the traditional cliché. [Books test clichés. People dedicate themselves to writing books that test clichés.] In a setting not much different from Earth, this story centers on a world war. As opposed to the standard good versus evil, it is the reader that [Use "who" for people, "that" for things.] must choose their heroes and foes. [villains.]

This story follows Seoul, a main character that [who] holds [embodies] as many dishonorable qualities as he does honorable ones. Seoul is the Lord of the Nrye, [Is that pronounced Niryay or enrye or Nurry or . . . There's a reason no word starts with nr.] a race of man with incredible skill in combat. On his first day as leader of his people, Seoul awakes to an unwelcome intruder in his quarters. Using every bit of his will to not give in to his instincts and kill the intruder, [George W. Bush was confronted by an intruder in the White House on his first day as president. He trusted his instincts and killed the guy. Turned out to be a scout troop leader touring the building and looking for a restroom. They covered it up, but it's a true story--my cousin was the first secret service agent on the scene. (My cousin's first words when he saw the president standing over the body: "Not again!")] he lets the strange man defend his existence. ["I think, therefore I am."] After hearing the man out, Seoul finds himself investigating the credibility to [of] the man's claim that a war is upon them. What he will soon find out is that he is being used as a pawn in a far greater plot to destroy an empire, [This is sounding more and more like the George Bush story.] and Seoul will spend the rest of his life in regret for not trusting his instinct that fateful night.

The first of two books chronicling this epic war only displays the struggles and conflicts of the Nrye. [The "only" belongs with "of the Nrye," not with "displays."] The second book covers the story from the opposing side's perspective. [If I knew the name of the opposing side, I could insert a lame Letters from Iwo Jima joke here.] In order to decipher [distinguish] the truths from the lies and choose which side of the battle [bloodthirsty army] captures their heart readers would need to read both books in their entirety. [In other words, the agent must sell both books for you.]

The Reign of Seoul is a fantasy genre novel consisting of approximately 135,000 words. [So I have to read 270,000 words just to find out who the good guys are?] Since Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, and Eragon have spurred interest in the fantasy genre, this novel will fit right in with a large demographic of readers. [That could be said of any fantasy novel. What you're really saying is, If you've decided to send me a rejection slip, think again--do you want to be known as the agent who turned down the next Harry Potter?] While its mature content may separate it from a younger audience, the book's meshing of love, war, loyalty and betrayal should reach a large reader base. [It's too late to try to talk the agent into anything; you lost her at The Reign of Seoul.]

Thanks for your time.


I usually leave the nitpicking to my Minions, but this many minor problems add up to a major problem. Anyone reading this would worry that the book is as riddled with errors as the letter.

The book is dedicated to testing whether all's fair in love and war, yet there's no mention of love in the query, and the war hasn't even started yet when your plot description ends. Who's in love with whom, and who's at war with the Nrye?

The only specific information we get about the plot is that there's an intruder in Seoul's room. That could take place on page 1. What happens in the rest of the book?

I don't like the title. Seoul is a place. Readers are going to expect the book to be set in Korea, not on Terra IV in the Andromeda galaxy.

Why go to the trouble of creating a new world as the setting if the world isn't much different from Earth? If it were Earth, you wouldn't have to come up with names like Nrye.


Anonymous said...

The thought of reading a quarter million words like this is too daunting. No one will try.

What to do? Pretend someone told you she would read it if you cut the length to half and fit the whole story in a single volume. Work yourself into a c'est-la-stinkin'-vie attitude and start ruthless pruning. If that's hard, try repeating this mantra about a thousand times: simple declarative sentences. Start looking at long long sentences and multisyllabic Latinesque words with contempt, not adoration. Use the grammar checker. If it suggests something you're foggy about, either revise the sentence until it passes the test, delete that whole scene, or go review the relevant rule in your grammar book.

whitemouse said...

I would suggest you look at other query letters on EE's site and study how they're done. One thing you should avoid is saying anything like "My book is about..." or "The story [does something]" Usually you just launch into the plot, as in "One night, supernatural warrior Seoul wakes up to find..."

When you're thinking about what specific plot details to include, remember to outline the main conflict: the (anti-)hero's goal, his obstacle, what the stakes are and what action the hero takes to try to overcome his obstacle.

Also, you might want to clarify what makes this book a fantasy. It sounds more like science fiction, based on the query.

It also doesn't sound anything like LotR, Harry Potter or Eragon. If you're going to compare your book to others, choose ones that actually are like your book. Choosing big-money bestsellers puts you at risk of sounding either arrogant, poorly read or clueless.

One last thing - if you've never been published before, you're going to have trouble selling a fantasy that's 135,000 words long. That's just a bit too big. You're really going to have trouble selling it if isn't a stand-alone novel (i.e. if the reader has to read a second book to figure out what happens.) Anon #1's advice is sound: consider editing the books down to one book of about 100,000 words.

Janet said...

With all due respect, EE, you've indulged in a bit of hyper-correction. "That" as a relative pronoun can legitimately used to refer to people. "Which" can only be used to refer to things. "Who" is often stylistically superior to "that" but that's a different issue.

There are enough rules in the English language without inventing extras.

Other than that, I agree with every word you said. :D

Rei said...

One last thing - if you've never been published before, you're going to have trouble selling a fantasy that's 135,000 words long. That's just a bit too big.

That is the only comment I've read so far that I disagree with (sorry, author, but I think you have an awful lot of work ahead of you -- and not just concerning your query). SF/F readers expect long books. I've seen SF/F houses that won't publish *less* than 100k words. Yes, 100k is probably a safe target for a new author, but in SF/F, it's hardly the only number of words one can go for. 100k in SF/F is like 70k in most other genres. As an example, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (the first HP book I found a word count for) is over 250k -- and that's young adult. I've seen the the term "BFF" ("Big, Fat Fantasy") used before for works like this. And there are plenty of BFFs from first-time authors.

I have been left with the impression that the market is bigger for shorter (80-120k) fantasy, but BFF is easier to sell than short fantasy. Of course, all fantasy is hard to sell to begin with. Everyone wants to write it, but SF/F is only like, what, 6% of the market these days? Fantasy gets something like 2/3rds of that 6%.

The numbers make me wish I was a romance writer instead of SF ;)

Evil Editor said...

"That" as a relative pronoun can legitimately used to refer to people. "Which" can only be used to refer to things. "Who" is often stylistically superior to "that" but that's a different issue.

Thank you for clarifying. A brief Google session shows the BBC's "Learning English" site claiming that "That," when it refers to people, denotes an informal style of English. (Which probably would not describe this business letter to an agent.)

Wikipedia claims "that" is commonly used for people in restrictive clauses, but not in nonrestrictive clauses.

You're always safe with "who," but if you understand when they're interchangeable, I'll let you off the hook for "that."

BuffySquirrel said...

Fantasy novels definitely can run longer than 100k, although the case of Rowling's epic snoozefest is a bit different from a first novel by a relative unknown.

I've been reading some of the first novels from 2006 recommended by Locus, and altho' I don't know exactly how long The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Blade Itself are, they're substantially over 100k.

Anonymous said...

What does it matter how long volumes of Harry Potter are? This ain't one of them. Your first book-in-two volumes can only be a quarter million words if they're all well chosen words in crucial scenes, adding up to a gripping plot. If many of them are awkward or pointless, or wandering around in search of a plot, serious editing is required and will surely result in a shorter manuscript.

blogless_troll said...

Yeah, you need to be careful using titles and names that have numerous connotations. I kept waiting for the one true king (Jay Aimes the Brown) to show up and unleash his secret weapon: Ye Olde Sexxe Machyne

pacatrue said...

Gyt upp, blog'less, gyt own upp.

dog spare us said...

The thought of reading a quarter million words like this is too daunting.

The thought of reading 1000 words like this is too daunting.

Robin S. said...

”...he lets the strange man defend his existence. ["I think, therefore I am."] - Maybe I took one too many courses in philosophy, but I thought this was so funny.

Also loved GTP #2, probably for the same reason.

Author, this may well be a case of the crap query not showing what you have to offer in your writing.
I'm not being harsh - I’m right there with you, as are many, many others.

Don't be offended by the comments - use them to rethink how you're approaching the query.

I think it might be better to leave best-selling fantasy books/series out of your query. If you're sending this to agents who handle your genre, they already know what sells and doesn't sell in their area of expertise, right?

Often, agency websites post examples of the query letters formatted in the way they appreciate receiving them. This might help as well.

And the title is a nice play on words, but maybe it doesn't work well for your book, not in the way you had originally envisioned. I think Seoul is gonna take just about anybody immediately to a mental map of Korea. This isn't good or bad, just the way it probably is. In my opinion (and remember, I may well have no idea what I'm talking about, as I have yet to write a query that doesn't suck), your main character might be "happier" with a different name, or, at least, a different spelling for his name.

Good luck to you.

ello said...

So is Seoul Korean? If not, why would you name your title character Seoul? Reign of Seoul made me think it was a historical novel. Are you stuck on the title and the name? I really think it is going to be problematic for you as it is very misleading.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an agent or editor, but if I were, I'd drop this like The Hot Potato of Illiteracy. For example, "...it is *the reader* that must choose *their* heroes and foes."

Maybe you're a good storyteller. Maybe there are agents and editors that don't mind a poor grasp of English, figuring any $15.00 an hour English major can fix it. Judging by the query and word count, that's going to take a lot of red ink.

Pay attention in your English classes, and attend to the literature (not junk) you read. After a few years it will start to sink in.

pacatrue said...

Anonymous 10:49 happened to mention the use of the pronoun "their" to refer to "the reader", which is seemingly a grammatical violation in which a plural pronoun is referring to a singular noun.

Actually, the use of "their" is becoming increasingly common as a non-gender-specific singular pronoun. It's used all over the place in exactly the manner the author uses it here. The problem is of course that some readers don't acknowledge this usage yet, as anonymous is indicating. Personally, I find it extremely useful myself, as nothing else quite does the job. I remember writing things in old papers using "his/her" and "s/he" and other annoying things. I'll take a singular "they" any day to avoid "s/he". All that said, since some editors will object to the new usage, my best idea is to be certain that everything else is completely perfect, and then it will be clear you are making a choice to use "they" this way, and not just unable to write grammatically.

Anonymous said...

Another solution to the situation pacatrue discusses is just to make as much plural as possible, so that "readers choose their heroes."

Or, drop the sentence altogether, since it doesn't do anything for you in any case.

Anonymous said...

Quite right, Pacatrue and Anonymous 12:38. The singular-plural mismatch wouldn't grate so badly if it were dialogue, or in very informal writing. When you're trying to show what a good writer you are, it's a bad thing.

Yep, sometimes the plural construction is the best way out.

I kind of wish that "co" pronoun had taken root in the language. Oh, well.

anon. 10:49