Monday, September 12, 2011

Face-Lift 951

Guess the Plot

The Travelers

1. Raels travels from Australia to attend college, and meets other travelers. But these travelers become obsessed with her. Two of them just want to get her in the sack, but one of them wants her dead, because she's a danger to all of . . . the Travelers.

2. Some of the gods hang out in heavenly Olympus. Others are Travelers who roam the universe and make occasional visits to our world to cause trouble, get laid, do battle, whatever. This is their story according to a talking Liverpool cat who was formerly Prime Minister of England.

3. Take one map, one car, a girl with no sense of direction, a mysterious hitchhiker and toss out the map. Wherever The Travelers go, trouble and romance follow.

4. When Mark and Mason Colbert, the twin singers who founded the 60's folk group "The Travelers", are found stuffed together in an antique steamer trunk, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: someone took the group's old song "Bound Together" a little too literally; and h
e'll be stuck dealing with aged hippies all weekend.

5. A scrappy band of exiles from planet Zora-nai agree to transport land-dwellers infected with the Red Plague across hostile skies to quarantine in exchange for a full reprieve. But the Plague looks curiously like political dissent, and reprieve looks less and less tempting.

6. Mo, Dixie and their week-old daughter Sunsprout hop a Greyhound from Utica, New York to Seattle, Washington. But when they get off in Billings, Montana to buy diapers, they find themselves mistaken for spies who've come to trade Soviet-era nuclear weapons for gold stolen from Fort Knox.

Original Version

Dear [Agent],

I am seeking representation for my 100,000-word young adult paranormal novel, The Travelers, a story about an Australian girl who discovers a link between two handsome students and ghost stories in her college town.

When 18-year old Raels starts her freshman year at Algonquin University, strange things happen from the moment she steps off the train. A shockingly attractive stranger guides her to her dormitory, then vanishes in mid-air. [Was he/she in midair during the entire trip to the dormitory? Because if someone hovering in midair offered to guide me somewhere, I'd hail a cab.] [There are enough attractive people in the world that I doubt it would be shocking to encounter one.] Dark shapes seem to follow her through the forest when she goes jogging. [I thought this was a list of strange things that happened as soon as she stepped off the train. Why is she jogging through a forest?] The mystery turns sinister [What is the mystery?] one night when she witnesses a woman pushing a man off of Ulysses Tower—but when she peers over the edge, there’s no body below. [He vanished in midair. Happens a lot in this place.] [Isn't it odd for a freshman girl to be on top of a tower at night? That sounds more like a sophomore guy thing.]

Masquerading as PhD students, Zane and Severin are actually members of an elite group of djinn who sojourn in the human world. They call themselves Travelers. Witty, sly, charismatic and cruel, Zane thinks he has seen it all before. Aloof and quietly observant, Severin is Zane’s protégé. [I'd dump these adjective lists and focus on what happens.] But neither knows what to make of Raels, a human who has an aura almost like the djinn. Zane and Severin's friendship is put to the test when they both start pursuing her.

Like _Twilight_ or Becca Fitzpatrick’s_ Hush Hush_, this [book could be a huge moneymaker, possibly for you. It] is a story about
[You already said what it was a story about in the first paragraph. Choose the description you like best and live with it.] an ordinary girl [I don't think a girl with a djinnish aura qualifies as ordinary.] who discovers around her a hidden world of powerful, attractive, and sometimes dangerous creatures. There is a mystery to unravel: who are these beautiful men with pale eyes, and what are their designs on the girl? And there is also an unfolding romance, one which is threatened when an unknown Traveler decides that Raels is a danger to all djinn.

The novel’s fictional college town is based on Princeton University, where I studied [and first encountered Travelers hovering in midair]. [And here I thought it was based on Algonquin College, in Ottawa. This is like saying it's set at fictional Harvard, based on Yale. Sort of.] I currently teach anthropology at a university in Australia and I am the author of an award-winning nonfiction book published by University of Texas Press. Unfortunately, this may not be of much help in marketing the novel [But it will help when they're making the movie trailer: From the producer of The Hangover and the director of Lord of the Rings and the writer of The Archaeology and Anthropology of Aboriginal Society comes . . . ] since the overlap between readers of ethnography and paranormal genre fiction is not huge (if the snickers of my colleagues are anything to go by), [Your colleagues are idiots. Paranormal fans are into vampires, wolfmen, zombies and Bulgarians, four of the leading ethnography . . . things.] but I will shamelessly promote the book amongst the 1000+ students I teach every year [Welcome to Anthropology 101. The three textbooks for this class will be Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, The Human Species: a New Perspective, and The Travelers.] [You claim you teach 1000+ students about Anthropology every year? Maybe fiction is the right fie
ld for you.] with promises of extra credit for anyone who reviews it on [Do they have to read it or just review it?] ["I gave your fucking Travelers five stars on Goodreads! And you give me a C?!! WTF?"]

Thanks for your time and consideration. Enclosed are a short synopsis and the first three chapters. Please let me know if you would like to review the full manuscript.

Sincerely, etc


Once you've set up the situation, you lapse into listiness and vagueness. What's the story? What happens? Who is Raels (really), what danger is she in, what is she gonna do about it, and what happens if she fails? Don't describe the book's aura; tell the story.


Anonymous said...

Having your main character be attractive to beautiful others isn't a major achievement in fiction, so no need to say much about that. Your plot description seems under-developed. I'm expecting the book to lack action while you ramble on about how good looking everyone is.

Eric said...

> "I'm expecting the book to lack action while you ramble on about how good looking everyone is."

Well, the query did say it was like Twilight...

Seriously though. Most editors are already even more aware than you are that your academic publishing history is not relevant to your current project; so there's no point taking a whole paragraph to say so. If you want to mention your previous publishing cred, just say, "My non-fiction book Unfortunately Nothing To Do With Vampires was published in 2009 by University of Texas Press and won an X award," end sentence.

With that paragraph gone, you've got more space to describe the plot, which is what you should be doing in the first place.

If the "mystery" is "who are these beautiful men with pale eyes?" that was already answered in the previous paragraph. Djinn is a good concept, but not a plot. How does the suspense develop as a story in your book? Tell us what happens!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Author, another thing to think about is that this isn't YA. The protag is 18 and the djinn are masquerading as 24-year-olds (4 years undergrad + 2 years masters = Ph.D. student).

One Big 6 imprint was experimenting with "New Adult" titles (ages 18-20 or 22) -- I'm not sure how successful that is/has been. Otherwise, the ages of your characters, if pitched as YA and described in terms of school and other YA conventions, will likely make this an auto reject from editors and agents alike.

So for homework, think about how you would pitch this outside of YA.

150 said...

I'm not sure "And I'm willing to assign grades dishonestly for personal gain!" is something you want to put in a business letter. Even to an agent.

Scarecrow Boat said...

The beginning of the query was beginning to pull me in, but then it did sort of take a nose-dive into chit-chat about snickering colleagues and such. Cutting it all out is going to free up a lot of space to expand on the plot.

Also, I had no idea what a djinn was until I looked it up. Is that dumb of me? Not sure if that's common knowledge or not.

Ryan Mueller said...

This query letter is way too long as it is right now, and it doesn't really tell us anything.

What I'm getting from this:

-There are hot ghosts following Raels (not sure about the name; it might bother a lot of readers to have a main character whose name they don't know how to pronounce).

-Mysterious things are happening, but I'm not quite sure exactly what they are.

-Only Raels seems to notice that anything strange is happening.

I also found the sudden transition to Zane and Severin jarring. Up to that point, the focus of the query is entirely on Raels. Introducing two new characters like this is abrupt.

Here's the general outline of what your query should answer:

-What does Raels want?

At this point, you haven't really given her motivation (I'm sure it's there in the book, but it's not here). Does she want to solve the mystery? Does she want to hook up with the hot ghosts or djinn (or whatever they are)?

-What's keeping her from getting it?

You hint at an unfolding romance and a Traveler who sees her as a threat to all djinn. But this needs to be a little clearer.

-What choice/decision does she face?

Right now, I don't really see anything to answer this question.

-What terrible thing will happen if she makes the wrong choice?

You don't have to answer these questions exactly. Every story is different. But you should provide enough details to give an agent a better idea.

As of now, it seems like everything happens to Raels. What does she do?

The key is finding succinct plot details instead of saying vague things like, "This is a story about..."

vkw said...

My first thought is: Is it ethical to give extra credit in Anthropology for reviewing the professor's book?

I'm not being judgemental but I would strongly encourage you to make sure you get a written letter from your Dean, stating he/she will allow this.

I had a professor who has written two textbooks now in her field of study - two very good books by the way; and her university would not allow her to require students to read her textbooks until she could prove that professors in other universities would use the textbook.

Try selling that to your editor! "Wrote this great textbook covering a narrow field that no one has covered, but before I can require my 56 graduate students to read it my colleagues in VA have to agree to use it in their class - fortunately they like me, I'm sure they do and I am the national expert in this field. . . I'm sure this isn't going to be problem."

As for the query - I'll take a look at it later - right now I'm trying to save your day job.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

EE, when you were a sophomore boy you clearly did not know the right freshman girls.

Author, take it from me, there is nothing more embarrassing than getting five stars from people who gleefully state in the review that they are your students. (And this happens even if you don't ask them to do it.)

I get that the penultimate graf is humorously intended, but it could also come across as flaky (ntm, since people already have, unethical). This is a business letter: Play it straight.

Kings Falcon said...

I'm not sure if the "will force students to review this book for better grades" was meant as humor (like the sniggering collegues) but as you can tell from the comments, it fell flat. Worse, it's a BIG red flag to avoid this story. The last thing any professional wants to do is work with someone of suspect ethics. Again, your ethics might be just fine, but that's not how it comes across. Regardless, you've gotten more comments on the "will review for grades" portion than the rest of the query. Ditch it. It's distracting and may hurt your chances.

Are you sure Raels is your main character? Because she sounds awfully passive in your query and that's not good for a main character. BTW - I keep trying to type "Reals" for "Raels." If she goes by "Rae" just call her Rae.

As Pheonix pointed out, given Rae's age, the story isn't really YA. It needs to stand up against Adult Urban Fantasy.

Query writing is frustrating since you need to be specific but at the same time general enough to convey the information an agent or editor must have when looking at your proposal. You suffer from having the wrong details in this query.

Maybe something like:

Raels didn't expect college to be easy, but she figured physics was the worse thing she'd have to overcome. Unfortunately, she finds out that she's not quite human and her new boyfriend is a Djinn.

Now tell me why people are either trying to seduce or kill her.

BuffySquirrel said...

I like the setup, but what happens? What's at stake?

And don't worry about the minions complaining about character names. They do that to all the Aussies.

batgirl said...

No one made a lame pun about Travelers riding the Raels?

Okay, I guess it's up to me.

batgirl said...

Oh, and one small observation: the Morganville Vampires series is set in a smalltown college, the heroine is a first-year student, and it's marketed as YA.

Bell Curran said...

Hi everyone, author of The Travelers query letter here. Thanks for comments and good advice about focusing query letter on plot rather than set-up and beauty of characters (but srsly isn't that what teen girl readers / adult women romance readers all want to read about? beautiful boys? Eric nailed it with his Twilight comment).

batgirl, totally awesome pun -- I may have to change heroine's name just because of that.

And to everyone, the paragraph about my snickering colleagues (yes they mock me) and me assigning the book to my students (good Lord I would never do that -- I don't even assign my anthropology book to them, never mind an urban fantasy novel!) was just me being silly for this blog. I'd never put that in the query letter I submit. Everything else was in serious -- I swear I'm not trying to waste everyone's time and critical brain activity on a bogus query letter! But clearly the joke fell flat. Sigh.

EE yes I really teach 1000+ students a year. Frightening isn't it? But 700 of them come from one enormous first-year class about drugs.

Thanks for having fun with it and giving me some great feedback! I'll go write some Guess the Plot descriptions for you now.