Thursday, January 17, 2013

Face-Lift 1095



We've already played Guess the Plot with the title, in Synopsis 35 below.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

This is a story of two dozen lovable flower-pickin’, slow-dancin’ thrill-seekers. [Actually, this is a query letter, not a story. Change "this" to "Fairfield."] [Also, I didn't get the idea from the synopsis that they're thrill-seekers.] They’re so friendly you’d hardly know they’re dead. They’re just waiting for the scoundrel who stole their space in the graveyard. [This suggests they're waiting for him to confront him; if they're waiting for him just so he can take them to their resting places, no need to reveal he's a villain at this point.] Meanwhile, the sign on the cemetery gate is clear: Sorry, full up.

It’s far from a zombie story, but a warm sort of mystery. [Save that sentence to open your last paragraph; here, it's interrupting the plot.] Jay Hughes, the protagonist, is mysteriously deeded an abandoned hotel in his old home town. He and his associates open the place and, as they do, they inadvertently free the souls of people Jay knew as a child, people he thought were long ago dead.

But, the Old Ones begin to emerge on the front steps of the dilapidated building, chatting, laughing, complaining. [At least dump the red words. Better yet, dump the sentence. It isn't important information.] As Jay learns who deeded him the building and why, he runs headlong into a web of intrigue, deceit, and possibly murder. [Was there a murder or not? If so, no need to say "possibly," even if Jay doesn't know it yet. An actual murder is a major drawing card if you're calling this a mystery.] And he discovers he's coming back to Fairfield for a reason -- to help the Old Ones find peace. The Old Ones aren't much help. After all, they're dead, and only a few of them are vaguely aware of that. [I'd drop those last two sentences. You want the plot summary to end on something important, not a minor detail.]


Obligatory biography not included here. I see no need to evaluate that unless you really don't believe I am a hit man for the Aldruvian family from the Planet Verdi. [Biography is not obligatory.]


Notes

So, is the scammer still alive, or did this all go down a century ago?

If only a few of the Old Ones are vaguely aware they're dead, why are they waiting for the scammer to come back?


It's possible the fact (as mentioned in your comments on the synopsis) that this is based on something that happened to people you know would be worth mentioning after the summary, assuming you mean they were victims of a burial plot scam. If you mean they came back as ghosts, I wouldn't bring that up.

Normally you want to open with your protagonist. Everyone will assume he's the protagonist, and you won't have to call him the protagonist. I've rearranged your information below. You have room to add another sentence here or there, but it needs to be something that will help spur interest in reading the book, not some trivial fact that doesn't advance the plot.


Jay Hughes is mysteriously deeded an abandoned hotel in his old home town. He and his associates decide to renovate the place, and as they do they encounter people Jay knew as a child, people he thought were long dead.

The "Old Ones" are so friendly you’d hardly know that they are dead. They’re just hanging out, patiently waiting to be taken to their resting places in the graveyard. But the sign on the cemetery gate is clear: Sorry, full up.

The Old Ones were victims of a burial plot scam, and someone doesn't want the truth to come out. As Jay learns who deeded him the building and why, he gets caught in a web of intrigue, deceit, and murder. And he discovers he's come back to Fairfield for a reason -- to help the Old Ones find peace.


Fairfield is a completed _____-word paranormal mystery. I'd be delighted to send pages at your request. Thank you.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

I see that at the end of EE's suggested revision the font suddenly gets smaller. Is that to so the letter will fit on one page? Would it also be OK to make the side margins really narrow?

Evil Editor said...

Fixed, wiseass.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

EE, you're back to revising people's queries for them.

Writer, I implore you not to include a biography. Ever. Imagine getting 100-300 letters a week from people you don't know, all telling you about their hometown, education, marital status, livelihood... you get the picture.

John C. Updike said...

Well, the biography was brief ... probably 30 words ... just said that I am alive, sane and available for more information. I could have left it on and spent less time than I did removing it and adding the dippy comment.

I think these tips are much more helpful than most that I've read about the query process.

When I back-read my work, I can pluck a word from almost any sentence. I spent 40 years as a newspaper writer/copy editor, so the process isn't alien to me.



Dave Fragments said...

This sounds to me like a warm and fuzzy cozy cottage mystery. IF I had to pick an opening sentence from your words, it would be this (somewhat rearranged):
When Jay Hughes tries to open an abandoned hotel that someone mysteriously deeded to him, he inadvertently frees the souls of people he thought were dead.
Then you can go on in my words if you wish:
And indeed they are dead. Cheated by unscrupulous developers when their graves were sold out from under them in the cemetery annex.
You have write a couple sentences about how Jay exposes the villain and give that villain their comeuppance and restores graves to the dead.
Then of course the dead get to "live" happily ever after" in their graves.

It really is a rather cute and appealing idea.

AA said...

I’m a Connecticut native, veterinarian and have spent the past seven years working with executives at two Fortune 100 firms.
I spent twenty years as an Air Force intelligence officer.

I have been involved in historical reenactment and living history displays for almost 30 years, often portraying a painter. I am also a chaplain, a visual artist, a rock climber, and am well read in Greek Mythology.

Belly dancing and its history have been a passion of mine for more than fifteen years.

My previous writing experience has ranged from drafting government propaganda to writing and publishing my own poetry
Although I do not have direct experience with hell, I spent five years in Detroit.

I'm also immersed in the Motocross world more than I care to admit.

ril said...

Imagine getting 100-300 letters a week from people you don't know, all telling you about their hometown, education, marital status, livelihood... you get the picture.

Yeah, sounds just like Facebook!

Dave Fragments said...

Don't take offense but that "bio bit" is too long.

Try this. I think (hope) it says all that you want in the third person. It's 50 or so words and that's all the editors want and need. Unless it's the back flap of a book then you can add a line or two.

AA is a retired military intelligence officer with a passion for historical reenactment, motocross, and Greek Mythology. He enjoys writing fiction and poetry and his writing has appeared in NNNNN and MMMMM. Although he does not have direct experience with hell, he did spend five years in Detroit.

AA said...

Sorry, Dave. That was another of my leaden attempts at humor.

That was culled from several bios I found in the archives. It was in response to Alaska's comment.

Though if I ever need a biographer it will be you.

Dave Fragments said...

Sorry, I missed the {humor} tag. It was night and late and I get that way under warm blankets.

However, when I read the "bio" things people write for anthologies, I get frazzled at the number of words used.

I think that fifty words and 3 or four sentences is the limit for what is required.

When writing a query, I think all an agent needs to know is if you've published before. That's a simple declarative sentence.
My previous published work includes a novel (name) and shorts stories (one or two anthologies).
That's not a biography but it is what, I believe, editors care to hear. I doubt that any part of the world a writer lives in or their hobbies count when selling a novel.
Agents and Editors do want to hear that you have a following of dedicated readers.

A list of short stories or anthology names gets long and is really a bullying tactic. I consider it beating the editor over the head that they can't see the wonderfulness of your writing that other editors see. Ten other anthology editors loved me, why don't you? ...

I work with an editor who sends out a PDF of his last revision so the authors can read their story for typos and mistakes one last time before printing. So we all read the PDF and (of course) find something (wouldn't be human if we didn't) and I've cringed at some bios. I usually don't say anything but that bunch of stuff you put together tweaked my nerves.

Every so often I see the initial emails and cover letters with a short story attached and WOW is that an eye opener.
EE gives some of the best advice I know on queries.
It's advice worth following.

AA said...

"I usually don't say anything but that bunch of stuff you put together tweaked my nerves."

Well, I guess it sort of worked, then. But don't you know by now I wouldn't seriously throw together a mess like that? If you're going to be my biographer, you'll have to have a little more faith.

For starters, you'll need to know I'm not a guy.

Dave Fragments said...

For starters, you'll need to know I'm not a guy.

ooops. Sorry about that.
I'm not sure I had a mental image of who you are in terms of gender. No offense meant.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

(AA, I had deduced that based on how few guys call themselves Ann.

There was a King Anna of East Anglia of course. But that was back in the day.)

I can remember just one time that I included biographical info in a query-- I knew the agent had gone to the same college as me and I thought that that info might garner a request.

He indeed requested, then he told me my writing wasn't good enough for publication. This was a godsend, no snark intended, because it set me to seriously studying craft and my next novel sold. I think if he hadn't felt the alumni obligation he might not've bothered with the personalized rejection. After all odds of someone taking such a criticism badly are pretty high.

So, bio-wise: List a few credentials if reasonably impressive, eg publication you've been paid for, workshops that are respected, contests that aren't connected to vanity publishers. If you have great credentials don't include the so-so ones. If you have poor credentials leave them out.

You could on rare occasion include something that gives you a connection to the agent, but only if it's an unusual connection and if it's public knowledge, ie no creepy stalker stuff.

Otherwise, say nothing. Not even the old favorite "this is my first novel".

AA said...

None taken. AA could mean anything. (It's Abby, not Ann- where'd that come from?) I'm just too lazy to fill in a profile.

More to the point-
"This is my first novel" means- "There's no proof anywhere that I can write a decent novel."

"My last book was published by [vanity press]" means- "It was so bad I had to pay somebody to have it published."

"I had some poetry published in my Community College's yearly anthology" means- "They had ten more pages to fill before the deadline."

"I won [very minor prize no one has heard of]" means- "I fell for an internet scammer who was trying to flatter me into buying editorial services."

And "I am a stay-at-home mom with four children" means- "Help! Get me out of here!"

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Dear Abby,

I had assumed you were the Ann A. who graced us with an opening below.

That's the trouble with my assumptions. They make an Ann out of you and me.

AA said...

How generous of you to think I was the one who actually sent something in! (Did I mention I'm lazy?)

Now I wonder who Ann is...

Dave Fragments said...

Abby,
Those "more to the point" lines made me chuckle when I needed a chuckle. I think we all know in those cases the best line in place of those is the formal:
"Sincerely yours,"

John C. Updike said...

I had thought about including a sentence, claiming that if "you really like this story, I have several others that you might want to take a look at.

"As well, I have a lot of ideas for a trilogy, a series that can be made into TV movies and ... did I mention the poetry I did when I was on LSD?"

All the same, a sentence or two saying who I am is useful. I doubt anybody cares if I hit .595 for the last slow pitch team I played with, unless it's non-fiction ... which means I'm up there with Calico Joe.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Updike,

Yeah, I wouldn't mention the trunk stories. Agents are well aware that the average debut author has 3.5 novels in his/her desk drawer... and that they should stay there.

(Heck, I've got 3.5 novels in there that I wrote after I started selling. At least 2.5 of 'em will stay there forever. One may be worthy of a hefty rewrite.)

I'm not sure why saying who you are would be useful, unless you're one of the Kardashians and/or Justin Beiber. From an agent's point of view, all that matters is you've written a story, and is it any good or not?

Btw, have you considered using your initials when querying, ie J.C. Updike? My initial reaction was to think you were putting on literary airs with your monicker, and agents might make the same mistake.

Abby,

I dunno, but IIRC she wrote pretty well.

John C. Updike said...

Well, the fact is ... that's my name. The other fact is, I have no reason to fool anybody. That's why I include a 30-word bio -- that includes that explanation -- I use a pseudo.

I can call myself anything, I reckon. My cat is named Al, so there's that, I suppose.

I am sure I could come up with some other pizazzy names that would more likely draw their attention. It's not the Hokey Pokey to me, my name.

I entered this little den to improve my query and synopsis skills and so far, that's worked. Identifying potential agents is my next adventure and seeing if what I have is marketable. I get the sense that Rogers isn't going to work with me.

Honestly, I would like an assessment from somebody who actually read the book, not the 240 words I blunder through to describe it.

Yeah, I know that conversation too.



Evil Editor said...

The Hannah Rogers Literary Agency is a parody of actual agent sites. Look elsewhere.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...


Evil Editor said...
The Hannah Rogers Literary Agency is a parody of actual agent sites.


But at least she admits she's a fake, which is more than can be said for some agencies.

John C. Updike said...
Honestly, I would like an assessment from somebody who actually read the book, not the 240 words I blunder through to describe it.


Ways you can get that: join a workshop or critique group, or else pay someone. Various authors and freelance editors seem to charge about .01 a word for this service. (I looked into the cost once because I was thinking of farming myself out, at a time when I wasn't selling well. Wd not consider it now.)

Unfortunately your chances of getting such an assessment for free from an agent are slim, unless she

1. requests a full
2. rejects it but
3. is kind enough to tell you why

Few agents do #3 anymore because they get angry responses.

Mister Furkles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Fragments said...

The first step is to get the query in order and EE's given you a good chance at that. After that, find an agent that will market the story.

It's a long and rather dreadful process but you wrote the novel and that in itself is an accomplishment.

Expect rejection, soul-sucking, satanic rejection. I won't sugar coat that. But don't give up. I've had the same short story trashed by one editor and praised and accepted by another. It's that quirky.

I can't judge a novel the way you require otherwise I would offer to read it.

And agents and editors only care that you sign the contract with your real name. If you use a pseudonym just say so... "Jean Valjean writing as Sally Dingle" is all you need. (well not those names, but you get the idea)

and one last time -- don't lose faith in your work.