Friday, April 19, 2013

Face-Lift 1119

Guess the Plot

Kiss the Girls, Then They Die

1. Ralph's curse is really putting a cramp in his love life, until he travels to Hollywood and meets sultry prostitute Vivian Ward. Viv has a policy to never kiss her johns, so Ralph's all good.

2. Lucian's first bride died at the altar. His second bride, on their wedding bed. Does three times make the charm, or will Lucian bury yet another unwitting maiden? Also, an impatient grandma-to-be.

3. The "Lipstick Killer" is on the loose, so called because he kisses his beautiful victims and smears their lipstick before strangling them, but efforts to capture him are hindered because the sheriff hates the police chief.

4. Bill, former Navy SEAL, starts at the police academy. He dates Janet. She’s found strangled. He dates Bridget and she too is murdered. Bill, suspended from the academy, is a person of interest. Can he find the real serial killer before detectives nail him for the murders?

5. Four socialites have turned up dead in the Hollywood hills. The only clue? Ricin-laced chapstick smears on their pale lips. It's up to DJ Shazam to step in and solve this thriller set in the LA club scene.

6. The Frog Prince is human. Unfortunately, his saliva is toxic. Now who will marry him? Princesses vying for the position are summoned for a tournament to decide.

7. Basil Letchworth is an asymptomatic carrier of a previously unknown deadly disease that's spread orally. But he's not going to let that slow him down in his search for Ms. Right.

Original Version

What do you see when looking into the mind of a killer? What drives a man to murder beautiful women? I wrote this novel because "Kiss the girls, then they die" answers these questionsby [2 words.] the unknown killer. [Not clear if you mean the killer answers them or asks them. Or are you saying you answer them through the killer?] "I got another one tonight baby," he said softly to the photograph in the cheap imitation leather frame. "That makes three, listen! [Capitalize "listen."] do [Capitalize "do"] you hear the sirens? Do you hear them screaming?" It seemed to him that the girl in the picture was smiling, [End of sentence.] then his lips trembled a little, [and] he bent his head down and kissed the pretty timted [tinted.] mouth." [We're in trouble, and not just because I'm worried this is autobiographical and that I need to report it to the authorities. Most people to whom you might send this won't want an excerpt from the book, and those who don't mind an excerpt, upon noting that the excerpt you chose is riddled with errors, will give up at this point.]

This novel is about misguided revenge on society, [End of sentence.] it is set in the fictional city of Tillman in Tillman County, Illinois; that [It] pits a small city police cheif [chief] against a killer and the Sheriff who hates the cheif [chief]. The novel is approximately 90,000 words and will fit into any crime drama line.

I have published 7 articles (they are attached) they were published one in The Journal of the United States Stamp Society, twice in The Poster (A local post stamp journal), one in the Journal of the German Philatelic Society and the Journal of the American Philatelic Society and one in the Gulf Coast Community College school newspaper. [These credits aren't helpful unless you write The Postage Stamp Murders, set at a stamp collecting convention.]

Enclosed are the articles, [Unnecessary, even if they were relevant.] a synopsis and 3 chapters. thank you for reading my query and material, and I look foward to your reply.

Dear Evil Editor,

When my book is finally finished have 2 more chapters to type I am thinking of changing the title which do you feel would work:

1) Kiss the girls and then they die
2) The lipstick killer (cause the killer kisses and smears the lipstick)
3) The tillman strangler
4) A kiss before strangling (cause he strangles the kisses)

I want to make a title that will sound good so please let me know if any of the four work, you can even wait till you ripped my query


First, the title, since you asked. Number 1, being a play on Georgie Porgie, should be Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. There've been a couple movies by that name, and of course there's the book/movie about serial killers titled Kiss the Girls. Number 2 is okay, but there was a real serial killer called The Lipstick Killer, so people might think the book is nonfiction. Maybe The Lipstick Murders is catchier, anyway. Number 3: Most serial stranglers are named after the site of their crimes, though using a real city instead of Tillman might be better. Number 4 will remind people of the book/movie A Kiss Before Dying. (Not that filmmakers and publishers don't play off of popular titles all the time.) I'd go with The Lipstick Murders. In any case, the title should be the least of your worries. Only when the book is in bookstores will the title matter, and if the publisher thinks your title sucks, they'll give it a better one.

The query and excerpt have many run-on sentences and misspelled or misused words. While the editor of Stamp Collector Quarterly may be willing to fix a short article, no editor wants to doctor a complete novel filled with errors. They will assume (correctly) that the novel is as filled with errors as the query.

You need to educate yourself on conventions of grammar, punctuation, etc. Then get your book as perfect as you can. Then read a lot of the query critiques on this blog. Then write a query letter that summarizes the story in one page and convinces the reader that your book will sell better than the hundreds of other books that were offered to her this month.


Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author!
It's always great to be thinking ahead, planning how to query a project, etc., but this query seems way too early, not only because the book isn't finished.

Do you have a critique group? People who can read this manuscript and help with the mechanics of writing? As competitive as the market is, it is critical to have a grammatically-correct manuscript. Your story, while it may be excellent, will languish because the work required to revise it is greater than agents/editors want to invest.

Imagine, they get thousands of submissions annually. If even half are excellent stories written excellently and they can sell maybe 1-2% of those, it's not feasible to take on a problem child manuscript that needs a ton of work. Your manuscript needs to be complete and polished before you submit it anywhere.

As for this query, it is wholly inadequate at describing the story in a way that would successfully hook an agent/editor. The spelling and grammar errors are staggering and that's a shame because it immediately kills your chances. Honestly, I think EE was kind saying it would get read down to the end of the first paragraph.

When you finish the novel, and revise it with a critique group, go back to the beginning with the query. Don't include an excerpt in the query. Introduce the character, his/her motivations, desires, goals. Tell us how these dreams are dashed, and how that changes the character in the end.

Right now, we can't tell anything more than it's about a serial killer and two law enforcement characters can't play nice in the crime box. There has to be more to tell.

As a side note, some agents might get prickly about being stalked on twitter. I'd tread lightly there.

CavalierdeNuit said...

From a fellow author (unpublished) whose query just got critiqued please let me advise you to finish your manuscript first. It takes time! Your book sounds intriguing but people won't take you seriously unless you finish it before telling them about it.

My progress so far:

As of Feb 2012 began story. Four months later 131k words (my goal).

Cut it to 125k words. Composed query/synopsis. Rejections.

Cut it to 118k words. Rewrote query/synopsis. Rejections.

Completely rewrote it. Finished at 80k words. Really honed my query/synopsis. Waited a week. Visited it again. Query sounded good to me. Queried it. Rejections.

Discovered EE and the dearth of queries in the queue. Jumped on the opportunity. Got an amazing critique, and priceless feedback. Back to square one with query. Am again editing my manuscript based on the prose feedback.

Taking all advice and applying it to my query, synopsis, and manuscript.

It's tough. But you really need to have a complete manuscript typed and printed. Don't even start querying until you have a physical copy.

The best part of this is I have found so many great books to read while querying agents. People in this business are really nice, although rejections are no fun. But if you are getting rejections it's for a reason, it's never personal. Enjoy the journey, don't stress.

douglas sandler said...

great advise I have not sent out any query yet was just sounding out I will complete the novel first I have one chapter to go. I will wait on query till I make sure the novel is finished.

Several books mentioned including a blub from the book, I will throw them out and use this site. That query was just a experiment and I just wanted to see if I could do one before the novel was completed, I realize you can't.

I will change the title to the lipstick murders and if the publisher wants to change it ok. Thanks for the comments keep them coming.

PS where did the stalking on twitter come from?

150 said...

EE nailed it, I've got nothing to add.

There's a 1935 mystery called A Most Immoral Murder that deals with stamp collecting. It's got a fun protagonist. You might be interested.

Whirlochre said...

There's lots of info here — but no query.

Your synopsis is quickly overtaken by quotations and (not necessarily relevant) personal info.

So pare back the non-essentials and fill in with more detail.

As Veronica says, right now all we have is "serial killer and two law enforcement characters can't play nice in the crime box".

Also, beware bizarre phraseology. Most revenges against society are misguided.

Especially mine.

khazar-khum said...

Your philatological experience could really come into play here. Perhaps the killer leaves or sends letters. If your protagonist is also a collector, he might pick up on clues that would otherwise be missed.

Are the Sheriff & police chief former lovers or friends, who must work with someone they've come to despise? Rivals from different schools? Sports rivals who vied for the same girls--some of who are now winding up dead?

Right now I know you have written about stamps, but nothing about what's in your novel.

Veronica Rundell said...

There were two tweets from you to EE regarding the query critique which have since been deleted.

They showed up in the Twitter feed, and it struck me that such communication, from an unknown author, might seem overly aggressive. Most agents list emails and calls as being intrusive and reasons to reject; I can imagine they may have the same feeling regarding tweets.

Unlike what happens via phone and email, happenings on Twitter are extremely public. EE has a few hundred followers who all witnessed the exchange. Many agents have thousands of followers, many of whom are agent and editors.

I only wanted to caution you.

Dave Fragments said...

There's a movie from 1966 - Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die.
An Episode of LAw And Order: Kiss the GIrls and Make Them Die (1990)
A TV Movie from 1979 - Kiss the GIrls and Make Them Cry.
A song by the Social Experiment - Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry

Kiss the GIrls, a novel by James Patterson
Kiss The GIrls - a movie adaptation of that novel 1997

And Geogie Porgie Pudding and Pie ...

It's a TROPE on its own in TV TROPES website.

They all deal with the mind of a killer. So you are (to use a water metaphor like Patterson does) paddling upstream against the perception that this is derivative.

You need to make it stand out from everything else. Remember also that Dexter (our favorite serial killer) is ending with his eight or ninth year. Also remember that psychotic lady killers are plentiful in entertainment.
So you need to stand out as unique.

BuffySquirrel said...

Sending someone a couple of tweets isn't stalking. Stalking is persistent and often criminal intrusive and controlling behaviour that devastates lives and shouldn't be trivialised down to 'contacting people in ways they've made themselves available to be contacted' or 'reading information people have chosen to make publicly available'. Fer crying out loud.

Nothing in this query convinces me that the author knows what drives a man to murder beautiful women. Or any women.

Author said...

Revised Version:

Dear Evil Editor,

What do you see when looking into the mind of a killer? What drives a man to murder beautiful women? These questions are answered slowly by the killer and through evidence which reveals the motives for the killings. This novel "The Lipstick Murders"; It is about a man who believes his girlfriend was killed by a Tillman cop, and after being released from prison he desires revenge. He targets women, who date Tillman cops while the sheriff who is a political hack, and the Chief who has years of law enforcement experience, hate each other and each wants the glory. The sheriff figures out a way to get the glory by declaring a state of emergency on the date of the upcoming murder behind the Chiefs back since he is the ranking law officer under the declaration. The Chief, Lt. Samuels and Sgt. Younger figure out that either Tommy Davis or Bob Green took and put in substitutions of the pictures of the Jenny Miller murder which started this spree of killings, because the pictures had photographs in the background that his (the killers) name on them. They move the squads around trying to catch the killer who has his last victim. The killer is either Tommy Davis or Bob Green who are in the fleeing car and one of them dies and the fate of the last victim well, you must read the novel.

The novel is 50,815 words and is set in the fictional 1950s City and County of Tillman, Illinois. The novel will fit into crime drama or crime fiction. Enclosed is my synopsis and first three chapters and a SASE for your reply. I thank you for reading and considering my novel, I look forward to your reply.


AA said...

'This novel "The Lipstick Murders"; It is about a man who believes his girlfriend was killed by a Tillman cop, and after being released from prison he desires revenge.'
Write this: 'This novel, "The Lipstick Murders", is about a man who..."
You say "Tillman cop" like it's already a thing, but then don't mention Tillman, Illinois until later. Since we don't know what a "Tillman cop" is yet, you could just put "cop".
It's nice that you reassure the reader that there is a motivation for the murder, since the story wouldn't make sense without one, but it's best to just briefly outline what that motivation is. That's because the agent will want to judge whether or not the motivation seems strong enough, and believable. Let the agent judge for him/herself. Personally, if the killer wants revenge, I don't see why he isn't targeting the cops themselves, but maybe they're too heavily armed.
Some agents don't like queries that start with rhetorical questions. It's considered better to start with a "hook" line. This is a statement that catches an agent's attention right away.
"Younger figure out that either Tommy Davis or Bob Green took and put in substitutions of the pictures of the Jenny Miller murder which started this spree of killings, because the pictures had photographs in the background that his (the killers) name on them."
This is an ungrammatical sentence that needs to be unraveled. I suggest splitting it into two sentences.
You mention that the killer is either Tommy Davis or Bob Green twice.
You don't need your exact word count. Round up or down. You could say 51,000.
Of course you don't want to enclose pages or a synopsis if it hasn't been requested. Only if the agent's website requests that these be sent with the query.

BuffySquirrel said...

If the novel is as incoherent as the query, then a lot more work needs to be done on the novel before querying it.

Alice said...

Hi author!

The revisions have improved this query, but it still feels too disorganised. Who is the main character, the murderer, the sheriff or the police chief? Characters are what make me want to read a novel--story is, of course, essential, but a good character more so. So who am I meant to be rooting for? The law or the wronged lover? If this is in third person and we see all three men's stories, then give us some information so we get to know them a little better. Give them names, not labels, so we see them as real people, not just characters.

Q: Why do the chief and the sheriff hate each other?

Also, if the killer believes his girlfriend was killed by a cop, why not target the cops themselves? Why would he want to kill women who have dated those cops? It doesn't feel real, and if you're showing us the killer's story, it's essential that we feel some sympathy, or at least understanding towards him. Right now his motivation feels forced.

You mention the Jenny Miller murder as having started the killing spree, so I'm thinking you would get a more coherent feel of the story if you started from there. 'When the corpse of twenty-something secretary Jenny Miller turns up at the bottom of a ditch, Police Chief _______ is baffled over the apparent lack of motive...' Then introduce why this case becomes important, and how matters are complicated between the two law officials. The first four sentences do little to enhance the query; cut them out and start where the action begins.

Komal J Verma said...

These questions are answered slowly by the killer and through evidence which reveals the motives for the killings.
This statement doesn’t really add anything, so I would remove it, especially since it kind of kills the pacing before you’ve begun. The use of the word 'slowly' doesn't help either.

Also second paragraph try: "The Lipstick Murders"; is about a man who believes his girlfriend was killed by a Tillman cop, and after being released from prison, he desires revenge.

...since he is the ranking law officer under the declaration. Again, unnecessary detail – if he goes behind his back we assume there’s defiance in what he’s doing and he’s done it without proper authority.

The Chief, Lt. Samuels and Sgt. Younger figure out that either Tommy Davis or Bob Green took and put in substitutions of the pictures of the Jenny Miller murder which started this spree of killings, because the pictures had photographs in the background that his (the killers) name on them. They move the squads around trying to catch the killer who has his last victim. The killer is either Tommy Davis or Bob Green who are in the fleeing car and one of them dies and the fate of the last victim well, you must read the novel.
I’m afraid this is terribly confusing. I have no idea who Tommy or Bob are. Also ‘had photographs in the background that his (the killers) name on them’ seems to be missing a word or just is written awkwardly. You need to break your sentence up and make them clearer. Also, it’s a query letter so you need to specify and reveal what the ending does for the character. I get no sense of the character, other than the need for revenge. Does the end resolve or illuminate anything about him? I’m not getting why I should read this novel.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Douglas, queries are often sent to, and read by, fairly sarcastic people.

What drives a man to murder beautiful women?

"I mean, I could understand murdering ugly women, sure, any man might do that, but beautiful ones? What gives?" how they're likely to react.

Finish writing the novel before you try the query again. Then set it aside for a few weeks. Stephen King recommends six weeks.

Look at it again with fresh eyes. Rewrite. Join a critique group, as someone else suggested. Other writers will read your work. You'll read theirs. You'll discuss what does and doesn't work in effective storytelling.

Take a class. Take several classes. Study sentence fluency and word choice. Think about audience. Writing is a craft, and it can be learned.

There's a saying that you have to write a million words before you're ready for the professional market.

I know it sounds like a lot of work, but... yes.

Veronica Rundell said...

You need to clarify who the main character is right now. Is it the killer, the chiffon or the sheriff? Is this story told from all three points of view, one or two. Figure that out immediately so you can refocus this query in terms that can be logically understood.

Here is what I've gathered from your two attempts: the killer tells part of the story. Another part must be told from at least one of the law personnel's point of view. The killer wants revenge on a cop, but he doesn't know which man to punish, so he's decided to kill any gal any of the cops may have dated. It is set in rural Illinois in the fifties.

Here is how you might want to consider structuring the revision (I am using the name Joe Killer for, um, the killer's name out of convenience)

Chief Wigham knows he's hunting a madman when his deputies find the third body. Long nights and fruitless patrols have turned up nothing but more strangled angels with smeared lipstick, snuffed out in tiny Tillman. With a fourth girl missing, Wigham hits the backroads endeavoring to recover her while glory-hound Sheriff Coltrane rides his ass like a saddle.

The parole board released Joe Killer, but they can't tell the difference between 'rehabilitated' and 'resolved'. One of those Tillman pigs killed Sheila, and Joe's about to make a reckoning.

THE LIPSTICK MURDERS (complete at 50,000 words) is crime fiction set in 1950's rural Illinois. With alternating viewpoints of Killer and Wigham, the story follows Joe's vengeance-spree targeting the love interests of Tillman's law officers. When Wigham's daughter is snatched from the high school football rally, the boundary between peace officer and vigilante becomes irrevocably blurred.

Enclosed are (page count of specific agent). Thank you for your time.

I know it's mostly set-up, but the framework must be filled in by YOU! I'm winging it, whereas you WROTE it. And, I want to second myself, and Alaska, And Cav, here: get readers for your work. NOW. People who understand grammar and syntax and spelling, because your two attempts were not well-written and it is highly likely that the novel needs an overhaul.

Best of luck.

Kelsey said...

Hey author,
At this point your writing career, you might do better to focus on the things Alaska mentions--the skills that will help you write a great query but will also help you write better period.

Print off a copy of the query as it is now, date it, and set it aside. Then spend time dedicated to the craft of writing -- exercises, critique groups, classes etc. Read through the archives and write down specific things that are mentioned repeatedly that are good to do in a query, and things that are bad. This will help you internalize them.

Then, once some significant time has passed, pull out this query and see if the problems mentioned by other minions here don't jump out at you immediately. If they do, you'll know right away you've improved.

I find it useful to look back over my older work to see both what kind of critiques I'm still getting (bad habits I still haven't broken) but also to remember how much I have learned. Otherwise it's easy to fall into a sort of amnesia where we forget how truly awful we all once were. Because that's part of the learning curve.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I second everything said previously, especially regarding a writers' group. I think it would be good if you could find a few other unpublished authors and trade critiques.

At this point, your query prompts more questions than it answers. This is what I understand to be the plot (I could be wrong, and that's why I'm asking):

The main character's girlfriend, Jenny Miller, was murdered. (What is the main character's name?) The real murderer--either Officer Tommy Davis or Officer Bob Green--altered photographic evidence to frame our main character for his girlfriend's death.. (I'm not sure how they pulled this off--some of the crime scene photos had the main character's name in the background? Would that really be sufficient to convict a man?)
When mc gets out of prison, he begins to murder cops' girlfriends for revenge. (Does he know which of the officers killed her and framed him? How does he know? Why didn't he bring this up at his trial? Why not go after the cop himself, if he suspects who did it?)
Meanwhile, the experienced police chief and hack sheriff compete with each other for the glory of catching our innocent-convict-turned-serial-killer, who has a hostage. (Or is it the original murderer, Davis/Green, who has a hostage? Do they know that one of their own officers killed Jenny Miller? If so, why haven't they done anything about it yet?) They declare a state of emergency, which somehow gets them glory. (Because people, especially in the Midwest, love having their civil liberties trampled? I guess it worked for Emperor Palpatine. How can you declare a state of emergency on the date of an upcoming murder? Did the serial killer announce the next date he intends to kill someone? If so, wouldn't they declare an immediate state of emergency to catch the guy rather than an upcoming date?)
A car chase happens (who is chasing whom, and why? Who is doing the fleeing, and from what?)
The end.

Who are we supposed to be rooting for in this book? I would originally sympathize with our poor framed guy, but murdering cops' girlfriends (rather than pursuing the cop himself) makes him decidedly unsympathetic. Neither the police chief nor sheriff seem likeable, either.

Judging by your query, this book needs a LOT of work. Critique groups are the lease expensive way to get some feedback (although you are expected to give others feedback in exchange).

Sarah Laurenson said...

More white space will help with readability. Break up the long paragraph.

"...on the date of the upcoming murder..." So he's psychic and knows the date or he's the murderer and knows when he will be committing the next murder?

I'm so lost.

Maybe take a step back from trying to be cute and write this out in a no nonsense fashion. Clarity will help a great deal.