Friday, August 23, 2013

Face-Lift 1148

Guess the Plot

Mark from Earth

1. After Mark gets his 200th form rejection he goes to Mars to start querying editors there. But Martians speak English backward in heroic couplets, so Mark will have to--ah, screw it, Mars girls are hot, and easy.

2. In a flip of the campy 80's sitcom, Mark leaves Earth on a mission to Ork. Shazbat! He's in trouble when Bindy takes him as her love slave.

3. If Mark had known that enlisting meant a one-way trip to Anteres, he'd have read the army's fine print. As jobs go, Galactic Emissary doesn't sound bad--until Mark is put on trial for Emperor Zuhl'li's murder.

4. Captain Thunderbird rounds up kids with special gifts from different planets for his academy to battle Prince Asteroid and his deadly Meteorines.

5. After moving to the moon, Mark comes into possession of an object that gives him great power and that could cause a disaster in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, on the moon there are no active volcanoes in which to throw it.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Do agents like a query letter that gets straight to business (As advocated by Queryshark)? Or a long rambling letter (as suggested by so many query writing tip giving sites)? [Your interpretation of what "so many query writing tip giving sites" suggest may be inaccurate. Were those the exact words? "Long rambling letter"? I ask because "long and rambling" is not a complimentary description of a query. They might as well advise you to compose a vague, confusing letter.]

I have two letters: one straight to business, the other a long rambling affair. Tell me, please, do you like to get straight to business, Evil Editor? Or do you prefer a long rambling affair? [This already feels like a long rambling affair, and we haven't even started. And so far I'm not liking it.]


Dear [Agent],

Mark is the boy from Earth who will need to choose between being a hero. . .and saving his friends. [Saving his friends seems heroic enough. At least to his friends.] [Also, a logline isn't needed in a query.]

Query: [No need to label each section of the letter.]
Mark lives in a dusty Australian town full of sleepy tractors, strict parents, and best friends who keep moving away. He hates it. So, like the trouble-making git he is, he takes his dad's 1942 stunt plane for a daredevil joyride. Naturally, he crashes it.

For some reason ("tenacious spirit" [?] or something), this get's [gets] him recruited to a hidden starfighter academy on the dark side of the moon. [If I were a trouble-making git and someone told me they wanted to send me to the dark side of the moon to a . . . starfighter academy! "Yeah, that's it, a starfighter academy . . ." I would suspect the dark side of the moon is Earth's latest answer to prison overpopulation.] Once there, Mark promptly makes enemies out of snobbish teachers and kids who hate Earthers. [Earthers. Bad enough we're considered the scourge of the galaxy; we're even hated on our own moon.] Thankfully, two people have his back: Lexe, who hates hoverboards, and Heath, who won't stop customizing his hoverboard. [Earthers are either dog people or cat people. Mooners fall into the pro-hoverboard or anti-hoverboard camp.] Together, they haggle with a blackmarket merchant [There seem to be a lot of people on the moon. What are they breathing?] over a hoverboard (for Mark, who desperately wants to ride one). Instead, the perfidious, swarthy little man cons them into a salvage operation at an industrial wasteland. None of them know about the jagged blue cube hidden there, or its guard of freakishly demented droids. ["Demented" is sufficient. I infer "freakishly."] That is, until Mark finds it, succumbs to its promise of power, and filches it. [Where are the freakishly demented droid guards while Mark is filching the cube they're supposedly guarding?] [This cube sounds suspiciously like the Ring of Power.]

Hunted for the cataclysmic power they've uncovered, [It seems to me that if you know a cube has cataclysmic power, you wouldn't store it in an industrial wasteland, guarded by demented droids who suck at guarding stuff. If the cube is intrinsically bad, it should have been rocketed into the sun or dropped into Mount Doom long ago. If it's good if kept in the hands of good people, it should be in an underground vault protected by a force field in a Buddhist monastery.] [Also, if the stakes include a potential cataclysm, I'm wondering why we had so much talk about hoverboards. We could start with three kids at the academy discovering a mysterious cube. An Earth-based book about a nuclear cataclysm may have scenes in which a character is a surfer, but I'd expect the query to focus on more important matters than what brand of fins he should use on his board.] the bickering friends must stick together as they unravel the mystery tied to the cube, even after it turns Mark into their greatest threat. For when the true nemesis steps out of the shadows, she will force Mark to make a choice: use the cube and be the hero…or save his friends. [This is why you don't need a logline. Inevitably you end up saying it anyway.] And he will need to decide quickly. She inked his name into her black book of mistakes. Mistakes she plans to burn. [Why doesn't she use the cube and be the heroine? And whaddaya mean, "use the cube"?] [Calling this being "the true nemesis" is no way to convince me Mark will be a hero if he uses the cube. She sounds perfidious, if not swarthy.]

MARK FROM EARTH. YA SF. 87,000 words.

Thank you for considering,


Dear [agent],

I dig your style. [What the--?] It speaks to me. [Next query.] You represent Book X. I can appreciate that. My book is like book Y, except my book leaves the toilet bowl steaming…because my book is the hottest shit. Sign me. [You're seriously asking if I or anyone would prefer this to a business letter? This is what you send when your goal is to add to your collection of rejection slips.]

Voice of Mark and friends:
Finn from Adventure Time makes friends with a daring Rory Gilmore and a young Ross Geller. [If that said Uri Geller slips Rory McElroy a Mickey Finn I would at least have some idea what you're talking about.]

Soon, Mark will be racing on a custom skyboard. He’ll be pranking a paranoid android, throwing shoes at a diabolical alarm clock, and sharing spicy food with friends from orbit colonies. [If you must list some really cool events in the book, come up with more intriguing ones than throwing a shoe at an alarm clock and eating spicy food.] But none of that can happen if he stays stuck on the only planet separated from a galaxy filled with people, the only planet without hoverboards: Earth. [Earth is in its galaxy and it has people. In what way is it separated?] [Hard to believe there are hoverboards on the moon but not on Earth.]

One day, Mark takes his dad’s 1942 stunt plane for a daredevil joyride, and survives crashing it. His tenacious spirit gets him recruited to SPIFF, a hidden starfighter academy on the dark side of the moon. He struggles to make friends at first, but ends up with two friends-for-life: Lexe, whose love of danger is a bad mix with Mark’s troublemaking habits, and Heath, a business-minded kid saving up for his first hovercar. Together, they explore an industrial wasteland where demented droids guard a jagged blue cube. That is, until Mark succumbs to the cube’s whispered promises of making him a hero, and takes it. Hunted by half-augmented humans, the trio must fight to unravel the mystery of the cube, even after it turns Mark into their greatest threat. For when the true nemesis steps out of the shadows, she will force him to make a choice: use the cube and be a hero…or save his new friends. [This paragraph (divided into three paragraphs) isn't bad, but I want to know why Mark's friends are in danger if he doesn't use the cube, and what happens if he does use it that makes him a hero.]

Douglas Adams and J.K. Rowling walk into a bar. [Christ. Here we go again.] They sit down to tea and create worlds. After four years and myriad empty cups, a whole world comes to life: Quirky professors teach curious subjects, lunchboxes instantly make food, and one paranoid android runs around with a fire extinguisher. Doug and Jo, discussing fears and dark ambitions, then write an elegant nemesis— A woman whose fascinating rise to power is revealed over the six books to follow. [That's a lot of space wasted on something that seems to have little to do with "style." Most writers would just say the style is "Douglas Adams meets J.K. Rowling," which is just as irritating, but mercifully briefer.]

MARK FROM EARTH is a YA science fiction novel complete at 87,000.

Is the next J.K. Rowling. [Ouch.] Pub credits include: 7th grade science project. I got a gold star. Also: everyone loves my book. Angels cry. [If you wish to show that the book is filled with this type of humor, do so in the plot description.]


All I'm looking for is a summary of the book that makes me want to spend time with the characters and lose myself in their story. In a letter that shows me the author can write well. In other words, I don't want the query to entertain me; I want it to convince me that the book will entertain me.

I wouldn't call the second version "rambling." "Annoying" would be a better description.

The story might be better for middle grade than YA.

If something is a cube, can it be jagged? It sounds to me like calling a circle oblong or a cone cylindrical.


IMHO said...

"the perfidious, swarthy little man cons them..."

I quit reading here. No one else's physical appearance is described, but the low-life black market merchant is a "swarthy little man." Tone deaf.

150 said...

Oh my god, haha. If you've read so many query tip sites, why are you labeling the sections?

I love your title. I like the first half of the query in the first version. You gotta get out of your own way and just write two paragraphs about what happens and what Mark is going to do about it.

I feel like you get into too much detail starting with the black-market merchant. I'd recommend condensing.

Write out your "specifics" in full sentences. Don't try to get cute with your bio sentence. Voice, style, logline: throw them away. Like all other forms of panache, if you have to tell people you've got it, you don't. All of that's coming through just fine in the synopsis paragraphs.

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi Author!
First, I'd like to suggest you reading EE's site. There are thousands of query tips all for you!

Second, if you read ANYWHERE that a 'long rambling query' was key to getting agent, unbookmark that site or toss the book into the recycler bin. It is about as much rubbish as I've ever heard.

Third, truly unconventional queries do hook agents, but what you have submitted isn't gonna cut it. Not the 'business' nor the LRA.

The best paragraph, of all, was the second plot paragraph of the rambling letter. You would do well to add some pertinent plot details to that and cut any and all comparisons of your work to anyone, especially JKR. Because, seriously, unless SHE is submitting your work to her own agent to read, well, the comparison looks more than arrogant.

Content concerns I have regarding the plot points:

Dark side of the moon? Really? Why in the galaxy would anyone put a super secret space academy on the dark side of our moon? What resources exist to support such a venture? And, why have our super hyperactive spy satellites not captured this activity?

To me it seems a GAPING plot hole. Remember THE LAST STARFIGHTER? If not, get a copy. Was a fave movie when I was a kid. Here's the thing, the earth hero was sucked into space for his a fully capable facility designed for the purpose. Earthlings had no knowledge of it's existence. Use a freaking worm hole and get this kid out of our solar system, or far enough away that Earth's radio telescopers won't hear all the Academy's banter.

So, the evil baddie is a gal. Okay. I can accept that. What I cannot accept is the amorphous choice Mark must make. He's a great threat with the cube, but he must use the cube to be a hero, and using the cube puts his friends in danger. So, from reading this I get that, cube+Mark=danger, cube+Mark=hero and cube+Mark=dead friends. Sounds like Mark should chuck that cube back into it's poorly guarded junk pile and go hover boarding...have a nice life and all.

READ the site. RE-WRITE the query.

It sounds like it could be a fun story. Best of luck.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Writer, consider your sources.

QueryShark is an agent. This is verifiable. Therefore, what she tells you she likes is absolutely what she, an agent, likes. You can take this as a certain amount of straight-from-the-horse's-mouth.

(However, since agents don't come from an Agent Factory, it's not necessarily what all agents like.)

"So many... writing sites" tend to be confabs of unpublished writers encouraging each other to remain unpublished. You can take this advice as coming generally from the other end of the horse.

Basically, a query letter is a business letter. It does not need a log line, and it absolutely should not ramble.

Your first query's opening paragraph (after you lose the log line) is very serviceable. Things fall apart in the second paragraph. "For some reason" suggests a floppy plot, so lose that.

Be advised that villains stopped being swarthy in the 1950s.

The whole nemesis thing lost me. I couldn't tell whether it was figurative (in which case it's a tad purple) or whether this was a real villain (in which case, drop her. You've already got the swarthy guy.)

Your plot sounds much more middle grade than YA. The former is definitely the better market if your characters are all boys.

As for your second query letter, I'm going to assume it was done in jest.

khazar-khum said...

Alaska is right--most writers' sites do a bang-up job of keeping people unpublished. EE is different. The success rate here is very high. Not because we all get together to share 'encouragement', but because he forces us to take our work seriously.

Stick around. You might learn something. Or, you can go back to those sites that encourage 'rambling' queries, loglines, and other garbage.

Dave Fragments said...

Spaceman Spiff is a character in the cartoon series CALVIN AND HOBBES. Naming an organization SPIFF calls that to mind. Please find another acronym.

"Starfighter" recalls THE LAST STARFIGHTER and unless you want that association to bleed through everything, invent another name.

That paragraph starting with
One day, Mark takes his dad’s 1942 stunt plane for a daredevil joyride, and survives crashing it.

is really good all by itself and like EE says split into three paragraphs. That paragraph actually entertained me.

When you say "paranoid android" I think MARVIN. Please don't do that.

Also Lexe might not be a good choice of names. There was THE LEXX which had 4 seasons of bizarre fun. You might want your story to be bizarre but as LEXX contained much adult material and is remembered thanks to Eve Haberman's and Xenia Seeberg's portrayal as Zev the love slave with large breasts, You might want to think twice about that association for a YA novel.

If you really have a comedy novel and could get an agent to read EE's column, it might sell the novel. The entire assemblage is great fun to read and makes the plot interesting. However, the chance of this happening is (wait for it) infinitely improbable.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I contorted my face in embarrassment as I read your "quips". I like the latter query better, but I would not compare myself to JK Rowling (she made it to the Forbes billionaire list), even if it's in jest. I would also not make poop jokes in a business letter. Save those for after you've secured your agent, and have established rapport.

Mister Furkles said...

Aside from the log line, also delete the first paragraph. Start with “Eighteen-year-old Australian Mark is recruited to the starfighter academy on the back side of the Moon.”

If Mark makes enemies of the instructors and most students, say why in the query. Or better yet, leave it out.

Do the droids suffer from Alzheimer’s? The query must say how they are insane. Do the droids do anything? If not, leave it out.

Rather than say the blue cube has cataclysmic power, explain the power it does have.

You may eliminate the part about Marks’s friends or just say that he and two friends go to the industrial waste site (and why). Then trim a few a little more and give specifics about what happens, the challenge/choice Mark faces, and the risks involved.

CavalierdeNuit said...

Lexx! I miss that show

Tk said...

Some thoughts that I think haven't been said yet.

Does the story takes place in 1942? That would solve the dark side of the moon plothole, but if it's a period piece you should say so.

Seems to me you need to get way more specific about the stakes. And like all of us, pare the setup into two sentences instead of two paragraphs :)

Also, connect the dots. Mark comes from Australia; is Australia threatened in the story? Mark can fly; does he save the day with flying skills? Mark steals a plane; he's willing to steal a cube. A series is fine, but apparently you need to show the first book has a satisfying ending and plot unto itself, that it isn't all setup.

It's hard to identify your own vague words, but picking them out and substituting specifics makes a huge difference to how fresh and alive a story sounds. "Power" is vague, so is "using" (the cube). If you said holding the cube doubles his reaction time, enabling him to shoot all other starfighters out of the sky, the agent would understand why everyone wants it and how Mark can be a hero with it.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

All right, now that I've read others' comments, I've gone back and looked at the second (or fourth) paragraph of the 2nd query ("One day, Mark takes...") and seen that it is better than what you've got in the first query.

At least until you get to the nemesis, that is. I'm now thinking she is meant to be real, in which case she needs a better job description than "nemesis".

The rest of the 2nd query, however, remains unspeakable.

Here's the only bio you should include:

"I am the author of several YA novels, the most recent of which is Great YA Novel (Legitimate House, 2010)."

If you've never been paid for your writing, do not include a bio.

Rafael G.H. said...

Dear Evil Editor and Evil Minions,

First, a sincere thanks.
Thank you for looking past my lame attempts at query jokes. Thank you for offering sound advice and real ideas.

Second, a sincere apology.
Everything in my EE submission - except for the actual query synopsis - I wrote in jest. Reading back through it, I should have made my intentions at mocking humor clear...instead I came off crass. I apologize.
Excuses never do build much credibility, but if I were to sum mine up, it would be: I was blowing off steam on a blog I fell in love with.
I'm new to writing query letters. I spent several weeks frustrated at the contradictory information floating around the net. Then, I chanced upon Nathan Bransford's blog. This helped narrow my focus. I read his blog thoroughly. The revised query letter sounded great. Then I read queryshark. Instantly, my query sounded like caterwauling during amateur hour. Another month of reading all her blog entries followed by rewrites and revisions. I wanted my query to have voice! I wanted my query to be daring and original and full of the one thing, the only thing apparently, that matters: voice.
In the middle of trying to write with voice, or more like trying to find my voice, I found the Evil Editor.
The classics, the cartoon's, comments.
just wow.
From EE's critiques to the minion's lived a community of people who had their stuff together.
So, In a fit of frustration at myself, I decided to blow off some steam and mock the mistakes I've read about over and over (lame author bio, weak pub credits, "style" things) and made (log lines!). I wrote a submission that made me laugh in it's absurdity. A submission I thoroughly hated and wanted to see it torn up. Maybe I needed closure. Someone to burn and bury the mistakes I've seen and made. Now I can move on. And for all that, I thank you immensely.

Your hopeful fellow minion,

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Rafael, I sort of wondered if that was what you were doing :-). Problem is we take ourselves so awful serious here.

The pressure to produce the perfect query is imnsho misplaced, and a product of the internet. A query is a plain old business letter; if you're old enough, you learned to write them in school.

Ultimately what matters is your manuscript, so do take time to consider the plothole people mentioned, the MG/YA question, the swarthiness of the villain and the facelessness of the nemesis.

I got my agent with a query that included a maybe three or four sentence synopsis of the book and mentioned only two characters. The query got nibbles from half the agents I sent it to. It did not have voice, it did not have pizzazz, and it was not Different. I suspect the agents were merely relieved at its brevity.

Evil Editor said...

The minions rarely assume any query or part thereof is fake, as they've been wrong too often.

We've had several "bad query" writing exercises on this blog. One notable such exercise involved writing queries in which the author focuses entirely on one aspect of the book, other than the plot. If you click on 2009 in the sidebar archive list, then on August, and then scroll down to August 16, you can read the results.

Also, clicking on "hoax" in the sidebar label list will bring up some attempts to query books that didn't exist.

Veronica Rundell said...

So, there a book?

Or is the entire exercise BS?

Anonymous said...

Starfighter - was that Battlestar Galactica or Star Wars?

Hoverboard - Back To The Future?

I prefer originality. Sorry dear thumbs down. You have an imagination for a reason. I hope you will rethink and rewrite.

Wilkins MacQueen

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was pretty blunt. Skim boarding, star attack force(r), so many ways to say things in a new way. Good luck, but what truly hit me was old language used in a ho hum manner. Entice, delight, turn the phrase and own it.


Anonymous said...

Hey Alaska,
Forgive my ignorance but what does "imnsho" mean? Been living in Asia for a long time and I don't known this. Thanks.
W MacQ

Evil Editor said...

She would have gone with "imho," but she knew we'd all be rolling our eyes.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

WMQ: In my not so humble opinion.

Didn't want to horn in on IMHO's screen-name

Rafael G.H. said...

Work on the tone. Noted.
Your comment made me think of filming. The overall query is big picture, while the appearance is suddenly zoomed in. That wouldn't work. You're right.

"Specifics," in two paragraphs. I'm thinking in two paragraphs I need focus on the specifics to: Introduce Mark, the plot catalyst, his friends, the plot, and how he reacts to it. Sound about right?

Kristin Nelson recommends the plot catalyst. What are you thoughts on it?
I feel I need to build Mark's friends with a sentence or two. The hook is Mark choosing between them and being a hero. I need to build what "being a hero" means as well.

@Veronica Rundell,
-I'm into the 2012 archives! Good stuff.
-I tossed out all sites except this, QS, and Nathan's site :)
-Pertinent plot details. I was about to spew out a chunk of reasons to answer your plot concerns. However, first, I'll take your advice and finish reading EE's archives. As I learned from QS, many of my mistakes have been made 10 times over by other people. So I'm sure to find answers to my query plot holes within the archives. After that, I'll re-write the query! Onwards!
And thanks for the well wishes :)

No Agent Factory indeed! I've been reading submission requirements for various agents. Amazing, the spectrum of likes and dislikes.

1st paragraph of 1st letter. I tried to introduce some voice there. The second, yeesh, looking back after the clarity of minion comments...yup, too confusing. The swarthy guy isn't even the villain. I put him in the query for flavor, as he's a curiously strange character in the book. Now I see he detracts from the focus.

I'll be sticking around for sure. The community is active and hell bent on learning how to succeed.

@Dave Fragments,
The name SPIFF is in fact a reference to that six year old troublemaker. It's why I made the acronym. I feel torn about taking it out. I learned how to read on Bill Waterson's genius. But in the spirit of discovery, I'll ruminate on change.
Same goes for starfighter. More rumination.

I haven't heard of THE LEXX. Interesting.

I'd never send what I submitted to an agent, haha! It was purely for fun and trying to elicit facial contortions and/or spasms :D

@Mister Furkles,

I'll take your advice on leaving out why Mark makes enemies of them. It'll focus on the plot, rather than subplots for which I have no space to explain. Good call.

Specifics, yes, 150 mentioned that too. It's the balance of specifics and length that may be the bane of query writing. I'll throw myself at the challenge of condensing the cube's power into a sentence with voice and specifics.

I'm debating about eliminating the part with Mark's friends. I feel the need to tie emotions to them. Since Mark's challenge/choice is choosing between fighting and loosing his friends, or surrendering but saving his friends...then the part with his friends lends weight to his choice. At least, that's my gut feeling. Thoughts?

Rafael G.H. said...

The story takes place in our time. I have an explanation to cover the plot hole. However, the explanation needs to be condensed. I'll be working on this while exploring EE's archives for ideas.

Specifics. Comments have mentioned this, yet you showed me a method of becoming more specific. With an example! How about that. You were specific in showing how to be specific. I like it.
I'll work on "why everyone wants it and how Mark can be a hero with it."

Better job description than Nemesis. Agreed. I've come to understand that "nemesis" does not qualify as specific. I'll enliven the word choice here too.

3 or 4 sentence synopsis?? Wow. Maximum focus there. Thank you for including your experience as an example. I've wondered about the attention span of agents - hence the furious debate about log lines. I worry that I need to hook the agent from the very first word, even though the choice Mark faces is at the end. The worry stems from a balancing act. If I drop the choice/dilemma at the start, does it carry any weight? However, if I build Mark and his friends first, wouldn't the weight of his choice have more punch?

@ Evil Editor,
Whoa. Those bad query letters were gorgeous. Khazar-Khum focused entirely on word count. Astounding. "a medical description of flatulence." Fascinatingly horrible. Wherewolf Snotlard. Damn I wish I was there to submit a plot for that title! My submission wasn't as original as I thought. Story of my life. Humility is a constant lesson to be learned. Also, I want to send some head-shots!

@Veronica Rundell,
Yes, there is. I just buried it under my attempts at humorous mockery. My apologies.

"Entice, delight, turn the phrase and own it." That right there is advice on voice, something I'm wrestling with at the moment. I'll hone it and own it with time and practice. Need to spend more sleepless nights in the archives!

Regarding EE's Notes,
"Spend time with characters." I'll focus on Mark and his friends.
"Lose myself in their story." Show how they react to the choices/challenges the plot brings about.
I'll read through the archives and re-write. Characters within the plot. That's it. No swarthy-ness.
Your thought on jagged blue cube brought to mind a passage in a worldwide bestseller I've been reading recently: "the tree's swayed darkly." How can tree's sway darkly? And this is a bestseller? I don't want readers to stop when they encounter "jagged cube." Stop and get confused. I'll work on this within the manuscript.

Evil Editor said...

The jagged cube isn't a major problem. If the item was once a cube, a child's block for instance, and the dog chewed on it for a while you might call it a jagged cube. However this item strikes me as something that's never technically been a cube. Maybe it's more like an uncut diamond.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

If it really said "Tree's" then the slip-up was in copyediting.

But the fact is if it was a bestseller, then we have something to learn from it. Sure, we wouldn't have done this and we wouldn't have done that, but that doesn't matter. People aren't *not* buying the book because of what the writer did wrong. Therefore it behooves us to understand what the writer did right.

Re agents' attention spans: Say an agent gets 100 queries a week. Sounds manageable, right? 20 a day and the weekends off? Completely do-able, if reading queries was in fact her job. But it's not. It's an extra task squeezed in when possible. So an agent may find herself with an hour to read queries, during which she's got 100 queries to go through. Or 300.

That's one scenario. A possibly more common one is that the agent has a bright young intern who will do the query-reading and pick out those queries worthy of the agent's attention. But either way, count on a minute, max. 30 seconds may be more realistic. Any time wasted on log lines or bios is wasted indeed.

Dave Fragments said...

I keep hearing echoes of Miss Snark. For those who don't know that's an old blog that still has good advice. It's not active, though.

A query is a business letter or a (what most of us write sometimes in our lives) a memo. I wrote many a memo to the bosses about many things. They simply laid out the facts.

It's an easy format -- Dear Agent, a body, certain details about the writer, and a closing. It's not a synopsis or a advertising blurb or an inside cover description. It's only a description of what's in your novel.

Dear Agent,
After Mark crashes his dad’s stunt plane, he is recruited to become a space fighter and taken to a base on the far side of the moon. He struggles to make friends among the aliens and finds Lexie and Heath, and they become his friends for life. However, Mark falls under the influence of an alien cube. When half-human alien soldiers come after the cube Mark must discover the cube's power and use it to save his friends. or the world for both cannot survive the struggle.

Now that's not enough of the story at half the words you can use. However, it doesn't have the distractions that most of your very fanciful epic had. What this lacks is your writing style and your tone of voice.

Your story is about Mark and his wild ways and how he eventually grows into being adult enough to save his friends, the world, or both. What is it that makes Mark's tale worthy of reading? There's plenty of those stories out there. What is is that makes your tale unique or fun or heartwarming?

Don't overcomplicate. That's where so many of these queries that EE gets fail. They become complex creatures of literature and description. Think of this coming of age story in plain ways (not simple but plain). I'll give you a hint - Three boys set out ti find a dead body (Stand by me)... A teenager survives a shipwreck and weeks in a lifeboat with a wild tiger (The life of Pi)... A boy has to face the wizard who killed his parents (Harry Potter)... A lonely boy and girl create a fantasy world and when one dies the other has to come to terms with it (Bridge to Terabithia)... What makes each of those stories is how the youngsters grow into adults and face their misfortunes.

SPIFF and LEXX and Star-fighter (or Navigator) and paranoid Androids are all window dressing to story. Don't let them distract the reader of the query unless they show how good the story is.

And since it is on TV right now -- Piscine Molitor Patel and Richard Parker do not matter as names because together they find God and that is the wonder and glory of storytelling.

That's your job in writing the business letter called query and describing the book.

IMHO said...

Rafael GH --

Bravo for coming back and taking all comments / suggestions seriously. I agree that EE and Query Shark are the best sites for query letters. Looking forward to reading your revision.

150 said...

Oh man! So all that stuff that was the worst stuff to do in a query letter was DELIBERATE? You are SICK, Rafael. You're going to fit in around here just fine. :)

(It's true: every time we're all "This is so bad it has to be fake" the author comes along and tells us it's sincere.)

CavalierdeNuit said...

Do I smell a new minion?

Rafael G.H. said...

An uncut diamond. I like it. The cube has a blue tint to it. I could describe it as an uncut sapphire.

“Behooves.” I’ve always liked that word. It would behoove me to have a query letter that can be read in under a minute, as you say. I’ve also been thinking to make the paragraphs short. From a visual first glance, short paragraphs appear less daunting, less like another query to grind through.

@Dave Fragments
Thank you for that succinct description. It gets right to the plot. Only 89 words. Wow. Still, as you wrote, it needs writing style and tone of voice. Seems that’s the trick, isn’t it? To show writing style and tone effectively. I tried. I ended up with distractions. The struggle between distractions and voice, that’s where I need to focus. And I believe the difference begins with the “window dressings” you mentioned. Are they part of the plot? No. Are they part of Mark’s journey to be an adult? No. Thus they must be window dressing.

I’m looking forward to writing it, lol

Yeah :D