Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Face-Lift 1218

Guess the Plot,


1. A panel of octogenarians debate as to whether a famous American novelist should begin his new book with I awoke; I woke up; Awakened, I; Awake, I; Woken, I...or something else entirely! Complicating the matter: the main character is a Wiccan.

2. Audrey's fiance has been in a coma for ten months, and she's scared they'll lose the non-refundable deposit on the reception venue if he sleeps through their wedding. Just what will it take for him to . . . awaken?

3. Ogzhal is an Awakener, one of a special caste of elite warlocks whose task it is to select new corpses for life among the undead. When his wife leaves him for a vampire, he turns to formaldehyde to drown his sorrows. Can sweet ghoul Loretta help turn his life around before it's too late?

4. Seventeen-year-old Emsley finds the new kid at her school intriguing. She knows junior year can be intense, but would it be so bad to have a boyfriend? No, not when the forces of Hades have somehow gotten the idea that Emsley possesses the Key, a mysterious object that can kill a god, and they'll do whatever they have to to get it so they can destroy the Olympians and all of humanity, and the new kid just might be Emsley's--and our--only hope.

5. When the body of actor Jason Mitchell is found hanging in the restaurant of the airport Hilton at six A.M., homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, the star didn't carve that pentagram into his own back, and two, the Hilton puts out a pretty decent breakfast buffet.

6. The morning after the senior prom, Laura wakes at noon with a hangover. The police are downstairs asking about her date. They found his headless body in a drainage ditch and Laura can't remember a thing after her first sip of Southern Comfort. Because of her sword- juggling talent she's a “person of interest” and two of her swords are missing.

7. When a desperate Gervalynn drinks the elixir Wizard Raeferen said would awaken her magic, she never expected to become the essence of magic. Now, if she can’t find a way to reverse the spell, she will cease to exist at midnight when he can bind her to him forever.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Emsley didn’t plan on falling for Henry, the new guy in school. She didn’t plan on discovering that her past is intertwined with a war between Gods, and she didn’t plan on holding the key to their destruction. [So it will come as no surprise when I tell you that none of these things happened. Except the falling for Henry part, but that didn't matter because Henry was cute so Emsley didn't have a chance with him.] [My point being, there's no need for this paragraph. Nobody plans on stuff like that. It just happens.]

Seventeen-year-old Emsley is, well, ordinary. She is expecting her junior year to be academically intense, but what she isn’t expecting [More about what Emsley isn't expecting? You'll save a lot of space if you don't preface everything that happens with the stipulation that Emsley didn't expect it to happen.] is Henry, the new, seemingly unordinary, perfect boy in her quaint, mid-west island town. [He's seemingly unordinary? "Seemingly unordinary" without the italics would suggest that he only seems unordinary, i.e. that he actually is ordinary. If that's not what you mean, and you thought italicizing "seemingly" would suggest that he doesn't seem unordinary but actually is, I don't think it's working. Why don't you just tell us what it is about him that seems unordinary?] [Also, is "unordinary" even a word?] Since losing her parents at the age of seven, Emsley had [has] kept her heart closed with the exception of [to all but] her two best friends. But the further Henry seeks her out, the further she is intrigued.  [Is "further" the best word there? I was thinking "more" would be better, but I bow to any high school English teachers in the audience.] And the closer she comes to letting him in, the closer she comes to discovering Henry’s true identity. [Is it a secret identity? Or is he simply not telling her because she'd never believe he's Robin, the boy wonder, anyway?]

When Emsley’s life is put in danger, twice, Henry is forced to confess [reveal] that not everything she learned in 9th grade Mythology was a myth. [For instance, that movie, Thor? A documentary.] ["You know those myths where Zeus comes to Earth and has sex with mortal women, Emsley? Well, I'm back."] The Underworld is waging war against the Olympians for control over the human world, and according to the three Fates, whichever side possesses the Key, a mysterious object that can weaken or even kill a God, is the side that will prevail. [That's all well and good, but you haven't explained why anyone would want control over the human world.]

After centuries of searching, Hades believes the Key to be in Emsley’s possession. [For centuries they couldn't find it, but now suddenly they have reason to believe this high school kid has it? Why? Is Emsley a newly awakened goddess?] When Emsley is attacked by a creature from the Underworld demanding that she hand it over, the secrets begin to unravel. [This is season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Especially if it turns out that Emsley is the Key.] She discovers that not only was Henry sent to protect her, but that he and his family have a secret - a secret that could destroy her relationship with Henry and force Emsley into a world with an ancient grudge and imminent battle in order to stop Hades from controlling and ultimately destroying humanity.

I am submitting for your consideration a 67,200-word YA urban fantasy. Awaken is a stand-alone novel with the potential to be the first novel in what I entitled my Spark series. It will appeal to fans of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instrument series and Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed.

I am a high school English teacher with a BA in English, Language and Literature and a [an] MA in Reading. [Reading? I haven't taken a Reading class since 4th grade, and now you can get a Masters in it? Do they also have Masters programs in Arithmetic and Spelling?] [Required courses for an MA in Reading: Reading 401: The Poetry of Suess; Reading 560: Deciphering Physician Penmanship; Reading 587: How to Correctly Guess What the Bottom Line of an Optician's Eye Chart Says. And of course for your Masters thesis you have to muddle your way through the Cliff Notes for Finnegans Wake.]

Thank you for taking the time to become part of my new fantasy world. [Not crazy about that line.] Upon your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. I'd be honored if you would consider Awaken for representation.



Is humanity better off if the Olympians have the Key? Because if I'm Emsley, I'm thinking the Olympians have a better chance of protecting it from the forces of Hades than I do. On the other hand, apparently the Olympians also want control of the human world, so I'm worried that Henry is actually Hedylogos, the Greek god of sweet talk and flattery, and he wants the Key so the Olympians can regain the power they had before humanity decided it was less work to believe in only one god.

Questions that occur to me, and that you probably answer in the book and could answer in the query if you wanted to: If Emsley has an object that can weaken or kill a god, why don't the gods just take it from her? What is the secret Henry and his family have? What happens if the Olympians win the war for control of the human world?

It's not as bad as all the blue words make it look. Just get rid of the 1st paragraph and answer a couple of the questions. Young adults who've studied mythology will probably dig it.


SB said...

No offense, but in YA fantasy fiction, the setup of "totally ordinary, unremarkable girl meets a really hot new boy in school who romantically pursues her for some inexplicable reason and it turns out he's actually some sort of super-human/mythological being or keeper of a fantastical secret and she turns out to be pretty fantastically special in some way herself and will need to use her newfound powers/ability/nature to save someone up to and possibly including the world" is about as cliche as it gets these days. So even if your story has that setup, I'd suggest trying to phrase it in the query in a way that doesn't sound like every other YA fantasy published in the last seven years.

This sounds like an interesting book, but you'll need to highlight some things that make it stand out from all the other books with similar setups and mythological premises. (As someone who's trying to write a query for a vampire novel, I know how hard that kind of thing is.)

I'm also curious what it means to get an MA in Reading.

khazarkhum said...

This may be silly, but: what's a mid-west island? Off the top of my head, I can't think of too many islands in Iowa.

AM_Lyvers said...

Why is Hades the bad guy? It's one of my biggest frustrations, but he has the Underworld to rule. Why is he depicted as wanting to destroy humanity, the world, Starbucks, what have you, when the birth and death of humans is his life's work? I'm sure the book has a very well-thought motivation set up for the God of the Underworld, but I remain entirely suspicious of anyone throwing Hades as the villain because he deals in dead soul surplus. That doesn't make him evil. That makes him a multi-tasker.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

SB, I was trying not to say that, but yeah. Basically, this is the state of that sort of book at the moment:

On the one hand, editors groan and clap their hands over their ears at the mere mention of such a manuscript. If the agent persists, the editors go "LALALALALA".

On the other hand, teenage girls are as far as I can tell still buying such books.

Of course, the publishing pipeline is probably pretty well clogged with ordinary-girl-meet-supernatural-dude-in-high-school books for years to come.

That bit of discouragement out of the way, this query needs two things. One is to take out everything breathless (she didn't plan, she isn't expecting, not everything she learned... all such reversed pharsing, and any italics). Keep it straightforward; tell us what *does* happen.

The other is, yeah. Do whatever you can to make this sound like it's not about a supernatural dude hooking up with an ordinary girl in a US high school.

I'd bet they're seeing a lot of Greek mythology these days too, but that may not be played out yet.

EE, the master's degree is undoubtedly in teaching reading, but you knew that.

Evil Editor said...

Apparently Sabula Island is the only island city in Iowa. Nebraska claims to have seventy islands, but I don't know how many are big enough to have a small town on them.

It's not clear from the query that Hades refers to the god rather than the place, which wouldn't necessarily matter to AMLyvers, but if the place Hades is at war with the place Mt. Olympus, and they both want control of the human world, I'm not sure either of them is the good guys.

SB said...

"On the other hand, teenage girls are as far as I can tell still buying such books."

The problem as I see it, AR, is that what readers are buying doesn't really reflect what publishers are buying and therefore what agents are interested in. I heard last year at a writers' conference that dystopian was totally over and vampires/werewoves were so over it was ridiculous. Then I talked to a librarian and she was like, "Yeah, kids are still totally reading that stuff." My suspicion is that the publishing industry gets tired of these themes/tropes far sooner than readers do.

InkAndPixelClub said...

SB> Publishers are also aware of how many of these kind of books are in the publication pipeline and how many potentially publishable manuscripts are sitting in their offices should the pipeline run dry. So while they may be overly eager to jump off of a fad bandwagon and search for the next big thing, they may also have knowledge of how well covered the market will be in the future that librarians do not.

I'm also guessing that the timeline for a particular genre going from "can't keep it on the shelves" to "market is oversaturated to the point where almost nothing stands out" to "can't give the stuff away" is shorter than we might think.

Author> Secrets are not a good thing in a query. When you're trying to get a reader to pick up your book, you want to give them just enough to convince them that your book is going to be great and not one word more. But when you're trying to get an editor to read your manuscript, you need to tell them more. Keeping the secrets in your story secret from an editor is asking the editor to guess whether your secrets are going to be compelling or boring. All you really need to hold back is the outcome of the story, whether the hero succeeds or fails.

I'm not getting why this is Emsley's story and not Henry's. Emsley doesn't seem to do much beyond possibly have the ultra powerful weapon everybody wants. Henry has more of a connection to the main conflict and a more clear problem to solve. Emsley is coming across as a not very interesting window character. Ordinary is okay for a starting place, but is there any reason I would want to read about her and root for her aside from the fate of the world events she's caught up in?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Well, I was trying to be a little bit encouraging! I have talked to editors about this stuff... yes, they're completely sick of it. Yes, readers are still reading it, but there's a lot of it in the pipeline. The last thing I heard was that editors didn't want to see any more of it for a few years. That was a few months ago.

No one knows when the readers will get tired of it. The editors already are. And, of course, this sub-genre has its stable of established writers.

Of course, the querier here has written something and she wants to query it. She might as well; it costs nothing to try, querying is a skill to be practiced, and who knows? Maybe she'll hit a gap in the market.

Meanwhile, I hope she's working on her next novel.

Mister Furkles said...

To Get an MA in Reading, you need only complete the Master of Arts program at either Albright College or Alvernia University.

K Hutton said...

I agree, Author, that you should show more of what Emsley does, and what decisions she makes, so she sounds like a character worthy of being MC and not just a vehicle for teens to fantasize about super hot demi-gods wanting to date them. If Emsley IS the key like EE suggests, you really might want to rethink using that term for the sake of Buffy fans everywhere.

Also, glad I wasn't the only person who questioned a "mid-west island town." : )

K Hutton said...

Also, "Emsley"?

khazarkhum said...

How often do publishers do this to themselves? 'Werewolves are hot, so let's publish every werewolf that comes in no matter how bad it is' seems to be the mindset. Meanwhile, people who don't want to read werewolves are screwed because publishers aren't putting anything else out because 'no one wants them.'

Isn't this essentially what killed chick lit?

SB said...

Part of my problem with the whole market thing is that my vampire story keeps expanding in my head, so there a whole bunch of novels I want to write and no market for them. But I figure I'll finish the one I'm working on now (which will make 2 in this series), and then probably just hang onto them until either A) vampires become popular again, or B) I get successful with some other books so that people would be interested in reading them based on me being the author. They say you shouldn't write to the market, but when you write long enough on stuff that no one wants, eventually the frustration alone is enough to spur your excitement to try a different story. (Although I haven't been able to nail down what the 'it' thing is right now. If there is an 'it' thing. From what I've seen, it kinda seems like publishers are trying to figure out what the next 'it' thing will be.)

Lindsey Begeman said...

Thank you for all of your feedback. I appreciate all of the comments. Yes, my master's in in teaching reading at the high school level to struggling readers. To answer the questions about the mid-west island, Southeast Michigan has two small islands on Lake Erie. (I live on one of them.)

I do have a question in response to some of your comments. Some of the ambiguity in the query is due to the second book (yes, I wrote it as a series which I know may kill my chances of getting it published.) As a reader, you find out what the key is at the end of the novel, but how it came to be and why Emsley has it is discovered in the second book. I was worried that if I wrote about it in the query and the agent doesn't find it in the manuscript, they would be confused. So my question is, should I give everything away in the query, even if it's not in the first book?

Thanks for you help!

SB said...

Hi Lindsey - Thanks for explaining your degree. I actually didn't know that Reading meant Teaching Reading. It sounds like a pretty interesting career. :)

As for your question, I'm curious to see what others will say as well. I can totally empathize with this conundrum, as I find myself in a slightly similar situation as well. (That's the problem with books planned as series, isn't it?) My guess, personally, would be to try to avoid raising questions in the query that you don't answer (a certain type of question, which it looks like this 'key' thing falls into, anyway). Is there a way you can write the query so that you get the important info in without delving too much into stuff that doesn't happen until book 2?

Evil Editor said...

Instead of telling us the Fates predict whoever has the Key will win the war, tell us what Henry says will happen if the Underworld wins and what he says will happen if the Olympians win. That gets rid of the Key, but you'll still need to explain why Henry comes to Emsley. Surely there's more to it than she somehow possesses some object? What's special about her?

If possessing the Key leads to victory, she'd just hand it over to the good guys. Obviously. So perhaps her dilemma is that she isn't sure which side (if either) she wants to win this war, or that she doesn't believe Henry when he says she's the chosen one, and he can't reveal why she is.

If you call it a stand-alone novel, there has to be some resolution by the end. Focus the query on whatever dilemma gets resolved.

Lindsey Begeman said...

After reading everyone's comments, I revamped my query letter and would love some feedback. I haven't had much luck with the first draft and I'm not ready to give up on this book just yet.

Dear Agent:
I am seeking representation for my young adult novel Awaken. I read on your agency’s website that you are interested in urban fantasy/paranormal romance. Because of this, I think Awaken will appeal to you. Complete at 67,200 words, Awaken is a YA urban fantasy/paranormal romance and is the first novel in a planned series. It will appeal to fans of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instrument series and Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed
From the moment Emsley meets Henry- the seemingly ordinary, ridiculously gorgeous, new student- a strange feeling sparks in her chest. Afraid and unsure of this new constant hum vibrating through her, she keeps her distance. But the more Henry seeks her out, the more she is intrigued. And the closer she comes to opening her heart to him, the closer she comes to discovering that Henry is definitely not ordinary.
When Emsley is attacked by a creature from the Underworld and Henry arrives as her knight in shining armor, he is forced to reveal that not everything she learned in 9th grade Mythology was a myth: The Underworld is real, the Olympians are real, and an ancient vision about Kakos, a device that is prophesized to weaken or even kill a God, is real. And it’s one that Hades is desperate to obtain. Hidden centuries ago so that no God could use the device against one another to upset the balance, the device and the key to controlling it were hidden in the human world. Hades, growing tired of the undead, will stop at nothing to destroy the Olympians and take control over what’s rightfully his: the living.
After centuries of searching, Hades’ tracking has led to Emsley and his demons have made his demands clear: hand over the key or die. Now with the Underworld closing in, the Olympians need Emsley’s help to search through her new, unexplained premonitions in hopes of figuring out what the key is, and why it could possibly be tied to her past. She discovers that not only was Henry sent to protect her, but that he and his family have a secret that could destroy her relationship with Henry and force Emsley into a world with an ancient grudge and imminent battle in order to stop Hades from controlling and ultimately destroying the Olympians and humanity.
I am high school English teacher with a BA in English, Language and Literature and a MA in Reading. I have been teaching in public schools for the past 12 years, allowing me to spend my days with my target audience.

Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

SB said...

Hi Lindsey,

The first paragraph of the plot description still sounds like about every book in this genre. (Not quite, but a whole lot of them.) I'm not an agent, but it seems like an agent might lose interest there. Really try to highlight what's different about your story, especially in the beginning of your query.

Actually, I don't think you even need that paragraph at all. Just jump into the action that we see in the second paragraph.

Also, "god" isn't capitalized when it's talking about one member of a pantheon. If you capitalize God, people are going to assume you mean a monotheistic God. When capitalized, words like that are titles for specific people, not words that follow a/an. (I'm using a lot of words to explain that, but I trust you get what I mean.)

Why are the living rightfully Hades's?

I think your sentences are too long and all of them have too much going on in them. I had to reread a lot of them to understand what they were saying.

Evil Editor said...

P1: Better to put this at the end than the beginning, but either way it's clunky to use the phrase "urban fantasy/paranormal romance twice. Just delete sentences 2 and 3.

P2: The last two sentences are vague. Change them to: But when Emsley is attacked by a creature from the Underworld and Henry arrives as her knight in shining armor, the truth comes out: Not everything she learned in 9th grade Mythology was a myth.

P3: Can now begin: Henry explains that the Underworld is real, the Olympians....

change "one another" to "another."

change "and an ancient vision about Kakos, a device that is prophesized to weaken or even kill a God, is real" to "and Kakos, a legendary device that can kill a God, is real." Then delete "And it’s one that Hades is desperate to obtain." as you say it again in the next sentence.

P4: Too many words. Condense it to something like:

With the Underworld closing in, Henry and Emsley must figure out what the key is and protect it from Hades. Even if doing so sends Emsley into a world of ancient grudges and risks a battle that could destroy the Olympians . . . and humanity.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yeah; this still has the same problems as the first. It starts off sounding like many other books in this genre, and the language is too breathless and not precise enough.

When you say she gets a strange feeling of sparks in her chest and a constant hum vibrating through her, I think you mean she has the hots for him, but it's also possible it's some kind of magical field. Try to be more precise. If I can't tell, an agent will probably have the same problem (but unlike me, she won't ask for clarification).

Start out with the challenge Elmsley faces. No set-up, just the problem. That should solve the cute-supernatural-boy-at-school cliche problem. Don't write the query in chronological order! Focus on the central problem.

Leave out the bio. You don't need qualifications to write a novel. Leave out that you're querying the agent because she reps what you wrote...that's assumed.

You have less than a minute to grab the agent's attention. Keep to the essentials and make your language precise.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Have to agree with SB: paragraph 1 is Paranormal Romance 101. And any editor is going to k ow from sentence one that Emsley will end up being drawn to Henry despite any attempts she makes not to be. Either throw in some specifics that make your story unique or just dump it and backtrack to cover their relationship prior to the creature attack in paragraph 2.

There's too much of an info dump here; too much time devoted to Henry explaining things to Emsley. I think it's enough to know that Kakos exists and that Hades wants to use it to seize power from the other gods. Knowing that it was hidden long ago just raises the questions of who hid it and why it was created in the first place, which aren't answered in the query.

Does Emsley start having the premonitions before she meets Henry? Maybe that would be a more interesting starting point than the mysterious yet attractive new boy. Either way, I'd like to see this ability brough up earlier in the query.

I am still against keeping Henry's family secret a secret in the query. It's fine to hold it back for book jacket copy, but an editor is going to want to know if it's something interesting that makes sense with the rest of the story or if the only interesting thing about it is that we don't know what it is. The sentence where it's brought up is also far too long.

I have a better understanding of why the gods need Emsley this time around, but I still don't get why this is Emsley's story and not Henry's. She still feels like someone who has been pulled into the events of the story and never gets to a point where she's the one taking action or making decisions. The query ends with the possibility that she could be dragged into the war between the gods, which seems to have happened already. I also don't see how learning Henry's family secret would push Emsley into the battle for the fate of the world. If the secret threatens to destroy whatever relationship she has with Henry, wouldn't she be more likely to want nothing to do with the gods and their problems?

Mister Furkles said...

It’s really long. You’ve gone almost 200 words longer than the 250 recommended. Your first and last two paragraphs are more than half that. Combine them and allocate only 50 words to it. You’ll have 200 left for the plot.

To me, your three plot paragraphs are setup. It boils down to “Emsley discovers stuff about herself, her boyfriend, and the gods.”

Try cutting the first plot paragraph to one sentence of 15 words. All it really says is “Emsley meets Henry.” Then one sentence about the attack on Emsley. Finish the setup with one sentence about the war between the gods. That is a setup paragraph of 45 to 60 words.

Then you get about 150 words to cover what happens in the story.

Remember, an agent knows why you are querying and assumes your query is the very best you are capable of producing.