Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Face-Lift 1226


Guess the Plot

Recoveries' Fall

1. When the Library of Zesty Gravy plummets into the Abyss, carrying with it every recipe for boat-filled succulence ever invented, only Doug "The Gazelle" Mooperton and his squadron of uniformed acrobats can hope to salvage mankind's wisdom from the depths. But will the UNIFORMS be ready IN TIME?

2. When aliens attack Sam and Ben, the two recovery operators (tow truck drivers) escape in undetectable stasis pods. 600 years later they wake up and must adapt to a world in which recovery operators work the entire galaxy.

3. When the body of rock star David McGurdy is found dangling from the fence at superselective detox center Recoveries, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, McGurdy didn't tie his own intestines into a noose; and two, his daughter will be heartbreaken to learn her guitar hero is dead.

4. Three small words, splashed across the front page of the International Vegan Decorator, and his business was in shambles… Paisley Is Out! read the headline. His life was over. Now he’d never be able to afford the GI Joe with the Tofu grip for his wife’s birthday.

5. It was the biggest ding-dang couch he’d ever seen; bigger than most people’s living rooms. Bigger than some people’s houses. He was gonna need a taller ladder. As he went into his little shop to check on his insurance deductible, Jack Slayer wondered if it was too late to get into farming. Perhaps beans…

6. Each time he got the cast removed, he fell coming out of the Doctor’s office. Each and every time. It had happened six times in a row, now. But as ace detective Zack Martinez sat on the steps of the clinic, looking at his latest cast and listening to the animal noises from the zoo next door, he knew two thing for certain. Somebody was out to get him him. And that big sloppy ape had a banana fetish as well.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

I’ve written a science fiction novel, the first of a projected series, which I’d like to submit for your consideration. The accompanying synopsis of Recoveries’ Fall will outline the basics. [Not sure what "the basics" are, or why they need to be presented in outline form, but a synopsis, by definition, summarizes the novel, so there's no need to inform us what it will do.]

1). The book is nuts [That's true of most books that get queried here; it doesn't bother us.] and bolts military science fiction involving space battles, androids, cybernetics, alien blood suckers, blasters, a little alien hanky panky, strong but flawed characters, and humor. [Lists are more interesting with three items than with eight. I recommend going with aliens, alien blood suckers and alien hanky panky.]

2). [No need to number your paragraphs.] The protagonists, Sam Garrett and Ben Corbin, are two disgruntled former soldiers turned interplanetary recovery operators (space tow truck drivers) and salvagers working the shipping lanes between Earth and a partially terraformed post war Mars. [Post which war?] Until fate or bad luck kicks them in the ass as they are attacked by aliens (as far as humans knew didn’t exist). After a pitched battle they are forced to take refuge in stasis pods to avoid detection. [If we didn't even know aliens existed, why did we go to the trouble of making our stasis pods undetectable by them?]

3). I believe I’ve painted an imaginative picture of a human world much changed for Sam and Ben after spending over 600 years in stasis [It would have been six months in stasis, but the stasis pods were undetectable so no one could find them.] as well as a detailed and interesting backstory and environment for both humans and the aliens. [I assume the 600 years in stasis pods is the backstory. And the main plot is what happens afterward, which you have forgotten to summarize.] The aliens turned humanities allies that attacked them to begin with but also for the mysterious aliens they are now at war with. [I don't understand what that sentence means. Possibly I need a universal translator.]

4). Whether the market likes action, pure science fiction and technology, what I believe to be strong, smart male and female characters or even vampires and monsters this story should appeal to them. [The market likes beef stew, mint chocolate chip ice cream and guacamole, but not mixed together in a blender.]

Though this is my first book I’m willing to work hard and I understand this is not only an art but a business as well. I want to work with those that know what they are doing and that I can be successful with. [Apparently you think I know what I'm doing, so I'm confident you'll take my advice to get rid of this paragraph.]

I hope that you will agree to read the manuscript of Recoveries’ Fall. Your site was recommended to me by a literary agent I met on Twitter while I was researching agents. [If it was @AgentVader or @FakeLitAgent, you've been had.] As soon as I saw the death ray vision cartoon burning through a manuscript I knew I had [to] submit my query letter. [After eight and a half years someone finally compliments my self-portrait. Makes the twenty minutes I spent creating it seem worthwhile.] I will of course be sending queries to other agents and publishers but I will send the entire manuscript to only one agency or publisher at a time. As I understand it that is the way it is done and I do not want to waste your time or anyone else’s. [You are wasting your time and someone else's. The reader knows the way it is done, and doesn't care about your understanding thereof. The reader wants to know what happens in your book.] 

I look forward to hearing from you, kind of.

Sincerely,


[The title came from the term "Recovery" which in the protagonists time refers to a lost, damaged, salvaged or distressed space ship or the job of recovering them from whatever mess they've gotten into as the equivalent of space tow truck drivers. It means the same thing in modern terms in regard to towing and salvaging cars. 600 years later recovery or recoveries, since there are two of them, refers to not only derelict space craft but people who were stranded in them in stasis for abnormally long periods of time as humankind has reached out further in space and colonized other worlds. "Fall" is in reference to their seeming downfall.]


Notes


The title is going to make people think it's about rehab. Even if that weren't the case, it sucks. You need something catchy like Galaxy Salvage Crew or Alien Bloodsuckers from Mars.

Apparently you're planning to send this to someone who inexplicably wants to read a synopsis, and you figure since you're including a synopsis you don't need to summarize the book's plot in the query letter. But the query has to convince the reader to slog through the synopsis, and the way to do that is with a short synopsis (maybe ten sentences) that tells the story. All you've provided is a list of stuff that's in the book, a bit of backstory from 600 years before your story begins, and a few tidbits about your main characters. 

Start over.

44 comments:

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yes, start over. And before you do that, read through the query letters on this site and also on Janet Reid's Query Shark site. On this site they are all called "Face-Lift", and as you will see there are 1,225 of them available. Many of them are for books that ended up being published.

To paraphrase high school coaches everywhere: There is no "I" in the word "query". Don't mention yourself. Not why you wrote the story, not what you believe about the story, nothing. No I.

There is only the story. Talk about the story.

Talk about it not as a distant thing, but as something up close and real. For example, when you say "the protagonists", you create distance. Leave that out and just give their names.

Don't talk about the market. Don't talk about twitter. Don't talk about you willingness to work hard; that's assumed.

Talk about the story.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Unlike the derelict spaceships in your story, this query has virtually nothing to salvage. Take EE and ARC's advice and start fresh.

Like fiction writing, a good query needs to show rather than tell. It needs to draw the reader in with a compelling beginning, present a very condensed version of what they can expect from the full story, and demonstrate the author's writing abilities. All I'm getting here are vague promises of various elements without any clue as to how they all fit together. Don't tell your potential editors or agents that you've crafted an imaginative future world, or worse, that you believe you have accomplished this task, which leaves room for them to think that you may not have. Give them a sample of the world you have created and let them see for themselves that it's original and imaginative.

If you need a framework for your new query, here are some basic questions that a good query should answer.
- Who are the main characters? Sam and Ben, tow truck drivers of the future. So that's one question answered by your current query.
- What do the main characters want? Not a clue.
- What is stopping them from achieving their goal? Again, no idea. These two questions make up your plot, so if you want the editor to believe that your story has a plot, you'd best answer them.
- What happens if yor characters succeed or fail in achieving their goal? Don't know the goal, so this is another question mark. This is the stakes, why your story matters. It tells the editor that you aren't writing a story that hinges on whether your characters get to eat a tuna fish sandwich or not.

khazarkhum said...

So we have repo men working in space, correct? "Quark" covered the space garbageman angle many years ago. Are these guys actually paid repo men, or are they "salvage experts" in the same sense that Blackbeard claimed to be?

T. K. Marnell said...

"As I understand it that is the way it is done and I do not want to waste your time or anyone else's."

You won't waste any agent's time with this query--because none of them will read it. They will skim over the first paragraph, spot the first bullet point, and click "Delete."

As AR said in the first comment, you can find many, many queries and EE's critiques of them on this blog. Another good resource is the forum AgentQuery Connect. But first, just type "how to write a query letter" into Google and read through the reputable-looking results.

Maybe you have an awesome book, but I can't tell because you haven't told us anything about it other than "Aliens! Space battles! Sex! Whee!"

Lawrence Oliver said...

Thanks for all the great feedback folks. This is my first attempt so I'll keep at it and check out those resources y'all recommended. Funny part is that most of what everyone didn't like were elements if not directly from a sample of a successful query letter from the book Writer's Market, Guide to Getting Published pg 150. Including the numbering and the part about the intention to send it to other agents and not wanting to waist anyones time. Interesting how subjective this industry seems to be. But thanks again and I'm already working to revise and cut out a lot of what you suggested EE.

By the way can I submit the revised version and see if that is any better?

Lawrence Oliver said...

Khazarkhumm repo is only one aspect of the towing business and the majority of towing companies don't even do repos. They help stranded motorist, clear accidents off the roads so people can get on about their business and often deal with salvage as a result. Same thing here only with spaceships and as I failed to make clear in my query the recovery operating is mostly part of the back story. Never heard of Quark but I'll have to check it out.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The Writer's Market is clearly not what it once was.

I'd noticed that about the Writer's Digest for several years, so it figures the WM, which they publish, would follow suit.

Lawrence Oliver said...

I forgot to ask. Should I include the fact that this novel passes both the Mako Mori and Bechdel tests? I've been told yes and no.

Evil Editor said...

Those tests apply to movies, and movie producers make no effort to pass them, so no, don't mention it.

However, if your book passes the Kobayashi Maru test, you might mention that.

Dave Fragments said...

I had a neighbor who had his own salvage company. He called himself a 'salvor" and not a "salvager."
It was a strange business - - salvage usable items from fires, bankruptcies, disasters, abandonements, and stuff like that.

Lawrence Oliver said...

So EE can I submit it again after I've revised it?

InkAndPixelClub said...

Lawrence Oliver> You can post revised versions of your query as replies to this post. EE will usually post an update so the minion know ithat a new draft is available for critiquing.

Saying that your novel passes two tests designed to determine that a work of fiction has well developed female characters would not hel the current query because you don't say who these characters are what they do in the story. The Bechdel test is a pretty low hurdle to cross and if your story has a female character with her own story arc, an editor is going to be more interested in knowing what that arc is than just being told it's in there.

Evil Editor said...

Yes, we do revisions.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I forgot to ask. Should I include the fact that this novel passes both the Mako Mori and Bechdel tests?

No. You should talk about your story.

And by this I mean the characters and plot. Not the externals of the story.

Talk about the story.

Look at Ink and Pixel Club's list, above. That's what we need to know.

Btw, I had to look up what the Mako Mori test is, and I've sold nine books. It's great to write inclusive literature, but "it passes the Bechdel test" is the sort of thing that gets said incidentally about a book long after it's published. Or that you hope will get said. All my books pass the Bechdel test and, I now see, the Mako Mori test, and no one's ever noticed. But, as I&PC says, the Bechdel test is a low bar. That was the point of the wry joke in the original comic strip.

Beware internet advice. Most of it is the unpublished leading the unpublished. You can find good advice here, on Janet Reid's blogs, and sometimes (not always) on Absolute Write. Don't try to parse the query process into an alchemy of this and that magic ingredient.

Focus on the story.

Lawrence Oliver said...

Thank you Inkandpixel, I was not suggesting that mentioning the tests would solve any of the problems previously pointed out or magically make them irrelevant. It was just a separate question that I wanted clarification on since I'd been told both for less reliable sources. I figured as long as I was rewriting it anyway I would ask. Thank you all again.

Lawrence Oliver said...

Dear Evil Editor:

Damn Aliens is a science fiction novel, the first of a projected series, which I’d like to submit for your consideration. I hope this letter and the accompanying synopsis of Damn Aliens will convince you to do so.

The book is nuts and bolts space opera / military science fiction involving androids, alien blood suckers, a little alien hanky panky, strong but flawed characters and some humor.

Sam Garrett a 60ish jaded old warhorse and 30 something Ben Corbin, are two disgruntled former soldiers turned interplanetary recovery operators (space tow truck drivers) and salvagers working the shipping lanes between Earth and a partially terraformed Mars still recovering from a failed war for independence from the Colonial government on Earth. Mostly they are just looking for an honest tow but they won't pass up an opportunity to salvage a derelict or two if they get the chance. Things have been going well for their small company since Ben's wife Sarah took over running the office out of Alpha City on Mars. That is until fate or bad luck kicks them in the ass when they are attacked by aliens (that as far as humans knew didn’t exist). A pitched battle with the alien boarders forces Ben and Sam to take refuge in the captain’s launch and put themselves in stasis pods hoping that their bio signs will be masked enough to avoid detection.

The plan works but the pods malfunction and the ship is only recovered by chance over 600 years later. Ben and Sam are awakened to their bodies having been damaged by long term stasis and a world that is much changed. The human race is at war but not with the aliens that attacked them 600 years ago. Known as the Gar Rei Jhi they are now allies of the human race in the war against a new alien threat. Sam’s and Ben’s bodies are repaired with nanite controlled cybernetic augmentations and flashed cloned organs. The Commonwealth of Nations (the current human government) forces them to work together with the Gar Rei for political reasons. To that end Ben and Sam are conscripted as members of a large joint task force being sent to the Gar Rei home world to help bolster the shaky alliance and exchange technology. Their new alien enemies, amphibian looking, nine foot tall aliens with four muscular arms and eight sinuous python like tentacles for legs, known as the 19th will do whatever they can to stop the humans and destroy the Gar Rei out right. Sam and Ben won't be doing it alone though. Tough as nails Fleet Infantry soldiers like Lt. Hammer, her C.O. Commander Ogrun, Catherine Norton a brilliant cyberneticist and quirky Dr. Oshi Lui are there to make sure the mission is a success. Along with a host of self-aware robots like Sgt. Atom and Corp. Shell among others.

This story will appeal to adult fans of soft, military and space opera science fiction and possibly even fans of the horror genre.

I hope that you will agree to read the manuscript of Damn Aliens. Your site was recommended to me by a literary agent Sara Megibow of the Nelson Agency (not Vader or Fakeagent guy) that I met on Twitter while I was researching agents. As soon as I saw the death ray vision cartoon burning through a manuscript I knew I had to submit my query letter.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Lawrence N. Oliver

Evil Editor said...

Here's a pared-down version that's about the right length for a query letter. You can add or subtract as you feel necessary, but you don't want it much longer:



Damn Aliens is a space opera/science fiction novel, the first of a projected series.

Sam Garrett and Ben Corbin, two disgruntled ex-soldiers, have started a space salvage business, working the shipping lanes between Earth and a partially terraformed Mars. Things are going well for their company until they are attacked by aliens known as the Gar Rei Jhi. A pitched battle forces Ben and Sam to take refuge in stasis pods, hoping their bio signs will be masked enough to avoid detection.

The plan works but the pods malfunction and Ben and Sam wake 600 years later, to a world in which the human race is at war--not with the Gar Rei Jhi, who are now allies of the human race--but against a new alien threat. Ben and Sam are conscripted and sent to the Gar Rei home world to bolster the shaky alliance and exchange technology.

Earth's new alien enemies will do whatever they can to stop the humans' mission and destroy the Gar Rei outright. Fortunately, Sam and Ben won't be taking them on alone. Tough as nails Fleet Infantry soldiers, brilliant cyberneticist Catherine Norton, and quirky Dr. Oshi Lui are along to make sure the mission is a success. Along with a host of self-aware robots.

Damn Aliens is complete at __,000 words. The story will appeal to adult fans of soft, military and space opera science fiction and possibly even fans of the horror genre.

Thank you.



Feel free to work in a brief explanation of why Earth would send these two guys who've been asleep for 600 years on such an important mission.

Anonymous said...

Added to the other suggestions, you might want to check out Miss Snark's site http://misssnark.blogspot.com/ for the archives (it's no longer updated)

some rules of thumb:

You don't need to mention anything the agent already knows (e.g. you hope they will read your manuscript -- why else would you send it to them?)

You don't need to mention anything the agent will decide on their own anyway (e.g. whether the characters are flawed/strong)

You don't need to mention things you have no control over (e.g. who it will appeal to)

You don't need to repeat anything you've already said (e.g. jaded/disgruntled) -- check your manuscript for this editing opportunity :)

As to content:
I'd like a bit more detail about how the diplomatic mission is going rather than a list of characters.

Other than that, sounds like fun.

Hope this helps

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I agree with what they said, and I want to add this:

Take some time before you revise this again. You should always wait 24 hours after reading critiques before you even begin a revision, and that includes query letters.

InkAndPixelClub said...

This is better, though mich too long. EE's tightened up version should give you an idea of what direction you need to go in.

Most of the first two paragraphs can go and most of the last paragraph too. All you really need aside from your story are the title of the book, genre, word count, maybe some books that it's similar too, and a "thank you for your time." The editors probably don't care where you heard about them from and few of them have lovely portraits like EE's to gush over.

Your sentences run long, which can make them confusing to read. You want the first sentence in particular to grab your reader. Editors go through tons of queries every day and seeing whether the first sentence piques their interest is a quick way to separate the ones that get a form rejection letter from the ones that get a more thorough read-through. If the sentence is so long that the editor forgets how it started by the end of it, your query is going to end up in the pile you don't want it in.

I'm still not getting a great sense of Sam and Ben. I have a better idea of what happens to them, but not how they feel about their circumstances or what they actually do. Their goals remain unclear. I see that they have a task assigned to them, but in addition to wondering guys who just woke up 600 years after being attacked by the Gar Rei Jhi are going to be at all helpful in strengthenng the alliance and exchanging tech with them, I'm unsure if they want to try to build new live for themselves in this new era, look for a way to get back to their time, kill all the Gar Rei Jhi, have sex with aliens, or something else.

The stakes are a little more clear, but I don't understand how we get from Sam and Ben on a diplomatic mission to Sam and Ben having some role in the war with the new alien race.

Get to the jump to 600 in the future as fast as possible in the next draft. That's where the majority of the story happens, so we don't need a whole lot of info about Sam and Ben's lives or the state of the universe before they wake up in the future.

Lawrence Oliver said...

Thanks a lot, I've been struggling with how to fit in the reason for Sam and Ben's significance to the Gar Rei and why they were "chosen" to be "Emissaries of The Alliance" by the Gar Rei.The 19th and The Gar Rei had been at war on and off for hundreds of years but there had been a lull in the conflict for a long time until the 19th attacked a Gar Rei colony on the planet Camillus. The Soli Na (a Gar Rei battleship) barely escaped and was badly damaged. They needed food for their long journey home to warn their people of the renewed threat. Now being basically space vampires as far as needing fresh blood to survive (bodies can't process dead tissue, solid proteins or most starches well enough to get what they need to survive). As a result hunting and feeding is deeply ingrained in their culture. The Commanders of the Soli Na needed to reassert dominance after their defeat at Camillus and replenish the ships food supply. Our solar system just happened to be a convenient (and long used) stop along the way. Enter the Ossamer (the ship Ben and Sam were on that the Gar Rei attacked). Subjects of the hunt especially sentient ones are highly regarded by the Gar Rei if they were particularly formidable, manage to escape and even wound or kill the hunters. Sam and Ben had managed to do just that. The rest of the crew and passengers of the Ossamer weren't that lucky. They were either killed and fed on or taken captive to sustain the Gar Rei on their journey. Though hunting intelligent life has supposedly been outlawed for hundreds of years. It was still allowed in emergencies and legitimate battle. The crew of the Soli Na were heroes when they made it back to their home world and the Ossamer hunt became a part of their history. So when the Gar Rei Ambassadors to Earth heard that two humans had survived the Ossamer hunt is stasis for long they insisted that they be made Emissaries of The Alliance. To be an example of humankind and prove to the anti-alliance factions in the Gar Rei government, military and citizenry that human's would be worthy allies.

This is pretty much hitting the high lights of "why" they were chosen and I've been having trouble trying to boil it down to fit in the query. Hell this isn't even a detailed accounting.

Word count is 243,000 and some change by the way. I've also heard that I should not include it in the query since that is, I guess, a long book for a first timer and that might cause an agent to baulk before giving it a chance.

I will work on getting the explanation in there while trying to keep it as short as possible.

Thanks again, I really appreciate the help and guidance.

Lawrence Oliver said...

Thanks Anonymous, I think I'm gonna tear page 150 out of Writer's Market Guide to Getting Published. Almost everything you mentioned as well came from that example of a successful query letter. And I will find a way to cut down the info about the mission so that is will not only fit but make sense.

Thanks again. Damn it I

SB said...

Yeah, my biggest question is why they're so hard up for soldiers/diplomats/whatever that they're sending guys who just woke up from a 600-year nap. I'd have a hard time imagining the current US government finding some frozen Pilgrims and sending them off on a trade mission to Afghanistan. I find the scenario you've set up just as implausible without more information.

Also, you phrase it as if they are suddenly on board with helping avoid the destruction of the aliens who attacked their ship and made them freeze themselves never to see their families again. I would expect them to not care so much if these 'ally' aliens got destroyed.

Also, it's irrelevant who pointed you at a particular agent unless it was another agent who read your manuscript and said 'this isn't for me but so-and-so might like it'. In other words, if it's a recommendation of you to the agent, not of the agent to you.

Amy said...

I like your revision. Just the cliché "tough as nails" stood out to me for some reason, just because it is a cliché. Then again you didn't describe any of the females as "beautiful" so props for that!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Word count is 243,000 and some change by the way. I've also heard that I should not include it in the query since that is, I guess, a long book for a first timer and that might cause an agent to baulk before giving it a chance.

It's a long book for anybody. I wouldn't dream of trying to get away with it as a tenth-timer.

I would strongly, strongly suggest going back to that manuscript and cutting 150,000 words. And if that seems like too much work, well... welcome to the club.

Evil Editor said...

243,000 words is going to be close to 1000 pages. The bookstore could put four books by authors people have heard of in the same space your book would fill. Three copies would take up an entire aisle at Barnes and Noble. You couldn't think of a single thing to tell us about your story two days ago, and now it's longer than the complete works of J.D. Salinger?

You said in the first draft that you didn't want to waste anyone's time. Not mentioning the length in your query because it might be a deal killer will waste the time of anyone who asks to see pages only to find out fifty square miles of rainforest will need to be destroyed for your first print run.

Have a little compassion for the postal workers who have to deliver books from Amazon.com. There'll be a plague of back injuries like the world has never seen.

This is projected to be a series? It's already a series. Divide the book into at least two parts, cut as much as possible, and query part 1 as the first book in the series.

SB said...

Considering how long your explanation was, compared with how long it needed to be to answer the 'why' question, I think I can see why your book is so long.

Sam and Ben survived an attack by the fearsome Gar Rei, thus earning the Gar Rei's respect as predators (or warriors or however you want to put it). It also makes them two of the only humans the Gar Rei consider equal/strong enough to consider being allies with.

Something to that effect.

Though now I'm wondering why humans would want to ally with aliens who see them as food. Even if they only feed on humans when they're really hungry, that's still not really someone you'd think humans would be comfortable getting in bed with.

Lawrence Oliver said...

I was thinking more like 500- 550 pages. Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead is 311,000 words and it comes out at 720pgs. The English version of War and Peace at almost 600,000 words comes in at between 1200 to 1440 pages depending on which version.

Lawrence Oliver said...

Amy I totally agree and "tough as nails is a little lame" I'm still struggling with trying to use a few words as possible to paint the picture. But again I'm still working on it maybe "highly trained" or "elite Fleet Infantry soldiers" or something like that. All good points folks.

Thanks.

Lawrence Oliver said...

Alaska I hate waiting but I suppose the damn garage does need cleaning out... I'll step back for a day or so before making anymore revisions and figuring out how to cram the Gar Rei's motives for insisting that Sam and Ben be made Emissaries of the Alliance. As to cutting it down ugh... I can think of a couple of areas I and cut and put in the sequel about 50k- 70k worth but I would really hate to cut more than that. I will if I have to though. It's not about the difficulty of doing so it's just that I would hate to have to cut out detail or backstory elements. The people who have read it say they love that about it but again I'll figure out a way to do it if I have to.

I had originally included the word count in the interest of full disclosure but was then told by a couple of people on writing blogs to leave it out. But I will include it in the next revision.

Evil Editor said...

You're telling me some author managed to get a 1200-page book published? Who is this Tolstoy guy and how do I get his agent?

Obviously the page count will depend on whether it's a 7 by 9-inch hardback or a 4 by 7 paperback, whether it's printed in font size 11 or 9, etc.

Whether publishers will even consider a book that long depends on whether the author has a proven sales record, whether it's being published at a time when publishers are pinching pennies or throwing money at every book that comes their way, etc.

What the people who've read your book tell you about it has no bearing on anything--unless they offer to foot the bill for publishing it.

You don't need to cut huge subplots to make it shorter, just use half as many words to say what you need to say. The way I managed to cut your presumably concise query letter down to two fifths of the original size.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...


With regard to your query: You should be able to sum up your novel in a single sentence, under 20 words in length.

But I can't get away from the idea that you're querying too soon. If at this point you agree with us that you're willing to cut 50-70k, then you need to do that before you query.

Back story should never add significantly to word count. Readers want to read a story, not a back story. The same goes for details.

When I need to cut, I print out the manuscript. I write down the total number of words that I want to cut and divide it by the number of printed pages. Say I get an answer of "10". Then I go through the manuscript and try to find 10 words to cut on every page. Takes a couple weeks.

It sounds like you're really just starting out. Give yourself time to learn the craft. Most of the authors I know sold their fourth or fifth novel, not their first one. There's so much to learn in this business.

This isn't to say you're wasting your time. As long as you're writing and revising, you're learning, but you need to learn even more.

You might send this out as is. If anyone expresses an interest then-- please don't take this the wrong way-- I would google them assiduously. Make sure they're on the up-and-up. There are a hundred scammers for every honest agent and publisher, and a new writer who's getting information from the internet is like gold to them.

Here's what I think you should do:

1. Read a lot of books about writing, especially by real authors. You need the advice of people who have been there.

2. Join a writing group or take a writing class in meatspace. If everyone tells you you're doing great, quit and join another one. (I'd give the same advice to anybody. I quit two writing groups for that reason myself.)

I'd also advise reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Sometimes writers have trouble figuring out how to condense their own stories down to query length. They see every piece as important because they know how it all connects up in the narrative, so it becomes very hard to determine what's essential and what isn't.

The explanation for why Sam and Ben are ideal emissaries doesn't even need to be as long as what SB came up with. All you really need to say is that the Gar Rei now regard them as legendary warriors from a great battle of the past. You don't need to go into the Gar Rei's culture and feeding habits or the fact that it's very rare for them to attack another sentient species. For the purposes of the query, all we need to know that the Gar Rei respect Sam and Ben and why they do.

In addition to the issues EE mentioned with a high word count, some editors are going to look at it - fairly or not - as a sign that a writer can't edit themselves. For editors, that means extra time they'll have to spend editing out unnecessary passages themselves.

Have you shown your book to anyone you don't know personally yet? Friends and family are usually softer critics than total strangers or editors (I almost typed "enemies" for some reason). Even if they're trying to be helpful and constructive, they' may be hesitant to tell you if there's a big problem, like an entire chapter that doesn't add anything to the story.

Lawrence Oliver said...

SB I didn't have to make the explanation that long I was just sharing a little of the back story. As to the 2nd "why" humans discovered the existence of the Gar Rei while Sam and Ben were frozen. We declared war on the Gar Rei, they pretty much kicked our asses until while boarding a human war ship they discovered our Hemo-Gel a cloned blood product that stays fresh for long periods of time. Cultural issue prevented the Gar Rei from producing it themselves so they sued for peace and a limited trade agreement. Said ass whoopin and knowing the Gar Rei weren't the only aliens out there caused a cultural shift on Earth geared toward advancing tech and preparedness. Relations with various other alien species humans came across over that time also contributed to the technological advancement of humans. So by the time Sam and Ben were found humans had done a great deal to narrow the gap.

Lawrence Oliver said...

I was not comparing my work to Tolstoy I was just saying I don't think my book would be 1000 pges compared to some other novels by comparing word count and number of pages.
After looking into that I totally see your point about it being too long though. Frank Herbert's Dune was only 187,000 and that is one of the longer ones I found. I can easily cut it in half to about 120,000 word per book. As well a streamlining it to some degree.

Lawrence Oliver said...

Yes this is my first book, first query, first synopsis. Alaska I have to admit I've already "re-revised" my revision, couldn't wait. Thanks for the advice I will order that book today and look into writing groups this afternoon. Ink I have shown the book to five people three I know personally two I did not know, all fans of the genre. In all cases I asked for brutal honesty. Four out of five actually said it was better than many books they have paid for. They all liked it hell one of them only read the first half of the book while I was working on it and had hounded me on an off for years to let him read the other half. Though I have asked no one has really said anything bad about it except one person who said (and I agree) that I have a tendency to over explain.

Can one query letter offer up a manuscript as two books in a series. As it's written it could easily be divided into to two. The events leading up to leaving on their Journey to the Gar Rei homeworld and the events that take place on the journey.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

If everyone you're showing your work to has nothing but praise, you're showing it to the wrong people. It's a rule I follow myself.

No, one query letter must be for one book.

Dave Fragments said...

I was one of EE followers who used to say - "CUT BY HALF" and mean it. Remember, you don't have to throw what you cut away just put it aside. That's one of my first edits. Cut the extra words and then come back to refine the story. But the first edit is cut, cut, cut and not by scene but by words.

200,000+ words as a first novel will not make it into print. That's a flat statement of fact.

DUNE was published as a serial in ANALOG and Frank Herbert had a series of stories in ANALOG, Fantastic stories, Astounding stories, Amazing stories and the serialized version of DUNE was still not his first novel and not his first short story.

The first question you need to ask yourself is if you have more than one book. For more than one book, you need an outline. If you didn't make an outline to write the book then you need to do it now.
From the outline look for ways to tell the story. If you want "linear" then the arc of the story goes from Chapter one to Chapter End and the next book begins. . . A book news to makes some point (has some message) or fulfills something in the reader.
If you make the story "non-linear" then quite possible, the origin of the main character can be moved to the second or third novel. Some of it may not be usable except as background to you, the author. That's not a waste of time but more of a writing aid.
Once you decided on the overall structure and the number of books, then you can begin another rewrite of the story and fit the current words into the structure.

Don't fear a rewrite. I have stories with two dozen numbered versions where only the fifth from the last satisfied me and I still edited after that.

The work of writing (and the fun of it) is the rewriting that improves it and builds character or mood or style. Does the story start in rain and end in rain and is the mood of rain carried throughout? "Rain" simply being an example here. (It's raining outside at this very minute).

As an example of my first chop, chop, chop, this:
Knowing where the chanting originated, he could wait for Tommy to wake.
becomes this:
The chanting could wait for morning.

So go to it. Enjoy the rewrites. Make the story better.

Anonymous said...

Ok, a few suggestion to get you started on self editing. (I'm down to 142K from 185+K and am still grinding down without losing much that anyone but me will ever care about)

1) create a clip file (if you don't have one already). This is for everything you take out of your book. You aren't throwing it away, you're saving it to be used elsewhere.

2) go through each scene, decide how much of it's relevant to the main plot or significant supporting sub plot (at that word count you don't have room for non-supporting sub plots, make them separate books). If it's only a small fraction of text, see if you can move the info to a different scene and move the rest to your clip file.

Remove/combine characters with duplicate functions
Remove duplicate information
Remove excessive detail
Remove meaningless flavor text
Remove back story--including everything interesting that doesn't directly impact the current plot. Limit detail on anything that can't be removed.

note: the problem with back story is that it happened in the past. It removes the reader from the immediacy of the current plot and can't be changed by the characters (barring time travel paradox stories)

3. as AlaskaRavenclaw said pick a percentage and cut that many words.

4. take a look at what you have and cut another percentage of words

5. repeat steps 2-4 until the book will disintegrate if you remove anything else

6. Find good people to beta who are fans of the genre who read A LOT (minimum a book a week, preferably 6+ books a week). See what they think can be cut

7. repeat steps 2-6 until finished

Hope this helps

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Anonymous's suggestions on how to edit your manuscript are really good. I hope you will take them.

Meanwhile, continuing to edit the query is a useful exercise if, and only if, it helps you focus on the central message of the story.

You should not plan on querying until your story is revised, re-revised, and polished to a steely glow.

SB said...

"When I need to cut, I print out the manuscript. I write down the total number of words that I want to cut and divide it by the number of printed pages. Say I get an answer of "10". Then I go through the manuscript and try to find 10 words to cut on every page. Takes a couple weeks."

That sounds like good advice, AR. I think I'm going to try that on my next revision.

Anon - Can anyone actually read 6 books a week? Anyone who has a job/responsibilities, that is? I'd be highly skeptical of getting critiques from anyone who reads that quickly. Unless they're some kind of genius. From what I've learned of speed-reading, I have serious doubts that people reading that fast are actually really giving it a fair read.

Now, author, regarding backstory -- I know how difficult it can be to cut backstory out. But Anonymous is right in that people just don't care about backstory as much. It's taking them back, not forward, and they probably already know how it ends, so the tension is gone.

An example: The book I'm working on now includes an important secondary character with what I think is a really interesting backstory which explains why he is who he currently is. But most of it's not relevant to the story I was writing. So I included just enough to be relevant without getting into the whole thing. I tried to go back and write a companion book to cover the backstory while also telling a present-day story about him. After about 50,000 words, I realized the present-day part of the story wasn't very interesting, and the backstory didn't really stand alone. So, I scrapped the idea and decided to hold onto the backstory bits. Maybe I'll find some places to put some of it in future books. My main thought now is that if the book succeeds and finds an audience, I can offer that backstory as some sort of bonus thing (on my website, if nothing else) for those who are interested in learning more about this character.

So, like Anonymous said, don't think of the parts you cut as being gone forever. Think of them as things that maybe you can find places for later. Or, if not that, things you could put up as 'deleted scenes' or bonus bits if the book builds a fan base. If you don't eventually decide to scrap them after all.

Lawrence Oliver said...

Is anyone a member of Scribophile or heard anything about it? I'm also open to any other recommendations regarding online writing groups if anyone here knows of a good one.

Starting next week I'm going to look into cutting my book in half as it already happens be pretty much the first two parts of the same story.

That would putt me at about 120,000 words per book and then I could probably whittle that down to less than 100k.

I'm going to read that Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne before I start cutting each of the two parts down though. I've already ordered it and Amazon should have it here in a couple of days.

Whatever I get from the Renni Browne's book and the information I've received
here I'm sure will be very helpful.

I may even pay an editor to look at eventually, not sure yet.

Thanks again for everyone's input and guidance.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I would really strongly recommend a live writing group if you can find one.

Lawrence Oliver said...

Looked into live groups first and all of the ones I found in the area meet on nights I work. 60 to 72 hour work weeks don't leave much time for meetings but most of the time I'm in an office in front of a computer so I do have the opportunity to write when we aren't busy.