Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Feedback Request

Dear EE,

Some months ago I sent you a query under the title of THE MAILMAN. Your feedback prompted a re-working not just of the query but of the novel itself…and the title, which is now ONE WAY TO TUCSON. I’m hoping you’ll be so kind as to cast your withering gaze on the latest effort.

Also, can you say something, please, regarding proper novel length. Some quarters suggest a minimum of seventy thousand words.

Thank you.

Former two-tour Marine MP, Trevor Hayworth, is now a substitute mailman. [I don't think it's necessary to put commas around a person's name the way you would it if it read Trevor Hayworth, former two-tour Marine MP, is now a substitute mailman. I mean, would you put commas around "John" if it were My son John is very tall? To me, the question is whether you would pause noticeably before and after the name when speaking aloud.] It doesn’t pay enough but it keeps him clear of trouble. One day, while he’s delivering, a beautiful young woman begs him to help her escape her sex trafficking captors. When he offers to call the police she says the police and the traffickers are working “together”. [I don't see the need for those quotation marks.] That’s when Hayworth knows trouble has found him again. [Not sure what "again" means. Unless it's obvious to everyone that trouble must have found him in the past because he was a Marine MP. Maybe if the earlier sentence ended " keeps him from looking for trouble." and this one ended "trouble has found him."]

Later, Hayworth and the girl are in his pickup, racing out of San Diego for Tucson, where the girl’s family is supposed to live. [Changing "is supposed to" to "supposedly" would fix some ambiguity. For that matter you can just say it's where she has family, even if it's going to turn out that her family doesn't live there, since you're telling this from the character's viewpoint.] With them are three million dollars they took from the trafficker’s [traffickers'] house. Chasing them east on Route 10 are trafficking thugs, corrupt cops, and a newspaper reporter who moon lights [moonlights] as a hitman. Everyone wants the money and no one wants them alive.

As the skirmishes increase and the margins of their escapes narrow it’s evident to Hayworth they’re increasingly dependent on something notoriously unreliable: good luck. The girl, meanwhile, presents him with surprises and problems outside his skillset. And he begins to wonder—if they make it to Tucson—what’s really waiting for them there. [If I've followed someone from San Diego to Tucson because he stole my three million dollars, I'm not turning back just because he reached the city limits. It's not like a drawbridge will be raised as they enter Tucson. 

ONE WAY TO TUCSON is complete at 65,400 words.


Most of my comments are nitpicks. It does seem rather abrupt that a woman needs help escaping her captors, and we immediately transition to: later they're racing out of San Diego with three million dollars of the captors' money. It has me wondering if the ex-marine broke down the door, killed the captors, blew open the safe, and took off with the girl and money just as the cops and the dead captors' cohorts and the hitman reporter were all showing up. Possibly that's exactly how it went down, in which case one sentence saying so would help.

Regarding "proper novel length":

There's no such thing. The minimum length of a book that can be entered in the Rita Awards (Romance Writers of America) short novel category is 40,000 words. Same for the Nebula Awards (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) novel category. The Edgar Awards for mysteries demands at least 22,000 words. For the Thriller Awards the cutoff is 35,000 words. As for maximum lengths, it's generally best to stay under 100,000 words, although fantasy books that require lots of world building are given leniency.

Your chances of getting a book published if it's close to the minimums for the awards have been slim in recent decades. Presumably this is because publishers noticed that people bought thicker books more than thinner books. It's possible this is less of a concern these days with ebooks because the thickness of the book, the size of the font, aren't visually noticeable. Also, it's cheaper to print a short book, and money's tight in the industry.

My own opinion is that the proper word length is that which you've achieved when the book has reached its conclusion. In a just world that would be the opinion of publishers and editors and agents as well, but I suspect if you don't come in between 60,000 and 100,000 you are reducing the number of publishers, editors and agents who will take a look at your book. You're not reducing it to zero, however, so check guidelines.

If you're asking because you want to know whether to increase your word count from 65,400 to 70,000, I doubt that's necessary unless the additional 4600 words would be filling glaring plot holes.


InkAndPixelClub said...

I wonder if this might be a more exciting read if you start with Trevor and his nameless damsel in distress on the run and then backtrack to how they got into this mess. You already jump right from the young woman asking for help to the pair heading to Tuscon, so it wouldn't be too much of a change. Right now, you have two not very enticing sentences before the plot gets going,

The whole "keeps him out of trouble/trouble has found him again" thing doesn't make much sense to me either. It might work if Trevor was an ex-con trying to go straight or if he had a reputation for getting himself in over his head as a Marine. But as is, I'm wondering what kind of trouble his mailman job is keeping him clear of.

Unless you can explain it without using too many words, I'd consider dumping the $3 million from the query. Maybe focus on the woman as the target for the traffickers, the crooked cops, and the hitman, and how she has evidence that could take down their whole operation, assuming that's the case the problem with the $3 million is that I don't understand why Trevor and the woman took it. Sure, money is nice to have, but if their goal is to get to Tuscon alive, wouldn't not giving the bad guys extra reasons to chase after them be a better idea?

The last paragraph is too vague. They get into some fights, but I don't know what kind or with who. They make some lucky escapes, but I don't know how. The girl presents Trevor with surprises and problems outside his skillset, but I don't know what the surprises, the problems, or the skillset are. You don't have to detail everything that happens, but I'd like a little more information about what Trevor will be doing in what I assume is the majority of the book.

Confused by Commas said...

My recent research says the information should be set off by commas if it's not necessary to understanding the sentence, and not set off if it is, unless I've got that backwards. So, "My son John is...." would imply more than one son, one of whom is named John, and "My son, John, is...." would imply only one son whose name happens to be John. I don't know if that will make a difference to the query, or if anyone is that picky about emphasizing the name(s) of their son(s).

Brief internet research says 65,000 words is on the low side for a thriller. It should be all right if the writing is excellent, but you might want to think of a nice subplot or two, maybe on the road trip?, to fatten the turke..., um, word count up a little. (Apologies for the bad joke if you aren't a US author with an upcoming holiday)

I do think this version is an improvement over the last.

A transition sentence between finding the girl in trouble and heading out of town with her might help. The latter part of the query seems vague. More specific examples of the trouble they run into and the girl's surprises and problems also might help.

Tk said...

Please give "the girl" a name and use it in the query. I'm almost 100% sure that leaving her nameless will be a turn-off to a big proportion of agents.

Amy said...

So glad she was "beautiful"! Wouldn't need to know anything more about her than that, right? How good looking is Trevor?

Mister Furkles said...

The first two paragraphs with EE edits, are quite good. The third paragraph lacks specificity. It should end with some incomplete climactic conflict between the MC and the bad guys.

Also, it might make a better story if the MC doesn't know, at least at first, that the girl has stolen three million dollars. And maybe better still if she leaves him in the lurch to fight the bad guys while she tries to escape to Europe with the bucks.

If you do something like that, it should be in the query too.

Anonymous said...

What's the time period? Modern day?

What form is the $3mil? Jewelry? People don't normally keep that kind of cash on hand, even in a safe.

dancing foot said...

Thanks, Amy, I needed that.