Thursday, June 15, 2017

Feedback Request



The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1355 would like feedback on the following revision:



Dear Evil Editor,


INDIGO ANGEL is the story of Sean Foster, and his journey of self-discovery in the face of adversity. Sean has struggled with Cystic Fibrosis all his life. Freshman year of high school he survives getting beaten and bullied. Sophomore year he meets Jenessa 'Jen' Quinto. Having lost her brother to cancer, she recognizes and admires Sean’s courage. They start dating, and quickly fall in love. Junior year their relationship culminates with a road trip, where they sleep under the stars.


Just before senior year Jen unexpectedly breaks up with him. Sean’s world is shattered. His twin sister Sara gets accepted to UCLA, so the siblings make plans to get an apartment and live as roommates. But when their mother says Sean has to stay in their small town of Indigo, due to his illness[,] Sean attempts suicide.


He survives, and his mother retracts her previous statement, grateful to have her son. So along with Sara and her boyfriend Johnny, Sean makes it out to California. The group tracks down Jen. She had been sent to live in Seattle with her grandmother where she gave birth to Sean’s daughter. Reunited as a family, Sean steps into the role of being a father to his little miracle.


Indigo Angel, a work of contemporary fiction, runs about 98,000 words, and is similar in tone to John Green’s The Fault in our Stars.


I am a Mexican-American veteran of the United States Air Force. Although born in California my work in the military took me all over the world including the diverse Midwest, from the beautiful landscapes of the Dakotas to the small towns of Wisconsin. My novel was inspired by my travels and aspects of my cultural heritage.


Thank you for your consideration,



Notes

I was expecting a revision to focus on Sean's goals. What does he want, what's he doing to get it, what's keeping him from getting it? I'm not sure what his main goal is in the book, but the goal that seems most likely to tie all the threads together is Sean's investigation of his lineage. Perhaps he reads that if he has cystic fibrosis, his twin sister also would have it. At which point his mother is forced to admit they're not twins, he's adopted, and now he wants to know about his birth mother. And when he finds out Jen was pregnant when she left town, he knows he's passed the CF gene on. This sounds like the makings of a story. Your new version has eliminated all of this. You're basically listing one or two things that happen to Sean each year. It feels more like an outline than a story summary.


21 comments:

Claudia_Witter said...

One thing I noticed while reading this: it's very, very distant from Sean's POV. You just tell us he falls in love, but as a reader, I have no idea what he loves about Jen, or really, how he feels about anything.

For example, you tell us he attempts suicide. I really have no idea why. Yes, I know you say it's because he can't live with his twin, but it seems like an extreme reaction to me. If my younger sister, who I'm really close with, decides to move out one day and doesn't want me living in her house, I wouldn't attempt suicide. I know that's not the same thing, since his twin does want him there, but still, my first thought is: What is he going to do when she wants her own house for her own family? What will he do if she says he can't live there?

It'd be a little better if readers could see how Sean feels about his twin leaving and why he's even attempting suicide. To me, it seems like his twin would rather him live away from her than not live at all.

Also, you tell us the ending. I don't think you're supposed to do that in a query letter, only in a synopsis.

Anonymous said...

The main purpose of a query letter is to convince the editor/agent that they can sell this book. They want to know your book has an interesting plot (barring literary fiction), not the book's themes. Tell them enough to convince them to read the book without saying so much that there's no reason to read it because they know everything that happens.


Your MC: Sean

Sean wants/at stake for Sean is: family? identity? <--write this out for your own benefit. Try to incorporate the information into the query

Sean's plan to get what he wants is: what is Sean going to DO? If he's not going to do much himself, you probably need to say something about how he's going to change or develop. Why should the reader cheer on this character?

Obstacles/problems with Sean's plan: Does his CF cause him plot-related problems? If so, what are they? If not, what does?

dourdan said...

This is what Sean wants - "With his body in constant pain all he ever wanted out of life was to feel normal in his own skin."

I will defiantly try to think about each action from more of the pov of Sean's motivations.

Also -
"Reunited as a family, Sean steps into the role of being a father to his little miracle." -represents about the 1/2 way mark of my book. but i can see how that was not very clear.

thanks for all comments and feedback
:)

dourdan said...

Claudia_Witter- to answer your question -"What is he going to do when she wants her own house for her own family? What will he do if she says he can't live there?"

That is in the book, but it seems like more of Sara's problem and it happens after they make it to CA (Sean dislikes Johnny and essentially tries to make Sara choose between them, but Sara tells him 'If i have to choose I will choose my boyfriend' he has to learn to play nice. As a fate/reward Johnny is the one who locates Jen.)


WIP re-write-
Sean has struggled with Cystic Fibrosis all his life. With his body in constant pain all he ever wanted was to feel normal in his own skin. He enters high school, desperate to hide his illness. But things don’t work out as planned. Sophomore year he meets Jenessa 'Jen' Quinto. She teaches him how to live life to the fullest. With her by his side Sean feels stronger and even hopeful. Then just before senior year Jen unexpectedly breaks up with him.

Desperate for something to cling to Sean makes plans to follow his sister Sara to California. Sara had seen him though the worst of his sickness, and now she was his last hope for a normal life. But when their mother says Sean has to stay in North Dakota, due to his illness, Sean attempts suicide.

He survives, and his mother retracts her previous statement, grateful to have her son. So along with Sara and her boyfriend Johnny, Sean makes it out to California. They track down Jen, who had given birth to Sean’s daughter. United as a family, Sean steps into the role of being a father. With all the pieces in place the questions still loomed- could Sean make a life for himself and his family while living with chronic illness?

St0n3h3ng3 said...

First of all, this is much better. It isn't just a jumble of details. You're hitting the main points.
I do agree the POV is distant. We need to connect with Sean's emotions to understand his choices.
For instance, if he feels he'll be a perpetual child constantly being nursed by his mother and never allowed to begin his "real life," that could certainly explain a suicide attempt.

Claudia isn't quite correct. It's okay to tell the ending in a query letter, since you're sending it to someone you want to sell your book. All they want to know is whether or not it's marketable. It's okay to "spoil" the book for that person. Not everyone does, though.

I knew this wasn't the end. Try to end on a choice Sean needs to make. For instance, is he happy staying home as a father? I thought his dream was to be a model? If so this is a good conundrum: Stay home where it's safe, or risk ridicule as a man with a disability pursuing a career that is ruthless when it comes to physical appearance.

Keep it up. It's better already.

Claudia_Witter said...

This is an improvement. I think if you work on writing it more like this, it will read much better.

I see; I thought that was the ending since, in the previous version, there weren't really any stakes involved in that last paragraph. And I've been reading the Pitch Wars mentors' critiques of queries, and to a query that gave away the ending, they said you want to entice the agent to read on, and it lessens the impact the stakes have if they know what happens in the end. I suppose you can give away the ending if you want, but queries are a bit like the back covers of a book. If I read one that told me what happens in the end, I'd probably get annoyed and put the book down.

That's just my opinion, of course.

Evil Editor said...

The back cover will be read by thousands of people. Its purpose is to entice them to buy the book. Your query is being sent to one person. Its purpose is to convince her you have a book that will make money. Revealing the ending is never done on the back cover. It's seldom done in the query either, but not because it would spoil it for the agent or editor. The decision they're making is based on the quality of your writing and whether they're intrigued by your story. If you haven't hooked them with those, they aren't going to care how the book ends. You wouldn't go to a movie if someone told you it was boring and poorly made, but had a great ending.

Anonymous said...

The problem with having a "happy ending"-like section in your query (even if it's not the ending) is that it looks like maybe you could have ended the book in a much different spot just fine, which means there might be structural issues with the plot.

Where's the word count at this (possible) ending and could you split the book there?

If not, maybe try dropping the middle paragraph and focus the end of the query on Sean's internal debate of whether he can step into the role of being a father and provide for his family. (I'm assuming he has some internal debate going in)

dourdan said...

"Where's the word count at this (possible) ending and could you split the book there?"
69k, it's possible as a last resort.
The current version ends with his wedding day. I kinda had my heart set on that.


I'm going with ending with the modeling, i think the new ending is catchy.
:)

Thanks so much for all the feedback, I really appreciate it.



try #2

Sean has struggled with Cystic Fibrosis all his life. With his body in constant pain all he ever wanted was to feel normal in his own skin. He enters high school, desperate to hide his illness. But things don’t work out as planned. Sophomore year he meets Jenessa 'Jen' Quinto. She teaches him how to live life to the fullest. With her by his side Sean feels stronger and even hopeful. Then just before senior year Jen unexpectedly breaks up with him.

Desperate for something to cling to Sean makes plans to follow his sister Sara to California. Sara had seen him though the worst of his sickness, and now she was his last hope for a normal life. But their mother insists Sean stay in North Dakota, so she could manage his medical condition. Enraged by his mother’s lack of support, and not wanting to be a treated like a child for the remainder of his life, Sean attempts suicide.

He remarkably survives. Sean’s mother, grateful to have her son alive, gives him her blessing and copies of his medical records. Sean makes it out to California with Sara. They track down Jen, who had given birth to Sean’s daughter. United as a family, Sean steps into the role of being a father. Blessed with his new life, in the city of angels, Sean must make the choice to live a simple existence- relying on the love and support of his family, or dive into the L.A. fashion scene to show the world what a small town boy with Cystic Fibrosis can do.

Evil Editor said...

There's nothing to indicate he has what it takes to dive into the LA fashion scene. It comes out of the blue.

Anonymous said...

This is an improvement, but I think you're still putting in too many unrelated plot elements, which makes it look more like stuff randomly happens than that the book has a through line that keeps it together i.e. that there's a story.

To use a metaphor, you want to tell people to take the road past the lake to get to the campground, not describe the shopping district, the theater, the restaurants, and the rest of the county. i.e. You want to show where the book goes, not list every element of the plot.


btw, 70K is a lot more saleable word count for this genre than 98K.

Anonymous said...

I gotta agree with the other anonymous, to be honest. That and Evil Editor. You have too many plot elements. You might understand it, but to a query/editor they won't because you're giving too many snippets of information.

That said, this is way better than the last attempt which you basically just added as an addition to the previous post, which is no bueno with publishers.

Do this thought exercise: What is most important to Sean? His family? His legacy(baby)? His issues with CF? His bullying in high-school?

If you answer "this isn't important to Sean's character" drop it and never return to it. Start there and maybe retrofit the entire story around that unless you do E.E.'s suggestion of some of these elements being important and justifying them.

dourdan said...

most important thing- the baby, because since he was not going to college he needed to know he had a future/reason for living.

I know in the synopsis it makes it appear as if he knew about the baby- that was a typo due to 400 max word count.


Sean has struggled with Cystic Fibrosis all his life. With his body in constant pain all he ever wanted was to feel normal in his own skin. He enters high school, desperate to hide his illness. But things don’t work out as planned. But then he meets Jenessa 'Jen' Quinto. She teaches him how to live life to the fullest. With her by his side Sean feels stronger and even hopeful. Then just before senior year Jen unexpectedly breaks up with him.

Desperate for something to cling to Sean makes plans to follow his sister Sara to California. Sara had seen him though the worst of his sickness, and now she was his last hope for a normal life. But their mother insists Sean stay in North Dakota, so she could manage his medical condition. Enraged by his mother’s lack of support, and not wanting to be a treated like a child for the remainder of his life, Sean attempts suicide.

Unaware of the fact Jen is pregnant with his child Sean crosses over into a bizarre purgatory. He is given visions and clues hinting to why he must return to his life. But the choice is Sean's to make- return to his pain stricken body to find answers or simply cross into the light.

(Can I cut it there? In the scene he really does consider not going back and the spirits really have to convince him, with their clues, that he's really going to miss out on a lot.)

Evil Editor said...

Yes you can cut it off there. A few minor nitpicks:

P1: Sounds listy. Combine three sentences into: "He enters high school, where he meets Jen Quinto." We don't need to know he was desperate and it didn't work out. Or that Jen is short for Jenessa.

P2: The 2nd sentence is in past tense. Change "had" to "has," "she was" to "she's." Also, "could" to "can."

P3: Delete "of the fact" or change it to "that". Change the second "cross" to "continue."


Shall we assume you've been as meticulous about the novel as you have about the query?

Anonymous said...

most important thing- the baby, because since he was not going to college he needed to know he had a future/reason for living.

That's a good start and with E.E.'s suggestions you almost have a good query/selling elevator pitch. I'd maybe add one last sentence saying Sean goes "back to the light" (for lack of proper terming)/his body to find out what these clues are. This gives it a less "cliff-hanger"-y pitch while hinting there is more to the story now that Sean is "back among the living."

That said, like E.E. has asked: Have you done the legwork/due diligence in your manuscript as you have with your pitches? Because if you haven't: Like I said previously, go back through the story and cut out anything that doesn't justify Sean's coming back to life to see his child. If his child is the most important thing, the CF might be tangential and justify his wanting to die, but at the same time it's not super important to the story (IMO) so unless you're describing his pain in every. single. page, you can cut some of that and get the word count down and maybe cut a few scenes like that don't "move the plot forward."

dourdan said...


"Shall we assume you've been as meticulous about the novel as you have about the query?"

Not at first but now after my first hundred rejections I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong. I cut the first 4 chapters of Sean age 0 through 14, into a prologue, plus 1 chapter. Prior to doing that, at the end of my first 50 pages he is still only 7 years old. Then I sent my first 50 to a paid service that charges by the page to read and evaluate content.

I'm basically researching ways to get real opinions, because the people directly around me all say "Your writing is great, you're doing fine."

And all the rejections letters say "This is just not for me, but I'm sure someone else will love it!"

One agent actually asked for my manuscript (a miracle considering the hot mess that was my old query letter) and after taking a month to read and respond he said "I can't put my finger on why but I'm going to pass."

Anyway, thank you all so much for your help. I am so grateful.


Sean has struggled with Cystic Fibrosis all his life. With his body in constant pain all he ever wanted was to feel normal in his own skin. He enters high school, where he meets Jen Quinto. She teaches him how to live life to the fullest. With her by his side Sean feels stronger and even hopeful. Then just before senior year Jen unexpectedly breaks up with him.

Desperate for something to cling to Sean makes plans to follow his sister Sara to California. Sara has seen him though the worst of his sickness, and now she’s his last hope for a normal life. But their mother insists Sean stay in North Dakota, so she can manage his medical condition. Enraged by his mother’s lack of support, and not wanting to be a treated like a child for the remainder of his life, Sean attempts suicide.

Unaware that Jen is pregnant with his child Sean crosses over into a bizarre purgatory. He is given visions and clues hinting to why he must return to his life. But the choice is Sean's to make- return to his pain stricken body to find answers or simply cross into the light. Sean awakens determined to find answers.


Wilkins MacQueen said...

First, let me thank and commend you for your service. I salute you. You humble me. Greatly.

You've had enough critiques.

I want to know if the mc can face and knows average life expectancy with CF is 37. If your are blessed. My CF relative is a 15 year old handsome young man, wheel chair bound, he can brush his teeth alone and eat with help.

I have the feeling this CF sufferer is been written about as a person with the flu, so much constant care, pounding on his back to help break up the mucous, a special vehicle for the wheelchair.

You have a heart touching story.

What does he want? To be a father, short as that run will be. To ensure his son does not feel shame over his Dad's CF/wheelcha]air, special vehicle with automated lift for Dad and the wheelchair to get around, and a driver. Play ball without losing breath after 2 or 3 minutes. Being able to enjoy a hamburger or hot dog with his son at the ball park without his son having to perform the Heimlich - the son is a kid with too much to handle.

I also want to know if his twin is fraternal or identical. Huge difference in types of twins. I would like to help you focus on this heart touching story. You need a good experienced critique partner to help guide you. Someone who has been touched by this dreadful illness. Suicide is despair. The mc faced this so early in his short life. Anyone who faced this and survived can deal with his mother.

You have all the elements, really touches me. My hope for you is to continue, if I can offer my support as a critique partner in this I am happy to. Stay on the path, I feel you might have a winner with some hard work and harder questions. Good luck, there is something in all this, you're just a little inexperienced and need some organizing (goals etc. in the characters). I am sure you can do this.

Wilkins.MacQueen@gmail.com

Feel free







Wilkins MacQueen said...

On the agents comment(s) you are just not "there yet. The agent sees potential but you haven't quite managed it yet.

Take heart A New York pub. wrote that to me and then sent me to an editor. I sent a month's worth of wages and got the best advise counsel, advice, questions, ass kicking I ever got. Worth every meal I didn't eat paying that brilliant editor with best selling authors in his table. Frankly, honored he took my big 180,000 word novel on.

Frig, I sent him a big draft - it wasn't a novel. But it is going to be.





Anonymous said...

Sean has struggled with Cystic Fibrosis all his life. With his body in constant pain all he ever wanted was to feel normal in his own skin. He enters high school, where he meets Jen Quinto. She teaches him how to live life to the fullest. With her by his side Sean feels stronger and even hopeful. Then just before senior year Jen unexpectedly breaks up with him.

Desperate for something to cling to Sean makes plans to follow his sister Sara to California. Sara has seen him though the worst of his sickness, and now she’s his last hope for a normal life. But their mother insists Sean stay in North Dakota, so she can manage his medical condition. Enraged by his mother’s lack of support, and not wanting to be a treated like a child for the remainder of his life, Sean attempts suicide.

Unaware that Jen is pregnant with his child Sean crosses over into a bizarre purgatory. He is given visions and clues hinting to why he must return to his life. But the choice is Sean's to make- return to his pain stricken body to find answers or simply cross into the light. Sean awakens determined to find answers.


This is great, IMO. I dunno if E.E. (who is an actual publishing house?) would agree, but I feel this is a good selling pitch. Your previous revision could work for the bookflap as it's a "cliffhanger" to get people to read.

That said:

I cut the first 4 chapters of Sean age 0 through 14, into a prologue, plus 1 chapter. Prior to doing that, at the end of my first 50 pages he is still only 7 years old. Then I sent my first 50 to a paid service that charges by the page to read and evaluate content.

Oh, dear. This is what I was afraid of. I feel like you have too much information and too many details that you need to take a massive chainsaw through the story and cut it to these bits:

1) Sean has CF (and like the previous commenter states, short life-time with that)
2) Sean is tired of being treated like a baby by his mom. (I'd cut the suicide and make it something else, personally)
3) Sean finds out he has a child, goes on a road-trip to California to stay with his sister who takes him to Washington to meet his child.
4) ?????
5) "Happy" ending? (Sean possibly dies here, but his wife/Jen carries on with his kid?)

This is the basic of the story. Anything that doesn't justify this (IMO) should be cut. Have you ever read Tolkien/Lord of the Rings? If you've seen the mountains of mountains of paragraphs he uses to describe the trees and stuff: That's what publishers are probably balking at. Nobody wants to read "Tolkien"-level of plot unless it's super justified (and even Tolkien isn't IMO)

Go through and cut some of this down to these 5 points if possible. If need-be, you might need to rewrite the entire story. Again: Ask yourself if it's important to Sean's journey (to his kid), if it isn't jettison it out the airlock and wave "bye-bye" to it.

St0n3h3ng3 said...

"I'd cut the suicide and make it something else, personally."

Why?

Anonymous said...

(Sorry, catching up now)

Why?

No offense, but it seems flippant--going by previous queries. I can understand where you're coming from in that regard to the plot. But like you/Stonehenge stated: We need to connect with Sean's emotions to understand his choices.

For instance, if he feels he'll be a perpetual child constantly being nursed by his mother and never allowed to begin his "real life," that could certainly explain a suicide attempt.


and Wilkin's chimes in (and I agree with the bold):

Someone who has been touched by this dreadful illness. Suicide is despair. The mc faced this so early in his short life. Anyone who faced this and survived can deal with his mother.

Personally, I feel the suicide isn't justified based on the previous queries sounding like he wasn't getting what he wanted and throwing a toddler tantrum (as blunt as that sounds). Maybe it sounds different in the actual book. I can't say without seeing the manuscript (and I'm not asking to see it). It's up to you, the author, to make it sound less like that. And the query revisions have done that. But I'm still not 100% on board with it being used as a plotline in that regard because suicide is a serious matter.

But feel free to use it if you think it flows in regards to the story and getting him to the angels and pushing him toward the "light"/coming back and finding his son/daughter. It can be used in that regard and can work. You just need to make it sound (as horrible as this sounds) "good" to read to push that plot.

As it is, dourdan has a (literal?) character-bible he/she is trying to sell as a novel and that simply won't work. He/she could maybe sell it as a series, but publishing houses probably would balk at that as well with the main plot-point (getting to his child) not being resolved for a bit, so a massive re-write to make that plot-point the front-and-center focus without needing to describe every detail on Sean and other unnecessary plots (like the suicide attempt, it could be an accident like a car hits his sisters car? A dream? A hallucination?) in that journey.

Just my $.02. I'd say looking into "elevator pitches" can help in some regards to query letters because most businesses trying to sell to investors (so think authors selling their books to publishers) have around.... 30 seconds to 1-2 minutes to "sell the idea" and having a character bible like that will have them run out of the room screaming. :)