Thursday, August 09, 2007

Face-Lift 397

Guess the Plot

The Librarian

1. Hard-driven lawyer, Jake, is defending two small businessmen against a corrupt, Enron-like, corporation. Researching the case, he finds himself spellbound by Libby, an attractive law librarian. As the case heads to trial, he questions whether she's assisting him or his opponent.

2. Librarian Madeline Pierce has it all . . . except a man. But when she starts feeling that she's being watched, even stalked, she puts romance on hold. Also, a 90-pound baby.

3. Detective Roscoe Butt follows the clues in a string of grisly murders. The list of suspects is virtually endless until Butt notices the overdue fines lodged in the victims' throats. Can he close the book on this one before The Librarian strikes again?

4. By day she is timid and bespectacled, shelving books and picking up after the hordes of messy kids in the Children's Room. But after dark . . . shh! Check her out at the Pussycat Strip Club, tossing spectacles and tweeds, bumping and grinding as . . . The Librarian.

5. Ex-Navy Seal, Dave Zepper, has seen things that still keep him up at night. Now, he just wants to live out his golden years, seated behind the front desk of the Library of Congress. But when Saudi terrorists break in to destroy a sacred Shi'a text, Zepper realizes that only one man can check them out . . . The Librarian.

6. Mildred Boggsley shelves books and answers questions in the library of quaint, quiet Eppingham-by-the-Sea. But when a book-banning movement rears its ugly head, and Mildred's boss, old Mr. Loxford, dies a suspicious death, Mildred must take on his secret identity to fight for free speech. She must become . . . The Librarian.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

I am writing to request that you consider my 80,000 word manuscript The Librarian for review and representation. I am querying agents who represent both Chick Lit and Contemporary Romance genres, in hopes that I will receive feedback about where this work might most comfortably fit. [You're unlikely to get it. Fortunately Evil Editor is here to help. Answer the following questions:

Is the heroine on a diet?
Does she wear Blahniks?
Does she work in Manhattan?
For a women's magazine?
Is she feisty and sarcastic?

If I'm not describing your book, it must be a romance--assuming the hero and heroine eventually overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and live together happily ever after.]

Confident, quirky, Madeline Pierce believes she has her life under control—she is the youngest Head of Reference in the history of the Richmond County Library, [Man, they keep stats on everything these days.] her 3 bedroom, 2 bath “fixer-upper” with original hardwood floors, located in the heart of the river district, is shaping up nicely, and thanks to her newly discovered dog whispering talents, Baby, her 90 lb lab/boxer mix is much more manageable. [Psst, Baby . . . don't maul the neighborhood kids anymore.] The only piece missing is a partner to share it all with. She’s not looking for perfection in a man, just someone who is motivated, self-aware, has similar interests, and who won’t make fun of her wardrobe. [Her last boyfriend was Mr. Blackwell; it didn't go well.] Jack Bishop, the library’s audio-video specialist/weekend rocker has great potential.

But, after Madeline finds the first in a series of strange, black and white photographs hidden between the pages of a rarely circulated book, peculiar events, that are not part of Madeline’s “big picture” begin to cause her some concern—a missing file, muddy footprints outside her window, and the sense that someone is watching her. As Madeline intercepts the photographs, one by one, the short messages written on the back, oddly loving and threatening at the same time, [I love you . . . to death; I killed them all for you; Your heart will be mine . . . when I rip it out of your chest cavity and eat it.] seem to be directed towards her. She struggles to understand their meaning in relation to the events unfolding around her and the possible connection to a menacing figure from her past, the secret she’s kept hidden from family and friends. [Vague.]

As she battles the sense of paranoia and fear that threatens to shake her carefully constructed foundation, she finds herself attracted to an unlikely candidate for her affections-- Evan Payne, an aimless, aging, mama’s boy, whose most recent accomplishment has been to cut back on his partying. [One doesn't normally think of a mama's boy as a party animal.] Plagued by an unknown stalker [The ghost of Melvil Dewey] as well as her attraction to a man who is definitely not her type, Madeline’s future is put on hold while she comes to terms with her past.

Inspired by my strange, but wonderful, neighbor (a librarian), the plot unfolds within a fictional public library and picks up on issues of library culture. [Should homeless guys be allowed to sleep in the library, and if so, in what sections? Would more people use the library if they got rid of the books and showed first-run movies? Should Evil Editor's books be in every library, or would the incessant laughter be distracting to patrons?] It also touches on themes of harassment, both physical and psychological, but most importantly, it’s a love story. [If it's most of all a love story, that's not coming across. It doesn't sound like Evan is the hero, but Jack is barely mentioned. I'm guessing this is romantic suspense, since there's so much mystery/thriller querritory.]

Although my MFA is in visual arts, I studied creative writing with J(famous author) [Not James Joyce?] at the graduate level. I am a new mother and an Associate Professor of Art. This is my first manuscript, however, I am looking for representation from an individual who will assist me in planning a writing career. Thank you for taking the time to consider this query.



It's longer than necessary. The Evan paragraph can go. Most of the last paragraph can go. And much of the plot is wordy. It would be easy to remove a few words from most of the sentences, leaving a much tighter description.

Are all the photographs hidden in books? There are too many books in a library for her to keep happening upon the few containing photographs.

Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to mention what the secret from Madeline's past is. And something about the romance.


Stacy said...

Should Evil Editor's books be in every library, or would the incessant laughter be distracting to patrons?

Made me nearly spew my sandwich.

Blogless Troll said...

Always on the lookout for personal, potentially lucrative, latent abilities, I tried whispering to my dog, but he just opened his eyes and looked at me the way he always does when I'm not holding a snack. So I'll have to settle for being a mediocre dog shouter.

pacatrue said...

Something about this reminded me vaguely of The Sunday Philosophy Club, a light mystery starring Isabel Dalhousie, editor of the Journal of Applied Ethics. It's another series by Alexander McCall Smith, more famously the author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I suppose it's the library thing that made me relate the two, but I also suspect that there's a comedic touch to the novel. I don't know. I was intrigued and I would think about buying it.

As for the query, the main thing is that it isn't clear exactly what sort of book it is. Light mystery, comedy and culture observation, romance? This isn't a dark thriller, is it?

jjdebenedictis said...

This doesn't sound like either Chick Lit or Contemporary Romance to me. The focus of the query is all on the mystery and fear.

It sounds like the plot consists of the threatening photos/notes and Madeline's past. The love interests appear to be incidental.

I'd suggest concentrating on what the story is really about - which is not too clear, currently. Either it's a mystery/thriller, or it's a romance.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Hey, I Could be wrong about this, but isn't chic lit supposed to be light and funny? Now, I say this from having only read Devil wears prada and some Sophie Kinsella novels - so this may be a large assumption on my part. I am assuming this is more contemporary romance since there is a mystery component to it.

The letter is definitely way too long. You definitely want to strike the second sentence of your first paragraph. The whole point of your query is that it is being tailored to individual agents and it doesn't help your case when you state in the first paragraph that you are querying all agents representing these 2 categories. You also never want to ask for feedback, if you read any agent sites you will hear that this is a definite no-no.

The first sentence of your plot makes it sound like a funny chic lit novel, but the rest of the paragraphs reads like a mystery. This is confusing as your tone shifts in the middle of your query. I think you have to figure out which tone is correct for your novel and stick with it. You also should get rid of the second to last paragraph that talks about how it is inspired by your neighbor. In my opinion, it doesn't add anything to your query unless you are saying it is based on a true story about your neighbor, a librarain.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Loved all the GTPs! A really witty array this time around. Kudos to all!

Woo-hoo, EE "gets" the diff between chick lit and romance. We'll sway him from all those hard-boiled detective novels and police procedurals and mysteries and bring out his feminine side yet :o)

Author, the reason you need to decide into which category your story falls is because you will craft your query differently based on the category.

A query for a romance will concentrate on the heroine and the hero(es). You will be sure to include what the seemingly insurmountable obstacle is that keeps H/h apart. You will give near equal billing to each of your MCs, even if your story focuses on just the woman's side.

A query for a chick lit will focus on your heroine and will show the world through her eyes. It will not introduce two men without showing how the MC reacts to them, what hopes she has for them and how they don't live up to those hopes -- and not simply disappear from the query for no reason.

From your query, I don't see this as being either chick lit or romance. A suspense? Well, OK, it's got some suspenseful moments maybe, but a book's worth? There are some unsettling things, sure, but what makes this a page turner?

So I see your dilemma. You've written a book that doesn't really fall nicely into any one category. And while crossovers are becoming hugely popular, I don't see it as one of those either because there aren't enough compelling elements of any category in it as demonstrated by this query. The query starts out in chick lit territory, ventures a step into romance, ducks into suspense, then ends on one of those confronting the past notes.

But maybe the minions can help. Can you give us a few more bullet points about the story?

Do either of the men mentioned become a real love interest? Does she have to choose between them? Does she reject both of them?

Do the unsettling things happening to her escalate beyond missing files and muddy footprints and photos? Are the subjects of the photos clues? Is there any sort of turning point or climax to this story?

Anonymous said...

Should homeless guys be allowed to sleep in the library, and if so, in what sections? (Yes)

Would more people use the library if they got rid of the books and showed first-run movies? (Yes)

Should Evil Editor's books be in every library, or would the incessant laughter be distracting to patrons?] (Yes)

The ms covers all these issues. Thanks EE.

Here's my question. Forget the cultural observation and the dark thriller, can't it be comedic romance with a mystery twist? Or a romantic mystery with a comedic twist?

OK it's a romance.

But a big part of the plot is about her reaction to a potential threat (real or imagined)

Romantic suspense?

There are no dead bodies, no one travels across the country wearing disguises and law enforcement plays a very minor role.

please help

Sylvia said...

The penultimate paragraph has got to go. I was with you and intrigued until the "big picture" at which point things got too vague and confusing for me to keep up. I know it's hard to condense a complicated plot into a few sentences but specifics really are needed.

pacatrue said...

It sounds like... drum roll please... contemporary fiction. Can be romantic and mysterious, but doesn't require meeting the expectations of genre readers. I think that's fine. Contemporary lit sells decently well.

Anonymous said...

I like librarians.

Anonymous said...

Yes, cg, of course it can be romantic comedy with mystery elements. Or a light romantic suspense. However, two things to keep in mind:

1) Mysteries are generally about solving crimes. Your query indicates that it may not even be a crime. You need to be upfront about that in the query if you're pitching it as a mystery. Otherwise, stick with suspense.

2) If it's romance, your query needs to show that as well. While you need to demonstrate plot, that takes a backseat to the romantic elements. Your query mentions she has her eye on Jack, but then he's not mentioned again. If he's not the love interest and he's not important to the plot, you can leave him out. He just confuses things in the query.

Evan, who I suspect is the love interest, doesn't show up till the last paragraph. Hopefully, he appears near the beginning of the story. Yes, true romance IS formulaic. Your target audience, as well as agents and editors, look for an early meeting between H/h. And you need to demonstrate some of the complications. He's older and not her type. But she's attracted. OK. How does HE feel? Does she date him anyway? What keeps them apart - whether physically or emotionally - for 300 pages?

If your book is going to sit on a bookstore shelf where its proper audience can find it, and you're OK with calling it category and that's the readership you want, you will need to play by the rules. At least your first time out the gate. Later, when you're established with a nice fan base, you can break the rules without much consequence.

The tone changes in the query seems to be throwing people off, as well.

Remember, it's the query we're commenting on. Your story may actually be quite shelve-able, even if it does wind up as commercial fic. It's just not coming across in what I'm seeing in your story distillation.

Anonymous said...

If you read romance or chick lit, it should be obvious into what genre your novel falls. (If you do not read romance or chick lit, that would send warning bells to any agent.) The two genres are distinct. Romance is very formulaic (right down to what page the hero and heroine first make love, which you should describe in graphic detail, and it should be no where near reality, including multiple orgasms if your heroine is a virgin). In chick lit, the heroine doesn’t necessarily have to end up with a guy in the end at all, as long as she’s happy and has a few cats to keep her company, or a gay best friend. If you ask the agent to determine your genre, it will seem like you did not care enough to put forth the effort to find out on your own. I’m sure many agents would find it insulting that you would even ask them to figure it out.

If you go to the Romance Writers of America website, I am sure they have the "formula" for a romance--meaning what is required in a romance novel. For information on what makes a Chick Lit novel, go to the Red Dress Ink website. (do google searches to find the web addresses)

Anonymous said...

You have a comma problem, in that you don't have commas where you ought and do have commas where you oughtn't.

I don't really understand why we get the description of the house and the mention of her dog-whispering talents. Are these relevant? Do funny things happen with the dog? Because, as others noted, the tone changes, but so, seemingly, does the plot, or else these details are irrelevant and shouldn't be there.

Also, does she have a really bizarre wardrobe? Has she been dating the fashion police? I've never met a man in my life likely to make fun of his girlfriend's wardrobe.

pacatrue said...

Warning before reading my long, long comment: I'm just a blog reader who has never published a single thing in my life. If the below all sounds reasonable, it's luck and wasting too much time on publishing blogs.
The primary definition for a romance from the RWA (Romance Writers of America) is that the focus is upon the romantic relationship, and a Happily Ever After ending is required. This latter means some form of long term commitment between the lovers and it is largely this which distinguishes a "romance" from a novel with romantic elements (which is not a genre romance by declaration). After that, things actually vary quite a bit with each line requiring its own things.

There are erotic romances and "sweet" romances (no sex), and a thousand subgenres. An individual line might indeed have very strict requirements - such as a rough outline of the hero's basic traits, the period is Regency England, the level of sex, and exact word count - but those are requirements of the line, not romance as an entire genre.

My suggestion is to decide what the climax of the novel is. Hopefully, there is a moment where you knew your story was done. Is that moment some sort of devotion of forever love between the couple? If so, it could be a romance. If not, then you likely are not following the RWA guidelines and so might want to try another genre. Similarly, if the climax of the novel is not the resolution to a mystery, then it is likely not a mystery genre novel. I assume a suspense novel climaxes at the point where the suspense is resolved and the main character can finally relax a little.

From my reading of agent blogs, my impression is that it is okay to get the genre slightly wrong. Perhaps you will declare it to be chick lit, but they love the HEA ending and decide it can be sold better as a romance, for instance. They don't expect every author to understand the exact market components in the way that they do. (Though of course if you demonstrate a lack of knowledge of the basic requirements of a genre that you are claiming to have written, that's not good.) However, what IS important is that you know the central thread to your own story and make it clear in the query. This doesn't mean pigeon-holing your complex and wonderful work into pre-defined categories as much as it means having a coherent story to tell.

Is it a woman falling in love who encounters mysterious suspense along the way? Romance. Is it a woman defeating an evil former boyfriend who is stalking her and flirting with a great guy along the way? Suspense. Is the story of an ingenious woman who unravels a town secret and falls in love along the way? Mystery.

What is the novel's climax? Use that to decide how to describe what you've written.

If this doesn't work, due to resolving many plotlines at once in the climax, try the "tell the story in one line" method. While it grossly oversimplifies what happens, can you bear describing the novel as "Librarian falls in love with Evan"? If that is the central fact that you simply cannot do away with, you could have a romance. If the line just has to be "Librarian escapes her past" and there's no possible way to drop this fact when you describe it, then suspense. You get the idea.

Finally, if none of this works, one possibility is that your novel has structural problems and wanders around with no final purpose. Another possibility is just that you haven't written genre fiction. I'm still guessing the latter.

Anonymous said...

Bullet points for Phoenix:
• librarian finds weird photo (mystery)
• librarian meets mr. right (romance, for awhile)
• librarian finds more weird photos (in same book,
keeps finding them cause the book is left out or she
goes looking for it specifically) all photos have
common theme, man's hand doing something (not what you
think) pointing, holding glass of bourbon, holding
pair of undies, etc.) creepy but not threatening
• librarian meets mr. wrong
• librarian loses things, picture, important file,
finds footprints outside her window
• librarian's dog poisoned (but not killed, never!)
• librarian falls for mr. wrong, breaks up with mr.
right (new romance and inner turmoil)
• crazy bitch in love with mr. wrong makes life hard
for everyone
• last two photos seem specifically for librarian,
ex-fiance/stalker from her past is suspect
• librarian attacked but not hurt (not by
• librarian realizes mr. wrong can be mr. right
• surprise ending for mystery but not for romance

4 POVs: librarian, mr. right, mr. wrong, crazy bitch
80,000 words

writtenwyrdd said...

The bullet points help a ton. And this sounds like contemporary fiction to me, but could be billed as romance. I'd probably want to read it. BTW, the photographs are a really different means of stalking. I like different.

Anonymous said...

Maybe blogless_troll can reinvent as blogless_dog_shouter, eh?

Thanks for the bullet points, cg. OK, I'll go with contemp fic on this, too, after reading them. And here's an attempt to tie the points together, FWIW. Interestingly, both your query and this one read long even though yours (barely) fits on a single page, and this one is even shorter. Is it the style, the subject, the plot? Don't know.

Dear Target Reader:

I loved [book agented or edited by target reader], which is why I think you'll like THE LIBRARIAN, a contemporary fiction work, complete at 80,000 words.

Confident, quirky Madeline Pierce believes she has her life under control. She is the new Head of Reference in the Richmond County Library, her “fixer-upper in the heart of the river district is shaping up nicely, and her newly discovered dog whispering talent has her 90 lb "Baby" feeling quite mellow. The only piece missing: a partner to share it with. He doesn't have to be perfect either -- just motivated and self-aware. And he must never, ever make fun of her wardrobe.

Her library co-worker/weekend rocker has great potential. Romance with Mr. Dreamy, though, is put on ice when Madeline finds a photograph slipped between the pages of [book title/description]. Another similar photo turns up soon after in the same book, then another and another. Things get even creepier when a file goes missing, mysterious footprints appear outside her window, and her dog is poisoned. Could it be her past stalker and ex-fiance's way of telling her he wants her back?

As Madeline struggles to keep control of her life, Evan Payne enters to upset it even more. There is nothing attractive about Evan -- he's aimless and aging, and counts cutting back on partying his biggest ambition. Still, Madeline falls hard, impulsively breaking up with Mr. Dreamy to go out with Mr. Wrong. But the crazy bitch in love with Evan who he recently dumped doesn't seem to be taking "no" for an answer if the [rabbit boiling on the stove ] is any indication.

To complicate things more, just when Madeline discovers Evans' [redeeming qualities] and begins to think he might really be Mr. Right, she finds two more photos that force her to put any future with Evan on hold while she comes to terms with her past. [Needs a much stronger ending here since this is rather cliché.]

Although my MFA is in visual arts, I studied creative writing with J(famous author) at the graduate level.

I look forward to sending you more of THE LIBRARIAN for your consideration.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a thriller, more than a romance or chicklit.

Evil Editor said...

Dear Agent:
I am writing to request that you consider my 80,000 word manuscript The Librarian for review in the genre of Romantic Suspense.

Confident, quirky Madeline Pierce believes she has her life under control. As the Head of Reference at the Richmond County Library, she knows the stacks as
well as the aisles of her local grocery store. When she finds an odd, black and white photograph hidden between the pages of a rarely circulated book, she
writes it off as a forgotten bookmark. Her best friend’s wedding and her budding relationship with the library’s audio-video specialist are foremost in her mind. But, week after week, Madeline discovers several more of the bizarre photographs and the short messages
written on the back now seem to be directed towards her.

As Madeline struggles with a growing paranoia that threatens her peace of mind, she finds herself attracted to the worst kind of man -- Evan Payne, an
aimless playboy, whose most recent accomplishment has been to cut back on his partying. She’s disturbed by her reaction to Evan. He’s all the things she condemned upon meeting him . . . and more. He’s funny, loves his mother, talks softly to her dog, and
just keeps showing up, whether she wants him to or not

At the same time, peculiar events—a missing picture, a missing file, muddy footprints outside her window-begin to echo the concern caused by the photographs, and Madeline can no longer write them off as coincidence. When her dog is poisoned, Madeline calls the police. As the anxiety intensifies, so does her
relationship with Evan, but with an unknown stalker casting shadows in her life, she’s finding it hard to trust anyone. She begins to admit her worst fear--that Russell Baird, her volatile and manipulative
ex-fiance, has left Chicago.

Although my MFA is in visual arts, I studied creative writing with (not James Joyce, although he's mentioned in the ms!) and others at the graduate level. This is my first manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to
consider this query.


Anonymous said...

The new version seems pretty good to me. My only comment is that if I was feeling threatened, my thoughts would immediately go back to my psychotic ex. It'd be my first guess. He's mentioned at the end of the query like it only just occurred to her. I don't buy that. I'd probably give it a few pages, though, especially if you came up with some wicked clever title like "The Dewey Decimal Stalking."

jjdebenedictis said...

I really liked the new version, up until the sentence, "...her volatile and manipulative
ex-fiance, has left Chicago."

Specifically, it was the "left Chicago" part that made me go, "huh?" Since we don't know that she had a fiance in Chicago, that seemed to come out of left field. You might switch "left Chicago" to something like "tracked her down" or "knows where she is again."

In the final paragraph, I'd suggest saying "This is my first novel" rather than "This is my first manuscript." You'd like the agent to identify your work as a book, not a work in progress; that's the only reason I suggest it.

Also, you might consider tightening up your final sentence. It's perfectly polite, but a little clunky to read. That's a quibble, however!

Nice re-write overall; I think you've turned this into a very strong query letter. Good luck with it!

Sylvia said...

He’s all the things she condemned upon meeting him . . . and more. He’s funny, loves his mother, talks softly to her dog, and just keeps showing up, whether she wants him to or not

I think this is meant to be an "on the other hand" but I read it as a list of the things she condemns.

She begins to admit her worst fear--that Russell Baird, her volatile and manipulative ex-fiance, has left Chicago.

This is confusing. I can't see that her ex leaving the city is something to be feared at all? Based on your previous posts, I'm guessing you mean "thus someone else is stalking her, and she'd hoped it was Russell" but you need to actually deal with her worst fear.

I like this query a lot ... except for dropping the ball at the end. :)

Evil Editor said...

she knows the stacks as
well as the aisles of her local grocery store

Possibly change to
she knows the stacks as
well as she knows the aisles of her local grocery store

And how well do we really know the aisles of a grocery store? So well tha they have to put up signs on every aisle telling us what's there. Sure, I never forget where the ice cream and cookies and toenail polish are, but I once spent three hours looking for dry bread crumbs.

Anonymous said...

I dunno. I just read Phoenix's version on my way down to yours and I like it better. It sets up her life and the complications in a more logical and compelling way, I think.

That first paragraph isn't a good introduction to an agent, asking to consider your work for review in the genre of Romantic Suspense. There's just something off with that phrase. And the ending doesn't really gel. She calls the police and wouldn't she tell the police her ex is back in town and she'd either leave town or go stay with her mother for awhile. I think you're not making the ex relentless enough for a real suspense.

Anonymous said...

I've heard lots of people say that you shouldn't announce this is your first manuscript/novel. I have no idea whether that's true, but you know, it's something to consider.

The new version is better, but the setup still has me a bit confused (or would, if I hadn't read the bullet-point summary). The audio-visual guy is mentioned at the start, but never again, so if there's a lot of conflict about which guy is The One, you might want to mention that again.

Also, a playboy is really not "the worst kind of man." The guy who might want to kill her, now, he's at least runner-up to the title. I agree that the list of his attributes makes it sound like those things are what she hates about him; you need a "but."

What's with the ex-fiance? I don't know where Richmond County is, so I have no idea whether it's near Chicago or what. And if you want to build up suspense about how it might be the ex, you might want to mention him in the first paragraph: "...her budding relationship with the library’s audio-video specialist--a huge change from her ex-fiance, who was a psychotic philatelist with a penchant for prostitutes..."