Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Face-Lift 444

Guess the Plot


1. A gripping account of the process by which one substance, such as a solid or liquid, takes up another substance, such as a liquid or gas, through minute pores or spaces between its molecules.

2. A cross section of vaginas from every possible demographic discuss their relationships with tampons.

3. When a supermind composed of nanotechnologically connected people causes them to dress asexually and talk in stilted phrases, it falls upon hunky Brett Johnson to get assimilated absorbed into the supermind and save the universe from disaster.

4. By the time Newton discovered gravity, his sister, Lottie, was already a millionaire, thanks to a discovery of her own -- absorption! She invented the nappy, the napkin, the fuzzy towel, and the wool sock -- changing our world forever.

5. Penelope's gotta go so badly she can taste it, but she’s in a tent with seven others on an Outward Bound fright-week adventure, and she’s afraid of the dark and the weird hump-backed guy standing behind the outhouse. Which leaves her with only one desperate choice - hoping her Depends truly are dependable. Because at this point, it’s all about . . . absorption.

6. The Conovers couldn't have children, so they adopted. And adopted. And adopted. But how many members can one family take in before the household explodes in a massive salvo of animosity and resentment? Let's find out.

7. Hash-slinger Sarah Rapp had tried them all but nothing satisfied her needs. When a brawny lumberjack shows up at her diner, however, she discovers that absorption can mean more than soaking up spills. And like his paper towels, the hunky woodsman can be wrung out and used over and over again.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

If you’ve ever wondered why a supermind composed of nanotechnologically connected and enhanced people would cause them to dress asexually and talk in stilted phrases, Absorption is the book for you. [Man, there's a book for everybody nowadays.] [Clearly you've never read number 9 from Evil Editor's Ten Laws of Getting Published:

1. Any book is sure to be improved by the addition of sharks.

2. A query letter should not be--or seem to be--longer than the book it promotes.

3. If nothing has exploded by page 2, you started in the wrong place.

4. I'm almost as uninterested in your characters' dreams as I am in your dreams.

5. Never let an agent or editor see the quality of your writing before the contract is signed; it's a sure deal-breaker.

6. If there's a wolfman in a book, it should be stated clearly, up front. It's sure to be a selling point. Zombies, vampires and super-powered cannibals should also be mentioned early, but not before wolfmen.

7. Throw away all your writing books except Why You Don't Get Published.

8. If you plan to submit queries by email, don't use a screen name like scifiwriterdude or thenextnoraroberts.

9. If you want to convince a publisher that they'll sell thousands of copies of your book, it's always a mistake to declare that your niche audience is people who wonder why a supermind composed of nanotechnologically connected and enhanced people would cause them to dress asexually and talk in stilted phrases.

10. Never drop in on your editor to chew the fat.]

Major Brett Johnson of the Federalist Worlds has been sent to the planet Oceania in a last ditch attempt to convince them they must give up the technology that supports the Oceanian supermind or face war. He rashly seduces a lovely woman who seems to be in immanent peril from the supermind, [In my experience, when someone's in imminent peril, they would rather be rescued than seduced.] [I assume you meant "imminent," though "immanent" comes close to making sense.] only to find she is already part of it and apparently pleased to be so. He finds himself walking a difficult line between duty and honor when he begins to doubt his conviction that the beauty of Oceania is merely a mask for a deadly snare to humanity, and to wonder how much would need to be destroyed for his mission to succeed – and at what cost. Dare he become temporarily part of the overmind [Is the overmind the supermind? Is there also an undermind?] to attempt to avert a war that might destroy a world – or will he be deceived into having his soul destroyed [Let's not go overboard.] and becoming bait for a trap?

If you need an exclusive look at the full or partial manuscript please contact me soon, since the logistics of publishing require me to send out more than one query letter. [Whoa. You seem to think an agent is like a plumber or a landscaper--someone who wants your business. Wrong. An agent is like the cable guy--someone who works when she wants, and for whom she wants. Meaning someone besides you.] I would also like to discuss the rough drafts of further manuscripts with you, and my plans for publicizing this one. I am fortunate enough to live near New York City, with all it’s bookstores including the Strand, which specializes in science fiction. I also live near the Book Revue, a large independent bookstore famous for the signings they host. [You're very lucky, especially if there's also a good bakery in your neighborhood. Now, will Barnes and Noble carry the book?] I would also like to discuss with you my rough drafts [You already said that.] for several novels, and my future plans after that. [Okay, meet me Thursday at the Starbucks to the right of the Strand. No, make it the one to the left of the Strand.]

Grateful Regards,

(I'm assuming any agent who represents science fiction will at least have heard of the Borg, tell me if you disagree please. I call it Absorption instead of assimilation because I want to allude subtly - use whichever title you think is best.)


Everyone's heard of the Borg. For that matter, everyone's heard of Bjorn Borg. However, the query doesn't mention the Borg or Bjorn Borg. This sounds a lot like when Captain Picard became part of the Borg collective. It could be argued that subtly alluding to the Borg will make the book seem derivative, that you should either remove the Borgness from the query or trumpet that you've taken Borgness to a new level. Also, is there any way Bjorn Borg can make an appearance?

The plot is four sentences. Four fairly informative sentences, but once you get rid of the last paragraph you'll have more room. Room to tell us why the Federal Worlds care what Oceania is doing. Is Oceania using their supermind to threaten the Federal Worlds? Are they a member of the Federal Worlds? How long would it take an Oceanian starship to get to the closest Federal World?

It sounds like a list of things that happen; a better connection between the seduction and the doubts would fix that: When Johnson tries to rescue a lovely woman from the supermind, only to find she is already part of it and pleased to be so, he begins to doubt his conviction that the beauty of Oceania is a mask for a deadly snare.

Is that what he doubts? It seems he would begin to doubt that the supermind is a threat; we haven't heard anything about the beauty of Oceania being a snare. Perhaps it can be mentioned why Oceania's beauty is so worrisome.


Unknown said...

I'm confused. Why does dressing asexually and talking in stilted phrases spell the end of the universe?

Anonymous said...

Seriously, I'd form-reject this the minute I saw the misused "it's". Living near all those bookstores doesn't seem to have improved your spelling.

Robin S. said...

Hey, prem, I guessed it was because there isn't gonna be any propagating of the boring-assed (both literally and figuratively speaking) species. Beceause they're, you know, kind of asexual now. Right?

It's good to know about the ten rules. 5 and 8 - especially good to know.

Love your Halloween costume, EE.

Anonymous said...

Aside from the fact that the last paragraph is not the stuff you say in a query and is most likely what the minions will suggest be deleted ... (that's why it is presented here, so we can warn you not to say that)

"it’s" is misused once and in a sentence sure to be deleted.

Total rejection is a little severe, isn't it?
I mean, drawn and quarter, children siezed and salt sowed in the property would be enough, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

You know, this gave me a great idea -- "My Novel Was From Hell" readings all around the world, every Halloween.

none said...

So...self-determination still not caught on in the future, then?

I'd like to see some reason why Oceania is thought to be a threat. Does it have Weapons of Mass Overmind?

Anonymous said...

Assimilated is an auto-Borg reference for me. Absorption as an alternate title? Not sure how well that works, but I think titles are not as important as the writing.

There really isn't enough information here for me to comment on, so I guess that's my main comment. I'd like to know more.

I think EE covered a lot of the other points that came up for me.


Phoenix Sullivan said...

I saw the beginning of this query over on the Bookends blog. The good news is that the first and last paragraphs can go and give you more room to expand on the story itself.

Is the story line derivative? Naturally, everyone thinks "Borg" on seeing this, especially when you've dropped the name. Personally, I think the Borg were derivative. Dr. Who and the Daleks or the Cybermen anyone? I was happily spouting "Resistance is futile" long before the Borg were a twinkle in Roddenberry's eye.

So the hook here isn't the hive mind and the shout out to Star Trek fans. What about the story is the real draw? I can't tell from what little I've seen in the query.

Here are some questions the query raises for me:

If those absorbed/assimilated dress asexually and talk in stilted phrases as you lead off saying, why wouldn't the lady Brett seduces act like that and therefore tip him off that she's one of "them"?

Can he really "become temporarily part of the overmind"? How can he do that? Does he possess some sort of anti-nanobot technology?

How are the people of Oceania threatening the Federalist Worlds? If the supermind is confined to one planet, why war? Doesn't make the Federalists look too smart. Or is it a pre-emptive strike, like in Iraq? (Oh, look, Buffysquirrel and I were thinking alike! Hive mind, indeed!)

I had to re-read the paragraph on the story a couple of times, and, like EE, I'm still not sure I completely "get" what you're trying to say there. Sorry. The sentences are a bit convoluted, and the meaning a bit ambiguous/unclear.

I'll let someone else address why the last paragraph unfortunately screams amateur.

What's really great, though, is that you're reading agent and editor blogs and submitting your query for critique (hopefully) before sending it out as is into the world. We've all been at the stage where our queries looked similar to this. While some of ours still do, most of us have read a LOT of pretty awful queries and some really good ones, and have improved because of it. Have you been to the Snarkives and read the hundreds of queries there with commentary? Or just scroll through a bunch of the ones here for a quick course on the do's and don't's.

Loving those 10 Laws, EE!

(Hi, Robin. I'll have you know you guilted me into signing on today!)

Robin S. said...

Hi Phoenix.

You and EE are a formidable tag team, girl.

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping to have the novel polished and the query letter ready to send at about the same time.

I don't think the plot is derivative - the hive mind isn't made of people who act like the Borg. The question means the opposite - why should elements of a hive mind be like that? Anyway, the question did hook one person at the pitch workshop, but other than that everyone agrees I should get straight to the characters and plot, as in the book itself.

The Federalist Worlds have certain ideas about Oceania, and a big conflict in the plot is whether they are so. I won't say more than that since nobody is interested yet. I will take what I learned here and use it in my rewrite, and eventually to revise my query. Thanks everyone - especially EE and Pheonix.

David Weisman

Anonymous said...

I'll handle explaining why the last paragraph screams "amateur". The agent doesn't want to be your friend, mentor, advisor, counselor, coach, pal, or swami. They want to know if you have a book they can sell. Drop that last paragraph and never, ever look at it again. If the idea creeps into your head to maybe just rewrite it, take a tack hammer and hit yourself between the eyes with it until the urge goes away.

Robin S. said...

Good luck with your query rewrite,
David, and with your manuscript.

Hey stick and move- I'll have to rememeber that bit about the tack hammer - good one!

Anonymous said...

Dear Evil Editor:

As a young medic Brett Johnson saw the atrocities perpetrated by the hive mind Alexander. A decade later the Space Force has sent him to the planet Oceania where the nanotechnology Alexander was based upon was developed. Oceania is home to the oldest and largest hive mind in existence, and the planet has derived many economic and medical benefits from it. Brett’s job is to convince the Oceanians that even those who voluntarily became part of the hive mind don’t fully understand the peril to their humanity, and that they must allow the nanotechnology and everything based on it to be destroyed rather than forcing the Federalist Worlds to fight a bloody war against them. He is also supposed to learn as much as possible about Oceanian technology and government to help win a war if one is inevitable.

At first Brett believes deeply in his mission. Then he rashly seduces a beautiful woman, knowing this may interfere with his mission, yet believing it the only way to distract her from giving her soul to the hive mind. With her help he learns more about Oceania than his superiors could have hoped – but begins to question what he’s been told. Is the hive mind truly a malignant entity seeking to trick humans into building the tools it needs to devour them – or a collaborative tool enabling people to perform superhuman feats of intellect, and use them however they choose? He can only know for certain by becoming part of the supermind. If he was right all along and no individual can ever leave, he will never know what he’s lost – and those who hear his report may not understand until it’s too late. If the Federalist Worlds have completely misunderstood what’s at stake, it may well be too late to convince them, and the home world of the woman he loves may be wracked by a devastating and unnecessary war.

Absorption is an eighty thousand word science fiction novel. Please write me for a full or partial manuscript. I received my MLS from the State University of New York at Albany.

Grateful Regards,

Sarah Laurenson said...

Computer ate my comment. Another time (unless it magically appears).

Anonymous said...

I'm too tired to give this a real critique, but I'll say that it is a HUGE improvement over the original. HUGE. By the way, did I mention the improvement? It's HUGE.

I think it's still too long, but you're definitely getting there. I see the tack hammer suggestion worked ;-)

Sarah Laurenson said...

OK. Trying again - in abbreviated form. Much better! You're definitely getting there.

First read through, I didn't get that all hive minds are bad. So I got confused about why Oceania was a problem. A stronger statement about all being bad perhaps.

The second stopper for me was that Oceania was going to lose their humanity and I didn't know they were human. It's another planet after all. They could be aliens. In fact, that was my assumption.

Brett seduces a beautiful woman and then it's the planet of the woman he loves? Big leap for me.

Good job. Keep going.

fairyhedgehog said...

The second version of this was great for me as a science fiction fan. I'd be interested in reading the book and I'm wondering where you're at with it now.

Author said...

Dear Evil Editor:

Thank you for publishing my original query letter in Evil Editor over a year ago. After many revisons made while I finished and edited the manuscript, this is the new version:

Dear Evil Editor:

After witnessing a bloody war against a supermind on the planet Roundhouse, Major Brett Johnson is sent to deliver an ultimatum. An alliance of several hundred planets called the Federalist Worlds demands the planet Oceania either abandon the nanotechnology that links individual brains into a supermind, or else prepare for war. The Oceanians agree to stop exporting the technology to worlds such as Roundhouse, but claim superminds are not inherently aggressive, and that fear and ignorance drive the Federalist Worlds. To demonstrate otherwise Brett must learn to use the technology himself.

During negotiations Brett meets a beautiful woman who helps him with his studies. At first he carefully avoids emotional involvement, knowing they may soon be on opposite sides of a war. After discovering her involvement with the supermind he deliberately seduces her, hoping to distract her before she allows herself to be absorbed. With Ariel’s help he learns more about Oceania than his superiors could have imagined, but begins to question what he’s been told by both sides. Is the hive mind a malignant entity seeking to absorb humanity, or a collaborative tool enabling people to perform superhuman feats of intellect?

Brett can only find out by joining the supermind. He risks losing his soul and becoming a tool to lull suspicions – or discovering a wonderful truth without being believed, and failing to avert a devastating and unnecessary war.

Absorption is an 80,000 word science fiction manuscript. I received my Masters of Library Science from the State University of New York at Albany.

Grateful Regards,

fairyhedgehog said...

I don't think this does your book justice yet.

I think you want to bring out Brett's passionate belief in his mission at the start. (Mentioning Roundhouse feels like a bit of a diversion, even though it gives him that passion.) Then the fact that he seduces Ariel in order to keep her from the supermind but discovers he is too late.

His relationship with her causes him to question what he has been told about superminds. The only way to find out the truth is to try it for himself but the risks are huge. If Ariel is right, then his superiors have been lying to him and everything he has based his life on is false. If she is wrong then he will lose himself completely.

As you know I'm a pure amateur, but my guess is that there's no point in mentioning your Masters degree.

Good luck with this. It's definitely coming on.

_*rachel*_ said...

I don't think this quite works, either, but I'm not sure why. The only things I'm sure don't work: mentioning your degree, and saying he seduced Ariel. It may just be me, but it sounds manipulative and takes away any desire I might have had to read about him. (Unsurprisingly, I hated all the guys in The Grapes of Wrath.)

Maybe it would help to try Gary Corby's exercise to start your next draft, and build from there.

Amy said...

I like it. I think this is a big improvement over the first and second versions. The writing is solid, and it gives me a good sense of what the book is about, both the external and the internal conflict. Whether it's a marketable concept or not, I have no idea; that's what the agents and editors decide.

I think the weakest paragraph is the 3rd one, because it's so vague. If he discovers a "wonderful truth," why won't he be believed? He was sent there to investigate, wasn't he? Or was he sent to deliver only the findings the Federalist Worlds want to hear?

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

I liked it. It gave me a much clearer sense of what the book was about.

I think it's a good thing to mention in the query that he seduces Ariel (whose name you should give outright as that of the woman he seduces, instead of make the reader assume it). It's part of his character and their relationship, and hiding those aspects from the agent won't work, because if that would have scared them in the query, it'll still scare 'em in the book.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Again. I missed the original query and didn't read it so I could with fresh eyes. This version didn't work for me. I had to read the opening lines a few times to realize this is two different planets (one he witnessed war in and another that makes the technology?). Ultimatums are delivered before war...not during and certainly not after long bloody wars. I know this is sci fi but unless there is world building that explains why it's done it's too much a strain on the wilful suspension of fact with fantasy and sci fi...all other elements MUST be in line because we're asking our audience to suspend disbelief for all the other stuff.

So we didn't tell Hitler in 1945 to "Stop this Europe take over thing or we're going to fight you." It was done and then at war, the war settles it. I know I'm belaboring a point here but you can't lose people in your opening lines of your qeury.

Later though you have this back and forth "they say this/he says this" -- that's not how ultimatums work either.

"Stop using this technology or we're going to war!"

"But it's not what you think it is."

"It's not? Oh, let me try it."

Doesn't work. You need to better explain the mechanics (in a catchy way) of why these negotiations are both vital and interesting. I hope that helps.

Heather M said...

By the way, your bit about dressing asexually and talking in stilted phrases would have actually been pretty good if it hadn't been confusing. Did you notice how after your first query all the responders assumed you'd meant this Oceania supermind had that kind of effect?

Somewhere in the middle of reading this thread I had an "Oh, I get it!" moment--you're making a joke about the Borg! You're saying why should a supermind *have* to cause its members to dress asexually and talk in stilted phrases, like the Borg? Why shouldn't its members be beautiful, seduceable women if they want to be? I think this actually makes a good and funny "hook" for sci-fi fans as long as you make it clear. Mention the Borg. (It's not going to make you seem derivative since you're writing about the UnBorg.) Put *have* to in italics. And don't use it as the first sentence, put it in the last paragraph maybe.

The best advice I can give from re-working my own query is, cut the details. Focus on the main character's emotions, actions and choices, and put in only enough details to make those clear. He hates superminds because of past experience; he cares for this woman, and chooses to seduce her in hopes of saving her from the supermind; he begins to question what he knows about superminds because of her; he faces the choice of whether to join the supermind to find out the truth. What other details do we need to know? Hm: what a supermind is. That he's on another planet trying to convince them to give up their supermind or else. That his government may invade them if they don't. Only that. We don't need the history.