Sunday, February 24, 2008

Face-Lift 494

Guess the Plot

The Academy

1. When Aspen enrolls at uber-exclusive, ultrasnobby Rutherford, she has no idea she'll soon be leading her minions in battle against the ruling clique known as the Uppers. It's 21st-century LA, and all-out war has come to . . . The Academy.

2. In a post-apocalyptic future, an elite group of extrasensory mutants are stolen as children and brought to a secret school to be trained as assassins. Marco escapes at sixteen intending to expose The Academy and bring about the downfall of those who run it, but his world is turned inside out when he finds that it's actually a benevolent organization taking out evil megalomaniacs.

3. Sarge Stiff was the deadliest combat specialist in Iraq - in 2006. Now, he's just another drunken has been, working at the only civilian job he could get - counselor at a second rate military school for rebel rejects. When terrorists try to take over the school they get a surprise as the sergeant without a cause leads his charges in a fight to save . . . The Academy.

4. Newly-minted literature professor Christine LeBrock knew her department was full of the usual gossip & politics. What she wasn't expecting was a full-blown Satanic cult operating beneath Childers Hall. Is sacrificing a bright senior a fair price for tenure?

5. Combining the studies of Vlad Dracul, Jack the Ripper, Billy the Kid, Ted Bundy and Seung Hui Cho, The Academy analyzed the most violent of killers throughout the centuries and created the newest breed of serial killers. But can they also create the profilers to stop them? Game on.

6. Jennifer enrolls at the Academy of Fine Arts, then finds her acting instructor dead on the floor, a bullet in his head. It's a classic murder mystery, but as amateur sleuth Jennifer investigates, she encounters a major problem: all of the suspects are great actors.

7. All her friends are going to the Academy next year, but Brianna doesn't have the grades. She hacks into the school computer, but one wrong keystroke changes her life. Rather than Phillips Exeter, she's headed for Annapolis. Can she find happiness among 5000 midshipmen?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am an unpublished author, looking for an agent or publisher. I have absolutely no experience, [Especially in how to lie to make yourself look good.] but I feel that the first book (which I've finished) will be a success. [Okay, I was wrong; but can't you come up with a lie that sounds half-believable?]

First of all, I feel that I understand the market for my book series. I have researched endlessly the market for my audience's age group, [Telling us that you understand your market and that you've researched your market is not so important; telling us what your market is, is.] and have built wonderfully complicated characters. [Mini-robots.] [If they're mini-robots, I'll ignore everything that's wrong with the query and send you a six-figure advance. We've never had mini-robots. And when have we ever had a character more complicated than a mini-robot? Do they have transparent skin so you can see their gears turning underneath?] The Academy isn't just a cliched series about mean popular girls dissing girls that they don't like. [It's about mean popular mini-robots dissing girls that they don't like.] It shows each character's vulnerable side, [For instance, mini-robot 452968G cries when watching soap operas, and mini-robot 739511R has no opposable thumb.] and many life lessons are learned throughout the books. [Sample life lessons: Never go out to dinner leaving your dog and your mini-robot alone together; do not give a mini-robot you've recently reprimanded access to the cutlery.] It is a multi-cultural series, so that readers that are non-Caucasian can also relate to the characters, and their dilemmas. [Ah, finally we get to your market: Caucasians and non-Caucasians.]

The Uppers have ruled ultrasnobby, uberexclusive Rutherford Academy in Los Angeles for as long as they first stepped foot into the school. Kate Cordelle, Melanie Behr, Alancia Peterson, and Lia Wong, [the non-Caucasian,] collectively known as the Uppers (because they are the uppermost section of the upper class) are the creme de la creme. [They sound like downers to me.] Being wealthy, pretty, and powerful (theourh [anagram: U R The Ho.] a combination of threats, blackmail, and manipulation), they have never been challenged. The trouble starts when a middle-class girl from Greenwich, Aspen Thomas, arrives. Aspen is destined to overthrow the Rutherford Academy hierarchy: she gets inducted in the exclusive, only-wealthy-girls clique, when they see that she is charismatic, and popular whether they like it or not. Alancia is the girl behind Aspen's induction, and soon her true motives become clear: that she wants Aspen as a replacement for herself. [In the end, Alancia replaces herself with a mini-robot so she won't have to attend classes.] The tables are turned on Aspen, who gets booted out of their clique, and later joins forces with Alancia and her Lesser friends (so named because they are lesser-known, less-influential, and are everything lesser than the A-Listers), [They're the skim de la skim.] to rule Rutherford with nicer tactics. [They use tactics to rule the school, and their administration's main selling point is that their tactics aren't as bad as the old regime's tactics?] Kate and her posse play down-and-dirty, and Aspen fights back. They both land in detention [If you're trying to make this sound like World War III, I'd leave out the part about detention.] when they take their fight too far, and Aspen and Alancia soon realize that they were holding their power the same way as Kate did, which was with manipulation. Kate apologizes too, [Too?] and the natural balance of things is restored. [Meaning the uppers are back on top and the lessers below?]

This is a great work of mine, [That should have been the first sentence in the query. It would have saved us a lot of time.] and I am confident that we can work as a team to improve it, and make it even better. [I recommend we make it better first, and then improve it; we don't want to do too much at once.] I would be delighted to send you the complete manuscript for the first book. Thank you for your time reading this, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.



You said The Academy was the series. Is it also the title of the first book? If not, mention the title. Along with the word count and the age group being targeted.

First you say The Academy isn't just a cliched series about mean popular girls dissing girls that they don't like, then you describe a cliched series about mean popular girls dissing girls that they don't like. What sets this book apart from others? (Hint: did you notice how much better it sounded when it was about mini-robots?)

"It is a multi-cultural series, so that readers that are non-Caucasian can also relate to the characters, and their dilemmas." Translation: Asian readers will relate to Lia Wong's struggle to maintain her position of power.

Uppers and Lessers? Doesn't have the same cachet as Sharks and Jets or Bloods and Crips or Jocks and Nerds.

Trash this whole thing. Here's your plot:

The trouble begins when Aspen Thomas, a middle-class girl from Greenwich, arrives at Rutherford Academy. Her immediate popularity doesn't sit well with The Tribunal, a ruling clique that includes Kate (the dictator), Melanie (the invisible girl), Alancia (the turncoat), and Lia (the non-Caucasian). Is war inevitable?

When Alancia decides she wants to leave The Tribunal and join another clique known as The Oppressed, the bylaws require her to find a replacement. She chooses Aspen, but Aspen doesn't last long with The Tribunal. Kicked out, she allies with Alancia, and the battle lines are drawn. War has come to Rutherford, and third grade will never be the same.

I think you can take it from there.


none said...

This reads like a query whose author has taken to heart all the Don'ts thinking they're Dos.

I'm afraid EE's right: it's not salvageable. Please do get rid of the first, second and last paragraphs at the very least--they give a very bad impression.

The way to let the recipient of your query know that you understand the market for your book is to describe that market and where your book fits into it. Nothing less will do--the woollier you are, the more apparent it becomes that you're clueless.

Dave Fragments said...

On GTP #7 Rather than Phillips Exeter, she's headed for Annapolis. Can she find happiness among 5000 midshipmen? The real question is can 5000 midshipmen find happiness in the middle of what's her name?"

I have an issue with using "Aspen" as a first name for anyone. How did the kid survive "hey ass-pen come here and write something in brown" all through school?

There has to be a more dramatic ending than just "when they take their fight too far, and Aspen and Alancia soon realize that they were holding their power the same way as Kate did, which was with manipulation"
At least they should have a cat fight.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking the real problem is the lack of opposable thumbs. Can't we do something for these people - I mean robots?

Sarah Laurenson said...

Love the mini-robots. Have you seen Batteries Not Included?

I'm having a hard time with this one. It's hard to find good things to say when someone's tooting their own horn this loudly.

Author, I think I get what you're going for here in trying to point out how your book is different from the others out there. But it's coming across as you not being pleasant to be around and your book being same old same old.

Maybe the problem lies in telling rather than showing. If you try to show how your book is different rather than put so much into telling that your book is different, that would help.

Take the focus off you and your research and put the focus on your story and how it stands out from the crowd. Not the concept, but the story itself.

Whirlochre said...

"I feel..."

In formal correspondence, this is the kiss of death.

At very least, 'think' - or better still, outline the fruits of your judgement by stating the facts.

Sorry to say it, but your second sentence makes you sound delusional: upon what basis do your feelings transform your lack of experience into potential success?

So, para 3, pared down - either EE's version or your own - is the one to go for.

Anonymous said...

This query reads as if the author decided "what this market of snotty prep school books needs is multiculturalism." And then went ahead and named the protagonist Aspen. A ski resort whose name is a veritable beacon for fierce multiculturalism and class equanimity. And fur coats.

"School Ties" this ain't.

The focus on marketing in the early graphs is more like a non-fiction book proposal except it's lacking any true details.

I confess I'm puzzled.

Heather Wardell said...

Unless Lia's Asian-ness is used as more than just "lookee, the book's multicultural", unless it actually MEANS something to the story, you'd be better off having her yet another blonde chick. Less objectionable, I think.

And, EE, "skim de la skim" is my new favourite saying. May I... borrow it? Like, permanently? :)

Anonymous said...

Ooh... can there be mini-robots? I would so totally buy a book where a reprimanded mini-robot gets ahold of the cutlery and cries during soap operas. Like Short Circuit meets ET, only more compact.

Evil Editor said...

And, EE, "skim de la skim" is my new favourite saying. May I... borrow it? Like, permanently? :)

Only if you agree to dedicate your first published book to Evil Editor. Don't worry, if your relatives can't handle waiting for book 2, they don't love you as much as you thought anyway.

Anonymous said...

Include your length and genre. Scrap everything about yourself. Tell us what makes this book different from any other clique-bashing book. Don't bother with telling us the ending, but be specific about how the groups fight. (Pies in the face? Pregnancy rumors?)

You sound young. Are you working on your next book?

Blogless Troll said...

I'd like to say something constructive, but I'm still laughing at Dave's Ass-pen comment.

Harry Markov said...

Oh I really wanted the plot to be about the Satanic cult! Will have to deal with teh mini-robots. I want one too so it goes to classes instead of me.

If you ask me, the author of the query should have deleted the first, the last and the paragraphs in between the query.

writtenwyrdd said...

Start with paragraph 3. Then delete that last rather arrogant paragraph. Make the story sound like something important is at stake to your main character, and this sounds like a book that will sell.

none said...

Wow, Dave, just when I think you can't get any more offensive in your pursuit of humour against, sorry, about women, you manage it.

Anonymous said...

dave h, yes they do have a cat fight, which is the "when they take their fight too far" part.
fyi, to those who think there is no culture- kate is french. melanie is german. alancia is black. and lia is chinese. they're the cashmere mafia. and i guess that at least one person noticed why i made her name aspen. asspen and aspirin are two names kate calls her in the book. also, she was named after the tree, the aspen pine, not the resort. her mom was a botanist, who died in a freak accident.

PJD said...

They use tactics to rule the school, and their administration's main selling point is that their tactics aren't as bad than the old regime's tactics?

You missed it, EE. It's a kinder, gentler clique. This being an election year and all.

Since the query is, as Buffy says, unsalvageable, I will critique only the blue text. Here's my critique: Very, very, very funny. Every line. Though I think you might have pulled a few punches, just to be nice.

I feel a need to be like Simon Cowell and start by saying, "I'm not being rude," but this to me sounds like a book that you will one day be very glad never made it to print.

EB said...

Anonymous, you still haven't convinced me what separates this particular cashmere mafia prep school story from any other. While I appreciate the origin of Aspen's name, it doesn't particularly speak to the character what makes her suited to being your protagonist. Surely she's not somehow the "better person" because her mother died? That doesn't seem to set her apart too much -- like, say, Dave's suggestion of placing her in a plebe class at Annapolis. Now there's conflict.

Dave Fragments said...

You say that they are the Cashmere Mafia and this in as international school. I would use those words or similar words in the query.

Aspen Thomas, middle class HS student, is all for multiculturalism until she transfers to ultra-sheik, mega-sexy Excelsior Preparatory School for Fine Ladies and meets the Cashmere Mafia Clique that runs the school by their rules.

That's over the top, but it's a place to start. The "journey" (as my Daoist friends say) is from plain girl to powerful girl and back to plain girl. Unknown waters become raging rapids and finally smooth, deep pools. She's the girl who learns what Midas learned. Money, Flash, Bling and fine clothes are not the basis of a life. She's the girl who reaches the top only to find it cold and lonely, so she reaches out to those around her and learns how to live fully.

Another question, do each the other girls have troubled backgrounds. And do we learn about those backgrounds. That's what Amy Tan did in The Joy Luck Club - wrote of four immigrant families from China.
If all four girls learn a lesson, and all four are of different lineage, then that might be a point to include in the query. Parents and kids want to experience different cultures.

Anonymous said...

Author, you'll soon learn that EVERY unpublished author knows the audience/market, has written a non-cliched masterpiece and is certain that any agent would be THRILLED to work with them. Welcome to our world!

Elissa M said...

Um. All the service academies have been accepting women since the 1970's. So that plot would be as been there/done that as the real one apparently is. What I want to know is, what difference does it make which little clique of stuck-up, snotty girls thinks they're running things? Seriously. As one of the middle-of-the-pack majority in school way back when, I paid zip attention to the group who thought they were oh-so-hot. That's assuming my school had such a clique since I never noticed them. Classic Jock vs. Nerd - who makes more money than any single professional athlete (actually, more than several of them combined)? Oh yes, those battles in school matter so much in the real world, don't they? I think most YA readers instinctively know this as well. What about this book makes it relevant to a young reader in a real school today?

Anonymous said...

she tries to be better, then gets caught up in everything. she's really not the nicer one, though. she's power-hungry, just like kate. she's stubborn, but not mean-spirited. alancia's really the nice one (the saint), who finally makes her realize what she is doing. then, everyone learns a lesson. except for melanie and lia, who are always fighting for power amongst themselves. the book/series is a cashmere mafia for the younger set. it's kinda complicated. wait until the book's published and then you'll see. and yes, it's already in the publishing/agenting process.

Anonymous said...

A comma-ectomy, might also be in, order.

talpianna said...

I can't figure out the character of Alancia. First she's an Upper, then she wants to leave and be replaced by Aspen, then she's allied with Aspen against the rest of the girls? Nobody here has any convincing motivation. I suggest you read a few books like ODD GIRL OUT and REVIVING OPHELIA to see how such cliques operate.

To the rest of you: I think what you really, really want is the book I'm rereading now: JINX HIGH by Mercedes Lackey. It's set in the high school of an upscale bedroom community near Tulsa, and it has not only cliques and multiculturalism but really interesting characters, black and white magic, an old Gibson guitar possessed by a discarnate hippie, sorcerous combat, and a few odd demons. And it's funny.

Anonymous said...

I can't say anything more without simply piling on. I'm going to latch on to what 150 said and presume that this is a young writer who maybe has a thing or two to learn about the process (and boy, what a lesson this is!). You've come to the right place.

Author, when you've maanged to pick yourself off the floor, don't take all this too hard. Pretty much all of what's been said here about the mechanics is right, and once you can step back and recover from the ego-pummeling, I think there's a lot here that can help you.

You could also try posting your opening as a New Beginning: we'd love to help you just as much with that.

Oh, and as an aside, a philosphical grammar question for anyone: If "I have been researching endlessly", does that mean I'm still researching, because there has been no end yet?

Good luck with your writing, Author; this or future novels.

Anonymous said...

Late to the party as usual, so instead of rehashing the other comments (we're called Evil Minions for a reason, but there is truth in the truculence), I'll try to offer some encouragement.

Author, many among us have written a query of similar grade when starting out. You did the right thing by submitting it here, the comments, though harsh, will save you some professional embarassement. You broke just about every rule in the book.

Focus the query on the story, the main character, the obstacles she faces and what's at stake. Spend maybe three sentences on yourself, and include the genre and word count of the first book. No need to mention you're unpublished, the agent will figure it out quickly, or Google you if the query is professional enough to make them think you might be published.

Chin up. Delete this one from your hard drive, or maybe print a copy first, then delete it, and light the copy on fire as a symbolic action to prove to yourself that you're moving past it. Then, read the archives of this blog and start over.

Don't feel bad, we've all been there. Good luck!

Stacy said...

You could have a gang called the Downers and have a huge rumble between the Uppers and Downers, a la The Outsiders. Only with mini-robots. And pills.

Seriously, I think your best bet here would be to rewrite this query, telling the agent only about the plot. No comments about how you feel or what you understand. Those comments, along with you admitting you have no experience, make you look like . . . you have no experience. I don't think it's a cardinal sin to admit you're not published yet, but you sound rather defensive about it in the letter. Not the impression you want to give an agent, I think.

Good luck with this.

Anonymous said...

"it's kinda complicated. wait until the book's published and then you'll see. and yes, it's already in the publishing/agenting process."

Then what, praytell, are you doing here?

PJD said...

to those who think there is no culture- kate is french. melanie is german. alancia is black. and lia is chinese.


then, everyone learns a lesson. except for melanie and lia, who are always fighting for power amongst themselves


Xenith said...

I've even later (been away, just got home, blah blah blah) but did want to say that someone has to write GTP #5.

Xenith said...

Author, you'll soon learn that EVERY unpublished author knows the audience/market, has written a non-cliched masterpiece and is certain that any agent would be THRILLED to work with them.

Not EVERY unpublished author. This one doesn't at least :)

Isn't there a rule of thumb that goes something like the more you deny something the more likely it's true?

none said...

I confess I shall never understand the American obsession with high school. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

lol, PJD, if only life were so simple.

EB said...

elissa: While the service academies have been co-educational for just over 30 years, they're still largely male dominated. Friends of mine who graduated Air Force & Navy ~10 yrs ago have told me stories about the male-female situation creating a certain amount of tension. Any of these books about schools, cliques, "the outsider struggling to gain acceptance," etc do, in some way, mirror the differences among people that play out in everyones lives. But the school setting can strip people down to their labels.

As for whether kids recognize that these clique battles in school don't matter so much when they grow up...I'd argue that it's hard for many kids to have that kind of foresight. Just because where you sat at lunch in junior high won't matter 20 years down the road doesn't mean that it can be of huge import to the kids in the midst of it.

As for the author, well, I haven't got much else to add since I get the impression that you think we should be honored to have the privilege to read your book. Good luck.

Stacia said...

I'm disappointed that we're talking about the creme de la creme of an exclusive girls' school, and yet apparently not one character runs off to Spain to fight for Franco. (Please tell me someone got that.)

none said...

I got it, December :).

And yes, it is very hard for young people to think past the present into a future where these things don't matter. Equally, it's pretty hard for someone to whom these things never did matter all that much to try to care about them umpty-um years down the line :).

Anonymous said...

This will be a hall of fame Facelift. It's one of the greatest ever. When there's an overconfident new author and a plot full of cliches, the recipe has everything it needs. Dare I say a 'perfect storm'?

none said...

Although her brother's fighting for the other side or something?

Anonymous said...

I would add "...the plot features a Frog, a Chink and a Kraut.." to stress the deep multiculturalism.

Unknown said...

I know Aspen is meant to be named after the tree and not the ski resort, but I think anyone reading it will automatically think of Colorado and rich people.

Also...French and German don't exactly equal multi-cultural. I mean, in the sense that they are both cultures, they do, but they're both very Caucasian cultures. Unless one of them is French Algerian or something.

I would cut out most of the beginning and focus on what makes this book really different from every other book about girl clique wars at rich private high schools.

Sarah Laurenson said...

The best book I've ever read about kids in school is multi-cultural: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Now there's something worth reading.

AR said...

buffysquirrel: re the American obsession with high school.

I agree. And I think it's because a lot of us lost our self-respect back there and we want to go back and get it, vicariously.

That and the fact that America is a nation of adolescents. (Just watch our politics this year: every candidate and proposal has to be sold as essential to some highflying ideal while no one acknowledges the real-life interests at stake.) Someday we'll finish growing up but for now we're only two centuries old so give us some time!

Stacia said...

*nods* Yep, Buffysquirrel, Mary MacGregor went to fight for Franco and be with her brother, but her brother was one of Franco's fasciste. Miss Brodie got that one allll wrong.

Which is, I guess, what happens when you're sleeping with a music teacher pretending he's the painter you really love, and trying to get one of your young students to sleep with said painter as a substitute for yourself. But never mind, this is just one of those boring, old-fashioned stories from the dull 1950s.

Anonymous said...

nora coon-
kate and melanie are intermixed caucasians. kate's half-french, but asians (like me) usually go by the male lineage. really, kate is half-english, half-french. and let's just say that melanie is a WHOLE lot of things.
this is perfectly normal for alancia. alancia was, actually, based on me in high school. I was REALLY confused.
and, this was inspired from a true story. we circled around the "kate", and as a group, fought for power in the school. we would also fight amongst ourselves, too. every few days, we would shun maybe one of our members, after creating a whole drama, then apologize. This went on, and we never learned from it. That's why i wrote this book and series.
"melanie" and "lia" weren't friends, and we really weren't friends with them, but had to be, for, let's say, political reasons. "Lia" was nice on the outside, probably the niceset-seeming, and the cruelest, sickest girl ever. She was like Ivan the Terrible. we all were mean on the outside, but saints on the inside.

Anonymous said...

This is getting surreal.


Anonymous said...

So, what's at stake, then? I'm still not clear what the stakes are. This sounds like exactly what you said it's not, author. If it's just about you and your friends and the usual teenage manipulations, which seem extremely special to you because they are your experiences, you'll probably want to rethink the plot. If the manipulations are the backdrop for something serious at stake, point it out in the query.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The clocks are going to start dripping off the trees any minute.

"Lia was nice on the outside, probably the niceset-seeming, and the cruelest, sickest girl ever. She was like Ivan the Terrible. we all were mean on the outside, but saints on the inside."

That's some serious hyperbole. Are we talking heads on pikes? Gum in hair? Replacing birth control pills with tic tacs? (Sawbuck to the person who places the reference.) Voting for the fat girl for homecoming queen just to make fun of her? Pigs blood?


PJD said...

alancia was, actually, based on me in high school. I was REALLY confused.

I reiterate my original comment:
"this to me sounds like a book that you will one day be very glad never made it to print."

Anonymous said...

In somebody's "On Writing" (John O'hara? George Higgins?), the author makes the point that writers need a certain amount of seasoning. This isn't to say that everyone needs to travel the world, etc, but it helps to have travelled beyond adolescence. Adolescence is such a provocative, tumultuous time. And to the person going through it, it seems that it's the most amazing experience in the world. As if you're the first person to ever feel outcast, the first person to ever fall in love, the first person to grow and blossom into a young adult. Everything seems so very important to you. Those things are true, but they're very individual. Most people, particularly once they've passed those stages, don't find those things terribly interesting in others. It's like watching somebody else's vacation slides.

Anonymous said...

i read stephen kings' "On Writing" already. Yes, it might sound stupid to you, but i am attached, very, emotionally to this series. I had started this in california, and i had to move to tampa, when i started getting homeschooled. i missed all my friends, how school felt, i missed everything. this piece of writing has been my saving grace. It has, in a lot of ways, helped me cope.

yes, the girls all learn life lessons throughout the series.

dave f.- actually, "lia" was mean. period. she gossiped about us, you never knew when she would turn on you, she'd sometimes just stare at you for minutes on end, like summing you up. but, she helped us. she helped us, when things got sticky with rivals. the friendship was very, very complicated. We all didn't know how, and why we were her friend.
but she taught us lessons, life lessons. we knew to be forgiving toward enemies, to (sometimes) be friends with the emos, losers, geeks. "Lia" taught us to at least, to get allies. she was the one that pulled the alliances. She knew what we were thinking, so usually, she got away with really bad things. she was like a politician.

sorry for the sermon. i guess that i have nobody to talk to.

i am pretty let-down because of the face-lift hall of fame part, but i have to thank everyone, for giving me such good advice. bless you all.


Evil Editor said...

There's no Face-Lift Hall of Fame (though that's not a bad idea). But if there ever were one, the inductees would not be chosen on quality (or lack thereof) of the query, but rather on whether EE was much funnier than usual; and to have one's query in the Hall of Fame would be the highest possible achievement of any author. In fact, I recently spoke to a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, who informed me she would gladly give up her award to have her query critiqued on this blog. So stand tall and be proud.

Also, send us the first 150 - 200 words of your book so we can render more sound advice while breaking your spirit again.

Anonymous said...

King's "On Writing" is good, but George Higgins book on writing is of the same name. Equally sound advice within.

Anonymous said...

Author, don't get too down. I know from experience how it feels because I've been trashed here too -- brutally. But I still consider these people to be friends and you should too.

There were a few problems, but I don't think you would have been roughed up so much if your letter showed a bit more humility. The minions hate that, and so will agents.

Don't give up. Write your book your way! That's the only way it can work.

...dave conifer

Evil Editor said...

King's "On Writing" is good, but George Higgins book on writing is of the same name. Equally sound advice within.

But let's face it: I'm hard pressed to say which one has the more boring title. And they both pale next to Why You Don't Get Published.

Anonymous said...

Well, that goes without saying, EE.

Wonderwood said...

Dang, long post got lost due to Blogger maintenance. Oh well. In a nutshell:

Chin up, writer, don't be discouraged. Every one of the true Minions has taken their beating here, it's like initiation. Welcome to the club, you're officially a Minion now.

You have a big emotional investment in this book. Okay, so stick with it. Give this story some stakes. Maybe one of the Downers needs a life-saving operation but her family doesn't have the cash and Alancia and company overcome their infighting and manipulations to raise the money for the poor girl's operation, but Kate nearly blows it or something and and they have more obstacles to overcome but somehow manage and save the day and learn their lessons or whatever, but give us a reason to root for someone here, someone to cheer for and feel good about at the end of the story, after we've lived and breathed with them for 70,000 words or so.

Don't give up, but try to learn and see what your story lacks, then rework it. This is a tough road you've chosen, but hang in there and keep at it and you'll get there. Keep hanging around here, you can learn a lot from EE and The Minions. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Was it over when Wham! broke up? HELL NO! George Michael kept on pounding away! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? HELL NO! Was it over when-

I'll stop, but you get the point. Writing is a journey until you reach your destination...

Robin S. said...

I can't believe I missed this. Where the hell was I?

Oh, well.

OK- so now you've been here, and you had the courage to post your query, and good for you for doing that. Honestly. Better to be target-practice fodder here than after having sent that puppy out into the world, asking for representation.

I'm not nuts about self-congratulatory pats on the back, simply as a matter of course, so I wasn't crazy about yours in your query. But now you know more, so take that and move on, and don't worry about it.

I think others have said this - but just about anyone here has had their query reemed if it needed reeming. You're not alone, believe me.

And there's a difference, quite a difference, between a query desperately in need of an overhaul (which you've just been given, and that's a good thing, not a bad thing), and a bad idea, or a badly written novel.

I know it's been a major drumroll out there that to prove you can write a novel, you need to prove you can write a query. In all honesty, I think these are two different skill sets (and I think a lot of other things about this process that I'd better keep to myself).

But it's a skill that has to be learned, apparently, in order to be considered worthy of passing muster on any other level - as in having a human being read the work you've done - so there you go. You learn it.

But I really think the negative comments about the subject natter of your work can be ignored. If it's written well, it's written well.

Hope you stay around.

Anonymous said...

thanks. I read somewhere that agents hated apologetic tones- they think, if the author doesn't believe in their work, then why the hell are they emailing me for?

evil editor- would you say that you were extra humorouss in my query?

but hey, I sent that email query and got an interested agent.


Evil Editor said...

Certainly in the top 50% as far as funny goes, but I doubt it'll make this year's top ten.

While it's exciting to get interest from an agent, if you're new at this you might want to make sure it's not a scam agent by checking them at Predators and Editors.

Anonymous said...

This was a revised version, but I decided that I hated the third paragraph: sounded too passionate, self-assured, confident, etc. So I deleted it. But I included the paragraph in because I had sent it to an agent and got rejected. =(

Dear Evil Editor:

Rutherford Academy's social hierarchy structure has stayed the same since 1896: the kids from the wealthier, more influential families automatically inherit the throne. The poorer, scholarship students dutifully polish their rulers' already-gleaming shoes, and attend to doing the dirty work. And, of course, social and economic classes are more segregated than a fifth grade boy-girl dance. But that's all going to change. Enter Aspen Thomas, a middle-class suburbanite from Greenwich, Connecticut, who arrives at Rutherford. Aspen is charismatic, charming, and drop-dead gorgeous. She is also blissfully unaware of the unwritten private-school rules. Aspen is soon intertwined in the lives and friendships of four popular eighth graders of Rutherford: Kate Cordelle, Melanie Behr, Lia Wong, and Alancia Peterson. Unwanted gossip about one of them breaks out across the school, forcing Aspen and Alancia to kill off their connections to Kate, Melanie, and Lia. Together, the two social-suicide offenders make decisions that will change the course of Rutherford Academy forever…

The Academy is a 32,000-word young adult fiction manuscript, which I am currently seeking representation for. It is also my first real stab at publishing my fiction.

There is a need for books that teach meaningful life lessons and are entertaining to read at the same time, aimed at the middle grade-to-young adult audience, in the marketplace. There needs to be books that teach morals and life lessons, and to not measure their self-worth by how much money they have. Many people subconsciously know that there should be books that celebrate diversity and make girls of color feel like they belong in pop-culture, consumer America. There has to be books that make teens with different skin tones, different languages, and different traditions feel like they are equal in worth, equal in chances, and equal in spirit to the blue-eyed. blond-haired majority. And that's why I wrote The Academy.

The complete manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Anonymous said...

I think you should take out the last paragraph(before the thanks) about why you wrote the academy. Focus on the story, and nothing else, unless you have been pubbed before, then mention your credits.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, this is still dreadful. Try this:

At Rutherford Academy, the rich rule and the "scholarship slobs" settle for their scraps. When middle-class Aspen Thomas arrives, her looks and charm earn her a spot in the eighth grade's most coveted clique. But [SPECIFIC THING HAPPENS*], and the clique snaps into two vicious halves. Aspen--and whatever allies she can gather--must [SPECIFIC GOAL] before [SPECIFIC CONSEQUENCE].

The Academy is a middle-grade book that celebrates acceptance and diversity. It is complete at 32,000 words.

*NOT general like "rumors start to fly", specific like "someone writes LISA IS PREGNANT on the bathroom wall".

Notice especially how I killed the wordiness in the first and last paragraphs. You don't need all those words to say what you say.

Would you like me to give you a quick and dirty beta-read? This is short, and reading it, I might be able to work up a better summary. I like middle-grade stuff and it's always good practice to write other people's queries.

(Blue-eyed blondes aren't the majority; blondes are only 10% of the world.)

Anonymous said...

That third paragraph -- absolutely horrible. Even if it wasn't full of misplaced self pity and misguided social commentary, no agent is going to accept that you should be the one to determine what books are 'needed'.

Anonymous said...

agreed. so that's why i deleted it.

Anonymous said...

Wait- to EE, or anyone kind enough to answer: do I include the third paragraph if the agent wants to know why the book is going to be good? Or why it's unique?
I'm confused.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. That really really helped, cutting out the wordiness... but I could use some of your synopsis, right?

Evil Editor said...

do I include the third paragraph if the agent wants to know why the book is going to be good? Or why it's unique?

There's nothing of value in that paragraph. You've already told us it's for young adults. You've (presumably) already shown us it's entertaining. It's likely we can assume from the plot description that lessons will be learned. If you don't trust us to do so, you can throw in a sentence saying that in the end Kate and Alancia come to realize whatever.

Anonymous said...

I could use some of your synopsis, right?

If you're asking to use what I wrote, then go ahead! :) If you're asking whether you need more than just what I put, you do--fill in the details and make them as specific and juicy as possible.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, EE. And also to 150. I'm going to add stuff in, though.

Anonymous said...

My manuscript is 36,00 words in total- including fictional journal entries, etc. Should I put that amount, or the bare-bones 32,000?

Evil Editor said...

Count everything and round up.

Anonymous said...

The revised version is a huge improvement over the original. HUGE. And with the suggestions from EE and 150, it will be even better. You've received some excellent direction here, author. And kudos to you for taking your beating the first time around, learning from it, and coming back for more. It's the only way to improve. Take your lumps, learn your lesson, apply it and move forward. This won't be your last lesson. I suspect if you get a knowledgeable beta reader (I highly advise you to take 150's offer to do the job, I'm confident you would get some outstanding insights), your manuscript will probably require a good bit of revision. Do it. Stay with it. You'll get there if you hang with it. Bravo for your persistence. Good job, young Minion.

Whirlochre said...

This is much, much better. You've tightened it up and wrestled heartily with those demons enthusiatic about para 3.

Plus - nice to see your chin grew back.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the suggestions, stick and move and whirlochre. 150, I was hesitant on your offer of a beta-read because 1) I have no idea what a beta-read is (remember, i'm homeschooled and my mom uses casual terms), and 2) I have no idea to send it to you (no offense, EE, but offering my manuscript for public review on your blog is a bit more than my fragile, newly-repaired ego can handle). And, should I hire a book doctor/freelance editor/query writer? I think I've gone through about 5/8 to 3/4 of the literary agencies that handle young adult books, and have either gotten a "i like it, but not what we're looking for" note along those lines, or no reply at all. Is it because my plot sucks or my query-writing sucks? I know as a fact that at least one of the aforementioned does. Thanks in advance.


Evil Editor said...

And, should I hire a book doctor/freelance editor/query writer?


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I thought the term "beta read" was pretty universal online. It's an informal read-through and edit job by one of your peers (i.e. not a pro editor) where the reader tells you anything from plot problems to where your grammar's wrong. You usually get back either a marked-up copy of your book or a letter describing the good and bad parts. It's always free, although you might offer to read something of theirs in return. Email me at 150words at gmail dot com if you want to chat; I've beta'd for a few people on here already, and it's always fun to see someone else's work.

Don't hire an editor or book doctor; if no one wants this one, then just move on. What are you working on now?

Anonymous said...

I'll beta read it too, FWIW...

Anonymous said...

thanks. I'm working on my second book in the series, by the way. But I really want to get the academy published. and not self-publishing.

Anonymous said...

This was a very funny one by EE, and I hope you took it in that vein, Author.

Rereading this comment trail, though, I think this novel falls firmly in the Mary Sue line, and I would let it sit for a bit before submitting it. You might find (after you write a second novel) that this one, like many Mary Sue stories, is more about what you wanted to see happen than about writing a good story others would like to read.

In any case, do keep writing!