Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Face-Lift 498

Guess the Plot

The Brave Little Onion

1. After losing a court case to the giant, Ruta Bagle, Stinky McScallion projects a brave front to keep her neighbor from depositing chicken litter on the back forty acres.

2. From the author of "The Shallow Shallot" and "Greedykins Garlic" comes another in the best-selling children's series "Happiness is Halitosis."

3. "Don't cry," her momma said. But what's a little onion to do? Pearl doesn't want to wind up chopped, sauteed or carmelized. But then she meets an anchovy-stuffed olive who teaches her that there's an entirely different career choice for a diminutive onion. Provided, of course, she can learn to swim and overcome her fear of toothpicks.

4. The true story of how a group of unhirable Liberal Arts majors created an unstoppable comic force.

5. Consigned to the vegetable drawer with the evil Miss Chipotle Pepper and her gang of pomadoro thugs, Pearl Onion discovers there's a bigger danger in town when Mung the Moldy threatens to envelop everyone in fungus. Prequel to The Burpless Cucumber Saves the Party.

6. After a routine check-up at Dr. Shallot's surgery, Vidalia's is devastated to learn she is suffering from stemphyllium blight. She vows to do good in the world during the little time she has left. As the layers of this story are peeled back, even the strongest reader will be left in tears.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

"Have you ever wondered why onions are so green and stinky?" asked the raging-red, Miss Chipotle Pepper. Thus begins my allegorical and multicultural "Early Reader" novel of 20,000 words, "The Brave Little Onion." [If you replace "allegorical and multicultural" with "funny" it'll sound less like a hoax.] When Pearl Onion and her six sisters are stacked into the vegetable bin.

From the early days on a family farm in Central Ohio with bright sun and abundant water to the frantic time of pulling and the freezing, dark 18-wheeler, Pearl Onion wins and loses friends in the vegetable world as she is process, weighed and priced into one of California's upscale supermarkets. In the display case, she finds a love and rejection with a Mayan sweet. Discovering the first whiffs of conspiracy from the pepper patch, Pearl Onion attempts to organize the Spanish Red and Bermuda Yellow onions into a fighting force. Before her plan can be executed, she's purchased and consigned to the vegetable drawer.

As the days pass, Pearl learns of other cultures; from the unwrapping of the Bright Green Oriental Cabbage and the peeling of the Exotic Asian Mangoes, to the evil rumor mongering of Miss Chipotle Pepper and her gang of pomadoro thugs. However, an even greater conspiracy threatens life in the vegetable drawer. Mung the moldy from the White Asparagus enters and threatens to envelope the drawer in green, white and black fungus.

Can the brave little Pearl and her sister onions defeat the evil Mung? OR will the entire vegetable drawer turn black and succumb to an odiferous liquid mutiny? Victory rides with Boston Lettuce and Idaho Potatoes.

The Brave Little Onion is the first of a series with work subsequent titles being: The Burpless Cucumber Saves the Party, The Prune and Rabbit Soiree' and The Great White Truffle Sings for His Dinner.

I am a college-educated [University of North Carolina at Shallot] writer with technical publications [in such magazines as (links provided not because there's anything interesting there, but to prove I didn't make them up) Spudman, Corn and Soybean Digest and Artichoke.]. The completed manuscript is ready for your perusal. Thank you for your time and effort.


First of all, get rid of "Victory rides with Boston Lettuce and Idaho Potatoes." These characters haven't even been in the query. At this late date, you're better off not mentioning them, even if they are the heroes.

Normally it's not necessary to include that you're college-educated (though when your title is The Brave Little Onion, maybe it's a good idea to imply that you're not six years old).

Besides, "I am college-educated" sounds like something you'd say if you dropped out after your first semester, and now you're hoping they don't ask you to elaborate.

"Early Reader" novel of 20,000 words? My early reader was about Ted and Sally, with vocabulary words like See Boots run. Run, Boots, run. Are you sure early readers are ready for Oriental, Exotic, Chipotle, pomodoro, thugs, fungus, soiree, truffle? (These are the ones I suspect are in the books; others, like upscale, mongering, conspiracy, odiferous may appear only in the query . . . but the editor of The Brave Little Onion may not be that impressed by adult vocabulary. Keep in mind that first-reader slush piles are handled by six-year-olds in Asian sweat shops.

Has a few minor errors you'll want to clean up, including "pomodoro," "processed," "envelop." And the third sentence isn't.

The main problem may be that the age range for kids who read 20,000-word books with this vocabulary may not intersect with the age range of kids who would be intrigued by a book called The Brave Little Onion. Little kids aren't going to get much of the humor, and if your audience is, say, fourth graders, you need a better title, something like Onions versus Peppers: The Vegetable Drawer Wars.


Anonymous said...

EE is spot on on this one. 20,000 is middle grade length - for 8+. The humor, words, and plot here are all too advanced for early readers who are 4-6 years old and think a 2,000 book is long.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Love the humor.

Not sure how Pearl's sisters got in the drawer with her. You only mention Pearl being sold and I got the feeling she was alone.

Early Reader? Doesn't sound like it. Maybe don't categorize it as one. Brave Little Toaster rip-off? Hmmm. At least the title seems to be. And it's not different enough to be a funny take on it.

You've got some serious possibilities here, but not, I think, with the Early Reader group.

Also 'a love' doesn't match the second half of the sentence.

Blogless Troll said...

I don't know about the allegory stuff, but if you write a book about food for kids and you don't include some fart jokes, or burp jokes, or really anything having to do with gas, you're missing a golden opportunity.

EB said...

I think the tone & language of the letter seem a bit disconnected from the intended audience. Is it necessary to say that your book is allegorical and multi-culti? I mean, it obviously IS, and you hammer it repeatedly. Or are those buzzwords important for that market? (I tend not to read early reader stuff. It's all I can do to keep from eating the finger paints.)

Actually w/r/t the multiculturalism, I laughed loudest at the fact that the mung mold came from...dum-dah-dummm...the WHITE asparagus. All I could think of was the delivery of smallpox-riddled blankets by European settlers.

"College-educated" seems a non-sequitor. Level 5 vegan might be more useful.

Anonymous said...

I actually thought this was a hoax. No?

Anonymous said...

I read the GTP's and realized that #1 is a news story and that the writer was right on target. Then I remembered that was the GTP I wrote after I read that article.
It's going to be a long, long day.

Anonymous said...

The author says:
This is my biggest challenge.
Writing a full length adult novel is easy compared to this. It's not a picture book and more like a long bedtime story.

I wrote the language in teh query up to adult level. I thought the child-like language might insult the screener. Apparently, that's not the case.

I like the title suggestion. "Brave Little Onion" came about because I needed a name for the computer files. Besides, "Brave Little Onion" sounds like Mao Tse-Tung come back from the dead to create a dictatorship in the produce section. Tiny red flags with militant vegetables exploiting passive fruits. That doesn't have a chance at success.
Onions versus Peppers: The Vegetable Drawer Wars. sounds much better.

writtenwyrdd said...

Writing a query for a young children's book has got to be a tough job. I would think, though, that a long and high-level vocabulary letter is not in your best interest. In fact, you might just have a brief cover letter and enclose the entire thing.

Matt Larkin said...

Others kind of said this, but I feel that early readers are likely too young to appreciate an allegory (though they may enjoy the actual story).

Anonymous said...

"Keep in mind that first-reader slush piles are handled by six-year-olds in Asian sweat shops." EE, you are fucking hilarious!

And author, seriously... have you ever read an early reader? You need to know the market and the books being published in your area. 20,000 words? Are you kidding? And then in your comment, you said there were no pictures?! No small kid is going to read this... you need to bump it up to a middle-grade reader and add in plenty of gross comedy, as another commenter suggested.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Think Bunnicula.

Bernita said...

I can't get it out of my head that pearl onions are very, very small and therefore not sold individually like big onions are.

Anonymous said...

And aren't pearl onions white? That makes me question the opening line.

Anonymous said...

I was last in California's Central Valley a few months ago. Unless things have radically changed, most onions for the California and US market are grown right there.

It would make more sense if Pearl is going from the Central Valley to Ohio.

pacatrue said...

Sorry, not much help today. I'd take "exotic" off the Exotic Asian Mangoes unless they're actually named "Exotic Asian Manoges" and not just "Asian Mangoes" or "Mangoes". In a book where multiculturalism is a selling point, attaching "exotic" to anything asian is dangerous. Asia and Asians have been exoticized to death in the U.S.

Brenda said...

Okay - I have two children who this is aimed for, and they are 1st and 2nd graders, who, granted, read at 3-5th grade levels (if not higher, since the 7 yr old already ate through all the Junie B. Jones books.) My 2nd grader LOVES "chapter books", which this sounds like it is, and this is something that would make her giggle. And, she'd understand the entire query letter. In fact, she's now literally leaning across the screen because I had to ask her how to spell Junie and now she's reading what I'm typing. (Laughs!)

Granted, my kids aren't the "average" reader, but they aren't alone, and schools are teaching faster than ever. "Hop on Pop" and the similar were read when they were three and four years old, so from MY experience with two kids in the age range, this is dead on target and I like it. Then again, I'm going from the wording in the query. If the book itself is more simple than this, you may be hitting a younger target than I realize.

I get a bit obnoxious at their book fairs, but at the same time I'm selective enough to make sure they have reading at their mental level, not their grade level, and this would have caught my eye (assuming it had a decent illustrator).

Just my opinion. A long opinion. Oops.

Anonymous said...

The Green Grocer from Magic Valley Growers explains:
A Spring Onion is bulbous as a golfball and has a green, tubular stalks.
A Scallion is a tubular onion with the white being no larger than 3/4 inch.

These are not the usual onions sold without greenery on top such as white and yellow onions, bermuda onions, Vidalia onions, mayan sweets (A hybrid) or red onions. Shallots and Cipolline onions are other varieties of onions.

Pearl onions are pickled for use with martinis. Pearl onions look like marbles.

Rapscallion is a brand of beer.

Ramps are wild and untamed leeks.

talpianna said...

Where's the beef?

Stacy said...

I do think this is a well-written query letter, despite its being off the mark.

That said, not only is the book too long, but the plot is waaaaay too complex for the level of reader you're going for. No way are they going to follow conspiracies and Pearl's journey from Ohio to California. It won't interest them, anyway.

The only thing that will interest them is this: will Pearl get eaten?

The other thing you may want to check out and make sure you're not accidentally ripping off are the Veggie Tales.