Friday, March 14, 2008

Face-Lift 502

Guess the Plot

The Taj Mahal Romance Repair Agency

1. From the outside it is looking like ordinary Indian restaurant. But those couples being strangely attracted to its most exotic menu are finding its warming food and most philosophical waiters are exceedingly putting the spices back into their troubled relationships. Also, a chapati.

2. Three clueless Indian virgins are starting running an agency specializing in the fixing of the ailing romances for some other Indians lacking the clues, but are quickly getting sucked into some most amusing misadventures.

3. Arranged marriages can be most great for the families, but for the couple thrusting together without the spark of the romance, getting to know each other can be most traumatic. Jaswinder and Anjul have a plan to fix that with their newest business idea. But when they are setting their call center up in Lexington, KY, the miscommunications lead to hilarity on two sides of the world.

4. Sanjiv has made his fortune as a Kama Sutra instructor, and his mother is after him to seek the wife. Hilarity is ensuing when he meets his future in-laws. Can he be convincing Mr. Gupta that he is computer repairman before Mrs. Gupta is recalling "The Reverse Cowgirl"?

5. Bishakha's husband has died twenty years before, but she isn't seeing why death should be a barrier to romance. With help of the Taj Mahal Romance Repair Agency, she plans to hunt down her husband's reincarnation, and marry him once more. Also, a sacred elephant.

6. Getting to work for a top literary agent right out of Brown is Sissy Lions' dream. But no one is telling her she will be slogging through endless piles of romance novels rather than literary fiction. And now they wish her to be editing this tripe? Is there any escaping...The Taj Mahal Romance Repair Agency?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Novel Query: The Taj Mahal Romance Repair Agency

Three clueless Indian virgins, seeing a business opportunity in teaching even more clueless youth in India how to interact with the opposite sex, decide to start an agency specializing in fixing ailing romances.

Armed with Western romantic-advice books and expecting to deal with broken hearts, they quickly get sucked into both romantic and criminal misadventures as their clients drag them into one scrape after another. Before long, the company motto becomes Stay Out of Jail. Or Stay Alive. [Is "Stay Out of Jail. Or Stay Alive." the new motto? If so, "and" would be better than "or." If it's two mottos, I'd stick with just one. Actually, those don't sound like mottos anyway. "Mission statement" might be better.]

The Taj Mahal Romance Repair Agency has the pacing of a James Patterson novel, the humor of a Janet Evanovich novel, and the cultural immersion of a McCall Smith [How come you use the first names of Patterson and Evanovich, but not McCall Smith? It's Alexander, though those of us in his inner circle call him Sandy.] Botswana-set novel. [According to . . . the author? If decisions on which manuscripts to request were made based on the authors' opinions of the works, all manuscripts would be requested. I've said it before, but it bears repeating, apparently: Leave the hype to the person writing the back-cover copy. If you declare that your work is like James Patterson's, Janet Evanovich's and Alexander McCall Smith's, there are three possible reactions from an editor:

1. I've never gotten around to reading anything by those authors, so I have no idea what you're trying to say.

2. I hate all three of those authors, so even though I was loving your query letter, forget it.

3. I worship those three authors. And you have the gall to compare yourself to them? The ashes I've placed in your SASE are what remains of your query, which I burned as a symbolic gesture in hopes that James, Janet and Sandy will forgive me for reading it.]

Thank you for your time.


What you've provided is the situation. Three unqualified people start a business, and get more than they bargained for. It's an intriguing setup, but we want to know what happens. The setup was two sentences. That leaves plenty of room to tell us about a couple of the romantic and criminal misadventures so we can judge whether we think they're as funny as you do. And so we have a lengthier sample of your writing.

If you must mention other authors, there are those who don't mind your saying something like fans of James Patterson will enjoy the pace of this book. But usually the editor has decided whether to request the manuscript before then anyway. He's unlikely to change from no to yes just because you claim it's Patterson-paced. And if he requests it and thinks that it's Ayn Rand-paced he won't believe anything else you've said.


Bernita said...

EE covers it nicely.

Whirlochre said...


I always aim to be constructive but I'm afraid this query has annoyed me. Plus, as you'll have seen from my last submission, I've got God today - at least until tea time. Please only post this if you think I have a valid point.

Or maybe it's my inner weredingo.

EE is right about presuming your literary talents to be on a par with Those At The Summit.

Nobody is the New Anybody, either after publication or - especially - before.

You talk about pacing and humour and cultural immersion and I want to hit you. But what power over your life have I got? None. I'm just some schmuck forum bigmouth. Agents and editors, however, will hit you with their disregard till the vacuum echoes round the rest of your unpublished life if you hoist yourself above your station thus.

How dare you!

That said, I'm intrigued that your protagonist seems to be a triumverate of indistinguishable souls. Do the 'three clueless Indian virgins' function as a sari-clad unity, sharing the dialogue like hapless Siamese triplets, or do their individual hopes fears and wants contribute to the 'romantic and criminal misadventures' you hint at? Who are they? What are their names? Tell me that.

This lacks specifics - apart, irritatingly, from your dream bibliography superstars.

On the plus side, I like the idea of the cultural tension between (presumably) a traditional Indian upbringing and the bad advice to be found in Western romantic advice books. Such tensions fuel newspaper headlines so they ought to be perfectly at home in a novel.

Sorry to be harsh.

Dave Fragments said...

Modern companies do not have "mottoes." They have a mission statements or a policy statement followed by an implementation plan with objectives and targets.
A startup company has to have a business plan with these elements to get the money from a bank to startup. That means that they've thought about how the business will run and how many customers they can handle and all that stuff. Offices are not rent free and working out of homes is frowned upon. (by banks, at least). "We fix romances for free" doesn't feed the puppy or keep the kitty in litter.

Your three Indian virgins have the expectation of reading books and giving advice and then basking in the glow of success. Just that much has me laughing and chuckling about the improbability of romance and love affairs. It's a delightful setup and most likely a fun story. Tell us about the cutest and most fun of the misadventures. AND, I'm sure that there is a gloriously romantic ending with a "happily ever after heartwarming conclusion."

Personally, I would prefer white slavery to alien abductors, but that's another story.

Sarah Laurenson said...

This sounds like the initial idea for a book you haven't written yet. It's a great idea, but the query needs more than the idea. It needs some substance.

Whirl is spot on with the lack of identification for your trio. They are your MCs that we are supposed to care about. Who are they?

Good Luck! I think you may be on to something here but perhaps have no experience with writing a query letter.

Maybe try writing a synopsis first so you can have the summary of your book in front of you when you write the query.

EB said...

I don't think we do any favors by being unduly nice around here. The minions have sharpened their claws on my work a few times, and it's helped. And better an author take the lumps here rather than simply landing thunk in the circular file of an agent.


I had a similar visceral reaction as wirlochre. I know some (Noah Lukeman?) suggest that comparing your manuscript to established authors serves as a stylistic shorthand to the agent, but I think the perils outweigh the benefits for all the reasons EE states.

Your query is an opportunity to demonstrate your writing ability & style. But you reach too far by comparing yourself to the stars. You claim Patterson-esque pacing, but pacing implies forward motion, and you've given us a static picture. You claim Evanovich-esque humor, but your attempt at humor ("Stay out of jail. Or stay alive.") falls flat. As for cultural immersion, you give us nothing beyond saying your protagonists are Indian virgins. I assume they're in India, but are they? If you want to talk about culture, give us some flavor in the query.

Dial back to the basics a bit. Give us story. Why would 3 clueless Indian virgins decide that they can solve dating woes just because they've splurged at You suggest jail, but you need to draw a link between a dating site and nefarious criminal activities.

Your story and writing may be superb. But the struggle of the query is to try to show some of that. It's difficult to be sure. We've all struggled with the same task; it's why we come to EE to get our attempts torn apart.

Nancy Beck said...

I agree with the others here that the basic premise sounds good, but you haven't given us any details to latch onto.

The three virgins - do they have names? First names will suffice.

Janet Evanovich-type humor - where? Can you provide some examples in your query? There wasn't a heck of a lot to laugh or chuckle at. Let some of that humor come through.

James Patterson - show us, rather than tell us, that's it's like a James Patterson novel.

As for the other one - sorry, haven't heard of him at all. EE's right about bandying about "names" - if the agent hasn't heard of him/her, you're out of luck with your comparison.

So...give us some more details. As it is, it's nothing more than an idea, and agents need more than that to go on.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous commenters. Give us more details.

And if you are bound and determined to compare your work to that of other authors, do your research and compare it to authors that particular agent has represented. If your work really is comparable in some way, I suspect the agent will be impressed that you did your homework and have read their authors. However, if you're just name-dropping, that will certainly blow up in your pretty little face.

Interesting premise... tell us more.

Matt Larkin said...

Like the others, I'd suggest offering more plot details. Since this seems to want to be humor, I'd convey one of the funny anecdotes in your query--or at least somehow play up how amusing this will be to read.

This sounds more like something school kids would set up to help ailing classmates than a traditional business. But that's just my first impression.

pacatrue said...

Hey author, when rewriting the query, be careful about stringing along tons and tons of -ing verbs, as existed in your 1st paragraph. EE seemed to parody this quite nicely in his guess the plot for your book. -ing verbs are quite nice and all (this is no adverb/had/simile attack I'm making), but one can use the progressive aspect (-ing on a verb) and participles (-ing on a verb acting as an adjective) too much. If actions are always progressing, nothing ever happens. They're just happening.

Stacia said...

I absolutely adore this setup, seriously. I love it.

But I agree the query needs some help. Like, what is the major event that drives the book? It sounds from this like it's just a bunch of anecdotes. You need to tell us what happens. When one client turns out to be looking for a woman to act as a drug mule... or When their nice Mr. So-and-so thinks they're a brothel and calls the police...

Both of those are kind of basic and dumb, but you need to tell us what happens. And please do, because I think this sounds really fun.

Stacia said...

Oh, and YES, get rid of all the comparisons to famous authors. It's awful.

Stacy said...