Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Face-Lift 568

Guess the Plot


1. When rocker Davy Spanks dies, Spanks imitator Elroy attempts the ultimate tribute show – and gets mistaken for Davy, accused of faking his own death. Now Elroy must lead Davy's mercurial girlfriend and bickering bandmates on their reunion tour. Even worse, Elroy is beginning to suspect that Davy did fake his own death.

2. In this light-hearted mystery for the picture book set, Silly Chicken dodges falling acorns and thinks the world is ending, but ace detective Shamrock Holmes, the cleverest frog in Ireland, suspects a certain rascally squirrel is responsible. But how can he prove it?

3. Tina Spark sends her poodle out to pee just as the giant Space Globe descends from a cloud and hovers over the back yard. Thousands of tiny parachutes pop out of hatches in the Globe and float down to earth. By the time Tina opens the door to call Fluff in, the grass is teeming with squeaky little blue creatures. Is it wrong to let the dog eat them?

4. It's up to homicide detective Zack Martinez to unmask the culprit responsible for the horrors at Baskerville Manor. He decides to channel Sherlock Holmes and heads to Reggie's Pipe 'N Tweed for a new outfit, where he is nearly taken prisoner by scheming socialite Pamela Bassett. Can his new butler keep this wonton creature occupied long enough for Zack to solve the murder? Or will wedding bells soon be ringing?

5. Every year the Fodellan people sacrifice one of their unmarried youth to the god Ban-Har-Gran. Zula has been selected, and so prepares to meet her god. But Jamaris loves her, and the thought of her death is to much for him to bear. Will he rescue Zula, condemning their people to doom?

6. Alexandra escapes Jezebel and the bad crowd she'd become a part of, and forms bonds of friendship with a new group, joining their struggling band. When one of their own dies, the band plays a song in tribute. Hey, they had to do something . . . but was the Chicken Dance really the most appropriate song?

Original Version

Dear [AGENT]:

When sarcastic firebrand Alexandra Laurence joins up with the wrong crowd of kids, she hardly notices the path of destruction her rebellion instigates.

Life changes dramatically for Alex, however, when the gang of defiant teenagers demands retribution for the school's expulsion of one of their members. Alex chafes under the control of her volatile leader, Jezebel Collins, while acting as an unwilling puppet in the plot for revenge. When a violent betrayal shatters her existing world, [It takes no more words to say, "When Jezebel's goons murder Alex's best friend," thus providing us with specific information.] Alex finds herself in a new environment, new school, and a new life. [Finds herself? Did her family move? Was she beamed in the Star Trek transporter? Tell us.] [Topic for discussion: Which is more likely to malfunction: the transporter or the holodeck?] It takes a faulty reinvention of her identity, [What does that mean?] a struggling band, and the reentrance of Jake Garrison, one night’s bad memory, before Alex decides to try and find herself once again. [She just found herself in the last sentence.] In the process, she determines her true identify [Identity. I'm starting to wonder if she really was beamed to her new world in a transporter, one that stole her memory.] and discovers a group of friends with a similar passion for music and devotion to the people they love. Together, Alex and her peers face the harsh reality and angst of modern high school life while forging a bond that proves strong enough to survive even the most painful of experiences: the death of one of their own. [

Many novels emphasize the hyperboles of teenage life, but in actuality the bookstores are becoming devoid of works depicting the true reality of today's high school generation. [If this agent needs you to tell her what's in bookstores, she's the wrong agent.] This 130,000-word work, mainstream young adult fiction, covers the trials, emotions, and events that comprise today's high school experiences while examining the stereotypes and clichés that apply to an age group in constant motion and grasping for independence.

My own teenage years have been spent growing up in a materialistic, commanding, and judgmental society, which has given me firsthand experience to incorporate into this work. [Translation: I am uniquely qualified to write about teenagers because I am one. I suggest keeping that to yourself for the time being.] While not yet published, I have attended multiple workshops and received excellent reviews on this piece from teachers, peers, and aspiring writers. I have also completed two other books and am in the process of writing a sequel to this work, a planned series of four. [If it's 130,000 words, you've already written the sequel.]

Please let me know if you are interested in reading Tribute or receiving a more descriptive synopsis. I have enclosed a SASE for your convenience.


[Note to EE (not part of the query; got it minions? NOT part of the query.): The title of the novel comes into play in the last chapter, which involves the group playing a song as a kind of accolade (or tribute) to their friend, which is hinted on within the query, but not fully expressed.]


Your first sentence is set off from the rest of the query as if it's the main hook. Yet it seems this is just setup, and the story really begins after Alex somehow gets to her new world, in which case there's no reason the sentence needs a paragraph to itself.

Terms like path of destruction, volatile leader, violent betrayal, unwilling puppet are better suited to a political thriller than a book about high school angst. If you want to convince an agent you are the person to write about high school kids, talk like a high school kid. And not the one who always aces his vocab tests.

Even if a large part of the book takes place in Alex's original world, a brief mention is plenty. Something like:

When Alexandra Laurence's family move to Charleston, Alex sees it as a chance to start her high school life over, this time avoiding the clique of terrorists she fell in with in Atlanta.


When sarcastic firebrand Alexandra Laurence awakens one morning to find herself in an alternate universe, she decides it's the perfect time to join a rock band.

I'm assuming the main plot isn't Alex versus Jezebel, as moving away would not be a good way to resolve things. I'm assuming the main plot is Alex starting over, so concentrate on that. Is there a villain in that part? Is there conflict? Is it the story of how these kids handle the death? Was the dead kid's blood drained? Because with the Twilight series over, the bookstores are becoming devoid of works depicting the true reality of today's high school vampire generation. Focus on the most important part of the plot. And ditch the biography.


writtenwyrdd said...

"My own teenage years have been spent" While it is laudable that you are so focused on writing so young, it isn't really a selling point. Your writing is. So sell that, not yourself. If you get an agent it will be despite your youth.

I have to agree that the majority of the letter focuses on the set up of the story. Then we get a bit about she leaves Jezebel's group somehow, and then joins a bad, where someone somehow dies. What is the crux of the story? That's the hook, the think that makes us want to read on.

I would leave out the bit about what isn't on bookshelves today, too.

What I would suggest you do is come up with a rough elevator pitch. What two-sentence description could you use for this story that would sum it up? Then go from there to draft a new version of this query.

Ulysses said...

I too am trying to find myself. Have you seen me anywhere?

I was confused as to where the novel really starts: with the band seeking revenge for an expulsion, or with Alex's move to a new school. After the move, it doesn't sound as if here original crowd plays any part in the story, so I hope they're not in it for long.

Alternatively, you could have two stories: one before and one after the move.

130000 words? For the love of Hemingway, split it in two or edit mercilessly!

Anonymous said...

It's got to be the holodeck.

This is nitpicky, but "comprise" is wrong -- the whole comprises the parts, not the other way around.

I had trouble figuring out what the main plotline was -- it seemed almost as if there were two separate books in here.

Loved the GTPs!

Anonymous said...

Do not mention that you are a teenager, or allude to it, or suggest it in anyway. Once it appeared that you were, I wrote off the disjointed, hyperbolic elements as a product of youth. Mention it after someone loves it.

Also, good that you know what's missing out there for your age group. I assume your novel provides what you think is missing. But since there are a lot of published books in YA on the market, some very good, many being read, it sounds a little presumptuous.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I didn't get that the author was still a teenager, but instead was relying on experience gained during the teenage years. Can't be far removed from those teenage years though if this experience is contemporary.

What I get from the query is that you're trying too hard. It takes awhile to learn how to distill the story down to it's essence and come up with a good query. You've got a good start since you are focused on the one character.

And you don't need to tell the agent or editor how to do their job or that they're not doing their job since you don't see your type of book on the shelf and that's what should be there. Tone is important.

Transporter vs. Holodeck? Depends on if you want reality or fantasy to be screwed.

Anonymous said...

i'm a little puzzled over your representation of this as a true-to-life high school experience. alex's journey seems far more like the exception than the norm... i can't comment on the presence or lack of hyperbole in your actual writing, but the bulk of your query is already verging on the melodramatic, doing a rather large disservice to the claims you're trying to make. if you're relying heavily on elements of your own experience (perhaps you were in a band and played a tribute to a dead friend?) but have chosen to write a work of fiction, it doesn't matter how thoroughly you've lived your writing. all that matters is how well your writing reads. your other option is to write non-fiction.

writtenwyrdd's suggestion is sound. if you were forced to summarize your story quickly, what would you say? would Jezebel make the cut? there's too much here. either some of it is a lot less important than you're willing to believe at this point, or you've got more than one book to juggle.

E.D. Walker said...

I agree with sarah l., this query is working too hard and for little effect. Get more specific, tell us what the main plot is.

Also, your para about "no books like this" sounds very stuck-up. I'd leave that out altogether.

I think if I were you I'd scrap this query entirely and start over building up from the elevater pitch someone else mentioned.

Looking at your overlong, overwritten query and your 130,000 word count (for a YA novel!) I'm guessing your manuscript needs some pruning too.

Anonymous said...

The long word count and the query synopsis lead me to think that this story either doesn't start at the right place, or goes on too long. Whether that's the case or not, the query as written gives that impression.

Elissa M said...

Author, if you are indeed a teenager please remember everyone here once was (and perhaps some still are) a teen as well. Things are not so different for teens today as you think. I'm torn between patting your shoulder and shaking you. Pay attention to EE and the minions; they know whereof they write. The wounds you acquire here are just the first hard knocks you'll get on the road to publication. Meanwhile, try reading more than a handful of the current YA books on the market.

Dave Fragments said...

I think every writer pens a autobiographical screed of their teenage years sometime in their life. That doesn't mean anything other than it was a nice catharsis and meant lots to the author. Most of our teenage experiences are identically boring but we believe they are so unique.

This might be the hidden trunk novel that remains in the attic with the crazy uncle and trailer-trash cousins.

none said...

So the comment I sent through my iPhone did entirely fail to arrive :).

Is there no life in America outside high school? After high school?


Anonymous said...

Elissa: John Scalzi said something like that:

Contrary to popular opinion, most adults worldwide did not achieve that advanced state of being by skipping the intermediary step of being a teenager. We understand what it's like to be a teenager just fine. Also, and contrary to what the media would like to suggest, being a teenager is largely the same today as it was 10, 20 and even 30 years ago. There are minor cosmetic differences (teens today have much stronger thumbs thanks to all the text messaging, for example), but at its core it's pretty similar.

Anonymous said...

...as moving away would not be a good way to resolve things.

Hate to argue, but it seems to me that moving away would be an excellent, and efficient, way to resolve things.

Evil Editor said...

In real life maybe, but in a book, I can't think of anything more boring and more likely to mean no sale.

Anonymous said...

So agents don't want books from teenagers?

It's widely rumored that they don't want books from anybody over approximately thirty-five, either, since the agents and/or their assistants who screen submissions are all twenty-three and believe, because nothing outside their own experience interests them, 1) that no one over thirty buys books, and/or 2) that no one over thirty or forty can write anything good.

True, or lit legend? It would explain the sameness of a lot of what is published.

About the query--You've seen the various formulas on this site. The gist seems to be: find the most important story line and be clear on why it's important, unique, and fascinating.

130K for something that's not fantasy? Well, you never know, but even if an agent loves it I'd wager she'll still tell you to cut it to 90K. Why not beat her to it, and improve your book at the same time?


Anonymous said...

I think teenagers now *are* growing up in a culture that's increasingly commodified, virtual and superficial, without a lot of intact community. And that complicates the perennial teenage issues--hormones, growing up in fits and fallbacks, trying to figure out work and mates and...

It looks to me as though there might be a book in there that I'd like to read. But yes, more specifics and less hyperbole would help the query. And "Jezebel' seems a little over the top--unless she's named herself that?

Xenith said...

Last week I found a leaflet in my box of cereal (really, when I was a kid, we found plastic toys in our ceral boxes, now its advertising) for a Young Writer's Competition. The age limit? 35

Writer are like politicians, anyone under 40 is a considered a young, whippersnapper.

On queries, I seem to remember Miss Snark had a formula that went something like:

Main character
Their problem
At stake if they don't fix it.

But I can't find it :(

More recently, there's Kristin Nelson's workshop about finding the catalyst for the story and using that. (Start at the bottom.)

And she had a post last month about whether you should mention that a novel is based on/inspired by your own experieces.

Stacia said...

Just dittoing what everyone else has said here, and adding a couple of things.

Agents do sign teenagers; I know of a 14-year-old who recently signed with one.

Do NOT mention that "teachers and other aspiring writers" like the book. Nobody cares what they think.

I think the story sounds like it could be good, once you get through all the euphemism and melodrama. But I also think, as others have said, 130k words is way too long for a story that really doesn't sound all THAT different from some other books out there (sorry, but it doesn't.) It's about a gang of rebellious teens? A girl trying to break away from the gang of rebellious teens? Trying to grow up and find herself? You do know who S.E. Hinton is, right? :-)

I sincerely wish you good luck, though. And who knows, maybe it really is the Next Big Thing, which I would be very pleased to see. Writing a book at your age is impressive, and your grammer and language--while perhaps a tad overblown--didn't make me cringe, so I'm willing to bet you've written at least a decent book, if not necessarily a publishable one. (You should send some of it to Elektra's Crapometer or something, because I'd be interested to see the writing itself.) You just need to tighten it up and tighten the query too.

This is a difficult business; I admire your drive. And hey, you deserve credit simply for knowing that a query is required and that it goes to an agent, instead of sending a sheaf of grimy ms pages to a publishing house with a note that says "Here's my book. It will be a huge bestseller. I expect a check by the end of the week," which has been known to happen. :-)