Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Face-Lift 610

Guess the Plot

Spats, Traps and Possum Fur Hats

1. Two strangers are inadvertently brought together in New Zealand. Also, a fork.

2. Reprint of the Hudson's Bay Company Gift Catalogue from 1812, the perfect gift for the nostalgic outdoorsman in your family.

3. Writings of my great great grandfather, who left the cut-and-thrust of the Paris couturier scene to carve his own way as a frontier haberdasher.

4. After the success of his Broadway show about Daniel Boone, playwright Frank Spinelli goes camping in wildest Kentucky to research the screenplay. Of course everything goes wrong and this tough New Yorker is soon reduced to a blubbering mess by a pack of hillbilly kids.

5. The Okeefenokee Swamp strengthens it's reputation as an overcrowded pit of ex-(comic)strippers as Albert the Alligator decides it's time to "re-assess" his relationship with Pogo--who is drawn Manga-style!

6. 1745. Lonely Mlle. Desjardins leaves her native Quebec to attend her sister's wedding in Paris. She writes little poems about the wonders of Canada and soon she's the toast of the salons. Can she resist the handsome marquis who courts her, and return to fur trader Pierre?

Original Version

To ,

My name is ________________, and I would like to submit a synopsis and the first three chapters of my novel for your consideration. To date I have submitted a couple of small pieces for publication in magazines and one poem to a New Zealand literary journal called Catalyst, all of which were published. I have also written a screen play, which I submitted to several film production companies; but it was written in a non-industry format, so although it was received with a degree of interest, no one would work with it [and I certainly hope you won't be that stubborn when I send you my single-spaced, printed-on-two-sides-in-an-orange-8-point-script-font, manuscript, because hell will freeze over before I reformat anything before sending it out again]. [Unless your credits are spectacular, like a bestselling novel, leave them for later in the query. Start with the book you're trying to sell.]

Among authors that influence and inspire me are Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, Faulkner, [Not bad, but why dilute your list with two authors who didn't even win the Nobel Prize?] but I first fell in love with literature through Kerouac, Kesey, and of particular importance the work of Carson McCullers. More modern authors include Stephen King and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. [This is just a list of authors. What about your book? When I choose from among dozens of queries, I don't settle on the one that includes the most impressive list of authors.]

While writing my novel I alternated between two working titles, "The Possum Trapper's Daughter," and "Spats, Traps, and Possum Fur Hats." The novel was finished under the second title. [This will be an interesting bit of trivia a hundred years from now when you're being discussed in literature classes, but you've used 29 words to give the book's title when space is at a premium and you haven't even gotten to the plot.] It has 138,780 words. [I recommend rounding that 75,000.] It is set in New Zealand, [Finally, a tidbit of information about your book.] written in the style of simple character based realism, and develops using the pivotal mechanisms of coincidence and accident. There are elements of fatalism expressed in the idea of the path, and the fork in the path. [I give up. Go back to listing authors.] Though the main characters do not know each other, as each pursues that desire which most enthralls them, they are inadvertently brought together. It finishes with an epilogue. [An epilogue? Why didn't you say so? Send it on.]



Imagine you go into Best Buy and tell the salesman you're trying to decide which big-screen TV to get. The salesman tells you about his career, starting in the appliance department at Sears, and then moving to Circuit City, and then on to Best Buy. You say, Yeah, yeah, but which TV gives the best picture? and he replies by listing his favorite TV shows: 24, American Idol, House, and especially Hell's Kitchen. Finally you manage to drag the dimensions of one TV out of him before he starts speaking in tongues. Now, what are you more likely to do: nominate him for salesman of the month, or seek a more informative salesman?

Start over. Give the title, word count and genre. Then summarize the main plot in ten sentences. Who are the main characters? What are the desires that enthrall them? What stands in the way of their dreams? What do they plan to do about it? In short, what happens in your book? Make it sound so interesting we simply have to read it.

Don't list your favorite authors. Don't include your credits. Don't mention fatalism or forks. Don't keep sending out your screenplay until you've put it in the proper format.

Read some of the 600+ Face-Lifts on this blog. Note that even the bad queries tell what happens in the book.


Stacy said...

I never would have guessed #1.

Anonymous said...


Love GTP #2. And I'd totally read any of the others.

writtenwyrdd said...

EE this is one of your funnier riffs.

Author, like da man says, this is not a good query.

Sell us on the book. Just tell us about the book, not your process, not the structure or your artsy-fartsy label for the style. It makes you sound unfocused and pretentious, when I sure your intent is just to make the book sound good. The problem is that this isn't really about the book, it's about how you perceive the book.

You might look at what other queries have consisted of, diagram them even. Query Shark and Miss Snark's Snarkives have a lot of query information there, as well if somehow EE's style isn't working for you.

Do please post a revised version of your query after all the comments come in! People here really do want to help.

Chris Eldin said...

Author, if you give EE just a tad more info, he can't help himself but to rewrite it for you. So don't work too hard. Just delete everything he made fun of and summarize your book in a paragraph. You don't even have to make it interesting, like EE said. That's what we pay him for, and we're not gonna let him slack off on your query.

none said...

I'm guessing this is litfic. In which case, that may be the plot.

Rick Daley said...

Author, I recommend also including the genre / market for which your novel is intended. Based on most of your influcences, I would guess Literary Fiction, except for Stephen King, which leads me to think Commercial Fiction.

But that still doesn't cover it's genre, more the target market. Is it humor? Mystery? Suspense? Erotic (if you switch the possum for a beaver...)?

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'm not even sure what to say, except - good job, EE!

Anonymous said...

Author, do your homework BEFORE contacting the outside world!

Dave Fragments said...

It's been my experience that non-standard forms are two, three or more times the work of standard form and my experiences go back easily 25 years. Rather than discuss items other than queries, partials or manuscripts, consider this:

Agent Kristen over at PUB RANTS has a post today where she talks about 100 queries a day. Nathan Bransford talked about receiving 105 queries over the 3 day President's Day weekend. With numbers like that, any query in an odd format, an unexpected format, creates a burden on the reader and puts the author at a disadvantage.

It is well worth the author's time and effort to conform to the format and agent or editor wants.

I like the style and tone of this query. It's warm, friendly and inviting but it doesn't say enough about the novel. I wish it did say more just based on the style.

Anonymous said...

Wanted to mention that if you put a rewrite in the comments, author, we'll look at it again. And if it contains actual information about the story and characters, we're likely to be more useful too. I was actually a little excited about a book about trappers.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Perhaps it's a trick?

Anyone google Catalyst? Hint: you won't have to go far.

Evil Editor said...

My Googling came up with this:

Anonymous said...

The first paragraph of Evil's Notes was cause for spew!! Of course the words in blue had me chucklin' and I should have deduced a Beverage Alert in the making, but no, I blithely scrolled down to the notes section, took a big swig of coke and began reading, then spew, cough, choke in that order.

Worderful advice EE!


Phoenix Sullivan said...

Buffy, I think you're on to something there.

You don't want to describe the themes and tropes, author. You want to show them viscerally through your plot and your characters. In addition to EE's questions that need to be answered, give the query reader a couple of examples of the coincidences that bring your unsuspecting characters closer together. Hint at the fatalism.

Meri, please, step away from the beverages. After all this time, you should know you need at least a 3-foot clearspace and beverage-free zone while reading this blog!

Is it too early to call this a contender for the 2009 awards?