Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Face-Lift 742

Guess the Plot

The Superhero Effect

1. Beeman, Lightning, Snake and The Priest, all dead within a week. Can washed up private eye Wayne Worthington solve the head-scratching homicides of these superheroes before chaos commences?

2. When he’s hit in the head by a space rock, Joe finds he’s not an average Joe anymore. Gifted with superpowers, he's the biggest sensation on Earth. But when a real threat appears Joe finds himself unprepared to defend the world. Will he discover what it means to be a hero?

3. All Mike wants is a steady job, a house with a 30 year mortgage, a wife, a couple kids and a dog. Just because he can fly doesn't mean he should be required to wear spandex and track down evil geniuses. Doesn't the government pay the CIA with his taxes?

4. Movie marketer Pam Rogers calls it the Superhero Effect: whenever a comic book flick opens, have a romantic comedy open opposite to pick up the ladies. Brad Jones, head of OGM, knows it too, and wants to ask her out. But will the new Catlady let him go?

5. Landon is a superhero in a world where superheroes are government employees with no super powers. It's like being Aquaman, except fish ignore your commands and you need SCUBA gear. When the mob puts out a contract on everyone who actually has a super power, it's falls upon Landon to save them.

6. The latest recreational drug makes users feel like superheroes. Suddenly everyone's wearing costumes and fighting crime. The cops love having someone else do their jobs . . . until people start trying to fly from the tops of buildings.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Poppy Gershwin is a lazy, jobless eighteen-year-old living in a city ruled by gang violence. Totally normal – aside from the fact that her best friend Landon is a superhero. But superheroes in Poppy’s world aren’t all flashy capes and gadget belts: they’re elite police operatives, employed by the government to keep the gangsters in check. [If the superheroes are keeping the gangsters in check, why is the city still ruled by gang violence?] Government employees, Landon constantly reminds comic book-obsessed Poppy, and that means no superpowers. [I don't see the connection. Why does being a government employee mean no superpowers?]

But when Poppy discovers that a fellow comic book aficionado can actually transmit his thoughts on radio waves to nearby television sets, the impossible is proved to be true. Superpowers really exist. [When you consider that having your own cable TV show allows you to transmit your idiotic thoughts to everyone in the country, the ability to transmit them just to nearby TV sets isn't such a big deal.] Poppy may even have one herself. But when the head of the reigning crime family, Tony Mancini, puts a bounty on the head of every super-powered person in the city, [especially the guy who keeps interrupting The Sopranos to drone on about how depressing it is living in his mother's basement,] it’s up to Poppy and Landon to protect the innocent and rally the troops – that is, if their feelings for each other don’t get in the way.

The Superhero Effect is an 82,000 word YA novel that would appeal to much the same audience as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and to fans of superhero novels like Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman.

I am a first-year university student majoring in Creative Writing at [institution]. [Admitting this isn't going to help your cause.] I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for your time.



This isn't bad. If there are people with super powers I wouldn't mind knowing more about them.

Apparently super powers were considered impossible. Then someone showed up with the ability to broadcast thoughts to nearby TV sets. Then the mob put a bounty on people with super powers. I feel like we're missing a step or two. Radio Wave man doesn't sound like a threat to the mob. Are there actually lots of super-powered people attacking mob interests?

Poppy might have a super power? What is it? Why does an elite police operative hang out with lazy, jobless comic--book-obsessed Poppy?

Why are the government employees known as superheroes? What's so elite about them? They have no powers and they can't even keep the city from being ruled by gang violence.


Anonymous said...

This sounds interesting. Love the name Poppy, ever since Zadie Smith's Poppy Burt Jones in White Teeth. Denotes a certain quirkiness, but that might just be me.

Don't love so much that the head of the crime family's name is Mancini. It's a fictious world; do you have to play on stereotypes?

Matt Ryan said...

This sounds interesting, but I agree with EE. I think we need to know why the crime family has gone on the offensive against the real superheroes. What exactly is FM Telepathy Man transmitting that has the gangsters feeling threatened?

Not a bad start and the story sounds promising.

Anonymous said...

I'm almost hooked. I agree that it's confusing as to why "Superheroes" are government workers and cannot use their powers (but I assume there's a reason for this, just figure out a "pitchy" way to explain it).

It's more confusing as to why a gang lord would go to war against them...I'd assume it's because there is an awakening that threatens the established gang power? If so specifically note that in the query.

Nice job. Minor refinements should be all this needs to get you some reads! Good luck!

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Just a thought, but I wouldn't try to compare my book to something like Hunger Games. It's such a big phenomenon that it could backfire on you. I don't know if comparing a book is necessary unless the submission guidelines ask for one.

The Author said...

The superheroes in my novel don't have superpowers at all. They are just highly-trained police officers with celebrity status. In my next draft of this query I'll clarify this. And I'll also find a way to mention why the gangsters are after them.

Evil Editor said...

It was clear that the superheroes don't have powers. But the mob didn't (according to the query) put a bounty on the superheroes, but on every super-powered person, which I take to mean Radiowave Man and Poppy (and possibly others).

Adam Heine said...

It's a cool premise, though I think calling non-super-powered people "superheroes" is confusing in a world where there are actual superheroes. If there's a reason for it in the novel, maybe it can work its way into the pitch.

And I agree with Kayeleen about the Hunger Games comparison. Other than being YA, I didn't see any connection between this novel and that one. Consequently the comparison came across the same as saying, "It's the next Harry Potter!"

_*rachel*_ said...

Ditch your bio, maybe the references to other book, too (though if you're going to do it, you're doing it in the best possible way). Personally, I'd make "Superpowers really exist" into "Superpowers really do exist."

That said, this works pretty well. I'm not slobbering to read the book, but I'm definitely interested, and you haven't scared me off in any way.

And sure, you can explain a little more of those non sequiturs, but don't change the overall query; it already works in this format.

The Author said...

Correct, EE. Since the superheroes are just regular humans (and since the police's superhero "program" is kind of a failure) they aren't being targeted as much. The gangs perceive the actual powered people to be more of a threat to their domination of the city. And by the way, I wasn't comparing the actual book to The Hunger Games, but comparing the target audience, which I've seen to be a requirement on submission guidelines.

Joe G said...

Yeah, honestly, it doesn't sound much like The Hunger Games to me. The Hunger Games had a really tight simple concept from which she built a bigger story, and this sounds like it has a lot going on in it. If your story is an edgy thriller you might want to emphasize that in how you relate the plot.

In Michael Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay", early on in the book the characters are imagining superheroes for a new comic book they are putting together. At this point it's the dawn of the comic book age, right before America's involvement in WW2. One of the boys comes up with a character named Radioman or something like that, who can transmit himself through radio waves.

It isn't long before someone points out that all the bad guys have to do to make sure he doesn't foil their plot is turn the radio off :P Totally different genres, but that came to my mind.

The Author said...

Kavalier and Clay is my favourite book of all time :) But maybe I didn't describe the power too well... he can broadcast his own thoughts, but he usually uses it to put up fake news stories so people believe his false information. Maybe I could say he manipulates television and radio broadcasts with his mind?

The Author said...

I just whipped up another draft, trying to address the issues you guys have brought up. I think it's much better.

Dear Agent,

Poppy Gershwin is a lazy, jobless eighteen-year-old living in a city ruled by gang violence. Totally normal – aside from the fact that her best friend Landon is a superhero. But superheroes in Poppy’s world aren’t all flashy capes and gadget belts: they’re elite police operatives, employed by the government to keep the gangsters in check. Government employees, Landon constantly reminds comic book-obsessed Poppy, not superheroes. If they really had superpowers, maybe they wouldn’t be steadily losing in their battle against the gangs.

But when Poppy discovers that a fellow comic book nerd can actually manipulate television and radio broadcasts with his mind, the impossible is proved to be true. Superpowers really do exist. Poppy may even have one herself – a character from her own graphic novel has suddenly turned up on her doorstep. When the head of the reigning gang recognizes the threat these superhumans pose to their dominence of the city, he puts a bounty on the head of every superpowered person. It’s up to Poppy and Landon to protect the innocent and rally the troops – that is, if their feelings for each other don’t get in the way.

The Superhero Effect is an 82,000 word YA novel. I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for your time.


Matt said...

If I were a gang boss and I learned that people had super abilities, the last thing I would do is kill them. I would do everything in my power to bring them over to my side.

This is how I picture your story...

Poppy Gershwin is a comic book obsessed eighteen-year-old living in a city ruled by gang violence, where highly trained government agents nicknamed "superheroes" are all that stand between the people and chaos.

But when poppy meets a fellow comic nerd who possesses the ability to manipulate TV and radio waves with his mind, the impossible is proved to be true. Super powers really do exist. Poppy takes this information to her friend and would-be lover, government "superhero" Landon, but it's too late. The gangs already know and they're recruiting -- or killing -- everyone with powers.

And that's when Poppy discovers she has the power to bring comic book characters to life.


That's how I see it. Hope that helps and good luck.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I think the query would read clearer if you distinguish between heroes and superheroes: i.e. "Poppy's best friend Landon is a real life hero." That way it doesn't sound contradictory when you say the crime fighters have no superpowers and aren't superheroes.

Also, I got hung up on the "gang violence" reference at first read. The phrase brought to mind inner city kids born into poverty who carry guns at an early age for self defense. In the context of your query, it sounds more like organized mafia type gangs. But I didn't get the distinction until the mention of Tony's "crime family", and I think it's an important one. (Although I may be the only one who needed the clarification.)

It seems a bit like you're using comic book and graphic novel synonymously in the query, but that may not be the case in the actual book.

What happens to Poppy's nerdy superhero friend? You bring him up but then say it's just up to Poppy and Landon to save the city.

Wow Matthew! Great breakdown of the story.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like it could be good, but I just don't understand how anyone could be a super hero without any powers in the first place. Wouldn't that just be a regular person?

Evil Editor said...

No, it's Batman.

Adam Heine said...

The new query is better (and Matthew's version is really good, I think). I'm still having a problem understanding how the new superheroes are changing things.

Here's the thing. Before, there are "elite police operatives", which sounds pretty cool and effective (though apparently it isn't for some reason). After, there are superheroes, the only examples of which are someone who can broadcast TV/radio signals (a feat that can be easily reproduced with the right equipment) and a girl who finds a graphic novel hero at her door (it's unclear from the new version what Poppy has to do with this or what actually happened -- Matthew's version is much more clear).

These novelty powers aren't exactly amazing; it's unclear how they are turning the tide against crime where the elite operatives could not.

Stephen Prosapio said...


Author, your revised pitch rocks!

I wouldn't change too much from what you've got. I think in fact, if you use quotation marks for the first "super hero" and then (maybe) italics for clarity with one of the other terms, people will get what you mean.

If you're not agented already and your pages are as good as your pitch and ability to take feedback and edit, I'm sure you'll find representation soon.

Adam Heine said...

I really like the idea that the gov't "heroes" are mostly just celebrities. That should go in the query (succinctly, of course).

As for the powers not being particularly powerful, that's fine. But there needs to be some reason (in the query) that the gangs put a bounty on the real superheroes. Like instead of "When the reigning gang leader realizes the danger these superhumans pose..." say something more specific like "When Radiowave Man cracks down a major drug ring -- one the celebrity heroes have been helpless to stop -- the city's crime lords put a bounty out on all superhumans."

_*rachel*_ said...

dominance, not dominence

This is definitely a better version.

Ditto on the recruiting, quotation marks/italics for superheroes, and Adam's suggested explanation for the bounty.

If you want to try a totally different draft, I really like what Matthew did with this.

Joe G said...

Is Poppy's superpower that she brings imaginary superheroes to life? I think you could stand to mention what her superpower is... I get the sense the plot hinges on this twist and it kind of sounds like the story starts after she finds out about her superpower. In most stories featuring a hero with undiscovered powers, the undiscovered power is pretty much the hook, and what happens afterward the story. Like... sure, Harry's a wizard, Luke's a Jedi, but then what happens?

I am intrigued by the story though, it sounds fun.

Also I find it hard to imagine a world where people read comic books but for some reason the government sets up a "superhero" program. I dunno, I guess I'm just a little confused about the world they live in.

Kavalier and Clay is a brilliant novel!

The Author said...

Poppy's power is that sometimes (it's kind of a fluke thing, same with many of the powers in the novel), she can bring a character she created in her graphic novel to life. So the main character, Sara, comes to life and joins them in their fight. Her power isn't that major of a plot point, but it does enable them to make a bigger dent in crime through Sara, who is a werewolf. It also enables Poppy to think of herself as a superhero.

The government set up the superhero program to make people think they're being completely protected from the crime. It's like a placebo effect: as long as they have these powerful superhero-type people there to gawk over, they think they're winning against the gangs. That's the Superhero Effect, the reason for the title.

Heather M said...

You need to say she *wrote* the superhero who appeared on her doorstep. I picked up on that from the words "her graphic novel" but it seems like many others didn't. (Could have meant the one she was reading.)

Oh, and that's what made your revised query so much more interesting: mentioning this power of hers. Before that, I was not interested. Now I am.

(Side note: if she's written a graphic novel, is she really lazy? Are *you* lazy? Writing's hard work! I'm not sure calling her lazy really makes us like her; I admit "hard-working" is probably even more of a turn-off, but I think people like to think of themselves--and thus characters they like--as more whimsical or fun-loving than lazy...)

The placebo effect thing ought to go in the query too. IMHO. Just as a mention "... so-called 'superheroes,' elite celebrity cops used by the authorities to calm people's fear of the powerful gang families..." Oh darn that makes Landon sound like a jerk. Actually that's a bit of an open question: the only thing I know about Landon at this point is that he's a placebo. If you put it to a vote right now I'd pick brainwave guy for Poppy. Can you also give us two words somewhere in the query that tell us why we should like Landon as well as Poppy? (I know I ask a lot.)