Thursday, July 04, 2013

Face-Lift 1138

Guess the Plot

The Stars Also

1. When one of the paparazzi causes the death of Keara Stanly, Hollywood's top rising actress, the movie industry’s actors have had enough. In retaliation they take up cameras, stalking the paparazzi day and night. But paparazzi have secrets of their own. Secrets they are willing to kill for.

2. Paris, 1678. Students of astronomer Le Brun find him dead, hunched over a manuscript, his skull smashed in and his beloved telescope gone. On the paper are some calculations, with the words "The stars also." Can student Jacques Girard discover who killed the old astronomer, before he, too, becomes a victim?

3. Shine. Shoot. Twinkle. Fall. This picture book is full of action words. Kids will enjoy the evocative images of stars in their element.

4. Hailey escapes from her slave-like existence, but right into the clutches of Josef, a smuggler. At first Hailey doesn't know if she can trust Josef, but then she remembers that she has the ability to detect lies by looking at people's faces, so they team up to do stuff.

5. Tally, fresh off his second divorce, decides to investigate his father's Irish home to gain perspective. He searches every pub in Dublin, but all he finds are opinions and conjectures. It might have an ending, but it might not. Literary fiction.

6. Harry has been laid off since 2008. He cooks, cleans, takes the kids to school, waters the plants, and works out, but no one seems to care. His CEO wife falls into bed every night. He still loves her, but how can he get her to notice him again?

Original Version

Dear (Agent),

THE STARS ALSO is about a woman named Hayley. All Hayley wants is to stay alive, but a Reader isn’t meant to live. Not really. A Reader is meant to be a tool of the government, tucked away and silent. A Reader is meant to serve, and an escaped Reader is a sin against the Word meant to be hunted down and killed.

By virtue of her birth, Hayley’s [I recommend deleting everything up to this point and replacing it with: Hayley is a Reader; her] sole function is to unmask those who defy the theocracy. Trained to read emotions, Hayley can catch a lie by studying a sinner’s face. [She sounds like my first wife. Needless to say, that marriage didn't last a week.] Her fate is set, pressed upon her like a thumbprint. But when an unexpected opportunity lands in her lap, an instinct for survival she wasn’t even aware she possessed kicks in, and Hayley finds herself free of her bonds. Unfortunately, she lands in the hands of a smuggler named Josef. [Possibly you could be more specific than "an unexpected opportunity lands in her lap."]

In order to evade capture and navigate a plague-ridden world, Hayley forges an uneasy alliance with her new captor. [If he's her captor, it's a little late to be thinking about how to evade capture.] But can Hayley trust her instincts when it comes to Josef, or has he found a way to use her abilities for his own, dark purposes? [She's a Reader. If a Reader can't trust her instincts, who can?] There is more than wounded pride and forsaken morality at stake. Hayley’s very life depends on doing something that, as a Reader, she’s been forbidden to do: make a choice. [What must she choose? Whether to go on the run alone or with Josef? If she sticks with Josef, what will they do together?]

THE STARS ALSO is a cross between [will appeal to fans of] Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY and Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE and will appeal to fans of both. It is the first book in a planned trilogy, but also stands on its own as a complete work. The first two chapters of THE STARS ALSO were published earlier this year on Jukepop Serials where they rose to #31 in under two months (#12 on the science fiction chart and #3 on the dystopian fiction chart). My work has also appeared in Touch: The Journal of Healing (January 2013) and the online journal Absinthe Revival (December 2012). In addition, I am an active member of Pennwriters. [The piece at Absinthe Revival was enjoyable, but too short to matter. The other credits aren't impressive. Use the space to elaborate on what happens in your book.]

Per your submission guidelines, I have attached a one-page synopsis and the first two chapters of THE STARS ALSO. I would be delighted to forward the entire manuscript at your request.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Warm regards,

Note: The title is from a passage in the bible. My book is full of biblical allusions. The passage reads "God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also." In my book, there is one main governing body (the Ministry) and a department charged with keeping the peace (the Agency). They are the greater and lesser lights, respectively. The afterthought, the Readers treated as little more than slaves, are the stars. Please let me know if this is unclear. I have a toddler and by the end of the day I'm muddled. Thank you very much for your input. [It's clear where you got the title now that you've explained it. It needs to be explained in the book if you want it to be clear to many readers.]


There's not enough plot here. A woman escapes from the theocracy that has enslaved her and forms an uneasy alliance with a smuggler. That's about it.

Does Josef smuggle people out of the country or exotic pets into the country? If not the former, what does Hayley get out of the alliance? What does she think Josef gets out of the alliance, if not the use of her abilities? What do Josef and Hayley want to do? Bring down the oppressive government? Just stay alive? Are they being hunted?

Is this set on planet Earth? Is it worth mentioning in the query why the book is full of biblical allusions? Is that a selling point?


Mister Furkles said...

It’s too long and doesn’t show enough of the story. It has adjectives that do not contribute value: sole, even, new [does she have old captors?], own, very. And kill the first paragraph.

These are phrases that contribute little: “By virtue of her birth”, “Trained to read emotions”, “when an unexpected opportunity lands in her lap”, “In order”, “and navigate a plague-ridden world”.

These are tells: “Her fate is set, pressed upon her like a thumbprint.”, “There is more than wounded pride and forsaken morality at stake”. We don't care about fate, thumbprints, pride or morality: what happens?

We don’t want your opinion of the story but we do want the story.

You try to tell us about the story without telling us anything of the story. Get it down to sixty words then include details that add “color” to the characters or the story.

It’s hard to do. If it were easy, query websites would not exist.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Her fate is set, pressed upon her like a thumbprint. But when an unexpected opportunity lands in her lap, an instinct for survival she wasn’t even aware she possessed kicks in, and Hayley finds herself free of her bonds. Unfortunately, she lands in the hands of a smuggler named Josef

That's three sentences without your protagonist actually doing anything. And yet it seems in those sentences that she must be doing things. It can't all be fate and instinct and landing in her lap/someone else's hands. Tell us what she does.

PLaF said...

What makes Hayley a Reader?
What happens if she just quits?
How are the stakes raised once she escapes her slave-like existence?

You mention she's forbidden to make a choice. I suspect THAT is your story. First she makes the choice to escape her life of servitude. That leads to another choice that lands her with the smugger. Choice after choice, and her struggle with making choices gets complicated the more she moves through the story. Maybe she reaches a point where she wishes she didn't have to make the hard choices, and that's when she must make the most difficult choice of all.

Of course, you'll need to be more specific about the choices and their consequences. Good luck!

none said...

So this woman whose sole function in her society is to tell whether or not someone is lying can't tell whether or not Josef is lying.

Is he wearing a mask?

IMHO said...

Josef is vain, and a heavy user of botox. No one can read his expression, not even a Reader.

CavalierdeNuit said...

"...but a Reader isn't meant to live. " Scared me into thinking that if I read your book I'll die. I would leave this out or rephrase it.

Unknown said...

Hi author!
Could you give us a sense of how rare a Reader is? I light of your stars metaphor (yes, I'm punning here) I think there must be a bazillion--b/c when the smog is washed clean and we brown out in Chi-town I can actually see tons of stars shining in the sky.

You have no mention fo the non-Readers, or regular inhabitants of this world. Do they exist? of is it only Hayley the REader-star and Josef the Incredible Liar and the gov't baddies hot on their trail...

I ask, because mentioning how Hayley interacts within society seems key to this plot and is lacking in this query.

Why on Jupiter would Josef want to kidnap a Reader? To what purpose? Is he a mafioso who needs to learn if his generals are mentirosos?

Is this meant for the Christian market? If so, say so. There are specific agents and publishers who salivate over moralistic tales.

What is up with the plague? Is there some way that Hayley helps with the plague...or is this incidental? If she doesn't have a role in ending it perhaps you can omit and give us a sense of WHAT SHE DOES.

Best of luck.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Btw, there are several pieces of bad advice about queries that bounce around from writing site to writing site. I guess they get repeated because they sound true.

The ones that come to mind are:

1. You should open with a log-line.

2. Mention your writing credentials, whatever they are.

3. Model your query on book jacket copy. In fact, your query may well become your book jacket copy!

The problems with these nuggets of wisdom are:

1. Very few people can do this well. If you think of a brilliant log-line and if it fits into the query organically, go for it. Otherwise, leave it out. It doesn't matter.

2. Mentioning minor credentials merely accentuates the lack of major ones. And experience isn't required, anyway. Let your story speak for itself.

3. Book jacket copy is meant to entice. A query is meant to inform. Hinting at action and plot points is fine on a book jacket, but won't work in a query.

(Oh, and your query will not become your jacket copy. Editors write jacket copy. Maybe people in marketing write it sometimes, I dunno. Only once have I ever been allowed to so much as tweak my jacket copy.)

Think audience when you write your query. Audience = a busy agent who wants the facts of the story.

Sweet and Sour Cookie said...

1600Thank you all so, so much for your feedback and thank you, EE, for the opportunity to share my attempts at a query letter and for your invaluable input.

I'm sitting at Starbuck's trying so hard not to giggle at some of the comments!

Most heartfelt thanks.

Have a wonderful weekend!