Guess the Plot
1. When Batman's latest movie is turned into a laughing stock thanks to a typo, the caped crusader goes on the rampage, clad in garments sourced from the gutter. Can the Joker persuade his nemesis to get real for the good of comics buffs worldwide? Or will he too run afoul of the errant wordsmith, and forever be cast as...the Poker? Or the PUKER?
2. When he discovers an awesome underground city with crystal caves and super-powered friends, Cody is thrilled. He's ready to make it his permanent home. Now, if only that mutant man-sized rat would quit trying to exterminate him.
3. In a damp cave where all God's creatures used to scurry and play, one lone rat hides. With one arm in a sling and two whiskers singed to the nubs, he waits, plotting his revenge.
4. Detailing Andrew Ratman's lifelong campaign to wreak vengeance on anybody who does so much as snicker at his name when introduced.
5. Ratman has successfully defeated the Diddler, Shoe-Face, and Gnatwoman. But when DC Comics lawyers coming knocking at the Ratcave door, can he convince them that he's not infringing on their copyrights? Or will Ratman meet his end at the hands of Cease-and-Desist Man?
6. Exterminator JC Bardley hasn't had a good day. His wife left him for the deli guy; his daughter called from Swarthmore, telling him she needs more money; and his son got thrown off the track team for something that happened in the showers. So when his accountant calls to say the tax man cometh, he heads for the company truck. It's time for the . . . Ratman's Revenge.
Dear Evil Editor:
When eleven-year-old Cody sneaks into an underground city, he battles a giant rat with paranormal powers determined to exterminate him. [We don't need this sentence; it's all repeated later on, except Cody's age, which can be added at the start of the next sentence.]
Cody is fed up with feeling [feels] left-out when his friends go off to summer camp and his too-busy-to-care divorced parents bail on him again. He ventures into the woods for the first time and discovers a tunnel leading to a city hidden underground with crystal caves, slugs-and-bugs soup, and new friends with awesome abilities like reading minds and seeing visions. [In some cities, seeing visions is considered less an ability than an affliction.]
Best. Home. EVER. [A place where people can read my mind doesn't sound so great to me, but of course when I was an eleven-year-old I probably didn't constantly imagine my teacher naked.]
But Cody’s new adventures take a pants-wetting turn when the people who protect the city, the Detectors, start disappearing. [That doesn't sound like a pants-wetting turn. More like a mere downturn or setback.] Without their warnings, the city could get blind-sided by earthquakes, floods, or invasions by deadly beasts. Using their psychic abilities, the city’s leaders discover someone is controlling the minds of the Detectors, but they have no idea who or why.
Cody isn’t about to let his new home come crashing down around him, but every time he tries to help, a mutant man-sized rat attacks him. Ratman roasts Cody with a hot crystal, pushes him down the Devil’s Mouth hole, and tries to drown him in the river. [Now those sound like pants-wetting turns.]
But Cody can’t stop. His clues point to Ratman as the one controlling the Detectors. And since Cody is the only one who sees the giant rat, no one else believes the freaky fur-face even exists. [Not that it matters, but is Ratman invisible to others, or does he attack only when no one else is around?]
It’s up to Cody to trap Ratman in time to save the Detectors and the city from whatever this whiskered weirdo is plotting. Or at least before Ratman’s next attack actually kills Cody.
RATMAN’S REVENGE, 76,000 words, may appeal to readers of Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven and Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember. I am enclosing the synopsis below per your guidelines.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Usually when you seek revenge, it's on someone who's wronged you. If no one even believes Ratman exists, how will anyone know why he wants revenge? How satisfying will Ratman's revenge be if no one knows what they did to incur his wrath? In Revenge of the Nerds, the revenge wouldn't have been nearly as sweet if the Nerds had simply bombed the jocks' frat house and the jocks all died never knowing what hit them. In Revenge of the Sith . . . well, I never saw that one, having given up on Star Wars after the Jar Jar Binks episode.
All of which is why you should change the title to Cody Cooper and the Mutant Man-sized Rat. This makes it easy to name all the sequels, i.e. Cody Cooper and the Mutant Man-sized Porcupine.
Other than that, it does sound like something kids would dig. Although it's often said that kids like to read about older kids, so if you want your audience to include 11-year-olds, you could make Cody 13.
Thanks for the comments, EE! Luv ya, man!
Hi Dottie. Working mg author here.
Do not open your query with the things that make your story like half the middle grade novels out there. (Friends away for the summer, divorced parents, child playing in woods/field/dump finds secret portal to magical land.)
Instead, open with what makes it different. Ratman, basically. A man-sized rat is FREAKY. We don't need pants-wetting (which will make some agents go "ew"). We don't need misunderstood and neglected. We have giant rat. Which will also make some agents go "ew", but I don't see any way around that.
Giant rat is an over-the-top situation. Now we need a voice to match it. How are you playing this in the book? Zany? Gross-me-right-on-out? Sarcastic? Mournful? Give us some sense of that in the query. A giant rat requires a convincing voice.
I was also left wondering why Cody is the only one who sees the giant rat, and what this place is that he's trying to save. If the answers to those questions aren't important at this stage of the game, then try to rewrite the query so as not to raise them.
Oh, and it's okay to have your hero be eleven. It's also okay to leave his age out of the query. I have done so with success more than once.
I'm a little confused about the Detectors. They sound more like Protectors, actually, since their job is to keep the place safe. I can understand Ratman wanting them gone, but if they don't know about him, a lot of tension is lost. If they do know and are desperately trying to find him, Cody's unique ability makes far more sense.
Wait, a Giant rat isn't what makes this book different. We already have Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rodents of unusual size in The Princess Bride, The Giant Rat of Sumatra (Sherlock Holmes). No, it's slugs and bugs soup we need to focus on.
Are Cody's new pals giant mutant animals too, or is it just the rat? I'd like to see a bit more of their reaction to him and why they welcome him to join their city. I can understand why Cody wants to befriend them, but why do they befriend him?
I take it the Detectors have precognitive abilities that let them foresee disasters threatening the city sooner than more conventional means would be able to. It might help to get the Detectors into the previous paragraph so we're not learning about how important they are in the same sentence that tells us they're disappearing.
Listing one of Ratman's attacks on Cody would make him seem scarier than listing all three. Assuming that his goal is to kill Cody, the more times he fails to do this, the less of a credible threat Ratman becomes.
If Cody's friend can read minds, wouldn't they be able to read Cody's mind and realize that he really is being attacked by a giant mutant rat that they can't see or don't notice?
Take ARC's advice, especially about the pants-wetting. Even editors who aren't averse to the phrase as a metaphor for fear might worry that you're going to have the kid literally wet his pants, which might be a bit much.
And EE is right on the money with the title. Just a glance at the fake plots should tell you that people seeing the title in a list or on the shelf will likely think "inept superhero" before "mutant rat with paranormal powers." Speaking of which, EE gets full credit for "the Diddler," as I originally had the same pun as fake plot #1. I take full responsibility for the other two faux super villain names.
Thanks for all the comments! I appreciate all the help.
When reading the query, I couln't help being reminded of Gregor of the Overland series (by Suzanne Collins, yes, of Hunger Games fame) featuring a boy who stumbles into an underground city with awesome creatures and a running war with giant rats.
As others have pointed out, giant rats aren't exactly original, so focus on what seems less derivative.
"Ratman roasts Cody with a hot crystal, pushes him down the Devil’s Mouth hole, and tries to drown him in the river." This list strikes me as comical, in a coyote/roadrunner kind of way. If this is supposed to be serious, just something to keep in mind.
Anonymous, EE was just contradicting me 'cause it's fun. Giant rats are not really overdone in middle grade fiction. The three examples he gave are a novel for adults, a cartoon/comic book, and a short story for adults.
Of course, there may be a reason giant rats don't show up much in middle grade novels. They're repulsive. (Rats, not mg novels.) Repulsive is a selling point to kids, but not to the adults who have to approve the book first. Still, it's not a cliche and therefore I'd lead with it.
Based on experience.
But it does, as I said, call for a voice that acknowledges the over-the-top situation, or it's not going to work.
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