Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Synopsis 61

Sixteen-year-old SAMANTHA works as a nurses’ aide in a psychiatric hospital where voices whisper through the walls. After a man attacks her, then dies and evaporates, she's not sure whether she needs a psychiatrist or a psychic. [I don't see why a psychic would be useful. I'd say a psychiatrist or a new vocation. Better yet, she's not sure she isn't the one who needs psychiatric care.] In school, she's assigned to work with AIDEN, the son of a police sergeant, on a death and dying project. He tells her the guy was one of the undead and takes [her] to see his AUNT CINDA, a medium that gives her magic objects to use to help the guy who attacked her. [If, for some reason you want to help a guy who attacked you, the time to do so is before he evaporates.] 

Samantha's father talks her into seeing a psychiatrist. [Advice for Samantha: If, at your first session, you're planning to tell the psychiatrist about the whispering walls, evaporating man, or undead, bring a suitcase. You may not be going home for a while.] She doesn't think he's helping and she stops seeing him when one of the undead comes to her session and jumps out the window. [You know you're in trouble when even the undead can't bear to listen to your problems.] [What floor was that office on?]

Her younger sister, SYLVIE, confides to Samantha that she sees their dead mother who comes to sing her a lullaby at night. [Sylvie is thrilled to learn she's not the only nut job in the family.] When Sylvie gets sick and is brought to the hospital, their mother appears. This time, Samantha can see her mom who tells Samantha to forget about her wrongful death and help her father start his life again or she'll never be able to cross over. [Lot of pronouns in that sentence. I shouldn't have to work to figure out who each her and she refers to.] Samantha agrees to try.

When more undead come to Samantha for help, she realizes Aiden is right. Together they read The Book of the Dead and decode the mysterious and scary messages the undead are giving her. After Samantha and her mother visit the Underworld, she's able to help the last of the undead cross over. Samantha gets happy tears in her eyes when she sees new constellations in the sky, markers for where the undead, including her mother, crossed over.


This summary is closer to what should be in the query letter than what was actually in the query letter (see previous post). It's still all over the place for something so short. If someone wants a synopsis, they probably want more elaboration on the main plot and fewer mentions of stuff like the medium with her magic objects and the visit to the Underworld (If those are important to the main plot, they deserve more than one sentence).

I've said it before, plenty of agents don't even ask for synopses, possibly because reading one is sure to turn you off from even the best of books.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Face-Lift 1403

Guess the Plot


1. Perty's days working at Stillgrove Asylum have never been boring. Until now--the whispers have stopped.

2. Sixteen-year-old Samantha hears whispering. Is it ghosts, or has she just been working in the state mental hospital too long? Also, a visit to the circles of hell.

3. Mia picks up conversations in her retainer, but it's not the local radio station, it's a drug cartel using a government restricted frequency. With the help of two classmates--a conspiracy theorist and a budding actor--Mia will get into more trouble than three teenagers can handle. And maybe save the city.

4. Iggy the busboy must descend into the basement of Bud's Diner. This time he's on a mission to listen to the wireless for an important breakfast order from the French Underground. But the chatter he hears sounds more like a Guy Fawkes plan to blow up Parliament. Has he entered a time tunnel? Or does the free world now depend on himself and savvy waitress Loretta Muldoon?

5. Quiet voices tell Marge to torture small animals, but she doesn't believe in being cruel. They tell her that her parents are zombies; it's kind of cool to help them pretend to be human. On the other hand, Billy Westmeier should have been strangled at birth, long before he became host to a hostile-alien bug colony.

6. As he wanders in the dark on Halloween, hillbilly boy genius Buddy Boone hears whispering voices and realizes he's near the spot where Fred Jones, bootleg distiller, vanished during Prohibition. And he sees a foggy figure in the shrubbery. Plus his iPhone spectral apparition meter app is buzzing.

Original Version

Dear Ms. ,

Whispers is a 74,000-word YA contemporary ghost story which reveals secrets from The Book of the Dead.

Sixteen-year-old Samantha must help a group of whispering ghosts or they won't leave her alone. As she investigates, Samantha realizes there may be supernatural forces at work she cannot control. [She's been tormented by ghosts who won't leave her alone, but she's just now realizing supernatural forces are at work?] [What is she investigating? The ghosts? Or something the ghosts want her to investigate, in which case . . . What?] 

Samantha is compelled by an unseen entity to trudge from the bus to her after-school job as a nurses aide at the Wisconsin State Mental Hospital. [As she'd be going to her after school job anyway, how do we know an unseen entity is compelling her to go? Now that I think about it, am I freely typing at my computer right now, or is an unseen entity compelling me to do so? It's possible everyone in the world is being compelled to do everything they do by unseen entities. Was that the plot of The Matrix?] [Wait, is it the trudging part that's being compelled? She normally skips but now she's trudging? No, everyone normally trudges to their job. Especially if their job is nurses aide at the Wisconsin State Mental Hospital.] Menacing whispers call her name. Aidan, a boy in her psychology class tells her only she can help the undead cross over. [Are you sure the person who told her that wasn't a patient at the Wisconsin State Mental Hospital?] [How does Aiden know she's the one? She consults with a mystic and visits the Circles of Hell with her deceased Mom. [WTF?] Samantha must use what she learns to help the whisperers and her mother by Christmas or all the undead will be sentenced to wander Earth forever. [As ghosts or zombies?] [According to whom?] [How close to Christmas is it?] 

Whispers would fit on the shelf next to The Poison Thread (Laura Purcel [Purcell]), House of Furies (Madeleine Roux), and Asylum (Madeleine Roux). [As it happens, I have those three books on my shelf, and as you can see, your book would not fit next to them:]

At sixteen, like my main character, I worked as a nurses aide in a small-town Wisconsin hospital. The nurse in charge scheduled me to do mortuary care for a patient who had died in her bed the night before. It was so spooky, I kept waiting for the woman to sit up and say something. [Finally she did, but it was in Spanish, which I don't speak, so I clubbed her over the head, and this time she stayed dead.] As a new nurse, I worked nights on a psychiatric unit where many weird things happened that could not be explained and on a unit next to the one where Ed Gein, the serial killer popularized in Psycho, resided. I took first place in a Virginia Romance Writers YA novel contest and second place in a YA State of Florida Competition. My author page at Amazon is https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B000APFWWQ [That you've worked as a nurse in a psychiatric institution is relevant. Unless your dead patient said something or the ghost of Ed Gein whispered to you, the rest of this paragraph isn't helpful. More about what happens in the book would be a better use of the space.] 



A book set in a psych ward where Ed Gein is a resident and unexplained things happen sounds more promising than one involving ghosts, unseen entities, a mystic, The Book of the Dead, an undead mother, a visit to the Circles of Hell, and Ed Gein residing in some other ward besides the one where your book is set. 

If the one thing you tell me about your book is that it reveals secrets from The Book of the Dead, it might be better to touch on that in the query instead of on circles of hell and unseen entities etc. All this stuff is okay in the book which is 74,000 words. Working all that into your plot summary, which is a mere seven sentences, could give the impression your book is disorganized at best.

Is there something about Samantha that makes her the ideal person to help the undead cross over? 

Use this outline to summarize the plot, and see if it turns out more coherent:

1. What's Samantha's situation and what's her goal?
2. What's her plan and what obstacles could thwart it?
3. What will happen if she fails to achieve her goal? (Whether to her or to the universe.)

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Face-Lift 1402

Guess the Plot


1. Tinker, tailor, beggar-man, thief. In Actorburg, no one is quite who they seem, because, well, they're all actors.

2. When the Republican-led US government bans acting, actress Jenny Davis is confined to an actors re-education institute. Is this the end of her dream to be the next Sandra Bullock? Or will the Democrats regain power? 

3. It started as a social experiment, but now it's gotten out of hand. How can Julia Starling (real name Beth Smith) live life if everyone else in town is also acting their parts?

4. What happens when a bunch of wannabe actors take over an old ghost town set and start a Youtube reality series? Not what they hoped. At least the silver screen ghosts whose graves they disturbed are willing to fight the aliens who were looking to take on a population weakened by a pandemic.

5. The names have been changed. So have the dates, places, and most of the details. It's still the inside skinny on the most famous scandals of golden-age Hollywood.

6. When male actors turn 50, and  females turn 30, the roles dry up. That's when these thespians head for Actorburg, a town where their every action is scripted, "directors" order them around, and the reviews are always glowing.

7. Struggling thespian Titus Lemonjello asks his twin brother, who happens to be the mayor of Los Angeles, for cash to fund his next crappy movie. Things get heated when the request is refused, and Titus accidentally murders him. Seeing an opportunity, Titus assumes his twin's identity, and decides his first order of business will be to rename the city to better represent the kind of people who actually live there.

Original Version

Dear Sir or Madam:

What would America be like without actors? [It would be like Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale (though admittedly all I know about Gilead is what was portrayed in the TV series by actors).] [On the bright side, we wouldn't be subjected to any more Nicholas Cage and Keanu Reeves performances.] That’s the bold premise of Actorburg, my latest literary novel (complete at 127,573 words). [Actorburg sounds like a place devoted to acting, like a movie studio or Hollywood. Not a country without actors.] Because of your interest in a diverse range of literary fiction, I hope that this will be a good fit for us [and by "us" I mean "you," as it's already a good fit for me]. Comparable titles include Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk and Campusland by Scott Johnston. I discovered you in the Poets and Writers Literary Agencies Database. [If you condense that paragraph to one sentence: My book Actorburg is exactly 127,573 words of literary fiction set in America . . . but without actors! you'll save the agent a lot of time. By which I mean she can delete your letter that much faster.]

Actorburg is set in a world in which the Republican-led American government has banned acting and classified the desire to act as a mental illness. 

The novel follows former actor (and teacher) Jenny Davis as she navigates the titular institute (otherwise known as the Southern California Actors Re-Education Institute, or SCARI). There, she must confront many challenges to her liberal beliefs—from the Actorburg staff, her fellow “inmates”, and the quickly-changing outside world. Can she forget about her past and forge a new future for herself, or will her old dreams always have a hold on her heart? [This is the only paragraph that has any information about what happens in your book, and it's all vague. Jenny navigates an institute, confronts challenges, and tries to forge a new future. That's the plot of every Harry Potter book.] [In fact, depending on your definition of "institute," it's the plot of every novel.]

As an “Army brat”, I grew up all over the country, with my favorite state being Alaska. [Sure, take the biggest one. I assume your favorite ocean is the Pacific, your  favorite planet is Jupiter and your favorite rodent is the capybara. Feel free to work those into the query letter too.] In my spare time, I am a freelance magazine editor--most recently for Shannon Media—and editor of the website Adventures in Videoland. My latest novel is The Burgeoning Heart of Bambi Bazooms, published in August 2018. [That's not impressive enough to risk that it'll convince the agent your query is a hoax.] [Also, never use both "titular" and "bazooms" in the same business letter.]

I hope you enjoy reading my novel just as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I look forward to your reply.



Scrap the whole thing. Put together a three-paragraph summary of the plot in which you tell us, with specific information, Jenny's situation, how she plans to change it, and what will happen if she fails. Then tack on a closing paragraph that includes the title, word count, genre. Comparable titles are okay if they're requested and comparable in more ways than genre. Your favorite state can be omitted. The agent won't care about your credits unless they suggest you will put money in her wallet; for example, I have published numerous novels under my pen name, Stephen King. 

Monday, June 01, 2020

Face-Lift 1401

Guess the Plot

The Anomalies

1. Things have been different for a while now. Yet Jake seems to be the only one to notice. Can he convince anyone else of the anomalies or will he be put in the nut house?

2. Natalie doesn't have much use for her super powers, so she spends her time training other superhuman anomalies and protecting them from vigilantes trying to avenge loved ones harmed by super accidents. Hey, it's a living.

3. It's a rare episode of Star Trek in which the Enterprise doesn't encounter a space anomaly, but in this fanfic novel, the ship encounters two anomalies!

4. Who can explain America's latest teen heartthrobs?... They play Glenn Miller, Stan Kenton, and Lawrence Welk, have neatly trimmed hair, no tats, no piercings, and they phone home after every concert. They're . . . The ANOMALIES!

5. When Rebecca sees spots through her telescope, she's not certain if it's aliens or her husband's mascara on the lens. Maybe he's having an affair. With an alien.

6. Felix Strell finds strange numbers in the account books for his customer Big Joe Mahoney. Should he tell the boss he's being scammed? Or try to get in on the action?

7. The five homes on the cul de sac are lived in by the Smiths, The Joneses The Johnsons, the Martins, and the Anomalies. Four of the families live in cookie cutter cottages. The other family lives in a full-size replica of the Eiffel Tower. It's a tall tale.

Original Version

In her spare time between gig jobs, Natalie rescues and trains superhumans whose powers strike like seizures. [Not sure if that means their powers come on unexpectedly, or they resemble actual seizures, or they can't be controlled or something else. And what does she rescue them from?] Years ago, Natalie fled the city to keep her lightning storms from hurting anybody else, [Anybody else besides herself or besides those they already hurt?] but now, Natalie has nothing to use her powers for besides tracing lightning across the sky to help her fall asleep. She rents in a cramped old house with roommates who can read her mind when they’re bored, who fly to the six pack shop to restock on beer, and who command wind to blow the smell of pot out of the yard. [Can all her roommates do all of these things, or is it that she shares a cramped old house with Mentalman, who can read minds, the Buzzard, who can fly (usually to the beer store), and Zephyr, who commands the wind (mostly to blow away the smell of pot)? This way has fewer words, but extra specifics.]

In a search for a new recruit, Natalie instead stumbles into his murder at the hands of the Witnesses, vigilantes who avenge loved ones harmed by super accidents. Natalie fears the destructive past she’s been hiding is to blame, and now everybody she’s saved is in danger. [I don't see why she would fear that, or why everyone she's saved is in danger. Does everyone she's saved have a super power? Because when super-powered beings team up, they often manage to defeat enemies a lot more dangerous than a bunch of human vigilantes. You think the Avengers would worry about the Witnesses when they've had to take on Thanos? Aquaman alone could handle the Witnesses.] [I might drop the last sentence, and work the information in the previous sentence into the next paragraph.]

When one of Natalie’s trainees has a public accident [That sounds embarrassing.] that draws the elusive Witnesses closer, Natalie can run and risk that the vigilantes know [discover] her secret, [If the vigilantes don't already know her secret, why was she afraid her past was to blame for the murder? Isn't her past the secret? I'm not sure running would give away her secret, unless she can run like the Flash. Running is what someone without a secret power would do. It's staying and attacking the vigilantes with lightning that would give away her secret.] or find a way to hunt the vigilantes back, saving her friends but proving the vigilantes were right to fear superhumans. [The vigilantes' motive was supposedly revenge for harm to their loved ones. If fear of anomalies is their main motive, no need to mention the revenge factor, as there are probably a lot more people who fear them than who lost loved ones to their accidents.]

THE ANOMALIES is a 95,000 word superhuman/science fiction novel that will appeal to fans of VICIOUS by V.E. Schwab, CHOSEN ONES by Veronica Roth, and Taika Waititi’s WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. I studied Slavic Literature at the University of Pittsburgh with a focus on classics and science fiction. [Okay, I can buy people who fly and control weather and read minds, but no way do I buy that anyone would willingly study Slavic literature.]

Thank you for your time,


How often do superhumans have accidents? I'll admit it's likely that thousands of people die whenever comic book superheroes battle super villains, and that the editors fudge the numbers, but it sounds like your superheroes have retired, so there shouldn't be a lot of accidental deaths.

The voice is good. What I want to have clearly stated is what is Natalie's secret from her destructive past (Is it just that she's Lightning Woman?), what exactly will happen if the Witnesses discover it (It somehow reveals the identity of everyone she ever saved?), and how she plans to prevent this.

The superhumans don't seem all that super. Have they vowed not to use their powers for good because of the accidents? If they're willing to fly to the beer store, they ought to be willing to fly to their fortress of solitude to avoid the Witnesses.

When I plug "anomaly" into the search box at the top left of this blog, several old Face-Lifts come up. Maybe looking at them would be instructive or at least entertaining.