Monday, May 16, 2011

Query Revision 84

Face-Lift 889: Behind the Safety of Words
Original Title: When Writing About Sex Is Better Than Actually Doing It

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

Lucy Halloran is a CPA by day, and a secret writer of erotic fiction by night. She is happily married, that is until she loses her beloved husband to a car crash. Closing off almost entirely, she allows herself only to live vicariously through her characters. But the allure of an adults-only open-mic night piques her interest. Soon, converting her x-rated stories to PG-13 and reading them out loud monthly becomes the one way she can convince herself she is still alive.

When Curtis McMelley’s sister drags him to an open-mic night, he’s shocked to see his high school crush take the mic. Hearing the words stream forth out of her pouty lips is intoxicating. After a few dates, Curtis, who usually doesn’t think of women as anything other than playthings, is surprised to find himself falling for her. There is an addicting tension that exists between them.

Despite his good looks, Lucy finds Curtis maddening and egotistical. But as much as she tries to resist him, she is attracted to his charm and intelligence. He’s awakened feelings in Lucy, who hasn’t so much as dated since her husband’s death. Instead of facing these feelings, she pushes him away, repeatedly. Curtis both respects and is frustrated by this. But she has changed him. His old, tomcat lifestyle quickly becomes tiresome. For Lucy, this awakening brings a realization of other deep-seeded problems, namely a dependence on alcohol.

With the help of her husband’s best friend Jonathan, she takes drastic steps to pick up the pieces of her slowly crumbling world. When things with Jonathan move past friendship, Lucy’s life settles into easy and comfortable. It allows her the time she desperately needs to heal. Curtis still exists though, sometimes in the back of her thoughts, sometimes in the front. After running into him at a baseball game, she must decide if comfortable and easy is how she wants to spend the rest of her life. From Behind the Safety of Words, a 70,000-word Women’s Fiction novel, follows two people as they sometimes humorously, sometimes seriously come to terms with the challenges life presents. This is my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

First off, of course, at 364 words, this is too long. There’s no real standard for query length, but most agents prefer shorter over longer. Aim for 250-300 words.

My big concern here is the genre you’re pegging this for. Most of this reads like contemporary romance, but you’d want to take a bit different approach to the query for that. If this is indeed women’s fiction, you’ll want to de-emphasize all the romance-genre cues and play up how all this is affecting Lucy.

I’ll crit this as women’s fiction, but I’ll do a version at the end that’s romance-centric. I'm meh on the new title for women's fiction, and definitely think it needs a change if you go the romance route.

Lucy Halloran is a CPA by day, and a secret writer of erotic fiction by night. She is happily married, that is until she loses her beloved husband to a car crash.

Why is it secret? Does she write just for herself?

Watch your punctuation. The comma after “day” isn’t needed, and the next sentence is a run-on.

Closing off almost entirely, she allows herself only to live vicariously through her characters. But the allure of an adults-only open-mic night piques her interest. Soon, converting her x-rated stories to PG-13 and reading them out loud monthly becomes the one way she can convince herself she is still alive.

In the original query at EE’s site, Lucy seems to be reading erotica. Have you really changed that in the book? I ask because converting x-rated material to PG-13 for adults seems even weirder than reading straight erotica at open-mic night.

When Curtis McMelley’s sister drags him to an open-mic night, he’s shocked to see his high school crush take the mic. Hearing the words stream forth out of her pouty lips is intoxicating.

At this point, I’m not sure that WHAT she’s reading – whether it’s erotica or watered down prose – is important. She writes secretly to comfort herself and goes to a coffee house with open-mic night where she reads her work and where Curtis sees her. Her writing and reading doesn’t seem to play into the story in any meaningful way except to get the two hooked up, so no reason to dwell on it.

Most women’s fiction will stay in the POV of the woman.

After a few dates, Curtis, who usually doesn’t think of women as anything other than playthings, is surprised to find himself falling for her. There is an addicting tension that exists between them.

A little better segue is needed here, I think. We go from Curtis seeing her right into “after a few dates.”

Despite his good looks, Lucy finds Curtis maddening and egotistical. But as much as she tries to resist him, she is attracted to his charm and intelligence. He’s awakened feelings in Lucy, who hasn’t so much as dated since her husband’s death.

I don’t know how long it’s been since hubby’s death, so this statement doesn’t carry the impact you think it does.

Instead of facing these feelings, she pushes him away, repeatedly.

I think her pushing him away and the alcohol dependency can be tied together as symptoms of her other problems.

Curtis both respects and is frustrated by this. But she has changed him. His old, tomcat lifestyle quickly becomes tiresome. For Lucy, this awakening brings a realization of other deep-seeded problems, namely a dependence on alcohol.

deep-seeded = deep-seated

With the help of her husband’s best friend Jonathan, she takes drastic steps to pick up the pieces of her slowly crumbling world.

I’m not quite sure what’s happening. She pushes Curt away because she has feelings for him and starts drinking. Then she meets Jon, develops feelings for him and stops drinking. And Curt, who’s given up his tomcat ways, just moves on?

When things with Jonathan move past friendship, Lucy’s life settles into easy and comfortable. It allows her the time she desperately needs to heal. Curtis still exists though, sometimes in the back of her thoughts, sometimes in the front.

That last sentence can be deleted.

After running into him at a baseball game, she must decide if comfortable and easy is how she wants to spend the rest of her life.

What’s the allure otherwise? It sounds like Lucy had comfortable and easy with hubby #1 and she was happy. I’m not really getting anything from this other than maybe Lucy will decide that the guy who was there for her during her rough patch isn’t hot enough for her. From what you’ve given us, I’m hoping Lucy does leave Jon because he seems like a nice guy who deserves someone who’s going to treat him better. I’m not sure Curt is drawn very sympathetically here, either. He just dissociates from her.

This seems to be a character study, but is it really a story?

From Behind the Safety of Words, a 70,000-word Women’s Fiction novel, follows two people

Follows two people? I’m assuming the second person is Curt. Putting in this second POV is one of the things that makes me lean toward romance with this. I think we need to see his story arc more clearly. He just sort of leaves her then drifts back into her life in the query. Why would he take her back? Has he been waiting for her all this time? Or did he resume his tomcatting? Can we trust he changes?

as they sometimes humorously, sometimes seriously come to terms with the challenges life presents.

I think I missed the humorous bits.

This is my debut novel.

Delete.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

My Version

Remember, I’m taking the romance tack here.

After her beloved husband dies in a tragic car crash, CPA Lucy Halloran turns to her writing for comfort. Living vicariously through her characters seems to be the only way she can convince herself she’s still alive. A few months isn’t enough time to cope with the loss, but Lucy forces herself back out into the world, reading her work during open-mic night at the local bar/coffee house.

When Curtis McMelley sees his high school crush take the mic, he has one thought on his mind: conquest. Like every other woman he’s ever seduced, she’s nothing more than a plaything to him. Until she agrees to date him, and he finds a tempting but damaged soul who calls to his better nature. For Lucy, he’s ready to hang up his tomcatting ways.

But doubts and depression overcome Lucy. She drives Curtis off and turns instead to alcohol -- and her husband’s best friend. Jonathan is everything Curtis isn’t: incredibly kind and incredibly average. He offers her safety and comfort when she needs it most. But Curtis is never far from her thoughts, and when she and Curtis run into one another at a ballgame, old feelings re-ignite, and Lucy must decide whether respectable Jonathan is enough, or whether she needs Curtis to define her as much as he’s already realized he needs her.

Thank you for considering BEHIND THE SAFETY OF WORDS, a 70,000-word contemporary romance. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

8 comments:

Jo-Ann said...

Again, Phoenix has written a great query.

I'm fascinated by the categorisation of stories into particular genres, especially when the one story may be seen as fitting into different pigeon-holes. I'm wondering what might drive the author’s final decision - women's fic or romance?

If finances interest the author (and I ain't saying that's a bad thing) then Romance might be the genre. Apparently, steamy romances sell like hot cliches (or maybe hot curries) in India, a burgeoning market.

Check this article out:
http://www.economist.com/node/10766566?story_id=10766566

Just sayin’

Riley Redgate said...

I think cutting this query down to length could easily fix some of the other problems, too. Fewer words means tighter wording: "For Lucy, this awakening brings a realization of other deep-seeded problems, namely a dependence on alcohol." could easily be ", and in frustration, Lucy turns to alcohol."

In my opinion, the characterization doesn't shine as much as it should with the wonderful cast you have. It's hidden behind phrases like "she takes drastic steps to pick up the pieces of her slowly crumbling world."

I, too, was puzzled about what exactly she was reading at open mic. I mean, if she's an erotica writer, the sex is the main point of the writing, right? If it's watered down, what exactly does it come out as? Honestly, though, I don't feel like that needs answering in the query - I think rewording it so it's a little more vague could remove the issue altogether. (Phoenix did this awesomely in her rewrite.)

Also, shortening would let the query feel like less of a synopsis.

Good luck!

AA said...

I'm not getting a feel for these characters at all. Something is missing.

You say,
"Closing off almost entirely, she allows herself only to live vicariously through her characters."
But then immediately contradict that: "Soon, converting her x-rated stories to PG-13 and reading them out loud monthly..."

You say,
"Curtis, who usually doesn’t think of women as anything other than playthings,"
Then immediately negate that:
"is surprised to find himself falling for her. There is an addicting tension that exists between them."

You say,
"she takes drastic steps to pick up the pieces of her slowly crumbling world."
But then almost immediately cancel that:
"Lucy’s life settles into easy and comfortable."

Here again:
" Lucy finds Curtis maddening and egotistical."
Next sentence:
" she is attracted to his charm and intelligence."

The whole query goes like this. In one sentence, you set up a problem or situation. In the next sentence or two, you either solve that problem or somehow negate or cancel the effect of the situation. No wonder I'm getting such a neutral feeling from this.

Tension means that there are problems and situations that stay unresolved for a while. The query needs to reflect this.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

AA put it well. Phoenix, well done as always.

Author,
Sharpening this and revealing the characters would help me stay with the query.

I love the premise. I'd pare it down and take out the tired/weak words and phrases. Contradictory sentences turn the query wishy washy.

There is an addicting tension that exists between them. This is weak.

The sexual tenson between them from high school ________. Lucy hasn't had a man for a long time and her guilt is as surprising/strong/overwhelming as her longing/want/need.

If she writes erotica/porn you can reveal her need without being tawdry.

Charming doesn't match with up with egotistical. Maddening people in my experience aren't intelligent. IMHO.

I think if you cut the words it will come into focus better for you.

Good luck, pretty original.

Wilkins MacQueen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thank you all a ton, and thank you, Phoenix, for your awesome comments/rewrite. One day I will get the hang of this...

About the genre - I think this is my biggest point of confusion (and possibly what I know least about). I have been told that the romance genre is very specific, and that novels that contain things such as alcoholism, death, and other 'serious' issues shouldn't be labeled romance.

For this novel, it is told from both Lucy's and Curtis' perspective, which I get now is not women's fiction. It's more of a character study - how their lives change as a result of the unexpected relationship.

Does anyone have any good places I could go to learn more about genre?

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'm assuming the Romance Writers of America may be able to help, but I've also not perused their site.

Both Jennfier Crusie and Erica Orloff write romance with other elements. Erica has metaphysics, physics and Albert Einstein in drag in a romance novel.

Ryan and Sheree Gladden said...

When I read the query I felt like Lucy should be the main point of the story, but that didn't come across clearly. If it's truly women's fiction the two men in the novel have to have their stories told through Lucy's eyes. The decisions they make must affect Lucy in a meaningful way for them to matter. Jonathan especially did not come off as a main character at all, even though I'm assuming he is. he simply seems to be "there", not really affecting or changing Lucy very much. If this is really romance, Phoenix did a good job of balancing both the males characters at the end of the query.