Friday, April 29, 2011

On Panhandling And Rigging The Game - Plus A FREE Crit Offer And A Book Promotion Tip You Too Can Use

(P.S. Empty query queue!)

After the last couple of parties, I've gotten a few emails from some very lovely folk asking why I don't put up a Donate button and/or wondering if there isn't something else they could do. Occasionally, I get those same suggestions from people who submit queries here. After all, I just posted the 80th query yesterday and we've seen 1-2 revisions for many those, as well as 13 synopses and their revisions.

I am humbled by such kind thoughts.

A Donate button, however, makes me squirm. Too direct, I guess. And while cash is always nice, I'm living fine within my budget right now. *salt, wood, fingers*

BUT I am not above an indirect approach or shameless promotion among friends.

Now, I could tell you that simply buying Spoil of War and/or Extinct would be thanks enough. (And THANK YOU to those who have!!)

But I would NOT be doing a good job mentoring if I didn't remind you that's not the best approach to marketing.

Book Promo Tip: Manipulate The Market

Gather 'round my friends, because whether you self-publish or have the backing of giants for the digital editions of your work, I have this to say: Amazon rankings are god. Based on secret algorithms, the rankings determine what additional co-marketing and product placement your book receives. Say you consistently sell one book a day for a month. Nice, but the book will never climb the rankings. If, however, you don't sell any books for 29 days, then sell 30 books on the 30th day, your book will zoom to -- well, it depends on the genre and subgenre and how the competitors are selling on that day in comparison, but the ranking will improve substantially and the likelihood of better product placement increases, which potentially gets some needed momentum going.

Of course, the day of the week matters, too. Folk tend to buy more online at Amazon on the weekend. That means you have to sell comparatively more books to move up the ranks on Saturday or Sunday. So you want to do your pushes -- to the people you can personally reach out to directly or indirectly -- during the work week, preferably right before the weekend. That way you can capitalize on any rank increases at the most optimal time of buying for the general public. And you want to try to get shills valued targeted customers to buy your book on the SAME DAY, or at least within the same couple of days, to have the most impact to your rank.

** Are you getting THIS level of promotional tipping from the OTHER blogs out there? I thought not. **

So, as a fine, practical example, if you feel you've gotten fair advice from this site either through a direct critique or by sucking it up through osmosis and you really want to say thank you, simply purchase Spoil of War and/or Extinct Doesn't Mean Forever on Thursday, May 5, or Friday, May 6. (Don't worry, I'll remind you.)

Get a Free 5-Page Crit

I'll even sweeten the pot by offering a 5-page crit to anyone who purchases both books on those days (or to anyone who has purchased both in the past month)(Just send me an email and let me know; you're on scout's honor -- I believe in you).

  • If you have a Kindle, you'll get a better formatted book and I'll benefit from the ranking thing if you buy direct from Amazon.
  • If you have a nook, you'll get a better formatted book and I'll benefit from the ranking thing if you buy direct from B&N.
  • If you don't have a reader, then buy the PDF from Smashwords. You can read a PDF version on any computer and on a reader if you get one later.
These are DRM free, so if you already own them or the titles aren't your cuppa, you can always gift your purchases. In fact, I'll be happy to trade out one format version for another! If you're reading through a feed, click through and look in the sidebar for direct links to the books in the various stores.

Now, if I put up a Donate button and you even considered donating, you'd give at least $5, right? This way, you're out less and you gain MORE.

Or, as those great Not Sold in Stores ads would put it:

*Offer good through May 6, 2011.
** Based on Extinct retail value of $2.99 on 4/29/11, Spoil of War retail value of $2.99 beginning 6/1/11, and comparable cost of $55.00 on 4/29/11 for a 5-page crit offered at http://authorassist.com/fiction.html (um, yeah. good luck with that).

Please, please. This is all in fun. No pressure intended!
Just the best compromise I could think of for those who've asked.
THANK YOU just for being a part of this site's community!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Query Revision 80

Face-Lift 444: Absorption

Dear Evil Editor:

Brett Johnson healed a child mutilated by the hive mind Alexander, and held her as she cried. Then he joined a task force targeting the oldest hive mind, creator of all the others.

They cannot prove direct responsibility, and a bloody war will split the Federalist Worlds. The expedition must do everything possible to convince the hosts to surrender the technology on which the hive mind is based.

During negotiations, Brett meets a beautiful woman named Ariel Lilac who believes he would not fear the hive mind if he understood it. He disagrees, but desires her greatly. Brett doesn’t discuss his feelings since they may soon be on opposite sides of a war, but cannot resist spending time with her learning about the hive mind Oceania, named after the world on which it resides. He sees her on the verge of joining the hive mind herself. Resolved to distract her however he can, he seduces her.

Diplomacy is not working, but they find joy together in the face of impending calamity. Ariel shows Brett how the brain computer interface that powers the hive mind can also be used for other things, such as simulating body exchanges while making love.

Brett falls more deeply for Ariel, and comes to suspect his people have really misunderstood this technology. Yet he also fears passion has prejudiced him, and he may postpone action against a danger to humanity until too late.

Absorption is an eighty thousand word science fiction manuscript.

Comments

After I read this version, I took a peek back at the others. I was hoping they would provide a clue to the conflict that's missing from this query. They didn't. Overall, this feels like a story long on concept and short on plot and action. Very diplomatic and talking heads-ish. Is there something in the novel that elevates this out of theory besides the sex games?

Bluntly, here's my take-away as to what the story is as presented in this query:

Some medical doctor volunteers to negotiate with a group of people who have some sort of connection to a hive mind in order to convince said group of people to peacefully turn over some technology that could somehow prevent a war.

One of the group is a hottie who's about to wed herself to the hive mind. The doctor distracts her from doing so with sex. Only she shows him that sex inside the hive is way better.

Aha, the doctor thinks. Maybe my guys are wrong to fear this hive mind sex toy. Or is that just my dick talking? Wonder which of them I should trust. Oops. Guess I shouldn't have listened to my dick after all. Bye-bye human kind.

I don't think that's the story you've written, but there really isn't much else in this query for me to hang my hat on. Why have I concentrated on the love play aspect? Because that's the only concrete detail you've given us here. I don't know how or why the kid was mutilated. Was it a 1 in a billion accident? Was it deliberate? I have no idea who might be involved in the possible war. I don't know what the goal of the hive mind is or what Brett's people really want. If the girl was deliberately tortured and she was only the latest in dozens of cases, then maybe hive mind equals bad. And if Brett is swayed into thinking it's just a misunderstood monster after a little taste of gender swapping, then maybe he's not a very sympathetic character or someone we want debating our ethics questions.

I think part of the problem is that you've been working on this story awhile and you're way too close to it. You think there's enough detail here, but you don't have the objectivity to see what someone reading it cold isn't seeing.

Brett Johnson healed a child mutilated by the hive mind Alexander, and held her as she cried.

I had to re-read this a couple of times to understand the hive mind has a name and it is Alexander. I think the name is one of the details we don't need.

Then he joined a task force targeting the oldest hive mind, creator of all the others.

What is the task force's mission? "Targeting" is pretty vague. Do they just want to gather intelligence?

They cannot prove direct responsibility,

"They" grammatically refers back to the other hive minds not the task force.

and a bloody war will split the Federalist Worlds. The expedition must do everything possible to convince the hosts to surrender the technology on which the hive mind is based.

What expedition? To where? Who or what are the hosts? What will surrendering the technology accomplish? You understand this sentence, but I don't think most readers will on a first read. I can eventually deduce it's the task force in Oceania trying to convince the people joined to the hive mind to turn over some technology. But I'm still in the dark about what exactly the tech stuff does or how one goes about gathering up countless nanobots inhabiting countless bodies.

During negotiations, Brett meets a beautiful woman named Ariel Lilac who believes he would not fear the hive mind if he understood it.

Is describing Ariel as "beautiful" shorthand for telling the reader Brett is shallow?

He disagrees, but desires her greatly.

I'm seeing this a lot lately: "but" isn't the right conjunction here. His desire doesn't refute the fact that he disagrees with her assessment.

Brett doesn’t discuss his feelings since they may soon be on opposite sides of a war, but cannot resist spending time with her learning about the hive mind Oceania, named after the world on which it resides.

This is a pretty convoluted sentence that's packed with several thoughts that ultimately doesn't really say what I think you mean it to. As written, the ultimate goal of Brett spending time with Ariel is to learn about the hive mind, and Brett can't resist learning about it.

Also, if the hive mind we were first intro'd to was named Alexander, was it also named after a world? Consistency in world-building is important.

He sees her on the verge of joining the hive mind herself. Resolved to distract her however he can, he seduces her.

Diplomacy is not working, but they find joy together in the face of impending calamity.

Again, "but" isn't your friend here. Is Ariel such an airhead and Brett so hot that she forgets about the hive mind? Seems she could be a part of it and still make out with Brett. And is the diplomacy not working because Brett can't do two things at once? Is he neglecting his diplomatic duties in favor of the seduction and that's why talks are falling apart?

Ariel shows Brett how the brain computer interface that powers the hive mind can also be used for other things, such as simulating body exchanges while making love.

What are the primary powers of the hive/technology being used for? Without knowing that, the reader is hard pressed to make any decision about the hive at all when the only useful/benevolent thing we see derived from the technology is this.

Brett falls more deeply for Ariel, and comes to suspect his people have really misunderstood this technology.

Pairing these two thoughts makes them seem like cause and effect. Is Brett so shallow that falling for a woman makes him forget the malevolent things the technology can do? Not that the reader knows what those malevolent things are, of course. They've just been very vaguely, possibly hinted at.

Yet he also fears passion has prejudiced him, and he may postpone action against a danger to humanity until too late.

Well, at least he recognizes that passion may be blinding him. However, as far as rising tension and story stakes, postponing action is pretty passive.

At this point, the query has painted the MCs as shallow and given us no promise of a proper plot arc. I'm just not invested in the characters or the story.

By showing us character growth and helping us better see what the consequences of inaction could be and then at least hinting at a proactive resolution, you could get me vested. As it is, it doesn't feel like it has all the beats of a complete story. Nor could I figure out from the previous versions where to pick up those missing beats.

Absorption is an eighty thousand word science fiction manuscript.

All-Cap the title and use numerals for the word count.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Query 79

Partition

Dear [Agent]:

Maya knows it's a terrible idea to sneak into the Glass City. Firstly, there's about a 50% chance she'll fall to her death climbing up. Secondly, the police there don't hold back when they punish trespassers. And thirdly, the wealthy City-livers hate the lower classes and don't ever hesitate to call the police.

The case is pretty good to just stay at home in the Sprawl, hope it doesn't get bombed again, and wait to be drafted. But Maya hates waiting around, so she sneaks up anyway.

Some jackass City boy about her age catches her. He shows off his full pretentious title - Aser General, of the line of Opimen, 5th generation - and doesn't even blink before turning her in. The police beat her to within an inch of her life. Maya knows that Aser's face isn't one she'll forget, and she sure isn't going to forget his stupid-ass name.

Three days later, Maya sees Aser in the Sprawl. She acts on vengeful impulse, but her attempt to knife him gets interrupted by a bombing. Somehow, she finds herself trying to get him to shelter.

She fails. He gets in the way of a blast, and when he wakes up, he doesn't remember his name. Or where he's from. Or who Maya is.

Maya has to keep Aser close. If he ever remembers, he'll turn her in, so, improvising wildly, she tells him his name is Samuel and he's her brother. But she finds she can't see any of Aser General in the kind, passionate Samuel. When she gets drafted, he follows her into the fray, and she finds herself wishing he weren't her so-called brother, because there's only so much lying she can do before her feelings tear it apart.

PARTITION is a YA war romance, complete at 75,000 words. Thank you for your time and your consideration.

Comments

Overall, I think there are three things about this query that need a bit of strengthening:

The world-building: I'm not sure I'm in love with the name "Glass City" (mind you, that's an entirely personal observation), but I do love the term "the Sprawl"! I get there's a war, but I don't know who's fighting. I don't get why the Sprawl gets bombed and the City doesn't. Other than the army pawns coming out of the Sprawl, what military advantage is there to striking them rather than the funders and decision-makers in the City? Is this a war that's being used merely to keep the Sprawlers busy? What is the fray exactly? Are the infantry fighting in trenches behind barbed wire, marching behind tanks with machine guns, or decked out in night-vision goggles and bazookas? What's the level of sophistication we should be thinking: WW1, WW2 or today?

Maya's motivations: I don't know why Maya is going into the City to begin with. She's apparently risking a lot, but for what? Motivation helps define character, so knowing why she's so determined to get into the City will help us get to know Maya better right off. And will help us accept her abrupt about-face between trying to murder him and trying to save him. "Somehow" is never a good reason -- not even in a query. You CAN probably get away with the Maya needing to keep Aser close thing, though would she kill him if he wakes up one morning with his memory back?

The stakes: The romantic stakes are clear, I think, and the predicament good. What we don't get a sense of is how the characters can influence the outcome or what around them might change to force a different outcome. We're left simply with the question of whether Aser's memory will ever come back. There's tension there because we know the possible consequence of that happening, but we aren't given any indication that it will.

Maya knows it's a terrible idea to sneak into the Glass City. Firstly, there's about a 50% chance she'll fall to her death climbing up. Secondly, the police there don't hold back when they punish trespassers. And thirdly, the wealthy City-livers hate the lower classes and don't ever hesitate to call the police.

Because this is Glass City and there's a good chance Maya will fall climbing up, I'm envisioning a city under a glass dome and Maya climbing up the dome to a, I don't know, window vent or something near the top? And that seems silly. I'm betting that's not the vision you want me to me have here.

Logically, you probably want to introduce the City folk who would call the police who would then punish the trespasser. So switch up the second and third points.

The case is pretty good to just stay at home in the Sprawl, hope it doesn't get bombed again, and wait to be drafted. But Maya hates waiting around, so she sneaks up anyway.

Since I don't know why Maya wants to go into the City, I'm left to surmise things. I'm told she could "wait to be drafted" and that she "hates waiting." My mind rushes to this conclusion: The Sprawl must be at war with the City and if she's drafted, she'll wind up invading the City so might as well get in there now.

But that's not right, is it? Why would there be police in there who punish trespassers? That doesn't sound like a war. So back to trying to work out why she wants to go into the city and what she's accomplishing instead of "waiting around."

Some jackass City boy about her age catches her. He shows off his full pretentious title - Aser General, of the line of Opimen, 5th generation - and doesn't even blink before turning her in. The police beat her to within an inch of her life. Maya knows that Aser's face isn't one she'll forget, and she sure isn't going to forget his stupid-ass name.

I like this paragraph a lot. Good voice! Just a couple of tweaks will make it even better, I think. Maybe change "jackass" since it echoes too closely with "stupid-ass" later. And the "within and inch of her life" is a bit cliche. Maybe something like: The police drop her back outside the wall, bruised and bloodied.

Three days later, Maya sees Aser in the Sprawl. She acts on vengeful impulse, but her attempt to knife him gets interrupted by a bombing. Somehow, she finds herself trying to get him to shelter.

I think the "three days" is a little too specific; makes it start to sound synops-y.

Why is Aser in the Sprawl? If he's so hooty-tooty and young (16? 17?), why would he be hanging out there by himself? This doesn't sound like a world where a rich kid could make a wrong turn while driving and suddenly find himself slumming.

Without a few words of motivation, a reader could well be thinking there's a lot of contrivance in the book to get characters where the author needs them to be without the plot growing organically out of the storyline.

"Somehow" seems to be contrivance number 3 :o(

She fails. He gets in the way of a blast, and when he wakes up, he doesn't remember his name. Or where he's from. Or who Maya is.

Nice and succinct. I like this.

Maya has to keep Aser close. If he ever remembers, he'll turn her in, so, improvising wildly, she tells him his name is Samuel and he's her brother.

This is good too.

But she finds she can't see any of Aser General in the kind, passionate Samuel.

"But" isn't the right conjunction here.

When she gets drafted, he follows her into the fray, and she finds herself wishing he weren't her so-called brother, because there's only so much lying she can do before her feelings tear it apart.

Spell out what "it" is and think about making this two sentences as there are a lot of things going on here. Otherwise, I like this.

The query needs at least a hint that he starts to remember, if he does. If he doesn't, then we need a hint of that too. I'll assume he does because that's inevitably where the drama lies. And if you can work in physical danger at the same time, all the better. Something along the lines of:

As the war escalates, the squadron is sent on a suicide run. Maya's prepared for the fight; what she isn't prepared for is Samuel waking from a nightmare on the eve of battle shouting out a single name: "Aser."

PARTITION is a YA war romance, complete at 75,000 words. Thank you for your time and your consideration.

Now, the exact wrong thing to do in a revision is to look back at what commenters like and try to keep those bits in exactly as they are. Unless they truly, truly work in your revised version, they'll feel awkward and out of place. So be prepared to revise even the good stuff. Advice to all, not just this author!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Query 78: Redux

Child God

“That God all the grown-ups worship in church was never a real kid,” Roy tells Angela. “Kids need their own god."

Ninth-grader Angela Dawn’s main concern this summer is perfecting her competitive baton-twirling. However, her arrogant and hyper-intelligent classmate Roy Wiley couldn’t care less about such “pointless endeavors.” He’s far too busy working on his Master Plan to save all the world’s children from hunger, disease, war and abuse.

Angela is leery of Roy when their respective parents convince the Boy Genius to tutor Angela in math, but she winds up admitting Roy is nothing if not different. After all, most twelve-year-olds don’t own 955 radio-controlled helicopters, carry around a water pistol filled with lemon juice or call poison ivy “free weaponry- ripe for the picking!” Roy enables Angela to see not only math but everything brand-new light, showing her the world as he sees it- brimming with potential. In return, Angela tries to repay Roy by helping him moderate his obsessions. But when Roy overreacts to being bullied, reprisals and counter-reprisals grow more and more violent. Angela’s efforts to stop the cycle only lead to her own life disintegrating, as friends abandon her and Roy ’s enemies target her as well. Learning the truth about the bullies makes Angela question everything she thinks she knows about Roy . Finally, Angela makes a shocking discovery about who Roy really holds responsible for the state of the world’s children, and is forced to decide: is she the one who will help make Roy’s dreams a reality, or is she the world’s only hope of stopping him?

CHILD GOD is my YA Suspense novel, complete at 90,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

I think you've done a good job to elaborate but not really to clarify. I think you're holding your cards close to your chest because you don't want to give away spoilers. You don't have to show ALL your cards, of course -- in fact, you want there to be some mystique to entice a reader on -- but I think you're holding back your hook, and that's what's going to sell this pitch.

Where I'm having a hard time is connecting the dots between the opening and closing of this query. Here's what I'm getting out of the query:

Roy is a self-centered, high-IQ kid with violent tendencies and, possibly, delusions of grandeur. He thinks there's some one thing that is causing misery for the children of the world. ALL the children. So he has a plan to save a couple of billion of them. And set up a god just for kids in the process.

Angela finds out what the plan is and has to decide if a 12 yo with the above tendencies is about to go all Columbine on -- what, the whole world? -- or will be the new Dalai Lama.

As written, half of this query sounds like it could be a very personal story about a delusional kid whom another kid is trying to help. Angela grows in the process of reaching out to him and maybe helps Roy try to find his center so he doesn't go over the edge. I like that story.

The other half sounds like a delusional kid who somehow may actually become the world's next god or anti-god, destined to lead 2 billion children to the Promised Land. Or not. I don't like this story quite as much, but it has promise.

But the query isn't giving me enough to quite figure out which story I'm getting.

Is it this one?

Ninth-grader Angela Dawn’s main concern this summer is perfecting her competitive baton-twirling. Her parents' main concern is that she pass math next year. So they persuade her arrogant and hyper-intelligent classmate Roy Wiley into tutoring her. Only Roy's not so much concerned about pointless crap like batons and simple geometry. He’s far too busy working on his Master Plan for saving all the world’s children from hunger, disease, war and abuse.

Right off, Angela sees that Roy has ... eccentricities. After all, most twelve-year-olds don’t own 955 radio-controlled helicopters, carry around a water pistol filled with lemon juice or call poison ivy “free weaponry - ripe for the picking!" But the Boy Genius also has a gift for seeing the world in a truly rare and enlightening way, brimming with potential. He shares his unique perspective with her, giving her a glimpse into the mind of a true prodigy and the lightning connections that illuminate his world. In return, Angela reaches out, helping him moderate his obsessive and violent nature.

After bullies attack him, though, Roy overreacts, and the reprisals and counter-reprisals grow more and more violent. Angela tries to stop the cycle, only to have her friends abandon her and Roy’s enemies target her too. Amid the escalating violence, Roy reveals his Master Plan to her, and Angela realizes that the line where genius leaves off and delusions begin maybe isn't as clear as she first thought. Caught between concern that Roy is about to cross that line and the possibility that his Plan could actually work, Angela must decide: Is Roy a demi-god in the making or is she the world's best hope of stopping him?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Synopsis 12: Redux 2

Duality

(The revision is 948 words and the author wants help in cutting it down and/or to make it 1 page.)

Resuscitated after a cardiac arrest, DIMA wakes with panther DNA spliced to hers and without her memory. The newest success of a government-funded project to create mercenaries, Dima must learn to tame the aggressive animal that’s taking over the blank spaces in her memories. One wrong move against the Humani Project’s scientists could lead to termination, and she can’t find out anything if she’s dead. For now, the mystery surrounding her mutation and amnesia will have to wait.

Dima can’t manage her new nature, and her bravado infuriates head scientist FREDERICK JAMES, who sees the Humani as breakable animals instead of human test subjects. The physical assessments he designed—ranging from scent tracking to combat—are intended to help Dima balance her dual nature. However, before she’s fully adjusted to her new DNA, James orders her into the lab’s deadliest assessment: a kill-or-be-killed combat exam against four non-human hybrids. He has no concern for Dima’s safety, only results. After her final opponent nearly kills her, Project founder DR. LORENZO breaks protocol to save her life. He apologizes before she passes out, calling her Janelle and sparking in her a need to discover what the scientists are hiding.

No one’s talking, but their scents betray their emotional states. Dima can detect their fear, joy, heartbreak, even lies, and she uses the advantage to develop her hypotheses. Each time she’s near James, she only picks up on his hatred. With Lorenzo, she detects a surprising affection. Whether he cares for her as a test subject or something more, she’s not sure. She’s equally shocked to realize that, while she blames him for turning her into a monster, she feels something for him, too.

During her recovery, Dima must attend a lab-sanctioned public display at a San Francisco convention center. The scientists force her into a cage, claiming it’s for her protection. Each passing moment leaves her feeling like a show animal, and she can almost feel her humanity slipping away. When a faulty generator sparks a fire, she takes satisfaction in watching the chaos, until she realizes that Lorenzo is potentially lost in the sea of panicked humans.

Thankfully, Lorenzo finds her and frees her from the cage, but Dima’s keeper is missing. Without hesitation, Dima looks for her keeper and finds her nearly trampled to death with a broken ankle. Dima half-drags her through a maintenance hallway toward an exit. Two masked gunmen stop them and try to convince Dima to come with them. She refuses and fights them off, slicing one’s face open and shredding the other’s thigh, undisturbed by her violent reaction.

Weeks after their return to Phoenix , Dima meets her new keeper, KIEFER MOORE, who seems to have as many secrets as the rest of the scientists. By his scent, she recognizes him as one of the San Francisco gunmen. He tells her that his boss, a human rights activist, seeks to shut down the Project, which has gained infamy for using abducted humans and for using endangered animals. His first step is to “liberate” the Humani and relocate them to his boss’ Edinburgh compound. Dima refuses to leave for fear of what James would do to Lorenzo in her absence. She asks Kiefer to take care of the other two Humani. But as more people undergo the process, Kiefer’s plan takes on greater urgency.

Finally, the tension between James and Dima culminates in an attack. She’s thwarted his every attempt to subjugate her; her performances in the physical assessments are receiving massive amounts of praise, leaving him without a means to terminate her. James enters her enclosure and goads her into attacking by telling her that he “made sure” she forgot her past. For Dima, her two sides finally merge. She strikes. He nearly tazes her to death.

She survives, but Lorenzo isn’t convinced she’ll endure another “visit” from James. He asks Kiefer to talk to his boss about planning an escape that includes all five of the Humani. As much as the idea hurts, Dima knows it’s for the best. She works closely with Kiefer and acts as a go-between, leaving messages for the other Humani during their recreation periods. However, the new set of Humani is already in production, and security is doubled because of the amount of wild animals and the possible volatility of the new Humani. They risk it, though, to take advantage of the lab’s three-month security check, which will leave the system offline for ten minutes.

Dima asks Lorenzo to visit before the escape so she can say goodbye. When he does, she begs him to leave, knowing that James will try to punish him for aiding them. He tells her he can’t. He wants to steer the Project back to its original, benevolent mission to restore quality of life to people with various diseases or physical defects through animal DNA. He also says that he hopes someday she understands what her place was meant to be.

When the night arrives, Kiefer and Lorenzo gather the Humani. Moving through the lab during the guards’ shift-change allows them sufficient cover and gives Dima and Lorenzo a chance for one more goodbye. He embraces her and hesitates before telling her to learn everything she can. But she knows what his real message was. She follows the scents of Kiefer and the other Humani to a small cargo plane. Every part of her wants to turn back, but the freedom is Lorenzo’s final gift to her and her companions. As the plane takes off, she looks out of the window at the imposing laboratory and silently tells Lorenzo that she loves him, too, finally accepting who—and what—she is.

Comments

This is soooo much better! I do love that it has an ending now that feels like it provides closure for the reader.

My edits below take it down to about 770 words. Honestly, a 1-page version usually means a complete re-envisioning of the events. It's not so much an edit as a re-crafting. For your 1-pager, I've highlighted the bits I think can be left out.

Resuscitated after a cardiac arrest, DIMA wakes with panther DNA spliced to hers and without her memory. The newest success of a government-funded project to create mercenaries, Dima must learn to tame the aggressive animal that’s threatening to takinge over. the blank spaces in her memories. One wrong move against the Humani Project’s scientists could lead to termination, and she can’t find out anything if she’s dead. That means, fFor now, the mystery surrounding her mutation and amnesia will have to wait.

As Dima struggles to can’t manage her new nature, and her bravado infuriates head scientist FREDERICK JAMES, who sees the Humani as breakable animals instead of human test subjects. The physical assessments he designed—ranging from scent tracking to combat—are intended to help Dima balance her dual nature. However, before she’s fully adjusted to her new DNA, James orders her into the lab’s deadliest assessment: a kill-or-be-killed combat exam against four non-human hybrids. He has no concern for Dima’s safety,only for results. After her final opponent nearly kills her, Project founder DR. FIRSTNAME LORENZO breaks protocol to save her life. He apologizes before she passes out, calling her Janelle and sparking in her a need to discover what the scientists are hiding. Just before she passes out, his cryptic apology—along with calling her Janelle—reminds her there are secrets still to uncover.

No one’s talking, but their scents betray their emotional states. Dima can detect their fear, joy, heartbreak,even lies,and she uses the advantage to develop her hypotheses. Each time she’s near James, she only picks up on his hatred. With Lorenzo, she detects a surprising affection. Whether he cares for her as a test subject or something more, she’s not sure. She’s equally shocked to realize that, while she blames him for turning her into a monster, she feels something for him, too.

During her recovery, James forces Dima must to attend a lab-sanctioned public display at a San Francisco convention center—caged, no less, "for her protection." The scientists force her into a cage, claiming it’s for her protection. Each passing moment The spectacle leaves her feeling like a show animal, and she can almost feel her humanity slipping away. When a faulty generator sparks a fire, she takes satisfaction in watching the chaos, until she realizes that Lorenzo is potentially lost in the sea of panicked humans.

Thankfully, Lorenzo finds her and frees her from the cage, but Dima’s keeper is missing. Without hesitation, Dima looks for her keeper and finds her nearly trampled to death with a broken ankle. Dima half-drags her through a maintenance hallway toward an exit. Two masked gunmen stop them and try to convince Dima to come with them. She refuses and fights them off, slicing one’s face open and shredding the other’s thigh, undisturbed by her violent reaction.

He hasn't been, but when he frees her from the cage, they discover Dima's keeper is missing. Without hesitation, Dima tracks her down and finds she's been injured. As Dima's dragging the keeper to safety, she's confronted by two masked gunman who try to force her to leave with them. Instinct kicks in: She slices open one's face and shreds the other's thigh. Still, she stops short of killing them.

Weeks after their return to Phoenix, Dima meets her new keeper, KIEFER MOORE, who seems to have as many secrets as the rest of the scientists. By his scent, she recognizes him as one of the San Francisco gunmen. He tells her explains that his boss, a human rights activist, seeks wants to shut down the Project, which has gained infamy for using abducted humans and for using endangered animals. His first step is Moore has been hired to “liberate” the Humani and relocate them to his boss’ Edinburgh compound. Dima refuses to leave for fear of what James would do to Lorenzo in her absence.

She asks Kiefer to take care of the other two Humani. But as more people undergo the process, Kiefer’s plan takes on greater urgency.

I'm not sure I understand what this means. Later on, we're told there are 5 Humani. As we met 4 hybrids earlier, I'm assuming they and Dima = 5. Who are the "other two" mentioned here? Maybe just delete these sentences and revise the last sentence of the paragraph to:
Though tempted by Moore's promise of freedom, Dima refuses to leave...

Finally, the tension between James and Dima culminates in an attack reaches the boiling point. She’s thwarted his every attempt to subjugate her; and her recent performances in the physical assessments are receiving massive amounts of praise, leaving have left him without an excuse means to terminate her. James enters her enclosure and He goads her into attacking by telling her that he “made sure” she forgot her past. For Dima's, her two sides natures finally merge. She strikes. He nearly tazses her—over and over. to death.

She survives, but Lorenzo isn’t convinced she’ll endure another “visit” from James. He arranges for Moore to smuggle out asks Kiefer to talk to his boss about planning an escape that includes all five of the Humani. As much as the idea hurts, Dima knows it’s for the best.

She works closely with Kiefer and acts as a go-between, leaving messages for the other Humani during their recreation periods. However, the new set of Humani is already in production, and security is doubled because of the amount of wild animals and the possible volatility of the new Humani. They risk it, though, to take advantage of the lab’s three-month security check, which will leave the system offline for ten minutes.

She works with Moore to prepare for the transfer. They'll have one chance to make their escape: when the security system is offline for ten minutes during the lab's quarterly security check.

When Dima asks Lorenzo to visits Dima before the escape so she can to say goodbye., When he does, she begs him to leave, too, knowing that James will try to punish him for aiding them. He tells her he can’t. He, however, intends wants to steer the Project back to its original, benevolent mission: to using animal DNA to restore quality of life to people with various defects and diseases or physical defects through animal DNA.

He gives her a last embrace, telling her to learn everything she can and that he hopes someday she understands what her place was meant to be (how much her contribution has meant to the Project?).

When the night arrives, Kiefer and Lorenzo gather the Humani. Moving through the lab during the guards’ shift-change allows them sufficient cover and gives Dima and Lorenzo a chance for one more goodbye. He embraces her and hesitates before telling her to learn everything she can. But she knows what his real message was. She follows the scents of Kiefer and the other Humani to a small cargo plane.

This part is nice, but a little too blow-by-blow. That's why I combined Lorenzo and Dima's last two meetings above.

I do have two concerns:
1) Would they really schedule a security check to coincide with a shift-change?
2) Are you sure you don't want to ratchet the excitement by having them at least spotted by guards and having a final chase to the plane? ;o)

Evading the guards, Dima and Moore usher the other Humani through the institute and toward the waiting cargo plane. Every part of her wants to turn back, but the freedom is Lorenzo’s final gift to her and her companions. As the plane takes off, she looks out of the window at the imposing laboratory and silently tells Lorenzo that she loves him, too, finally accepting who—and what—she is.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Go Join The Party!


It's a 3-day extravaganza celebrating 5 loooong years of Evil Editor gracing the blogosphere. There are games and contests and prizes, including a 10-page crit by me. Also $25 and $20 gift cards, a handcrafted objet d'art, and a used book (go see -- you'll understand).

And it's all just a small way of saying thanks to a guy who's helped an awful lot of people get a leg up in the publishing biz.

I haven't been a Minion of Evil Editor for the entire 5 years. I found him some 8 months into his first year. But there are Minions hanging around and commenting still who were there 5 years ago. Now THAT's brand loyalty.

But his influence extends beyond just his blog.

The members of my crit group are all EE alumni. Not all of us frequent EE's blog as much as we did in times gone by, but we still reminisce about the glory days.

Many of you are here because EE supported me when I began this blog a year ago. I mentioned I was open to critting queries, and EE had the brainstorm that he could get out of doing extra work by routing revised queries here. Yep, that's EE -- always ready to pass the buck. As it is, this blog still gets a spike in hits whenever EE mentions it.

Nope, I don't know who he is. Then again, I was still pretty clueless when the rest of the writing community had already caught on to Miss Snark's identity. But the mystique of the man is part of what makes him what he is. We all can imagine him as we like. And yes, I've been privvy to some rather intimate imaginings. Check out the blog's early years. *fans self*

EE's blog has evolved over the years. Minions have come and gone. Some have gone on to big things and some have quietly faded away from the writing scene. Some -- the majority -- continue to plug along. The character of the comments has changed. From snipe and snark to lewd and loud to friendly banter and ribbing to conscientious critting. But through it all, one thing has remained constant: EE.

So I raise my glass to a very patient man with a sharp sense of humor, a keen eye and a truly masochistic streak. All of which he'll need to survive us for another 5 years.

¡Salud, EE!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Can We Talk?

Wow. I never realized how many writerly folk in the blogosphere don't have published email addies. I've seen the occasional agent mention they couldn't contact someone, but I just assumed those were one-offs.

I recently wanted to contact a number of people to relay a fun and informational message -- not promo stuff! -- about an online event commemorating a milestone in the career of someone these people were/are stalking visiting online. (If I didn't contact YOU, find out the who's and what's right here tomorrow. It involves contests and prizes -- so far, a $25 Amazon gift card, a $20 gift card or PayPal payment, a 10-page crit, a handcrafted craft, and a used book.)

I had some addresses but after scouring the comments of famous person's said blog, I saw I needed to find 44 more. (Actually, I wanted to find a LOT more than that, but so many people who comment on blogs don't have a profile at all. Boo.) Of those 44, I tracked back through profiles to their blogs and websites. 18 people did not have any contact information whatsoever. 3 people had only contact forms on their websites.

That's nearly half who didn't have a convenient way for someone to get in touch privately.

I get the contact forms. However, many people like to keep a copy of the mails they send to remind them why they've contacted someone in the first place. Especially professionals such as, oh I don't know, agents, perhaps?

I get the privacy thing. Heck, I hide behind a penname. But there's no reason anyone online today can't have a separate email addy for their online persona. (I have a third addy for when I'm filling in forms when I'm pretty sure giving out my email addy will result in the company spamming me.) Just be sure to write your email on your profile or blog in a way that spambots can't pick it up easily, if you're concerned:

phoenixsullivan @ yahoo.com
phoenixsullivan(at)yahoo(dot)com
phoenixsullivan[@]yahoo[.]com

Some of the folk I couldn't find a contact for may have a Facebook or Twitter account with their contact info. If they do, they didn't link back those accounts to their blogs or websites. Don't forget to connect the dots if you have multiple presences online.

Most of the folk I meet online are in the process of building platform. You're here to see and be seen -- as well as to learn and be helpful to others and all that other altruistic stuff, of course. Some of the most inspiring moments I've ever had were when someone sent me a private email to tell me how much a particular comment meant to them. Warm fuzzies keep me going! I've sent my own encouraging private emails -- and would have loved to have sent more had I had a way to contact the individuals. And a few private email conversations have led to really great virtual friendships. In a roundabout way, it's how I found my crit partners.

A lot of you resist having a Blogger account or a Wordpress or LiveJournal account. I can respect that as a personal choice. But for those of you looking to be professionally published and who intend to make writing a business, you really need to be looking at these accounts as a business choice, not a personal one. These are tools for the professional you.

Some of you just don't feel quite ready yet to "go public." May I suggest the time to do that is when you start querying in earnest? To that end, I hope to be able to talk to each and every one of you in the very near future!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Query 78

Child God

Dear XXXX,

“Kids,” says Roy , “need their own god."

Ninth-grader Angela Dawn is concerned only with perfecting her baton-twirling skills during the summer so she can compete in upcoming competitions. However, her arrogant and hyper-intelligent classmate Roy Wiley couldn’t care less about such “pointless endeavors.” He’s far too busy working on his Master Plan to save all the world’s children from hunger, disease, war and abuse.

Angela is leery of Roy when their respective parents convince the Boy Genius to tutor Angela in math, but she has to admit Roy is nothing if not different. After all, most kids don’t own 955 radio-controlled helicopters, carry around a water pistol filled with lemon juice or call poison ivy “free weaponry- ripe for the picking!” While Roy enables her to see not only math but the whole world in a brand-new light, she tries to help him moderate his obsessions. But when Roy overreacts to a bullying incident, events begin to spiral out of control. Angela’s efforts to aid Roy only lead to her own life disintegrating, as friends abandon her and Roy ’s enemies become hers as well. Finally, Angela makes a terrifying discovery, and is forced to decide; is she the one who will help make Roy ’s dreams a reality, or is she the world’s only hope of stopping him?

CHILD GOD is my debut YA novel, complete at 90,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Author Name

(bio information follows)

Comments

Just to get it out of the way, one of the email programs may be responsible for the spacing issues in this query. I didn't remove the odd spaces, but they may not be due to the author's inattention.

I think this could be an interesting premise if I understood a little more about what the premise is. There are hints here that, if expanded upon, could give this story the unique twist everyone is looking for. As it is, though, its promises seem to be a bit too vague and character actions don't seem to be in line with what the query is almost trying to hint at.

“Kids,” says Roy , “need their own god.”

This and your title set me up to believe that Roy thinks he's that god. However, the promise of this opening line isn't really fully realized in the query. I'm also not sure how effective this line is in this context since we immediately move from Roy to Angela. As a reader trying to make a connection, the dots could well lead to me thinking Angela is that god. Then I'd have to do a reversal in thinking later on, which on a fast read usually leaves the reader feeling like the writing is confused rather than planned.

Ninth-grader Angela Dawn is concerned only with perfecting her baton-twirling skills during the summer so she can compete in upcoming competitions.

"compete in upcoming competitions" is redundant. Maybe: "compete in the fall" or "perfecting her competitive baton-twirling."

Be vigilant, too, about words like "only." Not *only* is it not quite accurate -- though it might be her main concern -- you also use "only" a couple of more times later on.

However, her arrogant and hyper-intelligent classmate Roy Wiley couldn’t care less about such “pointless endeavors.”

"However" as a conjunction doesn't work here. Her action isn't rebutted by what he thinks about it. I'm also not sure why we're being told now that Roy couldn't care less. Since he isn't tutoring her at this point in the query, why is he even thinking about her and baton-twirling? Or is this sentence supposed to be a generalization about Roy and that he doesn't care at all about anything that's a pointless behavior?

He’s far too busy working on his Master Plan to save all the world’s children from hunger, disease, war and abuse.

This is good, concise characterization.

Angela is leery of Roy when their respective parents convince the Boy Genius to tutor Angela in math, but she has to admit Roy is nothing if not different.

I'll just point out that this paragraph and the previous one both lead off basically with "Angela is..."

After all, most kids don’t own 955 radio-controlled helicopters, carry around a water pistol filled with lemon juice or call poison ivy “free weaponry- ripe for the picking!”

Is Roy also 14? These actions make his sound a lot younger than that. Is he the type of genius who is several grades ahead of his age? Agreed that some geniuses are emotionally backward, but those are a very, very small percentage.

While Roy enables her to see not only math but the whole world in a brand-new light, she tries to help him moderate his obsessions.

"brand-new light" is a bit vague. All I can get from that and from what you've told us about Roy is maybe she learns to be more like a mean-spirited little kid.

But when Roy overreacts to a bullying incident, events begin to spiral out of control.

This is really a very common problem in queries. The setup is concrete and interesting, but the end of the query just devolves into vague language that leaves the reader with little idea as to what the rest of the story is actually about.

Here we don't know whether Roy is the target of the bullying or if he sees another kid being bullied. How does he overreact? Does he put a handful of poison ivy in the bully's jock shorts when he's not looking or does he set up an "accident" that kills the bully? What events are spiraling out of control?

Angela’s efforts to aid Roy only lead to her own life disintegrating, as friends abandon her and Roy ’s enemies become hers as well.

You set up earlier that the "only" thing Angela cares about is her baton skill. Why does she care now that her friends are abandoning her? And what does it mean that she now has Roy's enemies too? Does "disintegrating" mean typical school stuff, as in cliques and ostracization? Or is it something more serious? Are Roy's enemies physically harming her?

Finally, Angela makes a terrifying discovery, and is forced to decide; is she the one who will help make Roy ’s dreams a reality, or is she the world’s only hope of stopping him?

You don't want to give it all away in a query, of course. But if you're going to leave the reader with a question like this, we really need to have some idea of what's happening.

The events seem to move from Roy acting like an out-of-control 8-year-old to overreacting in some way to a bully to now doing something that for some reason the world needs to stop him from doing. We don't have enough in the query to figure out what or why, so all we can do is shrug our shoulders over whether Angela should help him or not. The reader is not invested in the outcome because the stakes aren't clear. If it has something to do with the Master Plan or Roy's the anti-Christ or he's a mad little boy who needs to be locked up to protect himself and others, give us a hint here at the end. Or tell us that Angela is forced to choose: (note it's a colon, not a semi-colon) to help Roy become the god he thinks he can be or to let the authorities know what really happened to the bully so they can lock Roy up in a mental institute where he can get the help he needs.

CHILD GOD is my debut YA novel, complete at 90,000 words.

I don't think you need to mention it's your "debut" novel. I would include what genre it is. YA isn't a genre. It's like saying this is my adult-audience novel. Depending on where this is going in the last paragraph will help determine where it belongs on the shelf. Maybe it's simply mainstream or contemporary YA? Or suspense?

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Author Name

(bio information follows)

Conventionally, bio info is included before the closing, and is included in the critique (with stuff redacted at need). Critters like to see the bio paragraph mostly because "debut" writers often go overboard with non-relevant info trying to impress when they only wind up making themselves look a bit desperate. I'm not saying this is what you've done or not; I'm just including this advice for anybody reading.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Query 77

Prison Nation

Dear Agent,

Millie 942B has spent her entire life behind bars. Over eighty percent of what was once America is now kept incarcerated at all times. The reformed government, now simply called the Nation, discovered the easiest way to control its citizens is to take away their freedom. Including the freedom of those born inside the prison walls. But Millie believes in the Nation: in its strict laws and harsh punishments. The Nation is good, it is strong and just. That is what they are taught.

Now, at the age of eighteen, Millie is given the chance to walk free. Leaving behind her criminal parents and the only home she has ever known, Millie is thrown out into the world and left with one command: "Follow the law, or come back."

As almost every step becomes tainted with something illegal, Millie must find a balance between being loyal, and being free. Meeting Reed ignites a pull not only for his friendship and presence, but for the answers to the half-told truths Millie once believed. Fighting to stay free from the Nation's prisons and its guards who hunt her aren't Millie's only problems anymore. She now must also find freedom from her own past.

PRISON NATION is a Young Adult Dystopian, complete at 76,000 words. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

YA Dystopian is, of course, the hot trend. An industry insider recently mentioned we'll be seeing a lot more of it on the shelves in the coming months. Yay! But that also means that, like paranormal-based books, the competition will be fierce and a writer will need to bring a strong voice and/or a unique idea to the table.

I love the title! What I think this query needs is more clarity about the world and plot to make that title really come alive. As it is, this query strongly reminds me of 1984, which is both good and bad.

Millie 942B has spent her entire life behind bars.

I like this hook!

Over eighty percent of what was once America is now kept incarcerated at all times.

"at all times" can pretty well be inferred from incarcerated -- unless it refers to "over 80%," in which case it isn't really clear that it does, so either way I think it can be deleted. As to whether to write out "eighty percent" or go with "80%," that's totally a style thing. I would use "80%" as I think that's easier to read and comprehend when someone's reading fast. But it's not wrong either way.

The reformed government, now simply called the Nation,

The connotation for "reformed" is that it's better. Certainly from the POV of the new government it's "reformed." But the POV here is authorial, and I'm not sure "reformed" is your best word choice.

now simply called the Nation,

The government is called the Nation? That seems odd. And is that what the rest of the world calls it too?

discovered the easiest way to control its citizens is to take away their freedom.

Well, yes. But Americans have spent a couple of centuries fighting to keep freedom for themselves and others. How far in the future does this take place? Was there something that happened that made the citizenry simply accept this? We incarcerated Japanese when war broke out, but they were a small minority. The government in Brave New World used happy drugs to keep its people compliant. Just a few words to help paint this as a believable consequence in this world should be enough to assure us it is.

Including the freedom of those born inside the prison walls.

I don't think this sentence is necessary. Especially given that Millie is freed when she turns 18.

But Millie believes in the Nation: in its strict laws and harsh punishments. The Nation is good, it is strong and just. That is what they are taught.

Now, at the age of eighteen, Millie is given the chance to walk free. Leaving behind her criminal parents and the only home she has ever known, Millie is thrown out into the world and left with one command: "Follow the law, or come back."

I'm not clear on why Millie is set free. It seems to refute what we were told in the first paragraph. And since her parents are referred to as "criminal," I'm assuming the government is trumping up charges to incarcerate folk, not just rounding up people willy-nilly and putting them into -- what? jails? compounds? Are the "bars" referred to in the first sentence real bars or metaphorical ones?

Also "given the chance" seems at odds with "thrown out into." I think the whole "Now, at the age..." sentence can be deleted.

Grammatically, pairing the "leaving behind" participial phrase with the passive clause that follows it doesn't quite work. As both sentences in this paragraph are more or less in passive voice, changing to an active structure will make the point more powerfully.

Quotes and comma in "Follow the law..." aren't needed. Not sure that command is needed at all, though. How is that different from today's world?

As almost every step becomes tainted with something illegal, Millie must find a balance between being loyal, and being free.

This is very vague. We've been told the laws are strict. Are they also not clear? If Millie believes in the laws, then why is she needing to find a balance? Can't she stay free simply by obeying what she believes in? The MC in 1984 met someone else who introduced him to subversion. What is happening here that causes Millie to have to find the free/loyal balance? What are the "something illegals?" Is she having to steal bread because she can't get food any other way? Is she talking to the wrong people?

Meeting Reed ignites a pull not only for his friendship and presence, but for the answers to the half-told truths Millie once believed.

A little more about Reed would be helpful. What half-told truths need answers upon meeting Reed?

Fighting to stay free from the Nation's prisons and its guards who hunt her aren't Millie's only problems anymore.

I'm not clear why Millie is fighting anything or why guards are hunting her. I thought all she had to do was obey the laws. Is she wantonly breaking them now?

She now must also find freedom from her own past.

Huh? I don't understand what this means. If her past was being imprisoned and she's trying to stay free from the prisons, how is this different from what was just stated?

PRISON NATION is a Young Adult Dystopian, complete at 76,000 words. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

My Version

With much license taken, of course -- but an example of how to answer most of the questions posed above in roughly the same amount of space.

Millie 942B has spent her entire life behind bars. Ever since the Barack-a-Beck Wars forced America into extreme isolationism and the government began incarcerating people for any act un-American, 80% of the population can now be found in government-controlled compounds at any given time. Millie believes in the new Nation -- in its strict laws and harsh punishments. She believes in its mantra: Freedom is a right that must be earned.

After Millie turns 18, the Nation gives her a chance to earn that freedom. What they don't give her is a home, food or companionship when they release her. Simply to survive means tempting the law. First, she steals to eat, then she flouts the rules by sheltering in an abandoned school. And when she meets Reed, an idealistic young man who's a member of the underground Revivalist group, Millie embraces his easy friendship.

But Reed offers more, telling her tantalizing stories of a democracy that once was and dangling answers to the half-told truths Millie once believed. Seduced into the Revivalists, Millie becomes an enemy of the Nation, just like them. Only Millie knows the Nation is good and just -- it's what she's been taught. These people are lawless; she isn't like them -- is she? Fighting to stay free from the Nation's prisons and its guards who now hunt her are only a small part of Millie's problems. She must also find freedom from her own beliefs.

PRISON NATION is a Young Adult Dystopian, complete at 76,000 words. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guest Post: Smoothing Things Out - Wilkins MacQueen

A Half Tongue-in-Cheek Look at Writing

Wilkins MacQueen (“Mac” to those of us around here) is a frequent commenter not only here but on Evil Editor’s site. A Canadian expat, she lives in Thailand where she teaches English to Thai students. She blogs about life in Thailand, cultural differences, and the difficulties of motivating a reluctant nation to gain the tools needed to interface with a modern world likely to pass them by otherwise. I enjoy the cultural insights, woman-on-the-street pictures (sometimes of elephants!), and glimpses of Mac’s earlier life that included training horses and maybe doing a little modeling on the side.

Today, she offers us reminders about craft and some observations about how we can strengthen our stories and our queries.

After reading many writing sites for a long time I’ve learned a few things. If you are an experienced writer, please go somewhere else. Kidding! That was mean wasn’t it? I tricked you, never a nice thing to do to your reader.

“Too many tags,” Bob said.

“Well Bob, I don’t agree,” said Ted, chortling at the thought there could be too many dialogue tags in an illustration about tags. Offenders include unnecessary tags, use of names when two people speak, repetition and odd use of an odd word. I invite you to use "chortle" in a sentence. Baby references are not allowed. Now try it.

Too many flowery adjectives and dramatically used adverbs kill the impacted sentence. Impacted can be used in reference to a tooth or bowel problem. Odd use of words again, plus to change a noun this way is wrong and won’t work in this sense or any other. Will it?

That makes my next point, which is clarity, necessary in any piece you write. I lack clarity in the above paragraph.

A weak main character that moves around in the story reacting to events won’t engage the reader. All characters need to face decisions and choices with the same consequences real people face. Flat characters bore. A reader needs a reason to care about the character. I want a connection, a reason to bond with whomever is spending the next few days in my head.

Perfect teeth in either sex bother me. If they are the heroine’s, she’s not coming across in a realistic manner; if they are in a man’s head, I believe him to be villainous and slick with Brylcreem.

Contrived plots don’t work. Look for logic problems. Study the plot arc. You need 8 points in a classic story.

No-see-ums/writing tics -- These are words the writer’s brain refuses to acknowledge appear on the screen although we have liberally sprinkled our ms with them. We all have a favorite unconscious word or two ready to pop out like popcorn from the popper that makes readers want to pop a cork or pop the writer in the pie hole while sipping on a soda pop. Using “find” from the tool bar can help if you want to check a suspect (for example: that, just, said, but, was). Three on a page is a suspect. This link takes you to a good article on this problem.

Dragging a scene out for pages when a paragraph is sufficient bores. Long descriptions are not tolerated these days. Setup and back story stall and slow stories. The minimum is the maximum. Move it baby.

Telling? Reading is a participatory hobby. When you tell, I lose my active part in your story. Are you writing for me (reader) or you (writer)?

Language needs to fit the genre. Keep words in character with the story.

Control your writing. Analyze a couple of your favorite stories. What got you and kept you interested? Character and plot?

Clichés, movie and movie star comparisons tell the reader you aren’t bringing something fresh to the page. These date you and your work. Using clichés is a choice. An absence of clichés is refreshing and builds my trust in the writer.

If you read a lot of query sites you will see over-used words. Words/phrases I’d avoid are: beloved, dark secret, malevolent, woeful, just, obviously, sighs from anyone, sardonic laughter, cruel twists of fate or mouths, rhetorical questions, stating the MC made a choice when no choice was in sight, use of “till” instead of “until”, adverbs, destiny, fate.

Read enough queries and common problems appear. What does the MC want? What interferes? What choices and consequences are there? The plot needs to be clear. Organizing the progression of the plot is important for the query to build and flow.

Many critters ask over and over what is the story about? Often we don’t get the answer in the next revision. That could be the hardest part of query writing: Don’t rewrite the same query using different words. I’ll be very succinct: The query needs a new M.O. if you get clarity comments. That means you must change the approach and reveal the story.

A plot outline is valuable. "Just the facts, ma’am," is a good start.

If you mention something or someone once, can you cut it from the query? If it is important, time for another revision that shows us the importance of the sword, the jam or the Doberman.

Last Pieces of Advice

Surprise is something rarely mentioned in writer bits. I love a surprise that sneaks up on me when I read -- one I didn’t see coming.

The sense of smell is a strong tool to support and strengthen writing that is seldom used. We all see in our mind’s eye. But if I can make you smell that rich coffee at the crack of daybreak and inhale the heady aroma of sweet feed, thick with rich Jamaican molasses and make you hungry over hot golden cinnamon buns from my oven, laced with sweet, fresh butter covered in dew drops, I’ve done my job.

I’ve got this problem with food scenes. (Ed: as in all things, moderation, Mac :o) – Phoenix)

Why do we spend so much time on hearing -- describing the staccato heels clicking, the shower, rain -- but give the sense of smell minor lip service? Smell is another deep sensation. I can smell my grandmother’s kitchen today although it has been more decades than I care to think since I was in it. It was full of cloves, cinnamon, allspice, beautiful dark brown sugar and sage. I can smell it now. A rich memory from childhood as vivid as ever.

Thanks for reading!

(Remember, if you'd like to be a guest here, just send along something writing-related that's meaningful to you. I'll be happy to schedule it in with the query critiques! - Phoenix)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Query 76

Looking For Me

Dear xxxx

My debut fictional novel, Looking for Me, is a completed 128, 356-word, drama suffused, mainstream literary narrative topped with an urban twist.

Mona’s existence had been defined by a single choice—one impulsive decision. The morning she’d lowered her head and inhaled drugs through her nostrils had altered her course. What happens when a wife becomes heroine addicted and discovered sharing the bed of her husband’s arch rivalry? Mona found herself in the last place she’d hope to be. Homeless, a self-declared failure, her husband has abandoned her and she does not know the whereabouts of her only child. Without Big Momma to turn to for advice, love or support, she spirals out of control—lost. Unable to forget him, aching for his tender touch, his warm kisses, and his erotic scent, will she ever be reunited with the love of her life?

Gang raped, left for dead soaking in a pool of blood and the urine of her assailants, fate intervenes. Mona is found. Her wounds are bandaged and the tedious journey of physical and emotional healing begins. After rehab, bouts with relapse and struggling to face her demons, she is offered the job of facilitating a women’s group held in the basement of her church. But these are not just ordinary girls. Their scripts don’t include sugar and spice and everything nice—quite the contrary. Resistant, defiant, and carrying suitcases overstuffed with emotional baggage, the girls make Mona’s job next to impossible. CC, Sherri, Tina and Tee, have lived it, done it, and been through it all. Worn out, and beaten down by the tragedies of life, the meetings are the end of the road—the last pit stop for them. But for Mona, the newly appointed facilitator, the meetings are where it all has to begin, including real love.

Looking for Me, lyrically written, explicitly details the emotional life journey of five girls whose tragic lives have been shaped by tragic circumstances. They riot against themselves, their circumstances and the voices in their heads desperately trying to find their authentic selves. Ultimately, it is a story of hope, resolve, of women digging deeper than they thought possible until they find the strength not to completely crumble. Colorful, graphic, a brutally honest exploration of topics considered taboo and too racy for most traditional Sunday morning sermons. Sure to have jaws dropping and eyes weeping, this radical, riveting page turner is so invitingly infectious, the readers will soon find themselves swallowed up in the lives of the characters and unable to put it down. To read this novel is to take a painful journey traveling the road less taken. A road paved with heartbreak, anger, betrayal, and loss of innocence, which ultimately leads to true sisterhood and self-discovery.

Now, about me in a nutshell; I began my writing career at the tender age of six. True. Stapled notebook paper in booklet form, I was sure my four page masterpiece would be a bestseller. Funny, I still carry that same child-like faith regarding my work today. Allow me to toot my horn by briefly stating, I have won and been a finalist in numerous contests, recently, receiving the 2010 first Annual Soul Sister Creative Writing Award.

Enclosed for your convenience is a SASE. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind Regards,

Comments

Author, let me commend you up front for the passion you have for your work. It's that passion that drives us to be writers and keeps us writing. It's not just good to have passion, it is absolutely necessary to have it.

Channeling that passion into a query letter is tricky. Taking all that passion and all our hopes and stuffing them into a single page is hard. And then having to observe conventions that aren't natural to our true writing self is harder still.

It's obvious you're just starting on your journey toward publication, and I'm delighted you found this site! Thank you. We all started out with that single step and have been right where you are. Now it's time to take the right next step and study the conventions of the query letter: what goes into one and, just as importantly, what doesn't. And I can think of no better places for a crash course than the Query Shark and Evil Editor sites. There are several mis-steps here that mark you as someone who hasn't studied the business, and few agents want to work with complete newcomers. That means you want to present yourself as professionally as possible. I'll get you started, but really, reading the examples and critiques of others is just as useful for understanding how to apply the conventions to your own query.

First of all, this came as an attachment. You probably weren't sure how to send it for critiquing purposes, but no agent will open an unsolicited attachment. I almost didn't open it myself. I did google your name before opening it and saw you were attached to a querying community so I figured the file was safe from that. (Kudos, btw, for getting involved with such sites -- you'll be a pro at this before you know it!)

Secondly, the query is way too long -- almost twice as long as it should be. Since it's a literary novel and writing style is important, you have a fine line to walk between showing us your lovely, lyrical prose and getting your story across succinctly.

My debut fictional novel, Looking for Me, is a completed 128, 356-word, drama suffused, mainstream literary narrative topped with an urban twist.

  • "Fictional novel" is redundant. Many agents have said using this term is an automatic rejection for them.
  • No need to spotlight the fact this is your first novel.
  • Cap your title. If sent electronically, italics don't always translate well. 
  • Round your word count to the nearest thousand.
  • No need to tell us it's drama infused. If we don't get that from the description, the description isn't doing its job.
Mona’s existence had been defined by a single choice—one impulsive decision. The morning she’d lowered her head and inhaled drugs through her nostrils had altered her course. What happens when a wife becomes heroine addicted and discovered sharing the bed of her husband’s arch rivalry? Mona found herself in the last place she’d hope to be. Homeless, a self-declared failure, her husband has abandoned her and she does not know the whereabouts of her only child. Without Big Momma to turn to for advice, love or support, she spirals out of control—lost. Unable to forget him, aching for his tender touch, his warm kisses, and his erotic scent, will she ever be reunited with the love of her life?
  • Pay very close attention to your word choices (such as the misused "rivalry").
  • Watch out for haphazard tense changes (for example, "happens" followed by "discovered")
  • Construct your sentences carefully. As written, it's her husband who is homeless and a self-declared failure, not Mona.
  • Whatever question you set up in your first paragraph needs closure in the last paragraph.

Gang raped, left for dead soaking in a pool of blood and the urine of her assailants, fate intervenes. Mona is found. Her wounds are bandaged and the tedious journey of physical and emotional healing begins. After rehab, bouts with relapse and struggling to face her demons, she is offered the job of facilitating a women’s group held in the basement of her church. But these are not just ordinary girls. Their scripts don’t include sugar and spice and everything nice—quite the contrary. Resistant, defiant, and carrying suitcases overstuffed with emotional baggage, the girls make Mona’s job next to impossible. CC, Sherri, Tina and Tee, have lived it, done it, and been through it all. Worn out, and beaten down by the tragedies of life, the meetings are the end of the road—the last pit stop for them. But for Mona, the newly appointed facilitator, the meetings are where it all has to begin, including real love.
 
We get a good feeling of the hopeless and desperate environment here. You'll need to pare this down without losing that feeling and perhaps give the reader a hint that there will ultimately be redemption. Combining some of this paragraph with the beginning of the next will help get you there.
 
Looking for Me, lyrically written, explicitly details the emotional life journey of five girls whose tragic lives have been shaped by tragic circumstances. They riot against themselves, their circumstances and the voices in their heads desperately trying to find their authentic selves. Ultimately, it is a story of hope, resolve, of women digging deeper than they thought possible until they find the strength not to completely crumble. Colorful, graphic, a brutally honest exploration of topics considered taboo and too racy for most traditional Sunday morning sermons. Sure to have jaws dropping and eyes weeping, this radical, riveting page turner is so invitingly infectious, the readers will soon find themselves swallowed up in the lives of the characters and unable to put it down. To read this novel is to take a painful journey traveling the road less taken. A road paved with heartbreak, anger, betrayal, and loss of innocence, which ultimately leads to true sisterhood and self-discovery.
 
You want to sell the story by giving us the story, not telling us about the themes and the reading experience. Agents are a jaded lot and simply telling them that the story will have jaws dropping and eyes weeping will not sway them. Let the agents feel their jaws drop and eyes weep. Likewise for it being a riveting page turner and unputdownable. That's way too generic. Everyone thinks these things about their story. Your job is to convince the agent that yours truly is -- and simply saying so isn't going to do it.
 
Don't just talk about themes of betrayal and loss of innocence; give the reader a hint of how they manifest in the story itself.
 
All this to say have faith in the power of the story itself to convey how awesome it is.
 
Now, about me in a nutshell; I began my writing career at the tender age of six. True. Stapled notebook paper in booklet form, I was sure my four page masterpiece would be a bestseller. Funny, I still carry that same child-like faith regarding my work today. Allow me to toot my horn by briefly stating, I have won and been a finalist in numerous contests, recently, receiving the 2010 first Annual Soul Sister Creative Writing Award.
 
One quick sentence about you if you want to infuse some personality into your query is OK if you have no real creds. The stapled booklet is sweet, but not at all relevant in a professional world. An award won't really sway anyone either unless it's a biggie.
 
Enclosed for your convenience is a SASE. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
 
Word count is at a premium. Pick 2 of the 3 closing sentences to use.
 
Oh, I just saw that Agent Jessica Faust has a helpful query post up today.
 
I look forward to seeing your revision!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What The-?

We've all had those moments where it feels like the rest of the world is completely out of touch with our personal reality. I thought it would be fun to share some of our writing-related WT-? moments. I'm not sure we'll learn anything new from our examples, but I think they'll reinforce the truth that in this biz, you just never know...

I'll get us started with two WT-?s. I hope to read YOURS in the comments.


 WT-? #1

Some of you know the annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) competition is in full swing right now. Most of you don't know I entered. The competition has rounds through which your manuscript is elevated, much like an agent looks at a work: query, partial, full. ABNA limited the number of adult book entries to 5000. In the first round, they eliminated 80% of the entries judged on the query alone (although, oddly, they never used the term "query"). That hefty slice scared a lot of people. And for many folk who didn't have a decent query -- and especially for those who didn't even know what one was -- rightly so.

To me, 20% getting through based on a query for goodness sake seemed quite generous. I entered Sector C: high concept, not too science fiction-y for a general competition, with a decent query that had garnered several agent requests for partials and the full. (Have I mentioned the half-dozen personal rejections where the agents actually stated in no thinly veiled language that they expected this novel to sell and that I shouldn't have a problem getting representation for it? Believe me, you don't know what rejection really means until one of those babies lands in your inbox. And when it happens 5 or 6 times ... but I digress.)

Well, considering today's theme, you all know where this is leading. My query didn't make the cut. Let me repeat that. My query didn't make a cut that, at 20%, is up to 4 times more generous than agents requesting from the slush pile. Yeah, WT-?

I console myself with having the full currently being considered by two "Big 6" imprints.

WT-? #2

Considering this has to do with another contest, you would think I really should have learned my lesson about entering contests by now. This happened a couple of years ago, in a competition hosted by a popular multi-author blog, with published authors as the judges. The contest had two rounds: query and the first 3000 words. I entered a WIP (which is still a WIP for reasons wholly unrelated).

The query passed easily. The excerpt was posted with an anonymous judge's comments. S/he had gone through the first few hundred words "correcting" grammar and sentence choices. About a third of the way through, s/he made this (paraphrased) comment:

I'm tired of correcting all the mistakes, so I'm not going to correct any more. I suggest you get a good manual on usage or, better yet, take a course at your local community college. An agent would never have read this far based on all the grammatical errors.
So, um, yeah. Let me apologize right now to all my former students, employers and folk I've mentored for leading you astray all these years. I have been outed for the fraud I am.

What are YOUR WT-? stories?