Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Query Revision 25: Redux

Murder on Music Row

Dear Agent:

When Nan Macomb, a spunky thirty-five-year-old Nashville hair stylist finds Randy Soleman, her married, music exec ex-boyfriend, bludgeoned to death with his own Grammy Award, she is determined to untangle the clues to find his killer.

Nan works her cut-and-color magic in her tiny home salon while gabby clients keep her up-to-date on the Music City’s latest hair-raising gossip. Bombarded by one too many anecdotes about her former lover’s cheating heart (and other body parts) she barges into his office only to find him as dead as Elvis. She moves the Grammy, leaving her fingerprints all over the heavy statuette, so it’s no surprise her name heads the suspect list.

Nan’s cadre of friends and clients rally to help her comb for evidence to prove Nan’s innocence, preserve her reputation and salvage her career. They aid and abet her break-in to Randy’s house to search for documents he’d hidden there. What they uncover exposes an embezzlement scheme at his company, Heart and Soul Music, and points to a possible motive.

Inept kidnappers snatch Nan from her ex-lover’s crowded funeral, but she foils their plans and finesses the missing details about an elaborate payroll ruse from these H&S employees. Unfortunately, her inquest also convinces her they didn’t kill Randy either.

When an apparent suicide note surfaces that stymies the police, Nan, a long-time puzzle enthusiast, discovers an encrypted message buried in the words—a message that could ensure future makeovers won’t be on fellow cellmates.

MURDER ON MUSIC ROW is a stand-alone 78,000 word mystery that could be developed into a series. May I send you pages or the complete manuscript?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Respectfully,

Comments

This version isn't that much different from the revision we saw in the comments of the original that was posted here back in October. However, I'm delighted to post this version since I'm sure not many people saw that earlier revised version, and having examples of queries that work is just as important as having examples of those that still need a bit of finessing. (Hmm, I need something to procrastinate writing some more -- maybe it's time to tag all the queries and include an "it works!" tag.)

On my first read-through, I could see all the elements needed for a nice cozy mystery, and liked the easy, clear style of the writing. The humor is light, and the puns are not so heavy-handed as to be distracting. (Compare this style to the pun-filled query featured on the BookEnds blog last week. Night-day difference, IMO.) Nothing jumped out at me on my initial read, which, for me, is the major test. Nothing, that is, except adding "cozy" to the genre.

On a more critical read, I did wonder whether the log line was adding anything that wasn't summed up in the second paragraph. Maybe combine?

Nan Macomb -- a spunky 35-year-old Nashville hair stylist -- works her cut-and-color magic in a tiny home salon while gabby clients keep her up-to-date on the Music City’s latest hair-raising gossip. Bombarded by one too many anecdotes about her former lover Randy's cheating heart (and other body parts), she barges into the music exec's office only to find him as dead as Elvis, bludgeoned with his own Grammy. Not thinking, she moves the award, leaving her fingerprints all over the heavy statuette -- so it’s no surprise her name heads the suspect list.

In P3, maybe change "hidden" to "safeguarded" or "kept safeguarded".

In P5, maybe add "When an apparent suicide note from Randy surfaces ...".

Otherwise, good to go!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sales Stats: New Running Tally

For anyone who cares, I'm now keeping a running tally of overall sales numbers for Spoil of War in the sidebar. The numbers don't mean much unless compared to books with a similar audience, but they could be useful for research purposes, to satisfy curiosity or to have something to gloat over if you find your book is doing better.

I'll continue to do a monthly breakdown of numbers by retailer and offer insight as to the impact of any promotions during the period. Look for the May breakdown post this Friday. It'll run as a companion piece to the reprise of last week's post on how to tag your way onto Amazon's bestseller lists, which will run Friday as a guest post over at Pimp My Novel.

We have queries in the queue to crit on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Thursday slot is still open! Update: We have a synopsis scheduled for Thursday. Next week, though, is wide open!

R E M E M B E R

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Measure Of Success

Lately I've been thinking about what it means to be successful. I worked many years in unassuming low- to mid-level jobs with one goal in mind: to retire by age 55. Circumstances were such that I met my goal and then some. I retired at 51. I don't have extra money to travel the world or spend frivolously, but I have enough for necessities like electricity, satellite TV and a wireless connection for the next 30+ years barring catastrophic events like major health issues or the demise of social security. I'm debt free, with even the mortgage paid off. By that measure, I'm successful. Anything else I do career-wise is gravy.

But how do you measure publishing success? We all know there are certain milestones on the way to success, but how do we know when we've arrived in Successville? Everyone's journey is different, of course, but how many of us are even headed toward the same destination?

Let me argue here that satisfaction and success are two different measures. I am happy and satisfied when I complete a manuscript, for instance, but I don't consider the act of finishing to be successful in this context. You may well feel differently -- and that's part of why there's any question about this at all.

Where on the continuum do YOU find Success? Perhaps at a point not listed here? Let us know in the comments and, if you have actual numbers in mind for the "X's" and are comfortable sharing, please do so.

Traditional Route
  • Finish a manuscript
  • Know in your heart the ms is good
  • Get an agent
  • Sell to a publishing house
    • Sell to any publisher
    • Sell to a Big 6 house
  • Get an advance
    • Get any advance
    • Get an advance over X amount
  • Get your box of ARCs
  • Get starred reviews
  • See your book on a shelf in a store
  • Sell well
  • Earn out your advance
  • Make X amount over your advance
  • Sell X number of copies
  • Make it onto a prestigious list
    • Blip on the list even briefly
    • Stay on a prestigious list more than a week
  • Sell Book 2 to a publisher
  • Sell Book 3
  • Sell Book 4  

Self-Pub Route
  • Finish a manuscript
  • Know in your heart the ms is good
  • Get the perfect cover
  • Get the formatting accepted through all the online retailers
  • Publish into the online retailers' catalogs
  • Sell a copy to someone you don't know
  • Get a review from someone you don't know
  • Earn enough in royalties to cover production expenses
  • Hit X in the rankings
    • Blip at X in the rankings even briefl
    • Stay at X in the rankings for Y amount of time
  • Make X amount of money for a single book
  • Sell X number of copies
  • Publish Book 2
  • Publish Book 3
  • Make X amount of money for your combined list
  • Sign with a major publisher based on self-pub sales

 The measures of success I use today may well change tomorrow, but for now I'd have to go with:
  • Trad Publishing - Earn out your advance
  • Self-Publishing - I'm torn between making X amount of money for a single book or combined list and selling X number of copies. I don't yet have a clue what real figures to substitute for the X's. Any ideas?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Query Revision 85: Redux

Kingdom of God

Dear Agent,

When Rowena Martin--a 38-year-old wife, mother, and faithful Christian--dies and goes to Heaven, the hereafter seems absolutely glorious. Her every desire is instantly fulfilled, she reunites with dead friends and relatives, and she mingles with fascinating people from various historical backgrounds. Best of all, she meets God Himself, the wise and loving Father whose intricate plan rules over the entire universe. But her bliss gradually gives way to outright horror when she overhears countless people screaming for help in the fiery pits of Hell.

As she struggles to reconcile the suffering of so many souls with the doctrine of forgiveness and charity she's always embraced, she's grateful for the soothing, ready answers God provides. His justifications cease to be adequate, however, when she learns the vast majority of the damned were never violent sociopaths but ordinary, well-meaning people who fell short of His particular standards. And it gets personal when she discovers her own daughter, a nonbeliever, is one of the billions slated for eternal torture.

Everyone in Heaven urges her to let God erase these disturbing revelations from her memory and accept things as they are. It seems no one shares her outrage or her unwillingness to forget. But then an undercover seraph invites her to join a covert resistance movement whose members are equally determined to reform the current system. Rowena, skeptical about their ability to effectively fight the Lord but desperate to help her daughter, soon finds herself involved in a risky plot to strip Him of omnipotence and liberate Hell.

The rebels seem to be making major headway toward their goal--but is the Lord simply setting them up for a massive, Lucifer-style fall? And if their coup does succeed, are they ready for the even bigger challenges of democratizing Heaven and keeping the universe itself running without Him at its helm?

KINGDOM OF GOD is commercial fiction, complete at 101,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

I think this version does a really good job of giving us the story! It's touchy subject matter as we've seen from the various comments over at Evil Editor's as well as here, so that's going to have to figure into your request rate stats.

The query does read a little long. I think that can be helped by simply going through and snipping an adverb here and an adjective there. My candidates for deletion are highlighted in orange.

The green highlighted are where I would tweak a bit:

  • If you do delete the "mingling with famous people bit," I would have her reuniting with friends first and then having her desires fulfilled.
  • "Everyone in Heaven" is an exaggeration since there is a resistance movement. Maybe "Her friends" here instead.
  • Change ". But then" to ", until"
  • Change "seem to be" to "are"
Otherwise, I'd say take this puppy out for a test drive.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I Know Why You Really Dropped By

To see pictures of snakes! (Oops, should have written SPOILERS before that.)

Quiet query day as we have only one in the queue and it's scheduled for tomorrow, so you know what that means: random picture roundup. I emptied my camera, and look what I found.

This rotating wall cloud dropped a funnel about 2 miles away on Tuesday night. Lots of tornadoes in the area, but nothing as devastating as those in Joplin and Oklahoma City.


This little rabbit dropped by recently while I was working on my WIP. Yep, another picture taken directly from the window in front of my desk.


This handsome red-breasted, red-headed, red-rumped male house finch, with his mate, built a nest in an artificial fern I hung outside the office window for some winter greenery.

It was a quiet neighborhood until the barn swallows moved in about 10 feet away. The barn swallows are extremely territorial and keep trying to run the finches off. These little finches are tough, though, and are hanging in there. I just hope the babies aren't pestered when they start learning to fly.


I thought I had lost this season's crabapple crop to the storms. There were dozens and dozens of baby apples on the ground after a couple of the worst storms. To my surprise, it looks like it will be one of the healthiest crops I have had in the 6 years I've been here.


Two rat snakes have taken up residence in the chicken coop. Every summer it seems one or two snakes move in with the chickens for a few weeks looking for a free lunch. They eat the eggs, not the chickens, and I usually have a surplus so I let them stay. When they leave -- though why they EVER leave such a cush joint with an ongoing all-you-can-eat-buffet bamboozles me (unless they just get sick of eggs -- I'd understand that; I know the dogs and I reached our limit long ago) -- they'll help keep the mouse/rat/etc population down. Of course, that sometimes means they move into the feed shed, so I spend a lot of time watching for snakes during warm weather. I used to catch and relocate them before I realized it wasn't really worth the effort.

These snakes are about 4.5 feet (1.5 meters) long. There's dead space behind and under the nest boxes (which are about 18 inches across - there are two snakes sharing one nest box in the middle photo) where they can curl up and be out of the way when I'm cleaning. One is shy but the other doesn't seem to be afraid of me. It tucked its body away and peeked its head out after I snapped the photos. In fact, I was cleaning about a foot away from its head and it just stayed there watching me.



And so I don't leave you with memories of snakes, here are some Mexican Hat wildflowers. These are one of my favorites and, since I haven't mown in awhile, they are taking over a couple of my smaller pastures.


I'll go look for some more photo opps. You can send more queries ;o)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Query 86: Redux

Lifeweaver

Dear [Agent],

Talyn is the [a?] lifeweaver, able to shift injuries, diseases, even death from one person to another. The church and nobility have long exploited his family's blessing, using it to inflict judgment upon sinners and lawbreakers while healing their own righteous peers. Talyn believes in their cause of helping others while providing justice -- until he finds out he is being manipulated to punish the falsely accused.

When the king uses Talyn to fake his own assassination and incite a war, the disillusioned lifeweaver turns traitor, and begins building evidence against the throne. But a woman accused of murder upsets his plans, taking Talyn hostage in a desperate attempt to avoid execution. As she drags him through the kingdom's underbelly, Talyn sees for himself just how corrupt the church and crown have become.

To liberate the oppressed, he will have to elude an army of zealots, blackmail judges, and ally with supposed "demons". But first, he will have to trust a fugitive with his life. At every crossroad, he faces the soul-searing decision familiar to every lifeweaver: who will he save, and who will suffer for it?

I seek representation for Lifeweaver, a completed 149,000-word fantasy, and have appended the first ten pages. Thank you for your time; I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Comments

The author springboarded (sprangboard?) off my rewrite to come up with his revision. He says he's torn between using the obstacles specified here and the more vague obstacles I suggested in my rewrite:

To liberate the oppressed, he will have to resort to subterfuge, blackmail and unholy alliances.

Normally I would press for the specifics -- it doesn't take that many more words to be specific is my mantra. Here, though, while I think the judges being who Talyn's blackmailing is a good touch, the "army of zealots" and "supposed 'demons'" add a layer of complexity that will require some explaining. The demons in this case are simply people the church has labeled such. I think if "demon" is used in this last paragraph in any context -- even with printed air quotes -- it should be used earlier to show that the church in this world is on par with our world's Inquisition and witch-hunters.

Knowing now the demons aren't really demons, I might opt for something other than "unholy" in my version, although bringing in some other religious aspect would seem to be very appropriate here.

I think, too, I'd like to see quick confirmation as to whether the woman is actually a murderer or not. Knowing that detail colors how I as a reader respond to the rest of the query.

I also threw in a final closing sentence in my version

And soon he'll have to confront the most agonizing question of all: Are the choices he's making the right ones?

because the query just felt like it needed something more than Talyn being put through a "familiar decision" several times. Something that underscores his self-doubt and adds a bit of layered character. 
 
All-cap the title of the book.
 
The author is also concerned about cutting down his novel to meet some arbitrary word count. I'm still betting that on a sentence-by-sentence-level edit he could take it down another 10-15K words -- he just doesn't realize it yet. Still, in his defense, SF/Fantasy publisher Del Rey/Spectra recently ran a contest for unpubbed mss and they allowed entries up to 150,000 words. So this ms's word count is within at least one major publisher's arbitrary cutoff limit.   

So now, what do the rest of you think about the new version?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Query 88


Seventeen-year-old Leyna feels trapped when two noblemen of Lusorya fight for her hand in marriage. So when the strange man from her dreams begs her to run away from her home, she flees, stumbling into the hidden realm of the elves and the arms of the Elvin prince- the man she had been dreaming about for so long.

Leyna quickly learns that the other races of the land have been held in oppression for centuries by the High King of Lusorya, with humans discarded by him as a dying breed. With an ancient prophecy revealing she is the long- anticipated Dreamer, a being who can see vital points of the future and ways to resolve conflict through her dreams, she is faced with a decision: Will she choose to fight against the King to liberate the races, or join him to solidify his reign?

Leyna’s decision is made when the King’s most vicious minion, the Eraser, confronts her in the woods and attempts to kill the Elvin prince for trying to protect her. Now at odds with a very powerful woman, Leyna’s only hope to protect her loved ones is to find the Crystal Vault- the Eraser’s own hidden treasury containing the magic she long ago severed from the humans- and reclaim the magic that belongs to her.

THE CRYSTAL VAULT (122,000 words), is a fantasy novel of magic, danger, and romance for young adults. The book is designed as the first in a series.

Overall Comments

The writing is this version is much cleaner and more direct than what we saw on Evil Editor's site, so big props there.

Sometimes it's helpful to concentrate on just one element at a time when we revise. We might go through our manuscript once looking for ways to improve character development then go through it again focusing on the plot arc. No reason why we can't use the same approach for queries too.

Here are three areas I think can be fleshed out a bit better. Breaking them down and concentrating on each one individually in its own revision may be a good strategy for rewriting this query.

Motivation - The High King and the Eraser seem to do things that defy good sense. Help the reader understand why they choose the actions they do. Leyna seems to be conflicted about a problem when that conflict doesn't seem to match the rest of her personality. Give the reader a reason for pointing out the decision she faces, or (imo, better yet) don't mention it if it's really a non-decision.

World-Building - Overall, I don't have a clear sense about this world and how the characters fit into it. From the clues here, this is what I assume:
  • The High King is an elf.
  • The elf prince is next in line for the title. Although he seems to want to play nice with everybody, unlike the High King.
  • All but the elves are being oppressed.
  • The elves live in a hidden realm -- from which the High King somehow still manages to exert power.
  • Humans are in sharp decline.
  • Leyna and the two nobles fighting for her hand are human and, therefore, part of an oppressed and declining race.
  • Humans once had magic that was stripped from them, but they don't seem to miss it.
  • Leyna either has or might have the power to dream future events and dream resolutions to conflict. Except it doesn't seem to be working for her right now.
Plot Arc - I'm really trying hard to understand how this story line plays out.
  • Despite the fact her race is oppressed and in decline, Leyna doesn't feel trapped until two nobles want to marry her.
  • Some dude from her dreams invites her to run away and she does.
  • She only now discovers her race is oppressed and in decline and there's a High King pulling the strings.
  • But she's the prophesied Dreamer who can see glimpses of the future and counsel on what course of action to take to bring about a desired result.
  • Should she side with the king oppressing her people or side with her family, friends, and people of her own race that she cares about?
  • For reasons unknown, the king's most vicious minion confronts her. Is the minion there to negotiate with her or to kill her? Apparently, elf prince doesn't wait to find out so moves to protect Leyna. Minion naturally tries to kill him to protect herself.
  • Based on that exchange (and not on any other motivating factor such as simply having family, friends and loved ones), Leyna decides to fight for her loved ones.
  • But first she needs a weapon. And the magic that the reader doesn't learn was stripped from the humans until just now seems like the natural choice. Only she has to find the magic. And figure out how to reintegrate it into either just herself or all the surviving humans (I can't tell which). And even though having this magic didn't help when the High King took over the world, restoring it will be the way to defeat him.
Now, I have a lot of questions below that I'm asking as a close reader. But asking those questions and explaining why I'm asking them often takes up much more room than the "fix" required. Sometimes, the fix to even a multi-part question is as simple as adding or deleting a single word. So don't be daunted!

 Line Comments

Seventeen-year-old Leyna feels trapped when two noblemen of Lusorya fight for her hand in marriage.

Having peeked ahead, I'm a bit confused by the noblemen being of Lusorya. When I saw she'd stumbled into a hidden realm, I thought it was like another, hidden world ruled by a bad-ass king. But the king of that realm seems to be the king of Lusorya, the same one who is discarding humans -- except apparently not discarding the nobility.

So when the strange man from her dreams begs her to run away from her home,

You seem to think the reader knows about the strange man appearing in her dreams. Perhaps tell us up front he's been guest-starring in her dreams for some time and he's always kind or whatever to her in her dreams so it doesn't seem so very weird that she obeys a dream character.

she flees, stumbling into the hidden realm of the elves and the arms of the Elvin prince- the man she had been dreaming about for so long.

I'll let others chime in, but calling the prince a "man" without any other qualifiers, such as "young man," makes me think older and with Leyna underage, I'm getting all sorts of mixed images in my head here.

That's an interesting way to spell "Elvin." Since "elves" isn't capitalized, I'm not sure why "Elvin" is. Generally it's spelled "elfin" or "elven."

Leyna quickly learns that the other races of the land have been held in oppression for centuries by the High King of Lusorya, with humans discarded by him as a dying breed.

The High King is an elf, then. Does her prince agree with the High King's politics? What does "discarded by him as a dying breed" mean? Do you mean he can "disregard humans as a dying breed" or "discard the dying breed of humans"? Either of those phrasings still seems a bit awkward. And if the humans are a dying breed, then that seems to make Leyna's decision to run away rather than choose a human suitor to help continue her race a lot more complicated. In fact, I could see that decision as a lot more suspenseful than if she'll choose to side against her own race later on.

But why is she just now learning that the king is keeping everyone oppressed? Isn't she from this land?

With an ancient prophecy revealing she is the long- anticipated Dreamer, a being who can see vital points of the future and ways to resolve conflict through her dreams, she is faced with a decision: Will she choose to fight against the King to liberate the races, or join him to solidify his reign?

I have to ask the obvious question here: Her decision seems like one of those vital points of the future -- Does she not see herself making the decision and how she's involved in solving the conflict between the king and the downtrodden?

Leyna’s decision is made when the King’s most vicious minion, the Eraser, confronts her in the woods and attempts to kill the Elvin prince for trying to protect her.

I don't understand what happens during this confrontation. Does the High King want to kill Leyna, who seems to be a tool he can use and who is apparently considering joining him, and so sends the Eraser to kill her? Or does he send his most vicious minion to do his delicate negotiating hoping to persuade Leyna to his side? Neither seems like the action of someone who can maintain power for long. The motivation here isn't working for me. I'm hoping it's just the way it's stated in the query. It's also interesting that the king's best can't kill the prince. Does the prince have some special magic or power of his own? Is the prince not in line for the throne, so wouldn't a minion try not to kill him?

Now at odds with a very powerful woman, Leyna’s only hope to protect her loved ones is to find the Crystal Vault- the Eraser’s own hidden treasury containing the magic she long ago severed from the humans- and reclaim the magic that belongs to her.

I'm assuming the "she" means the powerful woman who is the Eraser and the "her's" refer to Lenya. You'll want to be sure your pronouns are clear.

Again, I'm perplexed about motivation. What's driving Leyna? First, she was having to decide whether to join the king against her people but now she's motivated to protect her loved ones. If she never had doubts about whether she was going to betray her people, then she really didn't have a decision to make earlier and the query didn't need to address the question of which side she would choose.

Would finding the magic mean restoring magic to all the humans or just to her? She's apparently dreamed of the prince, and there's no hint earlier she'll have to recover magic to become the Dreamer, so I'm assuming the Dreaming and the magic are independent of one another. But other than her dream to run away, the dreaming doesn't seem to be much help.

And waiting this long to drop in the bit about humans having been stripped of magic that they seem neither to miss nor be concerned about, seems a bit of a cheat. More like a contrivance for plot sake rather than an integral part of the story.

THE CRYSTAL VAULT (122,000 words), is a fantasy novel of magic, danger, and romance for young adults. The book is designed as the first in a series.

You don't need to tell us here that it has magic and danger. "is designed as" is two words too many.

THE CRYSTAL VAULT, a completed 122,000-word YA fantasy with romantic elements, is a stand-alone novel with series potential.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Query 87

Worldbreaker

Dear Agent,

[The author sent along a couple of options for starting the query.]

[Option 1] Time has finally run out for Libby Sparks. For sixteen years she has kept the secret of who she really is with the hope that she would find a way to rid herself of her prophesied destiny.

[Option 2] Libby Sparks has exactly two friends, one parent who hates her, and a chapter’s worth of trig homework to finish. Libby Sparks is also meant to destroy the world.

The moment she steps into the Caliph’s home she knows there is no hidden solution, no lies or tricks that will save her. Her Inquest will reveal everything. Her death will undoubtedly follow. Libby’s hands tremble as her secret is revealed. Shocked when the killing blow does not come after her destiny as the prophesied Destroyer is revealed, her problems are far from over. Libby must now either convince the entire world that she can overcome her fate before they publicly murder her, or embrace who she is meant to become and truly destroy the world.

Worldbreaker is a young adult dystopia novel, complete at 90,000 words. This is the first book in a series of three, entitled The Destroyer Series. Books two and three are completed as well, and currently being edited.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my novel.

Comments

I think we're being dropped into Libby's dilemma a little too cold. From what's given here, I'm having a hard time understanding what the story is. "Caliph" and "Inquest" hint at why this is dystopic, but I'm not feeling what this world is about. Opening 2, especially, starts out making it sound not very different from our world today.

I'm not understanding, first, what an "Inquest" in this world is and, second, why it's taking place in the Caliph's home. Is an Inquest something every teen goes through, or is Libby somehow a suspect who needs to be questioned? Who reveals her secret? Does she give up the info willingly, is she tortured for it, or does some seer divine it?

I get that she fears she'll be killed once her secret is out, so why isn't she killed? Is this government simply more humane than she imagines? But then we're told she's still a candidate for public murder. What does she have to do to convince the world she won't destroy it and is that being mandated by the Caliph? Is there a timeframe mentioned in the prophecy? Plus, if the odds are fairly overwhelming that she can't convince people she has free will in this matter or if she really doesn't have free will, it seems there's always the third option of killing herself or allowing herself to be killed for the sake of the rest of the world.

I think the reader needs a couple more things to get a better handle on the story. First, we need to better understand what the goal is and what the obstacles to achieving that goal are. We need to be convinced that a teenager can actually destroy the world. Does the prophecy mention how she'll accomplish that? Of course, the destruction could be more metaphorical -- Hitler could be said to be a worldbreaker -- so an idea as to whether she's destined to be a charismatic leader leading a dystopian Muslim nation to ruin or a nuclear-powered Firestarter who can literally tear the world apart would be good to know. In fact, if the world truly is dystopian, it could be she's destined to break a broken world, which might actually make it a better place. (And if that's not your story, that's really kind of a cool twist on the whole genre and may be something worth pursuing...)

In the query, Libby's goal seems to be deciding whether or not to thwart destiny. I'm assuming it's more complicated than simply not, you know, accidentally breaking the world. Is there a villain in the story? Someone who wants her to follow through on the destruction thing? What's preventing her from simply avoiding the prophecy?

Second, because you set us up with the trilogy bit, what's this book's story arc versus the series' arc? As presented in the query, book one should end with Libby either overcoming her fate so that there's no longer a threat of destruction or actually destroying the world. If the latter, I would say books two and three will be pretty short. If the whole "will she or won't she" scenario isn't resolved until book three, then we need to know what the arc for book one is. And the reader will want to be convinced it's a standalone story.

If books two and three are still being edited, they're not complete.

I'm not sure where to begin to create a "my version" of this. That's because I simply don't have enough information in the original version to guide me. For me, that's a pretty clear indication there isn't enough story element here to satisfy most agents or editors.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Spoil of War Cracks 10 Amazon Top-100 Bestselling Lists: How YOUR Book Can Too!

That headline is true. But is it truth?

We're jaded, right? Bombarded by marketing every day, we turn a blind eye to all the "Look At Me, Me, ME" headlines. Until one pops up that hits our hot button. That promises to help us write better, attract an agent, get published or gain a huge audience.


Deep in our hearts, we know better than to be reeled in by such claims. But if we didn't harbor that tiny spark of hope, we probably wouldn't be writers.

Tenet One of good marketing is to not make false claims. There are laws against that, even if you're happy to ignore ethics. But what's the definition of "false?" As Cyrano so aptly put it: "... a lie is a sort of myth, and a myth is a sort of truth." Marketing spins its gold in shades of myth.

For example, Spoil of War has indeed cracked the top 100 in 10 different lists. Readers see that headline and, while they might not be persuaded to buy, it makes a favorable eyes-on impression. Being "on a list" legitimizes not just the book but the buyer's purchase of that book. It makes buying less-risky behavior. What the casual reader will never ask is: Which lists? They're happy just to register the statement at face value.

But you're not a casual reader. You're reading beyond the headline. Not because you give a rat's patooty about which lists, but because you want to know how YOUR book can get on those lists, too -- am I right?

You've probably read about the importance of metatagging everything you do online for better SEO -- search engine optimization. SEO theory can get deep -- don't worry, I'm not going there. I'm going to keep it simple. And limit the discussion to Amazon. When you upload your book, Amazon lets you choose two categories (genres/subgenres) for your book out of a finite set of predefined tags. So even if your book is a noir mystery set 300 years in the future and features robots and a strong romantic element, you can only choose two pre-set categories for it. BUT after you choose your categories, Amazon lets you input more key subject tags -- these of your own making -- limited only by a ceiling on the total number of characters you can use.

Category tags are predefined by Amazon.
Subject tags are defined by whoever uploads the book.
They can be anything, limited only
by a predefined total character count.
Input your subject tags wisely! They serve two purposes. The first is to help buyers find your book. That means a couple of the tags may just be a word that people might input into the search field when they're looking for a book like yours. I included "knights" and "Camelot."

The second purpose is one you can use to your marketing advantage. For our noir mystery above, you might have chosen "mystery/thriller" and "romance > suspense" as your two pre-set categories. For the subject tags, you'll want to choose terms like "noir" and "science fiction". And THEN you want to break down your categories/genres even further. And include multiple ways of phrasing them if you can. Because here's a secret: Your rankings on the bestseller lists depend on EXACT phrasing of these tags -- "99 cent" and "99 cents" may well return different results. You also want to get as specific as possible without getting so specific that no one will search by that term. For example, "science fiction noir" rather than "science fiction noir robots."

Spoil of War is part of the King Arthur canon. I figured people reading and writing historical fiction would likely use "Arthurian" as a search word and tag. I wound up using these related tags: Arthurian romance, Arthurian fiction, historical fiction Arthurian. On the other hand, I assumed romance readers wouldn't refer to the time period as Arthurian but as medieval, so I was sure to include a "medieval" tag.

By creating areas of smaller markets for your book using these tags, your book is no longer competing with the entire Amazon catalog but just its designated genres. That could mean anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand books.

Now, Amazon has a nifty little filter for its book searches. The default filter for whatever term you enter is "relevance." I have no idea how relevance is determined; part of it is based on words in the title and description, of course, but it also somehow changes with number of sales (for instance, Spoil was #1 in relevance for Arthurian fiction on Friday after a sale. No sales overnight and when I thought to pull a screen capture Saturday morning, it had slipped to #3). Somehow, Spoil has ended up in the top 10 relevance searches for several lists. If I had even fewer scruples than I do, I could certainly tout those #1 and #2 spots as "Amazon lists." As it is, because few people will actually filter the results differently from what they get the first time, I'm thrilled at how frequently Spoil is returned in the first page of results under the relevancy filter.

But I play a little more fair. You can change the "relevance" filter to "bestselling" and the search engine will rank the books returned in your results by whatever calculations Amazon uses to determine bestselling rankings. You can also produce lists that include all books in the Amazon store or just those in the Kindle store. Barnes and Noble has a similar search, only they use the term "top matches" instead of "relevance."


So simply by including relevant tags and then checking the search list results, I've manipulated Spoil's way onto 10 of Amazon's bestselling lists. And since anyone can go out and reproduce these lists for themselves, my conscience is clear in touting the book's status on them, with the caveat, of course, that these lists change hourly.

Now, Spoil of War is also currently #20 in relevancy and #6 in bestselling under the search term "Camelot" in the Kindle store. I suppose I could claim that as another Top 100, but it doesn't feel as legitimate as terms like "Arthurian fiction," does it? Ultimately, your own conscience must guide you in how to use the statistics.

So with a little planning on the front side and scrolling through search results on the hind end, no reason why you can't also spin the rankings in your favor, as well. It also helps the relevancy rankings if the title you input contains the search words. I happen to have "An Arthurian Saga" on the cover. I could have as easily left it off the cover and simply made it a part of the title when I input the info about the book.

But this only works for books selling hundreds of copies daily, right? YOUR book that's selling only a couple of copies per day doesn't have a snowball's chance of appearing in any impressive-sounding category. *Snort* Smoke-and-mirrors, folks. I shared my April sales at the beginning of the month. On Amazon, I sold 37 copies on the US site and 13 copies on the UK site. As of noon Friday (May 20), sales on Amazon for May were 32 copies in the US and just 3 copies in the UK. (I've sold zilch through Smashwords this month, and 10 copies on B&N so far.)

I tracked my rankings on and off Wed, Thur and Fri, and you can see the shift in rankings that only 1 or 2 purchases per day can produce. B&N works a little differently on the front end, but you can see I actually have my highest ranking (#5) with them, substituting nook for Kindle, of course. (Yes, I was procrastinating writing for the sake of this research, but see! Pretty chart! Pretty colors! In brand too!)


Now that I've got the numbers to brag with, I just need to figure out how to reach more readers to let them know that buying Spoil of War is a non-risky, community-sanctioned purchase. Everyone must be buying it. It wouldn't be in those top-100 lists otherwise, right?

True or truth? You decide.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Query Revision 86

Face-Lift 906: Lifeweaver

[Author's Note: The problem I come across is instances where I'm unsure if a substitution really improves the work, or just reduces word count for the sake of reducing word count. For example, instead of 'lands where the judged have no voice', I could have used 'draconian lands', but does that really have same impact or convey the same meaning?]

As lifeweaver, Talyn can shift injuries, diseases, even death from one person to another. To the nobility and clergy, he is a miraculous healer. To the wicked and downtrodden, he is an executioner. He tries to help others, but every benevolent act causes someone else pain.

To those in power, he is not a man, but an exploitable tool. The king proves this best by using Talyn's abilities to fake his own assassination. When Talyn finds out he realizes this false affront could start a war. Unable to stand the suffering his blessings cause, Talyn starts down a treasonous path of unveiling the truth.

But a convicted murderer, Serra, upsets his plans. Desperate to escape execution by weaving, she takes Talyn hostage. As she drags him through lands where the judged have no voice, Talyn discovers just how corrupt the kingdom is. To liberate it, he will have to elude an army of zealots, ally with demons, blackmail judges, and trust a fugitive with his life. With each choice, he faces consequences familiar to every lifeweaver: who will he save, and who will suffer for it?

I am seeking representation for Lifeweaver, a fantasy complete at 149,000 words. I have appended the first chapter of my novel to the end of this email for your consideration. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Comments

The ideal would be never to cut for the sake of cutting. But queries need to be models of economy. The description doesn't have to be stripped bare, though. Often it's a marriage between more evocative word choices, prudent trimming of unnecessary words and what you choose to describe.

What I'm missing most in this query is what Talyn is doing with his power and why he can't simply choose not to use it.

As (a?) lifeweaver, Talyn can shift injuries, diseases, even death from one person to another. To the nobility and clergy, he is a miraculous healer. To the wicked and downtrodden, he is an executioner.

I'm a little unclear as to whether the "to the" phrases mean that's how those classes perceive him or whether he's actually healing nobility/clergy and killing the wicked/downtrodden. If he's actually killing downtrodden, is he OK with that? I'm not sure "downtrodden" is the word you want.

He tries to help others, but every benevolent act causes someone else pain.

This is where I'm wondering if the simple answer is to do nothing. A little elaboration on the dilemma will help the reader identify better with Talyn, I think.

To those in power, he is not a man, but an exploitable tool.

Here's one spot where word count can be addressed. At it's simplest, you don't need "not a man, but". What's left implies that. However, I'm confused because who are those in power if not the nobility and clergy who you just told us consider him a miraculous healer.

The king proves this best by using Talyn's abilities to fake his own assassination.

I think this needs to be more clear that Talyn was duped into participating in the king's plan.

When Talyn finds out he realizes this false affront could start a war.

I have no idea what "false affront" means in this context.

"could start" is a little safe. I think you can find more precise word choices.

Unable to stand the suffering his blessings cause, Talyn starts down a treasonous path of unveiling the truth.

Again, I don't feel this sentence is conveying precisely what you mean it to. I don't get the connection between his disgust about his gift and deciding to find out why the king is screwing the kingdom over.

But a convicted murderer, Serra, upsets his plans. Desperate to escape execution by weaving, she takes Talyn hostage. As she drags him through lands where the judged have no voice, Talyn discovers just how corrupt the kingdom is.

OK, would "draconian" work here? I think it all needs to be rephrased, honestly. As written, it seems like you're asking for reader sympathy that convicted murderers like Serra can't -- I'm not sure. Can't vote? "lands where the judged have no voice" is one of those phrases that sounds cool but is really pretty meaningless.

To liberate it, he will have to elude an army of zealots, ally with demons, blackmail judges, and trust a fugitive with his life. With each choice, he faces consequences familiar to every lifeweaver: who will he save, and who will suffer for it?

There are two schools of thought about how much of the story to reveal in the query. The first is that you detail the obstacles out. Following that thought, critters may well say you need to condense much of what has gone before in order to elaborate on the obstacles you list.

The second school says describing the inciting incident is enough and that hinting at what's to come as you've done here is enough. In this case, I'd say this is a fine close with two changes: delete "for it" at the end and delete "ally with demons" as this world being a world with demons you can ally with seems to come out of left field.

I am seeking representation for Lifeweaver, a fantasy complete at 149,000 words. I have appended the first chapter of my novel to the end of this email for your consideration. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Remember that thousands of others are doing and providing the same info. You don't need to remind the agent of why you're contacting them: of course you're seeking representation. You don't need to point out you want them to consider the sample you're providing: what else would you like them to do with it? And where else would you append material but at the end?

Evil Editor and others have pointed out you'll want to trim another 25K or so from the novel. Simply going through sentence by sentence and looking for redundancy is a great way for most of us to trim a good bit of excess verbiage. (In this case, I might edit that last: Looking for redundancy sentence by sentence is a great tool for trimming.)

Sincerely,

My Version

Talyn is a lifeweaver, able to shift injuries, diseases, even death, from one person to another. The church and peerage have long exploited lifeweavers to carry out judgments against sinners and lawbreakers and to deliver benedictions to the righteous -- such as themselves. Talyn buys into the justice of his position, convinced the judges are fair and equitable. Until he finds out he's being used to purposefully punish people falsely tried and accused as criminals.

When the king uses Talyn to fake his own assassination to incite a war, Talyn turns traitor, building evidence against the throne. But his plans are derailed when the woman accused of assassinating the king takes Talyn hostage in a desperate attempt to escape the executioner. As she drags him with her through the underbelly of the kingdom, Talyn sees for himself just how corrupt the church and crown have become.

To liberate the oppressed, he will have to resort to subterfuge, blackmail and unholy alliances. But first, he will have to trust a fugitive with his life. At every crossroad he faces the soul-searing decision familiar to every lifeweaver: Who will he save and who will suffer? And soon he'll have to confront the most agonizing question of all: Are the choices he's making the right ones?

LIFEWEAVER is a 149,000-word fantasy. I have appended the first [chapter/5 pages/whatever] below. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

Sincerely,

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Query 81: Redux

Tru Adventures

Dear Agent:

Teen witch Tru Marcile has a neat ability to see glimpses of future event. But the two witches who crash her Sweet 16 party to kill her? Definitely didn’t see that one coming. Just to be safe, her estranged uncle enrolls her in Ipswich Prep school of Socrecry out in the middle of Nowheresville.

Even worse, they fly brooms and use incantations; it’s lame and not to mention cliché. At Ipswich, Tru learns that being a freak is the least of her worries:Within a week she’s on the queen bee’s hit list, her visions cause her more harm than good, and the guy she likes is on the rebound.

When she learns that her uncle is hiding something, she finds herself intrigued with what he’s hiding and why she’s a target. Tru realizes the only way she’s going to get any respect from the queen bee is to prove she’s got bad-ass witch potential. When a series of blood-curdling revelations starts to emerge, Tru prepares for the biggest threat of all:a power-hungry witch determined to destroy her. Good thing she’s got some new friends who have her back through the good spells and the bad.

Complete at 69k words, TRU ADVENTURES is a stand-alone novel in a planned series and will appeal to fans of Rachelle Hawkins and Richelle Mead. Currently, I’m working on another book set in the same world as TRU ADVENTURES. Thanks for your time and consideration.

Comments

I think this query is at that awkward teenage phase where it's a little gangly and unsure of itself. It's a phase most queries have to go through as they mature, so that's OK. I know you've been concentrating on edits to the manuscript, so those edits may help you on your next revision here. This version feels a little rushed: a few spelling and spacing issues you'll want to clean up.

Teen witch Tru Marcile has a neat ability to see glimpses of future event. But the two witches who crash her Sweet 16 party to kill her? Definitely didn’t see that one coming. Just to be safe, her estranged uncle enrolls her in Ipswich Prep school of Socrecry out in the middle of Nowheresville.

The first bit of this is interesting and has voice. The "just to be safe" phrase isn't working for me, though. There's just been an attempt on her life and her uncle apparently knows something about it. Perhaps here is the better spot to introduce that her uncle seems to know what's going on. And "estranged" is a bit odd. If he's estranged, why does he have contact with her and where are her parents? Why aren't her guardians taking care of the enrolling?

Even worse, they fly brooms and use incantations; it’s lame and not to mention cliché.

The "it" needs an antecedent. Or better, maybe just change to something like "... incantations -- how lame and soooo cliché.

At Ipswich, Tru learns that being a freak is the least of her worries:

In this version, she's not discovering she's a freak, so this doesn't really make sense.

Within a week she’s on the queen bee’s hit list, her visions cause her more harm than good, and the guy she likes is on the rebound.

I like the queen bee and the guy, as their issues are described succinctly and specifically. I think we need something the same for her visions.

When she learns that her uncle is hiding something, she finds herself intrigued with what he’s hiding and why she’s a target.

This is the bit I think needs to be combined with the uncle's decision to send her off to Nowheresville.

As it is, there's no transition between her being a target of assassins and Tru's lesser problem with the queen bee.

Tru realizes the only way she’s going to get any respect from the queen bee is to prove she’s got bad-ass witch potential.

And then there's no segue between gaining respect from the bee and the revelations of the witch out to kill her. We either need to see how they fit together or discuss them separately.

When a series of blood-curdling revelations starts to emerge,

I don't know what this means. If you're going to throw in "blood-curdling," I want something to back it up. Are these revelations coming from her visions? Is this part of the visions being more harmful than helpful? Can you give us an example?

Tru prepares for the biggest threat of all:a power-hungry witch determined to destroy her. Good thing she’s got some new friends who have her back through the good spells and the bad.

The guy she's interested in who was mentioned earlier seems to have dropped out of the query.

Complete at 69k words, TRU ADVENTURES is a stand-alone novel in a planned series and will appeal to fans of Rachelle Hawkins and Richelle Mead. Currently, I’m working on another book set in the same world as TRU ADVENTURES. Thanks for your time and consideration.

I wouldn't mention you're working on that next book in the series. Conventional wisdom is that you be working on another book outside the series in case the first book doesn't sell. Note that agents will often ask what else you're working and can they have a look if they're interested in the book you're querying. They're hoping to see something different.

I'd also throw "YA" in between "stand-alone" and "novel".

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Have More Feedback?

For those following the Kindar's Cure query journey, there's a new version at Evil Editor's.

And another new query for critting below.

Query Revision 85

Face-Lift 904: Kingdom of God

Dear Agent,

When Rowena Martin--a 38-year-old wife, mother, and lifelong faithful churchgoer--dies and goes to Heaven, the hereafter seems absolutely glorious. Her every desire is instantly fulfilled, there are no secrets or lies, she mingles with fascinating people from various historical backgrounds, and--best of all--she gets to meet God Himself, the wise and loving Father whose intricate place rules over the entire universe. But gradually she notices there are no non-Christians, homosexuals, or unbelievers in Heaven...and she becomes aware of countless people screaming for help in the fiery pits of Hell below her.

As she struggles to reconcile their suffering with the doctrine of forgiveness and charity she's always embraced, she's grateful for the soothing, ready answers God provides. His justifications cease to be adequate, however, when she learns her own daughter is one of the billions slated for eternal torture in the flames.

Still, since the Lord knows every thought in His subjects' minds and has little tolerance for dissent, she must pretend to agree with His plan. Until, that is, an undercover seraph asks her to join a covert resistance movement. This group claims to have found a way to circumvent His omniscience by illegally accessing special pockets of privacy He created for His favorite angels. They also say they're close to discovering a way to oust Him from the seat of absolute power. Rowena, skeptical about their claims but desperate to help her daughter, soon finds herself involved in a risky plot to strip Him of omnipotence and liberate Hell.

The rebels appear to be making major headway toward their goal--but is the Lord simply setting them up for a massive, Lucifer-style fall? And if their coup does succeed, can they truly come up with a better, fairer system than the one He devised? Can the universe survive without Him at its helm?

KINGDOM OF GOD is a 101,000-word novel. Sample chapters or the complete manuscript are available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

When dealing with well-established religion, the biggest obstacle you'll face in your query, I think, is ensuring the reader is comfortable with where the story is going. Tackling God head on is dicey because your reader may well be wondering who the protag is in your book. In this case, I think it may be wise to give a little of the ending away to assure the reader that this book will ultimately be embraced by sceptics or believers. Audience matters big time here. Note that you don't even give any indication of the genre. Where do YOU think it fits?

From the way this query reads to me, I'm thinking it's commercial fiction for the lay market. So I won't try to look at it from what I would assume the mindset of a Christian Book agent or publisher would be. If that's really the audience you're going after, then I don't believe this query is working in your favor to target them.

When Rowena Martin--a 38-year-old wife, mother, and lifelong faithful churchgoer--dies and goes to Heaven, the hereafter seems absolutely glorious. Her every desire is instantly fulfilled, there are no secrets or lies, she mingles with fascinating people from various historical backgrounds, and--best of all--she gets to meet God Himself, the wise and loving Father whose intricate place rules over the entire universe. But gradually she notices there are no non-Christians, homosexuals, or unbelievers in Heaven...and she becomes aware of countless people screaming for help in the fiery pits of Hell below her.

I think you can paint the picture of an idyllic heaven with fewer words. I'm also not sure you want to intro the "no secrets or lies" here since that's not true. You can easily break that second sentence into two so it doesn't sound so long-winded.

Short-listing groups of people who aren't there will immediately set this up as an agenda-driven book is some readers' minds. Also, what's the difference between non-Christian and unbeliever in this context? And, of course, if you're presented with proof and meet God, who WOULD be an unbeliever here? Do people (souls?) still have sexual proclivities in this heaven? What tips Rowena that she's not meeting anybody who was gay or Muslim in the therebefore?

As she struggles to reconcile their suffering with the doctrine of forgiveness and charity she's always embraced, she's grateful for the soothing, ready answers God provides. His justifications cease to be adequate, however, when she learns her own daughter is one of the billions slated for eternal torture in the flames.

I understand a mother's fierce love, but a little about the daughter's "sin" would be good to know. Just adding in "her lesbian daughter" or whatever will help the reader empathize with Row's anger. Otherwise, the daughter could be a murderer or something else that might justifiably (in whose eyes?) send her to hell.

Still, since the Lord knows every thought in His subjects' minds and has little tolerance for dissent, she must pretend to agree with His plan. Until, that is, an undercover seraph asks her to join a covert resistance movement.

Why? Is everyone being asked to join? Seems everyone would know a boatload of people they love destined for hell. Or is she exhibiting something that makes the seraph think she's one of them?

Although I understand it's an obstacle, I think putting the bit about God knowing all thoughts and all the explanation needed to deal with that is weighing down the query. This is one of those instances where it might be better to just cut rather than explain.

This group claims to have found a way to circumvent His omniscience by illegally accessing special pockets of privacy He created for His favorite angels. They also say they're close to discovering a way to oust Him from the seat of absolute power.

Ditch the "claims" and "saying." Couch the activity more actively.

Rowena, skeptical about their claims but desperate to help her daughter, soon finds herself involved in a risky plot to strip Him of omnipotence and liberate Hell.

The ousting from before and stripping here are redundant.

So this group doesn't distinguish between sins at all? They want to liberate everyone? Give everyone a happily ever after? That's perfectly fine in the story, of course, but what do they hope to accomplish with their rebellion?

The rebels appear to be making major headway toward their goal--but is the Lord simply setting them up for a massive, Lucifer-style fall?

I like this!

And if their coup does succeed, can they truly come up with a better, fairer system than the one He devised? Can the universe survive without Him at its helm?

Ending on this note makes me wonder what God's role is now. Is He simply a judge now or is He still somehow powering all of existence Himself?

KINGDOM OF GOD is a 101,000-word novel. Sample chapters or the complete manuscript are available upon request.

Add "completed" before the word count and delete the last sentence. Of course they're available upon request. Add the genre too.

Thank you for your consideration.

My Version

When Rowena Martin--a 38-year-old wife, mother, and faithful churchgoer--dies and goes to Heaven, she finds the hereafter as glorious as she hoped it would be. Her every desire is instantly fulfilled and she gets to mingle with all the beautiful people of history. Best of all, she meets God Himself, the wise and loving Father she's always worshiped. Bliss gradually gives way to unease then outright anger, though, when she overhears countless souls screaming for help from the fiery pits of Hell. It's then she learns Heaven is an exclusive club that's only open to those considered pure and righteous in life.

As she struggles to reconcile the suffering of so many souls with the doctrine of forgiveness and charity she's always embraced, she's grateful for the soothing, ready answers God provides. His justifications for keeping out riff-raff such as unbelievers and homosexuals cease to be adequate, however, when she learns her lesbian daughter is one of the billions slated for eternal torture.

Sensing her anger, a seraph asks her to join a covert resistance movement whose members are equally determined to harrow Hell and open up Heaven for all the deserving. Rowena, skeptical about their plan but desperate to help her daughter, soon finds herself involved in a risky plot to strip God of omnipotence and liberate Hell.

The rebels appear to be making major headway toward their goal--but is the Lord simply setting them up for a massive, Lucifer-style fall? And if their coup does succeed, are they ready for the even bigger challenge of democratizing both Heaven and Hell and keeping the universe itself running without Him at its helm?

KINGDOM OF GOD is commercial fiction, complete at 101,000-word. Thank you for your consideration.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ooh, Pretties

Yes, today is award day. And why is that? Because the QUERY QUEUE IS EMPTY!

Ahem. Because lexcade at Going From Nobody to Somebody thought of THIS SITE to pass the Versatile Blogger Award to. Isn't is pretty and shiny and precioussssss? Thank you, lexcade!


The award comes with the obligation to tell the blogging world 7 random facts about me. And I've spiced my list with a never-before-revealed secret...

1. I have an MA in English, with a concentration in Medieval studies. My BA is in English, but I started out in pre-med, so it took me awhile to get it. I also minored in history, biology and Greek (koine and classical - the equivalent of Old and Middle English - modern Greek is still Greek to me).

I probably wouldn't have passed my test to get my MA on my first attempt (most folk needed 2 or 3 tries) if luck hadn't been with me. We were given a choice of three topics and had to write an essay on one of them. The first essay question had something to do with American post-modern something or another and the second question about Victorian mores and their influence on the western world. I was about ready to slink off to another university to try again when I saw the third question was asking me to compare/contrast the life and times and literature of Beowulf and King Arthur. Hallelujah! I'd studied this stuff for fun. But how could I possibly cram everything I knew on the topic into just 4 hours?

I was also asked to scale back the first choice for my thesis. I wanted to do an annotated novelization of The Niebenlungenlied (Wagner's Ring Cycle opera was based on it), but was assured that was more fitting for a Ph.D. project. My advisory board settled for me writing a handful of short stories instead. Seriously? I was doing that anyway. So really, I earned an MA in Hobbies.

2. I'm a vegetarian, but not one of those healthy-eating kind. I prefer starch. I keep lots of fresh fruit and veggies on hand for the beasties, so it's not like the choices aren't available. I just don't find them very appealing (a-peeling?).

3. I once flew gliders. When I was 14/15 years old, I worked weekends for a mom-and-pop glider-rental, tow-plane-services company. I got paid in flight lessons (both glider and powered) and flight time. I flew a glider solo long before it was legal for me to drive a car by myself. Now I press the right foot pedal to go right, correct?

4. I'm a breast cancer survivor. Seven weeks of radiation 10 years ago. What an annoyance. Even more annoying is that I used to work with ancient x-ray machines when I was a vet tech, holding down animals using inadequate protection (and sometimes no protection) from the rads. So the same radiation used to treat the disease may have caused it in the first place. Ain't life funny.

5. 20-ish years ago, I was often asked to be a panelist at SF/F cons in Texas (I was using my real name back then). I made the rounds for about 5 years, and it was a blast. AggieCon would comp a room, though I had to share it with some big-name authors over the years (yes, I know, the sacrifice). I even got paid once for an appearance at my alma mater, UNT, where I was headlined with Roger Zelazny. What were those people thinking?

6. I used to be active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I participated in fight demonstrations (heavy weapons and swashbuckling) at the first Scarborough Faire in North Texas. I used to dream of owning land where I could invite folk to come for a weekend tourney. Now I have the land, but I'm no longer involved in the SCA. Timing is so critical.

7. I'm a genius. No, really. I have the papers and everything. I was once offered the Marketing Director job for Mensa, an organization to which I don't and have never belonged. Because, really, other than snobbing around with other geeks and laughing at geeky humor and playing Scrabble with high-vocabulary opponents, why? I mean, I got the whole Mensa spiel when I got the HQ tour and I did my research, but I never did "get" it. Seemed like a glorified camp where folk sit around comparing SAT scores and having pissing contests over who's better, smarter, faster. Guess it's a good thing I turned the job down. In any case, this is my coming out on this subject, as it's not something I've mentioned to even my closest friends. Notables with IQs within a couple of points of mine (161, if you must know) include:
  • Einstein
  • Darwin
  • John Locke
  • Copernicus
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Kant
  • Descartes
Ultimately, as with most things, it's not having the potential that counts; it's what you do with it.

So now it is my privilege to pass the award and the baton (as well as the meme obligation - ha! thought you'd get out that, did you?) to:

Fairyhedgehog
McKoala
Wilkins MacQueen
Slush
Jo-Ann

Go visit them and learn their secrets, too!

But send queries first :o)

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.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Query 71: Final Thoughts

Wow, vkw, Sarah and AA all get A's on the pop quiz for their rewrites, and Jo-Ann gets credits for her advice ;p

In the comments for The Anasazi Conspiracy, each commenter came at the story a little differently in their version of the query. Now it's the author's job to decide which way of approaching the query speaks best to him.

Remember that the query's job is to entice and to not leave too many of the wrong questions in a reader's head when they're done. The only question a reader should have on finishing is "Where are the pages?!" Not leaving questions, however, doesn't necessarily mean trying to answer all the questions critters bring up in their critiques. Often it means eliminating the source of the question. Cutting rather than adding. It's hard. We become convinced that we have to put it ALL out there.

But a query is more like a first date. Play up the positives, hit the high notes, and save something for next time. Leave the reader eager for another date and getting to know more about the story.

There's great bits in each of the rewrites to choose from. My only addition is a suggestion around how to add the historical bits to the query. I agree with the other commenters, that, set up this way, the 1607 dateline still feels like a prologue. One way to get across how the book is set up and why it runs long may be to CUT ALL the 1607 part and simply state at the end:

Intercut with the tragic story of the downfall of an ancient Anasazi civilization, THE ANASAZI CONSPIRACY is a mainstream action-adventure, complete at 160K words. I appreciate your consideration.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pop Quiz

Reposted from yesterday. Because of the Blogger issues, I'll give everyone another day to add comments, then I'll post mine over the weekend. We have a new query in the queue for Monday. Send more. Oh, and I restored comments that Blogger lost that I still had in email to the queries and synopses, to ensure authors don't lose any of the feedback. 

Query 71: Re-redux
The Anasazi Conspiracy

Since we’ve seen a couple of versions of this query already, I’m going to do things a little differently today and give you guys first crack at this revision. I’ll save my suggestions for tomorrow.

Note that the author sent two versions: a short one (~350 words) and a long one (~430). He’s so cute; he assured me the short one fits comfortably on one page. Well, maybe if you fudge margins and point size and put your contact info into the header or the footer … When I plugged it into format, I got the screen capture at the bottom of this post.

He also sent a couple of versions of each version. I posted the one I thought worked best of the batch.

Also, also, the query queue is dry so this is an exception to the limit of revisions I’ll generally post here. Consider this site and Evil Editor and other similar sites to be touchstone sites. The expectation is that folk who submit work take suggestions offered, workshop them with their crit group, then resubmit a revision or two for an objective third-party review. All of us welcome a couple of revisions – seeing work mature warms the cockles of every critter’s heart. It’s the carrot for the time we put in. We vest ourselves in the success of others. But these sites aren’t workshop sites. And while this author, and others, have submitted further revisions with the caveat that they know I might not post them but do I have any suggestions to offer, my purpose with this site is to help mentor more than just the author of the work. Plus, I have my own crit group that I've committed my attention to. As well as prize crits and promo crits I've promised to do. Just a firm but gentle reminder…

So, what does this author need to do to get this to fit on a page and entice requests?

1607BC: Two brothers unearth a strange object in the American southwest. Regrettably, the arrival of this golden idol from the Sun God coincides with the sudden loss of an artesian stream...their only source of water.

The Shaman insists on sacrifices to bring back the water: Human sacrifice. When their civilization crumbles, all that remains is a baffling legacy of Anasazi petroglyphs.

Today: Powerful corporate magnate Robert Bradley discovers an archeologist sniffing around one of his companies for topographical information. Suspicious, Robert has a man tail Dr. Brill.

Smart move... Tucked inside a lost chasm, Dr. Brill finds an ancient village with curious etching in the walls. After a little covert investigation, Robert suspects these petroglyphs point toward hidden treasure. Obsessed with greed, he’s determined to seal off any secrets for his own gain and contracts an assassin to eliminate Brill. An expendable one...

Dr. Brill isn’t guessing - he knows. With his own evil scheme brewing, he hires a specialist to help, but Dr. Courtney Kirkland couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. Brill only needs a few obscure messages deciphered - then she’ll be dead.

Assassin Jake has his target in the crosshairs, but a simple execution spins out of control when Brill’s cruel plan collides with Robert’s. After a sudden push from Brill leaves Courtney dangling off a ledge, Jake violates rule number one – never get involved.

Shooting Brill and helping her to safety, another bullet tears through Jake’s shoulder. Instantly, he realizes he’s been double-crossed. Killing the other gunman, Jake has a new target: his employer.

Arrogant Robert will not accept his mistake, or failure. While he chases the meaning behind the cryptic messages, his men track Jake and Courtney. But Jake won’t be another victim in this deadly game.

With Robert’s men closing in, Courtney works swiftly under Jake’s protective cover, deciphering symbols that will expose a hidden chronicle of Anasazi history and the location of a dazzling cavern of gold.

THE ANASAZI CONSPIRACY is a mainstream action-adventure with significant history elements, complete at 160K words. I appreciate your consideration.