Sunday, September 14, 2008

#78-Revised 3x



THIRD REVISION


Dear QS,

Three thousand years ago, Loki, the Norse God of Mischief, created a game called The Social Experiment in which two mortals are selected to partake in a firsthand historical game of "What if?" One is instructed to preserve history; the other, to change it. The game's intent, however, is not to affect history or alter the future; though history can be shifted and the future can be changed, The Social Experiment was devised to provide the gods with greater insight into the human condition.

For this particular iteration, Loki selects an unsuspecting high school sophomore, Elena Fantino, to preserve the fates. Loki transports her to Rome, 44 B.C., tells her the rules of the game, and disappears. To win the game, to return to the home she knows, Elena must ensure that the following questions go unanswered:



What if Julius Caesar hadn't been killed by Brutus?

What if Anne Boleyn had drowned in her youth?

What if Pierre Picaud – Alexandre Dumas' real life Edmond Dantès – hadn't been framed by his friends?



The Social Experiment is a 45,000 word young-adult novel that begins and ends in high school. In between, Elena travels to ancient Rome, medieval England, and Napoleonic France. Difficult choices await her at each destination: letting Julius Caesar die would be much easier if he didn't have a strong resemblance to her father; saving Anne Boleyn wouldn't be hard at all if she didn't bear a striking similarity to Elena's high school nemesis; allowing Pierre Picaud to be named a spy wouldn't be so bad if he weren't such a gallant man. However, if Elena fails to preserve history, she will be stuck in a time and place far different than present day Manhattan.



The completed manuscript is available upon request. Thanks for your time and consideration,


Hot damn. This works. Nice revision!


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REVISION

Dear Query Shark,

There is a game played amongst the gods called The Social Experiment. Imagine it as a grand game of "What if?"


What if Julius Caesar hadn't been killed by Brutus?

What if Anne Boleyn had drowned in her youth?

What if Pierre Picaud – Alexandre Dumas' real life Edmond Dantès – hadn't been framed by his friends?


Elena Fantino is about to play her first game of historical "What if?", courtesy of Loki, the Norse God of Mischief. To win the game, to ensure her fate, the above questions must go unanswered. Straightforward enough, but then the game begins. Letting Julius Caesar die would be much easier if he didn't have a strong resemblance to her father. Saving Anne Boleyn wouldn't be hard at all if she didn't bear a striking similarity to Elena's high school nemesis. Allowing Pierre Picaud to be named a spy wouldn't be so bad if he weren't such a gallant man.

To win the game, to ensure her fate, the above questions must go unanswered. This is too generic to mean much. What happens if she does save Caesar? Does she die? Develop zits? Become an indentured servant in the Shark Tank?

This is a key element of a good query letter: why do any of these events or choices matter. Without the answer to the question "so what" the response is 'ho hum' and that's not what you're looking for unless you are the group sing leader at the Mustang Ranch.


The Social Experiment is a 45,000 word young-adult novel that begins and ends in high school. In between, Elena must decide whether winning the game is more important than doing the right thing. Loki provides obstacles at every turn to make sure that she's as conflicted as possible; he's the God of Mischief, after all, and nothing delights him more than hearing his human guinea pigs squeal.

What is the right thing? Drowning Anne Boleyn? Hmmm.

Is Loki a major character? Having him toy with humans just cause he can is pretty boring. It's like a serial killer who is pure evil. Nuance is interesting; complex motivation is interesting. "Cause I want to" ...not so much.

If you would like to see the manuscript or a synopsis, I can send it at your convenience. Thanks for your time and consideration,


This isn't compelling yet. Form rejection.
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ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,

Skylar Fox often wishes she were a normal girl going to a normal high school. Her father's a mob boss, her only friend's the DA's son, and she's the laughing stock of Gracemont Prep, school to Manhattan's rich and famous. If that wasn't bad enough, Sky's just been selected by the Norse God of Mischief to partake in a historical game of "What if?" known as The Social Experiment.

You've got WAY too much going on here. The fact that she's the daughter of a mob boss and her pal is the DA's son (problematic at best, reeks of device) doesn't have anything to do with the Norse God of Mischief sending her off on Bill & Ted's Incredible Adventure part deus ex machina.


What if Caesar hadn't been killed by Brutus? What if Anne Boleyn had drowned in her youth? What if The Count of Monte Cristo were a romance? (I'm pretty sure the Count of Monte Cristo is a novel, not a historical figure; the person most closely resembling the story is named Pierre Picaud)

Sky must travel through history to ensure that these questions remain unanswered; she wins if the fates are kept. Her friend, Finneas Huckleberry Finn, (who?) wins if the fates are changed.

History, unfortunately, has a striking similarity to Sky's modern day existence. (I don't understand what that means) Choices that seemed easy - allowing Caesar to die, saving Anne Boleyn - are far more difficult than she'd imagined. (why?) Worst of all, Finn is hiding a terrible secret that could forever destroy their friendship. (He's Luke's father?)

Terrible secrets smack of melodrama. There's just no way to have that phrase in a query letter and have it taken seriously. Be specific. What's the problem. What's he hiding. You can tone down the melodrama and it will actually be more dramatic.

The Social Experiment is a 45,000 word young-adult story that begins and ends in high school.

You do all this in 45,000 words? My left eyebrow took the elevator to the top of my beehive 'do on that statement. You've got a LOT going on for 45K words.

In between, two friends tied together by their inferior social status (what?) travel from ancient Rome to Napoleonic France. Their journey is fraught with danger, intrigue, jealousy, and secrecy. Through it all, Sky discovers who she is and ultimately realizes that her relationship with Finn extends far beyond friendship. (oh great, she's Luke's mother)

If you would like to see the manuscript or a synopsis, I can send it at your convenience. Thanks for your time and consideration,


I also have a thing about made up sounding names like Skylar Fox. Names need to make sense in a story and I don't know about you but the mob bosses we read about here in NYC tend to be Italian and Catholic and name their daughters things like Maria and Francesca and Constanzia. Or saint's names. Last I looked Skylar wasn't a saint and since it's drawn from the Danish and means fugitive, my guess is no mob boss would name his kid that.

And yes, this is picky as hell. Yes, I had to look all that stuff up to tell you why it sounded wrong, but I've said before; I'll say it again, you have to tune up your sense of how a novel works so you see this yourself. You don't have to know why it doesn't work, but you need to be able to look at "Skylar Fox" and think "nahhhh."



This is a form rejection right now.

12 comments:

Merry Monteleone said...

I have to agree with you on the name Skylar Fox... okay, there are other Mobs (Russian, Irish, etc.) but I don't think any of them would use the name Skylar, either.

The thing that smacks for me is that I don't trust the author to deliver. If I'm reading a novel that boasts historical settings, I need to trust the author to be authentic - stating that the character runs across the Count of Monte Cristo turns me off automatically because I'm a Dumas nut, and also because (whether accurate or not) it gives me the impression that the writer hasn't researched her setting and time periods at all. Giving a character the name Finn Huckleberry Finn makes my teeth itch.

I think if you picked through this and decided what aspects you wanted to concentrate on, you could have a very good story. If it's time traveling at the behest of the Norse gods, I'd say you can ax the bit about being a mafia princess in love with a DA's son and concentrate instead on what your character's arc is and make sure that the time periods your using are both accurate and integral to the plot and character growth.

My two cents.

Jolie said...

What if The Count of Monte Cristo were a romance? (I'm pretty sure the Count of Monte Cristo is a novel, not a historical figure; the person most closely resembling the story is named Pierre Picaud)

And I'm pretty sure the author was indeed referring to the novel but forgot to italicize it. Just because the first two rhetorical questions were about people doesn't mean the third question has to be about a person as well. It's about the novel.

But anyway, yeah. This query is all OVER the place.

benwah said...

"My left eyebrow took the elevator to the top of my beehive 'do"

Funniest thing on the page.

Mob boss's daughter and DA's son pursue a Norse-driven version of Bill & Ted's? That's literary whiplash right there.

talpianna said...

What if The Count of Monte Cristo were a romance?

Well, according to Northrop Frye's theory of modes, it is; but I rather think the querent means "What if it were a love story?"

Even stranger--what if it were a sandwich inventory?

Bane of Anubis said...

Ms. Reid, thanks for the great feedback. Particularly for names and relations issue (e.g., mob boss's daughter w.r.t. DA's son) - I was definitely being gimmicky; part of that comes from the feeling that most YA books I've read employ some incredibly far out devices as well - just going into defense mechanism mode a bit here.

Merry, I'm a Dumas nut as well. The Count of Monte Cristo was supposed to be italicized (probably got LIT when translated into my email paste) and what Jolie said is accurate. In fact, my story does deal w/ Pierre Picaud, but I figured that's a bit too detailed to get into in a query, particularly for a YA one.

Other than the names/relations, the biggest thing I'm drawing from this is the reduction of "melodrama." Were I querying for an adult novel, I don't think I'd ever fall (at least I hope not) to over-hyping a plot point/twist...

I guess a bit of me is confused about this - back covers of several YA books I've looked at employ similar "melodrama." -

So, to simplify my rambling thought process, should a YA query resemble a query for any other genre/section in terms of tone, etc.?

The Bill and Ted comment cracked me up -- I hadn't even thought about that (Wild Stallionz! :)

Again, thanks for the feedback all.

Althea Preston said...

There are so many things going on with the historical 'fixes', if this is 45,000 words, I'd be surprised to see each fix take up more than three or four pages of a chapter at best.

I'm sorry, but it reminded me of Schoolhouse Rock, which is still awesome, but short for a reason.

theo

Stijn Hommes said...

I happen to like the idea of mob boss daughter likes DA's son even it is a device. You just need to be more specific and less melodramatic in the rest of the query.

nn Angel said...

I think the general concept of a "What If?" game led by Loki is rather interesting, but the characters pulled into it (the teens, that is) don't seem like the right choices, personally. You'd have to have a really good reason why Loki would pick a DA's son and a mobster's daughter.

Also, I've read Saving Juliet, which is about changing Romeo and Juliet's story, essentially, but I'm not sure how interested in historical events changing I'd be. At first I thought you meant "What if this happened to this popular girl?" kind of thing. But it's your story.

Adam Heine said...

There's a difference between back cover blurbs and queries. The back cover blurb on a YA book is targeting young adults, but your query is targeting full-grown adults who have to sell the book to other adults.

And there is way too much going on here. Focus on the main arc and throw the other stuff out (out of the query, not necessarily the novel). As far as I can tell, the mob boss has nothing to do with the story and only serves to confuse the query.

Moth said...

"Worst of all, Finn is hiding a terrible secret that could forever destroy their friendship. (He's Luke's father?)" Ha. *snort*

jolie said: "Just because the first two rhetorical questions were about people doesn't mean the third question has to be about a person as well. It's about the novel." My thinking is since things come in threes and I'm a fan of parallel structure the third one should be something about a person. It's jarring as is. Can you tell us something that would affect Dumas to make Cristo a romance? Or what is going on with Picaud whosit?

JS said...

All you need to do with the Monte Cristo stuff is "Or if the real-life 'Count of Monte Cristo' {had whatever happen to him}."

That's a simple fix. The other stuff is more complicated to fix.

The wackiness seems forced here. I don't know if it is in your book, but it seems kind of hectically cutesy in the query.

Jessa said...

I am late on the game here, but going through the archives like good little chum should, I just had to comment. I LOVE the 3rd revision, and would absolutely want to read this book. History was never my favorite thing, and I'm a paranormal/supernatural YA kind of girl - but this has me wanting to step out of my comfort zone. I am however, curious about the length. I imagine there are so many more words inside the author's head just waiting to get into this story.