Tuesday, October 27, 2009

#136-revised 4x-For the Win

Dear Query Shark:

I found you on AgentQuery.com. Your profile indicates that my 90,000-word novel might be your kind of book.

Ok, I'm not sure why you think leading with this is a good idea. It's not. Even if an agent wants to know how you found his/her name, and that you've researched what they want to see, it's not the most important thing. The most important thing is: What The Book Is About. Move this to the end.

Cell Tower:

And this is crazy. You've got the title at the end already. Start at the right place like you always have.


Consulting engineer Peter Bradovich, on autopilot as he drives to work in Cleveland, is jarred back to reality when he sees a cell phone tower sway, then crash to the ground. The tower, a hundred feet tall and four feet in diameter, is not the sort of thing to just topple over.



To his amazement, Peter finds no news coverage of what he believes is a very newsworthy event. His curious nature overcomes his better judgment, and he returns to the scene to investigate. There, he meets Gregory Zaremba, a typically scruffy college student who professes to be curious, too.


Maybe it's his old military background, maybe it's his slightly right wing distrust of liberal looking college students, but Peter finds himself feeling suspicious of Gregory. He calls his son, a U.S. Marshall, and he suddenly finds himself unwillingly drawn into working undercover for Homeland Security.



Peter discovers Gregory and his group of eco-terrorists believe that cell phones are radiation hazards, and their towers a blight on the landscape. They dream of driving cell phone companies out of business by destroying their towers.



Peter is torn between helping Homeland Security put an end to the destruction and walking away from the incident, between his sense of patriotism and his concern for his family's safety.



When Peter gets more deeply involved, he finds that Gregory's quirky, computer-nerd, girlfriend has made a connection to a west coast industrial espionage agent who is providing resources to them. Unbeknownst to them, the agent is actually a radical Muslim extremist who is using the disruptions caused by the eco-terrorists to mask his own group's preparations for the coming American jihad.



The eco-terrorists plan to destroy their fourth tower, one that will cause horrendous damage by destroying the 345,000-volt power transmission line along Lake Erie. Peter knows this is the line that caused the great northeast power blackout of 2003, the blackout that resulted in six billion dollars in losses and caused eleven deaths. He begs Homeland Security to step in and put a stop to the destruction, but they insist on letting the plan go forward.

(here's where you put the How I Found You stuff if you really want to include it)

I found you on AgentQuery.com. Your profile indicates that my 90,000-word novel might be your kind of book.


Thank you for considering Cell Tower for representation.



Sincerely,








And there you have it. Other than those two things you cobbled on at the top, you've got yourself a pretty good query here. In fact, you'd get me to read on.



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Dear Query Shark:

Peter Bradovich is astonished to see a cell phone tower sway, and then crash to the ground. The tower was over a hundred feet tall and about four feet in diameter, is not the sort of thing to just topple over.



To his amazement, Peter finds no news coverage of what he believes is a very newsworthy event. His curious nature overcomes his better judgment, and he returns to the scene to investigate. There, he meets Gregory Zaremba, and immediately becomes suspicious of him. Peter talks to his son, a U.S. Marshall, and finds himself unwillingly drawn into working undercover for Homeland Security.

You need a break between meeting Zaremba, and talking to the son:

There, he meets Gregory Zaremba, and immediately becomes suspicious of him.

Peter talks to his son, a U.S. Marshall, and finds himself unwillingly drawn into working undercover for Homeland Security.

Peter discovers that Gregory and his group of eco-terrorists believe cell phones to be are radiation hazards, and consider the towers a blight on the landscape. They dream of driving cell phone companies out of business by destroying their towers. Peter is torn between helping Homeland Security put an end to the destruction and walking away from the incident, between his sense of patriotism and his concern for his family's safety.

And again, you need a break:

They dream of driving cell phone companies out of business by destroying their towers.

Peter is torn between helping Homeland Security put an end to the destruction and walking away from the incident, between his sense of patriotism and his concern for his family's safety.

As When Peter gets more deeply involved, he finds that Gregory's group has a connection to a west coast industrial espionage agent who is providing resources to them.

And I'd actually put Peter is torn between helping Homeland Security put an end to the destruction and walking away from the incident, between his sense of patriotism and his concern for his family's safety. here, not where it is above.



Unbeknownst to Gregory and company, the agent is actually a radical Muslim extremist who is using the disruptions caused by the eco-terrorists to mask his group's preparations for the coming American jihad.



The eco-terrorists plan to destroy their fourth tower, one that will cause horrendous damage by destroying the 345,000-volt power transmission line along Lake Erie. This is the line that caused the great northeast power blackout of 2003, the blackout that resulted in six billion dollars in losses and caused eleven deaths.

Here's an interesting dilemma. You're stepping outside the story eco-terrorists plan to destroy, to give the readers important info "this is the line"

How do you do that without breaking the narrative?

You give Peter the knowledge: Peter knows this is the line that


At the last minute, Homeland Security, aided by Peter and his son, steps in to stop the destruction and apprehend the perpetrators.

A query letter is NOT the place to reveal the ending of the book. You want to entice me to read it, not tell the whole story.

Thank you for considering Cell Tower, my 90,000 word novel for representation.



Sincerely,

This is startlingly better than the previous versions. You're about one revision away from me wanting to read pages. I repeat my caution to other writers here: you MUST apply what you're learning here to the novel itself. It won't do you any good to have a polished query letter if the book doesn't measure up.


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Dear Query Shark,

Peter Bradovich is on automatic pilot as he drives to work in Cleveland. He is jarred back to reality when he sees a cell phone tower sway, and crash to the ground. The tower, typical of those in this rural area, was over a hundred feet tall and about four feet in diameter, not the sort of thing to just topple over.

Peter Bradovich is astonished to see a cell phone tower crash to the ground. Towers are more than a hundred feet tall and four feet in diameter-not the sort of thing to just topple over.

Can you see the difference? Focus on the action--leave everything else out. When I see this kind of static (not dynamic) writing in a query letter, I know I'm going to see it in the novel.

Peter, a consulting engineer, does a little Internet investigation at lunchtime. To his amazement, he finds no mention of the destroyed tower. His curiosity piqued, he does some research and discovers that towers of this sort typically cost over $150,000. He decides to investigate the cell tower site that evening.

Peter is amazed to find no news coverage of, what seem to him, a startling event.

Near the site, he meets Gregory Zaremba. Gregory, who looks like the stereotypical college student, professes to be curious, too, but Peter becomes suspicious of him. He calls his son Mike, a U.S. Marshall who works out of Denver, explains the strange circumstances, and asks him for advice. Mike urges him to be extremely cautious about getting involved, but promises to take a quick look at Gregory’s background.

You're not getting to the heart of the plot. You don't have to mention how the plot gets started, just what it IS.

Mike’s inquiries raise red flags at Homeland Security, and before he fully realizes why, Peter is pulled in to the investigation of the cell tower crash.



Peter discovers that Gregory believes cell phones to be radiation hazards, and considers the towers a blight on the landscape. Gregory intends to drive Vista Tel out of business by destroying their towers, but the cell phone company is ignoring his actions.




Peter becomes torn between helping put an end to the destruction and walking away from the incident, between his sense of patriotism and his concern for the safety of his family. His old military intelligence background kicks in, and he reluctantly gets even more involved as Gregory and his group of urban eco-terrorists destroy two more towers. The cell phone company continues to ignore them.



Despite Peter's protests, the group plans to destroy their fourth tower, one that will cause horrendous damage by destroying a 345,000-volt power transmission line. This is the line along Lake Erie that caused the great northeast power blackout of 2003. That blackout resulted in six billion dollars in losses and caused eleven deaths. The group is certain that Vista Tel will not be able to ignore them this time. Working with Homeland Security, Peter is compelled to continue his role, and help bring the destruction to an end.

Peter discovers the mysterious cell tower destruction is simply the first in a planned series of eco terrorist acts. He must do (insert some sort of phrase about choices and consequences for PETER) before such and so (the terrorist's actions) can bring destruction to the known world.

Do you see the difference? You're getting bogged down in details we don't need. Tell me the bones of the story: the crucial plot points and why it matters to the hero.

Thank you for considering Cell Tower, my 95,000 word novel for representation.



Sincerely,


Form rejection
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Dear Query Shark:


Consulting engineer, and sometimes sailor, Peter Bradovich, witnesses a cell phone tower fall over while driving to work early one morning. The tower, typical of those in this rural area, was over a hundred feet tall and about four feet in diameter; not the sort of thing to just fall over.

Consulting engineer and sometimes sailor have NOTHING to do with what follows. It's also not the most important description of this guy. You bury that in the middle of the third paragraph.

And "fall over" is one of the least exciting ways you can describe a 400 foot tower toppling, collapsing, teetering or just plain becoming one with gravity. I look for writers who use words creatively and cleverly.

Peter stops to investigate the cell tower site that evening, and by pure chance, he meets Gregory Zaremba. Gregory, who looks like the stereotypical college kid, professes to be curious, too, but Peter suspects his interest is deeper. Peter calls his son Mike, a U.S. Marshall who works out of Denver, for advice. Mike urges him to be very careful about getting involved, but promises to look into Gregory’s background.

Pure chance? No, not hardly. Gregory is there at that place on purpose. That's not pure chance at all.

And a commenter in the earlier version mentioned that a law enforcement guys can't just run around checking into to people cause their dad calls em up and says "this guy looks suspicious."

When Mike’s inquiries raise red flags at Homeland Security, he is forced to explain his interest in Gregory, and Peter is pulled in to the investigation. Homeland Security discovers that Peter once worked overseas in military intelligence, and convinces him to work undercover to try to determine whether Gregory is involved.



Peter befriends Gregory and discovers that he is the one who destroyed the tower. Gregory believes cell phones to be radiation hazards, and considers the towers a blight on the landscape. He is convinced that he can drive Vista Tel out of business by destroying their towers, but the cell phone company ignores his actions.

You're wasting a lot of time and words here with back story (always a red flag to my impatient, let's get this started eye). What you need to convey here is that

Peter Bradovich finds himself working undercover to catch eco-terrorists after he witnesses the destruction of a cell phone tower.

Then you tell us what choice or problem he faces, and what the consequences are for taking action or not taking action.

Peter is torn between helping put an end to the terrorism and not endangering himself and his family. He reluctantly gets even more involved as Gregory and his growing group of urban eco-terrorists destroy two more towers. The cell phone company continues to ignore them.



The group plans to destroy their fourth tower, one that will cause horrendous damage as it falls by destroying the 345,000-volt transmission line that borders Lake Erie. This is the line that caused the great northeast power blackout of 2003. That blackout resulted in six billion dollars in losses and caused eleven deaths. The group is certain that the cell phone company will not be able to ignore this act of destruction. Peter is to drive.



As Gregory and his group approach the tower, Homeland Security steps in to stop the destruction. Mike works with their antiterrorism unit to extricate his father without revealing his dual role. Gregory and most of his group are arrested, the wave of destruction is stopped, and Peter and his wife can sail away into the sunset

You don't need to cover the entire novel here. You only need to entice someone to read on.

Thank you for considering Cell Tower, my 95,000 word novel, for representation.

Because there's so much of the story revealed here it's VERY hard to suspend disbelief. A good novel draws the reader into the yarn and pretty soon you DO believe everything on the page. It's almost impossible to do that in a one page query, and the fortunate thing is you don't have to. You only need to make me think "oh, that sounds interesting; what happens next?"

Form rejection

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ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark:

Did you drive to work today? What if? As you pass a cell phone tower while driving down the freeway at seventy miles per hour, it falls over! No explosions, no workers, nothing remarkable: it just -- falls -- over…


This is a classic error in queries. Don't start with a question. If you addressed this to any of the many hundreds of agents with a NYC address, chances are they did NOT drive to work today. And chances are they did NOT pass a cell phone tower (cell phone transmitters are on the tops of buildings here.) You're better off leaving this out and starting with the paragraph that comes next.


When consulting engineer and sometimes sailor Peter Bradovich, witnesses the destruction of a cell phone tower while driving to work in Cleveland, he is led by his natural curiosity into working undercover with Homeland Security to expose the perpetrators, an improbable alliance of urban eco-terrorists, Muslim fundamentalists, and industrial espionage mercenaries.


Improbable is right. Rather than list this hodge podge of villainy you might just want to leave it at "terrorists" so I don't look at this and think "yea right, granola and burkas and brand names, oh my."

You really need to start with something I believe can happen. Eco-terrorists knocking down cell phone towers-you bet. Anti-western terrorists knocking down cell phone towers-sure. Eco-terrorists and anti-western terrorists joining TOGETHER to knock down cell phone towers? No. First, they don't need each other. Second, they don't have any common political goals. Third, just exactly how do they find each other? Ads on craiglists under "terrorist henchman needed"?

Simplify.

And what does "sometime sailor" have to do with anything that follows? Nothing.

Peter stops to investigate the cell tower site on his way home, and by pure chance he meets Gregory Zaremba. Gregory, who looks like the stereotypical college kid, professes to be curious, too, but Peter suspects his interest is deeper. Peter calls his son Mike, a U.S. Marshall who works out of Denver, for advice. Mike urges him to be very careful about getting involved, but promises to look into Gregory’s background. When Mike’s inquiries raise red flags at Homeland Security, he is forced to explain his interest in Gregory, and Peter is pulled in to the investigation. Peter befriends Gregory and discovers that he is the one who destroyed the tower! Gregory considers cell phone towers to be an ugly blight on the landscape, and has destroyed the tower in an attempt to force the company to stop erecting them.

ugly blight is redundant.
You're using too much of your query letter here to say the one thing you need: Gregory is knocking down cell phone towers because he wants the company to quit erecting them.


Peter meets Rachel Goldmann, Gregory’s girlfriend and fellow eco-terrorist, and joins their group as its third member. As they continue to destroy cell towers, Peter discovers that they are being supported by a mysterious character from California who professes to be working for a competing cell phone company, but is in fact an Arab fundamentalist. He in turn is being supported by another even more mysterious character from Alexandria, Virginia.

And that's one mysterious character too many.

You can leave this entire paragraph out.

The group plans to destroy their fourth tower, one that will cause horrendous damage as it falls by destroying the 345,000-volt transmission line that borders Lake Erie. This is the line that caused the great northeast power blackout of 2003! All of the key players travel to Cleveland to witness the results of this epic act of destruction. Finally, Homeland Security steps in at the last minute, stops the destruction, and arrests the perpetrators - at least most of them.

This is a bumpy awkward paragraph.

The problem with the plot here is that there is no long term problem. It's not all that hard to build a cell phone tower. If they get knocked down, the company puts another one up. It's inconvenient sure, but it's not life threatening. A good thriller needs higher stakes.

And even if the terrorists knock out all the power on the Eastern seaboard, so what? It's not like the guys at ConEd are going to just sit around whistling Home on the Range. They're going to go FIX the power lines. Heck, I'd be in favor of losing power for a couple days. I could get caught up on my reading. And scotch doesn't need to be refrigerated.

Thank you for considering Cell Tower, my 95,000-word novel for representation. A detailed synopsis and the complete manuscript are available on request.



Sincerely,


(redacted contact info)



This is a mess of characters and motivations. The writing is bumpy and awkward. The plot is too inconsequential to be a thriller. This is a form rejection.

23 comments:

Adam Heine said...

This gave me pause too: "All of the key players travel to Cleveland to witness the results of this epic act of destruction. Finally, Homeland Security steps in at the last minute, stops the destruction, and arrests the perpetrators - at least most of them."

In the first sentence, all the major characters travel to the climax so they can witness it. Then someone else comes in and saves the day.

At worst, this is deus ex machina. At best, it's a flat ending in which the major characters do nothing important.

I'm guessing this is a problem with the way the query is written rather than the story. Either way, it should be fixed, I think.

Lehcarjt said...

There were so many characters and character names floating around that I coudln't remember who was who and why they were important or how they worked into the plot. Peter, Mike, and Gregory are all names that sound very much indistinguishable - white middle class vanillaish. Rachel, the fundamentalist and all the secret people add more confusion rather than clarity. Focus on Peter on his goal, motivation, and obstacles. Dump the rest from the query to keep from confusing us.

I actually liked the idea of someone blowing up celltowers (I have no idea what a cell tower looks like though - and I don't live in NYC. We have strict regulations on keeping them hidden.), but I thought it would be a bunch of teenagers as this seems more like a prank that serious terrorism.

However, the number one reason I would not be interested in reading further is the use of exclamation points. I 'hear' them as a perky Texas co-ed using a cheerleader bullhorn.

jjdebenedictis said...

Your enthusiasm for your story really shines through in this query!

My advice would be to focus on your story's inciting incident, rather than outlining the entire story. The inciting incident is what convinces readers to plough through 300 pages to find out what happens, so describing it is the most economical way to hook an agent's attention also.

I was at a conference recently where several presenters mentioned that passion really resonates with readers; if your passion shows in your novel as well as in your query, that's a definite strength.

darlas-mom said...

I have to say, not only is wanton destruction of cellphone towers a weird and comparably harmless variety of terrorism, but doing so because cellphone towers are "an ugly blight on the landscape" is the LAMEST motivation I've ever heard of. Is this guy a mentally unstable art snob? I mean, seriously. This doesn't sound like a motivation any believably human character would have.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Like Lehcarjt, I'd think of kids pulling pranks or faulty construction if I saw a cell tower "just fall over" on my way to work. Eco-terrorists and fundamentalists would be the last thing on my mind if there were no explosions or anything flashy to witness. And like darlas-mom, I'd expect eco-terrorists to go after something bigger and uglier if they didn't like blights on the landscape. Unfortunately, it all sounds very contrived, and I have to agree that the punctuation doesn't help. And the fact that I don't understand the motivations for any of the characters makes them seem all a bit more juvenile than they're supposed to be, like they're just causing trouble for the sake of it.

Robin said...

Hmmm. Perhaps "Arab Fundamentalist" isn't the right term "Jihadist" maybe. Could The seemingly low terror cell phone tower destructions, have a purpose the eco-couple don't know about i.e. the communication interuption happens at exactly the same time as a 9/11 or massive bombing occurs.
The same couple that planned to be terrorist can end up helping Homeland Security so it isn't so deus ex machina.
Good Luck! Very brave to send query. Maybe I'll be brave enough some day.

heath said...

What's shaking down for me is how tightly an agent filters what they read. This is a revelation.

Lydia Sharp said...

I'm sorry but I can't get past the first paragraph to even analyze the rest of it. I live in the Cleveland area. I know the roads, the highways (don't call them freeways here, sorry), and I know that if a cell phone tower fell over by I-71 during freaking rush hour, a lot more people than a guy named Peter would notice it and/or care. It would be broadcast on the five o'clock news, six o'clock news, and ten o'clock news (all umpteen channels of them, just for the Cleveland area...you do the math).

Also, if the novel is written in the same style/voice of this query, I don't think I could get through the first chapter.

Cam Snow said...

OH NO! They blew up cell phone towers - egad! I'm terrified of those terrorists!

This is why I don't try to write action novels, much less ones about terrorists and cell phone towers.

jessjordan said...

I stopped reading after the first paragraph. It appears as if "What if?" should not be its own sentence, but, rather, should be combined with the next sentence. The exclamation is over the top, and I'm not certain why I should care about a tower falling over when, as you state, it was "nothing remarkable." I definitely suggest starting with paragraph 2, where you actually get into the meat of the story.

Best of luck!

Aimless Writer said...

I think there are too many details in the query. Entice me, don't drown me with details. That will make my eyes cross.
Conflict, motivation and ultimate goal. One sentence on each and then build your query from there.

doctorquery said...

Doctor Query bows to the extraordinary analytical powers of Query Shark.

Kudos to the writers who are fearless enough to submit their query letters for review in public!

That is all.

Doctor Query

Josin L. McQuein said...

All that deep sea snacking must have given The Shark supernatural fortitude. (wow, say that 5 times fast...) I could barely skim through this.

So far as the rhetorical question, my first thought was "It's that giant worm thing from Tremors!" Probably not the visual you were going for.

And "Arab" isn't a belief system, it's an ethnicity, so there's no such thing as a "fundamental Arab". Details like that are something you should hash out before you try and put them in a story (much less a query) - you probably use it wrong in the book, too, which isn't a good thing.

tallycola said...

Others have pointed this out already, but the thing that gave me the most pause was "Arab fundamentalist". "Arab" is an ethnicity, not a faith. It's like saying a "Hispanic fundamentalist". I would hope that characters working for Homeland Security would know the difference. (Perhaps I am being naive.)

This is my first time posting a comment, as it's the first new point since I discovered this blog. I love it and all the bits of wisdom I find here! Thanks QS!

Irene Troy said...

If this query represents the plot of your novel, than you need to return to the drawing board. Every other novel being proposed today seems to include references to so-called Arab Fundamentalists, Muslim Fundamentalist, eco-terrorists, etc. First, the terms are not accurate – it would help if you took a moment to understand the difference between terrorism and the practice of Religion [Arab is an ethnicity, Muslim is a religion and fundamentalist is an adherent to the fundamentals of a religion or belief system.] A fundamentalist is not a terrorist – in any religion or ethnicity. However, the real turn off here is not just that of poor use of language. Instead, the entire theme is overdone and over-extended. Since September 11th it seems that every would-be writer is including some mention of terrorism in their work. If you want to write a thriller, start with a fresh premise, not one that is overworked to death (no pun intended).

jail busy said...

terrorists? muslim fundamentalists? eco terrorists? that only underscores the level of brainwashing we have been undermined by. Who are the real ecoterrorists and assassins? Ripping down a cell tower is an act of self defense. The health problems caused by towers and phones has already been confirmed by thousands of studies world wide. more info: http://www.wirelesswatchblog.com

Mori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richmond Writer said...

Scotch doesn't need refrigeration :)

Marian said...

The word "improbable" is a red flag for me. It makes me think that the writer also realizes that the events in the book are highly unlikely.

Astrology said...

Wish I had better news for you, but I have to agree with all the above: opening with a rhetorical question, too many details, too many characters, lack of conflict, no reason to really care about any particular character, implausible "plot," and a flat, deus ex machina ending.

Dan Krokos said...

At least it's set in Cleveland! More Cleveland books, say I.

laughingpaws said...

Ow, you made me snort coffee up my nose. "How did they find one another? On Craigslist...." LOL

Most of the bombs going off now-at least on TV- are trigged remotely by cell phones. It seems that blowing up the towers would be a self defeating action.

Plus, it's hard to top Stephen King's book "Cell" in protest of cell phones. Not that it can't be done but it's a pretty high benchmark.

Think bigger-terrorists are called terrorists because they perform random terrifying acts of murder, destruction and mayhem. Losing cell service is an inconvenience. What's Terrifying to you? I mean bone chilling, can't breathe, pleases, please make it go away, I'll do anything if you stop, terrifying to you? Write about That. If You're terrified, then we'll be terrified reading it and cheering for the good guys from the very first page.

That said, it's a good start and hey, you finished the novel and put yourself out there and that's HUGE!

Congratulations!

Cara said...

Just want to point out that an "Arab fundamentalist" and a "Muslim fundamentalist" would not be the same thing.

Confusion about this is probably why it was so easy for people to accept an invasion of Iraq to stop people based in Afghanistan.