Sunday, February 20, 2011

#195-Revised 3x

Seventeen-year-old hard rock drummer and cupcake addict Zach Pembrook writes a song that inadvertently draws the attention of the world and it brings him unforeseen troubles.

He gets tangled up in a media circus after a world-renowned physicist publicly states that Zach’s song completes the Theory of Everything. Then he almost gets shot by a stranger outraged by fan claims that Zach is the greatest hacker of all time for figuring out the original algorithm to human emotions and spirituality.

But having both the scientist and philosopher camps out to get him is just the start of Zach’s misadventures. 

If you leave out all this stuff, you solve almost all the problems of the first two versions.

When the recording contract he so wanted turns out be a dud, Zach makes the mistake of getting into business with his ex-nemesis Thomas to take advantage of his newfound celebrity status. Soon, Zach’s reputation is virtually annihilated. Without much else to hold on to he insists on merchandising his song’s infamous happiness formula even after receiving anonymous threats against his doing so. He never imagined his sister would get kidnapped as a result.  

But here again, we've got clunky language with long sentences that have no rhythm at all. There's no flow here and this is something that I can't fix because it's the writing, not the structure.

Now desperate, he can’t just sit around and wait for others to get his sister back. With the help of his trusty sidekick Cuproo – a Roomba vacuum in an oversized cupcake costume that he takes everywhere on account of his allergies – he devises an infallible plan that draws on all his expertise as Rolling Stone Magazine guru to repair his fractured family.

Ok, this just moves this off the ledge and right into freefall: a roomba vacuum in a cupcake costume? I don't even know what to say to that.

THE CUPCAKE PLAN, a 60,000-word contemporary YA novel is available upon request.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration, 

You've really improved things by ditching that dreadful E = mc² thing, but what this revision does is put the clunky writing into bold relief.  That's both a good and a bad thing: it shows me that even if we get the query into structurally sound shape, you're not ready to send it out because the writing doesn't hold up.

This is a critical juncture for you as a writer.  You're not ready.  You need to spend some time, and by time I don't mean days, I mean months, if not years, honing your craft. You need to get rid of the clunk and the ONLY way to do that is to develop your ear.  It's clear in three revisions now that you have NOT done that.  You shouldn't feel like that's a failure; it's HARD to do that, and it takes time.

I suggest a long term plan of action: write every single day. Whether it's 100 words or 1000 words, write something new every single day. And read. READ. Read as a writer. Look for sentences that are beautifully constructed. Look for sentences that make you think "wow"  And if you don't see those sentences know one of two things: you're reading the wrong books or you haven't yet developed your eye.

A writing group can often be of help at this stage of your career because looking at OTHER writers' efforts and helping them see flaws will also improve your eye.

Keep a writing journal and look at sentences and analyze why something works and why it doesn't.  One of the things that helped me immensely is keeping this blog.  If you have to say why something doesn't work, and say it succinctly you learn a lot about writing. 

I know for an iron clad fact this isn't what you wanted to hear today.  I do hope however that you'll wait before 1. burning me in effigy 2. dismissing this as twaddle 3. leaping out the window.

this is the stage where a lot of people give up and do something like self-publish.  This is NOT the time to do that. You haven't gotten to the major leagues yet. Work on your writing. Get better. THEN query.


Zach Pembrook, a Malibu High hard rock drummer with an addiction to cupcakes is hailed as the greatest hacker of all time after writing a song that gives an unexpected use to E=MC² by linking it to happiness. There is just one catch: Zach never meant it as anything more than an acronym. But at a time when every invention that could ever possibly be invented is already old news the pull of the media and the public thirst for a new mystery are too massive to resist.

I'd stop reading right here because you still haven't overcome the problem of E=MC².  What you say here just doesn't make sense.

What did Zach hack?  Hack means something pretty specific: breaking in to a computer system, or specific computer by nefarious codebreaking.

And by pairing it with "every invention that could ever possibly be invented"--a statement attributed to the head of the patent office, and used to illustrate that we don't know what we don't know doesn't illuminate the metaphor---it befuddles me. As does your last sentence.

It's like saying "Zach is a lion, a witch and a wardrobe and Narnia is calling." Whaaa?

Normally I'd jump up and down about being specific in a query.  I even have a screen saver that says "precision is beauty" but in your case, you might want to just ease back from the specifics.

Zach writes a song that inadvertently draws the attention of the world and it brings him unforeseen troubles.

Happiness has been hacked.  I actually like this sentence but it doesn't make any sense either.

Zach’s adventures in hacker stardom begin on a high note and it seems rockers can indeed have more fun, even in the boring worlds of business and science. But then Zach’s ex-nemesis turned newfound best bud Thomas frames him with fraud at an organic t-shirt company they start together and his sister gets kidnapped.

ex-nemesis turned best bud? what??

who's sister? and what??

With a black hole of deceit and loss staring straight at him, Zach decides to take matters into his own hands. With the help of Aetos, a Greek child gangster that shares his love of cupcakes he recovers his sister. Then he gets another shot at the t-shirt gig. Seizing the chance to rescue his reputation, he vindicates all rockers at heart with a recipe for greatness any Rolling Stone magazine fan should know.  

At this point I'm so befuddled I don't know whether to scratch my watch or wind my ass.

THE CUPCAKE PLAN, a contemporary YA novel complete at 60,000 words, is a new, masculine take on Legally Blonde. While this novel stands alone, I have ideas for turning it into a trilogy entitled BE A CUPCAKE, SAVE THE WORLD.

This doesn't sound anything like Legally Blonde.  Not even close.

A query has to make sense. This doesn't.  Last go-round I advised reading the archives again. This time I think you might look for queries that get plot on the page and follow what they did.


Seventeen-year-old Zach is being hailed as the greatest code cracker and pattern recognizer of all time. But Zach is no scientist or computer guru. He’s a lyricist-slash-drummer that who happened to use E=MC² as an acronym to happiness in a hip hop song that went viral on YouTube. Now, the media have over-hyped his acronym as the ultimate answer to the ultimate question, the missing link to the theory of everything, and he can’t get a break.

Well, ok, I guess. This sounds like a comic book but I'll keep going. (The writing is pretty clunky though. Long ass sentences will do that to a paragraph)

As Zach deals with the frenzy of scientific attention, all he really wants is to rock on and get a recording contract. But he’s having a hard time convincing anyone to stop analyzing that one song and concentrate on buying his band’s eco-conscious hard rock tunes.

Media over-hype and scientific attention are two VERY different things. As are hard rock and hip-hop. At this point, you've lost control of your query. I'm losing confidence.

With no recording contract in sight and set on making his sweet, musical dream a reality Zach embarks on a high voltage adventure that includes lightning bolts, scandal, a Roomba vacuum in an oversized cupcake costume, a Greek child gangster, and a kickass redemption plan.

That list reminds me of questions on those tests: what doesn't belong in this group.
It's also a list without context.

THE CUPCAKE PLAN, a YA contemporary novel complete at 60,000 words is “Legally Blonde” meets “The Da Vinci Code”.

Honest to chum I don't know what to say to this.  Comp titles shouldn't make me spew coffee. These do. Why? Cause they're NOTHING alike. One is a light frothy rom-com. The other is ...well...something else. 

Comp titles are supposed to illuminate what the book is about. I can't imagine this pairing.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

Power to the sweet,

This is a LOT better than the mess we started with but you've got some serious problems here. Fiction has to feel real.  You've got a huge hurdle with the E = mc² thing but you can get over it if all the other details are right.  But they're not. 

And you've lost one of the main characters, and any kind of reason this book would be called THE CUPCAKE PLAN.

Somewhere in the archives is a template for getting plot into a query letter. Find it. Use it. Revise. Resend.

Dear Query Shark:

E = MC², E = mc², the formula of light, is also the formula to happiness. This is what Sarah accidentally discovers under the pressure of heading a growing organic cupcake business.

well, no, it's not the formula of light.  C in the equation is the speed of light. E = MC², E = mc², demonstrates that energy always exhibits mass in whatever form the energy takes. A simple Google search turns that up.

The problem here is that if you want to use this as a metaphor, you have to start with something that isn't just plain wrong.  Metaphors are "wrong" but illuminating.  Calling an agent a shark for example, does not mean you'd wax enthusiastic about swimming as a necessary skill for reading queries.

You'd do better to leave out "the formula of light" and just say E = MC², E = mc², is also the formula of happiness.  The reason you'd do that instead is that this kind of basic fact error (like getting dates wrong in history) makes me crazy, and worse makes me stop reading.

But holding an answer in your hands is nothing if you don't take action.

So she decides to try out the formula by applying it to organize her life and the business. As she starts to see this in action, she wonders what other things around her had she not noticed before that might also be trying to say something to humankind?

Now you've lost me. These is a generalization. It's also going in the wrong direction.  The line above says "is nothing if you don't take action."  The logical sequence then is to tell us what action she takes, not veer off into what she sees in action, or wondering about other things.

Sentences in queries should flow in a logical order.

Light is everywhere, all around us day and night. How could we have missed this one humongous clue? This is the manual to life, the simple answer to happiness that we have been wanting forever. And it has been with us all along. All we have to do is apply its formula:

E = MC², E = mc²

Who the hell is "we"  There is no "we" in querying, much like there is no crying in baseball.  By this I mean, you're slipping disastrously out of third person and into first person here.  This kind of slip is a huge red flag in a query.

Remember, while a query has to tell me about the book, it also shows me how well you write.

And worse, you're now out of the realm of specific action entirely, and into some absurd conclusion that sounds like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  If I hadn't stopped reading before, here is where I really click my ruby slippers and head home.

Her sci-fi daydreams take on a whole, new meaning like this, leading her to find her own dream, that cause for living that she has been longing for. Meanwhile, her best friend and business partner, Tessa, lays comatose in a hospital bed. If only she too could begin to see, really see things under this light.

"like this" requires an example to be logical. No one "lays" in a hospital bed unless they are a poem. It's "lies."

In its current form, Be a Cupcake. Save the World. is a 35,000-word, easy-to-follow guide to happiness that will electrify and empower young adults.

what? WHAT?  In its current form? Does it shapeshift?  No NO NO!  You query only for FINISHED novels. Never ever use that phrase in a query letter.  

And this is a novel right?  Cause "35,000 word easy-to-follow guide to happiness" and "electrify and empower" are NOT the description of a novel. You'd find that in the self-help section.  Making your novel sound like a self-help book is a very very bad thing.

Thank you for your time and consideration of Be a Cupcake. Save the World. for your list!

The only thing I like about this query is the title, and I like that a lot. However, you're punctuating it incorrectly. It's BE A CUPCAKE, SAVE THE WORLD and when you use it in a sentence as I did here, you'll notice there's no period.

This has failed to rise in the convection oven of the slush pile.  In fact, you need a new recipe.  

The only thing I know about Sarah after reading this query is that she runs a cupcake business.  And I don't know anything about what happens in the book.  That's absolutely fatal in a query.

Start over.  Use the recipe you'll find listed in the QueryShark archives more than once. That's the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Make it your own by adding lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins to taste.  


Theresa Milstein said...

This is so general that it hardly tells me anything. I have to care about the protagonist and know more about what she's up against.

I like the title too (without the period). I look forward to seeing the revised query so I can get a sense of what this is about.

A3Writer said...

Where's the conflict in this? I have no sense of what actions Sarah will take and why. There's nothing at stake, though presumably it has something to do with Tessa, but I have no idea what.

I'm also left hanging about the action. It needs to be specific because I really don't know how one applies an equation. I can't go walking down the street, stop, and suddenly apply an equation. It just doesn't make sense, so I need to know how this works.

Incidentally E=MC^2 is the formula for energy, not light, wherein energy (E) is created by accelerating a mass (M) to the speed of light (C) squared, which is the point where physicists' heads start to explode as the relativistic effects of gaining mass and time dilation while approaching the speed of light quickly move this idea into the realm of the impossible, yet nature still seems to pull it off with no problem. I only mention this because of the "sci-fi daydreams" which makes me think that you might be trying to hook that audience, somehow. The sci-fi crowd generally take a very dim view of people who can't get basic scientific information right, and will tell you in excruciating detail (I trimmed mine to just sleep-inducing detail).

I agree with the shark to ditch this batch, and start the recipe over again. In addition to needing to know if this really is a novel or self-help. Which market is this intended for? Mentioning young adult at the end makes it look like you want to target that audience, but is that what this is?

arhooley said...

And if you want to really get technical, it's E=mc². The casing is important.

Author, you are offering as an article of faith that this formula, which accounts for virtually every particle in existence except photons and other mass-less bodies, can be used in some new way to improve one's daily life. This simply looks like teh crazy. Either provide a hard example, or add some magical twist to the formula -- something Sarah finds in an ancient cookbook or something. Oddly enough, throwing in a little magic will make this more acceptable and believable and might enliven your plot -- whatever it is. There's some formula for that, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe E+nutmeg=mc².

Josin L. McQuein said...

Not only is the author's interpretation of the equation wrong, she has this listed as Young Adult. It doesn't "sound" young adult in the least; it sounds like a "eat, pray, love" sort of new age-ish chick-lit thing-a-ma-jobbie.

And how is someone in the YA range "heading a growing organic cupcake business"? If it's growing, then it has to have been in operation for a while, but legally teens can't handle foodstuffs for sale before they're a certain age (depends on the state, but here, it's 16 if you're cooking the food), so either this girl is out of the YA age range, or her business is illegal.

Sounds to me like someone wrote a women's book, realized that it was too short for that market and superficially dropped the MC's age.

My ver word: trampons... yeah, I'm not making that joke... :-P

madelinewrites said...

Dear #195,

To jump off of the Shark's comments--even more than sounding like a self-help novel, the fact that this book designed to "electrify and empower" sends up a huge red flag for me because it sounds like a story with an agenda. Speaking as an avid reader of YA fiction (and as a young adult myself), a novel about "teaching happiness" will not fly with teens. Can stories have morals and themes and life-lessons embedded in them? Yes, of course--but they should grow naturally out of the plotline and characters rather than bending (or worse, creating) the plotline and characters to serve the morals. I'm all for happiness and light in the world, but in a novel, I don't want it at the expense of the story. To be honest, if the query has difficulty telling us about the plot and characters but can wax poetical about the themes, I'd be concerned about seeing that in the writing too.

I guess my (amateur) opinion is this: if this book is really more about helping teens find happiness via a parable, then it probably belongs in the self-help section. If it's about Sarah, her cupcake business, and any other concrete things that might not have made it into the query, then continue querying as a novel, but take a good, hard look at your book. Excise any preachy language and focus in on the characters (i.e. who they are, what they do, what they want, etc.). Also, since novels are usually AT LEAST 40-45k words, you'll probably need to expand things as you go.

At any rate, best of luck with your revisions! You can do it! :-)

Irene Troy said...

Ah – is this fiction or self-help? Is the author telling a story or presenting her/his ideas of how civilization can be saved? Is this self-help in the guise of a novel or a novel is guise of a self-help book? “…light is everywhere…how could we have missed this humungous clue?” What clue? That E=MC2 provides some hidden clue by which humanity might be saved?

The Shark makes an important point: don’t use formulas, quotations or references that you do not fully understand and never use them as a start to a story.
Beyond the horrifically confusing references to scientific theory, I see no story, no characters and no plot, just a confusing collection of oddly phrased paragraphs ultimately leading us nowhere. I suspect the author was trying to follow the guideline of getting straight to the point, the core of the story, in a query. While this is an important part of writing a compelling query, the first rule of any query is to draw the reader into the story immediately and keep her attention fully engaged until the end. You want a potential agent to finish your query dying to know what happens next. In this query, we are left wondering what or where the story may be.

alaskaravenclaw said...

I agree with everyone else that this is very vague. And I also like the title.

From what little I can make out, I have two questions.

The first is, if light is the formula for happiness, then are blind people doomed to be miserable?

The second is, will you please please tell me that this light-is-the-answer stuff is not going to magically bring Tessa out of her coma?

(If it is, then I suppose it will probably cure the blind too, so I don't need to be worrying about them.)

S said...

I'm minoring in theoretical physics and full of nerdy ire, but I'll do my best to rein it in a bit.

E=mc^2 has very little to do with light, and besides is only true for objects that are at rest in their frame of reference. This, I feel, might mess with your metaphor somewhat.

I'm also leery of that whole 'formula for happiness' thing, but that's probably a result of my cynical dislike of aspirational Eat Pray Love bullshit. Maybe if you go for the energy is mass times a constant aspect, ie. eat more cupcakes, gain mass, get more energy.

sunscald said...

Punctuation question: both halves of that title (which I also like) are imperatives, no? Be a Cupcake. Save the World. So why is this not "Be a Cupcake; Save the World?" Or, better put, why is this not a comma splice? I see this kind of titling all the time, and I've wondered what's the rule that lets you break the rule on this. If anyone knows the answer, I'd be super grateful!

maybeandthewolf said...

E=mc² has the variables:

E: the amount of energy you wish to calculate, in joules
m: the relevant amount of rest mass, in kilogrammes
c: the speed of light IN A VACUUM, in metres per second (299,792,458 m/s)

Energy and mass are linked such that the more kinetic energy had by an object, the more massive it becomes, on an exponential.

Thus, the only objects that can achieve c are non-massive particles.

Any subatomic particle with mass zero (and there are quite a few) will travel at speed c in a vacuum.

To accelerate an object to c, unless it is nonmassive, will require infinite amounts of energy.

How is this relevant to the query? LIGHT ITSELF DOES NOT TRAVEL AT c IN AIR.

Unless your protagonist is finding herself in the depths of space, this metaphor is utter rubbish.

Anyone who knows basic A-Level physics will run away from this book as fast as their legs can carry them.

Also, 35,000 words? That's a bit short for a YA audience, isn't it? Especially for a novel-or-self-help-I-don't-even-know-what-this-is.

The Author said...

Ok, sorry, can't let the science pass. E=mc^2 is not "the formula of light" or "mass turning into energy when it travels at the speed of light squared" (though I would love to know where you learned that, A3Writer, as I've encountered it in something presented as serious science writing before and have been trying to track the origin of that misconception down). E=mc^2 represents the fact that when mass is destroyed, it lets off energy equal to that mass times the speed of light squared. It's the energy one gets out of nuclear reactions, powers the sun, that sort of thing.

Irene Troy said...

To the author: I rarely respond to other critiques, at least not this quickly. However, since I’m home sick with a nasty fly, I came back and read the updated comments. Do you see what is already happening with this query? Readers aren’t debating the quality of the story, they are discussing the definition and/or usage of the equation E=MC2. Why is this bad news? Unless your work is about the subtle and not so subtle applications of energy theory, readers are discussing something that has nothing to do with your story! Dump the whole E=MC2 approach and show us the real story.

Wild Orchids for Trotsky said...

I'm a physicist, and I would just like to say that the commenter called "The Author" is right. E = mc^2 expresses the energy equivalent to a certain amount of mass, in the rest frame of that object. It's true that early in the 20th century people had the interpretation that things gained effective mass when traveling fast, but this is no longer considered a very illuminating (no pun intended) interpretation. Basically E=mc^2 expresses the fact that matter is just a particular form of energy (kinetic energy is another form, gravitational potential energy is yet another, and so on.)

lora96 said...

You have a very charming title. Now please focus and grow a plot.

It is obvious from your query how much you love and believe in your story. Find a way to tell us what it's about so we can decide if it's our version of lovable, too.

Be a cupcake. Redo the query. I can't help--your title is so damn catchy.

Terry Towery said...

Yeah, okay. I, um, just came here to read a query. Instead, I seem to have stumbled back into my college physics class (which I hated and damn near flunked).

So, I'll just, you know, back on out of here and wait for the next query. *backs away quietly*

christine tripp said...

Meanwhile, her best friend and business partner, Tessa, lays comatose in a hospital bed. If only she too could begin to see, really see things under this light.

This bothered me above everything else. As a friend, I would only care that she wake up, no light seeing required!

I really didn't get any of this query, speaking as a layman.

Marina J. Lostetter said...

I think it's clear from the query that the manuscript itself is based on a fallacy. If you're going to base an entire novel on a well known equation, make sure you know what the equation actually represents. I bet the author can't even tell us what "E" stands for.

arhooley said...

sunscald, William Strunk for one advises going with convention or breaking rules for short, pithy utterances such as "I came, I saw, I conquered." Examples of the "Be a Cupcake, Save the World" formulation abound. All the examples I can think of are politically radical so I don't want to quote 'em, but believe me, they do exist.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Sunscald, I would agree with you that it ought, grammatically, to be a semicolon instead of a comma:

Be a cupcake; save the world

because it is two separate imperative sentences.

But I can't think of ever having seen a semicolon in a book title. Colons, now, you see colons all the time:

Be A Cupcake: A History of Human-Pastry Transmogrification from the Norman Conquest to the Present

As a book cover I can see it just fine:


and then in slightly smaller, slightly less orange font underneath


Tara Tyler said...

How often do you get these writers who so blatantly neglect to research? Did she think she told you about the book? Nevermind the horrific assumption no one would check her egregious scientific error. (Did I go a little overboard?)

PS - If I put a CUPCAKE in my title, do my chances go up? =)

NiaRaie said...

I was SO confused reading this. I could not begin to understand what the novel/self help book (???) was about.

myimaginaryblog said...

I saw this once in a short story writing class--someone's whole story was based around a very simple math equation which the writer had solved incorrectly. Eek!

I have a lot of friends who love the show "Fringe," but after three episodes I couldn't take the totally absurd "science" anymore. I can suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy an exaggeration of an edgy theory or speculation, but the episodes I watched took it beyond exaggeration to just plain, well, silliness. And I'm not even close to being a scientist, but apparently being married to one will still do that to you.

Deb said...

I don't understand the query, but the punctuation in the title is not incorrect. There is a subject, verb, and noun in each sentence. The title reads better with a comma, but technically, that is a comma splice. Be a Cupcake, and Save the World would be grammatically correct, but yawn-inducing.

Stephanie Barr said...

With a degree in Engineering Physics (with specific interest in quantum and nuclear physics and lasers), I would never have made it past the first sentence.

As a hard core science fiction and fantasy reader, that's now how you want to impress me.

(Given what I know about my daughter, whose sixteen, I would have to say starting with any formula is probably not the way to gain YA interest. Just sayin')

Jo-Ann said...

The prob with this is that any YA story that revolves around relativity theory would immediately scare most teenaged readers away. Those who are attracted to this sort of thing would then be put off immediately upon finding out that the formula has been misused in the book- thereby leaving a potetial audience of zero.

However, I'd love to know how relativity theory transmorphs into the formula for happiness, I'd read the book for that alone.

By the way, Author - you've antagonised the physical scientists who read this blog (and who woulda thought there'd be so many) - proposing a formula for happiness will also irritate the behavioral scientists out there. (happiness is not a physical quantity, it's a perception, or interpretation, and so on).

bella said...

I don't feel qualified to comment on either matters of grammar or physics. But I have a feeling that they are getting a lot of attention here because we aren't getting a good idea of the story.

As an example,

Sarah’s family makes cupcakes. When the foodies move on to macarons, business flops faster than an over beaten souffle. Sarah wants to find a recipe for a super special cupcake but gets sidetracked by a different kind of recipe, E = mc2. If this Einstein bloke was right, Sarah should be able to create a cupcake that is loaded with fat and sugar energy, but won’t make a person gain weight. All she has to do is find a way to increase the speed of light. Pretty convenient that best friend Tessa’s Mom works at a physics lab.

The two girls get their hands on a tachyon generator but things don’t quite go to plan. Word spreads about the incredible cupcakes, but people can’t remember actually eating them. Speeding up light means slowing down time. Customers find themselves back outside the bakery before they’ve even gone inside. It gets worse when an inspector threatens to pull their organic certification, saying that anything that involves physics couldn’t possibly be natural.

Sarah decides to retire the generator, just as soon as she finishes cleaning it of cream cheese frosting. But when Tessa inexplicably falls into a hypoglycemic coma, Sarah has to help. If she can slow down time, maybe she can invert it. All she has to do is collect the unconscious Tessa from the hospital, reverse engineer the tachyon generator and take everything back to the way it was. Should be a piece of cake.

The physics is still in there, and still bad. But now Sarah has a goal, obstacles in achieving that goal, and she takes concrete actions.
Obviously, this isn't your story. I'd love to hear it, I like anything to do with cupcakes. It can still have the physics, it can still have the empowering message, but first things first, there has to be a story.

Me said...

35,000 words isn't barely even in the realms of novella, and a self-help YA novel? Really? I'm sure that there are YAs who need/require self-help but decide on which side of the coin you're going with: non-fic Self Help, or YA fiction with a 'meaning'.

Margaret Yang said...

Oh my godiva, I know what this is. My hubby has a shelf full of these books. It's like WHO MOVED MY CHEESE? or FISH! Where someone takes a simple parable and uses it to each a "big" lesson. The plot, such as it is, isn't very important, only as an extended metaphor for the lesson (which itself isn't very deep, but applied correctly can have a positive outcome).

Those parable/self-help books are usually about 35,000 words of very big font and pages with a lot of white space to fill 200 pages.

Querier needs to know what he/she has, and query it as such (i.e. not YA). These kinds of books have become bestsellers, so it can happen. Good luck, brave chum.

Taymalin said...

Bella: I would read that book. It sounds like a lot of fun.

Thomas said...

I'm going to throw in my support for the title as is, but only because one of my favorite books is Donald Harington's Some Other Place. The Right Place., which absolutely should not be repunctuated.

David said...

I finally understand a portion of what the comments on this blog are for: to discuss writerly points of interest in order to articulate ideas and further one's own writing.

What I don't understand is the other category of comments, those that lament how terrible the query is. It seems to me that except for the success stories, the queries are usually bad, or in need of serious redress. This is a given. I just don't get the need to pile on. J almost always says everything that needs to be said. Why add to it? And I usually suspect critics of being unable to do much better. It's not like the ability to be critical automatically gives one credibility.

But I finally get those who build on the blog's points to start conversations about writing. This way, more people are helped by the blog. Not just the original writer.

This is such an interesting blog / comment / forum because most of the comments read like this is a writing community...but I wonder why it is that some of the comments seem to miss this boat? Is it because the original sharky tone is so blunt? Or because this is just the internet?

Haven't figured this one out yet, but I enjoy the idea of people helping people REM style. Kudos to those comments that endeavor this way. And I applaud the authors of the queries for offering their fleshy bodies up for analysis.

Being the goat is never easy.

Becky Wallace said...

How come no one mentioned vanilla?

Nick Lewandowski said...

I second Margaret Yang's opinion, including that this probably does have some potential if it is marketed as what it "is," and not a novel.

Would be interested to hear from the author on this one...

John Jack said...

I try to find things in queries, pitches, narratives, whatever, that speak to me and have potential for speaking to other readers.

E=mc^2 speaks to me from an off-kilter slant. Emotion equals what matters that's worth caring about, squared, a formula for engaging readers emotionally.

Well, I feel pity and embarrassment for a writer of a query that reaches for meaningful connections like that and only scratches the sky. It's the way I feel when someone is needlessly humiliated by faulty self-conscious actions witnessed by laughing bystanders. It's not funny. It's cruel.

Now, a protagonist who's made an illogical connection between Einstein's famous energy-matter conversion equation and happiness strikes me as rich fodder for fiction. But in the story, not out on parade for critical consideration.

Such a protagonist would convey the same message of lightness of being and emotionally caring matters for finding happiness.

Instead of telling how Sarah as a happy-go-lucky dippy chick found happiness by making an intuitive leap from physics to self-enlightenment, show her struggle to find happiness, as messed up as it is, from taking a scientific theory out of context, please.

arhooley said...

How come no one mentioned vanilla?

Well, I did add nutmeg.

jesse said...

I see potential here. You're not there yet- but it looks promising. Good luck.

Meg said...

The query is definitely confusing. I'm hoping "Be a Cupcake" is literal. That would be in interesting story.

Robbin L. said...

How does the formula make Sarah’s life and business happy? What does she see in action? Show, don’t tell. What didn’t Sarah notice before? You lost me – humankind? What is the manual to life? Light? How does one apply the formula? How does this formula equate to happiness?

Sarah’s sci-fi daydreams – what are those? Whole new meaning – to what? What are you referring to? I’m confused – is Sarah dead?
Tessa is in a coma. Was there an accident? What happened? I’m assuming light is significant, but I’m not following.

The TV sitcom, GLEE, aired a show featuring a fundraiser which sold cupcakes to raise money for the glee club; however, these cupcakes had pot in the mix. They couldn’t keep up with the supply and demand. A typical YA read. There may be a few high school kids that might start a business, but that’s the exception. Who is your audience?

Who doesn’t like cupcakes? Keep mixing your batter!

tawdra said...

I agree that this is NOT a YA book--not only because the protagonist is clearly well above YA boundaries in age but also because the subject matter is not going to appeal to most of the YA audience. Sorry if I offend by generalizing.

The lack of clear plot is of course also a big turn-off.

Joel said...


Good job on E=mc^2. Everyone has an opinion, and that's a great sign. And cupcakes. They fit on subways and elevators. Nickel bags of carbs never go out of style.

So I think you're like the lady who dumped chocolate pieces into her cookie dough and made the first Chocolate Chip cookie ... in 1930. It's 25 years older than Einstein's theory.(I'm a WikiSavant or IdiotWiki. I haven't decided which.)

Point is: you have something, but it's not there yet.

A better metaphor might be Newton's Opticks [sic], 1704. A cookbook of experiments about light and color. And the cupcake? Also English, invented in 1796! (Wiki, baby.) I'd call it LIGHT ICING.

But I'm veering into historical novel territory, so I come back to this unpleasantness: books about success are written by successful people. Your idea is murky. The book is too short. The sentences are not well-written. Basic facts are wrong.

The kitchen’s a mess, and the cupcakes taste like sponges, but you’re sitting at the table making notes in your big notebook. That’s a successful metaphor, and you’ve won our sympathy, and that’s where you want us to be.

We want you to win. So try again.

Dan said...

Jeepers. I wrote you a rather nasty email about your God novel query. If this is the kind of stuff you have to read every day, maybe an apology is in order...

jesse said...

I've been thinking about your query, a lot actually. It's probably because I've used Einstein as a jumping off point in my own theory on emotions. That said- I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing to take liberties with science, facts, known-knowns or what-have-you; when you are trying to create something new.
The down side to doing this, as you've seen, is that people will jump on you for taking those liberties. However, just because people jump on you for this sort of thing doesn't mean they won't be capable of enjoying your creation, provided that the rest of it works, and it is communicated effectively. If you need proof of this, go to a Q and A at a Star Trek convention.
I look forward to the revisions.

maybeandthewolf said...

@jesse: On the money. I absolutely agree.

You have to hit the right spot with people who are familiar with science: don't drag it off into the land of mysticism, but magical realism is fine. Sci-fi can be ridiculous, but we love it anyway, and often because.

I reckon it's all about tone. From the letter, it seems to me like the author's best bet is to go for something not unlike I <3 Huckabees or Being John Malkovitch.

As-is, my reaction is as posted above. I dunno about other science-y people, but with some tweaking, it could work for me.

Uma said...

I really agree with madelinewrites, YA can't get preachy.

NanU said...

Now there's a point about getting information from Wikipedia, Joel. 1955 is the year Albert Einstein died, not the year he published Relativity: the Special and General theory. That happened in 1920, necessarily predating the development of nuclear weapons. The Special Theory was introduced even earlier, in 1905. Wikipedia doesn't get these facts wrong; you just have to read carefully.

As for Be a Cupcake, even while a reader of YA, I wanted any science in there to be correct. Getting the point of E = mc^2 wrong shows me I know more than you, and that's where I put the book down for something else.

Bella's idea is really cool!

Helyna said...

What the heck is this about? I'm so confused. What does that formula have to do with life? Heck, it barely even has anything to do with light. It has more to do with nuclear reactions, which don't make most people happy. And why is the first equation always written and crossed out? I'm totally confused by this query. It doesn't help that my name is Tessa, and I run into very few Tessa's, so that always throws me off.

wizardonskis22 said...

Hi! I think the cupcake thing is cool, and the title is definitely an attention-grabber. However, I read many YA books and speak about them to many other people who read books of this genre, and I'm not sure that this would appeal to the majority. Maybe the query is the problem, but current YA tends not only not to be preachy, but to lean halfway across the room from preachy. You have your vampires and kids doing all sorts of things that people don't actually want kids to do. Your protagonist is too old for YA anyway, so I would recommend changing your audience. I would also try to make the science a bit more accurate, because precision is extremely important in that area, and it would really turn people off otherwise.
Good luck!

Rex Jameson said...


Try to overlook some of the more negative comments on this entry and focus on the constructive criticisms. Some have suggested defining the equation with Emotion, Motivation, and Caring or other terms to make the person realize the connections you are trying to make. Others have said that you really, really need to bring up the core conflicts, if there are core conflicts.

I think the main point is that the story is not coming through clearly, and you have to work a bit to bring the story out. If you are having trouble figuring out how to condense this 40k word novel into three or four paragraphs, you may also want to try handing your novel to a trusted friend, letting them read it, and having them tell you, in their own words, what they just read.

You wouldn't probably use their words verbatim, but it might give you insight into what readers should get out of this book.

Stephsco said...

I found this quite a bit later, but wanted to say @ bella your story idea cracked me up!

I think the writer of this query probably tried to explain the feelings behind the story rather than the story itself. I hope the writer finds the resources on Query Shark and other similar sites to help he/she out!

GillyB said...

Wait, this revision has me so confused. What happened to Sarah? How do cupcakes factor into this?? And why did you change your awesome title???

I still don't know what the story is about. "High voltage adventure" is terribly vague, and doesn't describe the conflict of the book, or the choices the main character (who is now Zack...?)will have to make.

I think you should start over with a more basic query formula that very clearly illuminates the plot. The plot also needs to be grounded in some sort of reality. But at least now I can clearly see the YA, and it's no longer preachy

Little things: "pattern recognizer" is pretty clunky. A list of unrelated events is DEATH in a query (at least, to me. And I miss the cupcakes.

But Ms. Reid is right- you are improving. And you seemed to have written 25,000 words in the interim, so good job there.

Ana V. said...

Sorry for the confusion GillyB! After I took in all the amazing feedback and comments I got from my entry on this website (which, BTW is the best crash course in writing a beginner like me could have ever taken!), the initial book expanded into an idea for a trilogy and so what you’re seeing here is the first release of the Be a Cupcake, Save the World trilogy. 

There’s still plenty of cupcakes in this MS, but Sarah and her business have been pushed into another WIP.

For this revision #1 to the query, it was the 250-word limit that had me most concerned, which explains the list I went with, but I’ll be sure to make the cupcake presence evident in the next revision.

I appreciate your comment on the clunky features, and am presently mulling over condensing the plot, and will persist! Thanks!

Theresa Milstein said...

There are lots of clever-sounding/pleasing-to-the-ear sentences, but I understand this query less than the previous version. I actually had to look at it to get a sense of what the story was supposed to be about. Now it seems the new version takes a completely different plot path than the first one. The queries seem to be 2 different stories written by 2 different people.

The part about everything being invented threw me. I'm not reading that there's not much left to be invented, right? Because that will never be true. There will always be great minds who can see beyond what's known to what's possible.

There's too much happening here. Who's the protagonist? What does he want? What's preventing him from having it? What will he do to overcome that particular obstacle?

Good luck. Can't wait to see a 3rd version to get a clearer view of the story.

Ella said...

I know it's been said before, including by Ms Shark, but you still haven't fixed it up and it's driving me insane.

It is E=mc², not E=MC² . In Physics, the letters in equations stand for something specific, and M, m, C and c all stand for completely different things. With the capital M and C it makes no sense. The m represents mass and the c represents the speed of light in a vacuum. The C is an abbreviation for the unit coulomb and is used to denote a unit, rather than a variable or constant in an equation. The M is not a symbol used in Physics, but it is used in Chemistry a lot and stands for Molar Mass as a variable or Molar Concentration as a unit. Hence E=MC² makes absolutely no sense.

I understand that if you're not a Physics person then it might seem trivial, but anyone who knows their Physics would be cringing when they read this, which is not a reaction you want when querying.

I also hope your use of the equation as a 'happiness' equation is convincing. It is so fundamental a part of Physics that I simply cannot comprehend it being used as anything else. Remember that the equation is actually Energy = Mass X Speed of light squared. You can't just replace what the letters stand for and still have it be the same equation. Maybe you have done it elegantly, but from what I've read, it certainly doesn't seem like it. Maybe get a Physicsy friend to look over it for you.


Lady Epsilon said...

Some of the newer elements of the story have an oddly dated feel. For example, calling Zach a 'hacker'. Having a teen who could 'hack' computers to do impossible, plot-convenient things was a standard story trope of the 1990s. It doesn't make sense today. We're all too familiar with computers for anyone to buy it. Yes, there are still hackers and related communities (like 'hacktivists'), but they aren't really aligned with teen or youth culture, and they don't get famous.
'Rocker' also feels dated. There are lots of teens in bands, but they refer to their music by very specific genres (emo, screamo, electroswing, whatever.) I've never heard a modern teen refer to their music as 'hard rock, and certainly not themselves as a 'rocker'. They might as well call themselves a greaser or a hippie - it's a word form another era.

Theresa Milstein said...

Query Shark, good advice. I don't think this writer should jump either.

This version is so much better. You've given me a greater sense of who your MC is and what's at stake.

I think the problem with a few of the sentences is they're long without any commas, like QS says. Many could be reworded to flow better. When I first started writing seriously, I had the same problem. When people pointed out my many flaws, I not only had a hard time seeing them, I didn't know how to fix them. Over these 6+ years, I've read a few grammar books, taken a grammar class, read hundreds of novels, and written thousands of pages. I still don't have a novel published or even an agent, but I have published short stories, which means I've made progress.

It all takes more work than I realized when I wrote my first horrible line, but it's also been more rewarding than I imagined. Hang in there.

Happy New Year!