Sunday, May 20, 2018

#310

Question: The query focuses largely on an act 1 subplot involving the MC's female best friend and ignores the main romance interest, whose plot doesn't rev up until late in act 2 (not good for a query). My one page synopsis (not included) is the exact opposite. It ignores the best friend entirely so it can focus on the main romance interest, whose plot structure largely parallels the main plot with the villains. I know you might not be able to answer without the synopsis, but will agents have a problem with this? I'm afraid it will feel too disconnected or misleading.


Dear Query Shark:

Seventh grader Scott Winters doesn't know he has super powers. He just knows he has problems. A bear in his school, a classmate with amnesia, a random rat infestation. Crazy things tend to happen around Scott, and he always gets the blame. So when seven of his classmates mysteriously fall into a lion habitat, Scott knows he's in trouble again. What he doesn't know is that someone just tried to kill him.


This lead paragraph is 72 words, or about 25% of your query. The ONLY information you need here is the first and last sentence.

The paragraph is well-written, and it's pretty funny, BUT it makes me think the book is about Scott getting his friends out of trouble. You don't want me to think the book is one thing when it's really something else.

So revising:


Seventh grader Scott Winters doesn't know he has super powers. He just knows he has problems. A bear in his school, a classmate with amnesia, a random rat infestation. Crazy things tend to happen around Scott, and he always gets the blame. So when seven of his classmates mysteriously fall into a lion habitat, Scott knows he's in trouble again. What he doesn't does know is that someone just tried to kill him.


Meanwhile, Scott's best friend is also in danger. Schv√§rtzmurgel Hoffman is three parts tomboy, two parts snark. Just don't try using her first name — she'll punch you. Schizophrenia and a terrible fashion sense earn her plenty of ridicule at school, but Hoffman's real trouble lies at home. Scott finds her with a black eye the next day. Her mother's hitting her again.

Wait. Schizophrenia? Where did that come from? And equating a debilitating mental illness with terrible fashion sense is both tone deaf and weird.

In addition, this paragraph does not relate in any way to the first paragraph. You left me wondering who's trying to kill Scott in paragraph one. Paragraph two should be something about that, not this odd curveball.



Scott already tried contacting the authorities about Hoffman's situation, but they don't believe him. Somehow Hoffman's mother always convinces the other adults that nothing's wrong. Scott settles for inviting Hoffman over as often as possible, but even this plan is jeopardized when another attempt is made on Scott's life. This time the villain reveals himself — a tall man with telekinetic abilities.

Ok so now we have the villain. You'll have to cut out all the stuff about Miss Hoffman (notice you've told us what NOT to call her, but not what her preferred name is) cause it doesn't relate AT ALL to what you've said is the main plot: someone trying to kill Scott.


Running for their lives, Scott and Hoffman are thrust into the hidden world of superpowers. Scott soon discovers his own unique power, immunity to other superpowers and the ability to suppress them temporarily. He also meets three empowered FBI agents. They take Scott and Hoffman into protective custody, which shines a spotlight on Hoffman's home life.


At this point I'm too confused to read on. What is "the hidden world of superpowers?" Where did the FBI come from? 


Scott doesn't have high hopes, but the superpowered branch of the FBI is better equipped than the local authorities. They identify Hoffman's mom as a psychic, able to manipulate the thoughts of others. It's such a dangerous power that the FBI asks Scott for help. His ability to suppress superpowers is ideal for shutting down psychics, but the telekinetic man is still at large. Scott now faces a difficult choice. Keep hiding for his own safety, or risk another attack to protect his friend.

If Hoffman's mom is a key part of the plot, you can still leave out all the abuse stuff in your query. A query needs to be sleek, not stuffed.


Written by a physicist who picked up creative writing as a way to stay sane in graduate school, HOW TO SAVE THE GIRL is a fast-paced tale full of quirky characters and superheroic hijinks. The work is 68,500 words, with a narrative style inspired by the Percy Jackson novels and Stuart Gibbs' "Spy School" series. While there is scattered humor throughout, the story does not make light of child abuse.

Doesn't make light of child abuse? Why on earth would I even think you'd do that? Don't defend yourself against accusations that haven't been made.

I don't care why you want to be a writer.

I hope there is more than scattered humor cause this is a middle grade book about superpowers. Funny is the ONLY way its going to work.

Right now this query is over stuffed. Focus on the MAIN plot.

I'm totally put off by the idea there's a romance in a middle grade novel but that's probably cause I'm thinking of romance novels. Middle grade novels are read by 4th-6th graders. I'm absolutely sure that a strong romantic element is out of place here. Boys and girls being friends is about the max on this kind of thing.


That the plot doesn't rev up until "late in Act 2" is a HUGE problem, in that when I request a full manuscript, the plot better be revved up and running by the end of Act 1 and preferably a lot sooner.

If not, I stop reading.

Middle grade readers aren't going to sit around and wait for the good stuff either.


Thank you for your time and consideration,

To answer your question: a query that doesn't match the synopsis IS confusing. The fact that they don't means you have a problem WITH THE BOOK. 

This means, before you revise the query, make sure the plot of your book is front and center in the very first pages.  

Then revise your query.

I also suspect you would benefit from reading more middle grade books. Your librarian can help you with that. She's superpowered that way.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

#309

Questions:

Am I taking a risk that an agent will think the Underground City is some futuristic, contrived location when in fact it’s an actual part of the Montreal downtown landscape where people shop and live and work? Does it matter?
I won a short story award in 2010. Is this too ancient to include?




Dear Query Shark,

It seems like a dream gig when Chloe gets the job offer – live in Montreal’s Underground City for a full year and blog about the experience. The flip side of the city has all the creature comforts. The year will fly by.


This is a good opening.

But there’s a catch.

To collect her whopping bonus for sticking it out till day 365, the struggling grad student must agree never to set so much as a toe outside the territory of the Underground City, submitting to an ankle-monitor to keep her on the straight and narrow. The would-be blogger doesn’t have much choice, even if the conditions are hard-core. Out of work, impaled by debt, and sole support of a grandmother whose bank account is likewise on life-support, Chloe signs on the dotted line.

I have a real antipathy about describing one character in several ways in short order. You have "struggling grad student" "wold be blogger" and then you have all those things again with "out of work, impaled by debt" with the bonus of sole support of grandma. 

Your reader doesn't need that much description, and it gets in the way of what we do need to know: the plot. Which we don't so far. In other words: what's at a stake.

And that’s when her life goes into free fall.

With Chloe not at home to nix the idea, her grandmother invites her new acquaintances, the Diallos, to hole up in her basement after the family’s refugee application is returned to them stamped get lost. Chloe’s fury at discovering her grandmother has converted the basement into a safe-house for a family of five morphs into relief when she stumbles across a desperate illegal of her own who needs protecting.

And this is where the query goes to Helvetica in a handbasket. You started with a pretty interesting idea: Chloe has to live in the Underground City for a year, no sneaking out for a quick trip to Vegas.

Now we've got immigrants, and grandma going nuts, and another immigrant that Chloe knows. For starters that's too many people in a query. And we still don't have any sense of the plot.

Scout, a runaway hiding out in the Underground City, is fleeing a threat she refuses to disclose. When she comes out the loser in an underground turf fight, Chloe dispatches the battered girl to her grandmother’s where Dr. Diallo can care for her in secret.

And here's where I'd stop reading. Still no plot. A new character out of the blue, and zero sense of what's at stake for Chloe. 

The reason I'd stop reading is you're all over the place here. There's no focus, no sense of moving the narrative forward. If I don't see that here in the query, I won't see it in the book.

As the ugly details of Scout’s past emerge, putting at risk the entire crew harboured in her grandmother’s makeshift refuge, Chloe has to decide if she’s prepared to lay her cushy future on the line to rescue a group of virtual strangers from discovery and ruin.

what? WHAT? This book is about the people in Grandma's basement, not Chloe's year underground?
You START with that: Chloe is away on a year long gig, not allowed to come home so her Grandma goes nuts and invites people to live in her house.

What's at stake for Chloe here? If she leaves Underground City she's not any worse off is she? She doesn't have to sacrifice anything or lose anything no matter what she chooses or decides. That's death in a book because it means there's no tension.

TUCKED AWAY, my third novel, weighs in at 90,000 words and is complete. My previous novels, XXX and YYY, were accepted after direct submission to two Canadian indie publishers, but I am hoping with this go-round to find representation. I have also had short stories appear in numerous literary magazines, among them Agni, Massachusetts Review, and Prairie Fire.


The first chapter of TUCKED AWAY is included below. Thank you for your time and consideration.

This query doesn't work. To fix it first, figure out what the plot is, particularly what's at stake for Chloe and Grandma (if they are the main characters.) Who's the antagonist? What does s/he want? Why/how is Chloe getting in the way of that goal?

As for your two questions: I think it's clear that Underground City is real. It's certainly clear this is a contemporary novel, not and SFF novel.

A short story award in 2010 is fine but don't list that first. List your novels first.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

#308

QUESTION: This is a mash-up of genres, a comedic business-world satire and romance. And, while it's about a sex portal, there are only a couple of sweet, not-so-explicit sex scenes. Is this hopeless and, if not, am I selling it right?

Dear Query Shark:

Bopper Dinneman, code god, thinks he's just landed his dream gig: chief technology officer for a company building a streaming virtual reality website devoted to sex.

It seems like the perfect job for a horny 28-year-old technology whiz kid -- glamour, plenty of venture capital, and a bevy of “content providers” recruited from San Francisco's talent pool of enthusiastic and creative sex workers. Add to this a boss who's a dead ringer for Lara Croft, and you've made Bopper a very happy man.

You've essentially repeated what you told us in the first paragraph, albeit with more detail. In other words you haven't moved us forward.

As Bopper and his crew of coders get busy building the next generation of X-rated video chat, he’s getting to know women in a whole new way. There's only one glitch—it turns out that the company is run by the Mafia. Like everyone else, The Family wants to disrupt their business model.

Huh? My experience with the mob is limited to repeated viewings of The Godfather, and a whole lot of crime novels, but my sense is the Mob doesn't want to disrupt anything. They want you to make tons of money, and give them a chunk of it.

When you write something like this in a query, something that makes my eyebrows go all quizzical, you need to tell me WHY the mob wants to disrupt their business model.

Bopper and his crew will have to use persuasion, cunning and some martial arts training to wrest control away from the old-guard Mafia dons, so they can take a shot at turning their ideal of a tech-loving, sex-positive business into reality.

or what?
The stakes here seem really weird: they want to run their business in a sex-positive way? What happens if they can't? 

Narrated from deep in Bopper's id, Streaming is a 50,000-word satire of the startup world and a romcom. It's like if Ready Player One took place today and was written by a business journalist instead of a video gamer. It’s sexy but not explicit; at its heart, it’s about our need for connection in a disconnected world.

I have no idea what "narrated from deep in Bopper's id" means. I had to look up id. I know it's one of the parts of the mind, but past that, nothing. (id: the part of the mind in which innate instinctive impulses and primary processes are manifest.)

Once I looked it up, I still had no idea what you meant. That's not a good thing in a query.


And I get NO sense of what "our need for connection in a disconnected world" has to do with the mafia wanting to disrupt a sex portal.

And by portal, I think you mean something other than a window into another world (as in The Breach by Patrick Lee.)  When words have multiple meanings and your reader might not know all of them, some context or a different word is useful.

As to your question: this isn't a mash up of genres. It's satire. A category (like satire) can have a story line about a romance without being a romance novel or worse, a mashup of genres.  A mashup of genres is something like Jane Slayre


I'm not sure there's enough plot on the page here to entice me, even withstanding these other problems. The idea that a business might have to change seems pretty low-stakes to me.