Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#114-Revised Twice, and yes, we have a winner

Dear Query Shark:

“I Rode With Teddy Roosevelt”(working title)

IN 1883, 15- year-old Scottie Burns is hired by a young, vibrant Theodore Roosevelt to work on his Dakota ranch. Like teenaged boys ever since, he finds a role model in this dashing, charismatic hunter/ rancher. As he grows ever closer to TR, Scottie also discovers a
darker, more cynical side to this political animal. TR, in turn, sees Scottie as a good hunting and fishing companion, personal aide and sounding board for his ideas.

Scottie matures as America grows in world stature, helped along by TR’s expansionist sentiments and racial “profiling” -- sentiments Scottie comes to seriously question. He also sees TR quick to practice opportunistic cruelty to his oldest allies if it advances his political career. Scottie will experience that betrayal when he join’s TR’s Rough Riders invading Cuba. The two won’t meet again until the Pan American Exposition, three years later.

This 43,000-word novella offer’s Scottie’s view of the unromantic cowboy life and his fascination with the era’s technological advances: the bicycle, automobile, earliest movies and the birth of press photography

I am a former a reporter, editor and columnist for the (redacted), have freelanced articles for regional and national magazines, have been anthologized and have a book about “classic” cameras still in print. I know the value of good editing, respond to it, and am trained
to meet deadlines.

This could be an interesting read for middle schoolboys. My teacher friends say that's a gap to be filled. I think their fathers would like it as well.

You should have better marketing ideas. May I send you some, or all off the manuscript?

Why yes, yes you can.

This is a really good revision, and the querier is benefiting from my feverish hunt for middle grade books for boys, particularly those based on real people.

First Revision
Dear Query Shark

Scottie Burns trailed along with Teddy Roosevelt from 1883 until breaking with the Chief after the Spanish-American War, fed up with seeing TR’s ever darker side. Meeting his idol in 1883 and working on Teddy Roosevelt’s Dakota ranch, the two become hunting companions.

After reading paragraph 3, it's clear we need to start this, or mention early on how old Scottie Burns is. (YA novels really need to have YA-age protagonists)

This first sentence pretty much sucks, and my guess is you'll see it now too. There's no sense of excitement here, no sense of drawing us in to adventure. You're still doing what you did in the original: giving us too much information.

You need a snappier first line. It can take days to get it right. Anything that has to be short and punchy is harder to write than a 250 word paragraph.

Teddy takes him back to New York after the Great Die-Off. T R needs to earn a living and has always been in politics. Scottie becomes his personal assistant, sounding board for ideas, and, in time, skeptical of Teddy’s Imperialistic tendencies. He detests the cavalier attitude
Teddy shows -- to even his closest allies -- on his way to the top and they part ways. As the 20th Century dawns, Scottie realizes he has seen the nation become a world power.

Focus on Scottie, not TR. That's the story. Tell us what the great Die-Off is. (My guess without googling is the 1919 epidemic)

This odd novel has me stymied: my wife says it could be a fine Young Adult novel-- especially for middle school boys for whom there is a dearth of books with “guy stuff” to pique the interest of otherwise lazy readers. I think adult Teddy Roosevelt admirers also will be interested. “A Rough Ride With Teddy” has ranch life hunting, fishing, the wonders of the current electromechanical age then dawning -- it even has some love and war.

Never ever use the word lazy with reader in a query letter. Those guys are going to be your audience. Treat them with respect.

How many words in the novel?

I got my first byline at age 13 and, hooked by newspapers, worked as a reporter, editor and columnist for the Buffalo News. I also wrote freelance magazine articles, saw work anthologized and authored a book on co;collecting and using “classic” cameras. I thus know a fair amount about publishing, about the help editors can give any writing, and -- for sure -- how to meet deadlines.

A full synopsis and chapters attached.

NO NO NO. NEVER EVER attach anything to a query letter unless the instructions specifically say "attach." If the instructions say anything else, such as 'include' 'contain' 'enclose' etc, put them in the body of the email.

You're still in reporter mode here; standing back and observing. Get into the story. Be partisan. Be subjective. Step off the sidelines and get into the mud, the blood and beer and make us see what that life is like for Scottie, what choices he faces, and why we should give a hoot about him.

Dear Query Shark:

Fifteen-year-old Scottie Burns is hired as a ranch hand by a young, vibrant Theodore Roosevelt in Dakota Territory. He finds an idol in this dashing, charismatic hunter/rancher. In time TR finds in Scottie a good hunting companion and sounding board for his ideas.

In their time together (1883-1900) Teddy becomes more manipulative and “political,” Scottie matures -- and the nation grows too, becoming a world power.

Scottie shows us the unromantic side of cowboy life. We share his fascination with the era’s technological advances: the bicycle, automobile, earliest movies and the birth of press photography

He hears Teddy’s desire for U.S. expansion, and his ideas about racial traits. He also sees TR’s constant striving and realizes that TR has lost his reformer’s ideals. Instead, he has become self-
centered, stubborn and quick to practice opportunistic cruelty to his oldest allies if that advances his political career.

Tho he doubts the need for war with Spain, he joins Teddy ‘s Rough Riders invades cuba and comes under fire at San Juan Hill. Once mustered out Burns, now 30, has had his fill of Roosevelt’s ambition and quits. He moves to Buffalo to join a photography studio and
prospers during that city’s industrial boom. There he is hired to photograph the Pan American Exposition.

That incredible summer fair signaled America’s arrival as a new, muscular world power. Millions came that summer for their first look at the miraculous X-rays, infant incubators and experience the marvels of electrification, which would soon sweep across the nation.
They also saw the fruits of the nation’s expansionist push.

When President McKinley is shot, Vice President Roosevelt rushes to a deathbed inauguration.

The two men meet again, Roosevelt turns on his charm to ask Scottie to rejoin his entourage. Scottie refuse -- but the meeting sparks his memories of their years together.

You've mistaken a query letter for a rundown of the events in the book. I swear I'm going to make everyone pass a damn test drawn from the QueryShark archives before sending me queries for this blog.

How many times do I have to say this? One more at least I guess:
The purpose of a query letter is to incite interest in the book. It is NOT a rundown of the events, any more than a love letter is a rundown of the events you plan to woo her with.

Start with the hero. What conflict does he face? Not a war kind of conflict, but a choice kind of conflict. You've only alluded to it here: Scottie is conflicted when his hero isn't quite so heroic.

Now what choice must the hero make? What consequences of those choices bother him?

What I'm looking for in query letter is a sense of "what's amiss here, and what's going to happen because of it?"

Use that to structure your query. You don't have to tell the whole story; if you can tell the whole story in one page, I'm pretty sure I really don't want to read it!

Start again.
And read the damn archives.
I'm not in this for love yanno.


astrologymemphis.blogspot.com said...

You've taught us that the protagonist must make choices and face consequences. Is that true of thrillers as well? Can you give me an example? Such as in say, Jurassic Park... who faced choices? What about the Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown detractors, leave me alone here; this is for the sake of understanding)? Will you help me become clear on this? Thanks, Janet.

Janet Reid said...

I don't know Jurassic Park (the book) well enough to use it as an example. And (gasp!) I've not read The DaVinci Code.

Can we use the Lee Child novels? The choice Reacher always makes is whether or not to get involved. The consquences of those choices: involved might get him killed/not involved compromises his sense of honor--his sense of himself as a protector of those who are weak.

We always know what choice Reacher will make, and we always know it will cost him. That's part of the thrill of a thriller.

Anonymous said...

I really don't have anything to say about the actual query, but I do kind of hope that you make a test! I'm sure that I'll need it when it comes time do this!

worldofhiglet said...

Jack Reacher. But - he always means to not get involved until the clock in his head tells him that someone crossed the line and intervention is inevitable. While being enormous and fighting off women.

And yes, the Reacher books are hard to put down :)

At the moment I have a list of Queryshark Twitters in a Word doc and I'm trying to use them to triangulate my query. It might not work but it's certainly distracting. Especially when I'm saying "WHY is he doing that? SHOW me, don't TELL me!" out loud - hubby find this very distracting.

Please keep them coming!

astrologymemphis.blogspot.com said...

Point well taken. I hate to admit this, but I've never read a lot of thrillers (which makes me supremely unqualified to write one, I know). However, I am among a small minority of people who can write with knowledge about a dangerous and thrilling place that racked up thousands of blog hits from around the world from people wanting to know more about it. So I thought I'd drop some characters into it and give it a plot. Now you've got me wondering if I'm getting it right, of if the plot is too flimsy to work. That's why I asked about those two titles in particular. Hell, I'll just make it chum and let you chomp on it. Maybe it will help me flesh it all out.

K. Andrew Smith said...

Maybe this is a piling on, but the submitter of this query letter needs to proofread more. A lot more.

"Tho he doubts"
"Once mustered out Burns, now 30,"
"Scottie refuse -- but"

That's after a quick glance back at the letter. Mistakes like these cause me to believe the manuscript is riddled with poor grammar. That's not the impression you want to make.

Unknown said...

Deconstructing Teddy Roosevelt?

Before I'd take your book seriously, you should have very good reasons for portraying TR the way you do in the book. Is it documented that TR's personality changes as you describe it?

TR was a progressive president, and beloved by most Americans. There's a reason why his face is on that mountain alongside Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson.

Lumpy Dog said...

Maybe, instead of a test, we should come up with something akin to "Ten Questions to Ask Yourself Before Jumping in with the Shark."

For the first I'd suggest, "Have you read queries one through one hundred?"

Shakier Anthem said...

@Southern Writer -- Jurassic Park is an interesting example since it's something of an ensemble piece. The overall conflict is people vs. dinos, or on a deeper level, technology (and hubris) vs. nature. Yet I think Crichton's gift was in writing books with a conflict that could be easily summed up in one line (When the park's safety measures break down, can the humans make it off the island without being eaten?) but filling them with chain reactions of choices made by all of the characters (save oneself or save the kids? stay in the nice, safe bunker or brave the velociraptors to turn the power back on?). He was all about having his characters make choices (often bad ones) and letting the chips fall where they may.

astrologymemphis.blogspot.com said...

Shakier Anthem, that was a big help. My story should work out just fine, given that criteria. Thanks tons!

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

Agree that this is heaps better, BUT:

"I am a former a reporter...."

"This could be an interesting read for middle (grade?) schoolboys."

"You should (may) have better marketing ideas."

Also, missing a period after one of the paragraphs. I'd suggest you check the punctuation/grammar of your query letter very carefully!


Anonymous said...

Jurassic Park is rich in conflict, themes, and consequences. Like Shakier said, there is Man vs. Nature (dinosaurs), and Technology (hubris) vs. Nature.

One of the early conflicts is Entrepreneur/Visionary John Hammond has to convince his investors that the park is safe or his dream (and probably lots of money) of a dinosaur park will be dead before it starts.

Another early conflict is that Dr. Grant wants to learn about dinosaurs. Although others warns him about the dangers of taking a trip to observe the park, Grant considers it because the park provides the unique opportunity that all the archeological digs in his lifetime couldn't give him.

Lastly, one of the stronger underlying themes and conflicts that seems lost to many that have read the book or watched the movie is the corruption of science when it comes to mass entertainment. Turn on any channel that used to be about science or history and still claims to be about science or history and you'll see exactly what I mean (I'm looking at you guy who tried to be swallowed by a snake on TV).