Tuesday, April 1, 2014


--> Question:
Early last year, caught up by the glimmer of the wild self-pub frontier, I shunned agents in favor of wrangling up wild book sales by myself. I died of dysentery.

Then, like Nemo, I found your website. The archives led to a solid year of rewriting my entire MS. Bonus: I now know what my book is about. Fancy that.

I am ready to query. Unfortunately, Google is my enemy. I have an amateurish website. I have a silly Kickstarter campaign permanently indexed online, not unlike embarrassing high school pictures on Facebook. And my self-pub sales were such that my garage is now cluttered with boxes of books suitable only for fetching pocket change at the annual neighborhood garage sale. Will an agent drop me for all this, even though I've rewritten the MS?

Dear QueryShark:

Mark From Earth is a YA SF of 82,000 words.

These misadventures follow Mark, a friendless and freckle-nosed misfit mysteriously recruited to a school in a starship. Getting him in trouble from day one are two fellow outcasts: Heath, who nervously checks for quick exits, and thrill seeking Lexie, who pulls Heath in the opposite direction of exits.

Exits off a starship? I think I saw that movie.***

The rough and tumble trio skip class for snowball fights on hoverboards, pull pranks on monstrous bullies, and go treasure hunting at an abandoned junkyard. It’s there they stumble upon a deadly mystery. The hijacking of their school’s starship by a deviant machine may be imminent. Now, Mark must lead the wild bunch in unraveling cryptic clues and fighting demented droids—Never knowing he has been their greatest threat all along.

I'm hardpressed to think a junkyard is abandoned if it's on a starship.


 For starters this sounds like a middle grade novel. It's about hijinx, not about feelings. Also, you're missing what's at stake: the deviant machine hijacks the schools starship. So what? Maybe he's hungry and wants to hit the drive through on the astral plane.

The first step is getting the plot on the page: What does Mark want? What's keeping him from getting it?

As to your question: querying a previously published novel is like asking someone to finance a fixer-upper house.  You need a plan.  And by plan I mean marketing plan: you published this book; it sold six copies, four of which were to the NSA to see if you'd discovered any of their secrets.

Now you want an agent to sell this to a large publisher with some marketing muscle. You need to have a good idea of who ELSE is going to read this book and how you plan to reach them. Mentioning of course why you didn't you reach them before.

And don't say "I didn't have the money" cause promotion is most often not about money, it's about figuring out who would read this book and making them aware of it.

And this is just lame: I am ready to query. Unfortunately, Google is my enemy. I have an amateurish website. I have a silly Kickstarter campaign permanently indexed online, not unlike embarrassing high school pictures on Facebook. A

Fix your damn website. Get enough other stuff going and that Kickstarter campaign will fall below the first page of any google search.

But the real advice is this: write a new novel and query that. I'm generally not looking for fixeruppers when I'm looking for projects to take on.



Ellipsis Flood said...

You continue to crack me up, Sharkly One. I've hardly ever seen advice combined with shark snark (shnark?) that well.

To you, author:

If the website bothers you, either polish it up or take it down. You don't necessarily need a website to be a writer.
As for the query itself, I have no grasp of what's going on. Too many things are called mysteries instead of more specific, yet not overly detailed descriptions.

Also, hi NSA.

DLM said...

@Ellipsis, I could not get a handle on it either. Not at all. Even beyond the confusing setting and jump-cuts from freckles to pulling people away from exits apparently being a reckless activity (as is looking for the exits ... ?), the grammar here just left me bewildered.

Given what day this is - is this a real letter ... ?

Liz said...

If you have an embarrassing Internet history, you can clean it up. Google has tools you can use to remove private or sensitive information, or sites that are no longer live. (A failed kickstarter, for example.)


Theresa Milstein said...

I'm impressed that this author realized a mistake s/he has made and is trying to start over.

There's some interesting voice in this query. But I can see that there are happenings that could be mistaken for plot, but aren't actually plot. Those "What does he want?" kind of questions will help. If the author can't answer them, then there is no plot.

I've written many novels. I learn from each one and get that much better. Some people do it on their first or second shot. I think the average is around ten. It's daunting. But keep writing. You'll get better. Then you can go back to this one and see if it's what you thought it was. If it's not, you can see if it's salvageable. Then enough time will have gone by that it can be fresh instead of a recently self-published title.

Good luck!

Shawna said...

Yeah, I'm with the others; you should just write your next book, and then later you can come back and see about getting this book published, if you still think it's good enough. Build a fan base with some other works before trying to return to this one. I have to admit, I looked for your Kickstarter page, and from reading that I would guess that the idea of just dumping this book entirely and moving on is not something that would sit easy with you. But sometimes that's what you've got to do, and this may be one of those times. After all, you can always return to it later. Maybe when you do, you'll still think it's great and will be able to publish it then. Or maybe you'll think it's terrible and will be glad that so few people saw it. Either way, seems like a win.

S.P. Bowers said...

I haven't seen Gravity (I know I'm very far behind.) But it reminded me a little of ENDER'S GAME.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I checked out your website,Facebook, Kickstarter, etc. and:

1) They aren't bad, just horribly outdated since you are moving on.

2) Take down the website and refocus the Facebook page into something interesting, other books in the genre, writers, something engaging that let's us get to know you. Same thing with Twitter and disable YouTube. The net will clean itself.

3) Time for a new book. It doesn't mean you can't refocus and reuse your characters. However, the central character with an odd male friend and a plucky girl pal. Hmm, Harry Potter anyone?

4) Hang around Nathan Bransford's blog and get to know other writer's in the land of MG (cuz that's what this is.)

Call this one your trunker.


Unknown said...

I will count on the moderator removing this post this is inappropriate here.

author, I know everyone is telling you to trash this novel and start over. i also suspect this is difficult for you to hear since they are reading the query not the novel.

So here's another option. I also write MG and I am a member of SCBWI and I've done many critiques of other writers. I would be willing to read your ms and give a critique. it would only be my opinion, but maybe i could help you decide if you really want to trash it or try again.

we'll just have to figure out a way to contact each other to do that, if you want to do it at all.

just let me know.

Janet Reid said...

Diane, you're missing the point of why this novel might have to be trunked. It has nothing to do with the quality (something that can be fixed with a crit) It has everything to do with the fact that it was published, and didn't sell well. Unless you intend to crit his publicity and marketing plan?

Unknown said...

From what the author said, this ms has been revised quite a bit after the version they printed and sold.

After reading your blog, they realized the problems with the printed version and made changes.

I guess my interpretation was that the author thinks of this as a whole new version, almost a new book, that they are trying to get published through a traditional publisher.

Perhaps that was my misinterpretation.

Unknown said...

Hello all,
MFE’s author here.

I’d like to reply to a common denominator throughout the comments: The marketing/publicity plan. It seems to be the pothole in the highway of trunking. If I may clarify? I promise to be concise.

But first, replies:

@Ellipsis Flood: make the query more graspable, got it.

@DLM: Posted on April Fool’s. Could my query be a foolish prank? Foolish, yes. Prank, sadly no.

@Elizabeth: Fascinating google tools! I did not know that. Will try.

@Theresa Milstein: My thanks for the stout encouragement :)

@Shawna: You’ve intuited correctly. Moving on does not sit with me, but rather on a bench at the other side of the crowded dance hall. We’ll see how the disco ball turns.

@S.P.Bowers: Loved Ender’s Game. Great book. Jury’s out on the film adap.

@Terri Lynn: Solid bullets.

@Diane Adrian: My thanks for the critique offer.

Now then, my failed marketing plan went thus:

January 2013. After months of discarding ideas on how I could promote/market my book, an incredible idea struck. I would buy a rusted 1952 Divco Milk Truck I’d seen for sale. I’d then pay to transform it into a rolling bookmobile.

The plan would be to drive my bookmobile on a west coast 2013 summer book tour to the target audience: middle schooler's and their parents at library's, indie bookstores, beaches, parks, anywhere a bored kid would ask his padre to buy a snappy sci-fi book--especially if it were marketed from a retro bookmobile.

At the time, my savings account bulged with $14,000 of hard earned, earnestly saved, dollars and cents.

For the restoration, I turned to a longtime friend and investment partner. His entire job was fixing and flipping vehicles.
He needed half of the restoration money to get started. Half was $10k. I bulked at first, but the dream was too big to pass up. So I slipped the Benjamin’s into the man’s trusted palm, agreeing to pay the other half off in installments after the tour.

As the restoration went on--though he never showed me a Polaroid of the progress--I went ahead and spent more of my savings ($3k) on printing 300 books. I had that much faith!

Two months later, with brand new books in hand, I cheerfully stopped by his shop for a look-see. I expected new tires hugging shiny hubcaps, a comfortable seat for the long haul, and an engine that actually ran. Instead I found more rust.

Turns out he embezzled every red cent. And I couldn't sue him, because he'd tugged the rug out beneath several other people before promptly declaring bankruptcy. Crouching scam artist, hidden douchebag, am I right? Or rather: naive author, gullible fool (who got what he deserved for being a blind idiot).

But that does not conclude the chronicles of the naive author. (see second comment)

Unknown said...

You see, instead of tossing in the rag, as the saying goes, and turning to a grass roots campaign of contacting local schools and libraries for readings and signings and all that jazz, I put together a last minute Kickstarter campaign. A campaign to restore the Divco bookmobile and blaze on!

It failed.

Not surprising, since last minute rush jobs have a tendency to fail.

Still hopeful (A bad habit, as you are no doubt discerning), my illustrator friend and I decided to hit the open road anyway. After all, we had 300 books!
And so, without rhyme, reason, or any plan whatsoever (we didn't even know whose couch we’d crash), we stuffed our duffle bags full of clean unmentionables, chucked boxes of books in the back of our puttering Subaru wagon, and set sail. Foolish, utterly foolish, bordering on idiotic, I grant you, but at the time we naively believed everyone would be as psyched as us about Mark From Earth. The books would fly from our hands!

And so, for a week and a half we descended on the indie bookstores of San Francisco and San Jose. With our sheer energy we convinced five of them to stock a few copies. No readings at schools, no signings at bookstores, certainly no groovy Divco bookmobile, nothing but jumping around harassing honest booksellers.

All told, we hobbled home with 250 books. Their cardboard containers now sit in my garage. Call it a corrugated monument to foolish, foolish naivety.

But why do the books still sit? Why didn't I continue marketing? Perhaps build a base camp here in Portland Oregon. Perhaps get the grass roots stirring in the comfortable breeze of my home town? Perhaps give the books as free copies to local schools and libraries?

Here's why. Because, all sob stories aside, there existed a much deeper pothole--A cavernous, car-swallowing pothole.

And I fell into it only after my return. I fell into it when, after trying to compose a query letter, I stumbled upon Query Shark. And the pothole was simply thus: If I could not write a query letter with voice? Did my book have voice?

The revelation put everything on hold. No local libraries, no nearby schools, no floundering queries to busy agents. I would do nothing until I read Query Shark in full, caught up on Bransford's blog, dove into more MG and YA books, and applied lessons learned to Mark From Earth. All because one truth towered above all else: I needed to rewrite my entire MS with VOICE.

And so I have. Or rather, and so I've attempted.

My new MS, based on word count alone, is 72% fresh off the mind-press.

Now, my new MS may still need to be trunked; its foundation--the ideas themselves--may be amateurish spam. And should the time come for me to lead Old Yeller out back, I'll do so with melting eye yet firm resolve. But for now, the damnable fountain of hope has sprung to life once more.

I want to, as The Shark suggested, put the plot on the page.

I thank everyone—and especially Miss Shark—for their comments.

Shawna said...

Wow, I feel for you, especially with the suckiness of getting scammed. But hey, life's full of lessons, I guess. At least you're looking at it in terms of what you've learned.

Also, gotta say, your description of what you went through was a lot more interesting to read than your query. Make of that what you will.

Anonymous said...

Rafael, your description of what happened when you got home and looked at the book sounds like the kind of realization most of us have hit on the way to publication. And most of us sold our third or fourth manuscript, not our first one.

Search for voice, yes. But write your second manuscript.

Elissa M said...

I'm coming a little late to this party, so I hope you see my comment Rafael.

I just want to say, bravo for your persistence. It's one of the major tools all successful writers need. But I also want to add: write your second book.

I DON'T mean give up on this one. But you need to keep the momentum going. Write the second book while the first one is being queried. Then get to work on the third (fourth, fifth...)

Anonymous said...

What happened to post #255?

Janet Reid said...

Lynde, there's a revision pending. I'm just slowwww on getting it posted cause I'm thinking.

WatchThisReview said...

As to Rafael's idea, is driving around in a bookmobile like that even legal? I thought you needed a license to park a truck outside of places and sell things? I would also think schools would have additional scrutinies.

I'm also curious if Rafael had contacted the schools, etc, to set this kind of stuff up before plunging a substantial investment into a special vehicle.