Saturday, October 25, 2014

#264-revised once

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Dear Query Shark,

Fia Colibri, 26, wants two things: to hide from her father and to recreate herself. Neither is possible after when her car breaks down and she’s stranded in East Ridge, North Dakota, a blip of a town near the Canadian border.

I yammer a lot about looking at every single word to make sure it's the right word in the right place.  Here I've changed one word. It seems like a small thing but when keeps us in the moment AND guides the reader to think "why is that not possible now? What happens next?" It's just a matter of style. Both words are grammatically correct. One word though is better than the other. 

Raised in Cirque du Soleil and trained as an aerialist, Fia was just 12 years old when her father forced her to steal jewelry for him. After he abandoned her at a heist on her 17th birthday, she served eight years in prison as an adult. He’s been chasing her for more than a year now, determined to get his cut of the $10 million in diamonds she cached before her arrest.

This paragraph is SO MUCH BETTER than the one you have at the start.  It has tension. It has what's at stake. It sets up the plot.  If you flip the order of these two paragraphs, you've got a MUCH better query.

But it’s hard work staying hidden. Fia’s lonely, tired of moving all the time, and bored. Worse, she’s stuck in a podunk town. After meeting Aiden, a lawyer who’s searching for his missing sister Kylie, she decides that spending a few days helping this charming man is worth the risk of being found. After all, it’s North Dakota, right? Her father couldn’t possibly find her here. Surely she can find Kylie before her car’s repaired.

Fia and Aiden track Kylie to a nearby Cold War radar station that’s been converted into a private Russian orphanage. When they investigate, they’re surprised at every juncture by duplicitous townsfolk, belligerent thugs, and a corrupt police force. As they plumb the secrets of the orphanage, they uncover a heartbreaking scheme—and Fia’s new fear isn’t that her father will find her, it’s that she won’t survive.

And you lose me with "private Russian orphanage." As far as I know, North Dakota is in the United States. True, they're uncomfortably close to that looming giant Canadia, but I think they're still one of us.

You don't have a lot of room to explain things in a query. Sometimes the better part of valor is leaving out detail.  If I'm intrigued enough to read the full, there's time enough to set up how the hell you have a Russian orphanage in the United States. (What the hell do they do? Import them?)

UNDER THE RADAR is an adult action thriller complete at 86,000 words. I’ve worked as a book designer, editor, and website manager in the nonfiction trade publishing arena and am currently writing full time.

action thriller is redundant. It's just a thriller.

Thanks very much for your time and consideration.



I’ve received a request for a full manuscript for UNDER THE RADAR from a publisher. If the stars align and they offer a contract, do you think it’s wise to sign with them without agent representation? I’ve done some due diligence--they’re a good fit for my book and so far I can’t find any red flags.

Answer: I'm an agent. I think it's insane to do a deal without an agent however, I'm not untethered from reality (right now) and realize that not all authors secure representation before submitting books and receiving offers.

If you do not have an agent and you receive an offer, you get a publishing attorney or a contract review specialist to go over your contract before you sign. You do NOT sign the contract they give you thinking "oh gosh, if I don't, they'll withdraw the offer." Publishers expect to negotiate terms of a publishing deal.

Dear Query Shark,

I would be grateful if you’d consider representing UNDER THE RADAR, an adult action thriller complete at 86,000 words.

I know you think it's polite to start off with "I'd be grateful" but honestly, you don't need it here. Are you grateful if your real estate agent answers her phone?  Same thing. You're proposing we enter in to a business relationship. Just tell me what your book is about. Save the grateful for when I sell the book for wheelbarrows of cash.

And leave the housekeeping stuff like word count and category till the end.
A former Cirque du Soleil aerialist and ex-con who’s hiding from her father is drawn into the perilous world of human trafficking when she agrees to investigate the disappearance of a journalist in rural North Dakota.

 And here's where I stop reading. I can hear your screams of anguish when I say this but it's true. I don't want to read about human trafficking for entertainment. I see news reports, I hear fund raising appeals, it's an awful awful topic.

And here's the kicker: you could avoid that instant rejection by leaving out this worse-than-useless, actually detrimental, LOGLINE!   I've railed against loglines for years. They're an  import from the film business and they have no place in a good query.  A good query entices me to read on because it engages me with the STORY. A logline is all about concept.  Useful if that's what you're pitching, but that's not the case here.

Fia Colibri, 26, wants two things: to hide from her father and to recreate herself. Neither is possible after her car breaks down in East Ridge, North Dakota, a blip of a town near the Canadian border.

If you'd started here, I would have kept reading. When you start with your main character, not a news headline, you've increased your chances I'll keep reading. 

While stranded, she meets Aiden, a lawyer who’s looking for his missing sister Kylie, and agrees to help him with his search. Her acrobatic skills—and prison savvy—are just what he needs. When they investigate a nearby Cold War radar station that’s been converted into an orphanage, they become immersed in the dangerous world of the Russian bratva and discover that the orphanage is a front for child porn, prostitution, and slave trading. Kylie is being held prisoner there, but she won't leave until she’s amassed evidence to expose the Russians.

Why does Fia agree to help Aiden? You've told us she wants to hide from her father and recreate herself. How does helping Aiden do that? And what's at stake for her? If she helps Aiden, what will she lose? 

There's a logical inconsistency between "Kylie is being held prisoner" and "she won't leave."  Being held prisoner means she doesn't get to leave even if she accumulates enough evidence of anything.

Frustrated by secretive townsfolk, belligerent thugs, and a corrupt police force, Fia and Aiden ultimately save the children, rescue Kylie, and evade her father.

Never Ever EVER give away the ending in a query. Your job in a query is to entice me to read on. Now that I know what happens, why would I read the book? And in revealing the end of the book so hurridley you've taken all the verve out of the story. That's absolutely fatal in a query.

Get the plot and stakes on the page, and that's ALL.

I’ve worked as a book designer, editor, and website manager in the nonfiction trade publishing arena and am currently writing full time.

Thanks very much for your time and consideration.

Revise, resend.


Nora said...

Sometimes I like loglines, but I don't think it works here at all. The second line works SO much better as an introduction! The main paragraph falls apart a bit, but I really like that intro sentence.

Ellipsis Flood said...

It's not just the logline (which is too much of an infodump, even for a logline). The whole query sounds like it wants us to care about the plot more than the people involved in it.

The main question here's still: What ties Fia to the plot? From what the query tells us, she could be exchanged for an arbitrary person and it wouldn't change a thing.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I must confess my first, snarky thought when I started reading was, "North Dakota? Really? A novel set in North Dakota? Did the author lose a bet?" Even "Fargo" borrowed the name of an ND city but told the story in Minnesota.

Josh Johnstun said...

Is this book a retelling of the classic Jason Statham movie The Transporter?

Anonymous said...

We don't really have orphanages in this country anymore, so I had to reread to make sure that the story hadn't moved to Russia.

Unknown said...

What I really want to know is how aerial acrobatics and prison savvy help her bring down human traffickers. That's the most fascinating part to me. An example of each would really help show me how this is different from other thrillers.

Also, I agree that it's not clear to me why she helps Aidan. Is there something in his sister's plight that reminds her of her own troubles? Was her dad part of the Russian bratva? I would like a hint of a more personal reason why she would entangle herself in this situation when she has every reason not to.

Good luck!

LynnRodz said...

I agree with K Hutton's second paragraph. I think you need to expand on why Fia is hiding from her father. If her last name was Russian (but it's not) I could deduce that perhaps her father is involved in something sinister and she's hiding for a good reason.

And what was Fia in prison for? That's important to know if we're deciding whether we want to spend time with this protagonist. And why a little town in North Dakota, why not a place that is more appealing? (No offense to people from ND.)

Another question, why is the Bratva holding Kylie as a prisoner? Wouldn't it make more sense to get rid of her, or send her into the slave trade? Sorry, I'm asking a lot of questions rather than giving you suggestions, but I think these are important things to ask yourself. As it stands, there's not much here that would entice me to want to read your story.

One last comment: It's obvious that this person did not read the archives! Otherwise, s/he would have known not to start the query with information that should be near the end. And s/he would have known it's a no-no to give away the ending. So, I'm wondering why this query was chosen....

Steve Stubbs said...

One thing that is not said is, the sentences are too long and complicated – for me, anyway. Here is an example. You wrote:

“Fia Colibri, 26, wants two things: to hide from her father and to recreate herself. Neither is possible after her car breaks down in East Ridge, North Dakota, a blip of a town near the Canadian border.”

If you were to use shorter sentences you would get:

“Fia Colibri is on the run from her father. While driving through North Dakota, her car breaks down in a small town called East Ridge.”

This sets up your conflict. Anyone who has ever seen many movies, knows immediately Something Is Going To Happen in East Ridge,”

It is a littler bit of a cliche, but I’d wager the agent would keep reading. Simplify the next part of the plot and you get:

“While waiting to get her car repaired, she meets a lawyer named Aiden. Aiden is looking for his missing sister. Fia takes an interest in Aiden’s mission and offers to help.

I find myself wondering if Fia’s interest in Aiden is platonic. One possibility is that Fia suspects Kylie is a victim of some sort, and that, as a feminist she wants to come to the rescue of another women she does not know. It might make sense to add a few words to illuminate her motivation. I cannot imagine anybody hooking up with a strange man and searching for a strange women in a strange place for no reason, especially if what she really wants is to get her car fixed and move on, With a compelling motivation this works. This is more important here than the Cold War, her status as an ex con, her history with Cirque de Soleil, etc.

Theresa Milstein said...

I like the comparison that loglines are about concept vs. queries are about story.

Clearly the archives haven't been read by this writer. A very recent one mentions not to use loglines. And I'm pretty sure a recent one mentions not to give away the ending.

I also wonder why Fia wants to help, and how this is related to her reinventing herself. And is she held against her will or is she staying on purpose? I would assume that if she could get out, the other girls could too. That would be a plot hole.

Theresa Milstein said...

This is so much better. And you turned it around in such a short timespan. Impressive!

The Russian orphanage bit still doesn't make sense, but I wonder if it's just not properly explained in the query or a gaping hole in the book. But this query definitely make the book sound interesting. Good luck!

LynnRodz said...

Very nice revision to your query and congratulations on the interest from a publisher. I can now understand why Fia is hiding from her father and by adding the word "charming" I get a clearer picture why she would like to stick around and help Aiden find his sister. The only confusion is still with the Russian orphanage in North Dakota. Do you mean the babies are being smuggled in from Russia by the bratva? As Janet mentioned, sometimes less is more and you could possibly omit that detail if the deal with the publisher doesn't work out and you continue to query. Good luck!