Sunday, May 6, 2018


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.


Melissa said...

There's a huge problem with sexual harassment in the tech world right now. There's been reports of strippers and prostitutes being hired for company parties. Women are seen as objects of desire and not people. I'm seeing the same issue in this query. If it's satire you're after, an attempt to mock this, it's not coming out in the query. Right now you have a main character I really don't like, and a plot that I don't care about. I'd love to see this company destroyed.

Frankie said...

I dont think you identified fhe stakes of this story clearly.
I dont understand why this portal is so important. Its not clear why the mob is so interested in destroy it instead of controlling it in order to make more money.
I would suggest you to take some time apart from your movel, once you read it again, you will see what’s missing or not clearly explained.

Ellipsis Flood said...

My biggest issue here is that I don't buy the satire. This might be the fault of the query or the fault of the novel. I look at the first line in this query and it feels like the author is buying the silicon valley hype - hook, line and sinker. Bopper Dinneman is, from what you told us about him in those twohundred-something words, exactly the kind of person who's responsible for the startup scene with all its various -isms, throwaway companies and entitlement.

I can see potential stakes hiding in the subtext (working for the sex workers' benefits vs exploiting them for profit, staying true to your idea versus bowing to management) but you're not bringing them on the page, so we don't know what they are. Is Bopper even intended to be a hero, or is he more like some twisted anti-hero who ends up saving the day by being extraordinarily bad at being bad? We just don't know.

Also, I'm not exactly sure what to do with RPO as a comp title here. Is it because it has VR, or are you planning on plastering your novel with business journalism injokes?

Kregger said...

I'm going to echo what Melissa said but in a different way. If you check out #MSWL, agents are asking for female empowerment stories, not subjugation and exploitation, which a what large portion of women feel about porn. Have you looked up the percentage of agents that are women?

Since you are satirizing the financial start-up process, does the story arc work by substituting a different product? Can you then highlight the satire and Rom/com aspects without mentioning the porn/chat room?

My apologies, in a query critique, it's improper to suggest a manuscript rewrite, but I'd feel remiss in not pointing out landmines. Consider this..."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."...your character is objectifying women. I believe women get enough of this behavior in real life, so who would want to spend time with your character or spend money based on Bopper? Again statistically, men are not the lead buyers in Rom/Com.

Agents want to sell books as do the publishers, period. If this is a Rom/Com show us the romance and/or the comedy. If it's satire...?

I've been accused of mixing up satire with farce, some any advice from me on that aspect is useless.

And for some deity's sake, give up the plot, not the other stuff.

Good luck,


Unknown said...

Reminds me of "The Firm." Mob recruits top non-mob-affiliated people and creates a cash cow business with many strings attached. Flawed hero discovers mob's involvement and, after cat-and-mouse and some shoot-em-up, extricates himself. The stakes were his marriage and his life. High enough to get Grisham broad readership and a movie deal.

Thing is, this query doesn't communicate the stakes to me. Would I have enjoyed reading The Firm if the stakes revolved around saving a law firm? Saving a bunch of perceived arrogant rich people when they can always find a job at another firm? No. I would have felt robbed of my time. It sounds from the query as if the-what's-at-stake is the survival of a virtual reality sex business. No, I don't care if it goes down in flames, and might even consider it a good deed for society if the mob managed it. Would I care about your characters and what happens to the sex workers? Yes. Do I care about the survival of tech for the sake of keeping that tech? Maybe, and that could be your aim here.

I'm not unacquainted with tech--I've served as CIO of a multinational, worked for 2 of the world's premier tech companies, and even worked on missions into space. I don't understand some of your tech references. When I saw id, I thought of "ID" as in a personna of an online account. QueryShark taught me that id meant id. Does it? Perhaps that's where you could clear up your query.

Overall, I'm interested in the story and think your query doesn't your work justice. Good that you came to the pros for advice. That's where I step back and leave it to them. Good luck and keep writing.

Lauren said...

I think the word "disrupt" is causing some interpretation issues. In startup-speak, "disrupt" means "do something very slightly novel and make piles of cash." (FWIW, I live in a new-tech city, and snide uses of the word always make me cackle.) I'm not sure the usage is quite right-- usually you don't want to disrupt your own business model, you want to disrupt the industry.

My question for the query/querier is: Why does Bopper want to run the business in a sex-positive way? I have known my share of young male coders, and they tend to be superficially feminist but more interested in money than principles. Does he actually give a shit? If so, I as a reader need to be shown that, and need to understand why.

Unknown said...

If the comp really is Ready Player One, then this isn't really what we would normally consider satire. Ready Player One was homage and nostalgia driven. It was a love song to 80s movie buffs, gamers and gamer culture, which was both to its benefit and detriment.

This sounds kind of like a black comedy that focuses on having fun with the concept of sexual objectification in the tech industry (vs satire that I think would be more critical of such an environment.) If RPO really is the comp, it would probably be more considered as an attempt at a "fun" romp that doesn't care if people are offended. I'm not sure how viable that is in 2018.

Cynthia (Chief Nestling) said...

Thank you! This is exactly what I was thinking as I read this.