Sunday, July 1, 2018

#316-Revised once

Dear QueryShark:

Rosie didn’t mean to summon a muse, but now Muses Incorporated’s best and brightest is at her service. Every time Rosie runs into Theo, her new neighbor, inspiration follows in his wake. Words that have been dead and gone for years flow free and easy. Things are looking up. 

I'm confused here. If inspiration follows in his wake, who's being inspired? Rosie? Theo? People standing around chatting at the neighborhood t-rex roast?

Words that have been dead and gone flow free and easy? Dead words are flowing? That sounds like a horror novel to me.

Don't try to be clever. Just tell me what Rosie wants and why she can't have it. My guess is that Rosie wants to be a writer and she's having a hard time wrangling words. 

Until she and Theo stumble through a portal and end up trapped in the world where Rosie’s stories live.

They stumble through a portal? Generally when I'm slinking about with my Muse  here in NYC I avoid the manhole covers portals.   

Stumbling through a portal is one of those devices you use cause you haven't figured out how to get them to a different world in a more interesting way.  Quick fixes like this are ok if they aren't major plot points, but honestly, this is the big one, and it's a cliché.

Okay. She can handle this. 

Theo says the only way home is to write them to the other side, but that’s kind of hard to pull off when there’s nothing but sand and sun where characters and plot should be. 

You know characters and plot are made up things, right? Cause at this point you've taken this whole "my book is a living thing" metaphor right up to the edge of aw c'mon.

As if that wasn’t enough, Theo’s power-hungry, manipulative boss is doing everything she can to keep Theo from signing his last contract and becoming a free human again. Calliope’s determined to keep them trapped until Theo gives up his hope at freedom and promises to stay by her side forever. And if that means killing Rosie, then so be it.

Theo sounds like the guy with the problem, not Rosie.

Maybe she can’t handle this after all. 

ROSIE AND THEO is contemporary fantasy, and is 75,000 words.

75K feels a bit light for a fantasy. There's all that world building you need, plus of course a plot.

This is my debut novel. When I’m not writing, I’m raising five kids to be pretty cool humans, along with my pretty cool, human husband. Sometimes, I’ll go on long and very excited rants about Jewish pirates. It’s a thing.

This is still the best part of the query, and it gives me hope.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

The really bad news is that books about writers and writing are generally best left to non-fiction. Only writers find the travails of writers to be interesting. It's a little too inside baseball.

I see these kinds of books from writers often enough that I know it's a response to being frustrated about your own writing career.  Unfortunately that's not enough to drive a novel.

If you can turn this on its ear, make the writer the villain (gasp!) and the Muse the protagonist; the writer botching things left and right; the Muse having to solve things for the writer, this is going to be a whole lot more interesting.

If you don't want to make that kind of major change, you still need to be much more specific about Rosie's problem: what she wants and why she can't have it.


Original query

Question Re: contact info. Should a tumblr be included? I have over 2k followers, but it's mostly fandom content. And what about fanfiction? I've been writing for 17 years and I have stories that have close to 50k hits online, and several hundred likes and comments. But I also know that a lot of people see fanfiction as taboo. Should I reference it, or am I better off not mentioning it at all?

One last question - when submission guidelines ask for pages, should they always be double spaced, even if the submission guidelines don't say either way?

Dear Query Shark,

Rosie’s pretty sure it would take magic to help her publish a novel at this point. Her best friend, Adelaide, always said she had it in her. But to be honest, Rosie hasn’t written a word since Addy died two years ago. Right now, she has less chance of publishing a book than she has of landing a decent date on Tinder. And that’s saying something.

Novels about writers are really tricky. Only writers care about whether someone publishes a novel. And writers aren't your audience here: readers are.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a doctor once at a writing conference. I asked what the stakes were in his novel. He said in a horrified voice "he will lose his hospital privileges!" The writer/doctor was shocked to his shoes when I said no one would care about that.

My point here is the book needs to be about more then whether Rosie gets published.

Theo has worked as a muse at Muses Inc. for two hundred years. Now, at last, his contract is almost up. He just needs to sign one more writer and he can get back to his life, to his own writing, to his freedom. But his boss, Calliope, doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and seems determined to make him stay, whatever the cost.

 This is actually a much more interesting start to the query. But what is Calliope's problem here? She doesn't like writers all of a sudden? Last I looked, she's the muse of Poets et al.

When Rosie inadvertently summons Theo, the two of them end up thrown into The Sandbox, a world where Rosie’s writing comes to life. The only way back home is to follow the story through to the end. Cue hybrid monsters, fire mages, fairy queens and one seriously manipulative Greek goddess.

So, what's the plot here? Rosie wants to get published. Got that. Theo wants out of Muses Inc. Got that. Who's running the Sandbox (ie the antagonist)? And by Greek goddess do you mean Calliope, cause she's a muse, not a goddess.

Rosie’s pretty sure it’ll all make a good book if she and Theo can just survive it.
ROSIE AND THEO is 74,000 words. It is a contemporary fantasy novel about reclaiming agency, overcoming fear, and becoming the protagonist of your own narrative.

Well, ok, but I don't get how this is any of that. What fears does Rosie overcome? Reclaiming agency? I'm pretty sure you don't mean literary agency, cause that would be weird. Become the protagonist of your own narrative sounds like a self-help book, not a novel.

This is my debut novel. When I’m not writing, I’m raising five kids to be pretty cool humans, along with my pretty cool, human husband. Sometimes, I’ll go on long and very excited rants about Jewish pirates. It’s a thing.

This is the best part of the query. It's funny. It makes sense. And it makes me want to know more about you.And where's the book about Jewish pirates? Oy matey!

Thank you for your time and consideration.

You don't have any plot on the page here, and I'm not seeing what you tell me the book is about. Start over.

As for your questions:
Question Re: contact info. Should a tumblr be included? I have over 2k followers, but it's mostly fandom content. And what about fanfiction? I've been writing for 17 years and I have stories that have close to 50k hits online, and several hundred likes and comments. But I also know that a lot of people see fanfiction as taboo. Should I reference it, or am I better off not mentioning it at all?

Include your Tumblr account if you want an agent to look at it. Any social media platform is ok, particularly if it shows you've got an engaged audience.  Readers are readers and I'm always glad to hear that a debut novelist already has some. 

Fanfiction is taboo? I guess we should all forget that complete flop of a novel Fifty Shades of Grey?
I can't sell fanfiction using a world someone else created but I can certainly let READERS of that fiction know you have another book being published. There's a very clear distinction here. Let me know if you need elaboration.

One last question - when submission guidelines ask for pages, should they always be double spaced, even if the submission guidelines don't say either way?

Not in an electronic query. Pages are single spaced BUT you allow white space by inserting a line every 3-5 lines so you're not sending a Big Block O'Text.


Unknown said...

I agree that the antagonist issue is a big one. I think its hard to sell a storybook world adventure if the stakes are just "survive" in general. Alice in Wonderland had the Queen of Hearts, and she was a very compelling antagonist. If your story has an antagonist like that, it should probably be unambiguous in the query as far as who she is and what she is planning.

nightsmusic said...

Harsh time...

First paragraph; who cares? She hasn't written a word in two years, she hasn't any business being published. She hasn't written a word since her friend died. Why? I haven't worked on my latest in a year. I have my reasons, but I'm also not looking at getting published at this point. There's a lot of work and a long, long way to go to get to that point and putting words on the page is the first step. She hasn't. Even if she's got something finished, so what? Was she ready to query when her friend died? Who knows? Give me a reason to care because right now, I don't have one so this paragraph does nothing.

Second paragraph; Well, I take it Theo is under some forced contract, but you don't really tell us that. Or is Calliope in love with him and that's why she doesn't want him to leave? Or he's so good at what he does, she can't replace him? If the latter is the case, why is he worrying about signing one more client? He should be so good at it that it doesn't matter so why is he not happy?

Third paragraph; I agree with Janet. And where did The Sandbox come from? Is that part of the story Rosie hasn't touched in two years? If so, say so. Don't make the agent guess.

Fourth paragraph; This indicates a series of adventures. There are no real stakes, no real challenges, no life or death anything. There may be in the book you're pitching, but not here and it needs to be here. You don't need to put that one 'gasp' moment in your query, but you need something to make the agent say Ah! There is no Ah moment in this query.

Read this out loud as someone who hasn't seen it before, has no idea what the book is about, and needs to make a decision as to whether or not it's marketable. There's a world of difference between fan fiction and a marketable book and while there is the rare occasion where someone graduates from FF to publishing, they're few and far between.

Good luck.

C. D. Monson said...

As I read this query (sorry brave author) I thought, "who cares?". If the MC dies (or isn't published), it doesn't affect anything or anybody, including me. The world will continue.

The plot of any "survival" book needs to gripe the emotions of the reader. And, the way to do that is to make the MC's survival matters, not just for the people who are part of the MC's immediate world, but the world outside her world. Meaning, if this person dies, than no one is safe from the antagonist's wrath, including friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and their dogs. If this isn't in the query, perhaps it isn't in the story either. However. if it is in the story, make sure it is (front and center) in the query.

Good luck! And keep writing!

Frankie said...

I don’t get who’s the main character here. I get what everyone wants but I don’t see how the things are related.
I also fail to see the connection between Rosie’s fear, the fact Theo wants his life back, and the fact they end up into Rosie’s story (I thought she stop writing after her friend’s death).

I would probably read a book about a writer’s journey, but I think you need to give another look at your manuscript and figure out who’s the antagonist and what would happen if Rosie fails (the mere fact of not being published isn’t a high stake in my opinion).

Keep working on it!

Mora Green said...

I disagree with the line about "few and far in between" graduating from FF to publishing. "Few and far in between" graduate from writing to publishing. Yes, there's huge difference between writing for a fandom and writing for publication, and there's also a difference between your first attempt at a novel and publishable work. For my own writing, the years spent in fandom were invaluable for learning the craft. You never get such an audience anywhere else.

As for the query, the way you listed things that the MCs found in the Sandbox reminded me of the way "City of Thieves" by David Benioff was described on the back cover. It's also about two people who journey through a dangerous territory and find all sort of random trouble on the way. I mention the book because perhaps reading its description could help you shape your own query. "City of Thieves" is about two young men on a quest to find a dozen eggs in the besieged Leningrad, when a million citizens starved to death and people were eating dirt. They need the eggs because an NKVD colonel's daughter is getting married, and if they don't find eggs by Thursday, the colonel will execute them both. If I had to pick THE antagonist for the story, it wouldn't be the colonel but the Einsatzgruppen officer they meet on the way, but they don't even know about his existence until halfway through the book, so trying to squeeze him into the summary would be a distraction. It's the NKVD colonel that set the plot in motion. All of the dangers the characters encounter along the way (cannibals, partisans, snipers, Nazis) are certainly life-threatening, but they don't represent THE stakes. The stakes are that if they don't find a dozen eggs in a famine by Thursday they will both die. As a bonus, they get plenty of opportunity to die along the way and become a cannibal's dinner, but that's implied.

I also have to agree that "Rosie doesn't get published" is not enough for stakes. As you see, not even the writers care.

MirzWeiss said...

Whoa, okay. A lot to unpack here. Thanks for all the comments guys - I have some work to do.

Re-Rooted said...

Just wanted to add, MirzWeiss, that I smiled and said out loud "that's awesome" when I realized what your concept was. Sounds super clever to me, especially making the concept of the Sandbox into a living world where the ideas get put together. Definitely different from meta-fiction approaches I've seen. It also sounds like the kind of book that would lend itself beautifully to humor, which it sounds from your last paragraph like you have a lot of. All that to say, the feedback about getting stakes clear and making them the focus of the query sounds totally consistent with everything I've read about querying, but once you get that sorted out, I think you'll have a very appealing pitch. I'd read it, anyway! :)

Aphra Pell said...

Just to offer a glug of optimism - this is a book I'd read. Reminds me a bit of Jasper Fforde. So keep plugging away at perfecting the query and MS :-)

Brig said...

I second (or third?) the comment that some changes need to happen in the story/ query about what’s at stake. I personally think focusing more on the connection between Theo and Rosie- what being together means for each of them- whether good or bad- would be better than the generic focus on the ‘bad things to come’ of The Sandbox. I also think you’ve described The Sandbox as basically a ride they have to go on a few times before they can get off. The stakes in the case of The Sandbox would be what’s making them at risk of falling from the ride, and who is the one instigating this. But I absolutely would read a book about this, so definitely keep at it (for my reading pleasure alone ;)). Now, I’m off to google Jewish pirates.

MirzWeiss said...

Re-Rooted and Aphra Pell - thank you both. I'm working hard to get this query up to scratch, but your comments were a huge pick-me-up. I hope I manage to get this book out there eventually so you both get to read it ;)

Unknown said...

I salute your courage. Agree that the second paragraph should start the query with maybe something (distilled phrase?) about Rosie up front. I see it as Rosie hasn’t written a word since her Friend died, and Theo wants out but his boss schemes to force him to remain.

I also get that Rosie will remain in the sandbox until she completes her novel. That could be a kind of hell for her...and others. Been watching a lot of history videos—the name Rosie drew me to WW2, and I thought of The Sandbox as a metaphor for my father’s experience in the Warsaw Ghetto...until the humor (but, that’s OK). If Rosie can’t get out, is Theo also trapped? IMO, he better be and your query implies as much. Kind of. What if she can’t get out...a kickoff of the (literary) Apocalypse? Who Guards the sandbox? Black-uniformed immortals?

Adventures with a high personal stake can be fun (A Series of Unfortunate Events), though those stakes aren’t entirely clear in the query. Another example: is Rosie like Sarah Conners (destined to give birth to the person destined to save all of humanity)?

I like the premise and would read a few pages before deciding whether to read more.

Oh, and 200 years doesn’t move the needle for an immortal being. It sounds more like a smoke break. A fifty century contract might raise my eyebrows enough for me to feel sympathy for Theo’s whining. Poor immortal—beleaguered with literary philistines (like me)—that he is.

As for Jewish pirates, perhaps you’ve met, heard of, or seen photos of my relatives (I should point out they claim to be relatives. I’ve never verified it.).

Best of luck on your project. You made me smile.

Dan Rowinski said...

The muses technically are goddesses. They are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, gods of Olympus. Technically, I believe their classification are that of nymphs, which are minor deities but still goddesses in their own right, though the origin of the muses is a bit fuzzy if you stray from Hesiod's definition.