Monday, August 27, 2018

#319-Revised once

Dear Query Shark,

When an asteroid hits Earth, Lauren Sand considers herself lucky to stumble upon a Cold War bomb shelter down a mine shaft—until she shuts the door. Time-locked for two years underground, Lauren has no connection to the outside world. Nothing but the final radio broadcast of conspiracy theorist Mick Parks, who claims a nuclear error caused the catastrophe. When the door opens, Lauren emerges into a drastically changed world. The sea has a new shore, breaking six-thousand-feet high into the Rocky Mountains. With everything she has ever known covered by salt water, Lauren sets out to find other survivors.

This is a promising opening.
I can see a couple places where the writing could use some polish but when I read a query, a good compelling concept trumps all.

Struggling to survive, Lauren is grateful to befriend members of a commune called Camp Genesis. But after weeks of camaraderie, she discovers it’s a cult. The women there are the charismatic leader’s chattel, destined to repopulate the Earth with his offspring. When he stakes his claim on Lauren, she flees.

Oh blarg.
Honestly, I'm so so so over this plot device. Women as chattel, women as victims. One of the GREAT things about a post apocalyptic novel is your chance to discard old tropes and invent some new ones.

I'll keep reading but my enthusiasm has dwindled.

With the cult leader on her trail, Lauren treks across the desolate remains of Northwest Wyoming where algae devour the landscape and holiday resorts have become fiefdoms that kill trespassers on sight. Death and destruction greet her at every turn until she meets homesteader Jay in the lawless last city of New Casper. Jay offers Lauren sanctuary, and the future she always dreamed of. But Lauren sees the future of humanity at stake and believes the truth about the asteroid will help give closure and peace to the dying city. Driven by her hunch, Lauren and Jay embark up the frozen summit of Gannet Peak to last known location of Mick Parks. If her intuition is right, his story may help restore their broken world and allow Lauren to stay with Jay forever— if the cult leader doesn’t silence her first.

And now, I'm utterly and completely confused. Fiefdoms kill trespassers? I'm guessing you mean the people who live in the fiefdoms. How do you have a homesteader in a town? And why is Lauren worried about the future of humanity when she's got more immediate concerns?

Closure and peace to a dying city? What does that even mean?

CAPTURE THE TIDE is a 65,000-word, post-apocalyptic YA novel.

Your first query worked just fine.
Why are you "fixing"this?
It's the PAGES that aren't working.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


After a handful of rejections, I decided to commit myself to the Query Shark archives and I'm so glad I did. I killed my darlings, waited, then killed some more. But, the question is still the same. Is it my letter or my pages that get me rejected? I need the Query Shark.

Dear Query Shark,

When the earth starts collapsing around her, Lauren Sand considers herself lucky to stumble through the steel hatch she finds in a mine shaft—until she reads the notice on the bomb shelter door telling her it won’t open for two years, when the radioactivity outside has safely decayed. But, thanks to the final radio broadcast of a conspiracy theorist named Mick Parks, the young woman knows it was an errant asteroid that shook the world, not nuclear war. What she has two years to wonder about is why no one knew the end was coming.

Now, standing on the new shore of the sea, breaking six-thousand-feet high into the Rocky Mountains, Lauren understands she will never see her Shoshone grandmother Jean and sister Ava again. They, and her hometown of Shadow Grass, Wyoming are covered by salt water. She has survived the end of the world, but to what end? As she begins her treacherous search for other survivors, Lauren is driven by the need to know how there was no warning that the end was near, except for the disregarded claims of a radio talk show host.

Hostile vagrants with saccharine promises haunt the desolate landscape and threaten her resolve. But when she meets Jay, nothing seems impossible. Lauren will learn that one person willing to ask why, and not flinch at the truth, can begin to reconstruct the broken world. Along the way, she will shed the doubts and guilt of adolescence and accept the most unexpected gift of all at the end of the world—love.

CAPTURE THE TIDE is a 66,000-word post-apocalyptic survival epic and love story. It is my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

It's your pages.
This isn't the most compelling query I've ever seen but I like the concept a lot. I'd read pages if  I repped YA. (You know this is YA, right?)

I'm not sure finding out why the world ended is a strong enough plot; the world after all did end. No amount of knowing why is going to change that.

"Hostile vagrants" is the wrong phrase here. I'm not sure you can be a vagrant in a post apocalyptic world since it means "without visible means of support" and no one has a job in this new world, or money, most likely.

You might mean vagabond, as in traveller. 

You're also missing the obvious: why are they hostile? If I was traipsing around at the end of the world, I'd probably be glad to find someone else.

All that said, I'd read pages.

So, what's wrong with your pages?  My guess (and I haven't seen them of course) is you start at the wrong place.  Start with the door opening, not the door closing.  And you might think about the plot too.


Julie Weathers said...

The first thing that came to my mind was she needed to be opening the door to what was left of her world.

"As she begins her treacherous search for other survivors, Lauren is driven by the need to know how there was no warning that the end was near, except for the disregarded claims of a radio talk show host."

If she was underground for two years, she's had lots of time to think about this and survival is probably a lot more important to her than why.

"She has survived the end of the world, but to what end?"

This is really picky, but read this aloud. Sometimes you want to repeat a word for emphasis or cadence.

"O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done," --Walt Whitman

If you do not become fired for this job, you may find yourself fired from this job.

At other times the repetition close together is a stumbling block.

"Hostile vagrants with saccharine promises haunt the desolate landscape and threaten her resolve."

This is very writerly and doesn't say much. I'm not sure how they can be hostile and have sweet promises at the same time.

There's probably a good story here, but I think you start in the wrong place and the query needs work. Luckily, you have the shark to help you with the query.

Mon said...

I love post apocalyptic stories, so the first part of the query had me hooked. If I were an agent I'd read pages based on the premise alone. I agree with the shark that the focus in a scenario like this should be survival in a post apocalyptic environment, and not so much what caused the apocalypse.

Some things that jumped out as red flags to me: the bit about shedding "the doubts and guilt of adolescence" seems odd in this specific scenario. Doesn't she have more existential problems given her very survival is at stake? Also, it seems short for an adult novel but the author hasn't specified it's YA.

Gabe Szabo said...

I like the whole idea for the MS. (I’m biased as I have a trunk novel that’s post-apocalypse that I’ve been sitting on)

What I want to know after reading the query is what happened during the two years she was in the shelter. Getting locked up without sun for two years changes people - ask any inmate who had solitary confinement for years. I hope the MS goes into that.

I do agree with the Shark that finding out why it all happened is not strong enough as the main plot; maybe it’s secondary. What is her primal drive? What is pushing her? Survival, sex, a sense of belonging? What can I (or anyone) relate to that’s the main thrust of her motivation?

Jennifer Cary Diers said...

My guess is that the author either did not write this as YA, or it just isn't clear enough from the query that it's a teenage main character. Maybe they haven't been querying YA agents.

"Young woman" is pretty ambiguous. An adult --even an older teenager-- would have more people to worry about than just her grandmother and sister. Our found family becomes just as, if not more, important to us as we age. If she emerges in her late teens she would have gone in at... maybe 16, at the oldest? Even then, she'd be seeking out a best friend (unless she was a loner before, which could be interesting). So even younger maybe?

That's what I'd clear up immediately. How old is she, and if she only cares to find her immediate family... why? Also, this radio host person seems really important... is she searching for him? If so, maybe we should know that in the query. What, specifically, is she trying to accomplish?

Sam Mills said...

My first reaction to the plot question was: there are plenty of perfectly normal reasons we wouldn't have any warning before a large asteroid strikes (there's a good chance all we'll get is a flash of light and POOF, we're gone), so if you're subbing to SFF-minded agents that could be a red flag that the premise needs work. If you want this question to drive the query (and I don't know that it has to) you might want to clarify WHY she thinks we should have known it was coming. I'm assuming the conspiracy theorist knew something? But he didn't have information another astronomer could check?

ADW said...

I’m just so happy right now, here I am chummin’ along feeling like I won the lottery. Thank you Ms. Shark and fellow writers for your help and support. I look forward to sending my revision soon.

Frankie said...

The idea seems interesting.
I guess you tried to give us a concise idea of what happened before telling us, briefly, about what will happen once the doors open.
I think what’s missing is a sense of the main character personality.

Since it’s jmportant for Lauren to understand why there was no warning sign, why nobody knew it, why don’t specify why she believes there should have been some warning sign?

I think, I don’t know this is just my idea, maybe starting from her escaping the end of the world is not the best way.

Your story seems more like focused on her finding out why the meteor caught everybody by surprise, while trying to survive in a world where everyone (I suppose) thinks only about surviving.

Unknown said...

I definitely very interested in the premise.

I'll say I'm a bit unclear on how important the love story aspect is. It only gets a couple lines in the query which makes me think it is less important, but the way in which it is brought up makes me think it might be really important. Either way is fine, but maybe some more clarification wouldn't hurt.

I thought it wasn't necessary to name the grandmother, sister, and hometown in the query. Wyoming covered in sea water is a nice way of showing what our post-apocalyptic world looks like, but maybe those two sentences can be shortened and reworded in a way that increases their impact.

The idea of starting the story later is interesting because I'm also very intrigued by how those two years in isolation changed her, as other commenters have mentioned. You don't need to have the actual isolation period in the book, but you should see the impact it's had on her. If her isolated period is featured heavily, you'll want to make sure every scene has a purpose, that she's finding out information about herself or the world outside that will prove important later in the story.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

My guess is pages, and pacing within those first ten pages. Yes, the query did catch my interest, but it did feel a bit rambly.

Yes, I'd read the pages after this query because a few of the plot element twists in the query sound catch my fancy, but the pacing would have a few points disadvantage for me, unless the voice caught me in the first couple of paragraphs.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Oh, and the astronomer in me finds the asteroid (or a space rock of any variety) strike plausible. They're not exactly easy to track. There's all sorts of situations that could lead to a major asteroid strike where we're not fully prepared for it.

Kregger said...

Although the word count is right for YA, maybe a little low, but how did you wrap up destroying the world, spending two years in a cell/dungeon and get on with life in a post-ap world (including a love interest) in 66K?

Is it possible you're experiencing the opposite effect of word bloat when the assumption is the story is too lean?

If this isn't YA you're low by at least 40K.

I'd have read pages if that counts for more than melted ice cream on a New York sidewalk.

Dellcartoons said...

I have to ask:

Aside from being trapped for two years, and wondering why the Earth went bye-bye, what's different about this book from the bazillions of other post-apocalypse books and movies out there? And I don't know that those things make that big a diff.

Also, if the world crashed w/ no warning, why is Lauren the only one wondering how it happened?

There's nothing bad here. I'm just not sure what's new and different

btw, according to two different spellcheckers, "bazillions" is a word

Unknown said...

I really like the premise. However, personally I think the query is too dense. I felt a little lost after reading through it. I didn't get a good sense of the MC's voice or place in the world. The query seems to focus a lot on world building and less on engaging us with the MC. that would be my main critique.

Unknown said...

Perhaps there's a reason she needs to in the first Terminator? Would be interesting to know that reason in the query/blurb.

Unknown said...

I agree with the shark--I liked the first query better. Despite a few flaws here and there, I could understand what was going on and wasn't really confused by anything. The revised version makes the plot sound all over the place and difficult to follow, and I also don't see how one man could get away with keeping all those women as chattel. He's one man, so they obviously outnumber him. I know I wouldn't let him use me like that--and I know some men would try to do horrible things to women--but these women are free to leave this guy. What's stopping them?

Lenora Rose said...

(After first revision): I like pieces of both queries, TBH. The first paragraph in the second version feels like it gets the pertinent details out more quickly -- as does the third paragraph of the original version, despite the possibly odd choice of the word "saccharine". I'd use those two paragraphs as the bones if you want to make another try.

I would skip the whole second paragraph from your revision for sure, and further references to the subplot about the cult leader in the query. Even if you write about it compellingly in the book, it does have that danger of looking like well trodden ground here in summary.

(And as an aside, while people who've survived the end of the world will be carrying forward the ideas of our era, it *would* be nice to see some of the people trying to make a completely new cultures, not all rehashes of the same old ideas about Mad Max or regressing into feudalism. While there's no room in the query for this, I hope your book includes some!)

martlet said...

I know this comment is coming late, but I've only just gotten started on reading this amazing blog.

Two major thought groups spring to mind about your story based on this query:

- What stood out to me the most in your query is this radio guy who knew ahead of time what was coming. How did he know? Why didn't anyone else know? Who is he? What is his background such that he could make this accurate prediction when no one else could? Where is he now? What else does he know? I find myself asking a lot more intriguing questions about him than about the main character or semi-cliche end-of-the-world ruffians. Seems like a quest to find him could tie together a lot of your other elements. Or, if that's not at all the point of the story (though the query kind of teases it) then I want to get a much better idea of the protagonist so I can ask questions about her instead.

- Google has confirmed what I suspected, which is that Wyoming is the second highest state in the US after Colorado. Your numbers check out with a 6000 foot sea rise. But that leaves with some big questions as far as suspension of disbelief, which could be eased by great writing that makes me set those questions aside, but loom large in my mind because the highest point in Wyoming is 6700 which basically leaves only Colorado uncovered. First, is there enough water on the planet to make the sea rise that much even if every speck of ice melted? I don't know, but I'd hope the author would in order to make it plausible in an age when we are all talking about global warming and sea rise. Second, I like that the change to the world is extreme, but will it be thoroughly explored just how extreme we're talking? 6000 ft sea rise means almost all of America is gone and much of the world except mountain tops. It starts to lead me down an almost fantasy-level world of speculation about how society would change/ be able to survive on almost nothing but bare mountains. Did it rise extremely fast, wiping everyone out? Or did the sea rise slowly so lots of people are now pushed into a small area? I'd love to see a tight but detailed run-down of the new world she stumbles into in the query, as world-building seems like it would matter a lot in this scenario.

I haven't written a query yet, so maybe none of this matters here, but if I was an agent I would really be looking for it to matter in the story if I chose to read further. I think you'd be writing something really interesting if you have considered these kinds of questions (and maybe you have). An extreme restriction of land like that could make for uniqueness because a challenging premise, if explored in full, can make a story stand out.

Nitpick- I don't understand what you mean 'by earth collapsing around her'. I think the wording adds confusion. It sounds like the story is about sea rise and maybe an asteroid falling? How has the bunker she's in not collapsed into the earth? I guess I just pictured her on a mountainside finding a shaft with a bunker when the whole mountain started falling apart ala Mt. St. Helens or something, or rifts opening in the earth. Maybe place her a little more clearly, like 'When the mineshaft Lauren Sands is exploring (and maybe brief mention of why she is doing that) starts collapsing around her' etc. As teaser for the set-up of this book, I'd like to know why she's there for the inciting incident, because she might be lucky to find a bunker in a mineshaft, but why was she at the mineshaft at all? That can't just be luck, it's not a usual place to be for a teenager. Her reason for being there could also help show some of her personality. To make up examples, if she's been dared to go there by friends and didn't want to be there, maybe she's prone to peer pressure. If she's an urban explorer making a Youtube video about exploring mineshafts all by herself, maybe she's adventurous and pretty reckless/ uninformed how dangerous that can be.