Sunday, December 8, 2019

#332

Question:
I wrote LOST IN LA as a retelling of Pretty Woman with “modern” social issues, but I don’t know whether to focus on the characters, the fake relationship trope or the social issues that bring the characters together. I’ve chosen to highlight the social issues to convey a fresh approach, but I’m worried the query is too serious and the characters don’t come across as feisty and likable.

You've hamstrung yourself with the Pretty Woman framework.
Pretty Woman was made in 1990.
A lot has changed since then.
Readers tastes in particular.

And always and evermore the thing to focus on in a query is the story.

Dear Query Shark,

Wylie’s Los Angeles roommate kicks her out of her apartment.
Is this a killer first sentence that draws me in and makes me want to read more?

Desperate to finish her yoga accreditation and land a stable job,
or this?

Wylie decides to live in her car and save money for a new apartment.
Here's where you finally engage my interest. That means this is the place to start.

Wylie decides to live in her car to save money for a new apartment after her roommate kicks her out.
Food truck vendor Nolan laughs at her social media influence and she focuses on leading beachfront yoga classes and working at a pretentious bar.

So, Wylie's living in her car. Then you whiplash your reader to Nolan the food truck guy. 
An important thing to remember in all writing, not just queries, is sentences should flow.
That is, a connection from the first to the second, and on down the line.

Whiplash your reader on purpose only.

For this to flow, there needs to be a onnection between Wylie and Nolan.

As in  

Wylie parks her "home" near a food truck owned by Nolan, the Taco King of Pismo Beach...

except laughs at her social media influence is a strange thing to say about someone, particularly if it's the FIRST thing you say about him.

Does he laugh cause he's jealous? Cause he thinks real life only happens off the grid?
Give us some context here.

 After the city tows her car, Nolan learns she’s homeless and offers her a job at the food truck and a room in a co-living commune if she'll give up the pretentious bar.

Why does he care about whether she works at a pretentious bar?
And a guy who starts demanding things as a condition of anything ...well, I hope she gives him the downward facing dog.
As Wylie works and lives with Nolan, she poses as his girlfriend for business reasons and learns the food truck the first step toward a series of fast casual restaurants for impoverished neighborhoods. She falls for him and the allure of a partnership until a roommate reveals Nolan comes from a wealthy family and owns the commune house.
At this point, there's no plot.
Plot is about choices.
So far we have what Wylie decided, not what her choices were.
And there's nothing at stake for her here on the page.

If she doesn't take the job at the food truck, and pose as his girlfriend what will happen?
How will she have to change to get what she wants?

Right now all she needs to do is earn money and keep studying for her accreditation. That's just working toward a goal, not a plot.

It's the difference between working the speed bag and a boxing bout.
Both involve punching but one has something at stake  and the other does not.
Betrayed by Nolan’s omission, Wylie tells him if he wants to make a difference, he needs to spend time in the trenches instead of selling food outside a business park. She proves her point, but an asthma attack sends her to the hospital and illustrates the stark differences between their lives. Nolan offers to take care of her and pushes her to weigh the allure of his life against the value of her independence.

This is too far in to the book to be in the query.
A query should cover just the start of the book.
The purpose of a query is to make your reader, in this case me, want to read more.

LOST IN LA is an 80,000-word contemporary romance like
The Cinderella Deal (Jennifer Crusie)
pubbed in 2011 which makes it too old for an effective comp.
Comps need to be recent, within two or three years.

Here's the rundown from Amazon on Cinderella Deal

Daisy Flattery is a free spirit with a soft spot for strays and a weakness for a good story. Why else would she agree to the outrageous charade offered by her buttoned-down workaholic neighbor, Linc Blaise? The history professor needs a makeshift fiancée to secure his dream job, and Daisy needs a short-term gig to support her painting career. And so the Cinderella Deal is born: Daisy will transform herself into Linc’s prim-and-proper fiancée, and at the stroke of midnight they will part ways, no glass slippers attached. But something funny happens on their way to make-believe bliss, as a fake engagement unexpectedly spirals into an actual wedding. Now, with Linc and Daisy married and under one roof, what started as a game begins to feel real—and the people who seem so wrong for each other realize they may truly be just right.


Notice the power balance?
He needs her more than she needs him.
He's got a LOT more to lose than she does.

That's what I mean by saying things have changed since Julia found love at the opera.

and Roomies (Christina Lauren).
Marriages of convenience are so...inconvenient.

For months Holland Bakker has invented excuses to descend into the subway station near her apartment, drawn to the captivating music performed by her street musician crush. Lacking the nerve to actually talk to the gorgeous stranger, fate steps in one night in the form of a drunken attacker. Calvin Mcloughlin rescues her, but quickly disappears when the police start asking questions.

Using the only resource she has to pay the brilliant musician back, Holland gets Calvin an audition with her uncle, Broadway’s hottest musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until his reason for disappearing earlier becomes clear: he’s in the country illegally, his student visa having expired years ago.

Seeing that her uncle needs Calvin as much as Calvin needs him, a wild idea takes hold of her. Impulsively, she marries the Irishman, her infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves and Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway—in the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting—will Holland and Calvin to realize that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?


Notice the power balance here too?
He has the problem, not her.

I have self-published several novels

Put this in your query letter and I will look up those books on Amazon.
and have lived in California.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


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Bottom line: the query needs a plot and stakes on the page.

Revise, resend.

3 comments:

nightsmusic said...

Food truck vendor Nolan laughs at her social media influence and she focuses on leading beachfront yoga classes and working at a pretentious bar.

This is my big red flag. Either it's worded incorrectly or you're trying to pull a fast one. Social media influence is either, she lets social media influence her, which really has nothing at all to do with everything else you've included here, or she is a social media influencer. If she's that, she's making money. Even the least known make money from all the ads and sponsored products they tout and show on whatever platform they use in which case, I'm asking how she's managing to remain an influencer while living in her car since she needs more than just an internet connection.

Then, she leads beachfront yoga classes...okay...then why does she need accreditation? Better yet, does anyone need accreditation? I'm not a yoga person, but if accreditation is a huge thing, why are people taking classes from someone who isn't?

Last but not least here for me, I agree with Janet on the demand he's making that she quit the pretentious bar. If someone tried that with me, and he actually got out of the hospital eventually, I'd have moved on to someone not an a$$hat.

Your query won't tell the entire story, it can't. It may be a brilliant story but it has to entice the agent to want to read more. If your query is convoluted, boring or your characters are unlikeable, the agent has no reason to move beyond the first couple paragraphs.

Brittany said...

I'm stumped as to what possible business reason would require him to have a girlfriend. (Note that the comp blurbs talk about engagement and marriage, not just dating.) And it's also not at all clear why not telling her that his family is loaded is a betrayal. That one I could at least come up with some plausible scenarios for, but that would need to be on the page because it's not exactly an obvious reaction based on what we have here. Like, if she's upset that he could have bailed her out and didn't, that part is the actual conflict and should be specified.

Elissa M said...

This is the issue with confusing query letters--they make your book look terrible. It's impossible to tell if perceived red flags are a problem with the query or the novel itself.

I suggest you start all over. Tell us what Wylie wants, why she needs it, what would happen if she can't get it, and who or what is stopping her from getting it.