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A blog about why you don't get published. You can also order Evil Editor's books, Why You Don't Get Published, which collects many of the funniest Q & A's along with hilarious excerpts from the Face-Lifts, and Novel Deviations, which collects the best of the New Beginnings.
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1. Feedback Requests

Below are revised versions of the query and opening of Ratman's Revenge. The author would like any feedback you can provide.


Twelve-year-old Cody is sick of his too-busy-to-care divorced parents. When he meets two kids in the woods who can read minds and claim to live in a secret underground city, Cody decides he’s ready for a change. The kids take him underground where he discovers crystal caves, slugs-and-bugs soup, and new friends with awesome paranormal abilities.

Best. Home. Ever.

Then the people who warn the city of natural disasters and invading beasts start disappearing. Cody sees his chance at fitting in and tries to find them. Instead, he finds Ratman—a deadly man-sized rat with creepy mind control abilities and an annoying habit of turning invisible. And since Cody is the only one who sees the freaky fur-face, his friends don’t believe it even exists. What’s worse, Ratman seems determined to exterminate Cody. Dang it.

But Cody can’t quit. His friends warned him that once he comes [came] down to the underground world, he could never go to the surface again. [How come his friends were able to come to the surface?] So, Cody decides to hunt down Ratman in time to save his new home from whatever disaster that whiskered weirdo is plotting—or at least before Ratman’s next attack actually kills him. [I don't see much connection between the two sentences in that paragraph. Is he hunting down Ratman because he can never return to the surface? Maybe it would be better to drop this paragraph and change the end of the previous paragraph to: 

And since Cody is the only one who sees the freaky fur-face, he decides it's up to him to hunt down Ratman and save his new home from whatever disaster that whiskered weirdo is plotting.

That would give you room to add a paragraph in which you tell us how Cody plans to defeat Ratman, what goes wrong, what will happen if he fails.]

RATMAN’S REVENGE is my upper middle grade magical realism novel complete at 69,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


I dropped to my knees in the middle of the dog park, panting hard. Sandy, my golden retriever, ran up with a tennis ball clamped in her mouth. I grabbed the slimy ball and threw it. “Go get it.” She raced off with her tongue flapping.

Sweat dripped down my face and I wiped it with my t-shirt. Oh man, this sticky heat sucks. I glanced at the shady woods along the back of the park. The trees huddled together like giant green aliens—watching me. The leaves flickered in the breeze as if a million green fingers were reaching out, begging me to come inside.

Mom’s warning blared in my head. I mean it, Cody, she’d said a bazillion times. It’s too dangerous. Gangs and drug addicts hang out in those woods. You’re never to go in there. Understand? Never. Promise me, Cody.

Okay, yeah, I’d promised, but that was ages ago. I’m almost a teenager now. That’s different. Besides, my friends would be stinking jealous if I went in the woods without them. Sure, they were probably swimming in that freeze-your-toes-off lake at camp right now—lucky turds. The only water I’d get to swim in this summer was in the bathtub. But maybe this time, I’d have the best story to tell when they got back.

I shaded my eyes with my hands and stared at the creepy-cool woods. A green and brown blur darted between the trees then disappeared.


It's an improvement. I wonder if this would be even more engaging if it were told in present tense?

I drop to my knees in the middle of the dog park, panting hard. Sandy, my golden retriever, runs up with a tennis ball clamped in her mouth. I grab the slimy ball and throw it. “Go get it.” She races off with her tongue flapping.

Sweat drips down my face and I wipe it with my t-shirt. Oh man, this sticky heat sucks. I glance at the shady woods along the back of the park. The trees huddle together like giant green aliens—watching me. The leaves flicker in the breeze as if a million green fingers are reaching out, begging me to come inside.

Mom’s warning blares in my head. I mean it, Cody, she’s said a bazillion times. It’s too dangerous. Gangs and drug addicts hang out in those woods. You’re never to go in there. Understand? Never. Promise me, Cody.

Okay, yeah, I’d promised, but that was ages ago. I’m almost a teenager now. That’s different. Besides, my friends will be stinking jealous if I go in the woods without them. They're probably swimming in that freeze-your-toes-off lake at camp right now—lucky turds — and the only water I’ll swim in this summer is in the bathtub, but maybe this time I’ll have the best story to tell when they get back.

I shade my eyes with my hands and stare at the creepy-cool woods. A green and brown blur darts between the trees, then disappears.


You could convert the first chapter and see if you think it's worth the trouble to continue.

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2. Face-Lift 1258

Guess the Plot

The Witch of Albright

1. Zinia lives near a haunted forest where Locals buy her herbal cures and psychic services. When the king is poisoned, the bishop declares it a work of witchcraft and many old ladies are prosecuted as witches. But she knows they aren't guilty because she's the kingdom's only witch. Now Zinia cannot hide but must use her powers to capture the assassin and free the innocents. 

2. Gwendolyn is tired of cleaning up after her and her sister's messy love spells . . . and their broken hearts. A mysterious love curse has troubled them for years. Maybe the solitary witch who only practices black magic will help them, but at what price? Who cares? Gwen is desperate!

3. One witch, one college, 2.5K students all wanting a little (non-literal) magic in their lives. When interacting spells open a portal for the elder gods, a love/party potion witch will need to crack open books that have been collecting dust for decades. Also, tunnels. 

4. All the kids at Madeleine Albright Elementary School know that there's something off about Principal Smith. One, she has a bunch of cats that hang around her office. Two, she has a skull on her desk. And three, no kid sent to see her ever returns. It's up to Rosa Garcia and the kids from the Drama Club to find out what's really going on.

5. Emily is studying to be a witch at  Albright Magic Academy. But she's a total klutz and they're so afraid she'll kill herself they won't let her do anything even mildly dangerous. So she sneaks away and enrolls at a rival school where she becomes a force to be reckoned with. But will she return to Albright now? And if so will it be for love or revenge?

6. When Mertil O Halloran's online Christmas illumination bazaar is faced with liquidation, the dogged entrepreneur enlists the aid of sorcery. It's broomsticks and 28W 2D GR10Q 4 pin Energy Saving Light Bulbs all the way in this Harry Potter meets Sage Accounts For Dummies rollercoaster ride of thrills.

Original Version

Dear [Agent]

I am seeking representation for THE WITCH OF ALBRIGHT, a completed 79,000 word YA fantasy novel with series potential. In a statement in [venue], you said that [personalized details], and so I believe you may be interested in this work. [In other words, either request my novel or admit that everything you say in [venues] is bullshit.] 

Emily Holland is a witch studying at Albright Magic Academy whose greatest desire is to fight monsters and evil mages alongside her friends. [Once I finish the sentence I know that "whose" goes with Emily rather than the Academy, but I can create a sentence in which it goes with the Academy: Emily Holland is a witch studying at Albright Magic Academy, whose claim to fame is being ten stories tall. We expect "whose" to go with the closest noun. Try two sentences: Emily Holland is a witch studying at Albright Magic Academy. Her greatest desire is to fight monsters and evil mages alongside her friends.] However, as the weakest person on her team, she finds herself relegated to unimportant positions in the field while her teammates shoulder all the danger. After a catastrophic failure of hers [Why not tell us specifically what she does wrong?] allows witches from the evil Shadow Institute to steal many powerful magic charms and artifacts, [I don't see how her duties can be described as unimportant if failing at them can also be described as catastrophic. In fact, protecting those charms and artifacts from the Shadow Institute may well be the single most important task of any Albright student.] she is removed from field missions entirely and is even forbidden [banned] from combat training out of concern that she will injure herself. Her goal of becoming strong enough to rejoin her teammates and battle evil seems forever out of reach. [No need to state the obvious.]

But rather than give up, a desperate Emily sneaks away from Albright and infiltrates the Shadow Institute by enrolling as a student. [That was easy. Wonder why no one else ever tried it.] Her goals are twofold: to recover the stolen equipment, and to take advantage of Shadow’s intense training to become capable of holding her own in a fight. She initially struggles just to survive her new lessons, [What exactly is she learning that's so hard to survive? Is she training in magic or as a ninja?] but as the months go by [She sneaks away for months? Has Albright reported to her family or the police that she's missing?] and her abilities improve, she starts to question whether she should really leave a school which is enabling her to grow far stronger than would otherwise be possible. Ultimately, she must decided whether she now supports Shadow… or whether she is, at heart, a witch of Albright. [I don't think Albright wants her back. Have they gone looking for her?]

I have sold short stories to [regional genre magazine] and [upcoming anthology]. Additionally, I have published several technical articles in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, including [IEEE journal] and [international conference]. Thank you for your time and consideration.



I assumed the Shadow Institute were the bad guys. If it's just another school, if staying at Shadow is like changing high schools, she should stay at Shadow. If you want us to see her choice as a dilemma, you have to show some advantages of returning to Albright. Like Albright trains good witches and Shadow trains evil witches. 

There has to be more at stake than whether she's an Albright girl at heart. What terrible thing will happen if she makes the wrong decision?

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3. Auction Winners

Among the auction winners are AA and RH, but I have no contact information for you. If you'll email me at evledtr@gmail.com, we'll arrange your donation and get you your winnings.

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4. What happens when you accidentally shut your dog in the pantry and leave the house for a few hours.

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5. Face-Lift 1257

Guess the Plot

The Burnt State

1. It's Mother's Day, and yet another ham-fisted attempt at romcom behavior sends Christine over the edge.

2. Billy was careless when trying to fry a few ants with a magnifying glass, and now California is going up in flames. Will Billy's father, a firefighter, save LA? And should he?

3. The nuclear holocaust hit Florida particularly hard. What used to be 'sunshine' is now 'gamma rays,' and Trevor Connors doesn't like it one bit. Join him as he battles radioactive alligators, glowing armadillos, and irate senior citizens for control of the state senate.

4. Oswald Pettigrew couldn't look away from his friggin toaster oven for two seconds without whatever he was trying to toast reaching . . . The Burnt State. Now he's fighting mad, and someone at Wal-Mart's gonna pay.

5. A centuries-in-the-making plot to incinerate an area the size of Texas is about to be put into action. Preventing it would be a challenge even for Indiana Jones, but it isn't Indy Jones who's been recruited to save everyone. It's Indy Ramsay's useless grandfather, Eldritch. We're all gonna burn.

6. A malfunction in the Hubble telescope turns it 180 degrees as it's hovering over Hawaii at noon. The magnified rays of the sun leave behind nothing but ash in what scientists dub "The Mother of All Luaus."

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Indy Ramsay has studied and trained and striven her entire life. Because she is a patriot.

All she has ever wanted is to serve her Empire. [How old is she?]

All she has ever wanted is for the Brothers to show up on her doorstep and induct her into the elite corps of the Empire-the Reverend Council. [I'd start the query with this paragraph. The rest was vague.] [Also, the elite corps of the Empire needs a more awesome name than the Reverend Council. The elite corps would be like the Marines or at least SEAL team 6. The Reverend Council is a bunch of old guys who sit around acting like they know it all.] [Maybe the Brothers need a cooler name, too.]

They do, show up, that is, and promptly whisk away her grandfather-Eldritch Ramsay, [I'd change the commas around "show up, that is" to parentheses. Better yet, change to: They do show up, but it's not Indy they want, it's her grandfather Eldritch...] a man of bemused amiability and little else-on a mission of the tightest, whitest importance, ["Tightest, whitest" sounds more like a description of underwear than an adjective that describes "importance."] leaving behind a shattered and rejected Indy. [There has to be a good reason they've rejected the highly qualified Indy and chosen the totally unqualified Eldritch Ramsay for this mission. They didn't get to be the elite corps by being idiots. Also, if the mission is so damn important, why aren't they recruiting Gordon Ramsay? 

Drawn into the upper echelons of the Reverend Council that runs the Aet-El Empire, a world Eldritch can scarcely imagine and barely understands comes into being in front of his eyes. [It just materializes out of nowhere?] Encounters with bibliothecal deities and soul-vampires notwithstanding, [Not sure what that means.] he realizes he is embroiled in events far beyond his ken. [This is all vague or unclear. And as it doesn't involve Indy anyway, we don't need it.]

As events of the malevolent kind begin to transpire, [Such as?] Indy, too, is determined to have her say in history. She will fight, and prove herself worthy of the Council and the Empire. [Whom will she fight?]

Her hero-worship of the embattled Brothers [In what way are they embattled?] leads her down a dangerous path, where she finds that morals and idealism are not the steel of which empires are forged. [She could have learned that by reading any history book. Or watching Game of Thrones.] 

And as a centuries-in-the-making plan to incinerate the Empire is revealed, [Who has been planning to incinerate the Empire for centuries, and why is it taking them so long to get around to it? For instance, is this a planet where it's always raining, so they've been waiting centuries for a dry spell?] Eldritch and Indy find themselves asking whether they are willing to sacrifice all, including their family, including each other, to ensure the Empire's survival.

THE BURNT STATE is a work of speculative fiction, complete at 112,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



You need to tell us the story. With specific information. The setup: Indy has long wanted to be inducted into the Reverend Council that runs the Aet-El Empire, but when the Brothers come calling, they reject Indy and recruit her incompetent grandfather. The plot: Tell us what she does to prove herself worthy. Does she fight soul vampires? Join the army and fight in a war? Who is trying to stop her? What goes wrong with her plan? The wrap-up: What big decision must she make? What will happen if she fails to get it right? 

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6. Early Bidding Incentive

Place a bid on anything in the auction (see below) before Friday, and receive a PDF version of Evil Editor's History of the World in Tweets, the only history book that provides both hundreds of historical facts and explains what's so funny about them. Perfect for reading on your Kindle or iPad or monitor.

If you've already bid, or if you place a bid before Friday (win or lose), and you want this bonus prize, I will, of course, need your email address.

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7. New Items Donated to Auction by Evil Minion Success Stories

Kiersten White is donating a signed hardcover copy of her recently published YA historical novel, Illusions of Fate.

Jenna Black is donating all four books in her Guardians of the Night paranormal romance series.

To bid, see the post below.

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8. Okay, Bidding is Officially Open

. . . . on the items listed in the post below. Even if you don't want any of the items, this is your chance to annoy the people who do want them by making them pay more. Bidding closes next Monday, the 11th at 6 PM eastern on any item that hasn't been bid on in the previous 15 minutes. If an item has been bid on in the previous 15 minutes, auction on that item closes at 6:15. Unless there's again been a bid in the previous 15 minutes. Etc, etc.

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9. What?! No Auction?

It's May, the month the Brenda Novak Charity Auction always runs, except that Ms. Novak is taking this year off. As I normally spend my May and June editing stuff for auction winners, it looks like I have to auction off my own services and products.

I've noticed that most of the bidding in the Brenda Novak Auction takes place in the first few days and the last few days, so I figure one week is plenty of time.

I could run the auction on ebay or use fancy auction software, but there won't be enough items to make that worth the trouble. Besides, there are no queries or openings in the queues, so running the auction right here on my blog will give me something to post this week.

I've chosen Farm Sanctuary as the recipient of the auction proceeds. They work to prevent cruelty to farm animals and rescue abused farm animals, providing them with happy lives on three sanctuaries totaling 500 acres.

The winners of auction items will have the option of donating directly to Farm Sanctuary (possibly best if you need a receipt for tax purposes) or, if you don't trust them not to sell your info to other animal rescue organizations, paying me, in which case I will make the donation and back you up with my receipt if you get audited.

So far, the items up for bid are those I would have been offering in the BN Auction. Possibly the list will grow if any agents, editors or authors see this and decide to join in.

Donor of auction item (EE in all cases so far) will be responsible for shipping charges.

To bid, go to comments, give the item number, your maximum bid, and the name you which to be identified by on the blog. Also, tell me who you really are. No matter what your maximum bid is, your actual bid will be $5.00 more than the previous high bidder's maximum bid. So if the high bid is $100.00 and you bid $120.00, your actual bid will be $105.00. If someone else bids $115.00, that becomes your actual bid because you got there first. Someone would have to bid more than $120.00 to oust you from the high bidder position. If no one ousts you, you pay your actual bid, not your maximum bid.

Your comments and real name won't be posted. Only the current high bid and the fake name of the high bidder.

Officially this will begin in the next day or two, though if you want to bid now, I won't stop you.

Items up for bid:

Item # 1. Your complete book (up to 70,000 words) edited by Evil Editor, the world's most famous editor, and back to you by the end of May.

Because I would rather donate $300 to the cause than edit your novel for less than that, I'm starting the bidding at $200.  This item has never gone for less than $700 in the other auction, so basically I'm just saving us a lot of time.

Item # 2. Your complete book (up to 100,000 words) edited by Evil Editor, the world's most famous editor, and back to you by the end of June.

Again, I'm starting the bidding at $300.  This item has never gone for less than $1100 in the other auction, and twice went for more than 10 times $300.

Item # 3. Your book's first 10,000 words edited by Evil Editor, the world's most famous editor, and back to you by the end of June.

Bidding starts at $10.00.

Item # 4. Signed ARCs of both Evil Editor color comic strip collections. Bidding starts at $10.00.

Item # 5. Dear Literary Agent...   A collection of the funniest query critiques from nine years of the Evil Evil Editor blog. Illustrated, color, 8 by 10. Bidding starts at $5.00.

Item # 6. Signed ARC of Schliegelman Saves the Universe

Evil Editor's prize winning story now a graphic novel starring Evil Editor!

Bidding starts at $5.00.

Item # 7. Both volumes of Why You Don't Get Published, the only writing books anyone has ever read from start to finish. Autographed.

Bidding starts at $5.00.

Item # 8. All 3 Novel Deviations books, signed. Hundreds of novel openings and hilarious continuations provided by EE and his minions.

Bidding starts at $5.00.

Item # 9. Evil Editor Teaches School: The funniest of the writing exercises we used to do on this blog. Most of them by EE. Autographed.

Bidding starts at $5.00.

Item # 10. My autographed copy of Immodest Proposals, collected short stories by the late science fiction author/satirist William Tenn (1920 - 2010).

600+ pages. Hardcover.

Bidding starts at $5.00.

Item # 11. My signed copies of Katherine Neville's novels The Eight (trade paperback) and The Fire (hardcover).

Bidding starts at $5.00

Item # 12. Box of four trade paperback books that I edited, cover prices total over $60.00. Two story collections, two novels. Contemporary fantasy.

Bidding starts at $5.00.

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10. Face-Lift 1256

Guess the Plot

These Wicked Waters

1. When Annie takes a summer job scrubbing toilets, she never dreams she'll soon be fighting for her life against cannibalistic sea-women. Also, a lifeguard with no fashion sense.

2. Ralph owns an independent toilet store that's losing business to the new Sears across the street.Thursday night, as he's shining his showroom, a genie pops out of a toilet. Will Ralph say the right thing to save his store, or will the clever genie just confuse him?

3. When toilets all over Los Angeles start backing up, ace detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, yet another murderer has tried to get rid of a dead body by flushing it; and two, he'd better get around to installing that bidet he bought his wife for their anniversary.

4. Hired to prove or debunk the legends of the Loch Ness monster, Jake Matthews puts together a team of scientists and heads for Scotland. He's expecting the "mission" to become a relaxing vacation . . . until three members of his team vanish.

5. The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true…or is it the flagon with the dragon? But which witch ordered which? Bartending for the Association of Wicked Witches can be a curse. 

6. Six people have drowned in Rainbow River this year. Some say it's the unpredictable current, but detective Carrie Barnes thinks it's the work of a serial killer, a serial killer she has dubbed . . . the Plunger.

Original Version

Dear EE:

A summer scrubbing toilets at an island resort wasn’t part of seventeen-year-old Annie Mayfield’s plan. [But it had to be better than her other option, counselor at a middle-grade girls' camp.] [I'm pretty sure a summer scrubbing toilets isn't part of anyone's plan. Maybe you should mention why she ends up doing it. Is it a punishment? Did she lose all her money? Is she performing a modern-day reenactment of the 12 labors of Hercules?] Then again, neither was sneaking out for a rock climb and tripping over the weathered remains of a human skeleton. Only, tagging the bones “human” is a whale-sized fib.

Humans don’t have tails. [Could it be the skeleton of a small giant sloth? Does anyone suggest it's a small giant sloth? Not sure why the authorities would claim that a small giant sloth skeleton was human, unless they're afraid that revealing it's a small giant sloth skeleton will kill the tourism industry. Or start a panic among the locals.] [Also, you don't gain anything by making this sentence a separate paragraph.]

Days after Annie’s discovery, a guest’s bloated body washes up on shore. Evidence points to an accidental drowning—except for a too-wide grin splitting the man’s face. Death by suffocation isn’t exactly “say cheese!” territory. [You're saying that it's murder because it's unlikely the dead man was having his photograph taken when he drowned? Or are you saying that he was having his photograph taken, and that this somehow proves the drowning wasn't accidental?]

The Greek Intelligence Service invades. [Is "invades" the right word? I'd go with "steps in."] [Also, isn't "Greek Intelligence Service" an oxymoron? Ba Dum Ching!] Annie knows the agency’s suspect pool is only ankle deep—make-believe sea-women left uninvestigated [I can't tell if you're saying that their suspect pool consists entirely of uninvestigated make-believe sea-women, or that they foolishly aren't investigating make-believe sea-women.] [Neither interpretation makes a lot of sense.] [We could save a lot of space by calling them mermaids instead of make-believe sea-women.]—but she keeps her lips zipped and pursues leads of her own. [Is she trying to solve the murder or identify the skeletal remains? Is there a connection between the two? Why is she pursuing leads?] 

While scavenging the island for mythological clues,

[Examples of mythological clues:

1. Minotaur hoofprints.

2. Poseidon's trident.
3. Blood containing the DNA of a goat boy.
4. Centaur hairs.
5. Ichor spatter.
6. Aphrodite's Magic Girdle.]

Annie rescues a siren tangled in construction netting. The sea-woman’s “thank you” translates as a warning: the others are coming. And they’re hungry. [The other make-believe sea-women? Are they make-believe cannibal sea-women?] [This sounds more like a job for Aquaman.]

No way will Annie surrender as a siren’s appetizer. [When you're on something's menu, it doesn't care whether you surrender.] With the help of her veteran amputee sister, a fashion-backward lifeguard, [Is this a comedy?] and lots of gun-slinging luck, [Not clear why the adjective "gun-slinging" has been inserted.] Annie might survive the summer—with one heck of a back-to-school story. 

[Outline of Annie's essay "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" 

I. Scrubbed about 10,000 toilets.
    A. Ouzo kills germs better than Lysol & tastes better.
    B. Greek men are soooo disgusting.
II. Pushed my sister's friggin wheelchair all over creation.
    A. Carrying all her crap.
    B. How about getting some Oscar Pistorius blades, Erica.
III. Fabulously wicked affair with Eros makes up for 
       otherwise miserable summer.]

Complete at 63,000 words, THESE WICKED WATERS is a young adult novel with a sprinkling of light thriller thrown in. [When you find a mutated human's remains, investigate a murder, and escape being eaten by cannibalistic mermaids, I wouldn't call it a sprinkling of light thriller. Either call it a YA thriller, or cut back on the thrills and build up the romance with the lifeguard.] Fans of STARCROSSED by Josephine Angelini and DEADLY COOL by Gemma Halliday will enjoy the Grecian [Greek] myths entwined with sassy sleuthing. Thank you for your time.


Possibly dining on a human being doesn't make you a cannibal if you aren't technically a human being yourself. Although a mermaid dining on Aquaman probably is cannibalism.

The voice is good for a YA novel, especially if it's similar to the voice in the book. However, you can't afford to sacrifice clarity. There are two or three places where it's not clear what you mean.

Also, try to limit yourself to three sentences of setup. The plot starts when Annie decides to investigate. More about what happens after that. Is the siren the only mythological creature in the book? If there are lots of others, that's worth mentioning in the query.

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11. Big News!

I've sold the film rights to The Evil Editor Story.

I have no control over who's cast, but if you guys will make suggestions (in the comments) for who should play Evil Editor, Mrs. Varmighan, John Grisham, and Erick, the strange angelic man, I'll pass them along to the producer.

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13. Face-Lift 1256

Guess the Plot

Jade Snow

1. Kids living near the Fraklya Dragon Farm quickly learn to never eat the jade snow.

2. A fun and fact-filled book of what to eat to turn your bodily excretions every color of the rainbow. Also contains useful tips on vitamin disorders, hard to diagnose medical conditions, and ways to remove stains.

3. Jade Snow has aspirations to rise through the ranks and make something of herself, possibly attaining the exalted position of palace slave. When she saves the life of a visiting dignitary will that help her cause . . . or doom it?

4. Agent 005982 must carry out her first assignment by going undercover as a dancer in a Las Vegas gentlemen's club. Does Jade Snow have the courage to earn the respect of her male colleagues by taking down one of Russia's most dangerous spies, and in a bikini?

5. Elsa and Anna have a new money making scheme. Elsa makes the snow, Anna trades it for jade. When Hans intercepts the latest buy, all Arendelle takes the heat. Drug running for jewels, Disney style.

6. When chef Sal finds a dead green-skinned alien in the back alley of his restaurant, he thinks it might be an opportunity to spice up his menu. His green ice-cream, known as Jade Snow, is an immediate success, if only people would stop complain about the development of extra limbs…

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

The Jade Palace is all Xue has ever known. [I don't know if her name is Xue, but my waitress at The Jade Palace doesn't even bring me a menu because she knows I always order wonton soup and Noble Chicken and Shrimp. That's the kind of service that earns her an extra 2.5 percent on her tip.] At sixteen, she’s finally ready for the formal entrance exams — if she passes, she will exchange her white apprentice gowns for the colours of her new Bureau and be a palace slave at last, [When the next rung on your chosen career ladder is slave, you started too low.] with a monthly stipend, a chance to rise through the ranks, and honour for her family. [Just as westerners take pride in their first family member to go to college, Xue's family takes pride in their first member to reach the exalted position of slave.] [I wonder if my waitress considers herself a Jade Palace slave.]

But what does family honour mean to an orphan? [Nothing, so let's not even ask the question.] Xue has her eyes fixed firmly on the Plan: pass the exams, enter the Needlework Bureau, one day embroider gowns for the empress herself. [Sadly, when Julia Roberts walks the red carpet on Oscars night, they announce the name of her gown's designer, not of the slave who did the needlework.] Her twin brother, Wen, has similar ideas; passing the exams is his only chance at one day being a court physician. [Basically, they'll both be tested on their talent with stitches. Ba dum ching.] 

Then everything changes. The day before the exam, Empress Qi returns to the Jade Isles with a strange guest. As part of the treaty the empress has just brokered with the remote kingdom of Hawksfell, Beorn Broadaxe, the king’s son and war-chief in his own right, has come to train the empress’s personal guard.

The court seethes with rumour and suspicion — it is said that Hawksfell remains mired in magic, which is outlawed in the Isles on pain of death. [Which explains why David Copperfield has never performed in the Jade Isles.] Why would Empress Qi, renowned for stamping out the magic bloodlines once and for all, make such an ally?

And why has Xue, of all people, become tangled up in all this intrigue? For when Beorn is poisoned at his welcome feast and goes into a coma, his lieutenant Aesa seems to think that Xue can save him… With magic. The Hawksmen call a person's magic their fairing, and Aesa’s works like this: she can identify magic in others, and she has seen that Xue has a healing fairing. [A glance ahead reveals that we're not half finished, yet we've already reached the upper limit of query length and forged onward into forbidden synopsis length. Perhaps we should reduce what we've covered so far to:

The day before seamstress Xue is to take the formal entrance exams in hopes of achieving the honored rank of palace slave, Beorn Broadaxe, a visiting dignitary from Hawksfell, is poisoned. Broadaxe's lieutenant, Aesa, has the ability to recognize magical powers in others, and identifies Xue as a healer who could save Broadaxe's life. Too bad Empress Qi has outlawed magic on the Jade Isles.]

When she kidnaps Xue and successfully forces her fairing to emerge, Xue is thrust into a world to which she cannot belong, facing questions she cannot answer — who are her parents? Does Wen have magic too? How long can she keep this a secret?

It turns out she can’t. The truth was bound to come out.

The empress sends her right-hand man, the [brutal] eunuch JianGuo, after her; with no good options, Xue flees for Hawksfell with Beorn and Aesa, who are now wary of their Jadite hosts. She doesn’t say goodbye to Wen. She doesn’t look back.

But when Beorn sends spies to the Jade Isles to investigate the attempted poisoning, they bring back disturbing whispers… JianGuo has taken Wen as an apprentice, something he has never done. Empress Qi still wants Xue. [For what?] And Beorn’s father has taken the treaty further and agreed to go to war against the Askivan empire, the biggest threat to the Jade empire, throwing Hawksfell’s lot in with the Jadite army.

[2nd paragraph:

Aesa kidnaps Xue and trains her to use her healing power. Although she is able to save Beorn, in the eyes of Empress Qi, Xue is now a criminal; she flees for Hawksfell with Beorn and Aesa. The empress wants Xue back, and uses Xue's twin brother Wen as leverage.

Wary of JianGuo’s motives and fearing for her brother, Xue wants to return to the Isles and give herself up in exchange for Wen. Having trained and developed her fairing under Hawksmen tutelage, she signs on to the king’s army as a healer in order to make the journey without suspicion. [Seems to me there'll be a lot more suspicion if she shows up with an army than if she shows up alone.] This drives a rift between Beorn and herself; the war-chief, whom she has come to care for, believes that everything the empress is doing is a trap, and refuses to lead the small army he commands into war.

Even Aesa tries to stop her from going, sharing Beorn’s belief that it is precisely what Empress Qi wants — but having abandoned Wen once, Xue cannot abandon him again. [If Xue simply decides to go back to trade herself for Wen, then I don't see how the others can think it's a trap. The empress doesn't even know Xue is coming. If the empress offered to trade Wen for Xue, we need to know that.] She leaves for the Jade Isles with the king’s army. But what will she find? Answers and secrets, but none the ones she’d wanted…


Refusing to abandon her brother a second time, Xue agrees to return to the Isles and give herself up in exchange for Wen's freedom. But Beorn, whom she has come to care for, believes it's a trap, that the empress cannot be trusted to free Wen. Even Aesa tries to stop her from going. But Xue is not to be dissuaded, for while she may never reach the lofty goal of slave, if she can free Wen, at least he might go on to create a successful hair products line.]

Complete at 85 000 words, Jade Snow is a YA fantasy novel that stands alone, but has potential to expand into a series.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

*The title is a translation of the protagonist's name, YùXuĕ.


Possibly the information I chose to include in my three paragraphs isn't what you would have  chosen, but if you can get it down to that length you'll have a much tighter query. Focus on Xue; we don't care about the politics and armies.

I feel Xue should have a goal of rescuing Wen rather than giving herself up.

Now that Wen is JianGuo's apprentice, does he go with JianGuo in pursuit of Xue? Also, what are the duties of a eunuch's apprentice? Does a eunuch's apprentice have to become a eunuch? Because it seems like that would reduce the field of applicants.

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14. New Beginning 1044

Annie rushed down the stairs. She was ten minutes late and would only have time for one cup of tea before she started her duties. She had slept badly, tossing and turning most of the night. Images kept flashing through her mind none of which she could decode. When May reached down and shook her awake it had felt like she had only slept a few minutes. It had taken all of the strength she had to pull herself out of bed and she had wasted all of her time trying to wake herself up. Now she was going to pay the price for it.

"I poured you a cup," May told her when she came into the kitchen. "Thank you, May. You are a dear," she said gratefully as she sat down and took a sip. The tea had cooled enough for her to down the rest of the cup. She sat for a tick waiting for the effects to take hold then reluctantly got up to take the tray of tea that May had prepared up to the housekeeper.

The tea was starting to work its charms by the time she came back down the stair . She went towards the drawing room to pull back the drapes when she saw him lying on the floor in a pool of vomit. She jerked back and tried to call for May to help her but her words came out as a high pitched shriek

May bustled into the room. "What is it, dear?"

"It...it's...it's..." The words would not come.

"Oh, him again." She went to the prostrate man. "Help me roll him over, will you?"

"But he's..."

"No, he isn't dead. Just drank too much again."

Annie hauled the man onto his side. His breathing came easier and his color returned. "Why did this happen?"

May shook her head. "I keep telling Mr Grisham not to read EE's reviews of his books, but he never listens. Come on, now. We have to get to dusting."

Opening: Kat33.....Continuation: khazarkhum

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15. When Cartoon Characters Infiltrate Fake Plots

Tired of chasing the uncatchable roadrunner and enduring mishaps that ought to have killed him a hundred times over, Wile E reviews his tactics and settles for easier prey: naïve Route 66 tourists.

When Lois tells Superman that his name is kind of egotistical-sounding, he decides to come up with something that still expresses his magnificence, but more subtly: The Transcendent.

There's also George. And Judy. And Rosie and Elroy and Astro. What I'm saying is that the Jetson family is not . . . Just Jane.

When Elmer Fudd decides to become a major player in the South American slave trade, he discovers his biggest competitor is none other than Bugs Bunny. Not content to let that wabbit spoil another one of his pwomising enterpwises, Elmer dukes it out with Bugs in a series of madcap antics, until they finally settle their diffewences and agwee to go into business together. Now they just have to find a way to wound up those wascally Bazillions.

Ever since Priscilla opened her diner, she’s had her doubts about the name. Selling eggs and sausage to truckers at one in the morning is tricky business, but she never expected her place to become the new hot spot for roadrunners. And who sent her the huge Acme brand anvil?

The ghost of Al Capone returns to 1960s Chicago and wreaks havoc on the city's hippy counterculture. Ultimately prohibited from committing any worldly sin, Capone is consumed by a hatred of Bohemianism bordering on the fanatical. Only Shaggy and Scooby can stop his nefarious plans to exorcise the desire for pleasure from the human spirit. 

In a Disney World restaurant Dave witnesses a customer's complaint that the chicken hasn't appeared, by which he means Donald Duck isn't on the scene. Realizing something should be done about ignorant and obnoxious theme park patrons, Dave complains to Mickey Mouse. But Mickey just calls him a butthead.

Somebody dropped a safe on Jerry's tiny little head and Tom wants to know who. Can Kojak crack the case in time to save Wile E. Coyote from the same fate? Who Loves Ya Mouse?

A Chicago business tycoon believes his days of struggling for existence are behind him--until he catches a glimpse of his old rival running down a back alley. This time, he swears, things will be different. This time he OWNS the Acme company!

Captain Tisdale wishes he never took the helm on Disney's Bermuda Triangle Line. Mickey's smoking blunts while Donald's tapping Goofy. Chip and Dale have bivouacked in the galley and Pluto thinks he's a cat. Can the stalwart captain pull them from the rift before Snow White begins the striptease, or will every child aboard grow up to become a Pirate of the Caribbean?

When Marge Norge bought her long-abandoned mid-century modern House of the Future, she envisioned a Jetsons life, with herself as Jane in an apron. But the Kitchen of the Future has other plans.

In a land where “superheroes” are ordinary government workers and dorks have superpowers (if you call bringing comic book characters to life a superpower), one man rages. Forgotten and alone after becoming a centenarian, Superman vows that Metropolis will not soon forget the day his wrath was unleashed.

Oh, how positively inviting she looked--that bikini-clad cuckoo that statuesquely stood by the window on W. E. Coyote's porch. All that gave the ploy away was the return address on the discarded packaging that read "Acme Adult Novelties."

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16. Face-Lift 1255

Guess the Plot

Red Skies Take Warning

1. Six years after the last bomb fell, survivors slowly exit their hideaways to see if it's safe to come out. It probably isn't, but in this latest dystopian kid's book, it won't matter . . . if you can prove it was all just an illusion or game or some other BS.

2. For the denizens of Club Nitro, morning brings pain, revulsion, and the ugly reality of another day teaching at Jackson High.

3. On a water-covered planet, the dread pirate Solokov attacks a ship and kills everyone aboard except one seamstress, who he needs to repair his sails. Will he fall in love with her or will she lead his crew in mutiny?

4. They say "Red sky in morning, sailors take warning." And this was never so true as it is for the crew of the Bluster when they come on deck in the morning to find themselves under attack by millions of cardinals.

5. On a planet where the sky is red and the oceans are yellow . . . Wait, it's Earth! After a nuclear war! Help! We're all gonna die!

6. As the sun sets over the ocean, Marge tells her husband Bob to check out the gorgeous red sky. He glances up, then goes back to his newspaper. And it dawns on Marge that a divorce would have been a better solution to her troubles than a Hawaii vacation.

Original Version

Dear Agent X,

The morning Serafina Berenofsky [Anagram: baroness faery knife] spots the Crimson Orchid’s flag on the horizon, [Italicize ship names.] a slaughter is promised to follow—at least if the tales hold any truth. [Wait, do the tales mention a baroness who acquires a faery knife with which she slaughters people? Because if so, that's either an incredible coincidence or I should have given a spoiler alert.] [I don't like "promised." You could just say "certain" since that's what the tales say. Or you could go with "prophesied." Also, you could change "at least if the tales hold any truth" to "if the tales are true." You could even stick an adjective in front of "tales" like "witch's" or "ancient" or "fortune-telling goose's."]

She thought she’d left trouble behind the day she abandoned sub-life for a chance to feel the sun on her skin and glimpse what little land remained after the Great Thaw. [Not sure what sub-life means. Was she living underground? Underwater? On a submarine? Or is sub-life what they call the lower classes?] Even if it meant signing up to [for] a lifetime of servitude aboard an elite-owned ship. [Hard to believe anyone signing up for a lifetime of servitude would think she was leaving trouble behind.] After she spent seven years holding her tongue and avoiding the Madame’s temper, the Crimson Orchid, commandeered by the pirate king Solokov, [Do you mean "commanded" by? "Commandeered" is okay if he attacked it and decided he liked it better than his own, so now sails it, while "commanded" would mean it's his ship. If commandeered is right, I'd go with "recently commandeered." If he commandeered it years ago, it's pretty much his ship now.] sets sights on her home. [What home are we talking about? The one she abandoned? The elite-owned ship?] [Has she now been on the elite-owned ship for seven years or is that how long she was in sub-life? Who is the Madame? Is it a bordello ship? Or is the Madame the captain? Or was the Madame her boss in sub-life?] [You probably think the answers to my questions are obvious, and I'm a total idiot for even asking them. You aren't the first.]

Blood stains the decks, but what haunts her memories more is the echo of Solokov’s executioner’s sword as he sentences every single elite on board. [Is "he" the executioner or Solokov?] As for the servants, most meet the deep. Survival comes first, and though she might sail under his pirate flag, she will remember the day he [Solokov] massacred her makeshift family. [Her "makeshift family" meaning the elites who agreed to give her a glimpse of some land in return for a lifetime of servitude? The way I see it, the dread pirate Solokov rescued her.] Solokov made his greatest mistake in keeping her alive, because even though Serafina Berenovsky’s a mere seamstress, [I see her last name is now spelled with a "v" instead of an "f." That totally screws up my original anagram, but now we can make "brave sea-air inferno." Which actually makes sense considering that "red skies" is part of the title. Spoiler alert: To defeat Solokov, Serafina must brave a sea-air inferno. Possibly she's thinking sub-life wasn't so bad after all.] she won’t stop training and learning every trick they’ll teach until she wields a sword as well as she does a needle. [Why are they teaching her any tricks? That's like a warden equipping his prison with a firing range.] And when that day comes, she will claim her revenge. [You took me from a life of servitude, slaughtered my oppressors, gave me room and board and a job, and trained me in swordsmanship. DIE!]

Red Skies Take Warning is a 90,000 word dystopian science fiction, and the first of a planned series. Thank you for your time and consideration.



This map of what Earth would look like if all the ice above sea level melted indicates that the phrase "what little land remained after the Great Thaw" isn't totally accurate. Coastal areas would be underwater, but it wouldn't be anything like Waterworld. Which can only mean the book is set on a planet other than Earth. 

If little land remains, and Serafina isn't somewhere where she can get a glimpse of it, how does she sign on as a seamstress on the elite ship? Were they recruiting servants in some underwater cave? Where was she that she couldn't feel the sun on her skin, but could board a ship?

We don't have much plot here. Basically, we have: When the pirate Solokov massacres most of her crewmates, and takes seamstress Serafina Berenofsky aboard his ship, she vows to one day get revenge. Treating this as a pirate story, you could open like this:

Serafina Berenofsky thought she’d left her troubles behind when she signed on as a seamstress aboard an elite-owned ship. But the day she sees the Crimson Orchid’s flag on the horizon, she realizes her troubles are just beginning. The pirate king Solokov doesn't take prisoners.

Blood soon stains the decks as Solokov’s executioner dispatches every elite on board. As for the servants, most meet the deep, but Serafina is inexplicably spared and taken aboard the Crimson Orchid.

That leaves plenty of room to tell us how she plans to avenge her makeshift family by leading Solokov's crew in mutiny and then finding the Himalayan Islands, and what goes wrong, and what happens if she fails. I've left out the fact that this is Waterworld, but the original version didn't really show that as relevant. Many pirate stories take place mainly on the water, even on a planet that has lots of land. Plus, if there's little land, how do they find enough fresh water to drink? Or wood for the ship-building industry to replace sunken ships? Or places to trade your pirate booty for eye patches and hooks and peg legs? You don't have room to answer all my questions, so maybe it's best to leave the lack of land out of the query.

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17. If Kids Designed the Covers of Classic Books: a film

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18. Face-Lift 1254

Guess the Plot


1. A complete history of the most recent .002% of planet Earth's existence up until the invention of the Internet.

2. Chancellor Hister plots to dominate the European Empire, by preventing the 12-year-old heir to the throne from aging, thus allowing Hister to remain regent forever. Question for discussion: is it the kid who never ages or the evil chancellor who has lost his . . . humanity?

3. When Tech Barons succeed in getting everything but cheerleading and STEM banned from Stanford, Dr Franzil Shcott decides to wage Internet war to take back her school, one gender studies program at a time.

4. A time traveler visits the great disasters of history to record them on film, adding to each his own voice-over saying "Oh, the humanity!"

5. Inside the building, where thousands had engaged in all acts of sexual depravity, hung the meaty odor of bodily secretions. It wasn’t offensive, but it wasn’t sweet. Is this where Wally, the 43-year-old virgin, finally loses his innocence? 

Original Version

Dear agent,

Edgar Lewis is an heir to the [throne of the] European Empire, a successor state to the European Union. It is 2169 and the Empire’s chancellor, named Hister, has plans to eliminate the people in between Edgar and the throne and dominate the boy’s regency. [The guy who wants to rule Europe is named Hister? Are you aware that with one minor change the name Hister becomes . . . Hipster?] Edgar’s stepfather murders his mother and then makes plans to destroy Edgar’s self-esteem in anticipation of a sale to Hister. [A sale of what?] [Also, any good salesman ought to be able to close a deal without destroying a child's self-esteem.] [Also, if you murder your wife, you are always suspect #1, so you should be fleeing the empire, not hanging around trying to destroy your stepson's self-esteem.] The Chancellor has a scientist in his pocket that [who] has created nanites to halt aging and plans to use them to keep Edgar from achieving adulthood. By the laws of the Empire, the head[-]of[-]government position will remain open until such time as the heir is physically able to withstand the stress of governing. [Hey, kids handle stress a lot better than most adults. It's more the complexities of governing kids don't get, especially how to use corruption and bribery and blackmail to your advantage.]

After the treatment, Edgar manages to escape to the Empire’s space colonies and is pursued by Marshal Grummer. Unbeknownst to both of them, the Marshal is the boy’s biological father. [Science fiction in which the villain turns out to be the hero's father? Do you reveal this in a sequel called The Empire Strikes Back?] Pursued by the Marshal’s fleet command, Edgar struggles to deal with his new situation and the deep depression the thought that he may never age brings upon him. The chancellor let’s slip information that turns Edgar’s pursuer into an ally, prompting the two to fight their way across the solar system to prevent the chancellor’s assassination attempt. Can they depend on the military to support the rightful heir? Can they, in spite of the law, convince Parliament to accept an [a] juvenile-looking Emperor? Finally, how does a 12 year old who will never age come to terms with the fact he may never marry, never have children?

HUMANITY is a 90,000 word scifi novel that explores issues such as what humanity is and do you lose yours if you can never die of old age. I see series potential with this novel, but I have other universes to explore as well.

I thank you for your time and consideration


I feel that the intriguing issue of immortality may get pushed aside when the main characters start fighting their way across the solar system. Feels like two different kinds of science fiction competing for attention. Possibly that's just me.

It seems to me that if Hister simply offered Edgar a treatment that would prevent him from getting old and dying, Edgar would go along instead of escaping into space. Or tell him the treatment prevents disease. Why tell him whatever he tells him that makes Edgar feel he must escape? Is Edgar a prisoner when he escapes? If so, how is the chancellor getting away with holding the heir prisoner?

If Edgar's biological father is not who they thought was his biological father, is Edgar still the rightful heir? I mean, would Henry VIII have succeeded Henry VII if Henry VIII's biological father were actually Marshal Grummer? Who knows that Grummer is the father? Where does this Grummer dude get off hitting the sheets with the queen?

Who is Hister trying to assassinate? I don't see what he gains by assassinating Edgar or Grummer. Besides, a trip across the solar system and back would take so long, the political situation on Earth would probably have changed drastically when you got back. Like, you chase Edgar to Neptune, assassinate him, and return to Earth to find that the European Empire is now part of the 3rd Ming Dynasty. 

If I've got a scientist in my pocket who has cured aging, the first thing he's doing is treating me. Then we're marketing the treatment to billionaires until I've cornered the world market on money. Then I'll buy Europe, evict the French, and make the whole empire my summer home.

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19. Face-Lift 1252

Guess the Plot

Spy Girl

1. Caught smoking in the girls' bathroom, Karen is threatened with a month of detention--unless she agrees to go undercover by joining the mean girls clique and snitching on them.

2. Fifteen-year-old Sacha is given her first mission as a government agent: infiltrating a prestigious boarding school before America's espionage network is seriously compromised, and bringing down a traitor. If this is what they give her as a sophomore, she can't wait till she's a senior.

3. Eighteen-year-old Juli, a high school senior, is incensed when a boy installs a nanny-cam in the girls' restroom. So she bugs the boys' locker room. The girls are amused to hear the boys talk about them. However, it results in romantic breakups and when Juli tries smoothing things over by putting it on the Internet, the FBI begins investigating child porn at the school.

4. After a plane crash, nine year old Petunia Higginbotham finds herself in the presence of a scythe-wielding man dressed in black, who challenges her to a game. Not particularly good at chess, she chooses I Spy. But, after solving "Black Box" and "Corpse", will she be able to figure out what Death is looking at with his little eye that starts with the letter G?

5. Henderson G. T. Thornbush is a man on a Big Bucks mission, a guy with a dream, a real top player. But life turns sour when he loses his hemorrhoid ointment and only Spy Girl can help him rediscover his mojo.

6. When the body of bestselling author Frank Stevens is found strangled by a lace teddy in the cabin of his yacht, homicide detective Zach Martinez knows two things: One, that really is Frank's teddy; and two--wait!--author of tough guy books like "Die Violently" and "Gun Guts" is the same person as romance writer Norma Macleod?

Original Version

Sacha Knox is a kick-ass, quick-witted fifteen year old who calls it as she sees it. Thanks to her unconventional father, she competes with the boys at her local Krav Maga club, speaks five languages, and can hit any target you dare her to shoot at.

Out of the blue, her father reveals the truth about her unusual upbringing: he is a spy. [It's taking Elizabeth an entire season of The Americans to break it to Paige that her parents are spies. This guy does it out of the blue?] And now, he needs her to become one too.

[Dad: Finished with your Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and Canadian homework?

Sacha: All done.

Dad: By the way, I'm a spy. And henceforth, so are you. Ready for your first mission?]

With knee-highs and Bambi eyes, Sacha can infiltrate where no adult agent can go. Add in her sharp mind and fiery attitude, and she might just have what it takes to complete her mission: to stop a rogue agent from selling the top secret identities of ten [American?]agents—a list that begins with[includes] her father’s name.

To succeed, Sacha needs to get close to the traitor’s charming and attractive teenage son at Kingston Preparatory Boarding School – home of tomorrow’s millionaires and [senators?] tomorrow night’s socialites. But Sacha wears jeans, not designer dresses, [Apropos of nothing, nowadays jeans cost more than designer dresses.] and she’s kicked more guys than she’s kissed. And with an interfering school principal and her target's snarky girlfriend getting in the way of her mission, Sacha begins to think her agency trainer might be right – she should stick to being a school girl and leave the spying for [to] the adults. But time is running out, and Sacha is the only option left. Can she pull off her cover, survive the dangerous world of subterfuge, and save her father?

Complete at 55,000 words, Spy Girl is a stand-alone YA novel with the potential to grow into a series. I have worked for the past eight years as a writer and editor of children’s books, with more than 30 books published by [Publisher #1] and [Publisher #2]. This is my first novel.

I believe Spy Girl will appeal to fans of the Veronica Mars and the Gallagher Girls novels, as well as anyone who loves to read about a strong female character juggling life-and-death adventures with being a teenager in high school. A few other agents are also considering this submission. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,


Not bad. I've designated a few phrases for possible deletion in order to free up space to tell us what Sacha has to do once she gets close to her target. As the list of names could be memorized or could exist in the "cloud," I assume the mission is not simply to steal it. Is she supposed to kill the rogue agent? Bait him into being captured? Kidnap his son for leverage? A bit more specificity about the mission would be nice.

If Sacha has such a sharp mind, how come she buys this story about her father being a spy? Teenagers never believe anything their parents say. Evil Jr. would have laughed me out of the room if I'd claimed to be James Bond.

Do the good guys know where the rogue agent is? I assume not, or they'd swoop in and take him where he'd never be heard from again.

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20. New Beginning 1042

The woman pushed her cup forward on the sidewalk and tucked her bare feet under her blanket. A new swell of commuters spilled out of the underground, blinked in the morning light, and rushed past her. She fixed her eyes on the sidewalk and pulled her shawl forward over her face as a businessman in a Louis Vuitton suit aimed a two Euro coin at her cup. It missed and rolled away to land just out of arm’s reach. The woman ignored it.

At 8.15am a man wearing runners and pushing a buggy slowed to a stop in front of the woman. She lifted her shawl a little and narrowed her eyes. He was young, with bright cheeks and a scar under his left eye.

“I only have two Euro,” the jogger said.

The woman nodded her head. “A croissant only costs one.”

The jogger knelt down to fish around in the storage compartment under his pram. “You said you had something of interest to our organization?” he asked.

“I have the names of ten American agents,” said the woman. “I want three million dollars.”

“We’ll pay two.”

"Deal," the woman said.

The jogger wrestled a large black duffel bag out of the storage compartment, biceps straining against the weight. He tossed it on the sidewalk. "Cash okay?"

She handed him a folded piece of paper and confirmed that the bag was filled with cash. 

He unfolded the paper and looked over the list:

1. Miss Snark
2. Hannah Rogers
3. Kristin Nelson
4. Janet Reid
5. Irene Goodman
6. Donald Maass
7. Erin Niumata
8. Curtis Brown
9. William Morris
10. Jenny Bent

"Hey, just one minute," he said. "Two of these people are the same person." He looked up to find the woman long gone. 

Oh well, he thought, the joke's on her. We were willing to go as high as 2.5 million. 

Opening: Libby.....Continuation: Anonymous

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21. Synopsis 43

Dear Evil Editor,

About a year ago you kindly lambasted a query letter for my YA historical mystery, A SERPENT IN THE GARDEN. The novel and the query have been extensively revised and retitled. New title is BURY THE DEAD: in celebration of the increased body count. I'm pretty happy with the revised query letter, but now I need a 250 word synopsis for a contest. 250 words is so, so tough. Here's what I've got. I look forward to your and your minions' constructive and hilarious criticism.

Sixteen-year-old EVA VON HIRSCHBURG fears she will live and die in her family’s forbidding castle, scorned ["Ostracized" would be a stronger word here.] for sins ["Atrocities" would be a stronger word here.] her parents committed. When a woman is killed at a nearby abbey, leaving behind a newborn baby, Eva is moved by similarities between the victim and her own dead mother. She vows to find the murderer herself and convinces the kind but reluctant BROTHER CLEMENT to help. [Not clear why Clement is in the query, as he's never mentioned again.]

Her investigation is complicated by the arrival of an unexpected suitor, the charismatic LORD FRIDERICH. Drawn to Friderich’s rebellious spirit and the chance to escape her oppressive family, Eva falls in love. [Someone once offered to help me out of a bad situation. I was grateful, but I didn't fall in love with him.]

When a potential witness is stabbed to death, Eva confronts her prime suspect, the cold and arrogant BROTHER KARL. He reveals that the first victim was his sister and she was having an affair with someone in Friderich’s household. [Does that strengthen or weaken Eva's belief that Karl's the killer?] [Is he her prime suspect because he's cold and arrogant, or is there actual evidence against him?]

When Eva approaches ["Confronts" would be a stronger word here.] Friderich, he begs her to relinquish her obsession with the murdered woman before she becomes another victim. [If you don't quit obsessing over that woman, you'll become my . . . er . . . the next victim.] Later, Eva prevents Friderich's friend, RAGENARD, [Anagram: Rodney Dangerfield.] from raping a serving girl. Convinced Ragenard is the murderer, Eva implores Friderich to bring him to trial. [I see she has a new prime suspect.]

When Ragenard is found dead, Eva realizes [that she must come up with yet another prime suspect.] Friderich was the woman’s lover. [Not clear what one has to do with the other. Were Friderich and Ragenard the only possibilities? Why was Ragenard a suspect? Ragenard is described merely as Friderich's friend, not as a member of his household. Is it known that the person having the affair is also involved in the murder?] Ragenard killed her under Friderich's orders [Should I care why Friderich wanted her killed?] [I have a lot of friends, but few who would commit murder, even if I ordered them to.] then attempted to blackmail him. [Surely anyone who's willing to commit murder for you would also give you whatever you want from him without your having to blackmail him.] [What does Friderich want from Ragenard?] Suspecting he intends to kill the baby, [If he wanted the baby dead, wouldn't he have had the mother killed before she gave birth? He had nine months to get rid of both of them at once.] she races to the abbey where Friderich ambushes her. Eva fights for her life. She is losing consciousness when Brother Karl enters. Friderich tries to throw Karl from a window. Eva saves Karl, but Friderich falls to his death.


What's so oppressive about Eva's family? Her mother's dead and no other family member is mentioned.

Also, it would be cool to live in a forbidding castle.

Let's clear up the Friderich-Ragenard relationship. If one of my friends ordered me to commit murder, he wouldn't be my friend much longer. Unless he was rich.

And if someone is required to take orders from me, I don't need to blackmail him. I'll just order him to give me his money and his nineteen-year-old daughter.

Dropping Clement would be a minor improvement. How about dropping Ragenard? He's taking up a lot of space, but if he's just acting under Fred's orders, leaving him out would let us focus the query on the main villain. And eliminate a few embarrassing questions. Plus, the fewer characters, the less boring. You don't want my mind wandering while I'm reading.

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22. New Beginning 1043

The last day I saw my sister alive, I lost my position. It hadn’t been much of a job, just sweeping out our landlady’s flower shop, but it had paid part of my school fees, and I didn’t look forward to telling Edwina.

“I’ll not have the likes of you working here,” Mrs. Hudson had said loudly, to impress her Protestant customers.

I dawdled on the way home, trying not to drag my foot, stopping to check the names on the neighborhood’s makeshift war memorial. No new names, but I crossed myself, just a quick wave of the hand.

As I turned to cross the street, someone shouted, “Look out!” and I stumbled back to let three students rush by on their bicycles. One of them lost his hat, and I grabbed it up and sailed it after him. The grocer’s horse shied, and the old man shouted at me.

Two years into the war, the university had a dearth of students, only ashamed young men not suited for service and arrogant future officers waiting to be called and sent to the trenches. They were all just as cheeky as ever.

The hat missed its mark, and slicing neatly through the war memorial flew towards Mrs. Hudson's flower shop. It shattered the glass, and cleanly decapitated the old Protestant and her customers. Finally it embedded itself in the grocer's horse, and I retrieved it from the frightened animal.

It seemed I would have to return it to its craven owner myself. Turning it over, I read the name of the cheeky student who so carelessly lost it:

Odd Job.

Opening: Susan Hall-Balduf .....Continuation: khazarkhum

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23. Feedback Request

Hi EE,

Here is my second attempt at my query letter. I've changed the name from Spy Girl to Into the Shadows. Thanks for your help.

Kind regards,

Sacha grew up on shooting ranges, Krav Maga crash mats, and the streets of foreign cities. Out of the blue, her father reveals the truth about her unusual upbringing: he is a spy. Now, he needs her to become one too. A rogue agent is on the verge of selling the identities of ten American NOCs—a list that includes her father’s name. But the traitor is in the wind and the only lead is her secret teenage son, Charlie. [Secret from whom? Everyone? I'd drop the word "secret," as he's obviously not secret to Sacha and her bosses.] [Consider starting a new paragraph with the next sentence.] Despite feeling betrayed by her father’s lies, Sacha chooses to leave the security of her normal life [Her normal life hanging out with her buds on shooting ranges, Krav Maga crash mats, and the streets of foreign cities.] and step into the world of espionage. If she can keep her cool long enough to [and] keep her cover, she [just] might just be able to complete [accomplish] her mission: to spy on [monitor] Charlie’s actions and communications and follow the intel to the rogue agent.

To succeed, Sacha needs to infiltrate Kingston Preparatory Boarding School in Paris, home of the next generation of European diplomats and politicians. But Sacha wears Chucks not Chanel, and she’s better at fighting than fitting in. Add to that a politically-driven school principal and her target’s [Charlie's] snarky French girlfriend getting in the way of [hampering] her mission, and Sacha begins to think her handler might be right – she should stick to school and leave spying to the adults. But time is running out, and Sacha is the only option left.

Into the Shadows is a 55,000-word, stand-alone YA novel with the potential to grow into a series. I have worked for the past eight years as a writer and editor of children’s books, with more than 30 books published by Pub #1 and Pub #2. This is my first YA novel. A few other agents are also considering this submission. [No need to say this if you're referring to just the query letter.] Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,


This sounds pretty good to me.

Is NOC a common-enough acronym that the literary agent will be familiar with it? If not you could go with "agents" (in which case you might change "rogue agent" to "traitor).

While "more than 30 books published" is impressive, it almost feels like an exaggeration. The reader may wonder why someone with 30 books published doesn't already have an agent. If that number includes both edited and written works, I'd reduce to the number of which you are the author.

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24. Like These Book Covers

I just submitted a link at Reddit.com. Not sure how it works, but I think if you go there and search for If Kids Designed the Covers of Classic Booksyou should be able to find your way to a compilation of 25 book covers. If you then declare that you like the article, it moves toward the top in popularity, attracting more people, and eventually some of them submit queries and openings for us to ridicule. It could work.

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25. Face-Lift 1253

Guess the Plot

Danger in the Darkness

1. When Lyle takes his date to the carnival and talks her into going on the Tunnel of Love ride with him, he has no idea the exit has been locked and the ride's been stocked with hungry lions and crocodiles.

2. The heart-pounding story of one man's search for an outdoor latrine during the Great Northeast Blackout.

3. 12 year old Amarosa is short, fat, and the smartest girl in her class. When the teacher's beloved baseball trophy is stolen, Amarosa organizes an all-sixth grade detective team to find the culprit. But is there more to this than a simple theft?

4. When 17 year old Kaisley buys her reclusive neighbor's black horse, she's delighted to learn he's really Danger in the Darkness, a one time world champion Tennessee Walking Horse. With show season fast approaching, can Kaisley and the old man return Danger to his former glory?

5. Detective Jennie Carlson asks Zachariah Sinclair to assist in finding the person who's been killing young women and leaving their bodies in a dark alley at night. Will Jennie wish she'd left the investigation to her own team when she finds out that Sinclair is actually a creature of the night who feasts on the blood of innocents?

6. Bats. Honey badgers. Coyotes. Wolfmen. Cougars. Cat burglars. Mink. Owls. Drunk drivers. Dracula. Revenge-seeking ghosts. Ocelots. Skeletons.

Original Version

When the bodies of young women begin turning up in the alleyway behind local bars, detective Jennie Carlson and her team are called in to investigate. [Jennie suspects foul play, until the coroner reports that the women all died because their bodies had no blood. And you can't live without blood.] [Is "called in" the right term? If they're police, they would be assigned. They wouldn't be sitting around on call, waiting for their next mission.]

The small New England town is rocked by the murders and want answers. [It's a rare alleyway behind a bar that doesn't produce a few bodies every week; how do they know these women were murdered? Was the cause of death the same in each case?] [Also, if corpses are filling the alleyway in my town, It's not answers I'm looking for; I'm looking for The Avengers.] Who would want to hurt these innocent women? [Serial killers. Obviously.] Zachariah Sinclair thinks he knows who the culprit is. [Change his name to Zach Martinez. And report that he knows two things: the dead women didn't commit suicide, and if he doesn't bring home a bottle of Lagavulin, his wife will drain his blood.] The problem? Zachariah harbors a dangerous secret: he is a creature of the night who feasts on the blood of innocents. [I can see how he would want to keep that to himself if the dead women had puncture wounds on their necks and no blood. Otherwise, what's the problem?] He believes the culprit to be the vampire who, over a hundred years ago, murdered his [Zachariah's] fiancée and made him what he is. Zachariah wants to know why he is back and wreaking havoc on the small town. [That's the difference between the cops and bloodthirsty creatures of the night. The cops prefer to stop the killing first and then worry about whether the killer has a reasonable explanation. Your characters seem more interested in information than in safety.]

Determined to bring the killer to justice Jennie turns to Zachariah for help. [Why does she turn to him? Does she know his secret?] The sexual attraction is undeniable and she finds herself tumbling headlong into a dangerous love affair. [Some women are attracted to older men, but a hundred years older is way up on the Ewww Scale.] As the body count rises, the passion between them mounts and the flame of their desire is ignited. [Or, to put it another way: As the passion between them is ignited and the flame of their desire rises, the body count mounts.] When a scorned lover plots to get Zachariah back [Do you mean win him back or get back at him?] the intimate world he and Jennie created crashes down around them and their love is put to the test. [What happened to the old vampire? Suddenly we've switched to this scorned lover as the villain?]

With Jennie’s life hanging in the balance Zachariah must make the ultimate sacrifice to save the woman he loves or risk losing her forever. [The term "ultimate sacrifice" is generally accepted to mean death. If you mean something other than he must kill himself, spell out what he must do, instead of calling it that.]

DANGER IN THE DARKNESS, book one of a trilogy, is a 107,00 [107,000-] word erotic fiction novel. [No need to describe a novel as fiction.] This is my first novel.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.



I would give the old vampire a name.

We need to know why a detective with her own team is consulting Zachariah. What makes Jennie think he brings anything to the table? Who is he to her?

If the main goal is stopping the old vampire from killing again, focus on that. The scorned lover sounds like a subplot.

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