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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. Satan Guess the Plot

The following Guess the Plots have appeared since the last time we did a Satan quiz a few years ago. Only one of them turned out to be the actual plot of a minion's novel. Which one?

1. The Devil knocks up some woman while possessing the body of some hot guy. The pregnant woman, shunned by her Amish family, finds herself in a New Jersey walk-up, surrounded by a group of devil worshippers waiting for her foretold daughter to be born. Also, a priest who throws himself out of any handy window at the first sign of demon possession, but always manages to survive.

2. Gabriel is not looking forward to this year's Angel Olympics. Michael has won the javelin throw for the past twelve hundred years. Satan offers to replace Michael's platinum javelin with a replica, but in return he wants Gabe to sneak him back into heaven. Will Gabriel lose again, or take the deal?

3. Hades' Devilspawniest EVUH gather to argue the toss over PERSONAL EVIL. Only one will make Apocalypse Academy. And RULE. Will Yellerpants Kindasatany Lite make the grade? Or will the "Jet Black Persona" Clause precipitate foiled fiend oblivion?

4. Baelzebub, Hell's metalsmith, creates a sword for Satan that can slice through any angelic beings. Yes, 'Saint' Michael, this time it's ON!

5. When the severed head of iconic 'scream queen' Devilicious is found stuffed in a cooler inside a burning car, homicide Detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, she didn't drive herself, and two, that horror film scream-a-thon at the Egyptian won't be the same without her as hostess.

6. Joe Vanderberg thought it was a sure bet when he wagered his firstborn's soul on a game of tic tac toe. Now he must play poker with the Devil himself to reclaim little Aidan from Hell. Can he win...the ten hands?

7. Demon hunter Aldrick will do whatever it takes to save the woman he loves. And by "whatever it takes," I mean bring about the complete extinction of humanity.

8. Lana gives birth to the world's first talking baby. When the infant describes what life before life is like, he skyrockets to fame as Earth's favorite guru. And when he starts growing horns, Lana realizes his father, a one night stand who claimed to be Satan, wasn't lying.

9. Code named "Haven," she's the coldest, deadliest assassin in the world. Until she dies in a freak baking accident. Luckily, the devil needs a good hitwoman and he's willing to make a deal.

10. With agnosticism on the rise, God and the Devil come up with a new scheme to win believers: The Eternity Wars, a reality TV show starring the Big Man, the Big Bad, and your immortal soul.

Answer Below

The actual plot is #7.

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2. Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Title (Children's Books Edition)

Below are descriptions of six published children's books. The descriptions were taken from Amazon.com. Your job is to guess which title goes with each book. The fake titles were composed by Evil Editor and his minions.

1. A "fanciful creature of undefined nature," it was also once the wisest, kindest, most fun-loving living thing in the world--until people stopped believing in it.

A Young Person's Guide to the Democratic Party
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
When Puffalumps Walked the Earth
The Graveyard of the Imaginaries
My Body, My Elf

2. Three children pore over an extraordinary manuscript forced on them by a passing hen: "The True Story of Harrowing Farm." The hen tells how little green men shoo her and her fellows from the cramped cages where they've been confined to lay eggs, uncomfortably, in public, then fit the cages to humans -- the species they prefer as food.

Three Men in a Kettle
The Chicken Gave It to Me
PETA People Eater
When the Clucking Ends
Guess Who We're Having for Lunch

3. "Some cases start rough, some cases start easy. This one started with a dame. (That's what we private eyes call a girl.)" Fourth-grade gumshoe Chet Gecko searches for a missing chameleon named Billy.

Gumshoe Lizard
Flight of the Iguana
The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse
The Case of the Reptile Dysfunction
How Chet Saved 15% On His Car Insurance

4. Fourth-grader Albert has always been a little afraid of the Pine Manor Nursing Home, which he passes on the way home from school; the residents wave at him, but he just can't relax until he's well past it.

Old People Were Human Once Too
Heaven Can't Wait
Evergreen and Ever Dead
Mannequin Manor
Old People, Frogs and Albert

5. Shamelessly exploiting the intelligence, honesty, and guileless wit of the nation's youth (and apparently having a heck of a time doing it), the author asked over 100 kids the same question: "What do you think would make our world a more perfect place to be?"

No more Homework!
The Kid's Guide to Self-Delusion
Undoing the Damage Grown-Ups Do
Lima Beans Would be Illegal
Have Your Mom Buy You This Book and Make Me Rich

6. The author appeals to the gross-out side of kids in this exploration of edible grub (larvae and otherwise) around the world, past and present, and it's more laughs than a barrel of monkey brains (the one delicacy he missed).

It's Disgusting and We Ate It!
The Big Book of Yuck!
GrassWhoppers and McCockroaches
Surely You're Not Going to Stick That in Your Mouth!
Bugmeister's Insectivorously Delicious Diet

Answers below

The real book titles are:

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
The Chicken Gave It to Me
The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse
Old People, Frogs and Albert
Lima Beans Would be Illegal
It's Disgusting and We Ate It!

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3. The 2nd Jesus Guess the Plot Quiz

Jesus pops up occasionally in fake plots on this blog. The ten examples below have appeared since the last time we did a Jesus Guess the Plot Quiz. But one of the ten turned out to be the actual plot of someone's book. Which one?

1. Dirk Beefhead is a born-again Christian who's been born yet again, this time in the era of Christ. Now it's time to find out whether people in Biblical times will accept or stone a guy named Dirk Beefhead.

2. When Rowena dies and goes to heaven, she gets to rub elbows with angels, the Virgin Mary and Jesus. But when she notices heaven has no homosexuals or non-Christians or sinners of any kind, she realizes God is no caring, generous Father, but a cold-hearted dictator. Not that she can do anything about it . . . until an underground resistance group of undercover angels ask her to join their movement to oust God from the seat of absolute power. Hey, someone's gotta take this egomaniac down a peg.

3. After mob boss Johnny “Bibs” Bibbiano finds Jesus and confesses—it takes nineteen hours and three shifts of priests—he returns to the pole dance emporiums. He buys beer and lap dances so he can talk to the girls. Only this time, between burps and sighs, he proselytizes and they throw him out.

4. Archeologist Gary Davis is approached by a strange woman in Jerusalem, and soon learns her secret. She has a box, with a gun in it--the gun used to kill Jesus. Now the Vatican is after him, and he may need that gun.

5. Sister Mary Agony experiences a series of doomsday visions involving Jesus, JFK, and a dachshund. But it seems no one will listen to the dire prognostications of... the Nun-Prophet.

6. What did Jesus really do? In this memoir based on recently found scrolls, get the true story of Christ's few years of turning water into wine and drinking it, spending too much time "saving" prostitutes, and carving obscene figurines out of olive wood. And steel.

7. Will Callie's Bible class believe that Jesus has been visiting her every Tuesday night bearing nachos and telling funny stories? If not, she'll take over the pulpit, and make the whole church believe with the robe He left behind.

8. Jake has realized that spirits are not souls. No one in Hell wants to buy any, and Jesus just chuckles at Jake's ambition. But why do so many useless specters keep appearing at Jake's door? Is Jake a Specter Whisperer or an unpublished writer with a too-big imagination?

9. Leroy has the job of his dreams: dressing up as a Jesus at The Holy Land Experience (he gets to carry people across sand!) When another Jesus shows Leroy how easy it is to get big tips from older women, will Leroy open his robe for them, or resist temptation?

10. No burden is he to bear. He ain't heavy. He's my broth-- . . . Unnghh. Unnnnngggghhhh, Jesus Christ, he's heavy. Let's leave him here.

Answer below

The actual plot was


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4. Face-Lift 1243

Guess the Plot

The Transcendent

1. 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.

2. Now that scripted programming has disappeared from television, Religious Idol is the latest reality show craze. Can ‘Smelly’ Joe Hippie beat his Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and New-Age rivals in a fasting and meditation contest to become…The Transcendent? 

3. You call them vampires, but they're not really vampires, and when they feed on pregnant humans, the offspring are called transcendents. Anyway, Annika is a 21-year-old torn between her love for a handsome priest and for a transcendent named Bram. It's a romance.

4. They are all things to all people, these beings who appeared on Earth three years ago and now have billions of followers. The world's established religions have dwindled to cult status. That's where things stand, if you want to know about the characters and plot, you're out of luck.

5. When the Greek gods return to Earth after setting up a civilization in a distant solar system, only to discover that no one worships them anymore, they're furious. It's Armageddon time, and this Armageddon is gonna make the biblical one seem like a tea party.

6. They are the ones who hold all of the power in their world. The ones who decide the fates of others on a whim. The ones their followers worship from afar and hope to one day sit at the feet of, if only for a few moments at a gathering of like souls. They are the the literary agents, though they prefer to be known as . . . The Transcendent.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Annika Theriot has never been normal, and in her twenty-first year, she learns why: surviving a vampire attack while in the womb has its consequences.

Raised as a devout Catholic, Annika has spent every Wednesday in confession at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans trying to repress her demons.

[Annika: These demons. I don't think I can hold them off any longer.

Priest: Not again. Just once couldn't you confess to impure thoughts about boys?]

It’s there that she learns that vampires really aren’t vampires at all. The church refers to them as rebel angels, legions of angels that followed Lucifer after his fall. They feed on humans to retain their somewhat mortal existence on Earth. They aren’t boyfriend material. [Unless you're Miley Cyrus.] They are completely and inherently one thing: evil. [Are these vampires that really aren't vampires the demons she was trying to repress, or are they a different issue from the demons?] [Also, is this any way to comfort a member of your flock:

Annika: Vampires are out to get me.

Priest: Calm yourself, my child. The vampires aren't really vampires. They're just inherently evil creatures who feed on humans.]

When Annika finds herself running from one of these rebel angels and into the arms of the handsome, new priest, Elias, she quickly falls in over her head. [Not sure what that means. She was already in way over her head from what I could tell. Do you mean she falls head over heels in love?] At least until she meets the reckless Bram, [I'm not sure Elias needs to be in the query if she dumps him that fast.] [Also, Bram?] a man who shares her curse and shows her what she truly is, a transcendent. Bram reveals that all of the transcendents were created for a purpose…except for Annika. She was an accident. [Telling a transcendent she was an accident is cruel, like telling your youngest sister she was an accident.]

Once the rebel angel and creator of the transcendents, Sebastian, learns of Annika’s existence, he will stop at nothing until he has her in his collection. [Sebastian created all the transcendents? By feeding on pregnant humans? How come he doesn't know of Annika's existence?] [If the transcendents were created for a purpose, I would call them Sebastians's army or clerical staff or whatever, not his collection.]

Thrown into a supernatural world and fighting for her life, Annika soon becomes torn between the sinner and the saint, who she is and who she wants to be. [I can't tell if the sinner and the saint are who she is and who she wants to be or if they're Bram and Elias.]

The Transcendent is a new adult, fantasy, [paranormal] romance novel complete at 50,000 words.

I graduated at the top of my class with a BA in English, have worked as a staff writer for my university’s newspaper, and my poetry has been published in a children’s literature anthology. I am also an established blogger. [There are 100 million bloggers...although I can't find statistics on how many of them are established and how many are disestablished.] [For those who are familiar with the word "antidisestablishmentarianism," but never knew what it meant, now you know. It's the school of thought that opposes disestablishing bloggers.] [Dump the credits.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.


What is the purpose for which the transcendents were created? If we knew that we'd have a better idea what's at stake.

Not sure why it's stated that: "They aren’t boyfriend material." Neither Annika nor the readers of the query would be thinking they're boyfriend material.

If this is a romance, make the romantic elements more obvious. Is Bram or Elias (or both) interested in romancing Annika?

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5. Face-Lift 1242

Guess the Plot

At Stake

1. When Becca Sanchez's uncle tells her that her history teacher is actually a vampire, Becca isn't sure she believes him, but just to be on the safe side, she and her friends decide to kill the guy. Hey, even if he isn't a vampire, at least they won't have to sit through any more of his boring lectures.

2. Down to his last dollar during a high-stakes poker game, inveterate gambler Rhett Lovelace thinks nothing of pledging a first-born child he thinks he’ll never have. Consumed by his addiction, Rhett never questions why his diabolically lucky adversary would accept such a pledge, nor does he realise exactly what’s…At Stake.

3. Where is your heart when you date a vampire?

4. What's at stake? Only the future of Earth, the sanctity of human life, and the future of one very special teenage girl. Only she has the supernatural powers to compete in a winner-take-all game of wits against our alien overlords, who, as luck would have it, are incredibly good-looking.

5. Penley and her small-time Iowa racing family have their hopes pinned on their unlikely stakes winner Norbert, a great-grandson of the immortal Seattle Slew. With the Breeder's Cup fast approaching, she must decide if she wants to sell him to a Japanese syndicate, run him in the Mile stakes race, or retire him to stud. And which way should she bet the family's money?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

AT STAKE, my YA novel of 73k words, is a modern-day mashup of Don Quixote and Dracula. When Becca Sanchez’s uncle Don [Quixote] tries to convince her that her new teacher is a vampire, [Dracula,] she must decide who to believe, and who to stop from killing whom.

The week Becca discovers her uncle is a total whack-job begins with a moving van and ends in handcuffs. First, her creepy history teacher moves in next door. Then Uncle Don tries to stake him. [When you explained the moving van, I assumed you were then going to explain the handcuffs.]

When a student goes missing, Becca starts wondering if maybe crazy Uncle Don isn’t so crazy after all. She decides to find out for herself. But when she’s caught shooting her teacher with a holy water spitball, she lands herself in a whole heap of trouble with the school and, worse, her mom. [A holy water spitball would prove nothing. Even if it was a lucky shot that hit the vampire's skin, at worst it would feel like a bee sting, which isn't much different from what it would feel like to a non-vampire. A garlic bulb soaked in holy water and shot out of one of those T-shirt cannons is what you need if you want to injure the vampire to the extent he can't immediately kill you. True, he's unlikely to kill you in the classroom, as that would blow his cover as a teacher, but as he lives next door, he'll have plenty of opportunity to drain your blood in private.] [Also, a spitball, by definition, is moistened with spit. Thus a wad of paper moistened with holy water would not be a holy water spitball, but simply a holy water ball (not to be confused with a holy water balloon, which, it now occurs to me, is probably the best projectile to launch at the vampire - unless he turns out to just be a teacher, in which case Becca would be in even bigger trouble with her mom).] 

Becca and her friends concoct a plan to kill the vampire before he can turn the Halloween Dance into his own personal buffet line. But she can’t get rid of the nagging voice wondering if this is all just a series of unlikely coincidences and her teacher is simply a creep. [Not clear what events are part of this series of coincidences. Only the missing student seems to suggest possible foul play.] Because this is real life, and really … vampires?

I have no previous publishing credits. Yet. I attend several conferences and workshops each year, as well as a weekly critique circle. My first novel was a finalist in the 2012 James River Writers Best Unpublished Novel Contest. [Credits aren't necessary. If they're requested, I'd just go with the last sentence.]

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to working with you.


Sounds like a good story, and the query has nice voice.

I don't see much that compares to Don Quixote or Dracula, outside of the obvious possible vampire and guy named Don. Okay, I see how the uncle is like Quixote if the teacher isn't a vampire. Otherwise he's more like Fox Mulder.

Maybe a holy water squirt gun or plant mister would be a good compromise.

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6. Dear Literary Agent... Now in Print

Someone sent me this film of himself speed-reading Dear Literary Agent . . . , the new book that belongs on the coffee table of every writer, editor and literary agent in the English-speaking world. I have three extra softcover copies and two extra hardcovers that I can send out in time for you to give one to yourself for Christmas. Better yet, tell someone else to buy it for you, and use the saved money to reward yourself with something else from EE's bookstore. It'll be like getting two books for the price of one. Make that three, because EE's History of the World in Tweets is free with every purchase.

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7. Oops

Turns out the query for this title was sent not to Evil Editor the cartoon character, but to EE's scribe, and thus is not available for critique. But rather than waste the fake plots that came in while the title was in the query queue, here they are, along with the real one.

Guess the Plot

Alien Love

1. Just when Hilda Newburger thought she had tried all the dating websites -- with no success -- she finds one promising her love that's "out of this world." Unfortunately, she learns that under their handsome green skin, Martian men are just the same as Earth men: all they really want is to probe Uranus. 

2. Humans do not even understand other humans. Is it possible for them to understand a true alien female, no matter how alluring? Ex-SEAL Jack Starling seeks the answer to this question in his journey of self-discovery, and to others such as How come I never realized my father was an extraterrestrial?

3. Shelia thought they would be together as one--forever. That was, until she discovered her alien parts were the same as her boyfriend's. The Supreme Court can't decide which way to go, and Shelia cringes everytime she sees a local waste removal truck's advertising logo, '1-555-Got-Junk?' Halarity ensues.

4. Anna dated a vampire but found him too sparkly. She married a werewolf but the monthly moulting drove her to distraction. The angel she had a fling with was more interested in picking mites out of his feathers than in spending time with her. Perhaps now it’s time for some…Alien Love

5. When the body of NuProg musician Beth Campbell--AKA Alien Love--is found crammed into a mailbox in San Fernando, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, she didn't shoot herself in the back before getting in the mailbox, and two, his daughter had better get cracking on her practice for the piano recital on Saturday.

Fake plots are now needed for the new title in the queue.

The actual plot description for Alien Love is #2.

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8. Feedback Request

The author of the query featured in Face-Lift 1241 has submitted a revision, which you'll find in the comments there.

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10. Success Story

JRMosher reports:

EE, just thought you and the minions would like to know that Captain Kissy-Face (from Face-Lift 717) is now available as an eBook. I got great responses from agents, but ultimately no takers, so I have self-pubbed via BookBaby. It's available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, GoodReads, Google Play Books, and just about everywhere else.

The second book in the series (Invisible Max, which also got a Face-Lift here) will be out in December, and the third and fourth books over the next couple of months.

And of course I remembered to thank you and the minions for your advice in the acknowledgements. I've been here since just about the beginning (though for a while more lurking and reading than posting) and this continues to be one of my favorite sites.

Thank you! 

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11. Face-Lift 1241

Guess the Plot

Descendants of the Banished

1. As the great-granddaughter of the only couple ever banished from Atlantis, humiliation burns within Melloria on a daily basis. But when she watches as Atlantis sinks beneath the foaming waves, a new emotion surfaces. “Suck it, bitches!” she cries. Vengeance is so, so sweet.

2. With werewolves, vampires, and zombies taking over everything, and their grandparents all but forgotten, there wasn’t much call for banshees. So, their offspring use scientific demonology to get back in the ... say what? ... Descendants of the Banished? ... Oh, yeah, well ... well ... Descendants of the Banshees would sell lots better.

3. They were banished to an uninhabited island two centuries ago. They had children, and their children had children and so on. Now they number in the hundreds, and seeking revenge they sail with their swords and spears toward the land of their banishers, the United States of America.

4. Keenah and Oog live on the outskirts of the fishing settlement, as their families have for generations. When one of the Fishers rapes Keenah, Oog kills him to rally the others. The Neanderthals are now on the march--and with superior strength, bigger brains, and their oppressor's weapons, it doesn't look good for the Cro-Magnons.

5. Centuries ago, an ancestor of Hemlock was banished from the land. Now Hemlock has been named the supreme ruler. A remarkable comeback, though helped along by Hemlock's confessing to killing the previous supreme ruler. And by the ancient law that states anyone who accuses anyone of murder will be sentenced to death.

6. America's longest-running "reality" series, Big Brother, has survived 40 seasons by constantly upping the ante. This year the contestants will all be children and grandchildren of the most-hated D-List pseudo-celebrities ever to get kicked out in past seasons, plus one unassuming young man who only the producers know is a psychotic serial killer. Hilarity ensues. 

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Being required by law to marry her father's killer was not Princess Briar's idea of a happy ending. Nor is the fact that, without any rock solid evidence, a public accusation of murder would result in her own trial and death sentence. [None of that would be anyone's idea of a happy ending to anything, so no need to tell us that.]

In a land where Spirits can be summoned only by members of the four royal families, the strongest Summoner is called the Protector and becomes the supreme ruler. The unexpected death of the Protector, King Acacia, sets in motion a Summoning Ceremony which determines the new Protector. When Princess Briar attempts to win the ceremony and take her father's place as Protectress, she loses to a stranger no one has seen before and inadvertently invokes a law that requires she marry the new Protector. [Because she's the princess or because she came in second? If she wins, she can marry whomever she wants, but if he wins he is required by law to marry Briar?] [Whaddaya mean, "inadvertently invokes"? I don't see how a law can be inadvertently invoked. Doesn't this law come into play whenever a Protector dies?] [I don't like devoting so much space to the rules of succession.   In the land of Gonoria, the death of the supreme ruler is always followed by a ceremony in which the strongest Spirit Summoner wins the throne. When Princess Briar's father dies unexpectedly, she tries to take his place, but is out-summoned by a stranger, a stranger who invokes a long-forgotten law requiring the princess to marry him.

When the stranger confesses that the Spirit that won him the title also killed her father, Briar knows she must bring him to justice. [Him, meaning the stranger, or the spirit that killed her father?] However, in their land, [If you named the land in paragraph 2, you could now refer to it by name.] accusations are not taken lightly, [Confessions, on the other hand, are brushed off like dandruff from the shoulders of a carpet salesman.] and if made prematurely or without enough proof, can backfire on the accuser. If Briar is to live to see Lord Protector Hemlock receive his just due, she must play the part of a blushing bride while gathering evidence of his guilt. Meanwhile, the man that Briar had intended to marry after the ceremony turns his back on her just when she needs an ally the most. [If you're dumped by your fiancee at the last minute so she can marry a complete stranger, you can be forgiven for not wanting to hang out with her. But you've done nothing to earn your way into the query.]

In her quest for retribution against the man who stole her happiness, Briar will go on some perilous journeys, discover some startling truths, and come to realize that things are not always what they seem. [Vague. Either drop the paragraph or specify where she goes and what she discovers/realizes.]

Descendants of the Banished is a 75,000 word Fantasy that crosses elements with genres [Not clear to me what is meant by "elements."] such as suspense, action, mystery, and light romance. It is intended for the YA reader who loves plot twists. [It wasn't obvious to me that this was YA. Maybe this should be put up front.] Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours truly,

***The title comes from the backstory that Hemlock, the main antagonist, is a descendant of a forgotten Baron who was banished two centuries ago.*** [And "Descendants" is plural because someone else is also a descendant of someone who was once banished?]


So if a Spirit kills someone, it's the fault of whoever summoned the Spirit? Spirits don't do anything except follow their Summoners' orders?

So if Briar says, "I don't know if it's true or not, but Hemlock confessed to me that he's responsible for the king's death," she will be sentenced to death because she has no rock-solid evidence?

This is analogous to Queen Elizabeth being found murdered, so Prince Charles is expected to take the throne, but then Camilla announces that Charles confessed to her that he hired a hit man to kill the queen. But because Camilla doesn't have rock-solid evidence that Charles did so, she is sentenced to death. . . . . Now that I think about it, if that all happened it wouldn't even make the Top Ten List of the Most Scandalous Events Involving the British Throne.

Does Hemlock want to be married to Briar? Because it seems like confessing he's behind her father's death is likely to lead to one of them getting a death sentence. And even if it doesn't, it's likely to lead to him not getting a lot of action in the sack. Why does he confess?

Is the fact that centuries ago one of his ancestors was banished considered evidence that Hemlock is behind the king's death? Is that the evidence Briar is after? If so, the title gives it away. If not, why is it important enough to be the title?

There are some intriguing aspects to this, but I'd try rewriting it:

Paragraph 1: The setup: Princess Briar must suffer a forced marriage to the man who killed her father until she can gather evidence to prove his guilt.

P2: The Plot: What evidence exists, how does she go about gathering this evidence, and what threatens to defeat her plan?

P3: The wrap-up: What is Hemlock up to? What will happen to the kingdom and/or to Briar if she fails to bring him down?

Try to limit each paragraph to three sentences.

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12. Cyber-Monday Sale

Order the 3-volume set of Novel Deviations, and receive free, your choice of:
  1. Why You Don't Get Published, Vols. 1 & 2
  2. Evil Editor Strips
  3. Evil Editor Teaches School and The History of the World in Tweets*

Sale ends Tuesday.

Click the blue BOOKSTORE link in the sidebar. Order the Novel Deviations set, then email me with your choice of bonus books (evledtr@gmail.com).

The store currently accepts US orders only. Outside the US, email me for Paypal/shipping option.

* History of the World in Tweets is PDF version, readable on your iPad, computer, or Kindle.

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13. Success Story

Lisa Aldin reports:

My query first appeared as Face-Lift 987 in 2012 and now the manuscript will be published in Feb. 2015 by Spencer Hill Press! It's got a new title: ONE OF THE GUYS. I just wanted to thank you and the minions for your help in cleaning up the query. Your site has helped me a lot. 

Thank you!

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14. Evil Editor Classics

The Perfect Query?

People often comment that the queries I post are eminently mockable. How about showing us samples, they write, of queries you've received that were flawless, immaculate, impeccable. That way we'll have a template for perfection.

Ask and ye shall receive. The three queries below weren't submitted to this blog; they appeared in my slush pile. I requested the manuscripts, and the books were published, though not necessarily under the authors' titles.


Evil Editor:

When Minnie Murphy arranges her vacation in England, she has no idea she'll fall head over heels in love with Sir Falderall, an actual British knight. But fall she does, and the wedding is set for the coming Saturday, on the grounds of Hoohah Castle. What Minnie doesn't know is that Saturday is also the day of the Cup finals, the biggest football match in Britain.

As Minnie is about to walk down the aisle, she spots a horde of hooligans heading toward the wedding party, drunk and spoiling for a fight. Apparently their team lost. Or won; it doesn't seem to matter to Brits. No way is Minnie going to let these rowdies ruin her big day. She opens a conveniently located corral of horses, hops on the nearest one, and drives a stampede right at the interlopers. From that day forth she's known as Minnie Driver.

By the time the orchestra strikes up the wedding march, the hooligans have been trampled to death and Minnie is back in her place in the procession, none the worse for wear, except for the horsehair all over her gown. But where's Sir Falderall? Seems Minnie's beau disappeared at the first sign of trouble, and hasn't been seen since.

Horses of Hoohah is the first book in my series featuring Minnie Murphy, a heroine who always gets her man, but never quite gets him to the altar.

Thank you for making it to the end of my query.


Dear Evil Editor:

When Hope, her pet banana slug, goes missing, Suze Hanford is despondent, not only because she loves the cute little bugger, but because Hope has helped parlay Suze's lemonade stand profits into a three-million-dollar nest egg. Hope uses her slime trail to spell out stock tips, and so far the little detritivore is batting a thousand. Without Hope, Suze knows she'll squander her fortune and end up working for a living when she grows up, possibly as a prostitute.

Day-trader Snidely Turkovich, Suze's next-door neighbor has been as successful as a three-legged greyhound lately, and if he doesn't start picking winners, he'll lose his house. Snidely is the obvious suspect; with Hope in his corner, his luck would surely change. But when Suze catches the slimeball with Hope, he claims it's not Hope, but Warren, his own banana slug stock forecaster.

Suze calls in a favor from the CSI squad, who discover that every banana slug has a slime trail as unique as a fingerprint. They compare Snidely's slug's slime with a slime trail in Hope's terrarium. A perfect match. Hope and Suze are joyfully reunited, and the now-hopeless Snidely is ruined.

Trail of Hope is a 95,000-word commercial novel that should appeal to those who enjoyed Mollusk Fever and I, Gastropod. Thank you.


Dear Editor:

The turning point in Graham Chansky's life was the day he brought a live cow to school for show-and-tell and slaughtered it in front of his third-grade science class. Sure, the cow's screams, which could be heard over the roar of the chain saw, were disturbing, and the blood was flowing like a river, and no doubt Mrs. MacReady wasn't happy with Graham, but at least for once Steffie Carruthers noticed him.

Graham has been content to remain a shy kid, always sitting in the back, never raising his hand, but when Steffie moves to Wormdale, Graham vows his life will change. In fourth grade he comes to school drunk out of his mind every day. In sixth grade he murders the principal. In tenth grade he instigates a war between Mexico and Guatemala. All to win the heart of the beautiful Steffie Carruthers.

In his waning years, haunted by dreams of Principal Breeen, an innocent cow, and two million dead Guatemalans, Graham looks back on his life. Sure, he's had a perfect marriage to Steffie, but at what cost? Was it all worth it? He decides that it was.

Bad Things Haunt Good Men is a 90,000-word semi-autobiographical memoir of a man who would do anything for love, including that. Interestingly, I he would also do anything to get this published. May I send you the manuscript?

Selected Comment

150 said...
Happy April 1st to you too. :) 

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15. Evil Editor Classics

Dear Agent X,

For Cassidy MacNamara, Thanksgiving’s no piece of piss—after all, throwing a bunch of fire elementals in one room incites brawls and torched curtains. [It sounds more like Thanksgiving is a piece of piss. Not that I'm familiar with the term, but I assume it means the same thing as piece of crap or piece of shit.] [Oops, a bit of research reveals it's British and means the same as piece of cake. Hey, at least cake, unlike piss, comes in pieces, you crazy Brits.] [Wait, do Brits even celebrate Thanksgiving? Additional research shows they don't, but these could be Americans in Britain or Brits in America, so I'll let it go.] However, this year air elementals crash their dinner, killing some of her own and kidnapping others. including her little sister. [The word "however" suggests that this year Thanksgiving is a piece of piss, when in fact it's still no piece of piss. What you want is something like: Thanksgiving's never been a piece of piss, but at least it's never been a piece of shit. Or rather, shite. Or: Cassidy didn't expect Thanksgiving to be a piece of piss—after all, putting a bunch of fire elementals into one room always incites brawls and torched curtains. But when air elementals crash their dinner, killing some of her own and kidnapping others, including her little sister, she declares it her second-worst Thanksgiving ever.] [Note that I changed "throwing" to "putting." "Throwing" was giving the wrong impression.] [By the way, "piece of piss" is a great tongue twister. Say it five times fast.]

With her aunts and uncles arguing among themselves and her drunk Ma cradling a bottle in the corner, [This is in the same room with the corpses of their relatives lying on the floor?] Cassidy, like always, has to take responsibility. Those bastard air elementals took her little sister, but she’s going to get her back.

Problem numero uno though: fire elementals are restricted to the South. If she crosses the border, the elemental Council will send their extraction team after her. [Problem numero uno should be arranging for the Council's disposal team to get rid of the bodies in the dining room. Otherwise Sis will be coming home to a highly unpleasant scene.] [Are air elementals restricted to the North? If so, why didn't the extraction team deal with them? If not, how does Cassidy know her sister's been taken to the North?] If caught, not only will her little sister be gone for good, but Cassidy will be stripped of her powers. A fire elemental without fire is nothing. Even though all she’s armed with is a couple of her crazy, but loyal cousins, her ‘69 Camaro and a hostage who won’t shut up, [You forgot to include the ability to manipulate fire. When you have flamethrowers and your enemy has leaf blowers, I like your chances.] Cassidy will make sure her family comes home, no matter what the cost.

"When Fire Ignites" is a 90,000 word urban fantasy.



You'd think a society that has extraction teams to keep elementals in their own areas would also have authorities to deal with renegade air elementals who commit crimes.

Presumably the mix of mythological creatures, Thanksgiving, "piece of piss," "numero uno," is part of the book's charm, and not anachronism gone wild.

I like the voice and humor if the book is also funny, but it's unusual for a query in which the main plot development is that characters are murdered and kidnapped to stress the comical aspects. Is the plot more adventure/thriller or comedy?

The query is mostly setup. When her little sister is kidnapped by air elementals, Cassidy and two of her cousins head into the forbidden North on a rescue mission. Expand that into a three or four-sentence paragraph that includes the important stuff I left out, and you still have room to tell us what the plan is, what obstacles pop up, what the air elementals want with Little Sis.

Selected Comments

AlaskaRavenclaw said...I found this query incomprehensible, even when I tried rereading it without EE's blue comments. Try for less, er, voice and more clarity.

IMHO said..."A fire elemental without fire is ..." what? A human? A fairy? I'm really unclear on the characters and the setting (Alabama/Connecticut? South Pole/North pole?). Why did air elementals crash the party/kidnap the kid? Feels more like a madcap movie trailer than a query designed to hook an agent.

Veronica Rundell said...Jesus god. Please don't de a Brit trying to write 'Murrican. This ALWAYS falls flat. Because, as EE has stated, the colloquialisms simple do not translate. I don't care if the words are English--the sentiment is foreign. That being said, set your query aflame and start again.

Describe what the heck actually happens in the story. And be more specific than North v. south, k? If you are a dreaded Murrican (that's how my son calls the incompetent persons seemingly constantly featured on Fox News) you know that America is region-specific. And North-South is too vague to really gain a flavor of authenticity.

Good luck!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...The Brits talk about their North and South too, with the cultural assumptions more or less reversed AFAICT.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...
I'm going to try to synopt this story as I understand it from a 3rd reading of the query.

Cassidy McNamara is hosting Thanksgiving for her extended family of fire elementals when some air elementals show up. They kill several of Cassidy's family and kidnap her little sister.

The relatives don't fight back, they just argue and get drunk. So Cassidy goes off to look for her sister alone.

However, she's not allowed to leave the South. (I'd leave that out, since it clearly doesn't deter her. The next sentence contains an unclear antecedent... let's not worry about this. You'll have to rewrite from the ground up.)

She hops into a car with some relatives-- it turns out she wasn't the only one willing to pursue Sis. Off they go.


I would work on the fire elemental aspect if I were you. You don't say what it means. I'd think, for one thing, it would make one want to stay away from alchohol and Camaros. Also, give us some context. Who are air elementals and why are the fire elementals so powerless against them? Air makes fire stronger. Is this some kind of Hatfield/McCoy feud? What's at stake? If it's preserving Cassidy's family, can you make them sound less undesirable?

In other words, what is the actual challenge facing the protagonist?

Veronica Rundell said...EE and Alaska make concise work of the set-up, unfortunately I don't get a true sense of urgency from the author's query. It's heavy on the snark, light on the plot. Try re-balancing with a good dose of 'toning this down'.

Also, and perhaps this is me, but why the muscle car? I mean, the dang thing is 50 years old. Why is it so important to the story that it's in the query?

Also, no idea why anyone would host Cassidy's family for a Sunday dinner, let alone turkey day. They sound reprehensible, and TSTL.

Veronica Rundell said...That Alaska has read this query three times, author, should give you some sense of her kindness, and commitment to helping you rewrite this...

I hope you understand how unlikely it is that an agent will read it more than once. It has to be perfect. Work hard, revise. Let us see it again...

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Why thank you, Veronica. What a nice thing to say.

Anonymous said...Hey Alaska, many of us appreciate your decisive and insightful comments.

Evil Editor said...Actually, I think you meant divisive and incite-ful.

Hey, just kidding.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Thanks, Anonymous.

0 Comments on Evil Editor Classics as of 11/27/2014 12:02:00 PM
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16. Face-Lift 1240

Guess the Plot

Aliens, White Fur and Troubles

1. The eyes of Kaylee's white cat Trouble are different colors--all three of them.

2. Name three things you get with the Kardashians.

3. Natasha Brodski learns the hard way what NOT to declare on her US customs form.

4. Black cat Dagger is assigned the task of training a rookie in the fine art of catjitsu, so that the two of them can guard the extra lives chest from invisible aliens. Trouble arrives when the rookie turns out to be a huge white dog that stinks like . . . a dog.

5. Beau Pontmercy is tracking the legendary Great White Moose across the Canadian wilderness when he sees blue lights and hears an eerie keening. As he loads his trusty flintlock he knows whatever scared off his game is about to find more trouble than they ever expected.

6. White Fur feels a special bond with Leoma, the beautiful Latino who rubs his ears every time she feeds him pellets. When the mean pet store owner steals Leoma's green card, White Fur plots to bring him down. But what can one albino guinea pig do?

7. To save the polar bears and protect their Fall outerwear collection, fashionistas from Unitard IV want to plunge Earth into a new ice age. PETA activitist Acocado Sunshine and supermodel-climatologist Adriana Jaeger have three days to convince the Unitardians that faux is fab... and then save the polar bears.

8. The Tribbles are back, this time with white fur and as big [and nasty] as polar bears. Can the crew of the Enterprise MCMLVII overcome, as Tribbles eat and reproduce and take over an entire planet?

9. Roger parked his pickup in front of Home Depot and pointed to the three strongest-looking candidates. He had no idea they were albino werewolves. Now there are blood trails leading to his yard, neighborhood pets gone missing, and the only way he's going to get his garage finished in time to sell the house is to add another shift of cheap labor. Luckily the Home Depot is now open late, and he's found a few men who seem more than happy to work only at night.

10. Polar Bear Krug thought he had enough to worry about with the ice cap shrinking and fish stocks diminishing but that was before those Northern Lights brought strange little green people and their painful probes. Or was that the result of eating tundra moss?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Dagger, a black warrior cat of the Feline Guard Corps, is not a team player. He’s order-obeying [obedience?] challenged and prefers fighting vicious lycis –aliens invisible to humans– single-pawed and without backup. After disobeying Captain Slash’s orders once [yet] again, Dagger is punished in a singular way; [:] he has to train a rookie [the newest recruit] or Slash will take fifteen of his [Dagger's] twenty-seven lives. [Is there a good reason this isn't 5 of his 9 lives?] Losing so many lives without fighting is a humiliation Dagger can’t tolerate, but [Luckily,] for the best fighter in town [, training] a rookie is not a big deal. Except that the rookie isn’t a cat but a huge, white dog named Alka.

That’s a tragedy. How is Dagger supposed to teach the fine art of the catjitsu to a dog, who moreover has a white coat? [I'd move that sentence to the end of the previous paragraph.] On top of that, the Cat Intelligence Agency has evidence that the lycis know where the Lives Chest –the container of the guards’ extra lives- is and want to destroy it. Without those extra lives killing the guards will be easier [to kill], and the lycis will have a free hand on Earth, eating everything that moves and doesn’t speak Lyciese. [Including cars and boats?]

As [Of course] the mission to protect the Chest is assigned to Dagger and his rookie [Alka.] To succeed Dagger has [will somehow have] to overcome his prejudice against dogs –especially [big, goofy, slobbery,] white ones– and train Alka. But he’s optimistic. [But hey,] If he can endure a dog’s stench, he can probably do anything.

ALIENS, WHITE FUR AND TROUBLES is a Middle Grade fantasy novel complete at 50.000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards


Sounds like a winner. I see it as a future graphic novel and a Pixar animated feature.

Most of my suggestions are nitpicks. Ignore those you hate.

Did you consider making Dagger a female? Surely cats are enlightened enough to allow women in the military, which would make Dagger a great role model for girls. Besides, cats are girls and dogs are boys.

0 Comments on Face-Lift 1240 as of 11/25/2014 12:28:00 PM
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17. New Beginning 1034

To men who study war, and Col. Baron Patrick Callahan had been a student all his life, these great conflicts have a definite pattern. In the beginning, it is all hearts bursting with pride and dreams of glory. Too soon the gleaming brass buttons on crisp uniforms tarnish. Feet that marched smartly to a vibrant, tattooing, drumbeat grow weary and plod from one battle to another, scuffing up puffs of dust or sucking through mud deep enough to bury a good size mule and wagon. The days of family picnics on the hillsides as opposing armies gathered below to deal death were long over and the reality, the work, of war had set in.

Callahan had settled into war easily. It was as if something he had waited for all his life had finally arrived, wide-eyed and faunching at the bit to be off on the grand adventure. He would have loved it more, if that were possible, if its arrival hadn't also delayed something he had waited for just as eagerly, his marriage to Lorena Dobbs McKenzie.

His chest ached with the knowledge that they would have to move the date, losing, he was sure, the deposit on the church, so he distracted himself from the disappointment with the work at hand. 

This seashell brocade was completely wrong for a mountain pass battle after Labor Day, camouflage or no, and he wouldn't use it, no matter what General Carter had to say about it. Seafoam, though—that was a color for an epic battle. But not in bursting hearts this time; that pattern was so last season. No, this conflict's pattern definitely would be plaid and then, if he could talk the General into a second campaign . . . nautical! He just hoped his bolts arrived in time to redo the uniforms. Of course, he and his cadets still would be up all night stitching on buttons and polishing the boots, but they always managed in time for the carnage. 

And then, he promised himself, it was right back to designing the bridesmaids' dresses. 

Opening: Julie Weathers.....Continuation: anonymous

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18. Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Soul Birds

1. Dulled by midlife failures, Homer and Bernice Byrd change their name and become a singing duo. They achieve unexpected fame and fortune, but in the end realize that they were happier when they were nobodies.

2. Each of us is accompanied, from birth to death, by a soul bird that sits on our shoulder, makes sarcastic cracks about us to all the other soul birds, and occasionally takes a crap on our Sunday best. That's about it, really.

3. Often seen as a bad racist joke, the crows from Dumbo have decided to make a comeback, and this time they're out for revenge. Known as the dreaded Soul Birds, this band of buddies will live up to their name as a murder of crows to regain their honor.

4. Okay, they aren't really birds, they're more like butterflies. People use them to send prayers to the gods. It's a pretty cool idea, but lately the system isn't working like it's supposed to, so as usual it's up to one unqualified female to step in and prevent an apocalyptic war.

5. When the dismembered body of former Laker Jeremiah Smitts is discovered in the speakers of his jazz club Soul Birds, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, cutting up a body that big had to leave a mess somewhere, and two, he'd better wear his Dwight Howard jersey if he wants them to beat the Trailblazers tomorrow night.

6. When people die, their souls enter the bodies of birds, where they can soar to the heavens. Except for people who've been bad; their souls enter flightless birds, like ostriches and penguins. That's the belief system that has evolved on Earth by the twenty-fourth century. The plot is basically the war between flightless birds and the humans who want to eradicate them.

Original Version

Dear EE,

When Adwen attempts to permeate the home of a waiting girl she is forced away and lands on the sidewalk, momentarily powerless. [For starters, it's not clear whether "she" is Adwen or the waiting girl. By which I mean it's clear you mean Adwen, but "she" should refer to the most recently mentioned female singular entity.] [Also, "waiting girl"? Is that a waitress? Or a lady-in-waiting? Or just a girl who's waiting for something? If the latter, is she waiting for Adwen? If not, what is she waiting for, and if that's irrelevant, why call her a waiting girl?]

Adwen is the Corpreal of physical love and fertility. [The what? I, like Google, assume you misspelled "corporeal." If you made up the word, I recommend not using it in the query. Even if it's inaccurate, use "embodiment" or "goddess" or capitalize a known word like Minister, Custodian, Big Enchilada.] It is her duty to enter the rooms and fantasies of Thea's youth to awaken their sexual desires. [Ah, to have lived in a land where, as a teenage boy, I could look forward to the night Adwen permeated my house and awakened my sexual desires. One question: is she more like Betty or Veronica?] The God of All Things made it so when first man looked at first woman with lust in his eyes and first woman responded with a blush and a smile [and a can of mace].

Confused and scared she rushes to the home of her keeper, Brula, a woman whose magical knowledge is centuries old. [Her keeper? Wait, is this place a zoo?]

Brula discovered a force that can compete with the God of All Things and someone is selling it to the humans. Brula thinks this new power is coming from The Fringe and Adwen should investigate. [Since when do Corpreals investigate anything? That's like if a powerful force were disrupting life as we know it on Earth, and we assigned the investigation to Kim Kardashian. Why doesn't the God of All Things send in a diplomat or a SEAL team or just make The Fringe evaporate? ]

The Fringe is a desolate place, devoid of magic. [Think Manitoba.] The people live there to escape the rule of the God of All Things and they don't welcome intruders, especially divine ones. Adwen's magic won't work and she won't be able to protect herself from their wrath. [So she has magical powers besides that of awakening sexual desires in youth?]

If Adwen chooses to go, she will be stripped of her powers but if she chooses not to, a war between humans and gods could erupt. [Are you declaring that if she chooses to go, the war won't erupt? Why is war any less likely to erupt if a powerless, unwelcome Corpreal enters The Fringe?] The God of All Things won't turn a blind eye to other forms of magic for long.

SOUL BIRDS is 80,000 words and is my first novel to see more then just the hard drive on my old laptop. [This one has seen the hard drive on my new laptop.] Thank you for your time and consideration.


[Note from author to EE: The title comes from butterfly like creatures the gods and goddesses of Thea use to send messages to one another. When they land on someone the person is filled with a vision of the messenger. The soul birds are also used by humans to send prayers to the gods.]


Is this Fringe the same place as on the TV show, The Fringe?

Why would anyone suspect that the power great enough to compete with the God of All Things is coming from Manitoba?

What is Thea? A planet? Heaven? A place on Earth? These humans buying the powerful force: are they from Earth?

You spend so much time explaining what stuff like Corpreals and The Fringe are, there's not enough room to tell the story.

Your setup seems to be: When humans acquire power that can compete with the God of All Things, war seems inevitable. It's up to Adwen, the goddess of fertility, to find out how the humans are getting their power, and to prevent the war. But to do so, she'll have to enter the bleakest place on the planet, Manitoba, where no fertility goddess has ever been welcome. That leaves plenty of room to tell us what she discovers in Manitoba and what she plans to do about it, and who wants to stop her.

Selected Comments

BuffySquirrel said...So both girls and boys have their sexual desires awoken by a female embodiment of desire? And that seems reasonable to you?

Evil Editor said... It seems both reasonable and preferable to me.

TwiggyBUMPkins said...It almost seems to me like you are trying to write an excerpt (or several) from your book and cram as much information about the world as you can into it in the process. A query is not an excerpt, it is a description of the basics of the plot. The world itself is not necessarily important, though it does need to be clear whether this takes place in a fantasy land, on earth, or in the past/future. What a query needs to have is the plot laid out simply and in a way that makes the reader want to read more.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...In the penultimate sentence you want "than", not "then", but really you don't want that detail at all. Leave out anything not to your advantage.

The first sentence seems detached from the rest of the story and just adds to the confusion. And I'm feeling quite a bit of confusion. It wasn't till the third read-through that I realized Thea was a place, not a person. And is the God of All Things just plain God?

You're spending most of your time in this query trying to explain the rules of your world to us. I'd give that a sentence at most --if it can't be explained in a sentence leave it out-- and focus instead on your protagonist, what she wants to accomplish, and what obstacle prevents her from accomplishing it.

Kelsey said...As someone from Manitoba, touche! Just remember, we claim Neil Young.

khazar-khum said...Your author's note to EE sounds fascinating, a story I'd like to read. The confusing series of actions presented as a query are nowhere near as intriguing as that little blurb.

Jo Antareau said...The embodiment of desire sounds like she would have a pretty full diary, and possibly grateful for stumbling across one person whom she could not permeate. And I'm not quite sure what permeate means..

Start over. Read the query aloud. A few times.

BTW, all the GTPs featuring Zack Martinez make me smile. Does anybody have plans to give this guy his own book or series?

Evil Editor said...Some of the better Zack Martinez GTPs were collected in a post here: http://evileditor.blogspot.com/2009/08/zack-martinez-chronicles.html.

For longer Zack Martinez material, find your way in the archives to August 23, 2009 for 11 ZM stories, the result of a writing exercise.

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19. Face-Lift 1237

Guess the Plot

Kingdom of Fire
1. Charcoal for dinner. Bromide to drink. Asbestos unitards. It’s hard living in a . . . Kingdom of Fire.

2. Fire demon, Aryna, falls for an ice demon, Terp, from the rival kingdom on a spy mission. When Aryna learns that Terp's neighborhood is the target of the next fire-bombing offensive, she has to decide whether to warn him, and risk being executed for treason, or let him die.
 3. Preppy H, along with his trusted medicated sidekick Tuck, wandered into the kingdom of fire by mistake – and it looked like their goose was cooked. But that was before the mutant robot Hemor Drhoid moseyed into town. Now it was the Kingdom’s turn to squirm in discomfort. There’d be no sitting down on the job as long as Hemor was around.

4. The lottery winning Edgemont family can finally buy the boat of their dreams, 80 foot maxi yacht Kingdom of Fire, and set off on their dream round-the-world voyage. But the engines and communications mysteriously fail when becalmed in the middle of the Pacific, and one by one their crew start dying unexplained deaths.

5. Prince Ahaz of Azaria would make a good king, but can he outdo his two older brothers in the bickering contest that traditionally decides who gets the throne? And does it matter, since their father the king isn't dead anyway?

6. Some days, it is good to be the king. To have subjects kneel at your feet, to vanquish your enemies, to have an army ready for your every command. Other days, not so much. To have your butt blistered by the red-hot throne, your hair singed by the crown, and not a single person in the land who knows how to fix the damned air conditioning.

7. King Fred rules a kingdom at the base of a volcano. The people are proud of their "fire mountain" because it protects them from invasion. But one year, the people fail to offer the volcano god a human sacrifice, and . . . let's just say the volcano god is not happy.

8. Savage dragons, screaming harpies, devastating wars, horror in the cities. Well, that's how progressive-feminist ideologue Teeny sees the new congress, anyway. She's got her father's old rifle, some ammo, and a map of DC. In a couple of days, her vote will be the only one that counts.

Original Version

Dear Mr ******,

I read your interview on writer's digest [in Writer's Digest] and am impressed. [Thanks.] You also said you were searching fr [for] a story that introduces you to new worlds[,] so you might like my book KINGDOM OF FIRE. My name is **** and I have written a fiction book before about the war on terror in the past. It has found a weak publisher. My aim is to reach traditional publishers with my new book and to attain that goal I am well-aware that I need a literary agent. [This is already the longest paragraph in the query, and all you've told us is the title.] You are looking for fantasy too so allow me to introduce my novel. KINGDOM OF FIRE is an epic fantasy novel of around eighty eight thousand words. It is set in a fictional world called Emelion and is the first in a series of novels. It is for a target market over 16 years of age. [Condense this paragraph into one sentence (KINGDOM OF FIRE is an 88,000-word epic fantasy and the first in a series) and put it at the end.] 

Prince Ahaz wants one thing. To be allowed to serve the Azarian nation unhindered and to support the King, [That's two things.] whoever is rightfully ruling whether it be his father or his elder brother. [Which is it?] He is noble, he is chivalrous, he is merciful and has every quality which epitomizes a good Prince. But he has two elder brothers both of them not only bickering for power and influence but also the throne.

The world of Emelion [That name makes me think of Emilio Estevez.] is full of higher Avatars (not Gods) each leading at least a nation and each having power over some element or aspect of human life. It is usually their traditions, whims and desires that influence Kingdoms. The Kingdom of Azaria's avatar is named Azar who has mastery over fire and is eager for conquest. The Kingdom of Azaria is run [ruled] by a King named Ballus, father of Ahaz. [Ahaz and Azar are too similar. Get rid of one of them preferably Azar, as the kingdom of Azaria just makes me think of actor Hank Azaria, best-known for doing the voices of more than 15 recurring Simpsons characters, including Apu, Chief Wiggum and Moe.]

Fanatics of Azar, eager to persecute the unorthodox and in their eyes heretical, besiege King Ballus in the capital punishing him for his closeness to another Avatar, Erdinari, lord of the sun. [Anyone can claim to be an avatar with mastery over the sun if that just entails declaring that you make the sun rise and set.]

Ahaz finds himself in a tenuous position. He must save the King [Why is it Ahaz who must save the king? Doesn't Ballus have an army at his disposal?] but will help arrive from the most unlikely of places? A territory conquered by Azaria a hundred years ago but which follows a separate avatar rather than Azar? Will Ahaz [Suddenly I can't  get the song "Ahab the Arab" out of my head.] manage to save his father, the King? Will he be able to deal with his brothers [brothers'] jealousy and quest for power? Subsequently will he be able to forge Azaria into an empire?

Read KINGDOM OF FIRE to find out.

KINGDOM OF FIRE is unique in that it has a secondary hierarchy after the God or Gods which are avatars. Each nation can have one or many avatars. Their culture hinges upon the type of avatar they follow. For example Azarians as followers of a fire avatar have the custom of lighting candles, dancing around fires and cremating their dead. [In other words, they're like most cultures on the world of Earth.]


This could use some additional commas, but even with them, the sentence composition and word choice aren't up to snuff. The reader will assume the book has the same problems.

Much of the query is focused on avatars even though you don't show the avatars having any effect on anything. Get rid of the avatars and tell us what Ahaz's goal is, what his plan is, what his problem is, what happens if he fails. Make us care whether he succeeds.

In other words, we're looking for a summary of the story. What we have is a paragraph about Ahaz, a paragraph about Emelion's avatar system, a couple sentences setting up Ahaz's situation, five questions that can be answered only by reading 88,000 words because you're not talking, and another paragraph  about Emelion's avatar system.

Ballus is the king. Unless he's dying, I don't see the point of his eldest sons bickering over the throne. Surely there's a system for determining who gets the throne after Ballus?

World, nation, kingdom, territory, empire. Can you write this query using no more than three of those terms?

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20. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1237 would like feedback on a revision. It's in the comments there.

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21. Face-Lift 1238

Guess the Plot

The Eighth Day

1. Oh… MAN… the eighth day… will this week never end?

2. God created the heavens and the earth… and on the seventh day, he rested. But after you’ve materialized all of creation, what do you do for an encore? You thought you’d seen it all… but you ain’t seen nothing like . . . The Eighth Day.

3. On the Seventh Day, God became bored. He needed someone to bring him a beer while he watched football. So he made woman. During half time he was given a list of things to accomplish by dinnertime. He never saw the late afternoon game. On the Eighth Day he left the cosmos. Hopefully, his cell phone will have service to watch Monday Night Football. 

4.When Shawn gets hired as an investment broker, he's thrilled. But within seven days of arriving in NYC everything he believes about himself and his past is called into question. Can he discover the truth about who he really is before . . . the eighth day?

5. It had been mostly birds up to that point, with the exception of the five golden rings. Those, at least, I could pawn for some cash. I had no idea what to do with all the birds. Eat them? Then, on the eighth day, my true love shows up with a bunch of milk-maids. Couple of them were a little chubby, but I ain't complaining. Anything's better than birds. Then she whispers in my ear: tomorrow's gift ... strippers!

6. And on the eighth day, God said--"Oh, Hell, I screwed up on this one too. Oh well. Time to make 4,928,652,756 more. Maybe I'll get one right one of these days."

7. …And on the Eighth Day, God looked at all that He had made and said to Himself, “Unicorns? Dragons? Talking snakes? What in My name was I thinking?” And He caused the ill-conceived beasts to be swallowed up by the earth. “Well, maybe I’ll leave the talking snakes. I think they’re pretty neat.” 

8. And on the eighth day, Lucifer planted fossils in the earth's crust to make it look like evolution had been in action, then made the newly minted cosmos look like it was several billion years old. Oh, and he tranformed those scrawny brown apples to look ripe and tempting. Then sat back and watched the fun. 

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Shawn Jaffe is a recent college graduate who moved to New York City after landing a job as an investment broker for Lark Morton. When he receives a cryptic warning from a stranger, Shawn dismisses it as the ravings of a madman. However, as events unfold, the threads separating reality from fiction begin to unravel around him. Everything he knows, everything he believes about himself and his past, is called into question. [This is all vague. What was the warning? What are the events that unfold?]

Aided by veteran New York City detective Sam Harrington, Shawn sets out on a quest for answers that will threaten to destroy the foundation of everything he thought to be true. [Why would he even want these answers? Why would this detective spend time aiding Shawn in this quest? You don't just walk into a police station and . . . 

You: I need to consult a detective.

Bored officer at front desk: About what?

You: About the threads separating fiction from reality and a threat to the foundations of everything I thought to be true.

Officer: Let me make a quick call and then we'll get you situated where you belong.

It would be hard enough to convince an unethical private detective to take your case based on the information you've provided so far.] [Although an unethical literary agent might be all over this.] Before it’s over, the two will find themselves caught in an elaborate conspiracy that will separate them by death, rebirth, and a lifetime of memories. [Who is conspiring against whom, and why?] [These vague philosophical ideas may be fascinating in the book but in the query we need some concrete details about what your characters do.]

Pursued by mysterious adversaries who are both merciless and relentless and seem to know his every move before he makes it, [yet inexplicably haven't been able to use this knowledge to find him,] Shawn must sew the shreds of his frayed reality back together before they stop him from discovering the truth about who he really is. [Is "they" the shreds of his frayed reality or the mysterious adversaries?]

The Eighth Day is an 80,000 word thriller/suspense novel that explores the boundaries of the human condition and asks what would happen if one day those boundaries ceased to exit.


You have to tell us what's going on. Phrases like "everything he believes about himself and his past," "the foundation of everything he thought to be true," and "the truth about who he really is" don't tell us anything. You could swap them for each other and I wouldn't notice.

Start over. Paragraph 1: Soon after Shawn arrives in NYC to take his new job, a stranger tells him _________. He writes it off as ravings of a madman until ___________ happens. Now he's worried about _______.

Paragraph 2: When _________ happens to Shawn, Sam Harrington, a New York City detective, investigates. Shawn tells him there's an elaborate conspiracy underfoot to ___________.  Sam writes it off as the ravings of a madman until _________ happens.

Paragraph 3: As the villains close in, Sam must __________. Otherwise ________.

Fill in the blanks with specific information. Then enhance it with little touches that convince us to care about Shawn and that you are the person to tell us his story.

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22. Face-Lift 1239

Guess the Plot

Far Rider

1. With war approaching, Kaelyn wants to join her aunt's elite guerrilla cavalry, but she has to learn how to fight demons first, so she sneaks into the women's unit of the military school. Can she finish her training--and win the heart of a charming pirate--in time to turn the tide in the war? Also, a senile sorcerer.

2. Robbers shooting, cops yelling, people running, nowhere to hide. Jason starts out as an adventurer on his horse named Max, but in an unexpected twist causes the zombie apocalypse.

3. Jacob's dream was to travel across America on his motorcycle, collecting souvenirs from each state. He didn't count on the souvenirs being speeding tickets and outstanding warrants. Now he's on the run from the law, and no state is a safe haven.

4. Derrel’s sighting of the rider on the far horizon caused great rejoicing in the castle, for their salvation had finally come from the neighbouring kingdom of Darkthorn. But hopes were dashed with the realization that the figure was merely one of the shambling undead, and the quest to invent corrective lenses began.

5. Every day for years, Evelyn has looked to the horizon, watching for the return of Gustavo. Every day, she sees no sign of him, and she aches. She knew Gustavo had far to ride. He had told her so. Still, she thought he'd be back by now. Especially since he had taken her younger, prettier sister along for the ride.

6. He rides. On steam-powered motorcycles, atop clockwork horses, in the luxurious coaches of the ruling elite, Calvin Hordewinder rides from one continent to another, delivering messages for a secret worldwide network of spies. Also, an assasination attempt and smuggling, but mostly -- he rides.

7. When 18 year old Shaheene learns her late father was really a Far Rider, a dragon tamer, she quits cosmetology school, takes her Dad's old Indian motorcycle, and tries to leave Nebraska forever. But Far Riders don't die; they come back as other steeds--or motorcycles. And there's a nasty-tempered silver drake near Omaha Dad wants to train.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor,

They say bad news rides a fast horse. Kaelyn Diarmand’s bad news came on [Secretariat.] a dead horse ridden by her equally dead uncle. [But were they going fast?]

He makes her promise not to avenge his death, but in her father's culture entire clans had been sacrificed on the altar of vengeance. Of course, the M'Eiryn are "barbarians" invited to settle here after they helped King Cauland defeat the demon armies. [You say "of course" as if it should be obvious to us that the M'Eiryn are barbarians, when in fact we've never even heard of the M'Eiryn. Who are they?] [Also, I don't care what they did for me in the past, I'm not inviting barbarians to settle in my neighborhood.] Her mother's people are "civilized" and settled, building great cities and learning centers.

Kaelyn is neither barbarian nor civilized, caught somewhere in between and belonging nowhere. [She's the Arnold Schwarzenegger of her clan.] 

She should have been a Far Rider, [Why isn't she?] a courier in her aunt's elite guerrilla cavalry, like her father. [You'd think a woman who runs an elite guerrilla cavalry would come up with a better job for her brother than courier.] With King Cauland missing and her dead uncle blamed for it, [It's always easier to blame stuff on someone who's not alive to defend himself.] a bloody civil war that will destroy the M'Eiryn looms and Far Riders are [were] never more needed. [I admit that if a bloody civil war were looming, I would be the first to enlist in an organization called Far Riders.] However, her mother concocts a wild scheme to keep Kaelyn safe that almost gets her killed and exposes her to a returned demon lord. The demon lord needs to destroy her before she discovers the truth. [What truth?] A handsome pirate plots to use her to disgrace his father and she's not at all immune to his charms. [Is that the truth the demon lord doesn't want her to discover?] [This pirate feels like he belongs in a different book.] A senile sorcerer wants to...well, who knows for sure? He's senile.

Kaelyn just wants to survive long enough to find out who killed her uncle and kidnapped the king. To ensure that, she sneaks into the fledgling, and unpopular, women's unit of the military school to learn how to fight. [Why does she have to sneak in? An unpopular unit would welcome a new volunteer.] Then, perhaps, she can become a Far Rider and help save the M'Eiryn, [Yes, I'm sure this one woman can turn the tide in the bloody civil war if she just learns to fight.] even if it means going to war against her mother's people.  [She's willing to go to war with her mother's people to save the barbarians? Who are the barbarians to her? Are they her father's people? If so, make that clear when you introduce them.]

Far Rider is an epic fantasy, complete at 145,000 words.

I was a lead writer for Speedhorse Racing Report, a weekly horse racing magazine, for twenty-three years. I'm now with Raincrow Studios, an indie game developer specializing in location based games with a strong, fantasy narrative. I also raised Quarter Horses for years and I'm from a ranching background, so the horse details are completely authentic. [Completely? Even the scene where her uncle rides in on a dead horse?]

Thank you for your time and consideration,


For some reason, even though the query mentions a pirate, demon armies, the living dead and a king, I kept thinking it was set in the old west and Kaelyn wanted to ride for the Pony Express.

With a civil war looming, I wouldn't expect a shortage of couriers to be such a prominent concern.

I think the aunt should have an elite gorilla cavalry.

This feels disorganized. I would start something like:

Kaelyn should have been a Far Rider, a courier in her aunt's elite guerrilla cavalry, but she was always too busy chronicling the battles between the barbarian M'eiryn and the demon armies of Lorka Tau.  Now, with King Cauland missing and a bloody civil war looming, Far Riders will be needed more than ever, so Kaelyn enlists in the women's unit of the military school and learns to fight.

I probably got some of the details wrong, but you get the idea. Follow that with whatever happens after she graduates.

0 Comments on Face-Lift 1239 as of 11/19/2014 1:26:00 PM
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23. Dear Literary Agent...

At last. One book that collects the funniest Face-Lifts from this blog. You get the werewolf popes, the pay phone occlusions, the ruthless vigilante sorcerers... 50 in all. The book is 100 pages long, and while most of the included query critiques were not illustrated when they originally appeared on the blog, all 50 now have at least one illustration.

It's expensive because it's 8 by 10 instead of 5.5 by 8.5, because it's color instead of black & white, because it's printed on thick glossy photo paper instead of cheap bond paper and because only a few copies are being printed instead of hundreds.

Whether you've been here for the whole 8+ years and want the book as a memento, or you got here recently and don't have time to slog through 1200+ query letters on your computer screen, you want this book. You gotta have it.

I'm charging the same amount the printer charges me: $39.99 for soft cover, and $51.99 for hard cover (image wrap). I'm eating the shipping costs (to US) and the 2.75% that Square charges to sell in their market. I expect to recoup those costs when enough of you order a copy that I get a volume discount. To sweeten the deal, if you order now you also get the pdf version of Evil Editor's History of the World in Tweets, readable on your Kindle, tablet, or computer monitor. It'll give you something to read while you wait for the book to be printed. Click the link below the cover image to order. If you live outside the US email me, we'll arrange a Paypal money transfer.

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24. New Beginning 1033

They say bad news rides a fast horse.

No one said anything about it riding a dead one, and the black destrier Kaelyn's uncle rode toward her had died two years ago.

Her uncle crossed the pasture as if he knew exactly where she was even though the copse of cedar shielded her from the road. She continued to watch him steadily approaching while her mind ticked down a list of things she had eaten that might cause hallucinations. Surely it had to be a horse that only looked like Cherline, but it traveled in that same rare and easy gait her uncle loved.

The ewe beside her flicked her ears nervously and followed Kaelyn's gaze towards the nearing hallucination, then anxiously nudged Kaelyn's leg, reminding her of the lamb tangled in the witchberry vines at her feet. Kaelyn knelt back down and finished cutting him loose. The lamb started nursing immediately; seeking comfort in his mother's painfully distended udder, but the ewe remained fixated on the approaching rider.         

Uncle Kael reined his horse to a stop in front of her and stepped down. The ewe backed up, stamped in apprehension and then bleated, leapt and bounded away with her youngster. 

"I thought I'd find you out here!" Uncle Kael bellowed, and Kaelyn's eyes widened even more as a grin spread across his face. "Surprised?"

"Th-- That looks just like--"

"Yes!" Uncle Kael slapped his hand against the horse's rump and Cherline turned and nuzzled against him. "Essentially, it is! My cloning experiment worked! It's as if she never died!"

"Oh my God," Kaelyn exclaimed. "Can you clone anything?" Kaelyn thought about her Irish Setter, gray about the muzzle and unable to stand. "Will you clone Kallie?"

Uncle Kael's grin faded, and he looked at his niece with a serious face. "I don't know about that, Kaelyn. You better ask your mothers."

Opening: Julie Weathers.....Continuation: Anonymous

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25. Feedback Request

The author of Kingdom of Fire (Face-Lift 1237) has sent a new revision, and requests our input.

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