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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. Face=Lift 1323

Guess the Plot


1. In a land that draws magic from childbirth, a sorceress uses her own pregnancies to become powerful enough to destroy entire nations. But she wants even more power, the kind of power she can get only if she gives birth to quintuplets.

2. Stuttering Sirius is the name the school kids call him. This poor janitor has kept the halls clean for years. One day, an evil portal appears and unleashes all manner of evil and filth. Can Sirius overcome his stuttering to properly speak the incantation to close the portal?

3. Siri is seriously silly. She's a fan of Dr. Suess and speaks in a sing-song manner. In fact, singing is her passion, but the glee kids as well as the rockers at her posh private school mock her sunny, childish, lyrics. When Siri finds a magic portal in the music room she's transported to Susurrus, a saccharine-sweet land straight out of a Disney musical. Siri's now the star of an all-singing, all-dancing life. But the inhabitants of Susurrus have an evil goal -- reduce Siri to a one-dimensional caricature and steal her emotions. Will Siri succumb to the siren song of Susurrus?

4. The Pharaoh Susurrus lived his life quietly and unobtrusively and intended to spend his death the same way. But when a nosy archaeologist opens his crypt and starts taking selfies with Susurrus's mummified remains, well, what's a decent mummy to do other than go on a murderous rampage?

5. The Susurrus is the geeky dinosaur down the block that all the other kids avoid. He doesn't care since he's heard whispers from space. Madness? Aliens? Or the end of life on the planet?

6. Lassys the water nymph in the stream behind Wendy's bedroom hates people. At night she whispers to Wendy, instructing her to take people off into the woods and leave them in the deep sinkholes created by the stream. Wendy thinks she's going crazy. The city wants to dam the stream and fill those sinkholes in. Does Lassys have to do all the dirty work herself? Or will the satyr Susurrus lend a hand?

7. "Kill, kill, kill," whispers the wind near Joy's office. "Kill, kill, kill," whispers the wind outside her bedroom. And if Rafe leaves the toilet seat up one more time, she's going to do like the wind says.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking agency representation. Due to your interest in [theme or genre], I hope that you'll be interested in my adult literary fantasy, Susurrus. It is a standalone novel complete at 83,000 words, and could be described as combining the lyrical voice of Patricia McKillip with the unrelenting intensity of Stephen Donaldson. [In short, my writing combines what's best about Patricia and Stephen, while eliminating what, quite frankly, they suck at.] [It's probably best, if opening with something other than the plot, to keep it brief, something like:  My standalone novel Susurrus is an adult literary fantasy complete at 83,000 words. Anything important I left out may be placed in the next-to-last paragraph with your credits, after which you may delete the last paragraph. And the next-to-last paragraph.] 

In its hot, harsh voice, the wind whispers soft, cool lies. In a desert of mirage and misdirection, [Did you hire Patricia McKillip to write your plot summary in her lyrical voice?] a sorceress searches for lost magic, and finds only sand. Once, she had dark power; once, she led a brutal empire; once, she was the Blood Queen. [Then Stephen Donaldson took the reins, and it all went kablooey.] [Don't mind me; I jest. The truth is, I'm embarrassed to admit I've never even heard of McKillip or Donaldson.] And yet — no evil sorceress is born evil.

Orphaned young, teenaged Iskra wants to learn magic and she wants a home. In a desert land that draws magic from childbirth, she tries to use her own pregnancy to heal her foster father’s illness. Untrained, she fails, and both the child and her foster father die. She’s left with a unique talent for magic, but with each new power she learns comes personal disaster. [This sounds like the plot of Superman, issue #1, wherein Superman kills his foster father, Mr. Kent, by throwing a baseball right through him while they're playing catch, and then burns Smallville to the ground with his new heat vision.] [I won't mention what happened when he woke from his first erotic dream, except to say that Mrs. Kent was not happy with the roof repair bill.] When a new tragedy leaves her half-drowned on foreign shores, [Too late, she discovered that having Aquaman's ability to talk to fish didn't necessarily mean she could also breathe underwater.] she finds a human lover soul-bound animal companion that at last make her happy. [A human lover soul-bound animal companion? Is that one thing or two?]

The next time magic brings tragedy, it’s not her fault; the thralls of a tyrannous wizard kill her family. Iskra embraces the destructive potential of her power to take a bloody revenge, destroying the wizard's entire nation. Now the feared Blood Queen of an empty land, she searches out more and more magic and territory, becoming colder and more isolated in the process. [Does she have to give birth to get more magic?] When she arrives to conquer her late foster-father’s small, weak country, its leaders trap her in an endless mirage. To escape, she will have to face her own illusions.

I've had short fiction published at [venues], and in anthologies such [anthology]. A full publication history is available at [website].

I look forward to hearing from you.



I'm not sure I want Iskra to escape the mirage if she's now a feared Blood Queen capable of destroying entire nations and gleefully conquering small weak countries. Are we supposed to cheer her on?

Wait, is the book called Suserrus instead of Sorceress because the people all mumble?

In the first plot paragraph Iskra is trapped in a mirage. Then we find out what led to this situation. At the end of the query, she has yet to progress beyond being trapped in the mirage. Maybe if you start with the backstory you'll have room at the end to add something about Iskra's plan to escape the mirage and what will happen if she succeeds and what will happen if she fails. So that we care which one happens.

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2. Success Story

Kristi Bradley reports:

 I submitted my query for MYSTA probably five years ago or more. I'd since lost track of Evil Editor, but now that I've been accepted for publication, I looked you up again to extend my thanks. MYSTA, my paranormal romance will be released soon by Dark Oak Press. The manuscript underwent several transformations since my query critique by Evil Editor, but I'd like to thank you and your minions for your candid, yet disheartening critiques, which taught me to toughen up and try again. 

Face-lift 1019:


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3. Vacation

EE will be on vacation until the 28th. I'll have time to post comments and tweet, but not to post query critiques. Presumably when I return there'll be a huge batch of queries and openings waiting for me.

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4. Feedback Request

The author of the query most recently featured here would like your opinion of this version:

Mr. Evil Editor

Leah Chase is a single mother of an eleven year old girl and has only one close friend. [Do we need to know how many friends she has?] After working as a police detective for a year, she finds she hates her job and still hasn’t found a place in the unit. She’s assigned a low profile case: Matthew James, who had no relatives and no friends. [It's not necessary to provide each character's exact number of friends.] A man who was released on a technicality after being charged with manslaughter. [What is her assignment with regard to Matthew James? Find him? Follow him? Probably neither, as, according to the previous version, he's dead. It's more important to tell us he's been murdered than that he has no friends.]

Harry Finch’s son was killed by a drunk driver who was set free because of a minor legal error. Harry [, who has four friends,] wanted justice for his son, so the man responsible, Matthew James, had to die. In that man’s death, he finds solace, but he also finds the excitement and joy of knowing that a wrong was righted. He imagines a future where those who persecuted were punished, where victims received the justice they so desired. There were so many more innocents whose malefactor still walked free. How could Harry stop now? [I don't like "persecuted" (transgressed/killed/broke the law?) Matthew didn't persecute Harry's son. I also don't like "malefactor." (assailants?} Stay out of the thesaurus.]

Leah interviews Harry during the investigation. The following week Harry asks her to dinner. Though Harry is still technically a suspect, Leah accepts. As weeks go by, the friendship they have grows to something more.

More are killed. Leah sees a pattern forming that encompasses the recent murders as well as the case assigned to her. She believes these similarities tie all the murders together. Then the killer changes tactics. Leah’s best friend is almost killed by the murderer, barely saved by Leah. No longer is he targeting criminals, instead he's killing random people at random locations. [I'm not sure I'd call Leah's best friend a random person. Didn't he know she was Leah's friend when he attacked her? And if all his murders take place where there are no witnesses around to identify him, that isn't random either.] He’s more dangerous, more frightening, and still leaving no clues as to who he might be. [If he's targeting different people and leaving no clues, how do they know it's the same killer/] 

The stories of Leah and Harry intertwine, weaving together and apart. [Things don't weave apart, and intertwine is the same as weave together. You're wasting words. By the end of the query you've shown that their stories intertwine, so why tell us?] Leah struggles to catch a ruthless serial killer; Harry meticulously plans and executes murders. And Leah and Harry fall in love.

When one family fights back, Harry leaves evidence behind — evidence that leads Leah to Harry, the man she loves.

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration. A partial or full manuscript is available on request.



You should be able to summarize your plot in ten sentences. You have about twenty-five. Perhaps the following could be used as a template for a more concise version.

Harry Finch’s son was killed by a drunk driver who was freed on a legal technicality. Harry believes in an eye for an eye, and kills the man responsible, Matthew James. Righting that one wrong proves an addictive thrill for Harry. How many more killers are walking free?

A chief suspect in the Matthew James murder, Harry is interviewed by detective Leah Chase. He manages to satisfy her that he's not the killer, and later asks her out to dinner. It's against department policy, but she accepts, and an unexpected romance takes root.

As a series of vigilante killings hits the city, Leah sees similarities between those crimes and the one she's still investigating. Apparently she's not just after the killer of Matthew James; she's after a serial killer. And then evidence turns up at the latest crime scene, evidence that seems to point at Harry Finch, the man Leah loves.

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5. Success Story

Dawn Martinez-Byrne (AKA Khazar-Khum) reports that her story “The Legend of Pretty Bird”  is published now in the short story anthology Heart of Farkness, available at Amazon. All stories were donated, with the proceeds going to St Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

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6. Feedback Request

The author of the book most recently featured here would like your opinion of the two versions below:

Mr. Evil Editor:

Years ago Leah watched as her husband was murdered by a man who was never identified or caught.  A decade later, police detective Leah Chase still has nightmares of her husband dying in her arms, murdered by an assailant who was never identified.  She still wakes up screaming. [Don't put two spaces between sentences.] 

Leah is assigned a low profile case to find the murderer of a man with no relatives and no friends. A man who just barely escaped being convicted of manslaughter. [I find this confusing. I'm not sure whether the man who just barely escaped being convicted of manslaughter is the murderer or the man with no relatives and no friends.] [Also, how do they know this man has no friends?] [I'd go with a comma or dash instead of a period after the first sentence, so the reader doesn't get to the end of the second "sentence" and wonder where the rest of it is.]

During the investigation, Leah meets Harry Finch. He asks her to coffee, then dinner.  Still traumatized by the death of her husband, [It was ten years ago. If she's still traumatized, I question whether she should be working as a police officer.] Leah worries she’s not ready for this new relationship they begin. Though Leah’s eleven year old daughter doesn’t like Harry, Leah and Harry’s friendship begins to grow into something more. [If it begins to grow, then it's growing, so just say it grows instead of it begins to grow.] 

Leah sees similarities [to the murder she's investigating] in a second murder, and by the third, she sees a pattern.  Her superior doesn’t agree, but as the killings continue, Leah finds herself at the center of a much bigger investigation than anyone was prepared for. 

While Leah and Harry fall in love, the murderer becomes more daring, killing four in a downtown restaurant, then killing families in their own homes.  When the killer makes a mistake and two victims escape, it forces him to leave evidence behind.  Evidence that leads her [Leah] to Harry, the man she loves.

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration. A partial or full manuscript is available on request.


Note:  I’ve never been happy with the previous versions that concentrated on Leah.  They came out of people telling me to concentrate on a single character.  Except that the novel is about 1/3 Leah alone, about 1/3 Harry alone, and 1/3 the two of them.  (With other subplots thrown in as well.)  So, by concentrating on Leah, I feel like I’m leaving out large parts of what (to me) makes to novel worth reading.  The following query feels much more representative of the book.

Mr. Evil Editor:

Leah [Chase] is a single mother of an eleven year old girl and a police detective who hates her job. [This makes it sound like she's the mother of an 11-year-old girl and also the mother of a police detective who hates her job.]  She’s assigned a low profile case to find the murderer of Matthew James, who had no relatives and no friends. A man who was charged with manslaughter for the death of a teenager, but released on a technicality. [Still confusing. She's assigned a low-profile case: the murder of Matthew James, who was recently released on a technicality after being charged with manslaughter.]

Harry Finch’s son was killed by a drunk driver who was set free because of a minor legal error.  Harry wanted justice for his son, so the man responsible, Matthew James, had to die.  In that man’s death, he finds solace, but he also finds the excitement and joy of knowing that wrongs are being righted, that those who persecuted [Who are those who persecuted?] were punished, and victims received the justice they so desired.  [Victims of murderers don't actually desire anything. Also, you speak of wrongs and victims as if he's killed several people. So far he's killed only Matthew James.] There were so many more victims still without justice.  How could Harry stop now?

Leah interviews Harry during the investigation. The following week Harry asks her to dinner.  Though Harry is still technically a suspect, Leah accepts.  As weeks go by, the friendship they have begins to grow[s] to something more.

The stories of Leah and Harry intertwine, weaving together and apart, the police detective and the murderer.  [We know. You don't have to say this.] Leah struggles to catch a serial killer; Harry meticulously plans and executes murders, slaughtering four at a restaurant, and forcing his way into homes and killing families. [Killing entire families gets justice for . . . people who were murdered by entire families?] And Leah and Harry fall in love.

When one family fights back, Harry leaves evidence behind — evidence that leads Leah to Harry, the man she loves.

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration. A partial or full manuscript is available on request.



I prefer the first version. Others may disagree. The first one has the advantage that "evidence that leads Leah to Harry, the man she loves." is more shocking if we haven't already been told that Harry is the serial killer Leah is after (Okay,we may suspect it, but we can imagine her reaction as the evidence piles up). In the second version we know Harry's the one she's after before she does. There's no mystery.

Of course maybe I want the query to focus on Leah because I would also prefer the book to focus on Leah so that I, as a reader, gradually suspect Harry is the serial killer, as Leah does, instead of being aware of it from the beginning. Possibly that isn't the book you've written. 

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7. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Synopsis 50 would like feedback on the following revision.

After her mom's death, seventeen-year-old MAGGIE hopes to forge a new life with her grandma, JESSIE-BELLE, in the small, southern town of Leviathan. But not long after Maggie steps off the bus, DANNY, the son of a local preacher, tells her to go back to California before it's too late.

Jessie-Belle warns Maggie to stay away from Danny. She explains that he is the prime suspect in his father's murder and may be involved in the disappearance of several local teens. But after visiting a disturbing museum of human oddities run by ELIAS LAVENDER, Maggie decides Elias is a more likely suspect.

When school starts, Maggie gets lost during a class trip to the Great Dismal Swamp. She finds a girl impaled on the branches of a tree and shouts for help. Danny appears, seemingly from nowhere. He claims the girl is the victim of a monster that feeds on human sin. They free the girl and take her to the hospital, but she dies.

Maggie returns home to find her grandma disappearing into the swamp, trailed by Elias. Maggie follows. She loses track of Elias, but sees Jessie-Belle summon a Lovecraftian creature from Lake Drummond.

When Maggie confronts her grandma, Jessie-Belle reveals that Maggie is the monster's daughter and his intended bride. She encourages Maggie to submit to the monster, claiming he will grant them both immortality. She also admits to killing Danny's father.

Maggie goes to Danny, hoping he can help her defeat the monster. Danny explains that his family has rescued people from the monster for generations, aided by a supernatural ability to sense human sin, but it can only be killed by one of its own children.

Maggie and Danny resolve to face the beast together. They gather a variety of weapons and force Jessie-Belle to lead them to the monster. But their plan to ambush the beast is derailed when Elias arrives carrying an unconscious girl. Elias hopes to supplant Jessie-Belle as the monster's servant by offering it a worthier bride.

The monster awakens and in the ensuing chaos, Jessie-Belle kills Elias and chops off one of Danny's arms. She declares her unwavering love for the monster, but it kills her.

Forced to face the monster alone, Maggie sets the creature on fire, but is burned herself when the creature falls on her in its death throes.

Several weeks later, Maggie awakens in the hospital where she is reunited with Danny. Danny assures her the monster is dead, and the two embrace, ready to begin a new life together.

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8. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured most recently here would like your opinion of the version below.

Mr. Evil Editor:

Ten years ago Leah watched as her husband was murdered by a man who was never identified or caught. Now a detective, she still has nightmares of watching her husband murdered, of feeling him die in her arms. She still wakes up screaming. [A better opening, and a better name than Lee. You should include her last name. It leaves me wondering if she was a police officer ten years ago or if she became one because of this event. I'm not crazy about "watched as her husband was murdered" in sentence 1 being followed by "watching her husband murdered" in sentence 2. You can delete the phrase in the second sentence. Or you could try:

A decade later, police detective Leah Chase still has nightmares. Her husband dying in her arms, murdered by an assailant who was never identified. She still wakes up screaming.

One day she’s given the job of catching a killer no one thinks can be caught. [I don't buy that no one thinks he can be caught. You're basically saying the powers that be are dumping a murder case on Leah because why waste our top detectives on a criminal who can't be caught? That would not play well with the people of Columbus, and the press would savage the department. With a serial killer active, any murder case would be top priority.] [Also, "One day" is not a good start to the sentence. It's better than "Once upon a time," but I'd go with :

When Leah is assigned a high-profile murder case, she (wonders if she's in over her head/wonders if her quarry might be the man who killed her husband/sees this an a career-making opportunity/whatever).]  

During the investigation, Leah meets [interviews] Harry Finch [, whose murdered son may have been a victim of the same killer she's hunting.] He asks her to coffee, then dinner. Leah worries she’s not ready for this new relationship they begin. [Not ready because it's only been ten years since her husband died?] And Leah is surprised her young daughter doesn’t seem to like Harry. [Is this a daughter by her ten-years-dead husband? I'd give her age rather than say "young." Or leave her out of the query.] But Leah and Harry’s friendship begins to grow into something more.

The murderer continues to kill using ever more brutal methods. [The murderer Leah was assigned to capture, or the serial killer? Or are they the same person? It's not clear whether she was assigned the serial killer case or an isolated murder case. In other words, does she fall for the serial killer while hunting the serial killer or while hunting another murderer? I find it hard to believe there's a prolific serial killer at work and they gave the entire case to Leah instead of calling in the FBI and putting several of their detectives on it.] As the bodies pile up, Harry and Leah fall in love. In a final clash, Leah is forced to confront not only other forces that want her dead, [You force us to ask what other forces want her dead. Since you don't tell us, you're better off not bringing them up at all.] but Harry, the man she loves. Harry, the serial killer. [I'd rather see an ending in which Leah discovers evidence that leads her to suspect the worst about Harry and leave their "final clash" for the book.]

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration. A partial or full manuscript is available on request.



It's a better query than the previous versions. Most of my comments can be dealt with without much work.

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9. Synopsis 50

Guess the Plot

At the Edge of Dark Water

1. Tommy always looked into the dark water of the pool at the edge of his family's farm. He tested it before and was curious why such a shallow pool was so dark. One midsummer's day, he stared into the dark abyss, until it started staring back.

2. Inadvertently cursed by a girl with a crush on school's top swimmer, Jimmy learns only a kiss will return him to human. Unfortunately, he doesn't know whose kiss and each turns him into a different creature: penguin, seagull, walrus....

3. Dark Water is one of those boring little towns where nothing ever happens, until of course it does and everybody gets upset, leaving a plucky teenage girl and a detective to sort things out. Also, zombies.

4. When her mother dies, Maggie moves in with her grandmother, who lives on the edge of a swamp. As the new kid in town, Maggie gets harassed and bullied. She's unhappy, and it seems the only boy who can ever reach her, is the son of a preacher man. Also, a disturbing freak show.

5. On the cusp of earning his parent’s love through heroism, Maxwell realizes he is afraid of the dark, and sharks. He helplessly watches from the dock as his parent’s sink with their trawler into the bottomless sea. If only he had run away to the big city like his sister.

6. Vivienne lives in a houseboat at the edge of the continental shelf. After her boyfriend dumps her, her dog dies of cancer, and she loses her job, she thinks about ending it all. Then, she hears sirens of the Oedipus kind.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I humbly beseech you to critique the synopsis for my YA novel, AT THE EDGE OF DARK WATER, in which a grieving teen girl and the tormented son of a street preacher take on a monster that feeds on human sin. The creature lives in the Great Dismal Swamp (specifically in the depths of Lake Drummond) - hence the title. BTW 400 words is brutal!

After her mom's death, seventeen-year-old MAGGIE hopes to forge a new life with her grandma, JESSIE-BELLE, in the small, southern town of Leviathan, but things go wrong the minute she steps off the bus. Classmates vandalize her new car, [The minute she steps off the bus? If she has a new car, why didn't she drive it to Leviathan?] swamp water turns to blood when she touches it, and DANNY, the tormented son of a street preacher, tells her to go back to California before it's too late. [Apparently you thought Evil Editor would just gloss over the swamp water turning to blood if you hid it in the middle of the list. Let's see if that works on you: I was having one of those days. First there was no milk for my cereal in the morning, then a Klingon warbird blew up my town, and finally a guy in a clown suit made fun of my socks.]    

Things seem to be looking up when local hottie MITCH invites Maggie to the Peanut Festival. [Only an invitation to the junior prom or the swamp buggy races is more coveted than one to the peanut festival.] But during the date, Maggie is harassed by ELIAS, manager of a disturbing freak show and museum of oddities. [Why? Does he even know who she is?] And when Mitch takes Maggie into the swamp, he is attacked by a shadowy entity. Panicked, Maggie leaps into Mitch's SUV and drives away. [Shouldn't he have taken her into the swamp in an airboat instead of his car? I take it he left the keys to his SUV in the vehicle?]

When school starts, Mitch's ex-girlfriend, ROSALIE, bullies Maggie. [Was she his ex-girlfriend or his girlfriend when he was taking Maggie into the swamp?] [If school hadn't started yet, I'm not sure the people who vandalized Maggie's new car could be called her classmates.] On a class trip, Maggie runs away and gets lost in the swamp. [They should have used the buddy system. What was she running away from?] She finds a girl impaled on the branches of a bizarre tree. [What's bizarre about it, besides the fact that there's a girl impaled on its branches?] She shouts for help and Danny appears. They free the girl and take her to the hospital, but she dies and Danny is arrested for her murder. [Why?]

Maggie returns home to find her grandma disappearing into the swamp. Maggie follows and sees Jessie-Belle conversing with the monster. Maggie learns the monster is her father. She also learns its cells are in her body and if she doesn't become its servant, she will suffer the same excruciating death as her mom. [We're starting to ratchet up the wacko factor here.]

Maggie races to the jail, hoping Danny can help her defeat the monster. She convinces the deputy in charge to release him, [Whoa. Who's this deputy, Barney Fife? He releases a murder suspect because the seventeen-year-old new kid in town says to?] and the two resolve to face the beast together. They force Jessie-Belle to lead them to the monster, but their plan to ambush the beast is derailed when Elias arrives with a kidnapped Rosalie. He intends to offer her to the monster in exchange for immortality. [What makes him think Maggie's monster/father can grant immortality in exchange for human sacrifices? Has anyone else been granted immortality?] 

The monster awakens. Elias is killed, [By the monster?] Rosalie escapes, Danny loses an arm, and Jessie-Belle is knocked unconscious. Maggie drags Danny and Jessie-Belle into Danny's pick-up truck, but Jessie-Belle regains consciousness and crashes the vehicle. Jessie-Belle runs to the monster declaring her love, but it kills her.

Maggie must face the monster alone. [With Elias and Jessie-Belle dead, why can't the police be brought in?] She sets herself and the creature on fire. [Better would have been setting just the creature on fire. Hindsight is 20/20.] 

Several weeks later, Maggie awakens in the hospital where she is reunited with Danny. Danny reassures her the monster is dead. The two embrace, exhilarated to begin a new life together.


The last four paragraphs are mostly a list of things that happen. Which you blame on me for limiting synopses to 400 words. But the key, when given a word limit, is not to squeeze all the information into half as many words, but to get rid of the less important information. For instance, I've reduced it to well under 300 words by getting rid of the vandalism and Elias and Rosalie and most of what made me ask questions:

After her mom's death, seventeen-year-old MAGGIE hopes to forge a new life with her grandma, JESSIE-BELLE, in the small, southern town of Leviathan. But not long after Maggie steps off the bus, DANNY, the tormented son of a street preacher, tells her to go back to California before it's too late.

When school starts, Maggie gets lost during a class trip to the Great Dismal Swamp. She finds a girl impaled on the branches of a tree and shouts for help. Danny appears, seemingly from nowhere. They free the girl and take her to the hospital, but she dies.

Maggie returns home to find her grandma disappearing into the swamp. Maggie follows and sees Jessie-Belle conversing with a shadowy monster. Maggie learns the monster is her father, and is responsible for the death of one of her classmates. It feeds on human sin.

Maggie and Danny resolve to face the beast together. They force Jessie-Belle to lead them to the monster, but their plan to ambush the beast is derailed when they realize they forgot to bring any weapons. The monster awakens and pulls off one of Danny's arms. Jessie-Belle tries to calm the monster, but it kills her.

Forced to face the monster alone, Maggie sets the creature on fire with a Molotov cocktail she finds in a bush, but is burned herself when the creature falls on her in its death throes.

Several weeks later, Maggie awakens in the hospital where she is reunited with Danny. Danny assures her the monster is dead, and cannot return to life unless this book sells big and the publisher demands a sequel. The two embrace, ready to begin a new life together.

Now if you need a 400-word synopsis, you can add 100+ words to this version. If you need 800 words, you can add 500. What you add should elaborate on this with specific details, not just list more things that happen. Tell a story. 

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10. Face-Lift 1322

Guess the Plot 


1. A self-help manual for those who aren't getting enough hugs or kisses.

2. Her classmates always called Makayla stupid and ugly. Then she landed a modeling career as the face of XO XO jewelry. Now her classmates are jealous. But they still call her stupid and ugly.

3. When LT receives a love letter, he is paralyzed with apprehension. What does “You’re next. XO XO” mean? Who has eyes on him? His commanding officer with one hug and kiss? Two kisses and hugs from that sergeant? Should he put it under his pillow or put Intelligence on it?

4. When the body of Univision's beloved kid show host Ana "XoXo" Gonzales is found in with the tigers at the LA Zoo, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, none of the tigers can fire a handgun, and two, this will probably end up as a plot on one of his abuelita's beloved telenovelas.

5. Little XO XO O'Malley has captured the king of the leprechauns. But instead of a pot of gold, she wants the rainbow. The king manages to talk her down to seven color-themed wishes, which of course infringes on the genies' turf. Also, enforced tea parties.

6. After listening to John Mayer's song "XO," and Beyonce's cover of the same song, Justine still can't figure out why the title isn't "Love Me Lights Out." So she starts a Change.org online petition to change the title. Hilarity ensues.

Original Version

XO XO Is a middle grade novelette completed at 14,453. [I'm assuming that's your word count, but we normally round the word count off, so perhaps 14,453 is the altitude (in feet) you were flying at when you completed the book.] [If you do round it off I suggest rounding it to 45,000.] 

Every day at school, Makayla Massi is faced with her cruel classmates, Madison and Mya they call her ugly and stupid. [It's a bad sign when your first sentence isn't a sentence. Either make it two sentences or change "they" to ", who."] Even though they are always dressed in designer clothes and seem to have it all, for some reason they aren't happy. Things are so bad that if Makayla could make herself invisible she would. [Start a new paragraph here.] After a surprise trip, Makayla's dream of being a model finally comes true.  [It wouldn't take many words to explain how this trip is a surprise.] She couldn't be happier as the new face of Gems XO XO jewelry store. Makayla can't wait for the fashion show where she'll be able to walk the runway for the first time ever. [New paragraph.] As she walks the runway on her way to success she realizes that living her dream comes with a lot of jealously. She never imagined there wasn't a pretty side to modeling. [That suggests that there isn't a pretty side. I think you mean She never imagined there was an ugly side...] Her usually [usual] daily school dilemma [I would call it her torment or anguish.] only gets worse after the fashion show, [Continuing to torment the girl you were calling ugly, after she becomes a successful model, is like if the kids who used to mock LeBron James's basketball skills are still mocking him today. At some point you move on to an easier target, or you look like an idiot.] so Makayla handles matters with kindness by helping Madison and Mia, but things don't go as planned. Now, she's faced with an even bigger challenge and little by little Madison and Mya try to take away what little self- esteem Makayla does have until she discovers it's her self- esteem and no one gets to decide her self-worth, but her. [This last "paragraph" is vague. How does her dilemma get worse? Are her classmates doing worse things than calling her names? What does Makayla do to help Madison and May? What goes wrong when she helps them? What is her bigger challenge?]


 If Makayla has to go on a trip to land her modeling career, it seems odd that she's still in school in her hometown. Wouldn't she have to stay where the work is?

There doesn't seem to be any hugging and kissing, so apparently the title comes from part of the jewelry store's name?

While "novelette" describes a work of a certain length, it's not a length that anyone's likely to publish in book form. Maybe as part of a collection of your stories, but before it gets published anywhere you need to tell us what makes this story stand out.

The dream of being a model comes true with pretty much no explanation. 

XOXO is a brand name of watches and jewelry. Possibly they don't have their own stores. Whether they would be thrilled or annoyed to find their products in your story I don't know, but if they don't like it you can always argue that XO XO is completely different from XOXO. 

My research shows that XOXO means hugs and kisses. Does XO XO mean hug and kiss  hug and kiss?

The four proper names in the query are Mikayla, Massi, Madison, and Mya. This will annoy readers who have enough trouble keeping track of who's who when the names don't all start with the same letter.. 

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11. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1321 (See previous post) would like feedback on the following revision:

Mr. Evil Editor:

When Lee Chase goes alone to interview the owner of an auto shop, she ends up almost getting killed by a gang member. She may have found where the gang stores the cars they’ve stolen, but by going alone she’s made one too many mistakes. [At this point I'm wondering if Lee is a reporter or possibly a customer who wants to compare prices on body work. Introduce her as a homicide detective, if that's what she is. Although a homicide detective would be investigating a murder, not stolen cars.] Now, close to being demoted, she’s given the unenviable job of solving a murder that has no obvious motive.

The murdered man was charged with manslaughter of a teenager, but freed on a technicality. Two years later, on the anniversary of the date he walked free, he was killed. With no obvious suspects, Lee interviews Harry Finch, the father of the slain teenager. Still angry about his son’s death, but without even a parking ticket on his record, Lee doesn’t believe he’s the murderer. [Okay, let's discuss "dangling modifiers." In the previous version, you used the sentence: A pleasant and polite man with no record, she can't believe he would commit murder. AlaskaRavenclaw asked if you knew what was wrong with the sentence. What was wrong is that when you open a sentence with a modifying clause, we expect that it modifies the subject of the main clause (which is Lee). Instead it describes Harry. You can argue that "he" can't describe Lee, as Lee is a female, but we don't want grammar rules to change depending on whether the detective is male or female and whether it's Harry the father or Harriet the mother who is the serial killer. That would be chaos at worst, and annoying to readers at best. So you might have tried: A pleasant and polite man with no record, he (or Harry) seems an unlikely murder suspect. 

Moving on to the current version: Still angry about his son’s death, but without even a parking ticket on his record, Lee . . .  Again, you've described Harry, but made Lee the subject. There are numerous ways to fix this, including: Though he's still angry about his son's death, Harry doesn't strike Lee as the murdering type. He's pleasant and polite and he's never even had a parking ticket.]

She's wrong.

Harry is a merciless killer hunting for justice. Justice for his son, justice for anyone who has been betrayed. [Was his son betrayed?] But Harry's version of justice is quickly making him the most prolific serial killer Columbus has ever seen.

Hoping she might give him important information about the case, [Which case? His own or his son's?] Harry asks Lee to coffee, [This time you have the right subject, but it's still confusing because we have two pronouns in the modifying clause. You can make it easier on us by saying Hoping Lee might give him important information about the case, Harry asks her to coffee . . .] Eventually, [Meaning by dessert or after they've been dating a few weeks?] he finds himself liking her, even seeing that he could love her, and Lee begins to love him back. [There surely are rules against dating a person of interest in the case you're working, especially if he's the only suspect you have.] 

As the bodies pile up, as a gang member takes potshots at Lee, Harry and Lee fall in love. [You just said they're falling in love in the previous sentence. Move on.] It all comes together in a final clash that forces Lee to confront not only the gang that wants her dead, but Harry, the man she loves.

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration. A partial or full manuscript is available on request.



Another example of possibly confusing pronouns: The murdered man was charged with manslaughter of a teenager, but freed on a technicality. Two years later, on the anniversary of the date he walked free, he was killed. As both a man and a teenager are killed in the first sentence I have to figure out which one you're talking about when you say "he" was killed in the second sentence.

It might be a good idea to go through your manuscript looking for dangling modifiers and unclear pronoun antecedents. 

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12. Face-Lift 1321

Guess the Plot

Justice Betrayed

1. Detective Tom Griffin has spent the last decade of his life bringing down the local crime family, sacrificing everything important in his life along the way. But due to one clerical error, all his work has gone to waste. Now it's up to Tom to see that justice gets dealt.

2. Justice discovers that her jockey is on the take. How can one horse keep her scheming rider from throwing the biggest race of the century? Especially when her beloved owner counts on her winnings to pay for his dying daughter's cancer treatments?

3. Justice Everly is a hypocritical, two-timing swindler. But he never thought his dog, Rascal, would lead the F.B.I. to him. He's serving five life sentences when he hears Rascal is about to be put down. Can he spin-doctor saving the mutt into a way to get himself released?

4. Eleven-year-old Davy Justice is promised the wide receiver spot on the football team. It means the world to him because Susie, the hottest girl in Henry Clay Middle School, loves football above all else. But Coach Baluster gives his spot to Kevin while Davy sits on the bench. When Kevin takes Susie to the school dance, Davy quits football for baseball. Twenty-five years later and sixty million richer from his major league baseball career, Davy still wonders what might have been with Susie.

5. Harry Finch takes it upon himself to get justice for anyone who's been betrayed, mainly by murdering the betrayers. Unfortunately, there've been so many betrayals of one kind or another lately, Harry's become a prolific serial killer. Complicating matters, Harry and the detective hunting him fall in love.

6. Defense attorney Ken Childress has proof, before the case even goes to trial, that his client, actress Gloria Barnes, couldn't possibly have murdered her agent. But Gloria, who needs the publicity of a murder trial to revive her sagging career, demands that Childress conceal the evidence of her innocence and confesses to the crime.

Original Version

Mr. Evil Editor:

JUSTICE BETRAYED tells the story of Lee Chase, a homicide detective, and Harry Finch, the man she falls in love with. Unfortunately, the brutal truth is that Harry is the serial killer she's hunting.

After one too many mistakes and close to being demoted, Lee Chase is given the unenviable job of solving a murder that has no [obvious] motive and no clues. She interviews an unlikely suspect, Harry Finch. [If there's no motive and no clues, everyone's an unlikely suspect.] 

Captain: Detective Chase, I realize no one has a motive in this case, and there's no blood, fingerprints, footprints, hair, fibers, weapon or any other clue pointing to any specific person, but do you have any suspects?

Chase: If, by "suspects," you mean people who were in Columbus at the time of the murder, yes, I have about 800,000. I'll start checking their alibis in the morning.]

A pleasant and polite man with no record, she can't believe he would commit murder. [Anyone who reads books or watches movies would immediately suspect a guy who's pleasant and polite of being a serial killer, yet this homicide detective has no clue? No wonder they're demoting her.] [Also, if there is no motive and there are no clues, I suspect they would start by interviewing people who do have criminal records, and have used the same MO as this killer. What did Harry do to become a suspect?

She's wrong. [You've already told us he's the killer she's hunting, so why waste two lines on two words that tell us again?] [Probably it's the first paragraph you should eliminate rather than this one, as it says nothing that isn't said again in the rest of the query.]

Harry is a killer hunting for justice. Justice for his son, [What happened to his son? Did he get killed? Fired? Fail to get the lead in the high school play? Have his lunch money stolen by another 2nd grader?] justice for anyone who has been betrayed. But Harry's version of justice is quickly making him the most prolific serial killer Columbus has ever seen.

A street gang wants Lee dead. [If I'm running a street gang, the last thing I want is this mistake-prone woman being replaced on the force by a detective who may actually know what she's doing. In fact, I'm helping Lee capture Harry just so they'll keep her in homicide instead of demoting her to traffic control.] The bodies pile up. And Harry and Lee fall in love. It all comes together in a final clash that forces Lee to confront not only the gang that wants her dead, but Harry. Not the Harry she loves, but Harry, the murderer. [Books in which the detective confronts Harry the murderer are a dime a dozen. I wanna read the book in which she confronts the Harry she loves:

Lee: I love you, Harry, I really do, but we need to talk.

Harry: I knew this was coming. All my wives eventually want to have "the talk." I'm not communicative enough? Away from home too many nights? Not making enough money?

Lee: None of that. I just need you to either start doing your own laundry or stop coming home with your clothes drenched in blood.]

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

A partial or full manuscript is available on request.

Thank you for your consideration.

[Note from author: Harry, the killer, believes that he is killing for justice -- not just that the deaths are justified, but that they provide justice for someone. For example, he kills a man whom he believes harms his own wife. At the end of the book Harry finally realizes that what he has done is not justice, that he has betrayed the things he held dear. Thus the title "Justice Betrayed".]


All Lee does in the query is interview Harry, fall in love with Harry, and confront Harry. That's pretty general. Harry is involved in all those scenes, but he also has a son who was unjustly wronged, kills a lot of bad people (and possibly some not-so-bad people) and comes to a character-building realization. I'm way more interested in Harry than Lee. Based on what I know, I'd focus on Harry. Start with paragraph 4, working in specific details about what happened to Harry's son and another example of someone he avenges. Then you can bring in Lee when she interviews him and they fall in love.

If the book demands that you focus on Lee, she needs to do more in the query. She's been assigned to a murder case and her quarry turns out to be Columbus's most prolific serial killer. What's her plan? Does she have a partner or is she handling this alone? When and why does she start to suspect her lover of being the murderer she's after?

If Lee's first interview with Harry convinces her he's possibly the murderer, I don't see how she'd become romantically involved with him. And if her interview convinces her he's not a murderer, I don't see how she'd have any more contact with him. Did one of them ask the other out on a date during the interview? Something like:

Lee: I'm so sorry I suspected you of being a killer. Can I make it up to you by cooking you dinner?


Harry: Now that I've convinced you I haven't murdered 47 people, do you enjoy long walks in the woods?

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13. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1320 (see previous post) would like feedback on this revision:

Dear Evil Editor,

After fourteen years, 18-year-old Auraya finally remembers that she's a princess from a planet named Losaria. She escaped the war on her planet by crossing through a dangerous wormhole to Earth, only to find out that she had to replace her memories to stay concealed. [It sounds like she made the crossing and found out she had to lose her memories when she was four years old. Who's making "her" decisions? What memories does a four-year-old have that are so critical?] Now, with the knowledge that the immortal monarchy can only be killed by their offspring, Auraya has to remain hidden from her deranged uncle Mois who, with his own power, will force her to kill them to become Losaria's new king. [Has she regained only the memories she had when she left her planet at age 4, or has someone filled her in on what's been going on for the last fourteen years on Losaria?] [How does she know Mois's plans?]

Earth is plagued by overpopulation and scarce resources while the United States uses an immoral class system as a form of regulation. [Regulation of what?] Mois goes missing from Losaria making Auraya believe that he is on Earth with plans to dominate it as well. [How does she know he's gone missing?] When a group of human insurgents--the Revisionists--begin to murder the rich in protest of the system, she thinks that Mois may use their cause to further his own agenda.

Auraya joins the Revisionists to get answers, [Joining the group she thinks Mois is using to further his agenda doesn't seem too bright if she's trying to stay concealed from Mois, especially now that she has her memories back.] and learns that they're planning a nation-wide attack against the U.S. government. But, when she finds out that her missing brother is barely alive on Earth, she has to choose between risking her life to find him, and remaining concealed knowing that it’s the only way to protect her parents’ lives. Auraya realizes Mois’ actual plan to get Earth isn't what she expected, and a final memory returns revealing that she may have once helped his cause. [Back when she was four?] 

THE CROSSING: REVISION is a young adult speculative fiction novel complete with 82,000 words. It is standalone novel with the potential to be built into a trilogy.


[Oh and about the genre. The Earth side of the story is pretty science fiction based, but the Losarian side is more fantasy. I thought that saying speculative encompassed as story with both elements. Though, I guess even the fantasyish stuff from Losaria all has a scientificy explanation---I just used two made up words in one sentence...fantastic. Maybe I will just call it science fiction.]


This is a major improvement.

Is The Crossing: Revision the title of this book, or is part of that the title you will give the trilogy if you end up writing two more books? It's not a good title for a standalone novel.

How long does it take to get from Losaria to Earth? I know a wormhole is a short cut, but if it's a natural-occurring phenomenon, odds are its terminals aren't right on both planets. If it does terminate on Earth, have Earthlings passed through it to Losaria?

You don't tell the ending, which is good, but there's no need to conceal from us Mois's real plan or Auraya's final memory in an attempt to entice us to request the manuscript.

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14. Face-Lift 1320

Guess the Plot

The Crossing: Revision

1. The gripping, dramatic saga of a crosswalk guard, the school he works for, and the children that go there.

2. First they tried walking. Then they tried swimming. After that came a bridge. Read as Sam and his team try, and fail, to cross the river. Now if only they could figure out how a giant man-eating lizard could fit in the shallow river in the first place.

3. Both the Tyrant Ogo on the right bank and the Dictator Fisaille on the left bank are terrible rulers, so Caro ferries doomed souls (aka refugees) both ways across the Vellak river. But when the taxmen demand money, Caro foresees (aka facilitates) an invasion by downriver barbarians.

4. This humorous sequel to The Voyage: Writing will teach you how to murder your darlings, manage your expectations, and, of course, rule the world.

5. After emailing a literary agent the manuscript of his book about George Washington's crossing of the Delaware, titled The Crossing, Bob Thunderpants realizes he shouldn't have relied on Internet blogs for his information, and gets to work on . . . The Crossing: Revision

6. With her planet at war and her uncle trying to kidnap her and force her to kill her parents,  Auraya crosses the bridge that connects her planet to Earth, figuring she'll be safer here. Unfortunately, she ends up in America, where no one is safe these days

Original Version

When 18-year-old Auraya crossed the bridge to Earth, her memories were replaced by the memories of a dead girl. [I thought the one good thing about death was that I could finally forget all the horrible things I can't forget while I'm alive. You're telling me the dead have memories? That even in death I won't be able to forget when I phoned Jessica and told her I worked for U.N.C.L.E. and everyone in the school was laughing at me the next day?] Slowly, Auraya’s real identity returns to her only to reveal a bigger problem--there is a war on her home planet [In sentence 1 her memories are replaced, and in sentence 2 her memories are back. I recommend leaving her memories out of the query, as you don't reveal what effect not having them had on the story anyway.] [Also, there's a bridge to Earth? From another planet? I'm not sure we could even build a bridge to the moon. Although it would be cool if all the planets were connected by bridges so instead of a cramped capsule you could go to Saturn on a luxurious bus. The problem arises when one planet is on the opposite side of the sun from another, because then the middle of the bridge would melt and the vehicles would fall off the bridge into the sun.] because her uncle Mois wants to end her parents’ reign. Auraya, equipped with the unique ability to kill the King and Queen, [When I hear the term "unique ability" I think super power. Like Superman's heat vision or Aquaman's ability to talk to fish. Auraya's on Earth, yet she's Mois's best chance to kill the king and queen?] [Are they the king and queen of the whole planet or of one of the countries fighting in the war?] will be forced by Mois to murder them unless she can remain hidden from him on Earth. [How can he force her to murder them? Either you kill your parents or I'll . . . kill your parents.]

Auraya chooses to suffer through the uncompromising class system that plagues America to keep her parents alive until a group of insurgents--the Revisionists--begin murdering the rich. [The rich in America?] Auraya, afraid that Mois is behind the group, decides to become a Revisionist to try to unravel his plan. [The only thing we know about the Revisionists is that they kill the rich. How does joining them unravel Mois's plan? Do you mean discover or expose his plan?] [Mois's goal is to find Auraya and bring her home, right? How does sending in assassins to kill the rich help?] As the group’s leaders turn out to be enhanced humans, Auraya knows that life on Earth is no longer safe. [When was life on Earth ever safe?] [Is Auraya human?] [So her theory is that Mois, as war rages on his home planet, has sent some of his top people to Earth to kill our rich?]

The Revisionist plan a final world-wide attack to end the class system for good. [Which world are we talking about?] [How many enhanced humans are there?] But when Auraya finds out that her missing brother is alive on Earth, she has to choose between risking her life to find him in the midst of an attack, [Why can't she wait and find him after the attack?] and remaining concealed knowing that it’s the only way to protect her parents. Auraya remembers a piece of her past that she has unknowingly hidden from herself, which reveals the truth behind her real intentions and her part in helping Mois succeed. [That sentence is too vague to convey any meaning.]

THE CROSSING: REVISION is an upper young adult speculative fiction novel with elements of science fiction complete with 82,000 words. It is standalone novel with the potential to be built into a trilogy.


I don't understand the plot. I don't know why the characters do what they do. How can Auraya's parents be invulnerable to all spies, armies, bombs, assassins, etc, but Auraya can kill them? Does she have to get near them to kill them? If so, why would she kill them once she's near them, and away from Mois? We need to know what's at stake and what motivates the characters. Start over.

Actually, the author has sent another query for comparison, so perhaps she did start over. Here it is:

Dear Evil Editor,

After almost dying, 18-year-old Auraya finally remembers that she's a princess from a planet named Losaria. Fourteen years ago she escaped the war on her planet, only to find out that she had to replace her memories and become human to stay concealed. Now, equipped with the unique ability to kill her immortal parents, Auraya has to remain hidden from her deranged uncle Mois, or he will force her to kill them for control of Losaria.

Being Losarian on Earth [You might work in that she's gone to Earth in the previous paragraph.]
means drinking the blood from humans to survive, [How did she discover this?]
but Auraya is not the one killing them; they're killing themselves. America’s unfair class laws cause a group of insurgents, the Revisionist, to begin murdering the rich in protest. Afraid that Mois may be behind the group, Auraya decides to become a Revisionist to get answers.

Auraya learns there will be world-wide attack to end the class system for good. But, when she finds out that her missing brother is alive on Earth, [Is he human, or is he drinking human blood?] she has to choose between risking her life to find him in the midst of an attack, and remaining concealed knowing that it’s the only way to protect the lives of her parents. When it's too late, she realizes that Mois’ plan goes beyond killing her parents, and she remembers a final piece of her past that reveals her part in aiding his cause.

THE CROSSING: REVISION is a young adult speculative fiction novel complete with 82,000 words. It is standalone novel with the potential to be built into a trilogy.

I would say this is better. It's clearer, anyway. It includes some information the other lacked (her parents are immortal, her memories were intentionally erased, the name of her planet, the blood drinking...). "To get answers" is better than "to unravel his plan." On the other hand, there's no explanation for how anyone can travel between planets. And I still don't see how Mois can force her to kill her parents, whether they're immortal or not. Why doesn't she use her "ability" to kill Mois?

I still don't know why Mois would care about the class system on Earth. Maybe he doesn't, in which case I don't see why Auraya would suspect he's behind the world-wide attack. 

The blood drinking isn't a good thing to mention in the query, as it sounds silly. I'm not sure why it's in the book either. How many Losarians are on Earth drinking human blood? Haven't we noticed?

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15. Facer-Lift 1319

Guess the Plot

She'll Breathe Again

1. Little Katrina Halley wants the stuffed froggie so bad, she'll hold her breath till she gets it. But it turns out holding one's breath with cheeks puffed out gets old pretty fast, so . . . she'll breathe again.

2. When Nicole's boyfriend takes her to a romantic Italian restaurant for dinner, she doesn't expect that he's sold her to a human trafficking ring, and that she may have breathed her last whiff of freedom. At least he waited till after dessert.

3. In this timely polemic about the evils of pollution, Reader Child seeks Mother Nature to cure her sick dog. On the way, she meets friendly animals who all die horrifically. She eventually meets an ancient tree who tells her Mother Nature is a lie. Also, trash disguised as food.

4. Twelve years ago, grieving Tony Marston had his cancer-stricken wife Angela cryogenically frozen. There's now a cure for her type of cancer, so they plan to revive her. But what, exactly, will come out of that tube?

5. She was the love of his life, but now she is dead. However, this young doctor has found notes from his ancestor detailing ways of bringing life from death. It may take a bit of grave robbing and waiting for a lightning storm, but . . . she'll breathe again.

6. The Sheila XVIII is a symbiotic re-breather unit that unfortunately resembles the face-hugger from Alien, stomach splitting spawn included. But, it's the only way to survive the clouds of sentient fungus spores that have taken over the world. Can Phil find a way to save humanity before he dies by giving birth?

Original Version

Dear ________

When 16-year-old Nicole is sold into the [a] human trafficking ring by her first love, she is forced to face not only heart break, [heartbreak] but the fight for [of] her life. [If you've spent enough time with someone to consider him your first love, and he sells you to a human trafficking ring, a broken heart is the least of your concerns.]   

Nicole is completely caught off guard when a romantic date with her boyfriend Jonathan turns into a worst nightmare come to life. After Jonathan leaves her stranded at a random Italian restaurant, Nicole encounters a strange man [If he's just a stranger, call him that; if there's something strange about him, tell us what.] who tells her that he is Jonathan’s “surprise gift.” [It's probably not necessary to tell us Nicole was caught off guard. Getting sold into slavery by your boyfriend during a romantic date is high on the list of things no one ever expects.] 

Suddenly, Nicole is kidnapped and drugged only to wake up in a room full of girls and a persistently annoying flickering lightbulb. [Bad enough I've been sold to human traffickers, but now I have to put up with this friggin' light bulb?!] Nicole is the last to know that her body has been sold [The last what to know?] once the leader of the ring, Don, sheds light on her situation. Now she is forced to fight for her life with a shattered heart and a cynical attitude. [More effective would be a sword and a shield.] [I would expect her to feel anger, fear, betrayal. Heartbreak and cynicism can be saved for after her ordeal ends.]

Right when Nicole is ready to lose all hope, she finds her inner strength in the most unexpected place; a young girl named Jessica who was sold into the trafficking ring by her father. [Her own father? That's horrible. Wait, how much did he get for her?] Each day that passes the chance of survival seems to be getting more and more slim. They are continuously faced with the men who sealed their fate ultimately unraveling secrets that were better left unknown. [Those three sentences could be put in any order. The sentences in a paragraph need to be connected and progress logically. For instance by telling us how Jessica gives Nicole inner strength.] [Also, that last sentence is so vague I have no idea what you're talking about.]

With a turn of events, a police raid sets them free. Nicole and Jessica get separated in all of the chaos. Jessica is taken in by Child Services while Nicole just keeps running until she [is] found by an old lady with a similar pain. [I feel your pain, Nicole, for I, too, once went on a date that was a disaster.] Jonathan and the men who did this to them are sentenced to life in jail, but it is not exactly a happy ending just yet.

Nicole has another battle to fight once she discovers she has HIV and Jessica must now face an unwanted pregnancy by a man who will forever haunt her dreams, the same man who is responsible for Nicole’s kidnapping. [Is it a happy ending now?] 

Jenna is a student at Temple University pursuing a career in publicity for a publishing house. [Get rid of this. I was about to complain that her her name's Jessica, not Jenna. Turns out Jenna's you. Your bio, if you include one, should be in first person, and if it includes nothing relevant, like you wrote a bestseller or were once abducted by human traffickers, you don't need one.] 

SHE’LL BREATHE AGAIN is a complete, 50,000 word young adult thriller. I would best describe [it] as “Crank” meets “Purge.” [I don't think it's a good idea to compare your book to these books, at least not without saying what's similar about them. A book of poetry about Estonia could be described as Crank meets Purge.] [Also, the reader may not be familiar with those books, while having seen the movies Crank and The Purge, which would not be good.] Thank you for your time and consideration.


It's too long, but fortunately you can dump paragraphs 1, 4 and 7. Unfortunately, what's left is a story about a girl whose misery is ended not by her actions, but by a police raid, and who has more misery to look forward to. People prefer to read about characters who take control and do stuff, not ones to whom stuff is done, and who do nothing to help themselves. 

In my opinion, it would be highly inefficient for a human trafficking ring to acquire their victims by dating them long enough to become their boyfriends and then sending in Borgo the Disemboweler as a "surprise gift." A blind date or a first date with someone encountered on the Internet would be more reasonable, though I suspect most victims are just grabbed off the street.

An occasional missing word, misused word, vague sentence, disorganized paragraph, etc. is no big deal, but they add up, and finding so many in a query letter may lead the reader to believe the book needs a lot of work.

We like specifics, but no need to be too specific in the query about things that are unimportant. That the restaurant is Italian, the leader's name is Don (it probably isn't) . . .  Three words describing the light bulb is a bit much.   

Jessica is important in the query only as she's involved with Nicole, who is your focus. We don't care what Jessica does after the two are separated. We might care what Jessica does to help Nicole (or vice versa) while they're in captivity.

Try putting your summary into three paragraphs. 
P1: Nicole's situation. (She's been kidnapped by human traffickers. What's happening to her? Three sentences.)
P2: What's her goal and her plan to achieve it? (Escape? Survival? How does Jessica give her the hope she needs to survive/not give up. Four sentences max.) 
P3: The wrap-up, wherein she decides to lead her fellow captives in revolt or plots revenge on her so-called boyfriend. So that readers find some tiny bit of pleasure in reading her story. Three sentences.)

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16. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1318 would like your opinion of the following revised version.

Dear Mr. Evil Editor:

Smart-aleck seventh-grader Zach Beacon has been sent to the principal's office so often, he's on a first-name basis with the secretary. [That's not a bad line, though I don't buy that the principal would be okay with his secretary being on a first-name basis with a seventh grader. Plus, it almost sounds like the kid is being rewarded for being sent to the office so much. I would say he's been sent to the office so often he's worn a groove in the hallway. (A groove the other students refer to as Zach's tracks.] But he's the star shortstop of the baseball team, and trophy-obsessed Principal “Robot” McMott expects them to win the Mississippi private school championship. So Zach's big mouth hasn't landed him in big trouble—yet.

Things change when Zach crash-lands—literally—in the yard of August Clement, the school's elderly groundskeeper. [Not clear what you mean by that. I would think a literal crash landing would involve an aircraft, but in any case, we don't need to know how they meet. One of them befriends the other.] [Also, when you say "Things change when..." I assume you mean Zach's big mouth finally does land him in trouble. It's more his desire for justice for his friend that leads to trouble, not his big mouth.] Turns out, August was a major leaguer back in the fifties—[What?! Why isn't he coaching the baseball team? It's so much better for the story. Easier to get the whole team on board for the strike. More likely that a school could do without one baseball coach than its groundskeeper.] he even has a tip or two about hitting those nasty curveballs—but now he struggles to pay his wife's cancer treatment bills. Zach's friendship with August leads to some tough choices when Zach learns that McMott is planning to lay off the groundskeeper. McMott claims he's saving money for a new trophy case, [Are there other groundskeepers at this school? You can't replace your only groundskeeper with a trophy case or the grass will get so tall baseballs will get lost in the infield.] but Zach suspects that something worse may be at the root of McMott's decision. [Does he have a more specific suspicion? If so, I'm sorry to report that you have to tell us what it is.]

To save August's job, Zach fast-talks the baseball team into going on strike, using the best leverage they have—the team won't win till McMott gives in. But as the losses mount, McMott's threats escalate, [What are his threats?] and his team threatens mutiny, [Change "his" to "the" so readers don't think you mean McMott's team. Better yet, get rid of "McMott's threats escalate."]  Zach must decide whether seeking justice for his friend is worth risking the championship—and his reputation.

ZACH BEACON STRIKES OUT is a 33,000-word middle grade novel that will appeal to fans of Andrew Clements and Gary Paulsen's Liar, Liar series.

I am an associate member of SCBWI and a member of the Mississippi Writers Guild. My experiences as a living wage activist at Vanderbilt University influenced ZACH BEACON STRIKES OUT, my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Is this set in modern times? Because if August was a major leaguer in the 1950s, he must be close to 80 years old today. Is he really making more money as a groundkeeper than he would from social security and the public employee pension fund? He should want to be at home caring for his wife, not toiling in the Mississippi sun.

What grades attend this middle school? If it's 7th and 8th, I think Zach should be in 8th grade, as the 8th-graders are unlikely to follow a 7th grader. Whether it's high school and college freshmen or Major League rookies, the new arrivals have to pay their dues, earn their stripes. Only then can they hope to talk the entire team into intentionally losing their games.

You imply that Zach's big mouth eventually gets him into trouble, but I don't see that he ever receives any punishment for anything. Does he?

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17. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1315 has submitted the following revision, and would like your input.

I am seeking representation for my fantasy/adventure novel, The Missing Traveller, aimed at high school readers. 

Ages have passed since a flood turned the world into a waste [Is the world covered with water? Or has the water subsided, leaving a wasteland?] and drove survivors up the immense Mount Era, and cities of the Union federation are perched across the cliffs. [That would be better as two sentences, with "are perched" changed to "have grown up (or "have formed").] [It sounds like Mount Era is the only place in the world where people live. Are there other mountains harboring survivors?] The Stone of Dominus, responsible for the flood and destruction,  [One could get the impression the Stone of Dominus is so huge that when it rolled into the ocean it caused the whole planet to flood. If it's a normal-sized stone with magical powers maybe it should be a crystal or jewel.] [Also, if you change Dominus to Dominos, as my auto-correct keeps doing, you can make it a pizza stone.] was buried in the centre of the mountain to prevent such a cataclysm from occurring again. [They somehow know that the Stone is harmless if it's inside a mountain?] [Does the Stone have to be in the possession of a human to cause a cataclysm? If so, they should sail to the other side of the planet and toss it under the ocean instead of burying in the one place on the planet where humans live.] 

For all the years Lark, the travelling merchant, told the sixteen-year-old Alister about the cities of the Union, he never imagined he'd be one of the few to leave home and explore them. [I feel certain he at least imagined it. Maybe he never believed it.] ["For all the years" bothers me. Maybe "Despite all the times"?But after his rash actions lead to a young girl's death, Alister sees no choice but to run away.

His guilt might have overwhelmed him if not for a message from Lark, who recently went missing. The message leads Alister to discover [reveals] that Lark's disappearance was no accident. Baudouin, the unnervingly charismatic king of the western side of the mountain, took Lark captive after the merchant learned of his plans to regain his "rightful" rule over the mountain, using the Stone of Dominus. [The Stone was buried to prevent this. If it's still accessible, my earlier warning that they should find a better hiding place is proven prophetic.]

With the rest of the Union oblivious to Baudouin's plans and fooled by the aid he's given them over the years, Alister needs to decide who to trust to free Lark, so the two of them can determine a way to stop Baudouin from destroying the Mount. [If the Mount is destroyed, what's left? I thought Baudouin wanted to regain his "rightful" rule over the mountain, not destroy it.] Along the way to Deemstun, Alister uncovers the mysteries of Lark's past, earns his funds from an illegal glider race, and finds himself wondering how far he should go to stop the ambitious king.

Thanks for your time and consideration. The full manuscript is complete at 108 000 words and is available upon request. As per your submission guidelines, attached are the first two chapters. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,


I think we should begin with Alister killing the girl and running away. Opening with a description of the world is okay if it's crucial to what you're about to tell us, but the plot points you include could take place anywhere. 

I see you've changed Hawk to Lark, but do we really need him in the query? All he does is disappear. He seems to be important to Alister, but not so much to us. It's still not clear how a merchant can be useful, and while Alister somehow seems better equipped now that he's not known exclusively as a whittler, he still doesn't have super powers If he beats Baudouin to the Stone of Dominus, can he use it to defeat him?.

Here's the story as far as I can tell: Alister accidentally kills a young girl and chooses to run away. While on the run he learns of a plot by Baudouin to either destroy the only habitable place in the world or to become the ruler of all he surveys, which, in either case, is Mt. Era. Despite having no useful skills and no allies, Alister sets out to stop Baudouin. Turn each of those sentences into a three-sentence paragraph. 

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18. Face-Lift 1318

Guess the Plot

Zach Beacon Strikes Out

1. Zach Beacon has swung at his last pitch. The major league slugger was found lying face down at home plate in the fifth inning, clubbed to death by a baseball bat. It's up to detective Nick Barnes to solve the case, but none of the 40,000 fans in attendance saw what happened. 

2. Led by shortstop Zach Beacon, a baseball team goes on strike, purposely losing their games to protest the firing of a groundskeeper. It's so cute when little kids fight for a cause.

3. Zach Beacon is a swell feller. His grandpa even said so. So why is he always last? Time is running out before Zach must settle into a long, grinding career at the back of the bus, so he strikes out to find a better spot on the universal roster.

4. Fifteen is tough. It's even tougher when you have bad skin, wear thick glasses, can't dance, and are a colossal nerd. But that won't stop Zach Beacon from asking the baseball coach to let him play something other than bench.

5.  Zach wants to be the next world famous pickup artist, but how can he master the art of bedding women if he keeps getting rejected? Desperate, he rubs the green lamp he found in an antique shop. Out pops a genie hungry for a human soul, and maybe some cornbread.

6. Minor league catcher Zach Beacon joins the workforce after a bad knee injury. But bad pay and worse working conditions send all his co-workers out on strike on Zach's first day. Now Zach must decide which is worse: to strike for higher pay before working a minute, or to be labeled a scab by the complete strangers he'll eventually work with if the strike succeeds. 

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor:

Seventh-grader Zach Beacon's biggest nemesis is a nasty curveball—until Principal “Robot” McMott [Is that the name he goes by? If it's just what the kids call him, I'd put his first name in front of "Robot." If he's an actual robot, my interest just went up a thousand percent.] fires August, the team's beloved groundskeeper. To save August's job, Zach puts the baseball championship and his bad-boy reputation on the line in ZACH BEACON STRIKES OUT, a 34,000-word middle grade novel that will appeal to fans of Andrew Clements and Gary Paulsen's Liar, Liar series.

The star shortstop of Mayfield Prep's baseball team, Zach Beacon has been sent to the principal's office so often, he's on a first-name basis with the secretary. [If he's on a first-name basis with the secretary, it's not because he gets sent to the office a lot; it's because they're having sex, presumably after school hours.] His team is good this year—really good—and Principal “Robot” McMott [No need for quotation marks around "Robot" every time he's mentioned. No need to include both his first and last names together more than once in the query.] expects them to win the Mississippi private school championship. But when August is fired, Zach leads the team on a strike—the team won't win till McMott gives in. [Are they forfeiting or losing on purpose? If you hope to one day get an athletic scholarship, it's not a good idea to demonstrate a willingness to throw games.] Zach promises his team they can lose three games and still make the play-offs, [That's relevant if they have only three games left. If they have more than three games left, and they lose the next three, there's no guarantee they won't lose another. The better team doesn't always win.] but as the losses mount [How many losses constitute "mounting"? The dictionary doesn't come out and say that mounting means piling up as high as a mountain, but I think it's implied.] and McMott doesn't budge, [Since a robot principal would be programmed not to give in to student demands, I'm going to assume McMott is a robot, and offer you a six-figure advance.] Zach learns it's hard to keep a team together when the goal isn't a championship, but justice. [You haven't shown that the firing was unjust. If the groundskeeper sexually abused one of the players, I'm not with Zach. I'll back the principal on principle. Were the players given an explanation of the firing? Does August's right to privacy supersede the players' "right" to an explanation? If the explanation is in the book, I see no reason it shouldn't be in the query.]

In this humorous and fast-paced book, [If you get to the end of the summary and have to tell us the book is humorous and fast-paced, you haven't done your job.] [If the book is fast-paced, at least it's got that over baseball.] Zach juggles race relations, anxious teammates, and new friendships—and he does it in a wise-cracking style all his own.

I am an associate member of SCBWI and a member of the Mississippi Writers Guild. My experiences as a living wage activist at Vanderbilt University influenced ZACH BEACON STRIKES OUT, my debut novel.



I suspect most groundskeeping work gets done while the players are in classes. I assume there's a good reason you didn't make the fired person a baseball coach, who is way more likely to be beloved by the team than a groundkeeper. 

To convince us Zach has a "wise-cracking style all his own," you might want to crack wise a bit in the query. 

If the players are purposely losing, and have told McMott so, I would expect him to bar them from being on school teams. If they're just not showing up for the games, they'd surely be dismissed from the team. If they're purposely losing and haven't told McMott, he may think they're just slumping, and not connect the losses with the firing, which doesn't help August. In other words, even if McMott isn't a stubborn jerk, I don't see this strike getting the desired result.

It would be cool if the principal dismissed all the players from the team and replaced them with robots. I recommend this even if McMott isn't a robot. Although it would drive home your point about race relations more effectively if he is a robot and replaces the players with his kind.

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19. Success Stories

The May 13 issue of Entertainment Weekly has a full-page interview with Maggie Stiefvater, which you can read without buying the magazine by going to their website. Stiefvater's YA novel The Raven King, the fourth and final book of her Raven Cycle series, came out two weeks ago.

Kirsten White's YA epic novel And I Darken, the first of a series, comes out next month and is available for preorder now.

Jenna Black's YA horror novel Nightstruck, the first of a series, came out last month.

Each of these authors was a contributor to this blog before being published, and each now has ten or more books in print from major publishers.

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20. Feedback Request

You critiqued my query here with Facelift 1304 and then did a feedback request here. I've taken some time away from querying this book to come back with fresh eyes, so hopefully that's improved the query.

Also, as I'm sure some of your commentors will be happy to hear, I have changed the working title of my book.


Eric Ortega doesn't know it yet, but hybrid creatures with magical powers live hidden in his world. The winged Sentinels police the hybrids, keeping them from discovery and protecting the vulnerable. [From the hybrids? Who are the vulnerable, and what do the hybrids want with them?] The Sentinels are after Nikias, a human-wind hybrid who can control the winds and weather and only has a body when he steals one.

When Nikias takes over [possesses? hijacks?] Eric's body, the Sentinels snatch him. Eric wakes up in the Sentinel's [Sentinels'] tower, missing half his memories. The Sentinels failed to trap Nikias. Instead they've got a human who knows too much about their world.

Eric's had enough of this. He wants out, he wants home, and he wants all his memories back, thank you very much. The problem: Nikias imprinted his powers on Eric's mind and body. [Not clear why that's a problem. I wouldn't mind suddenly having the power to control the weather.] The Sentinels tried to erase them and aren't sure if it worked.

It didn't, but Eric's keeping that under wraps. He's less than impressed by these Sentinels. He told them Nikias threatened his family. Just because he doesn't actually remember his family doesn't mean the threat isn't real. [A more effective ending would be telling us what Eric plans to do now that he has Nikias's power. Using it to hunt down Nikias? To destroy all hybrids? To expose the Sentinels? To save the family he doesn't remember? What's his goal?] 

Complete at 66,000 words, THE STORM SUMMONER is an upper middle grade contemporary fantasy that features diverse characters. [Until you say this is a middle grade book, a reader could easily assume Eric's an adult. Tell us his age when you introduce him.] I hope it will appeal to fans of The Underland ChroniclesMuseum of Thieves, and Savvy.



It's an improvement, but I'm not sure your story doesn't start where your query ends. If you had to summarize the book in one sentence, would it be: When a demon [accidentally?] gives fourteen-year-old Eric Ortega the power to control the weather, he decides to use this gift to . . . ? Finish the sentence. You spend most of the query telling us how Eric got the power he will use to accomplish his goal, but what's his goal? What's at stake? What's his plan?

You don't make it clear that the hybrid creatures are all evil (are they?). Does anyone know the hybrid creatures exist? Do humans know the winged Sentinels exist? Seems like if they fly and have a tower, we'd know about them. What would happen if the Sentinels weren't policing the hybrids? In other words, what is the goal of the hybrids? To take over the world, destroying humanity? To have a country where they can live in peace? To kill random people because it's fun?

I don't think you lose anything by leaving out the Sentinels' wings and leaving out the term "hybrid." The hybrids can just be creatures with magical powers, and Nikias can be a creature who can control the weather. Calling him a human-wind hybrid isn't helping. Maybe you should call them demons if they have the power to possess humans. Then you have a wind demon, a fire demon, a water demon, etc.

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21. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured here would like your opinion of this revision of the opening.

Through cracks in the stone, it [What is "it"?] shines like a full moon drenched in blood. [That would take a lot of blood.] [If something is glowing behind cracks, it's more likely to remind you of lightning bolts than a full moon. In fact, if all you see is the light coming through the cracks, it could be a half moon or a sun or a light bulb.] Another strike from my pickaxe exposes the precious crystal. When I pry it loose, it pops out and bounces near the chasm beside the mineshaft.

I dive for the crystal and catch it. I look down. A shiver jolts up my spine, numbing my body with a frozen wave of fear. I’m on the edge of a bottomless pit. [Not crazy about a mineshaft, a chasm and a bottomless pit. Presumably the mineshaft is above, and you came down it to get here, and the chasm is below. And the pit is . . . the chasm?] Helplessly I watch as a chunk of dirt falls until the darkness below consumes it. ["Helplessly" would make more sense if the crystal were falling. He may be helpless to prevent the dirt from falling, but I doubt he cares.]  Regaining control of my body, I squirm back, inch by inch, before sinking into the sand and taking a deep sigh. I hate heights. [I would expect a mine to be mostly rock, not sand, especially not in enough quantity to sink into.] 

I open my hand and find the crystal cradled in my palm. Unlike diamonds that sparkle in the sunlight, it glows with an unnatural brilliance even here in the darkness. [If this guy's experience with diamonds is from mining them, the ones he's seen probably didn't sparkle much more than a standard rock.] We slaves don’t know why our master wants us to collect them, but these crystals are as precious to us as water. 

A forceful tug on my back pulls me up to my feet. It’s my mining partner, RN107. With thick eyebrows and a rigid jaw, he’s got an intimidating face. Like the feathers that fall from a vulture, his hair and beard have faded to a dark gray. [A simile should make something more clear. Hair faded to gray is already clear enough, and even if it weren't, your readers probably haven't seen fallen vulture feathers.]


I'm not sure how much light there is in this mine; you don't want to be describing things you wouldn't see in the darkness. Do they have a light source?

Here's what I would do with this, just to tighten it up:

A blood-red crystal shines through cracks in the mine wall. One more strike from my pickaxe, and it pops out. I dive and grab it . . . and find myself looking into a bottomless chasm. A few pebbles fall, the darkness below consuming them. I squirm back from the edge, inch by inch, then sigh deeply. I hate heights.

I open my hand. The crystal glows with an unnatural brilliance even here in the darkness. We slaves don’t know why our master wants us to collect them, but these crystals are as precious to us as water. 

A forceful tug on my back pulls me to my feet. It’s my partner, RN107. With thick eyebrows and a rigid jaw, he’s got an intimidating face, even now that his hair and beard have faded to gray.

I took out about 70 words; if I took some you need, put them back.

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22. Face-Lift 1316

Guess the Plot

Winter's Queen

1. This years Gay Pride march has a Four Seasons theme...and the competition for the title of Winter's Queen is really heating up.

2. Young, virile King Winter III wants nothing more than to play the field, sampling girls without marrying until he's in his 40's. But he needs an heir. When his friends take him to a drag show in the capital, he suddenly finds himself longing for a very different kind of Queen.

3. The untold story of Snow White's mother, once a foundling child lost in the snow, who rose in power and ruled a kingdom with an icy fist. Also, blue dwarves.

4. Queen Fione hates being depicted as a crone just because winter is considered the end of the year. So she starts a decades-long sulk that results in global warming. The queens of spring, summer, and fall don't care--but it's a good excuse for a tourney.

5. The Winter Prince wants to marry Ariel and then kill his father so he and Ariel can rule for eternity. Ariel, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with this homicidal maniac. Also, enchanted fruit.

6. On a world where the four continents are known as Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring,  Winter's queen is tired of ruling a land that's always so freaking cold. Especially now that most of her subjects have moved to one of the other lands. Can she get to Spring when her only form of transportation is a snowmobile?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Sixteen-year-old Ariel Hawk has always known Fae exist; her dad made sure of that, no matter how often the neighbors called him crazy. [Did he make sure of that by proving it, or just by telling her? Parents tell kids Santa Claus exists, but that doesn't ensure they will always believe it. If your father insists zombies exist, you don't believe it until you see one eating brains.] So while being kidnapped comes as a shock, knowing she’s captive to Fae royalty just makes her angry. [Is your point that she wasn't angry about being kidnapped until she realized her kidnapper was Fae royalty?] 

Ariel’s abductor—His Royal Smugness, the Winter Prince Fiachra—embodies everything she fears and hates about the Fae. Eerily handsome and insufferably proud, he sees humans only as objects to use for his desires: in this case, marriage. Ariel is exactly the young, fertile bride Fiachra wants. Her uncommon knowledge of his kind intrigues him, and her instinct to fight him offers a worthy challenge.

Though Fiachra’s courtship grows increasingly abusive, Ariel refuses to be bribed or beaten down. He feeds her enchanted fruit, and she spits it in his face; he proposes with a priceless silver ring, and she drops it in her chamberpot. She even uses the pain of a whipping to fight enchantment. [Not clear what that means.]

Unknown to Ariel, the wedding is only the first stage of a deadly plot. Fiachra’s scheming to murder his father after the ceremony, and seize the throne of the Winter Court with Ariel as his queen. If Ariel can’t escape, she’ll be trapped in Faerie with a patri-regicidal maniac for eternity. But if her attempts push Fiachra’s patience to the breaking point, he just might kill her too. [Does Fuchsia have to marry someone before killing his father? Does he have to seize the throne? Who would have claim to the throne if he doesn't seize it?]

WINTER'S QUEEN is a YA fantasy of 80,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Note from author: With regards to the phrase "bribed or beaten down", it was originally "wooed or subdued". I'm trying to get across the point that abusers like Fiachra can and do display outwardly-nice behavior (eg. Fiachra giving Ariel a ring) as a means of trying to win over or guilt-trip their victims between bouts of more blatantly harmful behavior. Most of the people who have looked over this query so far haven't understood this. If there's a clearer way I can get this across, please advise.  [Starting that "bribed or beaten down" sentence with the word "though" creates a connection I don't see. It suggests that normally the more you abuse someone, the more likely she'll accept bribes. What you probably want to say in the query is that when first his wooing and then his bribery (specifically, if she'll marry him he'll do X) don't work, Fiachra shows his true colors, becoming abusive . . . but still Ariel refuses to give in. In the book he may alternate abuse with kindness and bribes, but we don't want the query getting too complicated. The standard way to win a woman is to be nice, and if she sees through that, bribe her, and if that doesn't work, resort to threatening to kill her.]


What is he bribing her with? Not if you marry me I'll make you queen; she'd get that automatically, right? If you marry me I'll stop abusing you? Or I won't kill your parents? 
I'm not sure I like bribery being part of the equation. Bribery is usually treasure.  I can be abusive or kind, take your pick, seems like the option he would give her.

This is mostly the situation your main character finds herself in. We want to know what she does about it. You could condense this into something like:

Sixteen-year-old Ariel Hawk has been abducted by His Royal Smugness, the Winter Prince Fiachra, who embodies everything she fears and hates about the Fae. Fiachra seeks a young, fertile bride to be his queen--after he murders his father and assumes the throne. But Ariel wants no part of this patri-regicidal maniac, tossing his engagement ring into her chamberpot. 

That leaves plenty of room to tell us what Fiachra does to try to win Ariel (fake kindness, threats, enchantment), how Ariel manages to ward him off, how Ariel plans to make her escape, and what goes wrong. She's your heroine, she has to take action, not just hold out.

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23. Face-Lift 1316

Guess the Plot

Some Kind of Eternal

1. Mira is an immortal. She will live forever, as long as she doesn't get killed, contract an illness, or grow old. She travels to the Eternal City in order to escape an age-old curse; otherwise she will die. 

2. A 450-year-old vampire longs to leave Earth and become a god, but to do so he needs a bottle of special blood that is also being sought by Freemasons, Russian billionaires, and a Mayan king's ghost, at least one of whom wants the blood . . . to destroy humanity!

3. When Ninet promised Ramses her eternal love, she didn't mean being mummified alive after he died of the plague. He, unfortunately, did. Now she must escape across the eternally shifting sands with a camel and a cute waterboy (girl). Also, scarabs.

4. New nurse Javad Shah can't understand why Mr. "Bats" Linstall and Mr. "Superman" Chen are tampering with each other's wheelchair brakes and tossing nutrisweet packs at breakfast. As Javad talks to the other residents, he uncovers an old baseball feud that has the entire town in its grip.

5. It's a story as old as the hills, but instead of summarizing the plot I'm just gonna list the characters and their occupations. If you want to know what happens, let me know.

6. Lost in the Okefenokee Swamp, Trent stumbles upon the legendary Fountain of Youth. Now that he has an eternity to do so, he's sure to find his way back to civilization eventually. But can he do so before the alligators get him?

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor:

Oliver, a 450-year-old vampire, longs to leave Earth and become a god with no need for human blood, while Hugh wishes he could remember his hedonistic past. [You toss out the name Hugh as if we already know who he is. You need to add "Oliver's fellow vampire" or "Oliver's immortal servant," or "really old amnesiac."] Who was the beautiful woman who gave him his ruby necklace over two centuries ago? [If only I could remember who she was so I could finally send her a thank-you card.] [Usually when there are two main characters who are allies, they're working toward the same goal. Becoming a god and remembering who gave him his necklace aren't of the same order of magnitude. It would be like Superman and Batman teaming up because one of them wants to save humanity and the other wants to find his missing sock.]

Together Oliver and Hugh journey deep underground to fight the ghost of a Mayan king, Russian billionaires, ancient vampires, and 33rd degree Freemasons looking for the same bottle of powerful blood. [Putting all that together in a list makes it feel like the book is a comedy. I'd drop the ghost, even if the ghost is the one who wants to destroy humanity. And we don't need to know the freemasons' degree.] [I suspect Oliver and Hugh didn't go underground to fight all these people, as you claim, but because the bottle of blood is there. If so, you can say "racing against" instead of "to fight."]  Each wants the blood for a unique and evil purpose, the worst being the destruction of humanity. [You're only calling that the worst because you're a human.]

Oliver and Hugh vow to find the blood to spare humanity, and transform into gods, [So, Hugh wants to be a god too. Perhaps that should be mentioned earlier instead of telling us he wants to know where he got his necklace.] but saving the lives of the women they love could get in the way. [Who are the women they love? Are they human? If Hugh's necklace woman was  human, it's too late to send her that thank-you card. Why are the women's lives in danger? Are the guys planning to take the women with them when they leave Earth?]

SOME KIND OF ETERNAL is a 73,000-word paranormal novel. The glamorous life of a real German prince I knew a few years ago, [As opposed to a fictional German prince you knew.] Oliver von Anhalt, inspired this book. [Was he a vampire?] The poetry of Lord Byron, Edgar Allan Poe, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as well as works of gothic literature from Ann Radcliffe to Elizabeth Kostova have greatly influenced me.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

--The title was inspired by a Sisters of Mercy song, Some Kind of Stranger, which makes me imagine a lonely vampire trying to make friends. I am not that attached to the title and don't mind changing it if asked to do so by a future editor (hopefully).-- [Ninety-nine percent of those told your title was inspired by a song will assume the song is "Some Kind of Wonderful," by Grand Funk Railroad.]


We can do without the necklace, as it's importance to Hugh isn't made clear. 

There's space enough in a query to provide more than five sentences of plot. And if you're low on space, feel free to cut the list of your favorite poets. 

Vampires Oliver and Hugh long to leave Earth and transform into gods; to do so they must drink the blood of Lilith, hidden deep underground centuries ago. But they aren't the only ones after the legendary phial of blood. Other vampires, Freemasons and Russian billionaires are racing to find the powerful elixir, all for their own evil purposes.

That's your setup, and leaves plenty of room to tell us what the plan is, what goes wrong, what will happen if the guys fail, how their girlfriends figure in...

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24. Face-Lift 1317

Guess the Plot

After the Last Dawn

1. Dawn Dimarconi hates her name. really hates it. And she's going to kill every other Dawn on the planet to prove it.

2. When Jo-Jo finds an ancient book with expositions of black sky spattered with shiny dots, he quests for an answer to the still ball of fire overhead. With a photo of a pink horizon he begins a quest to set the world spinning again.

3. Dawn McBally is terrified - a serial killer in her small town has been targeting only women named Dawn. A quick head count reveals the is the last one. Her dilemma: leave town or legally change her name.

4. Eerie Filmore always seems to fall in love with girls named Dawn. After his fifth heartbreaking break-up, he decides to become a Tibetan Monk.... Just in time for the End of Days.

5. After he journeys to the end of the world where he finds giant crabs and little else, H.G. Wells' nameless time traveler returns to England, and discovers that Weena is alive, but wounded, somewhere in the future wasteland. Now he must search for her . . . beyond the last dawn.

6. On a cold foggy dawn, Gustav Bouilliard wakes up to newspaper headlines, "The End is Nigh!" When night falls, the Earth stands still. One cannot say whether robots were involved.

7. 2012: Martin has bet all his money on the Mayan Prophecy. The odds against the world ending are 1000:2. But being a pessimist, he’s sure he'll win. When an asteroid as big as Europe hits the world and doomsday arrives, Martin is thrilled. Problem is: where is he supposed to collect his bet … After The Last Dawn ?

8. To avoid her royal destiny (marriage at sixteen), Princess Pegi leaves the palace and travels the world with her were-mutt. Which goes well until they encounter the Truthists, who claim to have the Sole Truth, but that's a lie. If she can't escape these idiots, she's seen her last dawn.

9. After the last dawn, the demons will be provoked.
After the last noon, the dragons awaken.
After the last dusk, the dead begin to rise.
Now if only Sue can figure out how to put them back to bed.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor,

Once upon a time, a princess escaped a fairytale marriage and roamed as free as a bird - until she encountered a world where minds are caged. [Dump this. It says nothing that isn't said again later, it's in past tense while the rest of the query is in present, and the fairytale opening gives the impression your book is for young children.]

Pegi prefers books to jewels, saves animals instead of hunting or eating them and dreams of experiencing life outside the palace walls. [How many animals need saving inside the palace walls?] She doesn’t want to marry at sixteen, become a crowned-head and spend her time entertaining other crowned-heads. To escape her royal destiny, she does a deal with an evil fairy.

That entails embracing a puzzling curse [Is embracing a curse the same as being cursed?]– she must roam the world looking for herself and she cannot find herself without losing herself. [She was born at the wrong time. In the 60's people willingly roamed the world trying to find themselves. Without even being cursed.] [A deal usually involves both parties getting something. I don't see what the evil fairy gets from this deal.] 

Life on the road is not quite the adventurous romp of Pegi’s imaginings, what with her tendency to tumble into messes and scrapes; and the infuriating company of Kumo the were-dog, a mutt who can turn into a wolf at need. [I don't think were-dog is the right term. It would have to have "wolf" as part of its name to distinguish it from dogs that can turn into bears or lions. And it needs "dog" as part of its name to distinguish it from humans who turn into wolves. And it needs "were" to distinguish it from anything that doesn't turn into anything. By anagramming were-dog-wolf, I've come up with the perfect term: gwelderwoof.] Still Pegi revels in her newfound-freedom [Hyphen not needed.]  – until she witnesses the Truthists in action. Truthists believe they possess the Sole Truth. [So, her wanderings have either taken her to the Middle East or the Republican convention.] [How long did it take the Truthists to come up with their name?] They want to outlaw magic and hunt magical creatures. [Including gwelderwoofs?] [Or should that be Gwelderwooves?  Hoof becomes hooves, but roof becomes roofs, so it's not cut and dried. This shows how important it is when making up words to settle early on how you'll handle the plural form.] In lands under their control, ‘unacceptable’ books are burnt and ‘incorrect’ ideas are criminalized. [This sounds like Fahrenheit 451, which, coincidentally, happens to be the optimal temperature for roasting gwelderwoof.] 

A failed attempt to save a bookseller turns Pegi and Kumo into fugitives. [In this world it's against the law to fail to save a bookseller.] [Weren't they already fugitives? From the royal court or whatever?] They get stranded in a desert and Kumo begins to succumb to a mysterious illness. Pegi needs to save her beloved were-dog, escape the desert [If only she had a were-camel.]  and fathom how to remain free in a world where thinking is unfree. [Can the Truthists tell what people are thinking?] Unraveling the curse might help, but time is scarcer than water and vultures are hovering in expectation of a rare feast. [To a vulture, fresh gwelderwoof is a delicacy.]

After the Last Dawn is a 96,000 words fantasy novel for young adults.


So the lesson Pegi learns is Be careful what you wish for? Staying home, marrying at sixteen, becoming a crowned-head and spending her time entertaining other crowned-heads would have been better than being stranded in a desert, though I doubt that's your point. Does she do anything to change the world she's found outside the palace? Simply fathoming how to remain free in this world isn't the most impressive of goals. What does she want after she gets out of the desert?

As Pegi was reveling in her freedom until she encountered the Truthists, maybe she should limit her roaming to places where the Truthists aren't. Is Truthism a worldwide religion or a local cult?

What are the terms of the curse? First she must lose herself, and then she must find herself, but what happens if she figures out what that means and succeeds? The curse is ended? It's not clear what ending the curse means, since she was basically cursed to do what she wanted to do.

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25. Synopsis 50

Sixteen year old PRINCESS PEGI is a misfit who prefers books to fashions and saves animals instead of hunting them. Her parents plan to marry her off to a suitable prince. Pegi wants to experience life outside the palace walls. On the day of the wedding she escapes into the woods, drawn to the cottage of evil fairy INGENIOSA.

As a baby Pegi had been cursed by Ingeniosa. [Why?] Pegi is to run away on her sixteenth birthday and spend the rest of her life searching for herself. Ingeniosa offers to remove the curse but Pegi sees it as a chance to break free of the yoke that is her royal destiny and chart her own path in life.  [Didn't she just break free from that yoke in the previous paragraph?]

As Pegi begins her quest, Ingeniosa offers her two gifts. The first is a companion – KUMO the were-dog, a mutt who can turn into a wolf at need. The second is a magical cookie which embodies the curse; if Pegi consumes it, the curse will end and she and Kumo will be back in their normal habitats. [You put a curse on someone, wait sixteen years for the curse to take effect, and immediately hand your victim the antidote?] [What is Kumo's normal habitat?]

Pegi’s new life is strange, confusing and full of misadventures. Kumo dismisses her as a silly royal; his superior attitude maddens her. But their relationship evolves as Pegi subsumes her vanity and learns from her mistakes. Mistrust and contempt change into mutual respect and affection, and they become true companions. [This was advertised as a YA book, but the magic cookie and the fact that Pegi grows close to her dog rather than a boy make it seem like a book for a younger crowd.]

When Pegi thwarts a witch hunt, she hears about the TRUTHERS.  [Not clear what that means. Were witches literally hunting, or was someone hunting witches or is this the more common figurative meaning of a witch hunt? I'm not sure we need to know what Pegi was doing when she heard about the Truthers anyway.] There are many groups of Truthers and each group believes it possesses the Sole Truth. [Do all groups of TRUTHERS refer to other groups of truthers as the LIARS?] All of them want to outlaw magic, hunt magical creatures and ban ideas they disagree with. Pegi is appalled by what she hears, but the world seems big enough and the danger remote. She realizes her mistake when she and Kumo try to help a besieged bookseller and witness the Truthists burning books and artifacts considered unacceptable. 

Forced to flee for their lives, they end up in the middle of a desert [It would have to be a pretty small desert to be chased all the way to the middle of it on foot without being overtaken. I was joking in the query when I said she needed a werecamel, but since the dog's ability to become a wolf doesn't seem to be paying off . . . ] [Or the dog could have the ability to change into any animal.] and Kumo begins to ail with a mysterious malady. The cookie is Pegi’s last hope. Eating it will return her to the gilded cage of royal life, but she will make any sacrifice to save her beloved were-dog. [The cookie sends Kumo back to his normal habitat, but I'm not sure why that would cure his mysterious malady.] When the cookie doesn’t work, Pegi is forced to make do without others’ magic. She manages to escape the desert and save Kumo by enlisting the help of a dying dragon, a pair of hungry vultures and a medicine man. [You can hardly claim the cookie is her last hope when a seemingly endless supply of potential allies happen to be in the middle of the desert.] [A living dragon would be more helpful in getting out of a desert than a dying dragon.]

The near loss of Kumo helps Pegi understand who she is and what she must do with the rest of her life. Her precious freedom is useless in a world where books are burnt and thinking is unfree. [It seems to me it's the realization that her freedom is useless that shows her what to do with her life, not the near-loss of Cujo.] She must either accept a yoke worse than her royal destiny or resist in her own way. Kumo says they can still walk away but Pegi knows that soon enough they will run out of places to run away to. Pegi and Kumo head towards a city controlled by the Truthers determined to do what they can, even if it’s just protecting one book, freeing one mind and saving one life at a time


There are so many people who don't request synopses, it hardly seems worth the trouble to write one.

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