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

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 954 has posted a new version in the comments there. See what you think.

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2. New Beginning 1030

It promised to be a beautiful day on Dirtyrock Farm. The sun rose at dawn, as was its wont, and would stayed up until just before dusk. But not Billie Jane.

She awoke just before noon and in no sunny disposition. Her tongue was swollen and dry. Her breath stank and she smelled like a sweat-hog. She stumbled into the bathroom wishing to shower herself down the drain.

“Billie, how was the senior prom?” Her cheerful mom called from the kitchen below Billie's bedroom.

She turned on the shower to drown out her mother's morning joy. While disrobing, she tried to remember last night. She remembered dancing with Eddie Fitzmore, her date, and a couple of other boys. She also remembered drinking with Eddie in his dad's 150 pickup. They drank Southern Comfort mixed with Gordon's Gin and Diet Dr. Pepper--Billie thought Eddie obsessed over his weight which was insufficient to make the varsity six-man football squad.

That's it. She couldn't remember what happened next or how she got home. Billie sat on the edge of the tub and tried. Nothing came to her. Maybe someone put a date-rape drug in her drink. Did she had sex with Eddie? Or with anyone? Maybe she'd been raped. She wondered if urgent care could test for date-rape drugs.

* * *

The sun came bright through the pickup window, but somehow didn't reach Eddie Fitzmore's white knuckles gripping the wheel. Eddie just sat there, unmoving, like what he'd been for the past six hours, staring right ahead, eyes watering from the burning in his crotch. He tried not to think about the two broken bodies in the flatbed, and what had happened to them. And worse, to him.

So that's what the old woman had meant, when she looked at Billie Jane and touched his arm and hissed in his ear. It wasn't nothing to do with her cankles at all. And buying diet didn't help nothin. "Mark my words, boy, whatever you do, don't be giving Dr. Pepper to that there were-hog."

Opening: Mister Furkles.....Continuation: Anonymous

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3. Face-Lift 1218

Guess the Plot,


1. A panel of octogenarians debate as to whether a famous American novelist should begin his new book with I awoke; I woke up; Awakened, I; Awake, I; Woken, I...or something else entirely! Complicating the matter: the main character is a Wiccan.

2. Audrey's fiance has been in a coma for ten months, and she's scared they'll lose the non-refundable deposit on the reception venue if he sleeps through their wedding. Just what will it take for him to . . . awaken?

3. Ogzhal is an Awakener, one of a special caste of elite warlocks whose task it is to select new corpses for life among the undead. When his wife leaves him for a vampire, he turns to formaldehyde to drown his sorrows. Can sweet ghoul Loretta help turn his life around before it's too late?

4. Seventeen-year-old Emsley finds the new kid at her school intriguing. She knows junior year can be intense, but would it be so bad to have a boyfriend? No, not when the forces of Hades have somehow gotten the idea that Emsley possesses the Key, a mysterious object that can kill a god, and they'll do whatever they have to to get it so they can destroy the Olympians and all of humanity, and the new kid just might be Emsley's--and our--only hope.

5. When the body of actor Jason Mitchell is found hanging in the restaurant of the airport Hilton at six A.M., homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, the star didn't carve that pentagram into his own back, and two, the Hilton puts out a pretty decent breakfast buffet.

6. The morning after the senior prom, Laura wakes at noon with a hangover. The police are downstairs asking about her date. They found his headless body in a drainage ditch and Laura can't remember a thing after her first sip of Southern Comfort. Because of her sword- juggling talent she's a “person of interest” and two of her swords are missing.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Emsley didn’t plan on falling for Henry, the new guy in school. She didn’t plan on discovering that her past is intertwined with a war between Gods, and she didn’t plan on holding the key to their destruction. [So it will come as no surprise when I tell you that none of these things happened. Except the falling for Henry part, but that didn't matter because Henry was cute so Emsley didn't have a chance with him.] [My point being, there's no need for this paragraph. Nobody plans on stuff like that. It just happens.]

Seventeen-year-old Emsley is, well, ordinary. She is expecting her junior year to be academically intense, but what she isn’t expecting [More about what Emsley isn't expecting? You'll save a lot of space if you don't preface everything that happens with the stipulation that Emsley didn't expect it to happen.] is Henry, the new, seemingly unordinary, perfect boy in her quaint, mid-west island town. [He's seemingly unordinary? "Seemingly unordinary" without the italics would suggest that he only seems unordinary, i.e. that he actually is ordinary. If that's not what you mean, and you thought italicizing "seemingly" would suggest that he doesn't seem unordinary but actually is, I don't think it's working. Why don't you just tell us what it is about him that seems unordinary?] [Also, is "unordinary" even a word?] Since losing her parents at the age of seven, Emsley had [has] kept her heart closed with the exception of [to all but] her two best friends. But the further Henry seeks her out, the further she is intrigued.  [Is "further" the best word there? I was thinking "more" would be better, but I bow to any high school English teachers in the audience.] And the closer she comes to letting him in, the closer she comes to discovering Henry’s true identity. [Is it a secret identity? Or is he simply not telling her because she'd never believe he's Robin, the boy wonder, anyway?]

When Emsley’s life is put in danger, twice, Henry is forced to confess [reveal] that not everything she learned in 9th grade Mythology was a myth. [For instance, that movie, Thor? A documentary.] ["You know those myths where Zeus comes to Earth and has sex with mortal women, Emsley? Well, I'm back."] The Underworld is waging war against the Olympians for control over the human world, and according to the three Fates, whichever side possesses the Key, a mysterious object that can weaken or even kill a God, is the side that will prevail. [That's all well and good, but you haven't explained why anyone would want control over the human world.]

After centuries of searching, Hades believes the Key to be in Emsley’s possession. [For centuries they couldn't find it, but now suddenly they have reason to believe this high school kid has it? Why? Is Emsley a newly awakened goddess?] When Emsley is attacked by a creature from the Underworld demanding that she hand it over, the secrets begin to unravel. [This is season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Especially if it turns out that Emsley is the Key.] She discovers that not only was Henry sent to protect her, but that he and his family have a secret - a secret that could destroy her relationship with Henry and force Emsley into a world with an ancient grudge and imminent battle in order to stop Hades from controlling and ultimately destroying humanity.

I am submitting for your consideration a 67,200-word YA urban fantasy. Awaken is a stand-alone novel with the potential to be the first novel in what I entitled my Spark series. It will appeal to fans of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instrument series and Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed.

I am a high school English teacher with a BA in English, Language and Literature and a [an] MA in Reading. [Reading? I haven't taken a Reading class since 4th grade, and now you can get a Masters in it? Do they also have Masters programs in Arithmetic and Spelling?] [Required courses for an MA in Reading: Reading 401: The Poetry of Suess; Reading 560: Deciphering Physician Penmanship; Reading 587: How to Correctly Guess What the Bottom Line of an Optician's Eye Chart Says. And of course for your Masters thesis you have to muddle your way through the Cliff Notes for Finnegans Wake.]

Thank you for taking the time to become part of my new fantasy world. [Not crazy about that line.] Upon your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. I'd be honored if you would consider Awaken for representation.



Is humanity better off if the Olympians have the Key? Because if I'm Emsley, I'm thinking the Olympians have a better chance of protecting it from the forces of Hades than I do. On the other hand, apparently the Olympians also want control of the human world, so I'm worried that Henry is actually Hedylogos, the Greek god of sweet talk and flattery, and he wants the Key so the Olympians can regain the power they had before humanity decided it was less work to believe in only one god.

Questions that occur to me, and that you probably answer in the book and could answer in the query if you wanted to: If Emsley has an object that can weaken or kill a god, why don't the gods just take it from her? What is the secret Henry and his family have? What happens if the Olympians win the war for control of the human world?

It's not as bad as all the blue words make it look. Just get rid of the 1st paragraph and answer a couple of the questions. Young adults who've studied mythology will probably dig it.

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4. Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Soul Birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

Dear EE,

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

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

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

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

The Fringe is a desolate place, devoid of magic. [Think Manitoba.] The people live there to escape the rule of the God of All Things and they don't welcome intruders, especially divine ones. Adwen's magic won't work and she won't be able to protect herself from their wrath. [So she has magical powers besides that of awakening sexual desires in youth?]
If Adwen chooses to go, she will be stripped of her powers but if she chooses not to, a war between humans and gods could erupt. [Are you declaring that if she chooses to go, the war won't erupt? Why is war any less likely to erupt if a powerless, unwelcome Corpreal enters The Fringe?] The God of All Things won't turn a blind eye to other forms of magic for long. 

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


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


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

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

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

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

Selected Comments

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

Evil Editor said...Quite reasonable. No one wants their sexual desires awakened by a guy. Unless Brad Pitt is available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5. Face-Lift 1217

Guess the Plot

City of Djinn

1. Never the sharpest knife in the drawer, Harry Bumm buys a postcard while on vacation in the City of Djinn and sarcastically writes 'Wish you were here' and sends it to his ex-wife. Seconds later, she appears in his hotel room. Can he get rid of her before she fulfills her wishes to reconcile, have ten kids and move in with her witch of a mother?

2. By day Gilbert York is a prosecutor for the city of San Francisco, by night a video game creator. Pocket Djinn is Gilbert’s new monster collection game. Gilbert brings a copy to work where a freak power surge releases the djinn onto the city mainframe. Now Gilbert must use his coding skill to fight every pocket djinn and bring them home before it’s too late!

3. Everyone knows never to make a wish in the city of Djinn. No stranger to the rules, Alexander has always resisted the temptation until he sees beautiful Eleeza, and in one unguarded moment does the unthinkable.  Now a djinn holds Eleeza's future in his hands unless Alexander can perform the dangerous ritual of un-whishing.

4. Worst wedding day ever: Meron's friends and family are all killed by raiders, she's left alone in the desert still wearing her wedding clothes, and then she captured by djinn, shapeshifting monsters who plan to take her to their city and have her for dinner, and I don't mean as a guest.

5. A disgruntled teenager heads to the big city, where people go to forget all their troubles, where it seems everyone is willing to fulfill his every wish. Life is fantastic, until he hits rock bottom and realizes this isn't a city of djinn... It's a city of gin.

6. Archaeologist Ahmed Rais returns to his homeland Iraq, hoping to rebuild the great museum. While cleaning some ancient silver, he is whisked away to a magic land where everything is strange and few speak his language. Just how did he end up in Dearborn, anyway?

7. When Jean Djinn comes of age, and into her powers, she thinks life can’t get any better. Pulling chairs out from under people, making the pavement over sewer lines disappear as people stroll along, materializing pies for people to walk into face first . . . Then they catch her, and send her to genie juvie to learn some respect. Now, she’s out for revenge, badda-bing-badda-boom style. And no jail in creation can hold her – especially not one located in the . . . City of Djinn.

8. Donnie dreams of becoming a star, the number one requested condiment on the planet, the name that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But when he can’t even cut the mustard enough to make the top ten… well, what’s a self-respecting plant like him to do? Wait… what? City of what? Ohhh, Djinn. Never mind.

9. Slave trader Hamsi is an unpopular man in an unpopular profession. Just when it seems he may have to earn a respectable living as a shoe salesman, he stumbles upon the wondrous City of Djinn. So many potential slaves, so few oil lamps to trap them in.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I’m seeking representation for City of Djinn, a 95,000 word YA fantasy set in a desert world with elements of Persian mythology. [I'd put this at the end.]

Blighted babies should be given to the desert. To do otherwise is to invite the wrath of the gods. [Get rid of this.]

Because of Meron’s birth defect, she’s been ostracized by her tribe: blamed for every lost camel and sick child [Why haven't the tribe given her to the desert?] and betrothed to an old man who already has two wives. And he only agreed to marry her because he owes her father a favor. [When someone owes you a favor  for, say, feeding his camel while he was on vacation, it's considered bad form to demand he repay you by marrying your daughter. Especially if he's already married. Twice. Is the reason he has two wives because he owed two other guys favors?]

On the night of her wedding ceremony, raiders attack, slaughtering Meron’s tribe and leaving her alone in the middle of the desert, still wearing her wedding clothes. [At least there's no one left to blame her for this.] Her survival depends on crossing a land riddled with dangers: giant crabs that suck their victims dry, and immortal beings she thought were myths. When she’s captured by djinn – shapeshifting monsters that prey on humans – Meron is given a choice: die with the other captives [Who are these other captives?] or discover who’s been enslaving the djinn and why. [How do they know the djinn are being enslaved if they don't know who's enslaving them?] If she succeeds, she and the other captives will be freed. [Or so the Djinn claim, but can you really trust shapeshifting monsters that prey on humans?] If she fails, they’ll be dinner.

As the trail leads her closer to the dark kingdom next door and the beasts that guard it, Meron learns why the djinn selected herfor this task and discovers a secret that could propel her to the upper echelons of society, blighted or not. [When you're in danger of becoming someone's dinner, you tend to put your place in the societal order on the back burner.]

This is my first novel. I hope it will appeal to fans of Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns and Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series. [I'd replace this with the first sentence, or combine them.]



I think you should tell us why Meron was selected for this task and what secret she learned that will make her the toast of the ton.

Enslaving a shapeshifter seems impossible. He can turn into a snake to slip out of his shackles. He can become a cheetah and run away, or a bird and fly away or he can turn into the Hulk and pound you into a pulp. If this world has sorcerers capable of preventing shapeshifting, then the djinn should be smart enough to figure out that it's the sorcerers who are enslaving them, instead of sending Meron to find out who's doing it.

If the birth defect is the reason Meron was chosen, start with the 3rd paragraph, but add the first two sentences of the 4th paragraph to that one. If it wasn't the reason, you can dump the entire 3rd paragraph and start with the 4th.


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6. Face-Lift 1216

Guess the Plot

Audrey Maeng and the Chinese New Year

1. Audrey's life changes forever when she goes on a blind date with a handsome dragon dancer. A multicultural literary fantasy novel that will make you reexamine your view of scales!

2. The latest in a series of mildly racist children's books about holidays around the world. Preceded by 'Timmy Karim and the Ramadan,' 'Kelly Shabat and the Hanukkah,' and 'Sammy McShivers and the Canada Day.'

3. Asked by the principal of her school to host the Chinese New Year Festival, Audrey Maeng wants to scream. She isn't even Chinese. So she ruins the festival by printing signs whose translations are insults and putting doom predictions in the fortune cookies. Nothing makes 3rd grade bearable like a little revenge.

4. Audrey Maeng's Tiger Mom has always made sure she was first at everything. Valedictorian, All American in Taekwondo, and now she was headed to the Olympic trials. When she suffers a meniscus tear her dreams are shattered--until Mike, her hot physical therapist, starts treating her. Should she bring Mike to Chinese New Year so he can meet her family? She doubts they will approve of her new boy toy.

5. It’s a little known fact that Breakfast at Tiffany’s almost didn’t get made. They couldn’t find a female lead. That is, until Blake Edwards went on an all-night binge at General Tso’s 24-hour Mu Goo Gai Pan Palace, and spotted a terribly thin but quite confused waitress, with a penchant for overly-long cigarette holders and cheap fireworks. Also, dumplings. Lots and lots of dumplings.

6. In a bizarre series of unlikely plot twists, a giant man-eating plant swims across the Pacific and lands in a distant country. Changing her last name to reflect her new surroundings, she emerges into society just in time for the biggest celebration on their yearly calendar. Feeeeed me, Xi Moah.

7. Audrey's 88th New Year is approaching, and as double-eight is particularly auspicious in China, she wants to make it a spectacular event. Bring on the firecrackers, lanterns, red envelopes and interminable tales about her previous New Years.

8. When gorgeous Australian ranch hand Han Audrey and fifth generation Chinese immigrant Pamela Maeng discover that their dream of running a sheep farm is threatened by mysteriously cheap Chinese wool they realize that something just isn't right: the anti-democratic Chinese totalitariat has discovered a way to squeeze two year's worth of time into a single year!

9. Twelve year old, Audrey Maeng has waited a long time, for this night, to rid herself of that gnat of a ghost. Grandma said that it came twelve years ago, during the year of the horse, and could only be cleansed under that sign. Looking at the open drawers of the dresser, with her recently folded clothing hanging out, she is more determined than ever. But Audrey will learn that some horses have a mind of their own as--do some ghosts.

10. Audrey Maeng used to love Chinese New Year. But now that she's an executive for a global corporation that does its manufacturing in China, she just sees it as an annoying week of no work getting done. Can three spirits help Audrey remember the true meaning of Chinese New Year? Also: an amnesiac parrot.

11. When Audrey Maeng's DRAGON ONE ship malfunctioned somewhere over Saturn, she knew she was in for an adventure. Now she's in some crazy city where people are chasing after her, trying to set her tails on fire. How will she get out of this with her virtue intact? Also, singing crawdads.

12. Audrey has been trapped inside the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas for three weeks. Everyday is Chinese New Year. Has her aunt been practicing black magic to win at blackjack again, or is her aunt's ex-husband, the washed up "magician" back in town?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

There are three Chinese students at Calla Lily Elementary, [so it's decided that the school play will be The Mikado, a decision that sparks the 3rd Sino-Japanese War.] but Audrey Maeng isn't one of them. A Korean-American girl, Audrey is extremely frustrated that her classmates (and teachers!) can't seem to understand that Asia is made up of different countries. [Of course it is. There's China, and . . . some other Asian countries.] The last straw comes when the principal asks Audrey to be the host of the school's Chinese New Year Festival... and her costume, of all things, is a kimono. [Seems like the kimono would be more annoying if Audrey were Chinese.] [How does Audrey know the three Chinese students and several other kids haven't already declined the request to host the festival?]

As much as Audrey would like to refuse and write an angry letter to the school board, [You did say she was in elementary school, right?] she doesn't want to get in trouble for refusing. [Not clear why she'd get in trouble.] And, okay, she could use the extra credit. With the approval and assistance of Yahong Li, the [Vietnamese] student in charge of coordinating everything, Audrey plants a few small "mistakes": changed lettering on the signs, some misplaced firecrackers, ["Misplaced" means temporarily lost. Is that what you mean? Or do you mean strategically placed?] fortune cookies. Nothing too big. Just a few jokes for anyone paying attention.

But when the Festival arrives, everything falls apart in the worst way. The lettering translates to insults Audrey didn't realize beforehand. The firecrackers go off too early, and nearly burn down the stage. Even the fortune cookies are predicting doom and disaster for the people who open them. [Just to up the stakes a bit, change that last sentence to: And the explosive charges in the fortune cookies maim all the students in Mrs. Patrick's 1st grade class.] [I don't see how the doom-predicting fortunes can be an example of things falling apart; Audrey did know what the fortunes said, right?]

Audrey wanted to make a point, but she didn't mean to ruin Chinese New Year. [Actually, the three jokes you list do seem more likely to make a mess than to make a point. If her point is that not everyone who looks Asian is Chinese, the time to make it was when she was asked to be host, by telling the principal, "No thanks, but I'll be happy to host the Hangeul Proclamation Day Festival, you bigoted jerk."] Now, with the principal furious and Yahong refusing to speak to her, [She did have Yahong's approval and assistance for her jokes.] Audrey has to fix what she's done -- and fast. [None of what was done sounds fixable. The best she can do is hire a political damage-control team.]

AUDREY MAENG AND THE CHINESE NEW YEAR [FESTIVAL] is a middle grade contemporary novel complete at 50,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.



Audrey Maeng Ruins the Chinese New Year Festival? 
How Audrey Maeng Ruined the Chinese New Year Festival? 
I'm Not Chinese, You Idiots!?

Hard to believe Audrey didn't know what the lettering translated to. Did she just make random symbols? Seems more likely she'd decide what she wanted the signs to say and ask Yahong to translate into Chinese.

If it's a middle grade book, why set it at an elementary school? Especially as wanting to write an angry letter to the school board and pulling pranks like changing the signs and the fortunes strike me as middle or even high school. Can you include Audrey's age/grade?

Wouldn't the student "in charge of coordinating everything," and not the principal, be the person who recruits a host?

The query's okay, and the point being made is worthwhile, but what could possibly make Audrey think that when people go to this Chinese New Year Festival and see her joke signs and read their joke fortunes and hear the ill-timed firecrackers, they're gonna think, Hmm, I now realize there are many unique cultures in Asia. Does Audrey do anything that might help the uninformed to realize that?

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7. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1208 has posted a new version in the comments there, and requests your feedback.

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8. Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Sea Urchin

1. Despite her adoption by a loving family of bee keepers, young Queenie has always dreamed of transformation and an enchanted life beneath the sea. She regrets this wish when she wakes on her 16th birthday covered in poisonous spines.

2. A convict is released from prison so that he can work in the garden of a young widow. It's part of a new enlightened corrections policy. But will he risk losing this soft gig when he meets a girl who can change into a seal?

3. When her mother is drowned by a drift net, Alyissya the dolphin is left an orphan. Alone, scared, she must swim her way through the reef of sharks and hostile pods to her aunt Shaaya and safety.

4. At age seven, merkid Oliver Nemo's shark-brained merparents swam off into the sunset, never to return. A lucky break on “Mariana Trench's Got Talent” kept him off the streets. Now, puberty--and poverty, if his voice breaks--loom. What to do? Fagan-Fish has an idea, but Oliver doesn't like it at all.

5. When an oil drilling operation threatens the reef, plucky Sammy Sea Urchin organizes a flotilla of sharks, jelly fish and sting rays to send the invaders packing.

6. Lily, A young homeless child, lives by the sea and is referred to as "sea urchin" because she has no family and doesn't bathe. One day a mermaid jumps out of the sea and informs Lily that her father owns a prosperous water treatment facility. Lily finds her dad and ends up inheriting the business.

Original Version

Dear Mr Editor,

"Sea Urchin" is a YA historical fantasy, complete at 57,000 words.

Sixteen-year-old Davie is transported to Australia as punishment for pickpocketing, [Suddenly I'm thinking of becoming a pickpocket.] but in the remote boys' prison he finds opportunities he never thought he'd have. [Like interacting with a kangaroo.]

He works hard in school and leaning [learning] a trade in the workshops, convinced this is the key to becoming a respectable citizen. But when he befriends fellow-prisoner Jimmy, Davie loses his focus. He skips school, [When you're in a prison you can skip school? Suddenly I'm thinking of applying for the position of truant officer in an Australian boys' prison.] and makes mistakes in the workshop. Yet he also saves himself from drowning despite being unable to swim. [You add this as if it's evidence that he hasn't gone totally bad, when even a punk hoodlum would try hard to save himself from drowning.] [Don't they have lifeguards at Australian prison swimming pools?] Jimmy's a bad influence, but he [Davie] can't help being drawn to him. For, unknown to Davie, Jimmy is a selkie, a seal boy trapped on land far from his skin, and his magic is causing all Davie's woes. [His magic can't get him out of the prison? What can it do?] [What woes are we talking about?]

When Jimmy kills another boy to protect Davie, the seal boy goes into hiding. [What kind of prison is this? Prisoners can hide and not be found?] Davie sneaks him food, but Jimmy has been away from the sea for too long, and fades while Davie looks on, helpless. Then Davie is sent away, to work as a gardener for a young widow who wants to mother him. [A prison that sends a prisoner away to work for a young widow? If that happened in America, the woman would get butchered, the story would lead off every news program for a week, and everyone from the warden to Barack Obama would lose his job.] Convinced there is nothing more he can do for Jimmy, he applies himself to his new work. But then a chance meeting with a seal girl forces Davie to make a choice: stay with the widow who'll give him the new start he desires [Gardening for a woman who wants to mother him is the new start he desires? I thought he was learning a trade in a prison workshop.] [Then again, perhaps he enjoys plowing her furrows.] or throw away his new life for a slight chance he might yet save Jimmy's life? [That was a question?]

(Cool stuff about me [, which I'm hoping will happen so I don't have to make it up.])

Thank you for your time.



It wouldn't hurt to mention when the story is set.

Not clear how Davie's chance meeting with a seal girl helps Jimmy. And what are the odds that one kid meets a seal boy and then a few weeks later has a chance meeting with a seal girl? Unless there are millions of these wereseals. Also, I thought wereseals were native to the North Atlantic. Yet Davie meets two of them in Australia?

If they're called selkies, why are you calling them seal boys and seal girls and wereseals?

Jimmy faded away weeks ago. How's Davie gonna find him?

If I had an arrangement to send criminals to Australia as punishment, I think I'd want assurances that they'd receive some punishment, not spend three weeks in Club Med and then get live-in gardening positions with young widows. I'd save the transportation costs and have them tend my garden.

If selkies fade away when they're away from the sea, you wouldn't think they'd risk getting thrown into a prison they can't get out of.

If I had the option of being in human form or seal form, I'd be a seal all the time. All you have to do is swim, eat and balance balls on your nose.

Selected Comments

AlaskaRavenclaw said...I don't wish to offend, but there has been a lot coming out lately about a certain nation's habit of sending children off to Australia where they were punished severely for, basically, being born poor.

This went on for aeons, so yeah, a date would be nice. Was this during the 19th century, when Australia was a penal colony, or during the 20th century, when the importation of British waifs was a form of demographic warfare?

That aside, this is another of those queries that goes all over the place, and it's hard to tell if the issue is with the novel or the query. The events listed in the query don't seem to follow logically from one another.

The same ol' advice: Sum your novel up in a single sentence, less than 20 words long. Build your query upward from there.

EE, the lot of a seal in Alaska is not a happy one. There are (despite what you hear about Alaskan Men) few balls, and lots of bullets.

Evil Editor said...Alaska? I would be a seal in Sea World.

Anonymous said...I think this story could be good if the query just explained some of the things EE mentioned. How is the seal girl connected with Jimmy? Why does Jimmy's magic draw Davie? Is Jimmy doing it, or is it just that everyone is drawn to seal boys. What time frame is this or is it like an alternate reality Earth?

Just clear some of those up, and I think it could be a cute story.

Dave said...When I read this: Sixteen-year-old Davie is transported to Australia as punishment for pickpocketing I knew that the story was set in the past when Australia was a prison colony.
I've known a few Australians in my time, a couple with two kids, a guy and his girlfriend, and Bruce the anarchist. They all were descendants of "POME" which is so say, they all had DREAD FAMILY SECRET... My problem with the query is that I get no sense of the character of Davie, Jimmy or Mrs Widow. That Davie goes from would-be thief to productive member of society is a tried and true story. The selkies add a bit of uniqueness but not beyond other stories out there.

I presume this is a coming of age novel about Jimmie. That should be the focus of your story. How Jimmie's interactions with Australia, selkies and Mrs Widow help him grow up.

Anonymous said...You don't get to the fantasy "seal boy" parts until the bottom of the second paragraph--that's a pretty important piece of information. Surprises and slow build-ups are for the novel itself; I wouldn't rely on delayed big reveals in a query. If the agent/editor isn't interested in the setup of boys being shipped to Australian prisons to apprentice in workshops, they might not even get to the central conflict.

R.T. said...I like the feel of the query. It sounds like an enjoyable tale.

There's a few loose ends in the query, which may be answered in the book. 0. How old is Davy? 1. Why does it matter that Davy almost drowns. Is this an example of one of his mishaps, or relevant to the plot? 2. Jimmy sounded dead, then may not be: it's confusing. 3. EE's point about Davy learning a trade, then dumping it to be a gardener: it doesn't make sense, unless he is really young and needs to have a family life.

Jo-Ann said...

1. Many convicts were not sentenced for the term of their natural lives - but as the British crown failed to provide for their return passage once they'd served out the sentence, (or gained a pardon), then they had to find a job somewhere (although the cost of the return fare was so huge that they might as well have been trying to fly to the moon). Perhaps D had been released by the time he became a gardener?
2. Alternately, many convicts worked in servitude in the wealthy settlers' home and lands. D might have been assigned the gardening post on the understanding that it involved ploughing a field by hand or something, and our sympathetic widow let him tend her roses instead.
Overall, I think it's an interesting premise. In my youth in Aust, kids had a wide choice of worthy novels set during the convict era (and goldrush days, too), and the genre became terribly passe by the 80's. It might well be time for a resurgence! One with a fantasy theme sounds fresh, to me.

Ink and Pixel Club said...I don't see the connection between Davie becoming less focused on his quest to become an upstanding citizen and Jimmy and his magic. If Jimmy is a bad influence on Davie, say so. The only thing you mention that happens to Davie that could be attributed to Jimmy's magic is Davie being able to save himself from drowning, which strikes me as a good thing.

A little more background on the threat posed by the kid Jimmy kills would help me decide if I still sympathize with Jimmy and want Davie to save his life.

Why does Davie have to choose between his new life with the widow and getting the selkie girl to help Jimmy? Can't he just bring the selkie girl to Jimmy, have her do whatever she has to in order to save him, and then go back to the widow? Usually these end of query "either/or" scenarios present two mutually exclusive options: the hero can join the resistance or side with her tyrant father, the soldier can go home to his old life and his dependable sweetheart or try to make a life for himself in a war zone with the woman he's madly in love with, the weredingo can roam free and accept all the risks of life in the wild or stay with EE and give up freedom for regular meals and plenty of furniture to destroy. What you have now sounds more like "Davie can either eat pancakes or drink orange juice."

Focus more on the friendship between Davie and Jimmy, so we can see why they care about each other enough to kill and potentially give up a lucrative gardening career.

D Jason Cooper said...You have to put a year. An orphaned child who pick pocketed (which, btw, is a skilled crime, not for an amateur)would be put in a home and from there sent to Australia. Thus, this story could be anywhere from the 19th century up to the 1960's. If it is the earlier period, then he would not be sent to a 'young widow,' to work. She would have a marriage semi-arranged for her by her church, probably Anglican/C of E which was most closely associated with such bureaucratic largess at least until the great Irish Catholic influx into the Public Service (bureaucracy) and all the accusations of Catholic infiltration that that involved.
The selkie is a North Atlantic mythical figure whose stories are normally romantic tragedies. Are these boys gay and you forgot to mention it? Seriously.
And why does a selkie wind up in Australia and Aboriginal mythical figures don't show up or even ask WTF? Certainly there was segregation in Australia, but did it apply to mythical figures as well?
If Thor goes to Greece, he will meet Hercules. If he goes to Egypt, he will meet an Egyptian god. Why doesn't the selkie meet Aboriginal mythical figures?
For that matter, when you've got Jimmie (why are their names all diminutive?) as the only selkie, you might have something. When you add a second one I think that degrades the idea. Suddenly, how many are there? Do they know each other? How do the selkies feel about their own number being sent off like this? Suddenly Davie becomes peripheral to his own story, at least in the query.
Speaking of which, is this a YA novel? I just get the impression you are aiming at an audience who is Davie's (16yo?) age rather than older audience thinking back to when they were that age.

Evil Editor said...Speaking of which, is this a YA novel? See the first sentence. Or the label at the end.

D Jason Cooper said...1) The fact the character is 16 does not mean it is YA. Taxi has a very young protagonist, I wouldn't let my YA child read or watch that story. 2) Evil Editor said it was YA as categorization, I don't see where it was said in the query.

Evil Editor said...As I said, it's in the first sentence: "Sea Urchin" is a YA historical fantasy . . .

Anonymous said...I think that the first thing that you need to do is do a bit more research into Australian history. Even if your story is set in relatively modern times, describing something as a "remote boys' prison" and then telling me that there is a selkie there makes me stop and go, what? Remote in Australia means REMOTE. It means, generally, no where at all near the sea. How did he get there? (And where did he find enough water to nearly drown in?)

Secondly, if this is historical, then I find it very difficult to believe that he would have been treated as well as he seems to be in this synopsis. Prisoners were used in work gangs and hired out as domestic servants, but learning a trade..? I'm not entirely convinced that that would be normal. Also, if this is particularly early in the period, there just aren't going to be that many widows wandering around, because there weren't that many women in Australia at that point. If her husband died when she was there, if she was rich she would probably have packed up and gone back to England; if she wasn't, well, she'd be having some problems, because there was no such thing as gender equality back then.

Someone else already mentioned this, but it might be nice to see at least some reference to aboriginals.

BuffySquirrel said...I assumed the selkie got there by transportation, same as Davie. As for the sea, I believe there's quite a lot round Tasmania.

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9. Evil Editor Classics

Query Letters I've Received that Focused on the Wrong Aspects of the Books

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for my novel, complete at 107,832 words, according to the word counter on Microsoft Word. However, I've checked it with two other online word counters, and they've given different values, of 108,011 words and 107,943 words.

I thought the inconsistency could be down to the way the different counters deal with hyphenated words - I have one character who stutters, saying things like "p-p-plastering", so that might be the problem. However, replacing that character's dialogue with complete words yielded different results: 107,534, 107,945 and 107,841.

Another character mutters, which I've rendered by running words into each other, like "notbloodylikely". Changing that character's dialogue to normal word spacing upped the word count to 109,307, 109,788 and 109,411. Changing the mutterer's and the stutterer's dialogue gave me word counts of 109,023, 109,624, and 109,307.

This gives a mean word count, across all four variations and three counters, of 108,630.67. However, I notice we also have a modal word count of 109,307. Since this is within one standard deviation (805.9653115) of the mean value, I intend to accept this as the definitive word count, subject to further statistical sampling.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Steve Wright

Dear Evil Editor,

I have spent five years writing a novel but spent a lifetime preparing for it.

I am a Dartmouth graduate with a B.A. in Electrical Engineering with a Robotics emphasis. As you are undoubtedly aware, Dartmouth is renowned for its scholars. To name only a few: Chris Miller, writer for National Lampoon and co-writer of Animal House; Jean Passanante, Head Writer for As the World Turns and recipient of Writer Guilds of America Award in 2007; David Benioff, screenwriter Troy, Stephen Geller, screenwriter Slaughterhouse-Five, and Fred Rogers, creator of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, (he dropped out before graduating, however). Although, Dartmouth has many other famous graduates, I only named the few you would be familiar with.

I am unsure how many students at Dartmouth are the offspring of the rich and famous; I assure you that I am not one of them, having acquired a huge debt, (approximately $50,000 per quarter). I am, therefore, ‘in touch’ with your readership even though I graduated from an IVY LEAGUE UNIVERSITY.

Founded in 1767 and located in New Hampshire, Dartmouth has a flexible, unique calendar, (a quarter system), which gave me time to write and thoroughly edit my novel, while other students, (60%), used this flexibility to study abroad.

May I submit a partial or complete manuscript?

Vivian Whetham

Dear Evil Editor

Please consider representing my novel, The Choice to Change. You may wonder why this novel is set in a casino in Reno, rather than in one of the many worthwhile and often shiny casinos run by Native Americans, or even in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. There are so many potential settings for a casino novel that I vacillated for a long time before finally settling on Reno, which offers many advantages to the novelist, not least that it hasn't appeared in nearly so many films and tv shows as its competitors. If you ever watched CSI, you would know that it's got Las Vegas all over it, and who can compete with that? If I even tried to put my fictional Galloping Ghost Slots casino in Las Vegas, lots of readers might point out that there's no room for it. And while my mother always said that she was one-fifty-first Cherokee, I have reservations about whether that gives me sufficient insight into Native American culture to venture, even fictitiously, into one of their casinos. So Reno it is--insufficiently famous to trip me up and white enough for me to write about!

Thank you and have a game of blackjack on me.


Dear Evil Editor,

My novel makes Henry Miller’s work look like a sexual wannabe out on a new angle hunt. Makes the Kama Sutra look like the daydreams of a bunch of newbies with pretzely ideas about how to do, you know…IT. My novel makes D. H. Lawrence read like the underlying prude he undoubtedly was, and as for this genre called erotica that people are talking about now, I mean, COME ON, you gotta be kidding. Most of the people writing that schlock read like the only sex they’ve ever had was in their own beds, lights out, covers tucked up to their chins, and they were in bed all alone, know what I mean?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Robin S.

Dear Evil Editor:

Let's cut to the chase. I'm considered a good-looking guy. Very good looking. And if you know anything about publicity and the entertainment world, you know that looks is everything. Attractive people have an advantage in this world. How else do you explain the crowds who watch Anna Kournikova play tennis? Or that Keanu Reeves is a movie star? Why do the highest-paying modeling jobs always seem to go to good-looking people?

This phenomenon applies as well to the writing world. Good-looking authors draw bigger crowds at book signings. They get more invitations to speak at conventions. They have an angelic aura about them that makes people want to read their books. That's how it always has been and always will be. People love to bask in the beauty of beautiful people.

I remember one time I read a great review of a book and ordered it from Amazon.com. When it came I discovered that the back-cover flap had a photograph of the author, who looked, to put it kindly, like Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island. I couldn't read it. Just knowing that photograph was there soured it for me. If I'd picked it up in a bookstore I never would have bought it.

Think about the handsomest men you've ever seen. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Fabio... I make them all look like the Elephant Man. Women will buy my book, Crossing Broad, just so they can gaze at my photograph on the back cover. Men will buy it to cut off the back cover and paste it over their own faces.

May I send some head-shots?

Harper Scott

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10. Evil Editor Classics

The All-Evil Editor Shopping Channel (part 3)

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11. Evil Editor Classics

The All-Evil Editor Shopping Channel (part 2)

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12. Evil Editor Classics

The All-Evil Editor Shopping Channel (part 1)

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13. Feedback Request

A new version of the query featured in Face-Lift 1214 has been posted in the comments there, and awaits your input.

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14. Face-Lift 1215

Guess the Plot

The Matter That You Read

1. One physicist's love story, told through peer-reviewed journal articles.

2. A woman in Edwardian England needs a new servant after her latest servants quit. She goes on the Internet and orders a unit that she hopes will satisfy her needs, but it has no hands, and doesn't speak. It can't even teleport, so...ah, never mind. My plot makes no more sense than the title.

3. One day, Yoda has a brain fart disguised as a cerebral aneurysm. That day, his critical job to monitor the matter/antimatter engine suffers. All gauges glowing green is optimal, but when the engine hiccups everything turns red. The Captain calls for a prognosis. "An anastrophe, it is. The matter that you read the gauge it is."

4. Reed has that rarest of all literary gifts – he can read the fate of anyone he meets in the detritus found in their pockets. The problem arises when Evil Editor, curse his wicked proofreading skills, confuses Reed’s sense of tense, and now Reed can’t tell if he’s going to read their fate, or has already read…The matter that you resd.

5. The Red Shoes, The Red Violin, The Red Badge of Courage… all classic works, involving choices resonating through the ages. The National Enquirer? The Globe or the Star, or any other of . . . the matter that you read? Yeah… Not so much…

6. Carly Porter is a proofreader for a drug company. She has to make sure all the diseases and side effects and ingredients are spelled correctly in the fine print in those ads you see in magazines. When she meets hunky Chet Baines, it's love at first sight. But will his atrocious spelling on Twitter doom their relationship?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Any human servant would choose the workhouse over Evlalia – and her most recent two just have.

She sacrificed hours informing them of every flaw. But her words were wasted on people, as usual. At least she didn't dare to make a positive start: it would clearly have gone to waste as well. [No idea what that last sentence means.]

No High person makes their own food [Actually, when I'm high, food is my top priority, although I'll admit that sometimes I can't be bothered to make food when I can just open a bag of Doritos and crush them over a carton of Cherry Garcia.] or laces their own corsets. [Never lace your own corset when you're high. You end up as tangled as an octopus caught in a fishing net. I've heard.] Evlalia needs a new servant, and a magic one will have to do. [Ah, so Evlalia is a character. When you said someone would choose the workhouse over Evlalia, I assumed Evlalia was a place. I mean, if I said to you, "Any idiot would prefer Tokyo to Thaliponia," wouldn't you think Thaliponia was a place? Wouldn't you be so certain Thaliponia was a place, that even when I used a pronoun in the next sentence you'd think I was talking about a character whose name I haven't mentioned yet, or possibly the idiot in the first sentence? Wouldn't it shock you to later find out Thaliponia is my pet iguana? Of course it would. You'd never suspect me of comparing apples to oranges in sentence 1.] [Perhaps you want something like: Yet another of Evlalia's servants has walked out on her. People are so ungrateful. She sacrificed hours informing him of his every flaw.] [Also, there's no need to specify that the servants who quit were human. We'll assume they're human unless you say otherwise, and even if we don't, we'll figure it out in the next line when you call them people.] [Even after I know Evlalia is a character, the fact that you referred to her servants as human is going to have me thinking Evlalia is a Klingon or a Romulan.]

Part metal, part human, a 'unit' is a magical servant summoned [Ordered?] from the Internet. They come with unique software: some read or run faster than a forming thought, others grow their toenails or eyelashes six times faster than normal. [When a woman purchases a unit, I suspect it's not the toenails she wants to grow really fast.]

Buying a unit so damaged it's considered unsellable? [If it was considered unsellable, whom did she buy it from?] At least he needs her too much to ever leave. And itreminds everyone that Evlalia picks the road less travelled, even if it leads over a cliff. [As I understand it, a properly utilized unit takes the passenger down the most-traveled road, across the plateau and definitely over a cliff.]

Her new unit is Tace, and he can teleport. At least he could, before his old user left him without handsand on a ventilator.  [Why would the old user or the new user want a servant without hands? Did he have robotic hands that can be replaced?] Thanks to Evlalia [Has anyone else noticed that Evlalia is what it would sound like if you said "Evil Editor" while eating a bagel?] he no longer passes out after twenty seconds, but he still waits on the roof every night for his old user to come back.

Evlalia's words stop her disappearing into just another average, replaceable person; [Strange, as you've declared that her words are wasted on people.] Tace's muteness is more voluntary than everyone thought, and his body is built around being able to disappear at will. Friendship between them was a risk neither planned to take; it just seemed to happen, like the cutting remarks Evlalia always assumed she could keep back if she tried. [I feel like I'm disappearing into a black hole. Not that I know what that would feel like.]
Not being able to dismiss people makes interaction complicated; as Evlalia meets other units, she's relieved to find them just as easy to offend as humans. [How many units can one woman handle?] Being installed with dictionaries and perfect memories just seems a bonus.

Kyrillos can read every blood vessel pumping in Evlalia's neck, and when his domination over his user is questioned he knows exactly which artery to pinch shut. [Who is his user? Why are we interested in him?]
Halimeda can read every regretted word and past mistake in Evlalia's mind, and when the motives of her sudden friendship with Tace are questioned she knows exactly what Evlalia wants left unsaid. [Suddenly we're meeting new characters, but we don't know anything they do. Why would Evlalia want to be anywhere near them?]
Tactful silence might save Evlalia's life, [from what?] but also makes her indistinguishable from everyone else. That less travelled road does end in a cliff – and it might be better to jump.

THE MATTER THAT YOU READ is a 130,000 word slice of life/urban fantasy novel, [The title makes no sense. What does it mean?] set in an alternate Edwardian England. [It's exactly like Edwardian England, but with androids, the Internet, software . . . Actually, wouldn't it be easier to just say it's exactly like the year 2030, except that women wear corsets?]

Thank you for your time and consideration.


130,000 words, and all you can tell us about the story is that a mean woman replaces her servants with a junky unit?

You need a story. If you have a story, you need to summarize it for us. What is Evlalia's goal? What's preventing her from achieving it? What's her plan? What are the consequences if she fails? Why should we care about her at all? How does she grow in the story? What decision does she have to make? These are the elements of her story. All you've provided is her situation. Start over.

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15. Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot


1. Two dogs attempt to speak in English, but their vocabulary is so small . . . hilarity ensues.

2. A complete guide to successful parenting, from toddler to teen.

3. Look, let's just cut to the chase and say that this is my answer to your query.

4. Convicted of treason in the Andromeda galaxy, Lachette is given the ultimate sentence: banishment to Earth! Her response upon learning this: "NOOOOOooooooooo!"

5. An author attempts reverse psychology to sell a novel about the childhood of an evil genius as an autobiography. It's a meta thing.

6. Whether it followed your sales pitch, marriage proposal or drunken pick-up line, if anyone's ever asked you, "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" then this is the book for you. Over 300 pages of clear explanations and real-life examples, plus chapters on etymology, pronunciation and spelling. Soon you'll be able to answer, "Baby, I'm an expert."

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When Lachette, one of a species of humanoid aliens composed entirely of fire called Fianites, [And you thought you were burned out?] [Is it the species or the fire that's called Fianites?] is banished from her home planet in the Andromeda Galaxy [If she was on her home planet, why is she referred to as an alien?] for high treason, she is sent to Earth. Her crime: revealing the planet's most highly guarded secrets to the enemy in the midst of war. [In the midst of war, a space ship would have better uses than transporting a criminal to another galaxy.] [I've never thought of planets as having highly guarded secrets, though admittedly, our scientists are always trying to figure out what causes the strange noises coming from Uranus.] [What are Earth's most highly guarded secrets, and from whom are we guarding them?] [Apparently we haven't even been able to keep the fact that Earth is the perfect place to send your worst criminals secret from planets in the Andromeda galaxy.] After befriending a few humans--two girls named Rex and Kaz, [Would a human name a girl Rex?] and two boys named Justin and Andre--she dodges the United States Armed Forces as she keeps in contact with her best friend and princess of the planet of Fianate, Zatini. [Wouldn't Zatini die of old age in the time it takes Lachette's first message to get to Fianate?] [Also, isn't Zatini a pasta?] All together, they gather evidence, examine it, and send it back to the Elder Council of Fianate to prove Lachette's innocence [There's evidence of Lachette's innocence on Earth?] and uncover the one who framed her, all this within a deadline. [Twenty-seven light years.] [Yes, smartass, I'm aware light years are a measure of distance, not time, but would you have thought it was as funny if I'd said Twenty-seven exaseconds?] [(One exasecond = 32 billion years.)] She has one month to leave American territory or the President will give clearance to hunt her down and capture her as United States property. [Why has she been dodging the US military if they haven't yet been given clearance to capture her?] [Also, the US is already crawling with millions of illegal aliens. We hardly ever manage to capture any.]

No is the completed second book in the unfinished Uncertainties Series at 52,016 words. [There's nothing Uncertain about No; change the title to Maybe, Maybe Not. Or is that the title of the first book?] [Also, as an homage to to the Uncertainty Principle, change Zatini's name to Heisenberg.]

Thank you for your time.


I wasn't sure if this was a real novel until I realized that "RexKazJustinAndreLachette" could be anagrammed to form "EE in drunk sex tryst in Uzbekistan."

Selected Comments

Anonymous said...It's clear that you've got a plot, always good, but what happens is so vaguely described and generic to the genre, I find myself focused on the only specifics: your seemingly random assortment of character names.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...So this is set in a Fianite universe, eh?

Lose that penultimate graf. Oh do you need to lose that penultimate graf. Or else change it to "NO is complete at 52,000 words." It's true that's a little on the short side for anything but middle grades, but those extra 16 words aren't going to help much.

And you probably don't want to start out by making the agent wonder why you're querying the second novel of a series.

Misty Nelson said...I agree that the query is vague and also wonder why you're querying the second book in a series? Was the first book published? If so you need to mention it and, if not, you need to start querying that book. If the books are standalone (meaning the connection is they happen in the same universe but with different characters) then you should make this the first book and query it as such.

Other than that it does sound pretty generic. I'm not saying it IS generic, just that the query is so vague that it doesn't tell me what makes it unique in the SciFi Universe. It's a good start though and sounds really interesting! :)

BuffySquirrel said...Sometimes I think the minions are better at writing Guess the Plots than at writing queries. Some great ones here.

If this query successfully represents the novel, then the novel has problems (aside from being a bit short). Wouldn't a being composed entirely of fire destroy everything it came into contact with? What sustains the fire--fires need fuel. Presumably Lachette doesn't arrive here in fire form, or she wouldn't have any friends, merely carbon copies of them.

Hah. No, seriously, a being entirely composed of fire? What does it think with?

batgirl said...Yeah, I'm still trying to visualise a humanoid made of fire. If you're made of fire, why would you have a fixed form at all, let alone a humanoid one? Sure, the Human Torch looked human, but that's because he had that solid form, just sometimes it was on fire. I think.

If I were made of fire, I'd rather have an avian (avianoid?) form.

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16. Evil Editor Classics

Why Haven't I Heard from Dancing with the Stars?

As my Twitter followers are well aware, my Twitscription is: World's most famous editor. Does that qualify me to be on Dancing with the Stars? Now you may say, Of course it doesn't. Most people have never heard of Evil Editor. To which I say, I just examined the list of celebrities who have appeared on Dancing with the Stars, and had never heard of 64 of them until they made their appearances. Which is not to say that no one's ever heard of them, just that the list of celebrities sports fans have heard of doesn't necessarily intersect with the list soap opera fans have heard of. One viewer's Kelly Monaco is another viewer's Clyde Drexler is another viewer's Evil Editor.

Here are some of the fields from which celebrities have been invited to compete on the show: Rodeo cowboy, fashion entrepreneur, disk jockey, chef, son of famous singer, brother of reality TV star, daughter of ex-governor, beach volleyball player, daughter of famous singer, idiot from New Jersey, and unicyclist. No one from the publishing field has competed.

I'm sure they'd love to have Julia Roberts and Bruce Springsteen and Tiger Woods on the show. Those are top celebs in the acting, singing and sports fields. Instead they get such c-list stars as actor Ralph Macchio, singer Marie Osmond and football player Chad Ochocinco.

The point is, Evil Editor is the Julia/Bruce/Tiger of editing. King of the hill top of the heap A-number 1 New York, New York. A-List all the way.

It must be embarrassing for the producers when they introduce the "star" to his dance teacher, and the dance teacher is more famous than the star. The star is some geezer who played Ernie, the 4th son on My Three Sons, 50 years ago, while the dance teacher has 20,000,000 Facebook friends and gets invited to state dinners at the White House in hopes that he/she will endorse the president in his bid for reelection.

It's a joke every season when they announce the names of the Stars and people are saying Who? Who? Who?!! And the producers say, He played drums in Bette Midler's stage show in 1987. She's a real housewife from Omaha. And she once served a sandwich to Lauren Bacall.

Of course they might prefer to go with a literary agent rather than an editor, but no agent is higher than B-list, the only B-list agent is Kristin Nelson, and according to a source on her staff who wishes to remain anonymous, Nelson has two left feet.

The only reason I can think of why I haven't received an invitation is because they're afraid I'll win, and they prefer that the winner be a TV star. Have they looked at my picture? I'm fatter than Penn Jillette, less attractive than Steve Wozniak, and older than Cloris Leachman. And none of them even made it to the final four. I could dance like Fred Astaire and I wouldn't make it past the fifth week.

Too bad I don't have 20,000,000 followers who could bombard the producers with suggestions/demands that I be invited. I need to become a TV star. Is there a network that might be willing to cast me in a sitcom about an editor who's always at odds with his most famous client, John Grisham? Call me. 

Selected Comments

Whirlochre said...It may be that you have to work your way up via a reality cookery show or some variant on the Celebrity Big Brother theme.

I'd suggest brushing up on your vol au vents and hanging out in a poncho while you practice your skating. I hear Ramsay is rather partial to a vol au vent and everyone knows Clint Eastwood is dying to crack the reality scene with his stone-faced persona and whipcrack holster talents — all it would take is a nod from the grizzle-faced chef or a death rattle from the spaghetti-forged gunslinger and you could be going out on prime time TV.

Sarah Laurenson said...Maybe you need to start out on Survivor. But I'm sure those producers are afraid you'd eat the rest of the contestants. Betty White got the gig on Saturday Night Live through a Facebook campaign. Maybe we need to start a Twitter campaign - #DWTS4EE

Mother (Re)produces. said...Have you considered yarn-bombing? It's so much more 'now,' man. Or swimming the Thames? Too bad 'The Love Boat' went out of business. That would have been a definite-maybe.

Chelsea P. said...Send them a head-shot in an envelope filled with glitter. I hear people love that.

P.S. You'll get more followers by following people.

Blogger Evil Editor said...Yeah, I tried following everyone who followed me, but it meant getting hundreds of tweets, and half of them made no sense because they were responding to other people's tweets, and a lot were repeats of what they tweeted four hours ago, and most of the rest were personal info from people I didn't even know. Obviously I'm using Twitter for the wrong reasons.

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17. Is this the future of EE's blog?


And then we came to the end!

Probably not, as the fewer queries, openings and comments that come in, the less work I have to do. But let's not overdo it.

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18. Evil Editor Classics

Olde Timey Toons

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19. Face-Lift 1212

Guess the Plot

Ratman's Revenge

1. When Batman's latest movie is turned into a laughing stock thanks to a typo, the caped crusader goes on the rampage, clad in garments sourced from the gutter. Can the Joker persuade his nemesis to get real for the good of comics buffs worldwide? Or will he too run afoul of the errant wordsmith, and forever be cast as...the Poker? Or the PUKER?

2. When he discovers an awesome underground city with crystal caves and super-powered friends, Cody is thrilled. He's ready to make it his permanent home. Now, if only that mutant man-sized rat would quit trying to exterminate him.

3. In a damp cave where all God's creatures used to scurry and play, one lone rat hides. With one arm in a sling and two whiskers singed to the nubs, he waits, plotting his revenge.

4. Detailing Andrew Ratman's lifelong campaign to wreak vengeance on anybody who does so much as snicker at his name when introduced.

5. Ratman has successfully defeated the Diddler, Shoe-Face, and Gnatwoman. But when DC Comics lawyers coming knocking at the Ratcave door, can he convince them that he's not infringing on their copyrights? Or will Ratman meet his end at the hands of Cease-and-Desist Man?

6. Exterminator JC Bardley hasn't had a good day. His wife left him for the deli guy; his daughter called from Swarthmore, telling him she needs more money; and his son got thrown off the track team for something that happened in the showers. So when his accountant calls to say the tax man cometh, he heads for the company truck. It's time for the . . . Ratman's Revenge.

Dear Evil Editor:

When eleven-year-old Cody sneaks into an underground city, he battles a giant rat with paranormal powers determined to exterminate him. [We don't need this sentence; it's all repeated later on, except Cody's age, which can be added at the start of the next sentence.]

Cody is fed up with feeling [feels] left-out when his friends go off to summer camp and his too-busy-to-care divorced parents bail on him again. He ventures into the woods for the first time and discovers a tunnel leading to a city hidden underground with crystal caves, slugs-and-bugs soup, and new friends with awesome abilities like reading minds and seeing visions. [In some cities, seeing visions is considered less an ability than an affliction.]

Best. Home. EVER. [A place where people can read my mind doesn't sound so great to me, but of course when I was an eleven-year-old I probably didn't constantly imagine my teacher naked.]

But Cody’s new adventures take a pants-wetting turn when the people who protect the city, the Detectors, start disappearing. [That doesn't sound like a pants-wetting turn. More like a mere downturn or setback.] Without their warnings, the city could get blind-sided by earthquakes, floods, or invasions by deadly beasts. Using their psychic abilities, the city’s leaders discover someone is controlling the minds of the Detectors, but they have no idea who or why.

Cody isn’t about to let his new home come crashing down around him, but every time he tries to help, a mutant man-sized rat attacks him. Ratman roasts Cody with a hot crystal, pushes him down the Devil’s Mouth hole, and tries to drown him in the river. [Now those sound like pants-wetting turns.]

But Cody can’t stop. His clues point to Ratman as the one controlling the Detectors. And since Cody is the only one who sees the giant rat, no one else believes the freaky fur-face even exists. [Not that it matters, but is Ratman invisible to others, or does he attack only when no one else is around?]

It’s up to Cody to trap Ratman in time to save the Detectors and the city from whatever this whiskered weirdo is plotting. Or at least before Ratman’s next attack actually kills Cody.

RATMAN’S REVENGE, 76,000 words, may appeal to readers of Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven and Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember. I am enclosing the synopsis below per your guidelines.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

(my info)


Usually when you seek revenge, it's on someone who's wronged you. If no one even believes Ratman exists, how will anyone know why he wants revenge? How satisfying will Ratman's revenge be if no one knows what they did to incur his wrath? In Revenge of the Nerds, the revenge wouldn't have been nearly as sweet if the Nerds had simply bombed the jocks' frat house and the jocks all died never knowing what hit them. In Revenge of the Sith . . . well, I never saw that one, having given up on Star Wars after the Jar Jar Binks episode.

All of which is why you should change the title to Cody Cooper and the Mutant Man-sized Rat. This makes it easy to name all the sequels, i.e. Cody Cooper and the Mutant Man-sized Porcupine.

Other than that, it does sound like something kids would dig. Although it's often said that kids like to read about older kids, so if you want your audience to include 11-year-olds, you could make Cody 13.

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20. Synopsis 41

Ratman's Revenge

When eleven-year-old CODY feels left out and alone [abandoned] by his too-busy divorced parents and his off-at-summer-camp friends, he ventures into the woods for the first time. There he meets two kids who claim to live in a city deep below the surface of the earth where everyone has amazing paranormal abilities. Of course, Cody doesn’t believe them. [Of course. But later when no one believes Cody about seeing a man-sized rat, he won't understand how they can be so dense.]

The next day, Cody’s mom bails on him when she starts dating a new guy, and Cody’s dad says he’s moving to across the country with his giggly girlfriend. Cody has had enough and storms off to the woods. This time, he begs the kids to take him to their underground city. Even though [when] they warn him [that] once he goes down, he can never go home again, Cody is all-in. [He can never go home because it's against the rules or because it's physically impossible?]

With strange caves to explore and plenty of new friends with crazy abilities, Cody thinks he’s scored the perfect new home. Except outsiders from the surface are not allowed. [So the kids who brought him down and the plenty of new friends he's made are unaware that surfacians aren't allowed?] But when Cody is discovered by the Council of Elders, instead of executing him, they ask for his help. [If execution is the usual penalty for being there, you'd think that would have been mentioned by the kids who brought him down.] With his knowledge of the surface, he may be able to find out what happened to their missing Detectors, the citizens who protect the underground city by patrolling the surface.

As a way to find the Detectors, the council wants to teach Cody paranormal abilities and create a psychic link between Cody and the Detectors. [Have they tried creating a psychic link between the two kids Cody met in the woods and the Detectors?] Cody is determined to help his new home [friends]. The problem is, he’s failing his simplest paranormal classes, and a man-sized rat, RATMAN, attacks [him] every step of the way by using paranormal abilities to create Cody’s dangerous “accidents.”

Since Cody is the only one who sees the giant rat, no one [else] believes Ratman exists. So while Cody struggle[s] to find the Detectors, he wants to figure out who or what Ratman is and why he’s attacking him.

When Cody finally develops visions in his meditation class, he gets glimpses into the mind of Ratman. He discovers [that Ratman is usually thinking about cheese.] there’s a real man behind the rat illusion, [If you're gonna create the illusion that you're an animal, you oughta be able to come up with something better than a rat.] and that man is a vengeful council member, KIRK, who has been using the missing Detectors to locate a mysterious power source that can create an earthquake. Cody fears Kirk is about to get his revenge for the death of his family by destroying the city with a man-made earthquake. [This is the plot of that Star Trek episode where Kirk destroys the planet Romulus as revenge for some Romulan woman digging Spock more than she digs Kirk.] [Also, how did this Elder's family die? Unless everyone in the city was responsible, destroying the city seems like overkill.]

But when the entire Council of Elders is the next to disappear, it’s up to Cody and his friends to stop Kirk. [I see we've decided to call him Kirk instead of Ratman. If Ratman is an illusion and is actually Captain Kirk in a rat costume, maybe the title should be Kirk's Revenge. You'd see huge sales to Trekkies who think it's fanfic.] Despite their best efforts, one of Cody’s friends is killed [The one in the red uniform shirt.] and the remaining friends are held under Kirk’s hypnotic spell.

As the earth begins to shake, Cody is left to face Kirk’s wrath [The Wrath of Kirk] alone and save his new home. Cody draws on the simple talents he had on the surface—quick thinking and telling a convincing lie—to deceive Kirk and refocus the power source to kill him. [Quick thinking and lying may be useful talents, but do they allow you to refocus a power source that's causing an earthquake so that it kills one wererat?] The council and the Detectors are then freed from Kirk’s control. [


If these other kids are able to come to the surface, why wouldn't Cody be able to come back and go home?

Are the people who were unable to see Ratman able to see Kirk?

Hard to believe they pin all their hopes on an eleven-year-old stranger who fails even the simplest paranormal classes, just because he has some familiarity with the planet's surface. It would be easier to have Cody teach someone who aced his paranormal classes about the surface.

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21. New Beginning 1029

The trees didn’t say a word. They never did. They watched. They always watched. Well, today, I watched them right back. I stood in the middle of the dog park, staring at the woods in the distance. The trees huddled together like giant aliens, studying me for some crazy experiment. The leaves flickered in the breeze as if a million green fingers were reaching out, begging me to come inside.

So weird.

Sure, Mom’s warning blared in my head for the millionth time. I mean it, Cody. It’s too dangerous. Gangs and drug addicts hang out in those woods. You’re never to go in there. Understand? Never.

I stared at the trees. Never? Like never ever? But my friends would be stinking jealous if I went in the woods without them. This time, I’d have all the great stories to tell when they got back from summer camp.

Sweat dripped down my face and I wiped it with my t-shirt. Matt and Zach left for camp yesterday. They were probably swimming in that freeze-your-toes-off lake right now. Lucky turds. The only water I’d get to swim in was in the bathtub.

But that wouldn't be so bad if it was the giant alien trees' bathtub, cause it would have to be as big as the lake, only deeper and there'd be whales I could ride and I'd have my own personal submarine with torpedoes to blow up sea monsters and save the world from Aquaman's enemies now that he's too old to be fighting underwater supervillains like The Malignant Amoeba and The Human Flying Fish and Aquabeast. Plus I'd have my own enemies like Sharkwoman and The Electric Eel, and Captain Piranha. And there'd be pirates, of course, and crocodiles and daily sharknadoes and my weapons would be spear guns and rubberduck grenades and I'd have a sidekick named Squirt and they'd call me--

"Cody," Mom yelled. "Time to go home for your bath."


Opening: Diane Adrian.....Continuation:Evil Editor

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22. Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot


1. Moto the car can't seem to get his speed over ten miles per hour. If his owner notices, he'll be sent to the junkyard for sure. But wait! No wonder! The idiot's been so busy yacking on his cell phone he hasn't . . . Shifted.

2. When an accident at Oak Ridge nuclear plant threatens a meltdown, Dr. Jack Johnson bravely volunteers to pitch in, receiving what should have been a fatal dose of Gamma radiation. Instead, a shift has occurred. On NASCAR race days, the mild mannered doc becomes the champion avenger of all things rural, the superhero known as . . . the HICK!

3. Stephenie Meyer addict Zoe Dewson always thought it would be cool to be a shape-shifter -- to become an animal that is large and crafty. When she awakens one day to find she shares the fate of Gregor Samsa instead of Jacob Black, her life and her views change.

4. Drake Langdon hates his job mining coal but he loves the chief's daughter Lily. Chief Randal puts Drake on a swing shift in order to keep the lovers apart. When an earthquake traps him a mile below the hills of West Virginia, the only way out is through a condemned mine shaft. But has the trembling earth shifted the shaft?

5. As soon as teenager Kaia arrives in Paris she's arrested as a terrorist. Fortunately, a team of superheroes who have the ability to shift elements want Kaia for her ability to shatter glass. They kidnap her from the police and she joins the team. But will she use her power for good, by shattering the Louvre's glass pyramid?.

6. When a team of shapeshifters all change to look like the president during a White House tour, it's up to tour guide and amateur sleuth Prissy Figbottom to prove which woman is the real president and which ones are imposters. Luckily, Prissy is the one person who knows about the president's new tattoo.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Kaia Davis: Painfully shy high school student. Suspected terrorist. And unknowing wielder of an elemental power that could turn the White House into an outhouse. [That outhouse would be big enough for Godzilla. Although I question whether Godzilla would use an outhouse rather than just take a dump in the street.] [On the other hand, maybe the fact that you never see Godzilla dropping logs indicates that he does like a little privacy.] [Then again, whether you like privacy or not, when you discover you're under attack by King Ghidorah and the entire Japanese army, who wouldn't shit their pants? Plus, dropping logs the size of actual logs would be an effective weapon]

Kaia's Monday starts out pretty good. [That sentence would be okay, if a bit blah, if this were the opening of the query, but once you've introduced terrorism and super powers, there's no turning back.] Leaving Pennsylvania for Paris on a foreign exchange program? Terrifying, but exciting, especially when it means getting away from an unloving foster family. Being arrested as a terrorist upon arrival, though, will bring anyone down. Getting rescued by a cute (but cocky) British boy who can control the wind itself? Weird, yes, but an improvement. However, Kaia's day is finally, completely ruined when he drugs and kidnaps her.

Kaia wakes up to find she's been dragged into a covert group made up of teenagers from around the world, all of whom possess the ability to manipulate the elements themselves [Adding "herself," "yourself," etc after a word rarely does anything useful, or at least I, myself, don't think so.] – "shifting" them from gas to liquid [Condensation Boy], altering their structure [Alchem-Miss], or just moving them around really fast and whacking people with them [The Nunchuks Kid].

At first, Kaia feels (for some odd reason) a little out of place. Until, that is, she discovers a silicon-based power of her own which lets her do little things like shatter glass with her mind. [Every team of superheroes needs a member who can shatter glass. Otherwise criminals would be safe hiding in buildings with windows.] [Shattering glass with your mind may be amazing, but doing it with a brick is equally effective.] [Wait, shattering glass can turn the White House into an outhouse?]

While it sounds kind of cool to join them and become a real-life superhero, Kaia hasn't yet realized there's more to this world than having fun and saving the day. Powerful people have their hands [ladles] in the pot and are cooking up a dangerous soup of [spicy] intrigue, [fishy] conspiracies, and [cheesy] action, laced with a dash of death and a pinch of betrayal to taste. Kaia will have to break out of her [clam] shell – and maybe break some windows [eggs] too – if she's going to [avoid this recipe for disaster.] make it out alive. [An abundance of cooking cliches might be cute if you were trying to sell Murder at Le Cordon Bleu, but here it seems misplaced.] [Also, this way of telling us about the villains and the danger Kaia faces is too vague. It's like opening a menu and reading: 

Entree 1: Ingredients are combined lovingly and cooked to perfection, then spooned onto a plate and served.

Entree 2: A medley of items from our kitchen prepared stovetop by our chef and brought to your table.

Entree 3: Stuff, cooked.

Some specifics about these powerful people: who they are, what they want, what happens if they get it, how the superheroes plan to stop them, would be helpful.]  

Fortunately, she has some powerful new friends on her side, including her original rescuer, Connor – that cocky, irritating, sarcastic [windbag] Brit… who also happens to be annoyingly attractive when he risks life and limb to protect those he cares about. [For instance, the time he protected his best friend from being mugged outside the Louvre by causing a tornado, he looked annoyingly like Brad Pitt.] [On the bright side, the tornado destroyed the glass pyramid.]

SHIFTED is a YA sci-fi novel with a multicultural cast, complete at 115,000 words. It stands alone but is the first of a planned series of three books.

I am a legal assistant/graphic designer/resident IT… Jill-of-all-trades at a small law firm in Atlanta, Georgia, but I have finally decided not to let my Literature degree and all those Creative Writing courses go to waste. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



I don't see the need for Kaia being arrested as a terrorist in the query. The kidnapping gets her to the superhero team quickly without raising questions that you don't answer.

You could combine the first two paragraphs into:

Painfully shy high school student Kaia Davis is thrilled to leave behind her unloving foster family for a foreign exchange program in Paris--until she's kidnapped outside Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport by a cocky (but cute) British boy named Connor.

This has the added advantage of telling us Connor's name so that when you mention his name in paragraph 6 you don't have to explain who he is.

Apparently the team know about Kaia's power even though she doesn't?

Just make the part about what happens after the kidnapping as specific as the setup and this'll be 100% better.

Selected Comments

OpenID collectonian said...Being able to shatter glass with her mind does not seem like much of a super power at all, if that is all she can do. Seems like any of the other folks can already do it with their own powers. Also not sure if saying they can "manipulate the elements" is good in this case. Most people would automatically think of elemental powers, i.e. fire, water, etc.

Author said...Here's a little extra info for everyone:

Kaia can control silicon in its pure form and in compounds (the "compound" angle is unique to her and plays a role in the book).

Therefore, she can:
1. Shatter glass and manipulate the shards as weapons
2. Control sand to create flesh-gouging whirlwinds
3. Manipulate quartz (found in rocks, watches, etc)
4. Mess with the semiconductors in many microchips

I only mentioned one ability to keep it short, but it looks like I might have to elaborate a little :-)

Hmmm...I'm not really sure off-hand how I can describe their powers other than "manipulate the elements" - each one has a literal element they control (oxygen, iron, copper).

Do I need to specify this? In some sort of "they manipulate the elements - not the old earth, wind, or fire, but the literal building blocks of nature" way?

Evil Editor said...Just changing "...teenagers from around the world, all of whom possess the ability to manipulate the elements" to "...teenagers from around the world, each of whom possesses the ability to manipulate one element should be enough.

I don't think people in the 21st century automatically assume the classic elements when they see that word. Perhaps the problem stems from the kid who controls the wind, which is not far from the air. As air is made up of nearly 80% nitrogen, I assume Connor can manipulate nitrogen? In any case, note that in my suggested reworking of the opening I left Connor's wind manipulation out.

150 said...Go with "chemical element".

AlaskaRavenclaw said...
1. Anybody can shatter glass.
2. You are all over the place with the metaphors and wordplay, and it will get you nowhere. Turning the White House into an outhouse just distracts and raises questions, and makes it sound like an attack on DC is planned, which it apparently isn't.
3. Call me old fashioned, but if a guy had drugged and kidnapped me I'd find his sex appeal to be absolute zero.
4. Bios are generally unnecessary. I have a lit degree and a buncha creative writing courses in my past too, but find it far too embarrassing ever to mention to my editors or agent. Saying you don't want them to go to waste makes it sound like that's your actual motivation for writing. Please tell me it isn't.
5. To become an exchange student while in foster care is probably rather difficult. I was an exchange student, back in the Pleistocene. The application was quite rigorous. It involved, among many other things, a home visit and an essay from my parents.
6. Focus, focus, focus. Decide what's at the center of the story. Sum that up in one sentence. Build your query from that and do not try to impress the reader with your writing.

(IOW: don't raise questions in the query that the query doesn't answer. Maybe it makes sense in the manuscript.)

Rachel6 said...The story, especially given your clarification in the comments, does sound interesting, but there isn't enough of it. I definitely want to know more about the "powerful people" and the problems they bring to Kaia.

One other thing: super-irritating but adorable love interests are cliche. That said, I do enjoy a snarky love dynamic. I think mentioning that he's cute and cocky is enough, that we can infer "attractive" and "annoying" from that, but I could be wrong.

Looking forward to the rewrite!

BuffySquirrel said...You flag up right at the start that Kaia is very shy, yet this hardly recurs in the query--is the shell thing supposed to imply she needs to overcome her shyness to defeat...whatever? If her shyness is an important obstacle to her goal (which is...?), you need to come back to it. If not, don't lead with it.

Goal, Stakes, Obstacles, Dilemma. That's what we need.

Author said...Alaska:

The foreign exchange question is answered in the book. You're right, it would've been too hard.

I still feel I need to mention it, though - overcoming her shyness is a big part of Kaia's character arc. If I mention it then say she's leaving for Paris, it seems to me everyone would be asking, "Wait, why is this shy kid going by herself to Paris?" Maybe not, but it just feels that way to me.

Rachel6: "super-irritating but adorable love interests are cliche"

This made me laugh, but not for any reason you'd think. I absolutely know what you mean, but it never occurred to me it sounded that way for one very simple reason - Connor's based off my dad. Or rather, what I imagine my dad was like as a teenager.

So the random thought that made me laugh? "Gosh, my dad's a cliche!" Even worse...everyone says I'm my dad made over :-)

Thanks to EE and everyone who's replied already - I will definitely have a rewrite soon.

Author said...Question for EE if you have a second:

I really appreciate the rewrite on the beginning (it works beautifully at freeing up plot space further down) but was concerned about one thing - in the opening phrase, is it clear to the reader that her desire to leave her foster family is enough of a motivation to visit a foreign country in spite of her shyness? It's clear to me, but I have a hard time judging what fresh eyes might think.

I'm just afraid of someone saying, "Well, if she's so shy, why is she going to live with a strange family?" I thought adding "Despite her fears" to the beginning would clarify it but was hesitant to begin my first sentence with a clause.

Your opinion/advice is, as always, greatly appreciated :-)

 Evil Editor said...You could just delete "Painfully shy." Her shyness may not be as important to the query as it is to the book.

Then there's the point that if you're in the foster care system you might have gotten used to going to live with strange families.

Maureen said...My main problem is that it is very foggy who the villain is. We know where she is and who she's with, but what's the actual problem? Also is there anything else at stake? What about the exchange actually, does that end at some point, and then what? Are people looking for her? I realise that there might not be room for this in the query, but I think you definitely need to elaborate on the problem/obstacles. What makes them actually DO something in the end? And why is she important to this?

Author said...Here's my rewrite of the story description:

High school student Kaia Davis is thrilled to leave behind her unloving foster family for a foreign exchange program in Paris – until she's kidnapped outside Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport by a cocky (but cute) British boy named Connor.

Kaia wakes up to find she's been recruited into a covert unit made up of teenagers calling themselves "Shifters." Hailing from around the world, each of them possesses the ability to manipulate one of the earth's elements – transforming them from gas to liquid, altering their structure, or just moving them around really fast and whacking people with them. At first, Kaia's convinced they've made a terrible mistake.

Until, that is, she discovers she has a silicon-based power of her own which lets her do little things like shatter and manipulate glass or create flesh-gouging whirlwinds of sand with her mind.

Joining up with this ragtag "family" turns out to be dangerous and terrifying but still pretty cool. Stopping terrorists, busting up drug cartels, saving people's lives – becoming a real life superhero. Unbeknownst to Kaia, however, the secretive backers of their group have been feeding all of them misinformation and carefully controlling their missions for one purpose: to use the Shifters to help the very criminals they believed they were stopping.

Finding out the truth is one thing, but finding a way out is another – especially when the shadowy cabal you've been working for is willing and able to eliminate its assets the instant they stop being of value.

Fortunately, Kaia has some powerful new friends on her side, including Connor, that irritating Brit… who also happens to be annoyingly attractive when he risks life and limb to protect those he cares about.

Evil Editor said...This is much better.

The last paragraph isn't needed; we already know all of that. I'd change the end of the previous sentence from stop being of value to lose their value (or usefulness).

So . . . the criminal mastermind says, Iron Lad, we need you to melt the door to that bank vault in order to prevent a crime. Then you can be on your way, we'll take it from there. ?

This cabal is able to eliminate the superheroes, but they're unable to do their own dirty work?

Author said...Thanks! I was rethinking that last line, too ("the instant they stop behaving" is what I had penciled in).

Yeah, it's hard to explain in short form :-). Here's some extra info (if you're interested).

One mission example: they're sent in to rescue some hostages being held by rebels in the jungle. Only they're not rebels, they're refugees fleeing genocide and the "guards" with guns are just men protecting their families - the "hostages."

The cabal can (and does) do a portion of its dirty work, but it has its fingers in many pies - including genetic manipulation to create humans with supernatural abilities. Besides using the Shifters as enforcers, their actions serve as advertising to criminals or unscrupulous governments - "look what we can make! Don't you wish you had soldiers of your own like this?"

Also, as their creators, they're well equipped to eliminate them even if they're not "on their level" power-wise.

I just wasn't sure what (if any) of that needed to be included in this form. Decisions, decisions :-)

BuffySquirrel said...Okay, leaving aside the strange assumption that Stockholm Syndrome strikes instantly, or perhaps that women don't really mind being kidnapped so long as the kidnapper is fanciable....

High school student Kaia Davis is thrilled to leave behind her unloving foster family for a foreign exchange program in Paris – until she's kidnapped outside Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport by a cocky (but cute) British boy named Connor.

As you've already said she's going to Paris, you probably don't need to add Paris to the name of the airport. I realise EE did that, but it's not how CdG is commonly referred to. Apart from that, and the objectionable assumption aforementioned, this is much better imo. Although I would change program to visit.

Kaia wakes up to find she's been recruited into a covert unit made up of teenagers calling themselves "Shifters."

'Recruited' sounds too voluntary. How about conscripted?

Hailing from around the world, each of them possesses the ability to manipulate one of the earth's elements

Each of them hails from around the world? That's not what you meant but it's a valid reading. Dang participles.

– transforming them from gas to liquid, altering their structure, or just moving them around really fast and whacking people with them. At first, Kaia's convinced they've made a terrible mistake.

After some thought, I realised you meant the mistake is forcibly recruiting Kaia, but at first glance it reads as if their mistake is thinking they can do these things, or perhaps doing them. In any case, I think that needs a new paragraph.

I would like some explanation as to how it is that Kaia doesn't know she has powers, but these people apparently do.

Until, that is, she discovers she has a silicon-based power of her own which lets her do little things like shatter and manipulate glass or create flesh-gouging whirlwinds of sand with her mind.

Which is fine, except discovers doesn't feel like the right verb. Learns, maybe. This is presumably something she finds out from the Shifters?

Joining up with this ragtag "family" turns out to be dangerous and terrifying but still pretty cool. Stopping terrorists, busting up drug cartels, saving people's lives – becoming a real life superhero.

Okay (reservations about 'joining' and why she isn't mad as hell at being kidnapped aside).

The next bit again needs a new paragraph imo.

Unbeknownst to Kaia, however, the secretive backers of their group have been feeding all of them misinformation and carefully controlling their missions for one purpose: to use the Shifters to help the very criminals they believed they were stopping.

Is it only Kaia who doesn't know, or is it all the Shifters who don't know? Or is it only some of them who don't know, and others have known all along?

Unbeknownst to the Shifters, however, their secretive backers are deceiving and manipulating them so they can use the group to assist the very criminals they think they're fighting.

Finding out the truth is one thing, but finding a way out is another – especially when the shadowy cabal you've been working for is willing and able to eliminate its assets the instant they stop being of value.

C'mon, there has to be some emotional response to this discovery. They've been lied to, they've been used, everything they think they stand for has been perverted, they've put drugs on the street and they've helped terrorists to bomb, maim and kill. Where's the emotion?

(continued on next rock)

BuffySquirrel said...Next rock.

--especially when the shadowy backers they've been working for eliminate their assets the instant they lose their value.

Fortunately, Kaia has some powerful new friends on her side, including Connor, that irritating Brit… who also happens to be annoyingly attractive when he risks life and limb to protect those he cares about.

What's Kaia's dilemma? Again, it's not here. Is it in the book?

Evil Editor said...Not wanting to include an error anywhere on my blog, I Googled Paris airport, and found the official name to be Paris Charles de Gaulle. How it's referred to by frequent travelers may differ from how it's referred to by a kid whose only point of reference is the name of the airport on her ticket. If the name of the airport is on her ticket.

In any case, I had no idea when I wrote that whether the abduction took place in, outside, or miles from the airport, so maybe the airport doesn't need to be mentioned at all.

BuffySquirrel said...I sit corrected :). Anyway, we don't need Paris twice. (yes, no face saved)

Author said...From BuffySquirrel:
"Okay, leaving aside the strange assumption that Stockholm Syndrome strikes instantly..."
I think this is a victim of shortening the intro. Here's the order of events: Kaia is arrested upon landing (it's a set-up). Connor breaks in and says "I'm here to rescue you!" Kaia thinks, hey, he's pretty cute. As they're leaving the airport, she starts seeing the holes in the story he's been spinning. He drops the pretense and kidnaps her, at which point she no longer thinks he is cute. She retains that opinion for quite some time, in fact ;-)

Perhaps "High school student Kaia Davis is thrilled to leave behind her unloving foster family for a foreign exchange visit in Paris – until the cute (if cocky) British boy who helped her in the airport up and kidnaps her."

Participle question:
How about flipping it to "...a covert unit made up of teenagers hailing from around the world. Calling themselves 'Shifters,' each of them possesses..."

A terrible mistake? How does Kaia not know she has powers? Discovers?
These questions might be fixed by this edit:
"At first, Kaia's convinced they've made a terrible mistake in choosing her.
Until, that is, they help her tap into a silicon-based power of her own which lets her do little things like shatter and manipulate glass or create flesh-gouging whirlwinds of sand with her mind."

"What's Kaia's dilemma?"
I'd probably sum it up as: She doesn't want to continue being used as a "bad guy" but doesn't want to get killed either. I'm not sure if I just didn't convey that idea clearly, or if there's something else you're asking for that I'm not understanding properly. Please elaborate.

P.S. to Buffy and EE: I honestly didn't think anything of calling it Paris Charles de Gaulle since I speak French - and Kaia speaks French, too. I actually use both its shortened and full name in the book. EE, you inadvertently hit it exactly - it takes place right outside.

Author said...Sorry, Buffy, missed these:

Okay (reservations about 'joining' and why she isn't mad as hell at being kidnapped aside).
This additional sentence might help that:
"Despite her traumatic introduction to their world, Kaia finds the possibility of having a place to belong – a family – too appealing to resist. Joining up turns out to be dangerous and terrifying but still pretty cool..."

C'mon, there has to be some emotional response....Where's the emotion?
"As sickening as it is to realize they've been used as weapons and thugs – that innocent people have suffered at their hands – finding a way out won't be easy.

Especially when the shadowy cabal they've all been working for is willing and able to eliminate its assets the instant they stop behaving."

Maureen said...I love the additional detail about the 'bad guy' and the twist you've set up. This version of the query really makes me want to read more, and I'm sure you're on the right track.

Of course you can't include every detail about how she was helped in discovering her power or how she hones it. I'd cut the last line about Connor - it's already clear that you're setting him up to be the love interest, or something similar anyway.

Anyway, I like it, and I'd read the book based on this. You've made it clear even within the query that finding this new family is preferable to her old family, even if she got there ... um... involuntarily.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Author, you've got a lot to learn, as we all do. But the one thing which absolutely and completely separates the published from the unpublished is this:

Do you respond to a critique by 1. rewriting, or by 2. answering the critique point by point?

AA said...AlaskaRavenclaw: I don't see that. This author isn't even arguing. It's just a more transparent way of seeing the author's thought processes to be sure the rewrite addresses major problems. He/she obviously wants to be careful not to misunderstand anybody's comment.

I assumed a rewrite was forthcoming after all the problems were addressed.

Author said...Maureen: Thanks for the kind words! EE suggested I cut those lines as well - I'm glad it's still clear Connor is the love interest (it's hard to tell things like that when I'm so close to the story).

"Do you respond to a critique by 1. rewriting, or by 2. answering the critique point by point?"

Well, I definitely have a bit to learn about making my intentions clear ;-)

AA has it right: I was rewriting in response to the critiques and posting those rewrites in sequential order to make sure I was addressing the listed problems.

All of my responses were rewrites, not rebuttals.

I was thinking it would be better to say "Is this what you meant?" or "Does this address the problem you saw?" in small doses instead of posting an entire rewrite when I wasn't sure if more comments were forthcoming.

I certainly was not intending to belittle any criticisms. Quite the contrary - I came here for your opinions, and I am doing my best to incorporate your suggestions.

I will post the next version (with the changes I noted incorporated) very shortly.

Author said...Okay, here's the second rewrite, incorporating the changes I had mentioned yesterday. See if this fixes the issues mentioned. (I kept the word recruited because it actually is accurate to the way the story plays out - if it still sounds odd, please let me know. "Pulled into" is another possibility.)

High school student Kaia Davis is thrilled to leave behind her unloving foster family for a foreign exchange visit in Paris – until the cute (if cocky) British boy who helped her in the airport up and kidnaps her.

Kaia wakes up to find she's been recruited into a covert unit made up of teenagers hailing from around the world. Calling themselves "Shifters," each of them possesses the ability to manipulate one of the earth's elements – transforming them from gas to liquid, altering their structure, or just moving them around really fast and whacking people with them.

At first, Kaia's convinced they've made a terrible mistake in choosing her. Until, that is, they help her tap into a silicon-based power of her own which lets her do little things like shatter and manipulate glass or create flesh-gouging whirlwinds of sand with her mind.

Despite her traumatic introduction to their world, Kaia finds the possibility of having a place to belong – a family – too appealing to resist.

Joining up turns out to be dangerous and terrifying but still pretty cool. Stopping terrorists, busting up drug cartels, saving people's lives – becoming a real life superhero.

Unbeknownst to the Shifters, however, their secretive backers have been manipulating them for one purpose: to help the very criminals they believed they were stopping. As sickening as it is to realize they've been used as weapons and thugs – that innocent people have suffered at their hands – finding a way out won't be easy.

Especially when the shadowy cabal they've all been working for is willing and able to eliminate its assets the instant they stop behaving.

AA said...This is definitely better. It's clear what's at stake. The plot pretty much makes sense. The conflict is obvious. Shaping up.

Author said...I seem to be suffering from "too many cooks with this query. In hopes of getting a final polish on it, I let another group look at the final version from here, and they criticized me for adding all of the details you guys advised me to. I just want something solid to represent my book but can't get a "yeah, this works" to save my life.

Here's the version they "approved" of (not really, they just hate it a little less). It makes some things vague again but is punchier in parts. Does this seem like an improvement or a step in the wrong direction?

High school student Kaia Davis is thrilled to leave behind her unloving foster family for a foreign exchange visit – until the cute (if cocky) British boy who helped her in the airport up and kidnaps her.

Kaia wakes up to find she's been recruited into a covert unit made up of teenagers from around the world. They call themselves "Shifters," and each possesses the ability to manipulate one of the atomic elements – transforming them from gas to liquid, altering their structure, or just moving them around really fast and whacking people with them.

Kaia's convinced they've made a terrible mistake… and then they help her tap into a silicon-based power of her own. With it, she can shatter and manipulate glass and create flesh-gouging whirlwinds of sand with her mind.

Despite her traumatic introduction to their world, Kaia finds the possibility of having a place to belong too appealing to resist. Plus, she gets to take out terrorists, bust up drug cartels, and save people's lives. She is a real life superhero.

If only the secretive backers of their group weren't so darn evil.

SHIFTED is a YA sci-fi novel with a multicultural cast and complete for your review. It stands alone but is the first of a planned series of three books.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Evil Editor said...This is the same as the last version you submitted here, except that instead of telling us what the villains are up to you just tell us they're darn evil.

I generally prefer specificity over vagueness. I don't see that's there's much of a downside in this new version. She's a superhero, she has a family. If we don't know the evil people are a threat to Kaia's job/family/life, why should we care about them?

BuffySquirrel said...Obviously we are right and they are wrong. Uh, I mean, well.

I like the revision you posted much better than the original. It's pacier and it seems to me I understand what's going on. In the version the other group liked, you still need a but rather than an and in the terrible mistake paragraph.

You could always fling this at QueryShark for a casting vote. Although she's meaner than we are.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...I think the last version works better than the previous one. Yes to details but no to excess verbiage explaining said details.

Trouble with QueryShark is she's got a huge backlog and your chances of actually getting critiqued, esp. in a timely fashion, are slim.

I'm not sure anyone is meaner than we are.

Author said...@EE

"I generally prefer specificity over vagueness...If we don't know the evil people are a threat to Kaia's job/family/life, why should we care about them?"

I was thinking the same thing but found it hard to maintain my confidence in the face of a stream of negative Internet bombardment. I definitely value your input on this - thank you.


I see what you mean about the "but." Thank you.

I actually did send the final version from here to the Shark but she hasn't bitten :-)


Sorry if it looks like I was asking about really insignificant changes, but I've been staring at this so long it seemed like every word has earth-shattering importance.

I really need to get outside a bit, don't I? ;-)

Author said...@Alaska

Thanks for the feedback - I'm glad it's improving! :-)

I get in such a negative internal loop on this sort of stuff I can't tell if it's better, worse, or if starting my own version of "All work and no play makes me a dull girl."

Yeah, I don't hold up much hope for the shark but figured "what they heck." :-)

AlaskaRavenclaw said...QS seems to have critiqued one query a month for the last few, and that's against a reported backlog of hundreds. If I was gonna go up against those kinds of odds, I'd rather just be submitting the damn thing and see what happens.

If it's any help, the plot description in the query with which I landed my agent was four sentences long.

Not long-ass sentences. Just ordinary sentences. Less is more.

Evil Editor said...Hundreds? And we have zero? Of course, if I'd been doing one a month for the past six years, I'd have a backlog of about a thousand.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...[shrug] That's what she sez. I have not seen her inbox, of course.

Probably the speed at which they get sharked is largely responsible for the backlog. Maybe also that she's unanonymous and an agent, so folks are hoping to get a foot in the door via the shark tank...

Rachel6 said...I liked your second rewrite best, with the details about the villains. You had my attention. You had my full, I-bet-my-sister-would-like-this-too attention, which means I'll actually get the book.

Brava, author! Please let us know when you sell the book, because I'll be watching the stores!

Author said...@RachelDefinitely :-) (fingers -and toes- crossed)

Yeah, I sent it to her mostly on a whim - and I'm definitely not waiting on her to send out my letter.

Maybe you shouldn't be so darn efficient and hard-working - then you could have a backlog, too ;-)

Anonymous said...I have a problem with mc being kidnapped by a cutie at the end of first 'graph and waking up at the start of the second.

??? That leap needs a connection or progression that I couldn't detect.

Also "Shifters" hit me as the wrong word in this query. Preconceived notions.

On "every word has earth-shattering importance", I believe that to be true in the query.

Good luck. Maybe set it aside for a bit.

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23. Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Threads of Control

1. Saylor dreams of being a fashion designer, but to break in she must untangle the cords of cronyism, unzip the bags of investor cash, and cut through the layers of bullshit. Is Saylor's dream sewn up, or will she be trimmed?

2. When the Puppetmaster threatens to wipe out the human trees on the planet Ulfitron, Earth teenager Jimmy Ranfaz is chosen as their savior.

3. When the body of fashion mogul Jonny Street is found under a mountain of bolts at his Downtown LA sweatshop, detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, this year's fashions are damned ugly, and two, Jonny wasn't simply killed by a bolt from the blue.

4. Needlework expert Alice Bobbin only wanted to see if that new craft store in town had embroidery floss in Dusky Rose. Little did she know that the sign meant a different kind of "craft." Now her cross stitches of houses and flowers have the power to harvest souls.

5. Jane is a seamstress who tailors clothes for her husband Dan. But when she notices Dan ogling her best friend, she secretly cinches the crotch of Dan's pants tighter and tighter.

6. All Janet wanted was to open a nice little quilting store. But monolithic sewing chain SewItUp! will not tolerate any competition. Sabotage, arson, and murder ensue.

7. Mayhem breaks out at Mary's Merry Marionette Show when her wooden puppets rebel, massacring three puppeteers and half the attendees of the Kanoma County Fair.

Original Version

Dear [Literary Agent],

AVERAGE – the word burned him. Superpowers had not changed the one thing he hated; Jimmy Ranfaz [, alias Aqualad,] was still average.

Jimmy, a daydreaming teenager from Earth, thinks he has been given a new lease of [on] life when the tree-descendant humans from Ulfitron [Hang on. They're humans whose ancestors were trees? Just because you have limbs doesn't make you human.] pick him to be their new saviour from a returning nemesis [, the supervillain known as . . . Lumberjack!]. But his training in cranial abilities [He's being trained by trees? When you're choosing a champion to lead you against your arch nemesis, it's a good idea to choose someone who's already smarter than a tree.] is rudely interrupted by an attack which also wipes out everyone he knows on the planet, [How many people did he know on the planet? He just got there.] all except Juvall Spelding – a powerful native [You should give the natives tree-inspired names. Like Juvall Spelding could be Shadbush Hawthorn. Which actually sounds more like a person's name than Juvall Spelding.] whose determination to save his race is only outstripped by his disdain of Jimmy’s powers. [So . . . Jimmy is Aqualad?] [It's bad enough when you're a kid who wants to be a superhero and you get your wish, except you get stuck with the same powers as Aquaman. But to make it even more humiliating, instead of Shark or Barracuda, they call you Aqualad.] [I suppose Robin was always a little pissed that Batman didn't give him a cool name like Condor or Raven.] [Also, if Spelding's determination to save his race is outstripped by his disdain of Jimmy's powers, he needs to examine his priorities.] [

Outmatched by the might of their foe, their only hope of saving Ulfitron lies in tracking down a legendary source of knowledge. [Unfortunately, this source of knowledge is a book and its owner refuses to give it up, believing it's his great-grandfather.]  But within the journey lies a deception so deep, it rocks the very beliefs of the Ulfitronians about the previous battle and also questions Jimmy’s own true origins. [Ironically, it turns out Jimmy's descended from the notorious Northern Hackberry clan.] With limitless power within his grasp, Jimmy must decide where his priorities lie; the heroism in saving countless people or finally emerging from the shadows of mediocrity he has always been consigned to. [I don't see how that's an either/or decision. Saving countless people leaves him in the shadow of mediocrity?]

EVOLUTION: THREADS OF CONTROL is a 90,000 word YA high fantasy novel with a scientific flavour.

The complete manuscript is available on request. [I have attached the first five pages for your perusal.]

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

Author's note: The title is chosen because of the nature of the MC's journey and the hidden puppetmaster.


If Jimmy fails the willows will never stop weeping. If he succeeds he'll be the most poplar person on Ulfitron.

There's too much vagueness. Who is the nemesis? Why is Jimmy chosen as the savior? What are Jimmy's powers? What is this deep deception? What is this legendary source of knowledge? What is Jimmy's superhero name? (I suggest Treehugger.)

Who is this hidden puppetmaster? Is he the nemesis? "Puppetmaster" is a cooler-sounding name for the villain than "returning nemesis."

It's not clear why Jimmy is still considered average after he has superpowers. Or why using his superpowers to save countless people still leaves him average. What does he have to do to be above average?

What's with the title? Is Evolution part of the book's title, or is that the series name? I don't like anything about the title.

Selected Comments

Tk said...OK, the tree thing was so funny it was hard to read the query.

I liked the burning hatred of averageness. It's a strong emotion, which is good. But it can't work in isolation. You have to tie it into the query - show (clearly - I understand the last paragraph attempts to do this) how this motivates him.

Echoing EE, what *are* Jimmy's powers? What the heck is a cranial ability? And if he has superpowers, why is he average?

Third, the whole thing feels Avatar-derivative. I'm sure it's not, but this is an example of where more specifics would really help. Specifics unique to your world would prevent the reader from seeing "trees", "human", "planet" and "native" and instantly thinking of Avatar.

BTW, calling people "native" is something that always burns me, personally. The word is so loaded with privilege and its distancing and makes your MC unsympathetic. What's wrong with "Ulfitronian" or "general" or "janitor" or "skull-polisher"?

PLaF said...Superpowers had not changed the one thing he hated: (insert new dilemma here).
Average is too vague a description. What’s Jimmy’s real problem. Why does he think he’s average?
I thought of Peter Parker as he first became Spiderman. For him, superpowers did not change the fact that he still couldn’t get up enough nerve to ask Mary Jane out. Superpowers did not win him any friends and ultimately could not bring back Uncle Ben. What about Jimmy is interesting enough to catch my attention? And what fun stuff will he do with his superpowers?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Fun with language dept.: People with a "determination to save [their] race" tend to end up in armed standoffs with the Feds. ("Race" and "native" are both fairly laden. You can find less loaded words easily. I suggest "people" and "local".)

Fun with science dept.: I assume you explain in the book how humans can evolve from trees. But the query just raises the question and doesn't answer it. Trees are plants. Humans are critters.

And yeah, the whole paragraph beginning with "Outmatched" is very, very vague. Vague with a side of superlatives. And it does beg the whole "average" question.

(Would not personally start a query with "AVERAGE". It invites the agent to think "I'm not looking for

sarahhawthorne said...I am concerned about your word choices. How can you describe a boy plucked off Earth and trained to be a superhero as "average"? He may not be a good superhero, but he is definitely not normal.

Also, this sentence:
With limitless power within his grasp, Jimmy must decide where his priorities lie; the heroism in saving countless people or finally emerging from the shadows of mediocrity he has always been consigned to.

1. The phrasing is awkward ("the heroism"?) and it ends in a preposition.
2. Again, word choice. Jimmy has been chosen as the future savior of Ulfitron. He may be mediocre, but he certainly has not "been consigned to mediocrity."
3. This is a false dilemma - the stakes are so wildly uneven that it's obvious Jimmy will choose to save Ulfitron.

Weirdly enough, Facelift 1021 from a couple weeks ago also ended with the same choice: save the world or get magic powers. Is this a new thing, protagonists willing to let the world be destroyed in exchange for being special?

khazar-khum said...I lost it at EE's Aquaman reference.
The elimination of an entire planet full of life seems kind of--casual.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Sarah, at the risk of offending the Anonymouse who doesn't want us to talk to each other: A preposition is a fine thing to end a sentence with! The rule that we can't (like the rule that it is wrong to occasionally split an infinitive) comes to us from classical Latin, where you really can't, apparently.

The earliest English grammar books took their rules straight from Latin, willy-nilly, on the theory that Latin was somehow purer than English or whatever. And it wasn't till the last generation or so that anyone went in for a second look at the situation.

/fun with prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar

Besides, if J.K. Rowling can mix up lay and lie then there ain't no rules no more.

arhooley said...I've got problems with the writing overall.

AVERAGE – the word burned him. Superpowers had not changed the one thing he hated; Jimmy Ranfaz was still average.

"AVERAGE" looks to me like a dateline. For instance, BAGHDAD - Iraqi leaders are debating whether to etc.

Also, I wasn't sure the "he" in "he hated" is Jimmy. Maybe "he" is Jimmy's creator and he's burned that after he's imbued Jimmy with superpowers, Jimmy is still average?

I went snagging through the whole query like that.

Other examples:

- wasn't sure whether Jimmy was still on earth or another planet

- he's only a teenager but he needs a new lease on life?

- humans from Ulfitron? Humans are from earth

- Jimmy is the new saviour. Was there an old saviour?

- who trains Jimmy? If someone could train him to beat the nemesis, couldn't that trainer beat the nemesis themselves?

- cranial abilities?

- the foe is unbeatable because of its "might," but the key to beating it is "knowledge."

That's just a little bit. I really think you need to look at every word and phrase and ask if it's the right one.

JimmyRanfaz said...The author here! Sigh....back to the drawing board...again (millionth time)..

Anyways, EE's comments were just plain hilarious. I might do a spoof on my own novel if it ever gets famous (or published for that matter).

I know my query is supposed to answer all the questions and hence I will rewrite it, but I just had to throw in some clarifications.

The part about Aqualad was bang on! I didn't think of him when creating the MC but he feels the same way. He's got superpowers (cranial abilities mean he can control a bunch of things with his brain) but he's average at using them as well. He was chosen because he looked like the Ulfitrons previous saviour, but that did not change the fact that he was in fact mediocre at everything he did.
His dilemma is that after he learns the truth about the deception, he feels less obligated towards the Ulfitronians. If he goes back to save them he might not get the power he desires. If he gets the powers he desires, he will no longer be ordinary.

I hope that clarifies things a bit. But again tons of thanks to EE and the helpful comments.I will redraft this one and maybe what I wanted to say will filter through better next time!

arhooley said...And oh, yikes. I can easily believe that J.K. Rowling mixed up lay and lie, but her EDITOR?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Author, between you and me and Webster's Dictionary, "cranial abilities" would mean he could control things with his skull.

Arhooley, the lie/lay thing would have had to slip past several editors, and on two continents (since US and UK editions were coming out simultaneously).

I've seen lie/lay mixed up a lot in adult books too, but kids' books do seem to come in for more editorial scrutiny.

(Actually TTTT it's my HO that this is an example of language change in action, and in 50 years the difference between lie and lay will no longer be an issue.)

Faceless Minion said...Controlling stuff with the brain usually gets classified as some form of psionics. Even if it's not referred to that way in the book, I would suggest using either 'psionics' (if the abilities are extremely varied) or 'psychokinesis' (if that's the type of powers you're talking about) or another of the normal terms for those type of abilities rather than 'cranial abilities' for ease of understanding by agent/editor in the query

AA said...If you want to know what I'm getting stuck on, here they are in random order:

First of all, you just shouldn't say, "Superpowers had not changed the one thing he hated; Jimmy Ranfaz was still average." That's because it makes no sense. It's like saying, "Matilda, the dinosaur-egg-laying chicken, just couldn't stand being the most average hen in the barnyard." Any superpowers at all= above average.

"tree-descendant humans" Humans are us. You could say people or sentient beings.

Others have mentioned "cranial abilities."

Actually, all of these sentences are kind of awkward. I agree that the one Sarah picked is awkward, preposition notwithstanding. Then there's:

"But his training in cranial abilities is rudely interrupted by an attack which also wipes out everyone he knows on the planet, all except Juvall Spelding – a powerful native whose determination to save his race is only outstripped by his disdain of Jimmy’s powers."

This is very long. Also, I tend to be annoyed by the "everyone/everything except" phraseology. You wouldn't say, "I hate absolutely every kind of ice cream that was ever invented. Except Cherry Garcia." You would say, "The only kind of ice cream I like..."

I would write:
"But his training in psionic abilities is interrupted by an attack which wipes out almost everyone he knows on the planet. Only Juvall Spelding is left standing. A powerful Ulfitronian, Juvall is disdainful of Jimmy's powers and is determined to save his people without Jimmy's help."

This is clearer, and it sets up a sort of rivalry or conflict between the two characters which adds interest.

I'm not going to rewrite Sarah's favorite because it doesn't make sense. With limitless power, I'm sure I could save the Ulfitronians, show up that smart-ass Juvall, and never be average again. What dilemma, where?
I see what you mean in your response but not in the query.

Remember you're not fighting with the language, you're working WITH it. It's like the story about the tiger and the river.

Rework this and I'll come back and look again.

batgirl said...What I noticed was a number of tired and not-quite-right phrases. The 'new lease on life' is a cliche, and usually refers to someone older having a new interest or improved health. For a teenager? Not so much.
Then 'rudely interrupted' is a tired phrase, and seems too trivial for an attack that results in tragic deaths.
The 'tree-descendant humans' - should be 'tree-descended' (unless their descendants will be trees?) and as others have observed, you don't want to use 'humans'. Try 'humanoids', or 'entities', or 'beings', or 'creatures'.
Some unnecessary words, too. Do you need 'the might of' their foe, or just Outmatched by their foe? Do you need 'very' before 'beliefs'?
Oh, and apparently it's not them that are outmatched, it's their only hope that's outmatched.

I know this is horribly picky, but if I were an agent, I'd worry that the awkwardness in the query reflected awkwardness in the writing.

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24. Face-Lift 1213

Guess the Plot

Damnation's Blade

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

2. Kerwyn Thunderstone finds a magical ax blade and embarks upon a perilous quest to get the blade to the capital city. It's perilous because every time he touches the blade it burns his hand.

3. Polishing Satan's? butter knife collection three hours a day in a luxury suite beats working retail ten hours a day. Is Lucy on the top level of Hell, or the lowest level of Heaven? Should she risk losing her job to find out what's outside her chamber door?

4. Sixteen-year-old Jenna is sick of the abuse. Worse than that, she's sick of her father calling screaming out, "Damnation, child! What have you done now?" Well this time, she'll show him what she's gonna do. She grabs the knife off the kitchen table and marches into the living room...
5. Spanish swordsmith Carlos Rodriguez Martinez has had it with fat nerds demanding 'combat ready swords'. After a long night of drinking, he sets out to make the ultimate fighting weapon: a rotating, six-bladed, laser-firing chunk of steel with bombs and grenades. Suddenly Hollywood is calling, the armies of two dozen nations are at his door, and fat nerds still demand 'combat ready swords'.

6. Mentally unstable artist Marcy is excited to host her very first exhibition, a display of sharp objects with abstract nouns attached to their names: Curiosity's Knife, Brutality's Axe, Redemption's Letter Opener. But when a snarky art critic slams her work in the local paper, he'll soon come face-to-face with Marcy's favorite piece, Damnation's Blade.

Original Version

The Three Altars, Book I: Damnation's Blade, 98,719 words, adult fiction that may appeal to readers of Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy, Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicle or George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Synopsis below as per your format. [If you put that first sentence below the synopsis, you won't have to say "synopsis below." Actually, even here you don't have to say "Synopsis below" unless you fear the agent will read your first sentence and then struggle to find your synopsis.]

After killing a small army of murderous escaped slaves outside the small town of Hammerdale, exiled faerie Kerwyn Thunderstone and gruff slave-catcher Haon Kellbrack [If your job title is slave-catcher, I'm pretty sure killing an entire army of escaped slaves is gonna look really bad on your resume.] discover a mysterious magical ax-head that burns at the touch and turns bodies of water into a deadly magical poison. [If you want us to like your main characters, you might have them help an army of slaves to escape rather than kill an army of escaped slaves. Just sayin'.] When the local priestess offers them a fortune to bring the ax to the capital city for inspection by higher authorities within her worldwide church, they assume they have it made.

However, the ax is too dangerous to take without magical preparation, and while Kerwyn and Haon are waiting, they find themselves distracted from their journey [Has their journey begun?] by the mysterious disappearance of local children. Upon solving this mystery, they also find themselves at the center of a desperate local power struggle between Rhydion Warlowe, a nobleman's son desperate to save his ailing father, and the sinister physician calling himself Father Miracle, whose methods seem at once too good and too horrific to be true. Will they be allowed to leave Hammerdale alive? [Do these "distractions" before they begin their journey constitute most of the book, or are they subplots? I was thinking the main plot would be what happens when they get the ax to the capital. In which case the disappearing kids and Father Miracle can be left out of the query.] [And I say that reluctantly, as I'm sorely tempted to suggest focusing the entire query on the sinister physician Father Miracle.] Will the ax leave in more malevolent hands? [Almost, but no.] Who is the childlike figure who follows them at every turn? [Cricket Buttonhole.] And who, in the end, will be left holding Damnation's Blade? [My money's on the beautiful country lass Glory Glittermoon. I hope she has asbestos gloves.]

Damnation's Blade is the first of a planned six book series [Now I'm worried that it takes six books to get the ax to the capital, like it took three books to get the ring to Mt. Doom. You don't want me worrying about that.] entitled "The Three Altars," a dark epic fantasy told through the eyes of the mysterious exile Kerwyn Thunderstone, the magically gifted and impetuous Viscount Rhydion Warlowe, the petulant, penniless and amoral former nobleman Victor Touinkcelot, the bitter former priestess Bara Ironthatch and the tragically naive faerie princess Sarna Mourningdell. Each of these five characters find themselves drawn into a cosmic cold war between rival Gods, and the ruthless religious leaders so devoted to those Gods' worship that they would sacrifice their own souls. Yet this religious war itself may be a distraction, as a potentially world-ending threat rises in the centuries old, impenetrable desert to the West. As these five characters confront that threat, they will also be confronted with questions on the nature of redemption, justice, divinity, and ultimately, creation itself. [No need to list characters whose role isn't important enough to warrant telling us anything they do other than confront (possibly in book 6) some vague threat.]



Partial list of adjectives used in the twelve sentences of the plot summary: murderous, mysterious, magical, deadly, magical, dangerous, magical, mysterious, desperate, desperate, sinister, horrific, malevolent, dark, mysterious, magically gifted, amoral, petulant, bitter, ruthless, world-ending.

Partial list of adjectives I didn't put on the first list: small, small, gruff, ailing, childlike, penniless, naive, impetuous, cosmic, centuries-old. impenetrable. The point being, cut down on adjectives. You can delete a half dozen adjective from your first plot sentence without losing anything important. Try rewriting the plot summary limiting yourself to ten adjectives. It's not that adjectives can't be useful, but it's nouns and verbs that tell the story. You don't want to give the impression that every noun in the book has an average of two adjectives attached to it. To put it another way, if a clown rides a unicycle past your window every twenty seconds, pretty soon you're gonna start ignoring the clown.

I can see how you would figure out that the ax head you found burns to the touch; less clear is why you would dip the ax head into a body of water.

You're better off declaring this book is a standalone novel with the potential to become a series than to hint that you're looking for someone to publish six books.

It's well-written, and the character names are cool, but the query needs to focus on the main plot of this book. What happens if they fail to get the ax to the capital? What happens if they succeed? Who is trying to stop them, and why?

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25. Face-Lift 1214

Guess the Plot

Cry for Mercy

1. Mercy Martin sacrificed everything to pay her fiance Paul's way through medical school. Then he dumped her for a nursing school freshman. But don't cry for Mercy; she's bought a Glock and pretty soon Paul's the one who'll be crying for mercy.

2. After Mercy is kidnapped, raped and tortured and nine other people are murdered, she decides that the killer is the cop investigating the crimes. No one's likely to believe her so she must solve the case herself. But can she survive a rigged death match and bring in her quarry before the Afghan War veteran trying to avenge his slain grandma does?

3. It's been 10 years since Percy Jackson came on the scene. Now he's married and has two children, but he can't fight anymore. He threw his back out in that last battle. His daughter Mercy knows about his past and is ready to take on the Gods herself. But whens she picks up a bazooka and trips as she heads out the door, it's time for Percy to . . . Cry for Mercy.

4. Mercy Jones thought yesterday was bad when the bank repossessed his truck. Then his girlfriend left him after she shot his dog. Everyone thinks he's a callous, red-eyed SOB because he won't cry, so they heap crap on him. He can't cry--no lacrimal glands. So Mercy goes on a mission to find that perfect country record to play backwards. Then everything will be right in the world. Or will it?

5. No one knows how Mercy Lewis died, but some say her ghost can be seen wandering the track around the abandoned sex toy emporium after hours. When young, attractive and well-endowed ghost hunter Longley Hardcastle steps into town hoping to disprove the existence of this spook, he instead finds himself confronted by something he doesn't understand, but is irresistibly attracted to. But what happens when the best sex of your life is with someone already dead? Either way, Longley can't constrain his orgasmic cries...for Mercy!

6. Mercy was a lock to be next year's prom queen, so when her dad announces that they're moving across the country and she'll be attending a new school full of strangers, she's heartbroken. Will she spend her senior year frantically making friends in hopes of realizing her dream, or will she wallow in self-pity and blame her father for the miserable rest of her life?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for CRY FOR MERCY, a [an] 80000-word Commercial [commercial] fiction [novel] set in NYC where fifteen-year[-]old prostitute Mercy has carved out a nest [niche?] for herself and her tight-knit street family of three boys. Too bad, there is a contract on her life, and Mercy is kidnapped, raped and tortured. [Does the person doing this know there's a contract on her life? If so, why not just kill her and collect?] She manages to buy her way out of the death trap, [If you'll untie me and let me go I'll give you all my money. Just hand me my purse over there.] but her street family isn’t so fortunate. The boys are murdered one by one, and the killer is not done yet: six more people die in a seemingly senseless killing spree. [Then an elementary school is bombed and an Ebola outbreak kills millions in this upbeat romcom.] Mercy is the only one who can tie the murders together and guess the killer’s identity. [If the killer is the person who kidnapped, raped and tortured her, why is it a guess? Was he wearing a goalie mask during all this?] Unfortunately, she can’t go to [the] police, for the killer is a cop in charge of the investigation. [Also, the police prefer actual evidence to a guess.]

Mercy is not the only one with the clues to [the] killer’s identity. [You just said she was the only one, two sentences ago.] An Afghan War vet with PTSD seeks to avenge his slain grandmother. However, he’s not interested in helping Mercy to crack the nefarious plot, but uses her as a bait to get to the killer cop. Outmatched and outnumbered, Mercy either has to flee and start from scratch in a new city or defend her hard-earned place on the Streets [streets] of New York. [She's fifteen. You talk like she's spent the last decade establishing her current position.]

The killer cop is not waiting for anyone to make a move. He nurtures [Has? Holds? Harbors?] a secret worth millions, and he’s not gonna let a little ho derail his beautiful plan. In the rigged death match, Mercy will either avenge her boys or fall down the latest victim. [What a drag to buy your way out of a death trap only to land in a rigged death match.]

Thanks for your time and consideration.



So killing a bunch of street people and some guy's grandmother is part of the cop's beautiful plan that will bring him millions? If you want us to buy that, you'd better tell us what the cop's "secret worth millions" is.

Fifteen is kind of young to have a contract on your life. Is it the cop who wants her dead, or someone else?

Readers are more likely to root for a young prostitute who's trying to start from scratch in another field than one who's trying to avoid starting from scratch by defending her hard-earned turf.

I mean, I have as much sympathy as the next guy for someone who's been raped and tortured, has contract killers after her, had her street family murdered, and is being used as bait to lure a serial killer, but can you give me a reason to like her?

The errors may be minor, but this many in a one-page letter will suggest to the reader that the manuscript has a similar density.

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