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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. Evil Editor Classics

Dear Agent X,

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Selected Comments

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, just kidding.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Thanks, Anonymous.

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

Guess the Plot

Aliens, White Fur and Troubles

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

2. Name three things you get with the Kardashians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 their name as a murder of crows to regain their honor.

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

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

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

Original Version

Dear EE,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Selected Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0 Comments on Evil Editor Classics as of 11/23/2014 9:20:00 AM
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5. Feedback Request

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

0 Comments on Feedback Request as of 11/22/2014 12:52:00 AM
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6. New Beginning 1033

They say bad news rides a fast horse.

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

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

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

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

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

"Th-- That looks just like--"

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

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

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

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

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7. Dear Literary Agent...

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

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

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

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

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8. Face-Lift 1239

Guess the Plot

Far Rider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration,


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

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

I think the aunt should have an elite gorilla cavalry.

This feels disorganized. I would start something like:

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

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

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9. Face-Lift 1238

Guess the Plot

The Eighth Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

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

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

You: I need to consult a detective.

Bored officer at front desk: About what?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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10. Feedback Request

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

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11. Face-Lift 1237

Guess the Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

Dear Mr ******,

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

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

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

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

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

Read KINGDOM OF FIRE to find out.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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12. Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1232 requests your feedback on his recent comment there.

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13. Face-Lift 1236

Guess the Plot

Innocence by Guilt

1.  During a murder trial, Dylan Sneed realizes that he committed the murder during a drug-induced blackout. Which is a bit awkward, since he's one of the jurors. He reveals this situation to his therapist, not realizing that she is married to the trial's defense attorney.

2. We all knew Blak committed the murders. But we could also see how bad he felt about it. He had those sad, puppy-dog eyes, and clearly he was crying on the inside. A lethal injection would only make him feel better. We couldn't allow that. We had to let his torment continue, to punish him the way only his conscience could. We, the jury, had to decree his ... Innocence by Guilt.

3. Rafael's face is on a surveillance video showing him committing multiple murders. He proves his innocence by pleading guilty to a robbery which occurred at the same time as the murders, where his face appeared on the liquor store's surveillance video. Both videos can't be right . . . or can they?

4. Horse trainer Kelly Brockton has a grand total of $50,000 to spend at the Keenland yearling sales. When a pot-bellied bay colt by distance runner Guilt comes into the ring, she knows she's found her Seabiscuit in the scrubby little horse she calls Innocence.

5. When a swine flu scandal forces Hannah McKinney to resign from her job as lobbyist for the pork industry, she decides to return to her hometown of Innocence, Alabama. It's a long drive down a narrow highway, through the notorious speed trap town of Guilt, Missouri. Will she escape with just a ticket . . . or lose her heart to a hunky, pork chop-chomping, motorcycle officer?

6. When he learns that his grandfather was a WWII Nazi concentration camp Kommandant who signed off on the liquidation of hundreds of thousands of people, Stefan seeks atonement for his relative's guilt by joining the Israeli army.

Original Version

I was honored to pitch my 64,000-word mainstream novel, Innocence By Guilt, to you at the 2013 DFW Writer’s Conference, and was thrilled when you requested the first fifty pages, which are are pasted below.

While serving on the jury for a capital murder trial, Dylan Sneed, an alcoholic also addicted to drugs and Hooters girls, realizes something about himself: he is a murderer. But not just any run-of-the-mill murderer. Dylan discovers he is responsible for the death of the victim in this case. A death that occurred during a night of one of his many drug induced blackouts. As an attempt to assuage his guilt, [without actually confessing to a crime that might land him in prison instead of the poor schmuck who's on trial,] Dylan begins therapy under the direction of Dr. Abigail Graham, who is on her own journey. Abby quickly realizes that her attorney husband, from whom she is nearly estranged, is defending the man accused of Dylan’s crime. Dylan and Abby must both navigate their past and present relationships to figure out a way through the trial, and accept whatever consequences those actions might bring.

[Dylan's Dilemma 
If he votes for a guilty verdict, an innocent man might be put to death, and it would be months before Dylan stopped suffering feelings of guilt. If he refuses to vote for a guilty verdict, either: 1. The accused will be found not guilty, in which case the cops might reopen the investigation and find evidence Dylan is guilty. Or: 2. There'll be a hung jury (possibly an embarrassing 11 -1), in which case the innocent man might be retried and given the death sentence, which would be almost as bad as #1.

Abby's Dilemma
If she doesn't reveal what she knows to the authorities, an innocent man might be punished while her guilty patient is free to kill again. Although . . . if he continued as her patient there might be a book deal with film rights in her future. If she reveals what she knows to the authorities: 1. None of her patients will trust her to keep their secrets, and at least one of them will decide she needs to be silenced before she blabs about his affair or crime or sexual deviance. And: 2. Her asshole soon-to-be-ex-husband will win his case, and she'll be damned if she's gonna miss this opportunity to throw a big obstacle into his rising career path.]

This dual-perspective narrative explores the notions of guilt, innocence, and the decisions that determine them. I have published three articles in Clean Run magazine, the world’s leading publication on the sport of canine agility.

Thank you for your time and consideration...


Anyone subject to drug-induced blackouts would surely reveal this during the voir dire process in hopes that it would get him out of jury duty. Which I assume it would.  Thus I suggest making the judge the murderer. Sure, the judge could recuse himself on the grounds that he/she committed the murder, but I suspect he/she would be smarter than that, and would simply steer the jury into finding the defendant either guilty or innocent, depending on his ethics.

The idea of a juror suddenly realizing he's the guilty party is cool. However, as a juror being the killer is such a huge, hard-to-swallow coincidence by itself, it's going to be hard for anyone to accept the additional coincidence of the killer's therapist being the attorney's wife. Maybe these should be two separate books.

Drop the Hooters girls.

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14. Face-Lift 1235

Guess the Plot

All Her Worldly Possessions

1.  ...smell horrible, take up too much space in Daddy's mansion, and are annoying the staff. Will Isabella ever move out on her own, or will the new pool boy entice her to stay her forty-second summer?

2. Karina's house goes up in flames one night leaving her with just the clothes on her back, a few coins and a letter from the father she never knew. Join her on a trip of discovery as she sets out to meet the old deadbeat and insinuate her way into his life.

3. Regan leaves everything behind and flies to Europe to have an adventure like the characters in her favorite fantasy novels. Turns out there aren't really any fairies or elves there, but at least she gets to ride a horse and take a beer-chugging lesson.

4. Ariel wakes up from a deep slumber to discover she has died and been buried. Zombie or not, she has to now navigate the world of the living to retrieve her belongings to furnish her new life as a mortician's assistant in a funeral home.

5. When Susie, a single mom of triplet boys working three jobs to pay rent, finds an envelope full of money left at her table, her first thought is hardly returning it. It must be a tip, she reasons. Little does she know, the mobster who lost his money wants it back, and he's willing to send muscle. Desperate to protect her family, Susie and a concerned detective bring the fight to the mobster.

6. Marge finds a lottery ticket and almost faints when she discovers all 6 numbers match! She gives away all her worldly possessions. When the lottery official informs Marge the ticket is for the PREVIOUS drawing, she discovers she has one last worldly possession and aims it at the official's head. Hilarity ensues.

7. Shibvah wants to escape her life as the youngest princess by marrying the dashing Lieutenant Movayr. Enlisting the help of a witch, she soon learns what "all your worldly possessions" really means.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Nineteen-year-old Regan Bennett is halfway through deliberately flunking her SAT for the fifth time [You can flunk the SAT? Not if you can pull down 12 rebounds a game.] when she decides to run away from home [Is it really called running away from home when you're nineteen? Isn't that the age at which your parents start encouraging you to run away? Surely she would inform her parents that she's "running away" so they don't have the police and FBI searching for her kidnapper?] and have an adventure like the characters in her favorite fantasy novels. Her mother has her on a 1,200 calorie diet, her boyfriend doesn’t seem to understand the word no, and her stepbrother’s eyes have wandered south far too long. It’s past time for Regan to explode her makeup in the microwave and cash out her birthday checks for a one-way ticket to Amsterdam. [Because when guys treat you like a sex object, the obvious fix is moving to the sex capital of the universe.]

Armed with 12th grade French and a backpack filled with more paperbacks than clothes, Regan begins a voyage of Europe’s youth hostels and vagabond haunts. She joins forces with a troop of rowdy backpackers with their own stories, including Margot who considers herself a Master Seductress; Belinda, a transgendered British girl who wants to enjoy the world as a female for the first time; and the dreadlocked but romantic-hearted Axel who is recovering from a stint in the army that left him with more than bullet scars.

Regan has a list of tasks that heroines tend to finish. The tasks include [Another list? I prefer a maximum of one list per query.] learning to ride a horse (but a motorcycle might do), picking a fight (the French club scene is full of targets), engaging in a near death experience, and maybe even finding someone worth falling in love with. [She doesn't need to go to Europe to do any of this stuff. She can probably do all of it within twenty miles of her home. By which I mean this list is a bit of a letdown after you said she was going to have an adventure like the characters in her favorite fantasy novels.

Regan’s “Old World Adventure” leads her to the Scottish Highlands where she learns how to down a pint in one go, to the noisy ruin bars of Budapest where she learns to dance for the first time in her life, and to the soft hills of western France where she helps an old woman die and figures out what real honor looks like. [List #3.] 

By living the life of a wanderer, Regan learns how to reclaim her body and her self, as her own. [She does a lot of learning, but does she have a heroine's fantasy adventure?]

All Her Worldly Possessions is a New Adult fiction novel of 75,000 words.

Thanks you very much for you consideration. [Fortunately, most readers will gloss over that sentence without noticing it contains two typos.]


The query is well-written, which at least gives hope that the book is as well. But if all you do is list stuff, it sounds more like a short story collection or, even worse, a travelogue. String some ideas together that show us how wandering teaches Regan to reclaim her body. I don't see how learning to ride horses, dance, and chug pints would teach this. And if those are the highlights of her adventure, you might want to come up with some more exciting ones.

Whether Regan's goal is to reclaim her body and her self or to have an adventure like the heroines in fantasy novels, I don't see how purposely getting a low SAT score furthers the cause.

Do these characters with whom Regan "joins forces" wander with her? Or does she merely encounter them and wander away from them?

Is there a gradual growth toward her goals as Regan wanders aimlessly? Is there one defining event that changes everything? Are there any obstacles to reaching her goals that she must overcome on her journey? While a road trip type story in which the stops along the way can be put in any order can be entertaining, if there's a clear story arc here, we want to know about it.

Apparently my idea of "an adventure like the characters in her favorite fantasy novels" isn't the same as Regan's. I take it she doesn't want to battle orcs?

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15. Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot


1. Evelyn has always felt secure within her own borders. But when she opens a door into a world where dreams are no more reality than her own faith, she finds herself thinking about thoughts and dreaming dreams of reality. And faith.

2. Some superheroes are strong. Some are fast. Some can fly. Gus Rodin, aka "The Thinker" is smart. Thrill as he fights evil by sitting down to contemplate.

3. He used to call her his Lucky Penny, but now that they're divorced, (due to her affair, mind you) he just calls her Ex-Pensive. Why can't he just forget about her? She's all he can think about. It's like witchcraft or something. Hang on! There was that dead goat and pentagram in the garage...

4. To think, or not to think . . . I think. When you have a 10 minute memory it's all a little fuzzy.

5. Anne has just graduated NYU with a degree in Sociology and $100,000 in student loans. There are no jobs to be had in her field of choice: social justice at a top non-profit in NYC. A gin and sex filled weekend will determine her fate: give up and go work at her uncle's accounting firm, or say screw it and be a stripper.

6. Unable to think of a good title, an author goes to a random word generator site, specifies "adjective," and is given . . . Pensive.

Original Version

Sister Evelyn of the C.G. Priori lived her life sheltered and absorbed in the understanding that the Influence would always be a dream away, protecting and securing her future. All of that changes one day and shakes up Evelyn’s fifty years of devotion with the single opening of a rusted and once sealed door, leading her past her own borders, and into a world where dreams are no more reality than her own faith. [I was about to suggest that we drop paragraph 1 and start the query with paragraph 2. Then I looked ahead and discovered that paragraph 1 is the entire plot.]

PENSIVE, a debut novel of 50,100 words, thrusts the reader into a world where thoughts are controlled by the rules of a close-minded society, and consequences are extreme for those that dare to ask what lies outside their own borders. [You keep referring to people's own borders. I'm not clear on what it means.] A notable work it can be compared to would be The End of Mr. Y, by Scarlett Thomas. [I Googled The End of Mr. Y, and I agree that it's a good comparison, in that it sounds just as wacko as your book. However, compare the first paragraph of that book's plot description (on Wikipedia):

The book tells the story of Ariel Manto, a PhD student who has been researching the 19th-century writer Thomas Lumas. She finds an extremely rare copy of Lumas's novel The End of Mr. Y in a second-hand bookshop. The book is rumoured to be cursed - everyone who has read it has died not long afterwards.

. . . with your first paragraph. My point being that no matter how incomprehensible your book may be, your query needs to be clear, straightforward, and easily understood so that someone can easily be conned into reading it.]

I have a degree in psychology from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas [AKA UMHBBT] with an emphasis on personality theory and how it affects the individual mind as well as a collection of people. [A theory should attempt to explain, not affect.] My credentials come from me taking specific courses such as: human genetics, positive psychology, developmental psychology, history and systems, statistics, experimental psychology, as well as vertebrate and invertebrate biology. [Is vertebrate and invertebrate biology one course or two? If it's one course, I imagine the course work involves dividing the blackboard into two halves and then the professor calls out the names of animals and the students discuss which column each animal goes in. Basically, real animals on the left; bugs and sponges on the right. If it's two courses, that would be good for those students who have no interest in animals that have backbones but much interest in animals without backbones. Or vice versa.] [Maybe you can enlighten me. First they decided living creatures should be divided into exactly two categories: plants and animals. Makes sense. Then someone decides animals should be divided into exactly two categories: animals that X and animals that don't X. But what should X be? Someone says, How about animals you might see in a cage, and animals you wouldn't? Someone else says animals that are scary and animals that aren't. Or animals that taste better with barbecue sauce and animals that don't. Eventually someone, possibly as a joke, suggests Animals that have a backbone and animals that don't. And no one in the room has the backbone to say the idea is ridiculous? It sells?] [Actual quote from Wikipedia's article on invertebrates: The word invertebrate comes from the word vertebrate with the prefix in- attached to it.] [Okay, now that that's out of my system, Why are you listing all these courses you took in college instead of telling us what happens in your book? Is there a connection between Sister Evelyn and invertebrates?]
I read on your bio that you have an interest in psychology and stories that deal with unusual views of the world. [Hey, all I meant was that I loved Good Will Hunting and The Matrix.] Despite being a debut author, I feel that even without endorsements I can surprise and intrigue you [If you really want to intrigue me, get an endorsement deal from an athletic shoe company.] with a story that not only educates, but causes the reader’s heart to race, break, and look for repair in a world driven by old science and fearsome thought.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Start over. With a blank page, not with a page on which you've saved your favorite parts of the query. Burn any paper on which this was printed and delete it from your computer files. I'll wait.

Done? Now . . .

Set up the situation and tell us what Evelyn wants. Sister Evelyn has always felt secure thanks to the Influence (which is what?). But when X happens (preferably something better than she opens a rusty door--if there's an actual rusty door, tell us where it is.) she realizes whatever.

Now tell us what happens. Does she get to the new world outside her borders? Do the mind police come after her? Is there a villain or some obstacle to getting what she is looking for? What's her plan?

If you summarize your plot in eight or ten sentences, you might get lucky and have no room left for a paragraph about your credentials followed by a paragraph about your lack of credentials. You have a product to sell. Make it sound irresistible. Be sure to send us the revised version before sending it anywhere else, as we don't trust you.

Selected Comments

Rashad Pharaon said...The fake plots are hilarious. Still laughing. I agree, there is far too much centered on the author's personal courses in college. My questions are this:

a. The work is 50,000 words? Is this normal for this type of fiction? Sounds kind of low to me, I mean unless I missed the YA tag somewhere.

b. Why don't you expand and clarify the source of antagonism? Why is this society so close-minded? I'm also assuming this is happening in the present.

I think this could turn out beautifully if reworked properly. I know it's hard cramming a book in a paragraph description.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...As a child, I wondered what lay outside my own borders. Then my mom thumbtacked a map to the kitchen wall, and I knew.

Your query should be 100% about your manuscript and 0% about you. Unless you have previously published work or have won prestigious contests. Then your query can be 99% about your manuscript and 1% about you.

Get thee to QueryShark and read every. Damn. Entry. on that blog. Yeah, I know that's a lot of work. Like I said-- welcome to the business.

Evil Editor said...If they found Evil Editor, chances are they Googled Awesome Query Assistance and found lots of helpful sites. No need to send them elsewhere.

150 said...I found this place by Googling "free porn laser eyes muttonchops".

Evil Editor said...I think it's time we quit complaining about the length of books. Ebooks have established that they're here to stay, and plenty of novella-length books are selling in ebook format.

Even if your goal is to be published only in ebook format, you still need to start with a query.

BuffySquirrel said...Listen to the EE. I never do, but someone should.

150 said...That's an interesting point. I usually assume these queries are meant for agents unless the querier comes in and says otherwise, and as I understand it, there's not enough advance money in short ebooks for most agents to consider them. I've stood up for short romance novels here in the past because it was clear (from prior credits or whatever) that the author planned to send it to ebook publishers, but I still suspect the people submitting queries here are more likely to be publishing noobs aiming for an agent and/or print publication with the Big Six--in which case it's worth letting them know how stuff this short is usually received in those venues. I wonder if that's an outdated assumption.

Mister Furkles said...Well, EE says “Now tell us what happens.” But EE, it’s literary fiction. Maybe nothing happens. Here is an example of literary fiction:

An old woman dies. Just to annoy her family, she insisted on burial in county far away. They are poor. It’s a pain in the rear to get her corpse there. It’s a dozen people whining about how much they dislike one another.

It is a great literary masterpiece.

Hope you don't write your novel like your query. We readers are too lazy to decode forty-word sentences. That's so nineteenth century.

Evil Editor said...An old woman dies. Just to annoy her family, she insisted on burial in a county far away.

That alone is more clear information than we got in this query.

Khazar-khum said...It sounds like she's in a cult. Is she? Is it something like Sea Org from Scientology, where they put you on a boat and you can't leave? Or those ones where they have an old schoolhouse somewhere, and shoot people who leave?

Is the door real or metaphorical?

Why is she called Sister? Is she a nun--or a wife?

Rashad Pharaon said...I don't know. I don't think there are enough classes listed at the bottom of the query. I think you should post your whole college curriculum, along with GPA, and favorite coffee shop ;)

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16. Face-Lift 1234

Guess the Plot

True Balance: The Genesis

1. Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, Ray Loomis has tried, in his way, to stay upright.

2. In a world where most creatures walk on all fours, man insists on standing on two appendages. It takes him six days to get it right, and on the seventh day he takes the day off because his feet are killing him.

3. 14-year-old Katie's dream is to walk the high wire. But (not being a Wallenda) she needs to start somewhere, to prove she can do it. She joins the local gymnastics club, becomes a balance beam specialist, and makes the Olympic team.

4. In the beginning was a system in which the Upper World, Middle World and Under World were perfectly balanced, allowing for a functioning society. Enter Yukata Tousinin, a ruthless teenager. Will he screw everything up for everyone, or spark a revolution? Doesn't matter to him, as long as he gets the girl.

5. The true story of how the shoe brand, New Balance, began. The highly-anticipated sequel to Forbidden Fruit-of-the-Loom.

6. Drew Godfrey loves Fanny, his tiny Shih-Tzu. But not a single dog food available on the open market contains all the vitamins, minerals, essential oils, herbs and meats needed to keep a progressive, responbily raised dog on her organic diet. With Fanny in his hands, he begins the quest for the perfect hipster dog food.

Original Version

I’m writing this letter seeking representation for my novel, True Balance: The Genesis.

Set in a system, whereby Aregon, the Upper World; Diagon, the Middle World; and Necron, the Under World, function alongside each other like gears in a machine- and all inter-dimensional governance is in accordance with a document euphemized as The Treaty. [Was that a sentence? It seemed to end before reaching the subject and verb, which are conveniently located at the beginning of the next sentence. Of course, combining the two sentences will make for a very long sentence, and it was already too long. You could remove "Set in a system whereby," which will make the original clause a sentence, but a better idea is to open with the part where you introduce your main character.] [Also, I can't tell if the three Worlds are different dimensions or if they're all in one dimension that has a treaty with other dimensions.] The story focuses on Yukata Tousinin, a funny, yet ruthless and unapologetic teenager, who has to journey through these worlds in search of his love interest, Amara Prescott- who was sold into slavery. Yukata risks defying The Treaty, ruining friendships, becoming a fugitive, and overcoming doubts; when a new love interest enters his life, to retrieve her. [I don't think "overcoming doubts" is something he risks. Experiencing doubts maybe. In fact, if he actually defies the Treaty, ruins friendships, and becomes a fugitive, just say he does so, not that he risks doing so.]


We need to know how long the book is and who the audience is. But mostly we need to know what happens. You've provided the names of some worlds and mentioned a Treaty with no information about what's in it. Your plot summary is a teenager tries to rescue his love interest from whoever bought her as a slave. We need more than that. What's his plan? What obstacles does he face? What's the penalty for defying the Treaty? Who's after him? Why should we even care about a ruthless and unapologetic teenager? Maybe I'd rather read about how Amara Prescott escapes and exacts revenge on slavers than about how she gets rescued by this Yukata jerk.

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17. Face-Lift 1233

Guess the Plot

The Stage

1. "The curtains tickle." "The lights are blinding." "The lead actress's stilettos stab like hypodermic needles." For the first time, the world of the theater is presented from the perspective of the one who has seen it all... The Stage.

2. The story behind the story of one theatre producer's ambition to do the impossible: Schindler's List- The Musical.

3. Kaylen was assigned months ago to write, produce and direct the senior play. It's almost time for tryouts now, and she hasn't done jack. Maybe if she can convince everyone that the stage is haunted the show won't have to go on.

4. The only thing Joan wants in life is to be an actress on Broadway – she loves the exhilaration of performing live. Then Nancy gets the role Joan lives for, and Joan learns that the exhilaration of watching a rival die before her eyes is much more satisfying.

5. Five years ago, the stage in the Shnooblethwatz Theater was cursed by some stereotypically angry ghosts after the building was constructed on their graves. Now anyone who performs in the theater can only speak the words the ghosts recited on the stage. Can Taniqalla Boom-Boom, most recent addition to the company, break the curse? Or is everyone doomed to say nothing but scripted lines for the rest of their lives?

6. Rocket scientist Jeff Hutchens suspects that the solid fuel in the first stage of the new Mars rocket has problems. But his boss is under pressure to launch this week, not waste time with a burnout. His lover Sam can't wait to fly the bird, the press is screaming for action, and even the President wants the launch. Should Jeff do everything he can to have the mission scrubbed, or should he sit at Mission Control with fingers crossed?

Original Version

Seventeen-year-old Kaylen has the opportunity to do what no one else at Alderpoint High School has done before - write, produce and direct the senior play in their new state of the art theater. [Of course no one's ever done this stuff in the new theater. The theater wasn't there before. It's like bragging that you're the first person in the history of the world to eat a slice of the cake you just baked.] [Also, I find it hard to believe the drama department wouldn't divide these three tasks among three people to give them all valuable experience.] Nailing it will get her out of her small town and into the theater program of her dreams. [Not to mention a possible Tony nomination.] Unfortunately, a summer of writer's block has left her without a script. [Then she has an epiphany: a play about a high school girl with writer's block.

Act I, Scene 1
Kaylen's bedroom

Kaylen (Turning off television)
Damn, I thought sure watching a Big Brother marathon would give me some ideas for the play I have to write. Maybe I shoulda gone with MTV. Let's see, I need a setting. The mall? Yeah, that's it. I bet no one's done a play set in a mall, with a character shopping for clothes with her BFF. Actually, if I want this to feel real I should go to the mall and immerse myself in the world. I'll call Nicole and see if see wants to help me with research.]

Act I, Scene 2
The Gap

That top looks great on you.

Buying clothes is way more fun than writing a play.

You could be writing down everything we say for your play.

Borrrrring. I'll write the play tomorrow. Let's go to Mrs. Fields.]

With tryouts fast approaching, she looks for inspiration in the prop storage area. Instead she finds an old, fire-singed script of a play she's never heard of. Too proud to admit failure, she passes the script off as her own.

Things start falling apart at the first full-cast read-through. As soon as the actors finish, the stage curtains catch fire. Later that week Kaylen's assistant producer is found unconscious backstage, his face and hands covered with burns. She writes it off as bad luck [for the assistant producer,] until she catches her five main actors rehearsing on stage without her - in the middle of the night, standing in the shape of an inverted pentagram. [Seems like whether a pentagram is inverted or not depends on where you're looking at it from. And if it's just five people standing up at the points of the pentagram, it wouldn't look any different than five people standing in a circle. Now if they were lying down they could form an obvious pentagram.]

Convinced the script holds clues about the strange events, Kaylen examines it more closely and finds ties to Obadiah Baker, the town's founder. As she dives [delves?] deeper into Alderpoint's history she discovers multiple horrific tragedies involving fire - and the dates coincide with her show's opening night. If she hopes to save her friends, Kaylen must learn what happened below her school's stage over two hundred years ago and figure out how to stop it. [How can she stop something that happened over 200 years ago?]

THE STAGE is a ##,###-word YA Horror and a 2014 NaNoWriMo project (I know not to mention the NaNo part in the real query!) Thank you for your time and consideration.


How does Kaylen know that whatever happened over 200 years ago happened below her stage? Did all the fire-related horrific tragedies that happened in Alderpoint's history happen on the same location as the stage? Is it the stage or the script that ties all these tragedies together?

How come when she delves into Alderpoint's history and finds out about all these other tragedies, she doesn't find out about whatever happened under the stage 200 years ago?

It would be pretty unusual for the senior play to be written by a student. And for that student to be so unmonitored that the teachers involved have no idea she has no script started with tryouts rapidly approaching.

Are the burning curtains etc. related to the fact that Kaylen claims the script as her own? Or would they be happening even if she'd admitted it wasn't hers? If the latter, we don't need to know in the query that she does something dishonest. If the former, does that mean all the other tragedies that occurred on that date involved someone being dishonest?

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18. Face-Lift 1232

Guess the Plot

The Splintered Empire

1. Prince Kischae's plan to marry the daughter of Pixali's king hits a stumbling block when he finds her leading an army against his kingdom. But hey, many a great romance has gotten off to a rocky start.

2. A sweeping, galactic, epic adventure, with three Separatist groups destroying the Federation's hold on the galaxy, with varying degrees of success.

3. Emperor Hiram's biggest mistake was walking barefoot through the woods. He returns to the palace with three enormous, painful splinters in his toes. At first, he's willing to go to any length to have the splinters removed. Then he comes to accept them as parts of himself, going so far as to disown his children and name the splinters heirs to his empire.

4. Big John Holcomb built his fortune by logging the wild redwoods. Now his son and grandsons fight over whether or not to selectively log, plantation farm redwoods, or nail themselves to the big trees to stop humanity's destruction of . . . the splintered empire.

5. The split of the Roman Empire into eastern and western halves is efficient in many ways, but not for twin brothers Antonius and Duilius, whose home is bisected by the border between east and west, and whose arguments over which half of the empire they live in are historic.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor and Minions,

Prince Kischae spent his childhood as a hostage in the neighboring kingdom of Pixali. Years later, after removing his rivals to his home country’s throne, he invades Pixali intending to conquer the kingdom and wed the bastard daughter of the king. [Pixali reminds me of pixies or Pixy Stix, or Pixar, or the emails I keep getting from women who want me to click on a link to their pics. Come up with a name that a king wouldn't be embarrassed to admit he rules.]

Unfortunately, his assassins attack him next—they were bought off by a very-much-alive rival. [Somewhere on the list of Things I would do if I ever became an Evil Overlord must be: If I order my henchmen to remove my rivals, I will insist that they bring me my rivals' heads, which I will then count to make sure they're all there before having them cremated. Along with my henchmen.] His generals start plotting against him. And, the bastard daughter of the king has the temerity to be leading the resistance army. [When other kingdoms and your own assassins and your own generals and your soulmate all want you dead, it's time to cut bait.]

Can Prince Kischae win the throne, the war, and the girl? Or will he have to choose between [among] them?

The Splintered Empire is a stand alone fantasy adventure query complete at 132 words. I may be working on this book for NaNoWriMo.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

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19. Feedback Request

The author of the query featured in Face-Lift 1161 has posted a new revision in the comments there and requests your feedback

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20. Face-Lift 1230

Guess the Plot


1. There was trouble in the Security checkpoint line at Terminal 1. But then, there was always some kinda trouble. And that was when eccentric inventor Cornelius Crankpot had his epiphany. It was only a matter of time before fingerprints could be circumvented. But since people had their shoes off anyway, why not surreptitiously verify their identity, by their . . . FOOTPRINTS.

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

3. The MO is always the same. Bloody swim-fin footprints led to a victim completely devoid of blood. A deranged, bloodthirsty surfer/killer was on the loose. The local police, the state police, and even the FBI came up empty. Then the 11th bloody trail led down the pier, and two-headed, squid-like creatures with webbed feet emerged on the beach, leaving a trail of bloodless victims in their wake.

4. There are only a few sets of footprints on the Moon, all left over from NASA's glory days. So when 12-year-old Scott Welpern spots a different, new set of prints, he's ready to call NASA--until he realizes that they aren't human.

5. Knowing she is not long for this world, Ella vows to reduce her carbon footprint. But what can she do about the carbon that returns to the Earth when her body decomposes? Also, a bizarre tarot reading.

6. Ryan Carver analyzes footprint molds for the FBI. He's also a foot fetishist. And Washington DC's latest serial killer has the most heart-stopping size 7s he has ever seen. 

7. On every park sign is the signature phrase: Take only pictures and leave only footprints. "Screw That!" says Smokey the Bear. After fifty-plus-years of "Shoot yourself in the Foot" National Park administration, Smokey's going postal. In a tell-all memoir for the ages, he describes riotous bonfires, by-the-ton littering and free sex with rangers. "Only you can stop...Smokey from baring it all.

Original Version

[Just the plot summary from a possible query for a projected NaNoWriMo novel.]

Ella Rosbury's empty nest is almost unbearable, and while comtemplating ending it all, she finds a lump that might do the job for her. 

Upon discovering the lump is cancer, she chooses to fight to live instead, and to live as ethically as possible in the time she has left. She gives most of her possessions away, turns her yard into an organic haven, reduces her carbon footprint and offers her spare rooms free of rent to people in need. 

She chooses three very different women to share her home with her, each of whom is fighting their [her] own internal battles. Clara, a 25 year-old alcoholic, who reminds Ella of her own estranged daughter. [Because her daughter is an alcoholic?] Mickie, whose obsession with cleaning rituals and routines is so overwhelming she has been out of work for 10 years and only left her own home because she was evicted. And Kyra,
 [a 40-year-old serial killer/heroin addict. Because when you're dying you want to be surrounded by those you care for the most.] a herbalist hippy who occasionally forgets that it's no longer the '60s. [I just realized, it's now closer to the 2060s than the 1960s.]

Kyra's bizarre tarot readings strike a chord with the housemates and act as the catalyst for their own journeys of healing as they face their past traumas. 

Ella in particular realises she has to forgive herself for not seeing the abuse of her own daughter happening under her [own] nose for years at the hands of her [own] late husband. As her illness progresses, time is running out for Ella to find her lost daughter and to heal the fractured relationship. [If you name her daughter in paragraph 2 when you first mention her, you can use the name from then on, instead of calling her her daughter.]


Seems like the story is mainly set in Ella's house, which has me wondering what she's doing to find her lost daughter. Googling her?

You could throw in a mention of the hopefulness or joy experienced together by these women so that it doesn't sound like a total downer.

Presumably this will be one of those character-driven litfic novels without much of a plot. Otherwise you'd have told us more about what happens. Of course, maybe you don't yet know what happens.

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21. Face-Lift 1231

Guess the Plot

Forgotten Rage

1. Xandra doesn't remember anything when she wakes up in an unfamiliar hospital, except that the guy at her bedside, who was supposed to marry her best friend, ended up killing her. So why is he calling Xandra "Sweetheart"?

2. Flowers and group hugs, and butterflies and meditation, and aromatherapy and happy places… Also, puppies… Lots and lots of puppies.

3. The new school librarian, Ann Gray, has a dastardly superpower: she telepathically dredges up long-dead emotional wounds. Cutting words, petty slights, unkept promises--her victims get angrier and angrier the longer they dwell, until they go insane! Can our lovable gang of sixth-grade superheroes take Ann down, or will the team break up as they succumb to their...Forgotten Rage?

4. Awaking from a 2-year-long coma, Martin meets his mother, his wife, and his children. He strains for some memory of any of them, but finds none. When his best friend Steve visits him in the hospital, Martin again has no memory, but he does have an inexplicable and uncontrollable rage. It takes two orderlies, a doctor, and a hypodermic needle to keep Martin from choking his friend to death.

5. They’d played me for a sap once too often. Left me out on a limb. If they thought I’d fall for the same old trick, they were barking up the wrong tree. I was gonna fix their wagon, if it was the last thing I ever did. I’ve forgotten more about the revenge business than they’ll ever know. If only I could remember who ‘they’ were…

6. Archaeologist Ben Hutton is both amused and intrigued by the Medieval 'vampire' burial his team found at a crossroads near Warsaw. Once back in the lab, you know the vampire will come back and start biting everyone while looking for his lost love, so why am I bothering to tell you this?

Original Version

Synopsis: Xandra Donato doesn't remember anything when she wakes up in an unfamiliar hospital, especially not the fact that she was born in France over 600 years ago. [If you don't remember anything, I don't see how there can be an "especially."] So when an oddly familiar boy shows up asking for her help to stop the upcoming war she has to rely on what she does have. An ancient locket, a list of rules written in Latin, and an adventurous and haunted past. Might as well throw in a southern soldier and paranormal abilities, right?

Excerpt - " Took me 600 years to find you Xandra Donato and I don't plan on letting you go now. " The guard removes his helmet with a grim smile. Cold chills run down my back, it's a face all too familiar. " Remember me sweetheart? " " I'm not sure, weren't you that guy who never amounted to anything? The guy who was supposed to marry my best friend and ended up killing her? " " Ahh yes, that I remember. " [So, it's a comedy.]

The title is Forgotten Rage because she had forgotten all of her past grudges and experiences when her memory was erased. [I'm assuming this is not a Nanowrimo book, as there's already an excerpt.]


Don't put a space after opening quotation marks or before closing quotation marks.

P1: Change period after "have" to a colon. P2: Change commas after "back" and "sure" to periods (or semicolons). You can get away with sentence structure errors occasionally, but at this stage of your relationship with the recipient of the query letter, you don't want to give the impression you don't know what a sentence is.

Excerpts are rarely welcome in a query. What information we glean from the excerpt can easily be conveyed in an expository paragraph.

This is supposed to be a business letter in which you provide the title, word count, genre, and a brief summary of what happens in the book, focusing on the main character's situation, goals, plans, obstacles, and what's at stake.  Check out some of the hundreds of other "Face-Lifts" on this blog for samples.

The situation is intriguing, though if it's set in modern times it's hard to see how this girl can help stop an upcoming war. Who is she? Is she immortal? A vampire? Rightful heir to the throne of England? What war are we talking about? We need information.

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22. Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Texas Tango

1. Most places in the world it takes two to Tango, but here in Texas -- it takes three.

2. The year: 1870. The city: Death Gulch, Texas, home of the infamous dance duel. Alphonse the Kid has shot 24 men across the Wild West. But is he tough enough to survive the . . . Texas Tango? 

3. Released on parole after five years in a Texas prison, Joe Fane just wants to get on with his life. But first he needs transportation, so he car-jacks an SUV, which happens to contain an Uzi and two dozen gold bars. He probably should fence the gold and live like a king, but instead he uses it to frame his hated father-in-law for theft. It's a "priorities" thing.

4. When sultry Latina dancer Muriel Fuego is accused of murdering her manager, crack homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: the Texas Two-Step is for squares, and he’s got to get some of those jazzy dance shoes with the pointy toes and built-up heels. 

5. It's Brokeback Mountain meets Strictly Ballroom when two gunslingers meet their destinies, not to the sound of blazing six-guns on the streets of Laredo, but to the strains of an Argentine tango in the Longbranch Saloon. Also, a transvestite ivory-tickler.

6. There are so many Texans on death row they have to execute them two at a time, which is how the long walk to the execution chamber has come to be called the Texas tango. But when ballroom instructor Melina Kerchenko and her student/lover Bob Lucas are sentenced for murdering Bob's wife, they literally tango to their deaths.

Original Version

Dear E-Squared:

After five years in state prison, Joe Fane returns to Houston to serve a six-month parole. Divorced, broke, and jobless, he moves into a halfway house--hardly the lifestyle he enjoyed as son-in-law to rogue banker Charley Shyler. [Change his name to Charley Shyster.] All Joe wants is to do his time and move on.

Charley himself avoided prison only because Joe took a fall. Now, paranoid that his former protege knows too much, Charley takes Joe on a midnight ride, presenting him with a choice: reaffirm his loyalty by making a contract hit, or else. [Spending five years in prison without talking doesn't show he's loyal, but killing some stranger does?] But Joe is no killer; seizing an unguarded moment, he breaks free, [Breaks free of what?] carjacks an SUV, [Where is this midnight ride, downtown Houston?] and escapes. When he abandons the vehicle, he discovers a loaded Uzi and two dozen gold bars.[The cops are already looking for this car for sure. I better dump it and head for the hills, but first, since I'm broke, I'll check under the seat for spare change and . . . Holy Crap!!]

Joe is elated, then dubious. Is the gold stolen?--probably. Can he fence it?--not quickly. Without certificates of assay, complications would arise. [My admittedly limited research reveals that certificates of assay are rarely provided or expected, especially not with bars big enough to be worth two million dollars per two dozen.] Word would leak out, Charley would hear. And what about the guy Joe car-jacked?[Maybe he was just delivering the gold bars to someone who ordered them online.] [Possible subplot: a guy's boss tells him to hire an armored truck to transport two dozen gold bars across town. But the guy thinks, Hey, I'll drive them over myself, after work, and pocket the armored truck fee. So he's driving across town in his SUV at midnight with the gold bars in a grocery bag, and as he's eating a Taco Bell Volcano Burrito at a red light, suddenly a guy jumps out of the car next to him and pulls him out of his SUV and takes off. So now he's standing there with beans and sauce all over his shirt, wondering how he's gonna explain to his boss that he lost the gold bars.] [It suddenly occurs to me that this guy's story is far more interesting than Joe's story. Can we make Joe the subplot?]

Instead of peddling the gold, Joe plays on Charley's greed. He enlists Molly Teague--an old flame--to pitch a phony land deal, conning Charley into holding the gold as collateral for a two-million-dollar loan. [If you'll lend me two million dollars to buy a plot of land, I'll let you hold onto these gold bars for which I have no proof of ownership and which I inexplicably don't want to use to buy the land.] Once the money is wired to an offshore account, Joe and Molly will go their separate ways--

--and Joe will tip the FBI to the illicit treasure sitting in Charley's bank. [Whether I'm Molly or Joe, I'm not going my separate way unless that was my offshore account the money went to.] So long, Charley. [If Charley accepts the gold as collateral on a loan, wouldn't the FBI be more interested in who borrowed the two million than in Charley?]

It almost works.

TEXAS TANGO is an 82,000-word crime novel. Thank you for your time.

Yours truly,


Is the person Joe is supposed to kill in the car with him and Charley? If not, why does he need to escape? He could just say, Okay, I'll kill whoever, and then disappear.

Does Joe have a gun when he steals the SUV? Because it seems to me the guy driving around with stolen gold bars is more likely to be armed than the guy out on parole trying to keep clean for six more months.

Many of my annoying questions undoubtedly are easily answered. You don't need to answer them in the query, but if you can answer a couple and eliminate whatever inspired a couple, it will seem less preposterous. 

Selected Comments

Anonymous said...You may want to do some fact checking on the parole part. Six months parole sounds rather . . . .light. I've heard of 3, 5, 10 and even life on parole but six months on parole in a half-way house? i don't think so.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Here are things I've found in used or rented cars:

A small Darth Vader with one leg missing.

A receipt from a wire service for sending $150 to Senegal.

One platform shoe, beige.

Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits.

Here are things I have not found:

Loaded Uzis and gold bars.

This doesn't sound believable to me. It's the kind of thing that Donald Westlake used to get away with because he had seniority and no one could stop him, but nowadays, I can't see it flying. If your protag actually did something (other than commit an apparently unrelated crime) to get the gold and the Uzi, it might work.

And if the guy is in a halfway house and just wants to do his time and go free, I'm having a hard time buying a situation in which carjacking seems like a good idea. Why not walk, run, take a bus, crawl through a culvert?

Probably Joe's actions make more sense in the novel than they're making in the query.

Anonymous said...I don't get a feel for the main character, Joe Fane. He stumbles onto the gold, the con job doesn't sound terribly exciting, and the final crushing blow to Charley is an anonymous tip to the FBI?

Other than being elated and then dubious, Joe's emotions are non-existent. Revenge? Greed? Hate? Boredom and ennui?

I'm sure it's more exciting in the book; the query needs to reflect that.

BuffySquirrel said...If he can't sell the gold without these certificates, what makes it possible for him to get Charley to accept them as collateral? If the guy's a banker, he'll know more about gold than Joe does.

The whole phony land deal thing sounds highly contrived as a way to turn the gold into money. Why not ransom it back to the owner? Or turn it into the cops for a reward?

John said..."...the guy driving around with stolen gold bars is more likely to be armed than the guy on parole..."

If this is Texas, even that driver's dog would be armed. And would probably be a decent marksdog.

jcwriter said...Author here:

@Evil Editor. Thank you for your comments. For what it’s worth—

I chose Shyler because it was close to Shyster and Shylock without being either.

Charley will video the killing; he’ll sleep better knowing he’s holding that over Joe’s head.

Before Joe abandons the SUV, he wipes it down to remove his prints; in doing so, he finds the weapon and gold.

In reality, gold bars are marked to show weight, purity, and foundry; the bars Joe finds have no markings and are in fact crudely cast. To introduce that story element into the query--that is, to get into the provenance of the bars--would push me past the 250-word limit I was trying to hold. So I shorthanded it by referencing the lack of documents.

The gold bars don’t just pop up from nowhere; they are the MacGuffin in a subplot that intersects and interweaves with the Joe/Charley story clear to the end, in fact, sharing the same climax.

Same goes for the phony land deal—it’s part of a subplot that develops Molly Teague’s motivation for swindling Charley Shyler, and the reasons (besides his overwhelming greed) he falls for it.

Yes, it is Molly’s offshore account the money goes to.

In a minor subplot, Joe is hounded by an investigator with the Texas Rangers (in the query, I said FBI because it’s shorter; I should maybe quit doing that) who faults him for taking the fall that let Charley Shyler off the hook years before. As Joe leaves the country (to meet up with Molly, who has the cash), he will drop a dime on Charley and tell the ranger that the banker is holding a hoard of unregistered gold. As the query implies, the plan fails, but by story’s end, Joe engineers a different, more gratifying comeuppance for Charley, without employing jail time, gunplay, or deus ex machina.

Thanks again for your comments and suggestions. I tried to follow advice you gave several weeks ago: ten sentences on one page that focus on the main character; who is he, what he wants, what’s stopping him, what he plans to do about it. The question that arises, though, is how far into the weeds do we wander? At some point, motivations, set-ups, etc. must go unsupplied, lest we wind up with a detailed synopsis that will be rejected because it’s too long.

jcwriter said...Addendum to author’s previous post: Here’s my question:

At what point in a query do we stop revealing story beats? It seems to me, the purpose of the query is not to prompt an agent to sign the author on the spot, but to think, “Wow, I can sell this story,” and request the full manuscript.

We are counseled that brevity in a query is paramount. But brevity necessarily gives rise to unanswered questions; if they’re of an inconsequential nature—and not some jaw-dropping logical disconnect—will an agent (some, all, few, none?) let the full manuscript speak for itself?

Or not?

Evil Editor said...If the story sounds good, some agent will request it even if some inconsequential point seems nonsensical. Of course, unless you label each point as either inconsequential or jaw-droppingly important, you must accept that what you consider inconsequential may not seem so to someone who hasn't read the book.

Also, AR, can I have that receipt? My Senegalese emailer is claiming he never got the $150.

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23. Halloween Guess the Plot Quiz

Below are a number of fake plots that appeared here in recent times. But wait! They weren't all fakes. Four of them turned out to be the actual plots of minions' novels. Which ones?

1. A Vermont coven of witches discover how to travel into the past as ghosts. They decide to right the wrongs of New England’s past by building goodwill for witches, but they also break a barrier holding back a clutch of demons. As the witches right wrongs, the demons wreak havoc and frame the witches.

2. I was murdered a century ago, so you'd think I'd be dead, but I'm immortal. Since I never look any older I have to move to a new town every time I graduate from high school. That's why immortality is a curse, at least when you're 16. If I have to read Paradise Lost one more time I think I'll jam a stake through my heart. 

3. Son Son is sick of his obsessive compulsive parents who repeat every action to make sure they got it right, including the time they submitted his birth certificate. He wreaks vengeance on them by murdering them both twice - once as humans and once as zombies.

4. Terrorized by bullies at school and my abusive mother at home, I begged a vampire to bite me and give me power. Instead the vampire bit my mother, then passed out, drunk. So I found a werewolf, who promptly ran off with the vampire.

5. When you live in Skeleton Gorge, the biggest worry is landslides. So when a mage named Landslide shows up with an army of zombie skeletons and starts causing landslides, it's up to the Skeleton to protect the gorge. 

6. Cassandra is a witch, which is against the law, so she lives in isolation. But she'll have to expose herself if she wants to rescue her grandmother from kidnappers. Although her grandmother's also a witch, so maybe she can rescue herself. Also, a talking dog and cat. 

7. In the woods practicing her Wiccan rites, Helen is abducted by aliens. Seems the Grand Chief would like to add a witch to his harem. Although her powers are diminished when away from Earth, she isn't giving up without a fight. Now if she could only get to her wand. 

8. When Henri the pirate captures Kadi and puts the moves on her, she wonders if she should tell him that she's the queen of the vampires? He's pretty handsome, and something like that can be a stumbling block to a relationship.

9. Kelsey, third-year student at Rugglesbottom Witch School, is fed up. The other girls are snotty, the boys are jerks, and Master Snoftrun just gave her alchemy final a C. When she finds a strange wand in the library, she fools with it until she knows what it does. Fourth year is going to be much, much better.

10. A vampire, mummy, zombie, werewolf, and alien walk into a dive bar. No one seems to care. Then the loneliest, most ordinary teen girl on the planet walks in and all hell breaks loose.

11. The day after he was cursed by a witch, Jack lost both legs in a mysterious accident. She cursed him again, and this time he was attacked by a vampire. But in bat form, he didn't need legs and lived happily ever after.

12. It was the forbidden song. Throughout the ages its words were sung surreptitiously wherever there was oppression and hearts longed for revolution and freedom. So the wizard overlord cursed the song so that its lyrics now invoke the dreaded steel vampire.

13. Searching for some missing fellow witches, Marling comes face-to-face with Viktor, the only man in the world she can love (because the unlove spell she cast on herself prevents her from loving all others). But just because she can love him doesn't mean she does. Does she? 

14. 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?

15. Welcome to Underland, where the Vampires are arrogant bastards, the Zombies do all the dirty jobs, and the Skeletons dominate the music and art scene. But when a human teenager enrolls at Underland High, will everything go to Hell?

16. Prydain was once handsome, but now he's a clumsy giant, thanks to a mean witch. Penny thinks Prydain is cute, and leaves flowers on his doorstep. Now she's trapped in his underground lair, and he won't let her go until she kisses him.

17. Archaeologist Ben Hutton is both amused and intrigued by the Medieval 'vampire' burial his team found at a crossroads near Warsaw. Once back in the lab, you know the vampire will come back and start biting everyone while looking for his lost love, so why am I bothering to tell you this?

Answers below.

The actual plots are numbers

2, 5, 6, and 13.

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24. Happy Halloween

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25. The 5th Serial Killer Guess the Plot Quiz

The fake plots below have all appeared on this blog since the last time we had a Serial Killer Guess the Plot Quiz. But wait! Two of these plots turned out to be the actual plots of minions' novels. Do you remember which two?

1. When a serial killer starts leaving his victims' body parts encased in amber all over the city, Detective Zach Martinez knows two things: the police's geological consultants are also his suspect pool, and he's definitely getting his wife a different semi-precious stone for their anniversary.

2. The "Lipstick Killer" is on the loose, so called because he kisses his beautiful victims and smears their lipstick before strangling them, but efforts to capture him are hindered because the sheriff hates the police chief.

3.In Van Buren Arkansas, they roll up the sidewalks at 7 PM. One morning a crushed corpse falls out when the sidewalk is unraveled. Two mornings later another pancake-flat corpse falls out. Could little Van Buren have the world’s first sidewalk-crush serial killer?

4.When Quinn Masters, firefighter extraordinaire and chef with a flair for flambe, discovers a charred body in her garage, she totally throws up. But as the bodies begin to mount, Quinn secretly investigates the murders. The more she discovers, the more worried she becomes. Could she be the serial killer?

5. Cindy sings blues for brother Fire Robinson’s Blues Band. Their shows are stalked by a sadistic serial killer. Washington Detective Wilson Waters arrests Fire on erroneous evidence. Cindy and singer Earthy Edith find the killer and free Fire from phony charges. Also, a litany of artless alliteration.

6. Seemingly random online strangers find themselves on a serial killer’s potential victim list. Will they discover in time that the  killer is a Grammar Nazi trying to eliminate the biggest online offenders of the English language?

7. 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? 

8. Ryan Carver analyzes footprint molds for the FBI. He's also a foot fetishist. And Washington DC's latest serial killer has the most heart-stopping size 7s he has ever seen. 

Answers below.

The actual plots are numbers

2 and 7.

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