Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Face-Lift 1321

Guess the Plot

Justice Betrayed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

Mr. Evil Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

A partial or full manuscript is available on request.

Thank you for your consideration.

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


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

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

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

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


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

Friday, June 24, 2016

Face-Lift 1320

Guess the Plot

The Crossing: Revision

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

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

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

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

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


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

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

Dear Evil Editor,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Face-Lift 1319

Guess the Plot

She'll Breathe Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

Dear ________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Face-Lift 1318

Guess the Plot

Zach Beacon Strikes Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor:

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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