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  1. #316
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Okey dokey, that's a lot of good material for the synopsis. The query letter obviously needs to be shorter. Give me till tomorrow for suggestions.

    Wallflower -- I'm so sorry. I was rushing. I don't know what happened. I owe you a HobNob.

  2. #317
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    Okay, since turnabout is fair play, here's my query letter.

    Dear {AGENT},

    Remy wakes up on a park bench. He has no memory and no idea who he is or how he got there. But he has some pills, some money, a pink sweater, and a strange gun. And apparently, he can read the memory of objects.

    Ash wakes up in an alley. He has no memory and no idea who he is or how he got there. But he has some pills, some money, and he can set things on fire with his mind.

    Now they each must strike out on their own in a cold mega-city with no friends and no identity. While learning his powers, Remy finds a hotel and feels compulsed to save a woman from an abusive relationship, makes friends with a spunky female cop named Tuesday, then joins an "Robin Hood" black market pharmacy. Ash's pyrokinesis reveals itself at a hospital (due to his impatience with their bureaucracy) and he is assaulted and robbed when he tries to get some food. Looking for a job, he joins the White Knights, a neighborhood watchdog group and forms a relationship with Ivy, a stripper. Throughout these events, they must find who they are, and how they got their powers, before the black suits pursuing them catch up.

    BLACK HOLE SON is a 120,000 word science-fiction zipper novel set in the near future. Remy and Ash's individual, but strangely parallel, journeys demonstrate how our relationships and experiences shape us.

    I have been previously published in The Dunesteef audio fiction magazine and the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire literary journal.

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

    Sincerely,
    {MY NAME}
    {MY E-MAIL}
    {MY PHONE NUMBER}
    My basic problem with this is that it isn't energetic or enticing enough - not enough energy. It's a zipper novel, which makes it hard to write a brief summary for - there's a lot more psychology and social reform themes, but conventional wisdom says to avoid pointing out the theme.

    The plot is that there are two eighteen-year-olds, Remy and Ash, who wake up in different parts of the city, and have no memory. Remy has psychometry and Ash has pyrokinesis. They both go through different events that eventually lead them to meeting each other and the person responsible for them. The story is about how two people who are the same can grow up and be totally different people, but still the same.

  3. #318
    Speaks fluent Bawehrf zachariah's Avatar
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    I had to look up what you were talking about by 'Zipper novel'. I'm amazed this sub-sub-genre has its own name. If this is a romance, you've left it out of the query completely.

    'Compelled', not 'compulsed'. To me, there are a lot of irrelevant details in there - the cop, her name, the things they have on them, etc etc - and not enough about the principle characters and what they must do and what happens if they fail.

  4. #319
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    The first two paragraphs have a completely different feel than the third (larger) paragraph.

    The first two feel like 'jacket cover', while the third reads like a... like an overcrammed synopsis. I'm not sure how noticeable it would be by itself, but next to the style of the first two paragraphs, it seems out of place.


    From a reader's perspective, give me the teasing jacket cover. However, for an agent's query letter, I was under the impression that they want to know not only the teaser, but the ending as well.

  5. #320
    Do Remy and Ash come together at some point? How and what happens when they do?

    Who is the person who put them there? Is that person the antagonist of the story? If so, what is their motive?

    What is the main conflict they face? I got the impression that it had to do with finding their place and who they are, but I am not sure.

    This seems like a teaser for the novel, but it doesn't provide the bones of the plot. The agent is going to want to know what the main plot is from start to finish. Though the first to lines did grab my curiousity some, I was not moved by the third paragraph. I think it might be helpful to focus more on who they are and what they are trying to achieve. The things you mention sound more like subplots that might come out more in a synopsis if they are critical to the story.

    Tell us why we care what happens to them after they come to in the city? Tell us what their big conflict is? Tell us how they deal with it?

    You did a great job seeing problems in my query, so I know you can conquer your own (though it is always easier when looking at something you aren't so close to as my own first attempt proved).

    BTW - I now see what you mean about starting the letter with the pitch and mentioning title, etc. later.

  6. #321
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neyska View Post
    Do Remy and Ash come together at some point? How and what happens when they do?

    Who is the person who put them there? Is that person the antagonist of the story? If so, what is their motive?

    What is the main conflict they face? I got the impression that it had to do with finding their place and who they are, but I am not sure.

    This seems like a teaser for the novel, but it doesn't provide the bones of the plot. The agent is going to want to know what the main plot is from start to finish. Though the first to lines did grab my curiousity some, I was not moved by the third paragraph. I think it might be helpful to focus more on who they are and what they are trying to achieve. The things you mention sound more like subplots that might come out more in a synopsis if they are critical to the story.

    Tell us why we care what happens to them after they come to in the city? Tell us what their big conflict is? Tell us how they deal with it?

    You did a great job seeing problems in my query, so I know you can conquer your own (though it is always easier when looking at something you aren't so close to as my own first attempt proved).

    BTW - I now see what you mean about starting the letter with the pitch and mentioning title, etc. later.
    See, this is what I meant when I said this was hard. Remy and Ash do not come together until the very end (the climax). The person who put them there is not the main antagonist. There is no real main antagonist, since they're living separate lives (but there are plenty of obstacles and conflict).

    The main conflict they face is individual to each's story, though there's an underlying desire to find each's origin identity and stay safe. The things I mentioned were the main plot - Remy wants to free someone from an abusive relationship, then tries to fit in at an underground pharmacy. Ash joins the White Knights and has conflicts with the slacker leader and his stripper girlfriend. That's the story of the novel (in a tiny, tiny nutshell). I apparently made it seem like these were subplots, and I'm not sure how to avoid that.

  7. #322
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Bleck, my computer is not happy today. It ate my post for this thread and I have to go do stuff. But I will try to offer two cents on the two queries when I can. Let's see if this message works!


    Edit: Ha, it worked! Wallflower, if the two guys don't meet until the end, it's not a zipper novel, as I understand it. Plus, you keep mentioning women characters without context, and those agents and editors who don't know what a zipper novel is will assume they are the love interests. So I think you need a different pitch. More stuff when I can.
    Last edited by KatG; October 29th, 2009 at 01:07 PM.

  8. #323
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    OK, computer feeling better. Neyska -- I think you may want to start the query description with Y being trapped in the prison, because that's really interesting and it's your beginning. There he is, a prince in the tower so to speak. You could do it this angle:

    "The magical power called ascard permeates all living things and objects and can be used for everything from healing to a weapon. It can also be used to create a prison, outside of reality, a prison in which Prince Y of L, leading a rebellion against his despotic father, King X, finds himself trapped after the betrayal of one of his closest aides. Y is able to find a weakness in the ascard, a fault that lets him connect with a healer, I, in the far off country of Caithin, a young woman whose own parents were accused of treason and who is being forced into a political marriage with a noble whose increasing violence disturbs her."

    But that might not be the line you want. However, focusing on the conflicts as central, rather than the romance, which is included but not exclusive as the two characters have their own battles, may be the better way to go. Note that my sentences here are long. Synopsis and query description sentences try to pack as much detail as possible.

    Sterling -- what about the longer question answer material made you interested in the story?

    Wallflower, as far as I can tell -- not being a total expert in this area -- you don't have a zipper novel. What you've got is a novel very like Neyska's, except it's SF, with two potential love interests who have even less contact and who each are fighting their own battles. They just happen to be two guys. Have you read Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint fantasy series? Or Maureen McHugh's SF award-winner China Mountain Zhang? These are very much in the same vein as what you are describing -- not gay romances, but novels with gay relationships and sometimes issues. It also reminds me a bit of the movie Push, which I saw recently and I think is based on a graphic novel -- and I don't mean that in a bad way.

    I would suggest that since the novel seems gritty, that you play up its noir aspects more. You've got a strong cyberpunk element here (and title,) and that's certainly a selling point for SF. You also need to be aware that when you say one guy "makes friends with a spunky female cop," the assumption will be that she's his love interest. The same with the other guy "forming a relationship" with a female? stripper. If that's not the case, then that's not how you should be mentioning those characters. If it is the case, but the guys also realize that they are bi or really gay, then that's going to have to be communicated.

    As for not talking about theme, it depends on how you do it. Why you wrote the story -- why we should care at all or be interested in the characters -- is often the central organizing point for describing a work, more than, as you noted with Neyska, the generic details. Ultimately, you want to convey plot, character and theme together in the description.

  9. #324
    Katg, thanks for the additional input. This actually really helped get my focus in the right place. I think you suggestions give me a much better place to start from than where I originally started. I feel like I have enough information gathered through the discussion to make a go of this, so off I go to try it. Then I can give my synopsis another try.

    Thanks again to everyone for your comments. I found it all very helpful.

  10. #325
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Sterling -- what about the longer question answer material made you interested in the story?
    Looking back at it, the Q&A brings the conflict the forefront, along with answers to a few more "Whys", that, in the original version of the query, seemed to be handled with a simple "because."

    I want the conflict to come through in the query, I want those messy characters (the father/son non-relationship of Yiloch, the horrible position that Indigo currently finds herself in). This is going to come out bad, but the original query was too... bubble-gum and pixiedust.

    I'm not 100% sold on the wording of your example for Neyska (nor do I think you meant it to be a final draft), but just look at some of the impact words: rebellion, betrayal, treason, political marriage, increasing viloence. That's conflict. That's what I want.

  11. #326
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    For some reason, my google-fu is failing me and I can no longer find a definition of "zipper novel". The story structure alternates scenes between Remy and Ash, much like Reflex by Steven Gould. If there's a name for that, please tell me. For now, I'll take it out.

    Also, these two guys are not love interests. They have no idea the other exists until the end of the novel when they meet. They have no material relationship. I'm wondering if you thought this because you had finished reading Neyska's query. The two read similar, but they are not.

    The "big idea" is similar to Push and Scanners, but I have not seen either of those movies (for purposes of avoiding accidental plagiarism).

    Okay, I'll give a few of these a try. Tell me which ones work.

    The straight-laced approach:
    Remy and Ash are eighteen-year-olds who wake up in different parts of a city with no memory. Now, they must each strike out on their own and stay safe in a harsh mega-city where pharmaceutical drugs pervade everyday life. They must find out where they came from, and why they have psychic powers, before the black suits pursuing them catch up.
    My problem with this is, although it follows the formula, isn't very zippy. It also doesn't illustrate that their's are two separate stories occurring simultaneously.

    A little zippier:
    Remy is an eighteen-year-old boy who wakes up on a park bench. Ash is an eighteen-year-old boy who wakes up in an alley. Neither have any memory or identity. Neither have any money or someone to contact. Neither know where they are. Neither knows of the other's existence. But the one thing they both have is psychic powers.

    In a future where OTC drugs have become like food, these two boys must now strike out in a cold mega-city, starting from scratch. They must fight their previous life's instincts, and the agents of Starkweather Industries--the world's largest pharmaceutical supplier--to regain their identities.
    Dramatic, yes, but does it tell enough of the story?

    Revised version of what I had before:
    Remy wakes up on a park bench. He has no memory and no idea who he is or how he got there. But he has some pills, some money, a pink sweater, and a strange gun. And apparently, he can read the memory of objects.

    Ash wakes up in an alley. He has no memory and no idea who he is or how he got there. But he has some pills, some money, and he can set things on fire with his mind.

    Now they each must strike out on their own in a cold mega-city with no friends and no identity, while they elude the black suits pursuing them. Their individual, but strangely parallel journeys involve joining a neighborhood watchdog group, police standoffs, relationships with strippers, and a "Robin Hood" black market pharmacy.
    The only changes I made here are making it tighter and obfuscating events of the plot. The problem I seem to be having is that these are two separate stories occurring simultaneously, and neither has a common goal or character. How do I write that in only a few hundred words?

    Okay, this post is long enough.

  12. #327
    Speaks fluent Bawehrf zachariah's Avatar
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    Ah...Is this one of those hilarious cosmic misunderstandings then, and you didn't actually mean this?

  13. #328
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Neyska -- glad to hear it was helpful, let us know how it goes. It sounds like an interesting novel.

    Wallflower, LOL, well we've just saved you an awkward situation. A zipper novel is currently the term used for a romance featuring gay males, written by a woman, for the female romance category market.

    What you are talking about is a very common narrator structure, which has nothing to do with what market/sub-category your novel belongs to. I'm sure, however, that somebody used the term zipper for that structure somewhere -- it's not unusual. But I don't know that a lot of agents would know either meaning of the term for certain. So yes, take it out. Also, go see Push and Scanners. They're different from your story, but relevant for you to see in their tone, not strictly content. Reflex, and Jumper, are YA novels. I assumed you were not writing for the YA market, though you may get cross-over audience.

    So starting over a little, this sort of depends on how much you want to tell us here. But let's just go back to the questons:

    1) How do Remy and Ash have their powers? Genetics? Experimentation of the pharmaceutical company?

    2) What is the connection between them, besides being chased by the company? (I.e., why is the book about both instead of just one of them?) Why are they being chased by the company?

    3) I'm not entirely sure what you mean by OTC drugs being now like food. Everybody has to take them to survive? How does that work? This is a somewhat altered SF future, so you're going to have to put in some parameters.

    I would say that you could go back to the first version you showed us, put back in the women, clarify the memory of objects power a bit, and put in material about the guys chasing them and how that's going to work.

  14. #329
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    go see Push and Scanners. They're different from your story, but relevant for you to see in their tone, not strictly content. Reflex, and Jumper, are YA novels. I assumed you were not writing for the YA market, though you may get cross-over audience. Should I mention something like "in the tone of Push and Scanners"? (Scanners, as I found out, is being remade in 2011, so this might be relvant)

    So starting over a little, this sort of depends on how much you want to tell us here. But let's just go back to the questons:

    1) How do Remy and Ash have their powers? Genetics? Experimentation of the pharmaceutical company?

    2) What is the connection between them, besides being chased by the company? (I.e., why is the book about both instead of just one of them?) Why are they being chased by the company?

    3) I'm not entirely sure what you mean by OTC drugs being now like food. Everybody has to take them to survive? How does that work? This is a somewhat altered SF future, so you're going to have to put in some parameters.

    I would say that you could go back to the first version you showed us, put back in the women, clarify the memory of objects power a bit, and put in material about the guys chasing them and how that's going to work.
    I only cited Reflex because it has a similar structure to mine - the chapters alternate between main protagonist's POV and love interest's POV. My novel is not YA, but there is certainly cross-over potential.

    Remy and Ash's powers are a result of
    Spoiler:
    experimentations by the pharmaceutical company
    , but where they get their powers isn't crucial to the plot (since it's not part of their memory). How they use them is the more important part. Or do you think I should include that bit (I'm not sure how much I should "fudge" my plot to make it seem more interesting)?

    Thematically, the book is about both of them to demonstrate how
    Spoiler:
    one becomes the "hero", and the other becomes the "villain"
    . Story-wise, the book is about both because they are
    Spoiler:
    "brothers" who were linked at one time, now separated
    . They're being chased by the company because they have "gone rogue", but in the process, lost their memory. Again, all this is not really part of the plot.

    Ok, here's a revised version.

    Remy wakes up on a park bench. He has no memory and no idea who he is or how he got there. But he has some pills, some money, a pink sweater, and a strange gun. And apparently, he has psychic powers.

    Ash wakes up in an alley. He has no memory and no idea who he is or how he got there. But he has some pills, some money, and he can set things on fire with his mind.

    Now they each must strike out on their own in a cold mega-city where pharmaceutical drugs pervade everyday life. While learning his powers, Remy finds a hotel and feels compelled to save a woman from an abusive relationship, makes friends with a spunky female cop named Tuesday, then joins an "Robin Hood" black market pharmacy. Ash is assaulted and robbed when he tries to get some food. Looking for a job, he joins the White Knights, a neighborhood watchdog group and forms a relationship with Ivy, a stripper. Throughout their individual, but strangely parallel journeys, they follow their instincts to protect and defend people. But what will they do when they discover the real threat to humanity themselves.
    Here's a slightly smaller version of the third paragraph (because I'm worried I'm being too wordy):

    Now they each must strike out on their own in a cold mega-city, as men in black suits pursue them. Their individual, but strangely parallel journeys, will involve joining a neighborhood watchdog group, police standoffs, relationships with strippers, and a "Robin Hood" black market pharmacy. Throughout their individual, but strangely parallel journeys, they follow their instincts to protect and defend people. But what will they do when they discover the real threat to humanity themselves.
    Note that I've taken out the "ticking clock" - pursuit by the black suits, in the first version. In the second, I've taken out an interesting bit of setting (taking pharmaceuticals is now a way of life). Which version seems better?

  15. #330
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    I think you are having a bit of cover copy-itis here. In synopsis and query letter, the idea is not, with publishing people, to give them a teaser description that sounds like the back cover copy. That is not helpful to them. They need information, not vagueries. Your concerns about being "too wordy" are exactly the opposite of what you should be shooting for, which is maximum information condensed, not little information and being artfully mysterious. Clear is always better than jazzy with publishing people. (In fact, jazzy mostly bores publishing people silly. After you've read about 200 jazzy query letters that don't tell you what the story is about, you're about ready to punch someone, trust me.)

    You have a plot in which the two guys are getting chased but you say that this is not part of the plot. I presume by this you mean that the suits don't show up until late in the story, but that's not the point. Two amnesiacs who are being searched for and don't know it till the denouement is a classic set-up and ignoring it makes the book sound rather confusing. If you're going to say that these two guys wake up with powers, some cash, and no memory, the first thing that people are interested in is where did they come from, who are they really, where did they get those powers. And while they will have adventures that shape them, it's their trying to get their memory back that is central.

    And if their powers do indeed pose some sort of threat to humanity in the world you've created, then it's even more central. How they got them does matter very much to the story, even if it's not something of which they have first-hand knowledge.

    So let's take a look at this:

    "And apparently, he has psychic powers." -- That's the opposite of the direction I was suggesting going. Memory of objects is unclear (whereas setting fire to things is pretty straightforward.) So this, I would suggest should be something like: "And he finds he psychically knows the owners and history of objects." (If that's his power specifically.)

    "Now they each must strike out on their own in a cold mega-city where pharmaceutical drugs pervade everyday life." -- Keep this one, I'm a thinking.

    Then at the end, the last sentence: "But what will they do when they discover the real threat to humanity – themselves." -- Explain that a bit and bring in the black suits there.

    Also, if you can work in a few more details about the world they are moving in -- since it is their learning their way in that world that is the main thrust of the story -- that would probably be good.

    And if one of the guys should not be so much into the defending people eventually -- you may want to at least give more hint of that (and have it more detailed in the plot synopsis.)
    Last edited by KatG; November 3rd, 2009 at 11:13 AM.

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