1. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    10 rejections, no requests. Time to make changes?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by mrieder79, Apr 27, 2016.

    **note: updated query letter and first 10 pages in post # 15**

    I've queried 40 agents since April 3rd. There have been 10 rejections and no request for further material. With the exception of one or two agents, all have requested between 5-10 pages of the MS be attached with the query, about 50% request a synopsis.

    Is it time to retool my query/synopsis?

    If anyone wants to look, I have included my query and first 10 pages below.

    If anyone wants to see my synopsis, just ask and I'll be happy to PM it. I am a little hesitant to post the whole idea of my book on the web at this point.

     
    Last edited: May 22, 2016
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think I'd get rid of the first sentence of the query. The agent knows why you're querying and what kind of books they represent. You repeat that it is science fiction in the very next sentence. You could tighten the language a bit. For example "Rich Plithers has worked his way to the upper eschelons...." You don't need the word "has." My initial reaction, upon reading the name Rich Plithers, was not a good one. I just don't like the name. That's just me, but when it comes to queries who knows what turns people off and what doesn't.

    Have you thought of submitting this to Query Shark? She's really good at this stuff. If nothing else, you could read through all of the queries she's torn apart, and why.

    http://queryshark.blogspot.com/
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Disclaimer: I have not only not been published, I have yet to query. So take the below as the completely uninformed advice that it is.

    > I am querying you because your agent profile indicates you are
    > interested in new science fiction manuscripts.

    This feels a little like you're saying, "Look! I can read and follow instructions!" Which is good and probably not true of all authors, but it still feels odd. :)

    Does it make sense (I ask those who know about queries) to inject a thread of emotion here? As in:

    I was delighted to see that you are interested in new science fiction manuscripts. THE BRAZOS FORMATION is....

    > THE BRAZOS FORMATION is a science fiction thriller set on the Gulf
    > Coast of Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico.

    The "on" and "in" feel redundant and perhaps a bit pedantic. And is "Texas" essential or can we get enough information from Gulf Coast? And doesn't the Gulf in Gulf Coast suggest the Gulf? And...

    OK, apparently I don't like this sentence. I don't know what could be done with it. Toss emotion in again?

    THE BRAZOS FORMATION is a science fiction thriller that immerses the reader in the underwater mysteries of the Gulf Coast... blah de blah.

    Not that, but you see what I mean?

    > It runs 115,000 words and is
    > similar in theme to THE ICE LIMIT by Douglas Preston and Lincoln
    > Child.

    "Similar in theme" makes it feel like a copy. Again, I insert emotion:

    Fans of action-packed science fiction works like THE ICE LIMIT will fall over themselves with delight...

    Yes, we're even further from the actual words to use. :) But you see what I mean, I hope.

    > Rich Plithers has worked his way to the upper echelons of Glasco Oil
    > by sacrificing his personal life. Now the company and the people who
    > work there are all he has. Rich is left reeling when his mentor and a
    > host of close friends perish at sea amid a mysterious tidal wave while
    > searching for oil in the Brazos Formation. With Glasco on the edge of
    > bankruptcy, Rich and his team must undertake a mission to retrieve
    > vital data lost aboard the missing survey ship.

    Again, I feel the desire for more emotion. I realize that there's emotion in "left reeling", but the paragraph still feels high on facts and low on emotion and engagement. This man has lost his family and is on the verge of losing his life's work.

    Some random thoughts:

    Rich Plithers is a family man--but that family is Glasco Oil.

    When Rich Plithers loses a vital company asset and the man that he regards as a father...

    Rich Plithers is an orphan--again. His mentor was lost at sea, along with an asset vital to the corporation that Richard regards as family. Reeling...

    Rich Plithers never wanted adventure--corporate dealmaking was more than enough excitement for him. But any man will risk his life for his family, and that's what Glasco Oil is for Richard. A survey ship carrying vital data and...


    The last two seem a little long, but, again, I'm just trying to express a vibe.

    The next paragraphs could continue the theme--adventure if you went with that one, the sense of being alone without the advice of his mentor if you went with that one, grieving for his friends or fearing for the company if you went with those, and so on. A thread of emotion tying together the facts.

    That's the query. Looking at the first ten pages--where'd Rich Plithers go? The query is all about him, but he doesn't appear at all. And you're hopping from scene to scene, not giving us a chance to invest in any characters, except maybe Katie. I understand that you're giving us background for each of the subthreads--the loss of the ship, the man who was in communication with the ship, the corporate initiative. But that's backstory. Backstory is backstory; it doesn't excite.

    To me, the beginning of this book is when Rich Plithers hears about the loss of the ship, or maybe it opens with Rich on the deck of the ship sent to investigate. The other stuff could maybe be in flashbacks; I'm not sure. But IMO your beginning is not the beginning.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2016
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  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I'm hardly an expert but my research suggests no, this isn't a good idea. The standard "I'm querying you because you rep my genre" is just fine: agents actually want to know you've done rudimentary research.

    I mean, I don't think this phrasing would work against you but words like "delighted" make my nose wrinkle in business correspondence. And that's what a query is: a business proposal.



    I know you were very clear that those were examples but that kind of editoralising is a biiiig no-no.
     
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  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good to know. To clarify, it's the "fans will blah" that is the problem, rather than the "action-packed blah"?
     
  6. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    @ChickenFreak,

    You capture my fear: the book is about Rich, but he is nowhere in the first ten pages. He doesn't appear until chapter 2. I am concerned that this is a problem and may be part of why I am getting a lot of rejections.

    I also agree that the scenes jump around a lot in the beginning. I don't like that very much right now, either.

    I have seriously considered changing the order of my first few paragraphs: introduce Rich first, then switch to the others. It seems to make more sense. It is an easy fix--just some cut and paste--and might make the whole story more cohesive.

    I also agree that my first query paragraph feels dry. The energy that comprises the book is lacking there. I am considering a rewrite there too.

    Thank you for your feedback and I welcome more if anyone else wants to contribute.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I had a vote--which I realize I don't--I would make the entire first ten pages, and probably more, about Rich. Maybe starting with him getting the news, maybe starting with him on the deck of that ship, as I said. Ensure that the reader knows and cares about him, and then knows and cares about the company through him, and THEN they are more likely to care about the things that affect the company and its employees. And get the backstory in there in some other way. Remember, the reader doesn't have to know everything in order. Pleasant puzzlement is OK.
     
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  8. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Your advice is well received and, believe it or not, you do sort of have a vote. I'm here because I have precious few people to critique my work who aren't related to me. I need a distanced opinion.

    What you have said echoes my own realization last week. The book is about rich. Where the hell is he for the first chapter?

    I think this may be a fatal flaw.
     
  9. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Here. I changed the first ten or so pages around. I put Rich at the beginning, cleared out some stuff that didn't seem so necessary. I am interested to see responses.

     
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  10. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Both are a problem. :D Queries shouldn't say anything about how the book will be received by readers--it just explains what it's about in a way that makes the agent think "wow, this sounds action-packed" or whatever.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I like this new opening much better than the original. In the original you not only opened with 'weather,' but you introduced characters (whom we would assume are important) and then killed them off. Even without the query letter mentioning a person who didn't appear, the weather/killing was not a good way to open your story.

    It's obvious you can write, and that your story is well-researched. The premise is interesting as well. I just feel you're trying to cram too much information into this opener. It won't stick if you try to give us too much at once, and it won't be interesting to read either. In the opener we're trying to figure out where this story is going. So I'd focus on that.

    If it was me, I'd maybe eliminate the lifting photos and looking at them thing. That's a cliche, very like looking in a mirror to describe the character. Maybe let us meet these people in a more organic way. This part of the scene dilutes the urgency of the opener, which should be focused on Rich's concern about what has happened to the Southern Digger. He's hardly going to be drifting around his apartment looking at photos at that moment, is he?

    Focus on Rich's dismay about the missing vessel. Maybe give us some idea of why this matters to him. (In other words, raise the stakes. What will the loss of this vessel mean for his company and for him?) It's okay to leave in the bit where his receptionist thinks he's somebody else. It adds a touch of amusement, although I'll be assuming her personality and perhaps "Jesse" may come to matter as the story unfolds. That passage of dialogue does convey urgency on Rich's part.

    These lines below are excellent, and pretty much encapsulate everything you tried to portray in your original opening.
    And the final line in that scene is excellent as well.
    You've created a poignancy in a very simple way. Not only sorrow for the lost Hal, but a glimpse of the kind of person Rich is. He is thoughtful and empathetic. I like him already.

    The switch to Anita Plant's part of the story was awkward for me. You've left us in a place where we're sharing Rich's concern for the lost vessel, then suddenly we're in the middle of a work-related strop being staged by somebody we don't know who works for a company we also don't know. I skimmed that whole passage down to the bit where Harry says 'Thank god," that connects us to what we know about the missing ship. The scene kicked in for me at that point, but not before.

    If I were you, I'd revamp the opening to that scene as well. Resist the urge to open with extended dialogue between people we don't know, and instead give us some idea of who she is and what her company does—and maybe even why she's lying awake being angry about her lack of promotion. Fair enough, and good to get that info in there. But maybe I'd skip the dialogue altogether, because until we get inside Anita's mind, she and Patty are just two talking heads. Why not just open with her lying awake, unable to sleep, and focus on her thoughts about what she does for a living and why she's so unhappy about how she's been treated? Maybe close that intro with her making up her mind to quit. Then comes the phone call from Harry....

    I haven't read further yet, because I have some stuff I've got to do just now. But it's a very promising story. I'd say the only thing you need to do is focus each scene's opener on what you need the scene to do. Let in details as they matter, but don't swamp us with them. And be careful about chucking too many names into the mix at this point. Readers won't remember them, but they'll be trying to, which will distract them from emotionally investing in your scenes.

    ...............

    I do have to agree with @Steerpike on the name of your character, though. Rich Plithers. At first I actually laughed, because I thought he was a comedy character. Kind of like Mr Smithers in The Simpsons. And the fact that he is a rich guy, but is also CALLED Rich?

    I know it's hard to do, when you've lived with a character for a while, but I would definitely search for another name for that guy. Plithers sounds like a made-up name. I'd maybe keep "Rich" —but introduce him as Richard to your readers, to give a better first impression. You can switch to his nickname later on, if you want to—especially after one of the other characters calls him by it. I would certainly change his surname to something more believable. Something that sounds a lot less like "Smithers."

    ..................

    Just ran across an interesting way to organise your 'blurb' ...or what goes into your query letter, which amounts to more or less the same thing:

    Use a formula: Most fiction book blurbs start with a situation (a), introduce a problem (b) and promise a twist (c).

    They usually end with a sentence that emphasizes the mood (d) of the story. (Not really applicable to a query letter, but would go on a back-of-book blurb.)


    Here's an example from the bestseller "The Girl on The Train" by Paula Hawkins:


    (a) Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.


    (b) And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved.

    (c) Has she done more harm than good?

    This is where you would stop in a query letter.

    The following would go in the blurb on the back of the book, but not in your initial query letter.

    (d) Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2016
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  12. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Jannert, that bit of criticism was very enlightening. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I have changed Rich's last name (and Anita's for that matter) and I am going to re-look the scenes.
     
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  13. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I went back to the original synopsis and just tweaked it a little since I thought it was actually quite good. Mostly I thought it needed a little more emotion and logical progression of thought.


    Rich Plithers has worked his way to the upper echelons of Glasco Oil - but at the cost of his personal life. Now the company and the people who work there are all he has. So Rich is left reeling when his mentor and close friends perish at sea amid a mysterious tidal wave while searching for oil in the Brazos Formation. Then when the company teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, he realises he could lose everything he has left.

    Desperate, Rich and his team undertake a mission to retrieve vital data lost aboard the missing survey ship. Data that could save the company.

    But at sea, the search efforts are set back by a series of bizarre events. Strange lights shine in the water at night, mysterious insectile forms lurk in the shadows, and the expedition's divemaster is attacked by an unseen predator on the ocean floor.

    Ultimately Rich and his team find the lost ship, but they also find an enormous undersea chasm. Within it are a host of bizarre and deadly creatures, including metal-devouring gastropods, a colony of giant spider crabs, and an eel-like leviathan.

    Their lives in danger Rich must lead his crew to safety, but at the almost certain cost of his own life. The only hope is a suicide mission in a deep-sea diving suit to seal the chasm with explosive charges. But is he the man to make that sacrifice?

    Can he give his life and his newly discovered hope of a future with Anita to save his crew from the denizens of the Brazos Formation?

    Hope that helps. (I'd also change gastropods since when I first read it I thought snails. Also, I didn't add it but I assume the reason they have to seal the chasm is because the critters are going to escape and kill everyone. That if so should be added.)

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  14. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    I just wanna say thank you to everyone for helping on this. I'm working my way through, retooling the first ten pages and the query and things are looking much better. I'll post them when I am finished.
     
  15. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Here's the new synopsis and new first ten pages. Big thank you to Jannert for the suggestion on how to do the query. It is much better.


     
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, okay, I'm hooked now!

    Before moving to your story, I would like to point out one niggle with the query letter. It was a sentence that made me read it twice, which is not good. Fortunately it's a simple fix.

    When I started reading that first sentence, I thought Cut Richard was his name! It's an unexpected way to start, and it got me off on the wrong foot. I think the problem comes with Cut being in caps like the name, and 'cut' isn't the normal start to a sentence, unless the readers know they're being addressed directly. It's a disorienting start. How about: "If you cut Richard Fields' arm, instead of getting blood you'd strike oil. Oil is what he knows....etc."

    I also had a slight problem with this paragraph:

    Their only hope of what? Survival as a crew? Survival as a species? Survival as a company? And the 'must' is also confusing. Obviously if they have a choice ...to die or survive ...the 'must' isn't really the right word. Must implies no choice. But then you go on to say he has to choose whether to sacrifice something. In truth, I'm not entirely clear what is at stake here. I'd sharpen up the word choice, and let us know what their 'hope' actually is.

    Other than that, the query works very well. I like the fact that you've mentioned The Brazos Formation near the end of the query again, to emphasise the story's connection with the title. Good. And detailing your own experience as a diver at the end will lead the reader of this query to assume you do know your stuff. Great.

    I'll add to this with a reaction to your actual story in a few minutes.

    ..................

    In general, the story itself is more than fine. It's actually very good, and you've got me hooked. I have no general interest in the topic, but because your characters are strong and the situation is not only intriguing but tense, I think you've already got me over the 'this isn't my kind of thing' gap.

    Of course my one big problem is that I read your original, and I can't unsee it. I saw what happened to Hal & Co. So I'm not sure how this new version will hit somebody who doesn't already 'know' what happened to the ship. But I think you've done a great job. Do be sure to run it past a few people who didn't see the original, though, and make sure they're okay with not knowing this stuff.

    (Not to derail the thread, but this is where a prologue could have worked. If your original chapter had been entitled Prologue, I would not have expected to see Hal and those other characters again. I would have expected it to be a scene that was important to the story but in a different location, different characters and perhaps in the 'past' as well. Sigh. However, as a Chapter One, it didn't really work. Kill off your main characters at the end of Chapter One? Not really a good thing to do. This is where a Prologue can work where a Chapter One doesn't ...but anyway...)

    You have not only managed to convey urgency with this opening chapter, but you've developed several characters very well. Rich is an excellent, faceted character already, even though we haven't seen him doing anything much but reacting to news. However, because of his position in the company we assume he is good at what he does, so his passiveness here is an opportunity to showcase a couple of the others.

    While Chuck, Bernie, Henry Meecham and Barry Jenkins are still generic company employees ...that's okay at this point. They don't stand out, but that's not a problem here. I assume they will become more important and their personalities will develop as the story progresses. Helene is also not as strong a character as she was in your original version, but again, I'm sure she'll develop. Her "Who the hell is this?" is enough to stamp her as a woman who is not to be trifled with, and the fact that she asks Rich if he's okay means she's in tune with him and probably a very nice person. And then she immediately offers to phone Chuck and Bernie, which indicates she's on the ball and can be relied upon. That'll do for now.

    The three main characters in the scene are very impressive. Of course there is Rich himself, our POV character, and we're getting his thoughts and feelings throughout this scene. We already feel his shock, his numbness about losing his friend/mentor, and we empathise with his situation. He's needing to hold it together and find some way through this mess.

    Trimble is excellent. This is the kind of character who could be a real pain in the arse, but he's not. He's very human. While he is bombastic and maybe hyper-motivated, he's also very aware of what's happening around him, and a few slips of the bombast shows that he's also upset, not only by the loss of the ship and what it means to the company, but also at the loss of the lives of the people he knows. Little touches mean a lot, like when he barges into the room and causes Chuck to spill his coffee. That little touch of humour shows he's aware, not only of what's going on around him, but his own effect on people. He's a guy who can probably laugh at himself. I like the guy already, even though I don't normally like brash executives in stories.

    And Anita? Wow. What a transformation. This is a masterclass in how to get a character to create an impact without saying or doing much at all. Of course we have Richard's first impression of her, which is well done but not overdone. Certainly there will be something developing between the two of them as the story progresses, but you didn't hit that bell too hard. We're still focused on the problem at hand.

    It's when she finally speaks that our impression of her gets made. Even her voice stops the men in their tracks, and for all the right reasons. From their reaction and from Trimble's reaction, we know she's a powerful person. A person whose opinions don't get passed over. She knows her stuff, and even if people don't want to hear her point of view, they still listen to it. What a great start. It's impossible to reconcile this character with the woman bitching at a colleague about not getting promoted. In that passage she sounded like a complainer. In this passage she sounds formidable. So if it's revealed later that she's continually being passed over for promotion, this will really have impact. Why on EARTH would anybody pass her over? There must be something nefarious going on, eh?

    Your portrayal of the playback of Hal's broadcast is really effective, as is your portrayal of its effect on Rich. The fact that he knows in his bones that Hal is dead and that the ship has indeed gone down. A very poignant moment.

    I'm ready to move on.

    I will re-quote the story here, just to be able to put in a few suggestions for small changes, but believe me, this has impact. I feel that your story has a much better chance of being accepted for publication now, than it did before. They'd be daft not to give it a go.

    It occurs to me that I'd like to know what Meecham's function is, or rather what his status is. If he's able to contradict Rich in that last paragraph, he must have some kind of authority over him. Is he some kind of statistician or what?

    Anyway ...VERY well done. Well constructed, and moving at exactly the right pace. I think this is already better than many published stories I've read recently. Promote this to the right people, and I think you're on a winner.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2016
  17. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    It runs 115,000 words and is similar in theme to THE ICE LIMIT by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

    I am not an agent, but as a production manager when we have to hire new employees I see many cover letters that come with people's resumes. I think as a normal person when we read them we are looking for something that sets this person apart from the others.
    Again I am not an agent, but I would be a little put off by the above statement. You want me to take you on but you are giving me something that is similar to someone else's work? The first couple sentences of your query need to grab my attention to you, not Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. If I read this, I would immediately throw your query at the bottom of the pile.
    Maybe you should say:
    It runs 115,000 words with the theme being Whatever.

    This would work better for me. For all you know, this agent might hate their work, or never read any of it.

    I want to share with you my 115,000 word novel about a man facing insurmountable horror to save all that he holds dear to him.

    Something like that would catch me and peak my interest. Comparing yourself with others is just the same old same old. I read your brief outline of the story, but that one sentence turned me off on reading your chapter. I came right here to give you my thoughts.
    Now I am going to check out your first chapter. In real life, I would not have bothered.
     
  18. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Read the first version chapter one. I liked it. I read some of the post above and agree with some of their findings. But I thought it was okay your main was not in the first chapter. You set up your story nicely.
     
  19. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Read the second version, also well done and peaks my interest. If I were to chose, I would go with the first version. That one caught my attention way more than the second.
     
  20. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    Its funny that with every other kind of product you are meant to market it on differentiation from competitors, but apparently with publishing you only have a chance if you write something like something that has already sold.

    Anyway. First up, you write well, but - I agree with the others that the synopsis you sent might be the problem. Due to the names you have chosen for your characters and the rather black and white summary of their circumstances (oil exec married to his job has to choose between his duty to his men and the burgeoning romance in his heart while running from giant crustaceons) I did feel as though I was reading the plot for a 1950s B Movie.

    There is way too much exposition at the beginning about oil slicks, wells, ships, drills, some foreman character with a weird name who doesn't appear to have anything to do with the precis you wrote, which is being used to explain that the weather is bad. You obviously know a lot about this subject but unless this book is only aimed at oilmen I would cut it all. In fact I would abandon that first section altogether and start with Katie, but again:

    "Katie turned the key hard and the F-150's engine roared to life. She peeled out of the parking lot and headed east toward Mobile Bay and Dauphin Island. She followed Interstate Ten through Mississippi and into Alabama where she exited onto County Road Sixteen, passing the familiar Hardee's and Dollar General as highway became back road. The road reached the sea and continued as a thin causeway bound for Dauphin Island. Glittering black water spread out on either side as still, salty air closed around Katie."

    Again, just far too much descriptive narrative and redundant information about exits and what stores she is passing. What is an F-150? Why mention the Dollar Store? Is there anything significant about it? Did she shop there with her mother and have fond memories of the Judds and their children who she still sees all grown up now in church where she grapples with her faltering faith in God and shameful secret of alcoholism? What I am trying to get at is that if you are using that many words you could be saying something much more interesting about your story and characters.

    But I like the overall plot and your writing is good. Its all in the presentation though.
     
  21. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    @Nightstars, Are your comments directed toward my revised synopsis on post #15 or the one in #1?
     
  22. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    Ah sorry yeah, number 1. I liked the second one more. Much tighter.
     
  23. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Oh good. I worked very hard on it. Thanks for your input.
     

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