Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dissect This Query...Learn From My Mistakes.

Ok. This is going to be embarrassing. Seriously, really embarrassing. But, because I care about you, I'm going to do it anyway.

Like a non-perfect body who poses for a life-drawing class (and, let me tell you, I've seen some interesting non-perfect bodies that have made for very perfect drawings), or like a person with a rare condition who allows his surgery to be viewed by students, so here I am presenting to you this imperfection of my own.

Eww, no. Not that.

No, I'm going to show you my first Query letter. My failed first query letter. For my failed first book. There's also a failed synopsis and the failed first ten pages. All that is below.

But, if you're going to read this and learn from it, you have to do something. Something to let me know you're using it to learn. Let me know you just might take something away from this you can use.

You have to comment and tell me what's wrong with it. Any part of it. From the query to the synopsis to the ten pages. Pick it apart. Show why it failed.

Not for my sake. I've got an awesome agent (Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency, in case you hadn't heard) and I've sold a book to Simon & Schuster (Coming out next year from BFYR. The Troubles of Johnny Cannon). So, literally, I've got nothing to lose here.

But you have so much to gain. And do you know why?

Because it's not a terrible query letter. It's not obviously bad. In fact, it actually got a few bites from a few agents. But, in the end, it just wasn't good enough. And I'm betting that's what's been happening with your queries too. They're not bad, but they're just not good enough.

So, tear mine apart so yours can do better.

Ok? Ready?

Scalpel.

Dear [AGENT],

I've been following you on twitter for a while, and always enjoy your insight into the publishing world. Since you are actively seeking fantasy titles, I think you'll be interested in my contemporary fantasy, INCANTO: A FAIRY TALE.

The island city of Incanto is a tourist haven for three reasons: You
can see Swan Lake performed by mermaids down at the beach; you can buy
an ounce of Pixie Dust, albeit illegally, for less than $50; and, if
you’re lucky, you can get your picture taken with Noah Emmaus, GQ’s
“Sexiest Executive of the Year,” CEO of Emmaus Petroleum.

After an Emmaus off-shore oil rig is attacked by a sea serpent, Noah
races to regain the public’s favor and the investor’s confidence in
his leadership. To do that, he’ll have to squelch an uprising of the
“Wicked Lady Cult”, led by his ex-fiancée, Melia Karnier. But then the
cult blows up all of the other rigs, the Wicked Lady herself turns up
in the basement, and the inhabitants of the city institute their own
martial law. Now Noah is forced to break an essential axiom of
business. He’s going to have to live by the sword.

INCANTO: A FAIRY TALE is an urban fantasy, complete at 85,000 words. It
is a stand-alone novel, although I have plotted out a sequel and have
ideas for a third installment. I have worked primarily as a
scriptwriter, with four plays reaching full production, and as a
freelance book and music reviewer for various magazines, most recently
OnCourse, a magazine for teenagers. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
I have inserted the synopsis and first five pages below.

Best wishes,
Isaiah Campbell
(Phone)
Address

SYNOPSIS:

The island city of Incanto was once a hotspot for tourists, with its Leprachaun theaters, Gnome restaurants, and ever present beauty of the Merfolk dancing in the water. But with the increase of the Mixie gangs (half-breed Pixies) and the Giant mafia, along with the expansion of Emmaus Petroleum, the city has become a hellhole of corruption and violence. When an off shore oil rig is attacked by a sea serpent, the citizens can’t help but wonder if this is the catalyst for the change they need. Or, better yet, the revolution.

NOAH EMMAUS, the Dust-addicted CEO of Emmaus Petroleum, is given an ultimatum by his board, he has to figure out why their rig was attacked and regain the investors trust, or he’ll be forced to take a leave of absence and watch his family company be run by a cowboy from Houston with distaste for the city. This comes on the cusp of Noah’s big idea, expanding the company into the currently illegal Pixie Dust industry. Without full leadership and the board’s approval, Noah knows his dream may never become reality. Reluctantly, he heads off to New Orleans to end the PR nightmare and put everything back on track.

While he is dealing with the company problem, Noah’s administrative assistant and ex-fiancée, MELIA KARNIER, a Mixie who is half-Mer, finds herself in a different kind of predicament. Her new boyfriend, ALEC, is a major player in the Mixie social circles, a world that she’s never been exposed to. As she witnesses the violence and repression the Mixie’s endure, and traces much of that back to the Emmaus family itself, she feels compelled to fight for the rights of her people. When she hears whispered references to a “Wicked Lady Cult,” she decides to join them and commit to their plans, whatever they may be.

Melia discovers that the Wicked Lady everyone speaks of, MEDOUSA, is being held captive in the basement of the Emmaus office building, and apparently has been for hundreds of years. She also is informed that she is Medousa’s long lost daughter. Because of this, the cult informs her of their biggest plan, a blow that will bring the Emmaus family to its knees and, hopefully, force them to release Medousa.  She cautiously agrees if they will permit her to speak with Noah first.

Noah is relishing the fact that his quest to solve the PR problem went very well. Although he did get caught doing Dust at a festival, and had to spend a few hours in jail, he was able to spread a positive message to the media and regain the trust of the investors. When Melia approaches him to discuss the issues, he’s more interested in using his successful momentum to regain her affections. Unfortunately, while they are talking, the cult decides to execute their plan: they detonate bombs planted on every Emmaus oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Noah is scrambling to find a solution to the massive oil spill that is resulting from the attack, and also tries to find who he can peg the blame on. Alec convinces both Noah and Melia that the attack was a rogue decision by the Giants, and that the Mixies had nothing to do with it. With the help of Melia, Alec convinces Noah that the best way to fix the oil spill is to release Medousa, who can then save the ocean with her powers.  After they release her, Noah takes Medousa to the site of one of the rigs, where she tries to kill him and uses an incantation to resurrect a hydra, sleeping on the ocean’s floor.

With Medousa released, it is time for the Mixies and the Wicked Lady Cult to finally come together, and Melia has been put in charge. However, her attempts at a peaceful protest are thwarted when they attack the city police and have to go into hiding, now wanted and hunted by the law.  When Medousa finally arrives, she disappoints Melia and enables the Mixies and the Cult to increase their violence and overthrow the government.

Noah is rescued from the hydra by the sea serpent and some Merfolk and taken back to the city, where he learns that Medousa can only be stopped by the Emmaus family, and the only way to stop her is to kill her. With the hydra soon approaching and the revolution rumbling, he makes his way to the place she is hiding to do his duty. He’s captured and Melia rescues him, an act which incurs the wrath of Medousa.


Finally, with Melia’s life in the balance and the hydra at the edge of the city, Noah succeeds in killing Medousa and rescuing Melia. The city, upon seeing the threat of the hydra, bands together in unity to fight. They destroy the hydra, Noah is finally hailed as the city’s hero, and Melia reveals that she is still in love with him.

Chapter 1
Friday – Noah’s Penthouse Apartment – 4:45 AM
            You have to be a man of high principles to run an oil business.
            That's why Noah didn’t answer his cell the first two times it rang, because of principle. It had nothing to do with the lines of shimmering Dust he was snorting. And it had nothing to do with the old photo album he was looking through, even though every picture made him pour out a little more Dust and snort it up a little harder. No, the reason he ignored every buzz that came from his BlackBerry was his principles.
            In spite of his high standards, when the phone rang a third time, he finally looked at the caller id and answered.
            “What?” He wiped his nose and picked up one of the photos.
            “Have you seen the news?” It was Melia, his personal assistant, the face smiling at him in the photo. Once upon a time she’d also been his fiancée. That was a long, long time ago.
            “There's news at this hour? Are you sure it's not a rerun?”
            “This is serious. I hate to be the one to tell you-”
            “Then don’t. That's why they make the news, so good people like you don't have to tell me anything.”
            “No, Noah, this can’t wait. There’s been a problem with one of the rigs. The new one.” Normally this wouldn’t be news. New rigs always had problems. The fact that this was news, that was unsettling.
“What happened?” He stood up and walked over to his entertainment unit, fumbling around for the remote.
            “It’s been attacked.”
            “Greenpeace again?” He found the remote and flipped on the sixty inch TV he had on the wall. He began to scan through the channels.
            “No, it was Dennissa.”
            The Dennissa? Star of stage, screen, and children's television?”
            “And hero of her own family themed water park, yep. That's the one.” Melia paused, letting it sink in. “We don't even know yet how she got out, but she attacked the rig.”
            Noah finally found the news and watched in silence as the video of the coast guard rescuing his workers played out in front of his eyes. Then he began to laugh.
            “Noah! Are you high? This is serious.”
            He rubbed his eyes. “No, yeah, totally serious. It's just funny; I thought I was done being rejected by women. Turns out I forgot to consider the sea-faring creatures. So, why are you awake right now? I thought you’d be as wasted as I am.”
            “I … couldn’t sleep. Please, focus.”
            “Right.” He turned his television off. “Well, there’s not much we can do right now, is there? It looks like the rescuers are doing their job, which I’m sure will cost me a pretty penny. Not that it isn’t worth it, God bless our boys in blue. Or green, whatever.”
            “I’ve already gotten two calls from members of the board. They insisted on a meeting this morning, to discuss this whole thing.”
            “But it’s Friday. We have a meeting scheduled on Monday. I don’t do meetings on Fridays.” He turned his light off and lay down.
            “Here’s a surprise, you actually do have meetings on Fridays. And Jack Harper-“
            “I hate Jack.”
            “Yes, I know. He said something about ‘Young people like to sleep in.’ It’s a good thing you’re proving him wrong.”
            “Mm-hm.” His eyes were closed.
            “Noah!”
            He jolted up. “What?”
            “You need to handle this. It’s your company, and your board wants you to do your job.”
            He turned his light back on. “Fine, I’ll be there. But I must warn you. I’m going to be cranky.”
            “My heart bleeds for you. See you at eight.”
            “Thirty. Or nine. Maybe.” She had already hung up. He coaxed himself back out of his bed and went to the bathroom. He paused in front of the mirror, flexed his nearly-toned bicep, patted the three year old basketball championship tattoo on his shoulder, and jumped in the shower.
            A couple of hours later, after his morning yoga routine and a very tasty toaster pastry, he was out of his penthouse suite and driving a ’66 Jaguar through the streets of Incanto, the island city off the coast of Texas. He was merrily enjoying the downward spiral of a drug induced mood swing, and used the energy to bark into his Bluetooth and suck ferociously on a latte.
            He drove down the main strip, lined with casinos and theaters, where old country music singers and celebrity impersonators performed daily shows. These were relics of his grandfather’s days, when it was a seething pit of entertainment, fueled by the unique residents of the island. Noah could understand the appeal, after all, who wouldn’t want to see a choir of Bigs singing in their native tongue? Nevertheless, Noah did his part to clean up the area, buying blocks and blocks of decrepit theater real estate and transforming them into beautifully landscaped parking lots. Many of the remaining theaters were shutting down as the number of vacationing tourists diminished.
            Beyond that section was the city, like every other city in America. It had its gangs and drug dealers, or as Noah liked to call them, “Misplaced CEO’s.”  The Dust trade was growing, and the police force grew less interested in pursuing its players. Noah met with the Police Commissioner for golf once a month, and always reminded him that “the only difference between drugs and oil is the price per gallon.” They’d laugh together and reminisce at how time had changed the face of the community. Noah was proud that his family had pioneered that change.
            He pulled up to the front of the Emmaus Building, home to Emmaus Petroleum, the leading off-shore oil business in the US. He was used to seeing protesters lined up outside of his building, but there were more than usual today. The Mixies, the inter-racial subculture that preferred the label Pixies, were always looking for a chance to cause more trouble for his business. Most of them were gone five months out of the year working the state fairs and carnivals. When they were home, they had nothing better to do than come give him a headache. He wanted to run them over, but remembered what his mother taught him about Jesus and the Samaritans, and slowly inched through their crowd to the door.
 As they screamed their obscenities at him, he tossed his keys to the attendant and marched up to the door, wading through the sea of dirty clothes and foul language. Just to the side was Stoney, the blind Mer beggar who always sat there in a wading pool. Noah tossed a few coins into the water.
“Bless you, Mr. Emmaus. You are a saint.” Stoney’s raspy voice called after him.
Noah went into the massive lobby, a rotunda which served as a museum of Incanto history. Elaborate paintings hung on the wall, some of historical figures, others of amazing creatures. There was a statue in the center of the patron Emmaus, known affectionately as “Dad,” riding on the back of a sea serpent. The room was always a busy attraction.
This day, there were some school children on a field trip, some older tourists walking the perimeter for their health, and a few university students working on class projects. One teenage girl nudged her friend when Noah entered, recognizing him as GQ Magazine’s “Sexiest CEO of The Year.” He was yelling in his headset, loudly, so they acted like they hadn’t noticed him.
            The kindly old front desk lady, a Greenie, greeted him with her usual, “Top-o-th' mornin', Mr. Emmaus!” It was a greeting he did not return as he went directly to his private elevator and up to his office. She muttered into her newspaper, once the elevator doors had closed, “His momma never ignored an old Gnome’s greeting. What’s the world comin' to, I ask?”
            Up on the office floor, the elevator opened to a beautiful lobby, home to an exquisite aquarium, overstuffed leather couches, perfectly trimmed miniature palm trees, and where a massive desk was attended by Melia. She was a Mixie, and her petite frame and pretty face were the first things to finally distract Noah from his phone call, for the moment.
            She brushed her chocolate brown hair out of her almond brown face and offered a smile, which he couldn’t help but return. She grabbed his latte out of his hands while he resumed his tirade on the phone.
“Look, Ryan, I know your father isn't available. I've tried calling his phone five times this morning. I don't care what he’s doing; I need to talk to him!”
            Melia reached into her desk, pulled out a plastic baggie filled with glittery Dust, and put just a pinch inside his drink. Noah mouthed “thank you” to her, then took a sip of it. Instantly, his muscles relaxed.
            “All right, just give Captain Pryus a message for me. Tell him I need to know how she got out, and I need to know what he’s going to do to keep it from happening again. Got it?” He ended his call without an answer.
            Melia spoke. “You’re late. You know that’s not going to make it any easier.”
            “They’re already here?” he groaned. “Why do senior citizens do everything so early?”
            She pointed to the conference room. “They’re waiting for you. And Jack is in rare form. He mentioned sending you off to Austin for a month or so.”
            Noah smiled. “Ah, Jack. Ever the charmer. So, what else is going on today?”
            She gave him a puzzled look. “Nothing more pressing than meeting with your board about your oil rig. They’re waiting.”
            “They can wait a little longer. I need to get in the zone first. What else has happened?”
            She shrugged and looked at the sticky notes on her desk. “Karl called; he wants you to call him.”
            “Tell him to talk to Olaf.” He began to look through the e-mails on his BlackBerry.
            “He doesn't want to talk to Olaf.” She glanced at the screen of his phone. “He feels like he's getting the short end of the stick with Olaf.”
            He looked up. “That's physically impossible. We couldn't give Karl the short end of anything. He needs to deal with Olaf. Next.”
            She sighed and glanced at her computer screen. “The freshmen from Bartholomew High are coming by for a tour today. You're supposed to give them a motivational talk.”
             “Reschedule.”
            “You've rescheduled them three times already. It's your alma mater, your grandfather's namesake. Today's the day.”
            He paused, and then sheepishly smiled. “Ok, today's the day.” He looked back down at his phone. “Jeez, you're bossy.”
            She pushed some papers in front of him. “Sign these, for Alec.”
            He signed without looking at them. “Sure, anything for your boyfriend.”
            She fidgeted before she continued. “By the way, Jack said you were going to be making some kind of announcement today?”
             “Why?”
            “I don’t know. What’s the announcement?”
            He shook his head, angrily. “I told Jack I didn’t want to make it until Monday. Today is premature.”
            “Jack doesn’t think so, apparently. What’s the announcement?”
“Can’t tell you. I’ve got to keep some level of romance in our relationship.” He flashed a grin. She looked away.
“Can you please go to the meeting now? And let me screen your e-mails for you. You know you’ll just get bored with it all.”
            He turned to walk toward the conference room, then stopped. “Hey, Mel, there's an email here from you.”
            Her shoulders sank, and then she tried to act nonchalant. “Oh, right, that was a mistake. Just delete it.”
            He turned back to her desk. “But it says 'Something I need to say, do not delete'.”
            She reached out and put her left hand over the screen. “Noah. Delete it. Promise me you will.”
            “Alright, I will.” He looked down at her hand and noticed a diamond ring. He looked back at her eyes.
            “Why are you wearing that?”
            She retracted her hand and covered it with her other.
            “No reason.” She said.
            “I thought you said you pawned it.” He searched her eyes for a hint of feeling. She gave him none.
            “I was going to. I never got around to it.” She began shuffling through some papers on her desk.
            “Maybe because there’s still some-“
            “Stop.” She slammed her hand on her desk. “It’s over, Noah. I’ve moved on, now you need to, too. So, hurry. Jack’s waiting.” She delivered that entire speech while staring down at her desk.
            He nodded and walked into the conference room.
            Jack was pointing at the screen behind him, speaking emphatically. “All I’m saying is, we’ve had twenty years with no problems. Now we’re gettin’ attacked by some stinkin’ endangered species. And the environmentalists are havin’ a heyday. That doesn’t seem like the vision I bought into, am I alone here?”
            The board – a couple of Bigs, a Mer, and a few Humans - was one of the most diverse groups in the city. Yet they all nodded in agreement. As Noah looked at the video looping behind Jack, he couldn't really blame them. There was something very unsettling about seeing a sea serpent tearing into an oil rig that would make anyone squeamish.
            He muttered to himself. “Another Friday, off to a fine start.”

2 comments:

Ms. Yingling said...

The query letter seems a bit long and perhaps too informal. The book... There is so much fantasy out there, and so muchof it makes me shake my head. Bu I'm interested in Johhny Cannon. If it is realistic and middle grade, I'd loveto read and review it. It's not showing up on Follett's lists yet, but I'll keep my eyes openfor it!

Isaiah Campbell said...

Ms. Yingling - Yes, those are GREAT observations. Looking back, the query was about a paragraph and a half too long and tried to establish the voice of the book too much. Also, and you hit at the core of it, the book itself wasn't stellar.

I'd love to have you review the book when it comes out! I see your blog is about MG for boys, and that's exactly what Johnny Cannon is. I'll know more about ARCs and such as the months wear on. Thanks for commenting!