Dec 16, 2009

REVISED QUERY- ALONG THE BEACH

Thanks so much for the earlier round of feedback. Here's the revised version. Does it hit the mark? Gary


A horde of killer bees in Borneo. An armed robbery in Los Angeles. A deadly riptide off the Pacific. Malaria in East Africa. A vision of a lady in white guiding him to safety each time. For travel photographer Lee Merrick, the extraordinary is the ordinary.

As the mysterious lady’s ethereal hands guide Lee’s at the piano to play a Chopin prelude he never knew, he wonders about the prophecy from his youth that foretells he will someday meet “Her” along the beach. But his mother, who has kept the secret of her own dark prophecy, is compelled to sabotage his pursuit at all costs—even if it means having Lee institutionalized against his will.

Time is running out for Lee. The polished lens of his photojournalist’s camera fails him, and he must learn to see with his inner sight. Mounting clues beckon him toward this woman who pleads for his belief in her and their love. But will he uncover the truth before his obsession robs him of his family, friends, and freedom?

ALONG THE BEACH is a 108,000-word New Age novel.

My metaphysical piece Atlantis, Arise appeared in the national magazine [magazine title listed here]. The pyramids, temples, and mysterious places highlighted in Along The Beach are written with authenticity based on nearly two decades of sojourns exploring those locations across the world with metaphysical societies.

Thank you for considering Along The Beach.

Sincerely,

(me)

25 comments:

Holly said...

I really like your query. You cleared up the earlier points of confusion for me.

One last question for you: I understand why you chose New Age for the genre, but I think for commercial rreasons you should pick another genre, maybe thriller, or something else that people more commonly use.

Good luck!

KatieGrrr said...

Love, love, love it!

I would cut this line...

"The polished lens of his photojournalist’s camera fails him, and he must learn to see with his inner sight."

... because it's vague and (IMO) kills the flow. I was totally into it until that line.

Overall, I think it's great.
Really eerie.

Piedmont Writer said...

I agree, this is a really good query. Short, sweet and to the point. The only thing I would cut would be the last phrase "...with metaphysical societies." and just leave it with "...exploring those locations across the world."
Good Luck.

Anonymous said...

Thanks from the author (me) for the notes already arriving!

That "polished lens" sentence is a new addition, kicking it around to see if it's worth adding (some feel the query could use a little extra, so I added that quip to give a little more idea about the protag and the irony of his profession he's clung to not helping him at all with this) yet others have assured that the query is complete without having to add anything. Going to tally the vote for and against that line, with thanks to all.

Genre:
Though I can reclassify the genre as paranormal, I might raise some ire with agents stretching it to thriller. But New Age does limit things quite a bit, yes.

Holly said...

The polished lens line wasn't clear to me, so my vote is either take it out or clarify it.

I would go with paranormal for the genre.

Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Well, even if I keep that polished lens quip, I might want to trim it down to something like,
"The polished lens of his photojournalist’s camera won’t help him learn to see with his inner sight."

Holly said...

I like that rewritten sentence better than the first version.

FYI, I took the first version to mean he can't photograph the mysterious woman. The second version gives your query some depth. Anyway, my vote is for the sentence you just posted.

And don't use New Age. There is nothing wrong with that genre, but it will really limit your manuscript. Right now paranormal is popular.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Holly.

Think I can simplify it even more to minimalize its interruption to the flow. How 'bout:

Time is running out for Lee—and that polished lens of his photojournalist’s camera won’t help his inner sight.

Even better?

Holly said...

So far, the last one is the best. The time is running out part is a good touch, too.

Gary said...

Thanks, Holly. I'll use that last one then which combines both sentences with the em dash. Will be interesting if KatieGrr comes back and says whether this more concise version is worth having at all or just not even using.

I've posted the first seven chapters over on TheNextBigWriter site.

Rick Daley said...

I think the genre Paranormal Suspense would fit. Thriller and Suspense are similar, but a Thriller is more action-oriented.

Go to a book store and look at a dozen New Age books, read the covers. Does yours fit in?

Putting an agent hat on: I think the story description is intriguing, and if there were sample pages provided I would read them, but I don't think the description of the story is strong enough to request a partial if the pages were not already provided. TWGOS...I'm not an agent, nor am I a published writer.

There are a lot a vague allusions to key plot elements; two prophecies in particular. If these are well-plotted, it could be great. If they are not well-plotted, e.g. they are cliche or don't make sense, then there's trouble with the MS.

Think from the perspective of the agent that reads 100 queries a day. Many of them will not gamble on something that is 50/50. They want something concise that they can sell as-is.

I think you're on the right track in honing it down, but you can still get more to the point.

Good luck!

Gary said...

Hi Rick,

Paranormal Suspense. What an intriguing concept. Did a quick google to see that is a recognized subgenre. But the few examples I saw of published novels looked awfully dark-themed, opposite in tone of my story (one reason I mention New Age is because this is an embrace-the-light type story, rather than delving into demons, witches, the dead, vampires, and angry ghosts. I'll see if its positive mysticism somehow still fits as an exception within than category nevertheless.

As far as anything remotely resembling this novel, publishers are all over the map in how they classify them (Fantasy Romance, New Age, etc.), so there's no real gold standard here.
When agents allow the synopsis to be included with sending the query, it can help, as imagined. This forum was about 100 character short of allowing me to include that in the posting, regrettably.
I know YMMV abbrevation, but a quick google search didn't show me what TWGOS stands for -- but presumably it's a note of modesty.

Interesting point too about conciseness, but I've tried to resist the mistake of making the query a condensed version of the synopsis--striving to balancing the "hook" element and the query as a marketing document to entice the agent to read the synopsis and sample chapters. I suspect you might have sided in the earlier query version 1, which delved more into plot and character. The problem with that version though, was it had too much info-dumping and less of a brisk pace.

But I'll tag your vote in the "nay" category here. Just wish you'd have given a hint of what you found wasn't concise needing that within the admittedly limited space a one-page query allows.

Rick Daley said...

Hi Gary,

TWGOS is Take With a Grain of Salt ;-)

For the genre, the best thing to do is go to a book store and find the category where you expect to see your book. Look at the other books there. If they seem similar to your book, you're good to go. If not, look around and see where other books similar to yours are stocked.

I'm not a total nay, it sounds like you have an interesting premise and there's a ton of potential behind what you describe, but you hint vaguely at two prophecies that seem to be at the crux of the conflict, and personally I want to know what the prophecies say.

This is the murky water...I am curious, which is good, but am I curious enough to gamble my precious time on another 50-page partial when I've requested two already this week and I have full novels from many clients to read as well?

You really have to sell the story to the agent. By holding back on critical information you do create mystery and suspense, but you don't give the full nine yards in showing why your story is unique. As I mentioned before, the prophecies could be cliche, or they could just be wacky, or they could be dead-on brilliant.

For a mother to go to such lengths to harm her own child (or protect him?) begs for more info.

The bets piece of advice I ever got regarding my queries was to boil the story down to one sentence. When you write your query, start with that and work your way up.

If you start with a longer synopsis and start paring it down you end up with loose threads.

Good luck, I hope to see this in print some day. It does sound like a cool story. You just need to make it shine above the hundreds of other queries your dream agent receives each day. It can be done...

Gary said...

Great follow-up post, Rick. I synch'd in with it. I've been warned by some that if I can't explain why the mother's prophecy is so "deadly" (former adjective I had) then don't bother. Yet I think the point you're making is, if it's so vague, it may not even be worth mentioning her prophecy at all. And I appreciate that even agents who ask for both query and synopsis in the first submittal may very well skip reading the synopsis if the query really bombs.

In case I'm lucky enough for you to return to this thread, I'm going to try to post that synopsis, if you'll check it out and confirm whether the mother's prophecy has some originality worth spelling out in the query, and (overall) if the synopsis describes a story worthy of clarifying the query (vs. possibly instead regarding the synopsis as telling a tiresome tale that no query could sell -- I've never seen this story before, but that's not to say it's a winner).

nb: Actually, even the synopsis doesn't spill all the beans on precisely what prophecy she received -- that's a note of potential concern to me to consider adding that pronto to the synopsis. She was given the prediction that her husband would die relatively young with a fatal disease. To construct a denial mechanism, she therefore had to dispute the validity of prophecy-giving -- and therefore the prophecy her son received must also have to be untrue. So she must thwart (subconsiously or otherwise) anything that looks like his prophecy might be coming true. Decent plot complication?

Gary said...

SYNOPSIS

He knows this is not the end.
Deep inside an unexplored stretch of jungle in Borneo, nature photographer Lee Merrick is in over his head. Stung by a swarm of bees closing in for the kill, he’s left with only one chance: run like hell and dive for the nearest body of water. Lee still isn’t safe. The river carries him swiftly to the edge of a waterfall. Before plunging over the edge, he experiences a vision of a half-seen lady in glowing white.

Again.

Lee recalls seeing the same woman in a series of mysterious dreams the summer of his final year in college. As a photojournalist, he travels to exotic shorelines around the world, where he shoots photos for Beachways magazine—and encounters further paranormal hints of the Lady in White as she visits the innermost reaches of his mind. In visions and dreams, she tells him that, above all, she is not an illusion. But nobody else sees her, and Lee can’t prove he’s not just imagining a perfect mate to fulfill the prophecy given in his youth that, one day, he would meet “Her” along a beach.
Now he’s not sure what to think. Yet her ethereal hands caress his at the piano to play a Chopin prelude he never knew. Something he can no longer dismiss begins to haunt him.

The enigma deepens with each apparition of her along the beaches of the world.
She raises her hand, upon which moonbeams reflect a ring with the emblem of a silvery bird which he commits to memory and has such a ring crafted for himself. But nothing prepares him for the astral embrace of their two spirits upon the lunar Sea of Serenity, with their innermost thoughts laid bare to one another in a union more intimate than he’d ever imagined possible.

Lee staggers in the despair of losing not only his job, but eventually even contact with her. After two lost years, he replenishes his faith—only to be confronted by disbelieving relatives. Leading the pack is his mother, who harbors a dark secret that rules an unconscious compulsion never to allow him to succeed—to the point of threatening to commit him to his own father’s psychiatric ward. But it’s too late for them: Lee no longer needs to seek validation from parents and peers, having learned to focus on self-validation in seeking to find himself—and her. His faith is further bolstered as he researches the possibility of soul mates at the Library of London. On a sojourn to Merlin’s Cave in Tintagel, Lee hears for the first time the angelic voice behind his silent visions, entrancing him more deeply into uncovering the mystery of her being. Their spiritual encounters intersect with life-threatening scenes, from his near-drowning, to being held hostage by armed gunmen at a bank robbery, where each time her words guide him to safety.

Through it all, Lee is faced with his greatest challenge: overcoming the remnants of any doubts that along with the reality of her spirit, there breathes the body of a real woman—and that he will never be complete until he finds her… his other half. Repeatedly challenged with physical, emotional and spiritual survival in the face of hostile circumstances, he gains the sense that his inner growth, mirrored by his outer struggles, is the true key to his life’s quest.

After a decade-long journey of body and spirit that forges his soul, Lee at last fully believes that she is indeed real. As their paths converge, he looks up to see a woman wearing the same seagull ring he’d seen in his visions worn by her—now physically standing before him, along his very own beach, uniting his outer and inner realities to make him whole.

Gary said...

Here's a revision to the synopsis, now mentioning the secret behind his mother's prophecy -- and her reaction which causes her to thwart him from fulfilling her son's own prophecy.

(synopsis revision)
Leading the pack is his mother, who harbors the dark secret of a prophecy that her beloved husband will suffer a fatal disease far too young. Denial that the future may be foretold rules her unconscious compulsion never to allow the prophecy he received from that same prophet to be fulfilled—to the point of threatening to commit him to his own father’s psychiatric ward.
(end revision)

Now that the synopsis at least contains this, I didn't yet figure out whether this could 'n should be telegraphed into the query too.

Rick Daley said...

I like the twist with the mother's motivation, but agree that it's not clear in the first synopsis.

Many agents will accept 5 pages (always send the first 5, not a selection from the middle), and will not even ask for a synopsis. They will want to get a true feel for the voice of the writing, and it is very difficult to carry the same voice in the MS, in the query, and in the synopsis.

A synopsis will typically be quite dry; it's an outline of events that drive the plot. Where your query is high level and focuses only on the protagonist, antagonist, and the primary goal/struggle, the synopsis should provide a full reveal of all plot twists and give an idea for the pacing of the story.

This is my take on your plot distilled to a single sentence:

Gary is destined to meet his soul-mate, a beautiful lady that appears to him in visions and helps to guide him out of dangerous situations, but his mother will go to great lengths to keep Gary from meeting his true love because if he succeeds, she will lose her own soul mate.

I don't know if that nails it or not, but for the query you want to break the story down to that basic level, then start adding meat to it. If you add something that opens a can o' worms, take it back out. No sub-plots, minor characters, incidental events...just the core premise of your story.

Hope this helps!

KatieGrrr said...

I still say cut it.

I would have liked this better...

"Time is running out for Lee. Mounting clues beckon him toward this woman who pleads for his belief, but will he uncover the truth before his obsession robs him of his family, friends, and freedom?"

I cut a couple parts. I think you should keep it really simple to maximize the effect. IMO, too many details just dilute queries.

GhostFolk.com said...

A silly thing:

I'd prefer the word "swarm" of killer bees. "Horde" sounds to me like someone is saving them up.

Gary said...

It's a bit tricky for me to condense the mother's prophecy/her reaction/reason why into a single sentence in the query:

But the dark prophecy his mother hides compels her to sabotage Lee’s pursuit at all costs—even if it means having Lee institutionalized against his will—so she will not lose her own soul mate.

Also, using the term soul mate really spills the beans--idea of the query was to raise the question, but not reveal the final who-is-she that's presently reserved for the synopsis. Bowing to the qundary of what mixture of enticement vs. revelation to provide the in query. Perhaps replacing the above use of that term simply with "love" (so she will not lose her own love).

And yes, swarm is a more active description of the bees in a flying state.

Gary said...

nope, scratch the term "love" - makes it too generic to the point of interpreting Lee is her love, confusing the issue of a mother losing the love of her son, etc. which isn't the case. Rather messy trying to untangle this knot -- tried adding further mention of her prophecy to the query before too, but without luck. The other version added to the synopsis fits better though, probably because there's more room for it to breathe there.

Gary said...

I think I'm hearing two suggestions, to either trim the query a bit, or, to start over and rewrite it -- that the proposed addition of the following isn't enough to fill-in about the mother's prophecy? (yes/no?)

But the dark prophecy his mother hides compels her to sabotage Lee’s pursuit at all costs—even if it means having Lee institutionalized against his will—or else she will lose her own husband.

Rick Daley said...

You have a lot to chew over...take a look at this post I did on Critiquing Critiques, there's a section on what to do after you receive feedback.

Gary said...

Hi Rick,

Kinda surprised you pointed me to that post, since it tells me to blow off your advice per rule #4 to start with only the advice all are sending in common (there is none - it's two diametrically opposed camps in this thread of basically those liking the current query and only quibbling whether to trim a bit or not, vs. you suggesting a full rewrite). And to side with the majority (that would leave you as the only for me to ignore -- but I'd like to consider myself more open minded than obeying sheer numbers of the majority).

I do agree with many items in that article's familiar advice, including thanking all as I do here who've generously contributed, albeit without any common ground shared by all. And I'm not going to ignore yours just because your own fourth rule suggests I do (grin).

I'll just have to find my way.
(closing this thread)

Donna Hole said...

"Polished lense" and "insight" mean the same thing to me. The camera is a reflection of the artist's internal vision.

Not sure I'd say "new age" for genre as opposed to "commercial fiction", but I don't really think agents will distinguish if they represent both experimental and commercial fiction. Just make sure the Agent you qurey represents all the genre's your novel could fall into and they'll make the decision where it fits if they like it.

And, you can't have experience in "exploring meta-physical societies" because they don't exist. You don't need credentials in creating fictional worlds, you just have to support it in the novel writing.

And it might read better to say "mysterious lady's ethereal hands guide Lee (not Lee's)". And I'm not connecting "this woman who pleads for his belief" with any other aspect of the adventure, though I must assume it's the "Her" he must meet along the beach.

Don't make an agent work that hard at connecting the dots.

An intriguing query. I didn't read any of the other submissions, but I'm impressed with this one.

Good Luck Gary.

................dhole