3rd SR Crapometer #25

September 1, 2006

Miss Snark, Literary Agent

Dear Miss Snark:

I read on your web site that you are interested in romantic suspense. I thought that you might be interested in my novel, The Drakkan Stone, a romantic suspense/time travel of 100,000 words, which is a stand-alone but is intended to be the first in a series.

Seahenge, an ancient water megalith was a career-making story for Lorin Gallagher, a freelance writer with psychic ability to know the truth by touch. A weekend retreat to the Scottish Highland Games in the mountains of North Carolina, and she meets a Highlander, Kohner Cormac, who rescues her from an attack. (is there a connection between these two things-if there is, it's not clear to me) Her research takes her to Scotland and while visiting the ruins of Kohner’s castle, she travels back in time to Medieval Scotland.

In her zeal to locate the next big story and return home, she uncovers a long buried secret and realizes her breaking story isn't the Seahenge discovery but the facts surrounding the ancient civilization that built the henge. However, revealing that secret could change the way scientists view this ancient civilization. Her ambition blinds her to the far-reaching affects of this revelation on people’s beliefs.

Her life is in danger as someone tries to stop her return home and gain possession of the ancient finger-ring, which she learns has certain powers. As she gets closer to the truth, her own daring puts others in danger as she and a young girl are kidnapped.

Kohner Cormac, Clan Guardian of the Misty Island, has the responsibility for the clans: MacLean and MacKinnon. However, his powers as Royal Sentinel from an ancient, thought to be lost, civilization have lessoned with the loss of the drakkan-stone ring. A dark secret that he guards threatens to be exposed by the same woman he has rescued.

Engaged in a battle of wits and wills between a scare-ravaged clan leader who is determined to prove to her that there is more to success than revealing beliefs better left unwritten and a career-oriented modern woman determined to forge her own success, brings about a decision that each must sacrifice their own desires.

Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander novels were a great inspiration to my own writing, and although The Drakkan Stone is my first novel, I have been writing for five years and have two other manuscripts in this series ready for revision.

gadzooks, pare this down. I don't need a synopsis, I just need a glimmer of hope that there is a plot in the book.

Thank you very sincerely for taking the time to consider my novel. I would be happy to send you a synopsis and three chapters for your review, or the complete manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you.


Name Withheld


Chapter 1

Medieval 18th Century, Scotland (err..isn't the 18th century called something like Restoration, Regency or the Age of Reason or something. Medieval is centuries before this)

The darkened room was small by the castle standards of chambers, but its purpose- a secret workroom, lined with overflowing shelves filled with books on magic, spells and dragon lore. All of which disinterested him. He had what he came for. In his hand, he held an obsidian scrying glass that he could see into clearly, despite the confines of the darkness. The glass crystal proved clear tonight, and with little effort, he summoned the dragon-hunter. At this moment, they could not call his powers inept. To scry this effortlessly was a boon to his ego. There would be plenty of entertainment for this eve.

He gave a low chuckle (really? to whom?) and reached for the soft velvet pouch to enclose the scrying glass. He was now ready to join the group headed for the Games. He paused as he noticed the scene in the crystal begin to change. No longer the familiar coastline, but an unknown cairn. Fog interfered with the scene, but something lay covered in the cairn. Would this be a benefit to him or a hidden complication? As long as his identity remained unknown, he was safe. He would have to examine this further. A knock sounded. He put the cloth wrapped crystal back in its resting spot, gathered his cape about him and moved silently into the wall. (well, that sounds promising)


Startled, he awoke by a thump. The candle on the adjacent nightstand beckoned the shadows, and brought them to life. (ok, this is where I stop reading) Kohner’s hand slid swiftly beneath the pillow and grasped a dagger as he tried to slow his breathing. His heartbeat hammered, not from the awakening sound, but from the affects of the disturbing dream that had plagued his slumber. There it was again- a knock on the wooden door. He bolted off the bed as he heard a voice call to him from the other side.

“Milord, there was a . . .”

You're absolutely awash in more words than you need. Pare! Pare! Take that dagger and cut off about half of what you have here. Get the action moving. Quit telling us how all fired moody and Heathcliffian all these "he's" are. Kill someone! Now!

You tell us the heroine of the novel is someone named Lorin. Where the hell is she?


Anonymous said...

As my teachers used to say, "someone needs to have a train wreck." Action-adventures need to have some action happen pretty quick.

Dave said...

My constant advice - too many words, cut it in half,

Anonymous said...

Medieval 18th Century, Scotland (err..isn't the 18th century called something like Restoration, Regency or the Age of Reason or something. Medieval is centuries before this)

Thank you, Miss Snark! As a former medievalist, I'm always amazed by how many people equate "medieval" with "back then" (i.e., just about any era before the 20th century).

To the author--I'd like to know which year in the 18th century. Just as there's a big difference in what life was like in 1912 vs. 1938 vs. 1969 vs. 1997, the 18th century represents a 100-year period with lots of variations in fashions, politics, daily life, and so on. If you want readers to trust you to create an accurate portrayal of life in the 18th century, start off by letting us know whether it's 1702 or 1790. (Of course, if you're really thinking medieval--which in Britain represents the 1,000-year period between c. 450 and c. 1450--tell us whether we're in 560 or 863 or 1273 or 1348...)

Sam said...

I think a historical novel needs a little history - I'm not a history buff but the story and setting left me perplexed. Is it a fantasy? Lots of information sort of drowned out the story. I'm still not sure what is going on, or what will happen.
I really enoyed the writing though!

JJ said...

Okay, I'm not sure if snarklings are supposed to comment like this or not, so call me nitwit as need be. But this writing is not ready for publication. Half the sentences are fragments, clauses have no grammatical relationship to each other, and the various elements raised in the query seem tossed in randomly, not as links in a discernable plot chain. And yeah, the medieval period is generally considered over by the Norman invasion in 1066). Interesting idea, but I'd say much more development (and critique group work) is needed.

Anonymous said...

Seconding everything JJ said, and adding that a number of words are used incorrectly, or at least ineptly. Check the dictionary for "disinterested".

Anonymous said...

This reminds me very much of Linda Howard's SON OF THE MORNING

Michele Lee said...

It feels like the writer is trying too hard to put interesting language and atmosphere in the story and query. It comes off as incorrect and overly dramatic. Plus, and The divine Miss S pointed out, where's the main character?
Of course I greatly dislike the time travel gimmick. Rarely is it done well, and almost never in fantasy.

Kim said...

The author needs to research his/her time period a little better. 18th century Scotland isnt medieval Scotland. Also, I thought this query was the synopsis. Way too wordy - it should be hero/heroine, basic plotline, major conflict, resolution. bam, bam, and bam.

For historical romance, the history is needed, of course, but it's to give the reader a sense of time and place, not a history lesson entirely. It shouldn't overshadow the story, but should add a little flavor. It's an idea with promise, it just needs a little work.

I don't know how many drafts have been done on this, but the author does need to address the grammatical problems as well before submitting - s/he should try reading it out loud, or have someone read it out loud to them to get a sense of that as well.

Virginia Miss said...

Seahenge, time travel, Scotland, and a controversy surrounding the publication of a "career-making story" promised so much! I even liked the title.

But then the query language became so unclear I could no longer follow it. And the prologue was full of sloppy writing. Such a disappointment.

srchamberlain said...

Speaking as one of those 359 unlucky Snarklings who got lotteried out of this round, it's disturbing to me that so many of these entries sport basic grammar, spelling, and other amateurish mistakes--the sort of thing you couldn't possibly do if you'd read MS's blog for more than a week. Those of us who might have benefited from less obvious advice aren't amused.

This isn't Miss Snark's fault, of course, and her generous offer to critique these manuscripts, such as they are, will probably go down in the annals of blogging history as one of the nicest things anyone's ever done for writers. (Yes, Miss Snark. "Nice" and "Miss Snark" CAN be used in a sentence.) But I wish some of these writers had thought better of it before clogging up the gmail with projects that needed a basic proofing first.

Anonymous said...

srchamberlain - I couldn't agree with you more. However, I posted a similar (but not as nicely couched) sentiment at #15 and got my head handed to me on a platter. Still, I thought the premise of the exercise was to make your submission as good as you possibly could BEFORE submitting to MS. It's hard for me to believe that some of the submissions being reviewed used as much due diligence in preparing as did many of those that got bounced.

To the author: I do think you have more promise here than many of the other pieces I've read this morning. The synopsis interested me, even though I don't really go for fantasy/time travel kinds of lit. But the opening page has to draw us in completely - we can't be willing to stop reading... Drag us right into the middle of some action, internal conflict, SOMETHING more than a small room with things in it that can't even attract and hold the attention of your lead character (assuming that's who this is). I don't know that I'd be willing to quit this story if I were you. It sounds like you have it pretty well thought out. But you will need to bop us over the head with something important to drag us into it with you!

JRBrown said...

I wouldn't call this a "romantic suspense/time travel" novel. I'd call it a fantasy novel, or possibly a science fiction novel (I'm seeing hints of aliens in the "ancient civilizations" and "far-reaching affects of this revelation on people’s beliefs").

I'd suggest deciding if it's SF or fantasy and describing it as such in the query. (hint: if there is *any magic at all* it is fantasy, or you will have hoards of howling SF fans calling for your blood)

If the McGuffin is "modern woman travels back in time" I'd be happier starting with a contemporary scene, especially if it's not science fiction; if you lead with the period stuff the modern parts may be jarring. Also, starting modern will help maintain the impact when the time travel kicks in.

Insofar as I understand the plot it looks OK, although it's been done before (repeatedly).

"Medieval 18th Century" is a total WTF?!? moment. I don't think you need to identify time/place in the chapter headers anyway; if the reader can't tell which scenes are 21st century and which scenes are 18th century you have a bigger problem than a chapter heading can fix.

The biggest problem is that the writing is clunky in both query and pages - see jj's post. "Disinterested" doesn't mean "not interested". Lots of typos: "scare-ravaged" (scarred?), lessoned, affects/effects. There might be a good book in here but it needs work.

Anonymous said...

If my count is correct, Miss Snark has completed one quarter of the entries and has not yet found a single submission for which she would request more pages...

Bernita said...

Excuse me, JJ, but I don't think the medieval period was considered "over" by 1066.
The Dark Ages, maybe...

Clarice Snarkling said...

Agreed x10, srchamberlain. I signed my Crapometer query with "Studious Snarkling" because writing it was much like sweating over the final exam for a writing and publishing course -- and a very fine one at that. I took everything Miss Snark has taught me in her archives and put it into that query. And now she's stuck critiquing people who shouldn't have passed Grammar For Bozos.

Anonymous said...

She travels back in time - how? What secret surrounds Seahenge? "(S)omeone" tries to stop her getting home and the ring has "certain" powers. The query was full of vague terms, not to mention bits of plot that made my eyebrows rise. Author, I think you need to say less about your plot but be more specific about what you do say. Really condense down the plot summary to what is important, but don't refrain from mentioning what those important details are.

The excerpt itself is, as someone else pointed out, not yet ready for publication. Keep writing, and keep working to improve your writing, but this is probably a "practice" novel for you. I wouldn't recommend working on the rest of the series just yet, because if you can't sell the first book, you won't be able to sell the others. Just keep writing and improving, and in a few years, you'll probably be able to come back and rewrite this one in order to get the series off the ground. Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

Time travel with Stonehenge was done. It was done by Diana Gabaldon. The lead characters were Jamie, a Highlander and Clare, a person from the 50's. Clare traveled back in time and was rescued by a bunch of scotsmen who were in a midst of a war.

The book? Outlander (Cross Stitch in England)

So pray, tell me did you read that before writing this? If it's too close to that where things seem to same you might risk not being published.

Publishers don't tend to like to repeat themselves over and over again.

When writing a query, make it straight and to the point.

First paragraph, how you know the agent. keep it to about 3 sentences max. That's about 60 words maximum. Preferable to keep it to one or two. I know you from X convention. I met you in person at X. An author reccommended you to me. Then add anything you might know about the agent that might help. "You sell X type of novel."

Next write in a one-sentence summary of your book. Character(s), (newspaper tag) is in X Main problem plot, type of book, word count (in numbers, not words).

After that, write a paragraph about the first chapter's main characters and problems. Do not give a resolution, nor give a long winded speech. What is the main problem that includes the main characters? Keep this to a sentence or two. After that give a short teaser that doesn';t sound like it's stuck to a movie poser about what happens in the rest of the book. This in summary should be about 3-5 sentences.

After that post things that are relavant to this book on your credits. I am an English teacher will not help. I wrote non-fiction should be trashed for a fiction novel. If this is a romance, write about your professional ability to write romance. If you wrote literary fiction and this is romance, forget it. Keep it confined to the book subject. If you got a degree in history on Scotland and you are writing a historical novel on scotland, then put it in. It must be relevant, otherwise just cut it. It does not matter. Note that being an editor or an English teacher will most likely get people cross when they see a basic mistake in your writing. You will get more fried than the average.

After that put these exact words, "Thank you for your time and consideration. I have included X"

And close it off with some closing and then your name. IN the real world, you need to sign, and put in an SASE. Mention the amount of pages you have included, etc.

THAT is a cover letter. In the letter should also be why this book is different from all other books like it or before it without saying the words, "This is why this book is unique" put it into the summary of the plot.

And it is mentioned in this exact format in Writer's Market about 2,000 times over. Writer's Digest covers this every year at the very least! People should research before submitting their crap. Note that most books on query/cover letters have many no-no's. You are better off reading the entirety of this blog and reading the current issue of Writer's Market.

I hope next crapometer people will research on how to format, and make books and cover letters, do research and look up things instead of covering their eyes and hitting the send button.

A person I know is going up... I hope that the comments that we gave them will help in getting a better grade. It's always a good idea to just submit it to any group for harsh critiques before flying into Miss Snark's clutches, or have people not learned that from the last 2 crapometers?

It would do you good to read the previous 2 thoroughly because a lot of the mistakes here were very much covered. Plus Miss Snark was nice enough to tell exactly what she wanted in a cover letter. I would bet Killer Yap would like to bite those people off for not really reading the blog entries.

Bernita said...

Just to be picky, Anon, but in no way disputing your kindly advice to this author, it wasn't Stonehenge in the Outlander- it was an obscure Scottish henge.
I believe this entrant specifically mentioned a "Seahenge" - which sounds all very Lyonesse-like.

Anonymous said...

I'm still stuck on the fact that the author spelled the heroine's name as "Lorin"? What's wrong with Lauren? I really hope there's some reason for that besides the author trying to be clever and distinctive.

srchamberlain said...

clarice and anonymous: Whew. I was a little afraid I'd be snarked to death for the sentiment. I'm glad there are are other people for whom "WTF" is the acronym of the day.

Look, writer, whoever you are: part of the purpose of this exercise was so the divine Miss S. could offer information that would be valuable to all of us, so that we could correct mistakes in our own writing that might not have been obvious to us, even after thoroughly digesting the Snarkives. I wager that none of us who couldn't participate because you submitted a _very_ rough draft needed Miss Snark to tell us that the Middle Ages didn't occur in the 18th century...well, anywhere. And certainly no one writing a historical novel about the period should need to be told. Thanks a lot for wasting Miss Snark's time, and ours.

Writerious said...

...far-reaching affects of this revelation...

Affect is usually a verb.

Effect is usually a noun.

The arcane exceptions to this rule are found almost exclusively in academic papers, so most writers won't have to deal with them.

Hence this should read "...far-reaching effects of this revelation..."

I teach science, so I have to deal with affect/effect a LOT. "Kids, it's 'X affects Y,' while 'X has an effect on Y.' Do not forget this. And don't forget that we have vocal cords (and spinal cords), not vocal chords."

December Quinn said...

Umm...okay, the medieval period was definitely over by the 18th century (as Bernita pointed out, it most certainly did NOT end with the Norman invasion, but in the late 15th century) and, given that the Jacobite uprisings occurred in the 18th century and there's no menton of them in the query, I question the setting anyway.

I liked the plot. I like the whole Seahenge thing. But you totally lost me by not knowing your history.

FWIW, Karen Marie Moning's research is sketchy at best (from what I've read), and have you ever been to a castle? Those rooms--particularly bedchambers--are nowhere near as big as you might imagine they are. I promise. I've been to several--including one built after the medieval period--and not one has impressed me with its huge bedchambers.

BuffySquirrel said...

The whole Seahenge thing was a controversy here for a while. Many locals wanted it left where it was found; the science types wanted to dig it up and make it safe in a museum. Science types won.

What the heck kind of name for a Highlander is Kohner?

JJ said...

Uh, yeah, mea culpa on that 1066 comment... I get my Darks and my Middles mixed up. ;-)

McKoala said...

Kohner Cormac, very strange name for a Scot.

While public rooms in Scottish castles can be a good size, private rooms tend not to be, mostly in the hope of creating and keeping a little warmth.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Disinterested does so mean "not interested." People who say otherwise are the same kind that harp on "hopefully."

From http://dictionary.com:
Disinterested and uninterested share a confused and confusing history. Disinterested was originally used to mean “not interested, indifferent”; uninterested in its earliest use meant “impartial.” By various developmental twists, disinterested is now used in both senses. Uninterested is used mainly in the sense “not interested, indifferent.” It is occasionally used to mean “not having a personal or property interest.”Many object to the use of disinterested to mean “not interested, indifferent.” They insist that disinterested can mean only “impartial”: A disinterested observer is the best judge of behavior. However, both senses are well established in all varieties of English, and the sense intended is almost always clear from the context.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs Nark,
I'd like to know if there is a way of searching posts in your blog. Of course, I realise I could have a look around and see if I can find a search function; or I could ask elsewhere: those who specialise in answering blog-usage questions would I'm sure be pleased to help. But I've decided to ask you instead.
Thank you for your time.

wonderer said...

anon said:

Dear Mrs Nark,
I'd like to know if there is a way of searching posts in your blog. Of course, I realise I could have a look around and see if I can find a search function; or I could ask elsewhere: those who specialise in answering blog-usage questions would I'm sure be pleased to help. But I've decided to ask you instead.
Thank you for your time.

First of all, it's Miss Snark, not Mrs. Nark.

Second, go to the links at the right-hand side of the page and look under "Helpful information for this blog". You can find what you're looking for in the link called "Index for the Snarkives".

tlh said...

I think that was a joke, wanderer. At least, I laughed. ;)

I think I've seen this query somewhere else, with the same issues addressed. Evil Editor, maybe?

Anonymous said...

I am another author who was not picked by the lottery to have my story critiqued. I also spent a significant amount of time reading the Snarkives and researching query letters before I submitted my piece.

HOWEVER, I think the critics in this set of commenters are being unnecessarily harsh on the author. If the piece was perfect, it would be published. It is very difficult as an author to step back and be objective when evaluating your own writing. I love critiquing other people's work, but I am horrible at finding my own mistakes - even when I am going over my writing looking for particular common mistakes.

I also think that the point of this exercise has been missed. The point is to give a good impression of what Miss Snark (or any agent) goes through when reading the slush pile. Miss Snark is a Goddess for doing this. If the slush pile really looks like this then it gives me a lot of hope of being published someday.

Also, for those of you who recommend the author to a critique group - I'd say the author has found one on this blog! Everyone has to start somewhere, and there is a lot of good advice to be found here.

Loriba said...

BuffySquirrel said...

"The whole Seahenge thing was a controversy here for a while. Many locals wanted it left where it was found; the science types wanted to dig it up and make it safe in a museum. Science types won."

It was also found hundreds of miles away from Scotland, in a place that was (at the time it was built) more easily accessible from the Netherlands than the rest of England.

As a result I'd be quite interested in finding out what this proposed Scottish connection is. (My parents live about twenty miles from where it was discovered, so I actually got to see it in situ. Seahenge is now a word guaranteed to pique my interest even if it's just being used in fiction.)


Jo Bourne said...

My advice to the writer would be ...

1) keep writing.
2) keep reading.
3) join a crit group
4) write 936,000 words
5) rewrite this story
6) submit