First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

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SuCue
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First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 21st, 2010, 4:33 pm

Hello, this is my first attempt at describing my recently completed novel, WESTERN WASTE, for inclusion in a query. I'm new to the forum (only joined last week), and would appreciate any feedback offered. Thanks very much.

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WESTERN WASTE is a 102,000-word work of commercial fiction, with a humorous slant, following three eventful years in the life of a young female journalist working in a very testosterone-dominated industry (shipping). WESTERN WASTE is set in the late 1980s, in a rapidly gentrifying but still colorful part of San Francisco’s South of Market district.

After years of low-wage clerical jobs, struggling single mom Elizabeth “Liz” Foley finally lands a job with possibilities – as a junior editor at an obscure, low-budget trade publication known as “The Bible of the West Coast Maritime Industry.”

As the relatively straight-laced Liz soon finds out, nearly everyone connected with her new workplace is “at least a little off-beat, if not outright fucking insane—including their husbands, wives, significant others, and even their children and pets.” Her co-workers and colleagues know they’re strange, and they’re proud of it. In fact, they view themselves as "cast" members of a long-running T.V. sitcom called “Western Waste,” which they plan to write up and sell to Hollywood for millions—some day, very soon, whenever they finally get around to it.

While waiting for the T.V. sitcom project to get off the ground, Liz and her colleagues have plenty to keep them busy – dining with a loose professional organization of shipping industry journalists known as TITS; playing endless games of “Wino Bingo” – a fierce competition to uncover the weirdest “wino story” in their South of Market neighborhood; and plotting against Seymour Vase, the nefarious Group Publisher whose sinister machinations are intentionally driving Liz’s boss, Derek, crazy.

Everything lurches along swimmingly, more or less, until Liz gets a tempting job offer and has to decide whether or not to leave the “cast” of “Western Waste,” -- the members of which she’s grown to love as much as her own family, especially Derek. The events of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake punctuate her eventual decision dramatically.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by priya g. » October 21st, 2010, 5:15 pm

My suggestions are in capital letters, inserted in your letter
SuCue wrote: WESTERN WASTE is a 102,000-word work of commercial fiction THIS SHOULD BE AT THE END, with a humorous slant THE 'HUMOROUS SLANT' IS NOT NECESSARY- LET THE AGENT DECIDE, following three eventful years in the life of a young female journalist working in a very testosterone-dominated industry (shipping) THIS SHOULD LAY THE FLOOR FOR YOUR STORY, AND NOT BE PRESENTED AS A STATEMENT SO BLANTANTLY. WESTERN WASTE is set in the late 1980s, in a rapidly gentrifying but still colorful part of San Francisco’s South of Market district. THIS LAST SENTENCE GIVES THE SETTING BUT KEEP THE DESCRIPTION OF SAN FRANSISCO SHOULD BE KEPT TO MINIMAL. TRY SOMETHING LIKE THIS "1980- IN THE SOUTH OF MARKET DISTRICT, SAN FRANSISCO"

After years of low-wage clerical jobs, struggling single mom Elizabeth “Liz” Foley finally lands a job with possibilities – as a junior editor at an obscure, low-budget trade publication known as “The Bible of the West Coast Maritime Industry.” THE NAME OF THE PUBLICATION IS NOT TOO IMPORTANT UNLESS THE NAME HOLDS ANY MEANING TO THE JOB OFFERED

As the relatively straight-laced Liz soon finds out, nearly everyone connected with her new workplace is “at least a little off-beat, if not outright fucking insane—including their husbands, wives, significant others, and even their children and pets.” THIS QUOTATION IS AN OVERLOAD OF INFORMATION. CUT DOWN THE DESCRIPTION TO SOMETHING LIKE "NOT A BREATHING CREATURE IS SPARED A DOZE OF INSANITY" OR THE LIKES Her co-workers and colleagues know they’re strange, and they’re proud of it. HOW ARE THEY STRANGE? YOU DID MENTION THAT THEY ARE DIFFERENT- HOW ABOUT AN EXAMPLE? In fact, they view themselves as "cast" members of a long-running T.V. sitcom called “Western Waste,” which they plan to write up and sell to Hollywood for millions—some day, very soon, whenever they finally get around to it. CHUNKY SENTENCE- CUT IT DOWN TO SELLING THE SITCOM TO HOLLYWOOD.

While waiting for the T.V. sitcom project to get off the ground, Liz and her colleagues have plenty to keep them busy – dining with a loose professional organization of shipping industry journalists known as TITS; playing endless games of “Wino Bingo” – a fierce competition to uncover the weirdest “wino story” in their South of Market neighborhood; and plotting against Seymour Vase, the nefarious Group Publisher whose sinister machinations are intentionally driving Liz’s boss, Derek, crazy. THIS PARAGRAPH IS A BIT JUMBLED UP: HOW ABOUT KEEPING THEIR ANTICS TO PLOTTING AGAINST THE PUBLISHER?

Everything lurches along swimmingly, more or less, until Liz gets a tempting job offer and has to decide whether or not to leave the “cast” of “Western Waste,” -- the members of which she’s grown to love as much as her own family, especially Derek. The events of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake punctuate her eventual decision dramatically.
Hello Sue! welcome to the forum. hope my tiny suggestions helped. now a breakdown:
1.you begin with her getting a job as a journalist but then you bring that aspect back at the end. my question: what is the conflict? I am a bit lost about where she is actually working and where the offer comes from.
2. is the story based on the shipping industry or partly on the San Fransisco earthquake? from the ending, I am left a bit confused.
3. Who is Liz? your character isnt coming out too strong- so her emotions and conflict seem subdued.

apart from that, i think your first draft did a good job at outlining your basic story. there are many critiques on this forum that will help you improve it further!
Hope i Helped.

SuCue
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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 21st, 2010, 5:38 pm

Thanks much, priya, for your feedback. I had a feeling it was a bit too long, so cutting suggestions are much appreciated.

About the earthquake -- no, it is not the focus of the story, but it is the major reason why Liz decides to leave "Western Waste" and take the new job offer, which is closer to where she lives. (She gets stranded in the city and can't get home to pick up her son from daycare, and of course, it's the era before cell phones, and the landline phones are down. . .) The new job offer is for a corporate PR position, very different from the strange trade publication. I thought this was too much background to include in the description.

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Quill
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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by Quill » October 21st, 2010, 5:53 pm

SuCue wrote:Hello, this is my first attempt at describing my recently completed novel, WESTERN WASTE, for inclusion in a query. I'm new to the forum (only joined last week), and would appreciate any feedback offered. Thanks very much.
You're welcome, and welcome to the forums!

WESTERN WASTE is a 102,000-word work of commercial fiction, with a humorous slant, following three eventful years in the life of a young female journalist working in a very testosterone-dominated industry (shipping).
I usually don't care for descriptions about the book ("the book is..."), especially to open a query, but this seems to work. It wouldn't be the only way to introduce us to the specialized milieu of your story, but it does succinctly get us up to speed.

I might try some other ways of stating the actual industry; as you have it might be too low key for being testosterone-dominated. How about "...a very testosterone-dominated industry: shipping."

WESTERN WASTE is set in the late 1980s, in a rapidly gentrifying but still colorful part of San Francisco’s South of Market district.
I'd omit this. Not a good idea to repeat the title, and "gentrifying" and "colorful" are too unspecific to help your cause.
After years of low-wage clerical jobs, struggling single mom Elizabeth “Liz” Foley finally lands a job with possibilities – as a junior editor at an obscure, low-budget trade publication known as “The Bible of the West Coast Maritime Industry.”
Good info, but any way to streamline this, and add a date?

"In 1986, after years of low-wage clerical jobs, Liz Foley lands a job with potential -- junior editor at an obscure trade publication known on the inside as "The Bible..."

It's still a little awkward. "Obscure, low-budget" seems to fight with "The Bible". You're saying it's little known but highly revered?
As the relatively straight-laced Liz soon finds out, nearly everyone connected with her new workplace is “at least a little off-beat, if not outright fucking insane—including their husbands, wives, significant others, and even their children and pets.”
First, lose the quote marks. Usually quotes have no place in a query.

Second, as in the previous sentence the voice and info seem to be at odds with itself. You say she is straight-laced, then have her (apparently) refer to them as outright fucking insane. That doesn't sound like straight-laced.

Finally, it feels like it goes on a bit long to be effective. Not sure we need the kids, and really feel we don't need the pets, to get the point. In a query, all we need is to get the point.
Her co-workers and colleagues know they’re strange, and they’re proud of it. In fact, they view themselves as "cast" members of a long-running T.V. sitcom called “Western Waste,” which they plan to write up and sell to Hollywood for millions—some day, very soon, whenever they finally get around to it.
This is a nice hook, if I understand it correctly. The reason I say this is because it's not clear to me if these folks are joking around or if they are serious about converting their lives into TV scripts or actually marketing this idea at least. Maybe say they model themselves as cast members (to avoid the quote marks) and actually plan to...Just to make this seemingly important plot point crystal clear.
While waiting for the T.V. sitcom project to get off the ground,
Waiting? Have they sent anything out? You said they plan to do so some day. How will it get off the ground, then, if they are only waiting?
Liz and her colleagues have plenty to keep them busy – dining with a loose professional organization of shipping industry journalists known as TITS; playing endless games of “Wino Bingo” – a fierce competition to uncover the weirdest “wino story” in their South of Market neighborhood; and plotting against Seymour Vase, the nefarious Group Publisher whose sinister machinations are intentionally driving Liz’s boss, Derek, crazy.
These are cute detail, though some of this could stand streamlining, but these items sound like these folks are just marking time (and have no intention of marketing their idea). So it seems you are describing antics that describe life there, but have nothing to do with what appeared at first to be a central plot point. Just my impression. Maybe tie this life stuff in differently? Rather than intro it through the sitcom plan? So it doesn't feel like we're being misled?
Everything lurches along swimmingly, more or less, until Liz gets a tempting job offer and has to decide whether or not to leave the “cast” of “Western Waste,” -- the members of which she’s grown to love as much as her own family, especially Derek. The events of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake punctuate her eventual decision dramatically.
Could work.

We have straight-laced Liz entering the crazy place of the magazine office in the obscure, testosterone-fueling industry where the denizens plan to turn their nuttiness into a sitcom -- but apparently that's just a pipe dream and running joke-thread -- and really, it's life on the high seas of high jinx, which she learns to love, until whoops, a REAL opportunity presents itself, and she has to ask herself who she really is and what she wants for herself, while an earthquake hits?

SuCue
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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 21st, 2010, 6:00 pm

Thanks much Quill, that also is very helpful. Yes, "Western Waste" is just really a running joke throughout the whole book. They never actually do anything about it, because they keep arguing about who should play whom, and then they can't decide if it's still a T.V. series or if it should be a book, a movie, a Broadway musical, even (toward the end) a graphic novel. They try each of them in turn.

The overall joke is, of course, that my novel, in which an older and wiser Liz' "looks back" at those days of her life -- is WESTERN WASTE, finally come to life.
We have straight-laced Liz entering the crazy place of the magazine office in the obscure, testosterone-fueling industry where the denizens plan to turn their nuttiness into a sitcom -- but apparently that's just a pipe dream and running joke-thread -- and really, it's life on the high seas of high jinx, which she learns to love, until whoops, a REAL opportunity presents itself, and she has to ask herself who she really is and what she wants for herself, while an earthquake hits?
Yup, that's kinda it, in a nutshell. :)

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Beethovenfan
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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by Beethovenfan » October 22nd, 2010, 11:45 am

Hi SuCue,
Someone else pointed me to a great website and I thought I'd do the same for you. It's Query Shark. She's honest (VERY honest) with her comments. If you read her blog I know it will help you come up with a good workable query. Here's the site:

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

Her instructions are to read ALL the posts, daunting sinse there are 183 of them. Took me about 3 days, but I learned so much. Hope it helps! :)
Best of luck, and hopefully we will see you around here at Nathan's blog once in a while!
"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

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wilderness
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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by wilderness » October 22nd, 2010, 12:41 pm

SuCue wrote:Hello, this is my first attempt at describing my recently completed novel, WESTERN WASTE, for inclusion in a query. I'm new to the forum (only joined last week), and would appreciate any feedback offered. Thanks very much.
Welcome! There are lots of funny, interesting details in here, but I think you should amp up the conflict at the end. Also, there are little things you can trim out, extra phrases here and there and various unnecessarily quoted words. A wonderful first try!
SuCue wrote: WESTERN WASTE is a 102,000-word work of commercial fiction, with a humorous slant, following three eventful years in the life of a young female journalist working in a very testosterone-dominated industry (shipping). WESTERN WASTE is set in the late 1980s, in a rapidly gentrifying but still colorful part of San Francisco’s South of Market district.You should try to convey this information in the pitch portion rather than summarizing it here. Also, Query Shark recommends you put your word count and genre information below the pitch.

After years of low-wage clerical jobs, struggling single mom Elizabeth “Liz” Liz Foley finally lands a job with possibilities – as a junior editor at an obscure, low-budget trade publication known as “The Bible of the West Coast Maritime Industry.”

As the relatively straight-laced Liz soon finds out, nearly everyone connected with her new workplace is “at least a little off-beat, if not outright fucking insane—including their husbands, wives, significant others, and even their children and pets.” I'm not sure why the last part is in quotes. Did someone else tell her this? Then go ahead and tell us who did. Or just remove the quotes and we will assume that it is from Liz's POV. Actually, I think the tidbit about them pretending they're cast members shows how strange they are better than this sentence, so consider removing it all together. Her co-workers and colleagues know they’re strange, and they’re proud of it. In fact, they view themselves as "cast" (no quotes necessary here) members of a long-running TV sitcom called “Western Waste,” which they plan to write up and sell to Hollywood for millions—some day, very soon, whenever they finally get around to it. Cute.

While waiting for the TV sitcom project to get off the ground, Liz and her colleagues have plenty to keep them busy – dining with a loose professional organization of shipping industry journalists known as TITS; playing endless games of “Wino Bingo” (no quotes) – a fierce competition to uncover the weirdest “wino story” (no quotes) in their South of Market neighborhood; and plotting against Seymour Vase, the nefarious Group Publisher whose sinister machinations are intentionally driving Liz’s boss, Derek, crazy. More funny details, but I'm wondering if we should get to the conflict sooner.

Everything lurches along swimmingly, more or less, until Liz gets a tempting job offer and has to decide whether or not to leave the “cast” of “Western Waste,” -- the members of which she’s grown to love as much as her own family, especially Derek. The events of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake punctuate her eventual decision dramatically. What's the job offer and why is it tempting? And why does the earthquake affect it? Don't tell us the ending, but you want to leave us with her conflict -- and be dramatic about it. Right now the earthquake bit doesn't seem related.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 22nd, 2010, 1:16 pm

Thanks much guys -- I bookmarked that Query Shark site. Good information!

I'm beginning to see that my original query did not describe my novel adequately, particularly the structure. The book is told in a memoir form from an older and wiser Liz -- who, 20 years later, is a middle-aged corporate drone facing yet another lay-off in the darkest days of the 2008 melt-down.

There's a short prologue, set in the present day, then there's the bulk of the story, set in the late 1980s, then there's an epilogue, also set in the present day, when Liz learns that her beloved boss from "Western Waste" has died unexpectedly at the young age of 49. At that point, she decides that "Western Waste," the joke that runs throughout the 1980s portion of the story, must finally be written, partly to eulogize her beloved boss and his unique personality.

I explained above about the earthquake's significance to the story. (Probably I was too San Francisco-centric in assuming that most people would know how shocking the 1989 quake was for the people who lived through it.) Liz is a single mom, and she's neglected to come up with an emergency plan to see that her small son is safely taken care of in such an emergency. She's stranded in the city, there's rumors flying all over the place that thousands of people are dead (it was actually around 100, but no one knew that at the time), public transportation is down, the phones are down, the bridges that connect SF to other parts of the Bay Area are closed down -- she literally has no way of reaching her son. When a job comes up at a large corp. that's located closer to her home, she jumps at it, even though she's not really suited for it, and that launches her on the road to corporate drone-dom.

As you probably imagine, a lot of this draws on autoboigraphical experience.

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wilderness
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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by wilderness » October 22nd, 2010, 1:31 pm

I see. I think you have to make the connection between the earthquake and job offer clear within the query.

Consider rearranging your last paragraph to something like this: Then, the 1989 San Francisco earthquake hits and Liz has no way to reach her son on the other side of the bay bridge. In the aftermath, Liz wonders if she should jump on a job offer closer to home and her son. But if she takes it, she'll give up her new family -- the zany cast of "Western Waste".

Oh and as for the structure, the frame story from 20 years later -- I would not include it in your query. It's not necessary, stick to the main story arc.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by Joel Q » October 22nd, 2010, 1:39 pm

I'd like to see second version before do a line-by-line review.

As far as this query goes, I didn't get the humor. If you say it's a humorous story, that really needs to come out in the query.
Because if the agent doesn't at least smile or giggle he/she probably won't bite.

I think there's too much back story and not enough plot in the query.
If the plot revolves around her looking at a new job, what's at risk? Why should the read care?

JQ

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 22nd, 2010, 1:40 pm

Thanks wilderness, that is very helpful! Love the way you succinctly summed up the point.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 22nd, 2010, 1:48 pm

The plot doesn't really revolve around the new job offer -- it just kind of wraps up the main story, and explains why Liz left her job and the people she loved. The main story is about the interaction between this young, naive woman who is really struggling to make a living as a single mother, with no support from the kid's father, in this very high-cost geographical area (the Bay Area), and her quirky but very lovable co-workers, particular the editor who is the boss. As I said, it's kind of a eulogy -- for a time, a place, and the people who were there. Guess that's why I'm having such a hard time describing it. Since one of the major characters dies, I wasn't even sure if it falls into the category of comedy. (but most of it is told from a comic point of view.)

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 22nd, 2010, 2:23 pm

I should mention that almost every chapter is episodic rather than narrative. That is to say, each could stand on their own -- exactly like episodes from a TV series: i.e., the TV series the character say they will always write and sell to Hollywood for millions. But they are connected by a loose story arc that culminates in the earthquake.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by Quill » October 22nd, 2010, 2:38 pm

Then Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do.

Your original query, which I critiqued, does not convey much at all about the book as you now describe it. Your book is much richer and more complex than you let on, and I suggest you let some of that on. Particularly the structure of it, but also on the nuance level.

I think you need a completely different query. Good luck. Great-sounding project.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 22nd, 2010, 2:46 pm

Yup, you are right Quill. Back to the drawing board for me!

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