Monday, October 09, 2006

Still trying after all these years

Okay, after I got some feedback from Lynne Scanlon at The Publishing Contrarian on my original covering letter I had another go at my sales pitch for A Half Life of One. I haven’t had Lynne’s feedback on this effort yet but let me know if you think this an improvement or not. I suppose the key question you might want to ask is, does this make me want to read the book or not?

The Covering Letter:

Anyplace
Aberdeenshire
Scotland
5th October 2006

The Top of the Slush Pile
Small-but-fast-growing-agency
Edinburgh
Scotland

Book Proposal: A Half Life of One

Dear Reader:

Like the “hero” of my novel, A Half Life Of One, I am a middle-aged entrepreneur who has started and run companies both here and in the Middle-East, all related to the Oil Industry. Fortunately I have been considerably more successful than Nick Sterling in my endeavours.

The theme of my book describes what happens to an ordinary – and very decent - man in the oil industry when his business begins to fail and he is subjected to ever-increasing financial pressures with which he struggles to cope. The shocking solution this good man devises to save himself and his family from ruin is the tipping point that changes everything. Throughout the book there are historical echoes of ordinary people placed in similarly fraught situations, for example in Nazi Germany. Everyone who has read the book professes themselves horrified at the way the situation develops. It really is a very scary book indeed.

I have used my blog View from the Pundy House to gain feedback for my book. The well-known blogger, The Publishing Contrarian, read A Half Life of One online and described it as “Good. Very good. It reminds me of ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’”. A number of other readers have also been very complimentary, albeit stunned by the developments in the book. Over 90% of readers who start the book online go on to finish it – even though most people find that reading a novel on a computer screen is a peculiarly uncomfortable experience.

This story is set in contemporary Scotland, around Deeside, in an isolated landscape where a terrible event unfolds in a vacuum, and may or may not be discovered in time.

I should warn you that anyone who reads the book is likely to have their faith in human nature utterly undermined. It is an easy read but a dangerous one.

Yours faithfully



Bill Hopeful

The Synopsis

A Half Life of One

A middle-aged man with a wife and teenage son is threatened with ruin after his business collapses due to circumstances mostly beyond his control.

The man has given personal guarantees to the bank for large amounts of money. The bank is threatening to re-possess the house and sequestrate him and his wife. He faces a lifetime of penury – a harsh punishment for a minor business miscalculation. Creditors are circling. Every telephone call and every post brings threatening demands for money.

As a result of the intense pressure his marriage is under strain. His son is about to go to University but suddenly there is no money to support him and pay the fees. He feels he has failed his wife and son as a husband and father.

He tries desperately to get a job but several offers end in failure. He is at his wits end. A debt collector arrives at the house and makes an inventory of the furniture. Finally pushed into a corner he hatches a desperate plan.

He devises a scheme to kidnap a wealthy female entrepreneur who owns a country estate near to where he lives. With the ransom money he intends to save his wife and son from penury and the resulting humiliation and misery.

Although he is determined to use the minimum of force the plan goes badly wrong. A companion of the lady is killed - murdered. Together they watch in horror as the body floats downstream, waving forlornly as it rolls with the current. The lady herself is kidnapped and imprisoned in a remote, ruined cottage. The once-familiar Scottish landscape now assumes a nightmarish quality for both of them. In a moment of madness he subjects the woman to an horrific assault, an act which traumatises both of them. Events are now running wildly out of control.

A short time later the man is offered a way out of his predicament. He takes it. It is unclear at this stage what is the fate of the hostage but the reader is bound to suspect the worst. The man goes on to establish a new and successful career working for a quasi-government business development agency. He suffers no retribution for his crimes, nor is he apparently repentant. He believes, or at least hopes, that perhaps the circumstances justified his actions. He is now living in a deluded, amoral world of his own devising. He appears normal to those around him. Only the reader now knows the truth.

I enclose three chapters from the completed manuscript which is 75,000 words long.

The complete book can be viewed at leisure here:

http://halflifeone.blogspot.com/


Bill Hopeful

15 comments:

  1. Hi Bill,

    You're right the query letter reads a lot better than the previous one.

    I wondered about this line though: "A number of other readers have also been very complimentary, albeit stunned by the developments in the book."

    It's just that the 'stunned' bit might seem a little offputting to the casual query letter reader.

    You could in fact take that line out altogether, without straining the sense of the paragraph.

    Just my tuppenworth! Nice blog BTW!
    Right, back to the books :¬)

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  2. MUCH better in my humble ...

    Presume you would have a name to send to - not 'reader'?

    I think I might put the para re the blog first. It's a good hook to pull them in and shows there's an audience out there for the book. Any reason why you haven't named Lynne?

    To be brutal, I'm not sure if your 1st para is doing you any favours in this image-obsessed age ... I might think about leaving that out all together.

    From blog para I'd then go to penultimate para re Scotland and then to the theme para.

    Also agree with Cailleach's point.

    I also have some comments re the synopsis. Bit tricky to make in this format without lots of typing. If you're interested (though what do I know???) I'd be happy for you to email it to me and do it that way.

    Hope this is useful and that I haven't offended you in any way. I should clearly say that the book sounds fascinating!

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  3. Hi Cailleach, thanks for your comments - very perceptive and much appreciated. I think I will take that line out - or at least re-write it in a more neutral way.

    Debi, too, many thanks. That first par isn't right - need to present a different, younger, more successful image. I'll have a go at re-writing it. I'll email the synopsis to you - I really am grateful for the comments. I'm not offended in any way - I prefer honesty to sycophancy every time. Honesty is what I'm after.

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  4. Been described in many ways before Pundy, but never sycophantic. As you'll know, when you read my email!

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  5. Anonymous8:54 pm

    Let her at you Pund, she's good!

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  6. I know it, Minx, I've read her blog.

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  7. Yes, much better, but shouldn't it start in medias res? According to Miss Snark, (qv), the crux of the conflict should appear in the first sentence. ("Set your character on fire on page one.")

    Also good on this subject is Evil Editor--who specializes in query/synopsis crit. Lots of laughs, too.

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  8. Anonymous10:57 am

    Just read the first chapter.......for what it's worth from a non author I like it a lot and will be reading on...

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  9. Hi Confucious, let me know how you get on with the book. You may not be a writer (although you have a blog which appears to involve the writing process) but it's readers that count.

    One bit of advice: don't believe e hype. Actually, having read your blog I already know you won't.

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  10. I just tackled Bill's synopsis again. He's getting there, but I felt the synopsis needed a bit more color and punch.

    I'm working on the query letter this morning.

    Lynne AKA The Wicked Witch of Publishing

    PS It is a PLEASURE to work on these because I know how good the book is!

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  11. Bill, I haven't read the other comments as I don't want them to affect my views, so apologies in advance for any repetitions, contradictions etc.

    I don't like the first para of your cover letter. I think you should start out with what the book is about, ideally a one-sentence teaser, and not start out with the autobio. I'd put the autobio at the end.

    In fact I'd throw out most of the covering letter. If my experience is anything to go by, years of reading these kinds of letters and synposes from scientists pitching to a journal that has a 95 plus per cent reject rate, what you are aiming to do is simple at this stage -- get their attention, pique their interest.

    So I'd simply focus on getting the recipient interested in finding out more.

    This is what I think is the best bit:
    "The theme of my book describes what happens to an ordinary – and very decent - man in the oil industry when his business begins to fail and he is subjected to ever-increasing financial pressures with which he struggles to cope. The scheme this man devises to save himself and his family from ruin is the tipping point that changes everything. he plans to kidnap a wealthy female entrepreneur who owns a country estate near to where he lives. With the ransom money he intends to save his wife and son from penury and the resulting humiliation and misery.
    Although he is determined to use the minimum of force the plan goes badly wrong."

    I'd basically leave it at that -- not say anything about the rest of the book, the blog etc. If they want to know more, they'll come back to you.

    I could be way off the mark here, as my experience is not books but factual articles, but to extrapolate from my own experience, all an editor/publisher wants is something that people are going to want to read (and in the case of the publisher, pay to read it). Will they care about the blog etc? I don't know but I wouldn;t -- when I read a pitch/synopsis, I just want to know one thing - will it be a good article? The rest of it is just marketing, etc, and can all come later.

    hope this helps. I think the book sounds good!

    All best
    Maxine.

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  12. Maxine, you've given me an idea. Why does there have to be just one covering letter for all agents? Given that I'll probably do multiple submissions to a number of agents why can't I use different covering letters? Wouldn't that increase my chances? Does that make sense?

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  13. Lynne, when I read your Comment I got goosebumps, really I did. You're either a saint or a very misguided lady. I just hope it's the former.

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  14. Ringing the changes makes sense to me.
    Incidentally, have you come across Evil Editor blog? I stopped subscribing to it as there were too many posts on it to keep up with, but it is a good "query letter" blog. I think it is on blogspot so a google blog search should find it. It is quite sardonically funny but of course, nowhere near you in that regard. ;-)

    Not sure if this answers your question, but I've spent many years reading volumes and volumes, and having to whittle down very quickly, be it articles for publication, cvs for a job, etc. I am just looking for that killer paragraph. Ideally just there standing out in some way (bold text, spaces above and below, in the middle of a short letter, etc). Once I get that para that HAS AN IDEA IN IT, I'm hooked to the extent that I'll put time and effort into working with the author on it. Once the author has sold the idea to me, I'll go a long way to help. But he/she's got to sell it to me first (and I don't mean financially).

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  15. Maxine, that last paragraph of yours is brilliant - absolutely brilliant. Encompasses exactly what I need to do. Real thanks for that. I'll post up my final version later today once I've worked on it a bit more in the light of your advice.

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