Query Critique 69

Thirty-one-year-old Francy is sure she’s already solved the mystery of her family’s murder. Until she discovers she was wrong. Intriguing hook!

When Francy was just twelve years old, her entire family was murdered aboard a chartered yacht, all while she was fast asleep below deck. The media dubbed it the Shook Family Vacation Massacre. I’m not sure this sentence is very important as it doesn’t really provide me with new information about the plot. Phobic loner Francy has spent most of her adult life trying to forget this past while barely scraping by in the present. When the convicted murderer—boat captain Harvey Denham—passes away in jail, Francy becomes unexpectedly mixed up with the killer’s son, Eli. Just to be clear, Eli is the captain’s son? It’s a little confusing to call him the killer’s son since you’ve indicated that the captain wasn’t really the murderer. Eli is adamant about his father’s innocence, and Francy is sure of his guilt. Together, they set out to discover the truth—him searching for new suspects, and her trying to rule them out. When Francy finally separates fact from fiction, though, she begins to wonder whether the truth isn’t actually worse than the lie. I like that you’re trying to introduce some stakes here, but I think it could be made stronger by including more specifics. What makes it worse than a lie? Overall, you have an interesting concept, though.

Can’t Take It with You is a 75,000 word mystery novel. Readers of Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train, Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, and Susan Crawford’s The Pocket Wife will find enjoyment in this book. Good comp titles, but this sentence feels a little awkward in the wording.

Partial or full manuscript is available upon your request. Thank you for your time,

Query Critique 59

Dear [Agent Name],

I usually insert some kind of personalization here about why I chose the agent followed by My debut novel BIG MURDER ON CAMPUS is a 64,000 word YA mystery with series potential.

Sixteen-year-old Deanna Jameson is smart– like starting-college-two-years-early smart. After a miserable, friendless high school experience, all she wants is to put the past behind her and enjoy life as a university student: go to class, make a few friends, and maybe get her first boyfriend. That’s why when a friend is brutally murdered–and her body discovered on the college’s football field–Deanna’s hopes for a “normal” college life are crushed.

Over the next two months, two more friends are killed. The police have few leads, and fewer suspects. What they do have is a single connection among all three victims: Deanna. As the killer closes in on her, Deanna wonders if he’ll wear the face of her enemy, or her friend. There are some great stakes and tension in the query letter. It is really short, though, and I’d like to see some of the conflict fleshed out. In particular, I’d like to see a little more attention given to the details in this paragraph. The foundations for a great query have been laid. Now we just need to ramp up the intensity. Also, because Deanna is so smart I’d like to get the sense that she’s going to have to outsmart this killer.

I was born and raised in Arkansas where I live on a farm with my husband, our three children, a dog, six cows, and 90,000 chickens. I’m addicted to Mountain Dew and running obstacle course races. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Query Critique 22


After arriving on Mars with no memory of her life on Earth, a young girl must uncover the mysteries of her past while attending an institution training the red planet’s next generation of leaders.

When she arrives at the Academy, her file only contains her name — Aurora — and she is one of many students learning how to survive on the strange, lifeless planet.  She develops friendships, competes on the gymnastics team, and…

…there’s a boy…

Over time, life seems to find normalcy. I’d condense these two lines in with the second paragraph so that the letter follows more standard formatting. I also don’t think the part about the boy needs to be that set apart, since the romance doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be the focus.

Until students begin to have strange, seemingly unrelated injuries.  The Administration claims these injuries are “accidents,” but Aurora and her friends are convinced that someone is attacking students.  To uncover the truth, she must dive deeper into the society developing on Mars.  She soon finds that the shadows lurking beneath its surface are intertwined with the mysteries of her past, and that her arrival on this planet may hold the key to its future. I’d elaborate a little on the elements in this last sentence. Be specific.

I am looking for an agent who believes — like I do — that young adult audiences are feeling fatigue with dystopian novels, and that an original concept can engage readers with adventure, mystery, and suspense without relying on a totalitarian setting.  I don’t love this part. Because 1) I think it’s better to focus on what the novel is rather than what it isn’t. 2) To me it shows a little ignorance about what is on the market. A lot of successful YA books recently have been genres other than Dystopia (The Fault in Our Stars, Throne of Glass, Code Name Verity, Dangerous…. To name a few). In fact, right now the NYT Best Sellers list for YA is ruled by contemporary.

At my day job in the nonprofit healthcare industry, I’ve excelled in organized and disciplined technical writing.  However, I am left with a yearning to flex the left-side of my brain, which I do by crafting stories about the adventures of a young girl on Mars.  I thought it was the right-side that was creative? When not writing, I also enjoy chasing around my beautifully opinionated, two-year-old daughter.

ADVENT MARS: THE ACADEMY is a young adult, science fiction mystery, complete at approximately 110,000 words.  If successfully published, it would be a debut novel. Just say this is your first novel. Don’t say “if published.” Be confident!

I have included the [required sample] below.  Thank you for your consideration.

Mister Martian

Query Critique 19

Dear Ms Nelson:

They thought no one could hear them. I’m not a huge fan of ambiguous “they” in the first sentence. But they underestimated the deaf man. I think this might flow better as one sentence with a comma, but that may just be personal preference.
Dr. Marcy Adrian has dealt with death before. After all, she’s a physician.  It’s different when it’s family. Her deaf nephew, Jeremy, was really more of a little brother. And he was murdered in cold-blood. I don’t think this needs a hyphen.
Jeremy is found dead in the bankrupt offices of the Dallas-based technology company where he worked.  Later, she she being Marcy? discovers an email from him written just before his murder. The subject was an ominous warning; “Don’t tell anyone.”  The cryptic message was a link with a video, proprietary software and the words: “Your son holds the key.”

Jeremy’s employer is arrested and the bankruptcy trustee opens a parallel investigation looking for fraud. Marcy join forces and together they are led down a path of espionage, blackmail and ultimately, murder. This paragraph isn’t doing much for me. I don’t think it’s necessary. If I jumped right into the next paragraph I would still know what’s going on.

Against her better judgement, Marcy enlists in her son’s help to unlock Jeremy’s message. Delving into his life she finds he kept lots of secrets. No surprise — he worked for a surveillance firm. When she realizes some secrets were sold and the answers might lie in his lip-reading skill, she must set aside her own moral judgment and face the dark secret of their shared past.  That time, Jeremy was the only witness. This leaves me asking questions, but not the good kind. This seems too vague to be gripping to me. The “that time” is not something I’m aware of, so it doesn’t mean anything to me.
This time, the clock is ticking. What is “this time” referring to? As opposed to the other times she’s solved the murder of a relative? Jeremy’s last email is also embedded with a tracking mechanism that makes Marcy’s family the killer’s next target. And everyone has unfinished business. 

My 84,000-word novel, UNFINISHED BUSINESS, is set in Dallas with speculative elements like Michael Crichton and will appeal to fans of Stephen White and Kathy Reichs.  I’m a member of both Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.  I spent many years at an auction company specializing in corporate bankruptcy liquidations. I’ve also been a speech-reader (lip-reader) for twenty years. This is good to include. I’m currently working on my second novel, WORK IN PROGRESS.  I wouldn’t mention the second novel. Focus on the one you’re pitching. Also, somewhere in this paragraph, I’d like to see a specific genre. Mystery or Thriller or such.

Thank you for your consideration.