Query Critique 77

Dear Lucky Agent:

TITLE TBD, an upmarket suspense novel, is complete at 90,000 words. It follows the mental deterioration of a desperate character and will appeal to fans of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River and Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. Because of your call for psychological suspense with deeply troubled characters, this might be the book for you. I think you’re probably better off saying “this might be a good fit” than this is THE book for you. Agents handle multiple books at a time. And it just comes off as a little over confident to me.

A john’s love for his hooker descends into a crippling obsession. I think the main character’s name needs to be in the first sentence. Makes the character clear from the beginning. Paul Myers, who lives a humble, dinner-for-one life in Las Vegas, can no longer ignore the urge to profess his love to Janelle, his hooker. I actually think this sentence might make a better hook. But when her self-proclaimed “broker” forbids him from seeing her, Paul breaks into the home-brothel and discovers that her broker recently sold her to overseas sex traffickers. Abandoning his life of apathy and mediocrity, Paul has no choice but to rescue her himself, which leads to desperate and deadly acts of moral ambiguity. There might be a little room for more specificity when you say “desperate and deadly acts of moral ambiguity.” Like what, exactly?

While the book is by no means didactic, I was inspired to write it during my work with Nevadans for the Common Good, a group that has pushed to enact harsher penalties for johns. I currently live in Las Vegas with my wife, our Cane Corso Mastiff, and our orange tabby cat. I have a BA in English from UNLV, and I spent a year as a copy editor. I’d leave out the part about it not being didactic. Let the story speak for itself. 

Below, I’ve pasted the first ten pages of my manuscript, and the remainder is available in its entirety upon your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Author Contact Info

Query Critique 71

Dear [Agent Name],

I’m currently seeking representation for my NA romantic suspense novel, BEWARE OF BOLTON MANOR. Given your interest in the romance genre, I thought it might be a good fit for your list. 

In order to finally snag the coveted promotion at her posh firm – and prove she’s more than a broken-home statistic – junior estate agent Olivia Abate must secure the Bolton Manor listing before her tawdry coworker. Good hook. Their unethical rivalry takes a grim turn when the old woman who owns the property suffers a mental breakdown. This is pretty good but could be expanded upon a little. What about the rivalry is unethical? 

Ignoring her initial hesitation, Olivia agrees to spend a week in real estate hell, amidst quaint guests fond of collecting serial killer memorabilia, perpetually hungover nieces, and apathetic servants. Again, pretty good. But what exactly is she doing that’s real estate agent hell? Her only escape is the dry-humored heir of the estate, Thomas Bolton, who appears to be as starved for companionship as the manor is for renovation. I like this sentence! Despite his persistent attentions, Olivia fears crossing the professional line will give her an unjust advantage.

That fear vanishes along with her coworker, and Olivia must face the gutting possibility that she might lose not only her career, but also her life.  I think this idea should get a little more space. Her coworker disappears. That’s attention grabbing, so make sure you flesh that idea out properly!

BEWARE OF BOLTON MANOR is complete at 70,000 words, and is a standalone novel with series potential. The manuscript is available upon request. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Query Critique 57

Dear Fabulous Agent,

Tova’s ambitious husband, Andrew, is often gone for a month at a time on business, but this is the first time he’s left without a word. Frustrated, she meets Neil, a private investigator who tempts her with his all-knowing blue eyes, dangerously curly hair, and witty banter. I would be a little interested in being more specific about how she met him. Did she hire him to find her husband? Run into him at a bar? She thinks she’s safe, until he turns out to be her new neighbor. What do you mean by safe? Safe from his charms? Is he a physical threat to her?

Beyond attracted to Neil, he makes her question resuscitating her marriage or breaking her deeply held moral code and giving into a temptation she always assumed she could walk away from. The wording in this sentence is a bit awkward. But fighting her attraction to Neil only points to what is missing in her life—passion—and magnifies her loneliness and the sacrifices she’s made for her husband. The wording could be a little more condensed by saying something to the effect of “only points to the missing passion in her life.” Magnified loneliness seems a little redundant beyond missing passion.

When Andrew unexpectedly comes home during a party and embarrasses Tova, Neil sees her farce of a marriage. Tova’s frustration boils over into anger. She confronts Andrew, but he attacks her in a rage. Could you be a little more specific about how he attacks her? She’s rescued by Neil’s good friend and employee, yet Andrew’s secrets, and Tova’s life starts start to unravel under a threatening promise. Hang-up calls and a hit-and-run accident convince Neil something sinister is going on. Together, they must unravel the mystery behind the lies she’s believed throughout her marriage as their friendship—doused in sexual tension—heats up and Tova lands in the crosshairs.  I don’t think you need to say it’s doused in sexual tension. I think that’s been established. It sounds like there is some danger, which could be worked into the query to create more specific stakes than “caught in the cross-hairs.” Why should we be worried about Tova? What do we think Andrew will do to her if she can’t figure out what’s going on in time?

I’m seeking representation for my contemporary romance novel with a suspense edge. Given your information on Publishers Marketplace I thought you would enjoy GREED & JEALOUSY. It’s complete at 95,000 words.

I’ve been a retail store owner for the last 21 years and write technical handouts for my business on the mechanics of making jewelry.  I’m a member of RWA and Midwest Fiction Writers. I share a similar career with my main character and I’ve also been duped by a lover, but that’s a story for another time.

 Thank you for your time and consideration,

Two of Seven

Query Critique 40

Dear Agent,

In SUFFER THE CHILDREN, Alex, a recovering alcoholic, is slowly regaining horrific lost memories, memories that could expose a decades old ring of human trafficking. I think human-trafficking ring sounds a little better than ring of human trafficking, but that might be personal preference.

Thaddeus Cahill lured thousands of Mexican immigrants onto his land, promising them a better life, and then betrayed them by using their bodies as fodder to create a formula, which could clone humans to anyone’s liking. If in the wrong hands, this formula which enables the cloning of humans of any gender, age, or level of intelligence, could be used to create an army of evil in a greedy bid for power, encompassing sexual trafficking and human experimentation. Thaddeus Cahill’s grandnephew is seeking the formula, and his intentions are vile and nefarious; and he’ll destroy and annihilate anyone who attempts to thwart him in his quest. Maybe I’m dense, but I’m having a little trouble wrapping my mind around how cloning works. Also, I’m not sure the history of how cloning came to be is as important to the query as establishing the problems that it is causing now.

Alex must find the formula and destroy it before Cahill’s grandnephew does. If Alex fails, the consequences will be disastrous. So I’m assuming Alex is the main character, but he/she (I’m not sure, because it’s common name for both genders) doesn’t even get brought up until the very end. He/she should be in the query from the start. Also, rather than saying the consequences will be disastrous SHOW me. Give me something tangible.

SUFFER THE CHILDREN is a thriller/suspense novel, intended for the adult reader and is complete at 76,500  words.

Sincere thanks for reading this query,

Author 2.0

Query Critique 39

Dear Ms. Agent:

Suji thought her abusive stepfather was bad, but life in the streets of New Delhi isn’t much better. Especially after she’s kidnapped by an Indian since you’ve already mentioned New Delhi, I’m not sure you need to specify Indian. cult who believes she’s the reincarnation of their goddess. Maybe include the name of the goddess. Now she’s expected to have a hunger for sharp swords and human throats, but worse, can’t keep her promise to rescue her sister. The bit about “hunger for sharp swords and human throats” is a little confusing for me.

After her escape leads to a near death experience that trashes her memories, Suji wakes in Hong Kong. With no idea how she’s gotten there, her confused mind soon finds a surrogate sister to rescue. When the young woman is murdered, Suji discovers an affinity for sharp objects, a knack for death, Maybe killing, this makes it sound like she has a knack for dying. and a burning desire to stop the prostitution gang responsible.

As the body count increases, Because Suji is killing people, or because others are killing to get to her? she’s hounded by visions of diabolical figures chasing her to a watery grave. When ritual sacrifices make the local headlines, Suji decides she can no longer tell reality from fantasy, and seals the horrors of her past deep within her mind—along with her burgeoning childhood memories.

Free of her nightmares, Suji journeys to America, where she will manipulate the CIA to destroy the gang. The “will” in this sentence is making the tense do funny things… But to avenge a sister she no longer remembers, Suji has become what she never wanted to be: Kali, goddess of death, bringer of change.

Sometimes destiny is just meant to be. I’d like to see a closer that has stakes attached.

BLACK RAIN is a 100,000-word suspense novel set during Hong Kong’s monsoon season. I’d like some indication of the age range. Is it YA? Adult? How old is Suji? Also, is it the first in a series, or a stand alone? Good overall sense of conflict, though.

Story Guru

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.

Query Critique 14

So how about that Twitter contest Saturday? I know I was impressed by some of the pitches. I’m also impressed by this query letter.

Dear Agent X,

Three years ago Sabina Delacruz walked away from her criminal family. Goodbye to breaking and entering, stealing, and confidence tricks. Hello to life on the right side of the law. Now Sabina’s life is filled with art history papers, roommate disputes, and preparing for her final year of college. But when an old friend from Sabina’s past shows up at her apartment, her new life is endangered before it’s barely begun. If the story is NA, I’d like to see that indicated in the first paragraph, either by mentioning her age or the fact that she’s a college student. Also, the friend is a little distracting. Are they just there to give her the news, or are they actually important in the story?

Sabina discovers her twin sister, Serafina, Sometimes having two names that are really similar (start with the same letter) can be confusing for readers. has gone missing. Complicating matters is the fact that she vanished while on a job. Not just any job either but the con of a lifetime: infiltrate a crew of thieves set on stealing a priceless artifact and then when the heist is complete, steal the score from underneath their noses. This sentence feels long. Is there to break it up without making the flow feel clunky? It would make sense to declare the con a bust except Serafina’s employer does not like being disappointed and there are bodies to prove it.

To protect both her family and the life she’s built, Sabina assumes her twin’s identity and rejoins the thieves. Not only does she hope to complete Serafina’s job and deliver the artifact, she also intends to locate her missing sister. But fooling her new partners is the easy part. As Sabina slips further back into the life she left, she finds it harder to face the prospect of saying goodbye a second time — especially when she finds herself dangerously attracted to one of her fellow thieves, who believes she’s someone else.

BAD GIRLS LIVE FAST is a 75,000-word contemporary are other subgenres like suspense or thriller appropriate? NA. I like to think of it as an older, multicultural Heist Society with the contentious family dynamics of The Curse Workers. This is really good.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The Infiltrator

No overall comments. This is looking pretty polished to me!