Query Critique 54

The Confessions of Gabriel Ash

1982. As the Falklands War erupts, a disgraced diplomat recounts his sins while confined to a medieval castle in the Eastern European country of Keshnev.Gabriel Ash, an American-born representative for Keshnev at the United Nations, has enjoyed the luxuries of a privileged life in New York for several decades.  A series of romantic missteps and catastrophic events trigger his diplomatic recall to the People’s Democratic Republic of Keshnev (“Like Albania, but without a sense of humor”), where further events plunge him into captivity, amid accusations of treason and attempted murder.  In confessions ranging from New York to the coast of the Black Sea, Gabriel Ash is haunted by his affairs with dangerous women, pursuit by the CIA (and later, by agents of Keshnev’s Ministry for State Security) and the electrifying transformation he undergoes after his escape from confinement.  The Confessions of Gabriel Ash charts a journey of self-discovery amid personal betrayals, state-sponsored assassination and the turmoil of identity in a world ravaged by the last gasp of colonial war.

My biggest concern with this query is that it needs to be fleshed out. There are some good elements of conflict there, but they need to be better developed. The query is quite short, so there’s certainly room to do this. Also, I want to really see stakes introduced. I want to see just how much Gabriel Ash stands to lose.

Also, the query is going to need some conventional things. I want the word count, genre, and comparative titles in the query. It helps ground the reader.

Query Critique 53

Vespertine sees all the world as stories, but not all stories have a happy ending. I almost like this as a hook. But it’s a little vague. To me, it also had sort of a speculative fiction vibe about it. 

Vespertine Clement is a young woman who lives with her uncle over his bookshop shortly after the gold rush in San Francisco, California. “Young woman” is a little vague. I’d like an exact age, which would help root it in YA. Mrs. Adler, her employer, tempts her with money, position, and independence to take on an almost impossible task: defend the innocence of a fallen woman accused of murder. This is the idea I would like to see brought up in the hook. Mrs. Adler has even arranged for the amiably corrupt Sergeant Cuinn of the police to guide her. I’m a little lost on why Mrs. Alder feels so strongly that Vespertine needs to do this. Why does she care so much? And why not ask somebody else?

Her uncle would prefer she settle into domesticity. The coroner doesn’t like her examining the corpse.  The victim’s family wants her to leave them alone. The accused woman isn’t talking. The victim’s priest, and the lynch mob he leads, definitely doesn’t want her meddling. But, she finds signs the victim was poisoned before his throat was slashed. With some odd glassware from the dye makers, a few simple chemicals, and a chemistry text from her uncle’s shop, she sets out to prove it. She calls together witnesses at the police station, assembles the apparatus, and utterly fails to find any arsenic in the victim’s blood.

Now she needs to find a new story, fast. The trial starts Tuesday, and the betting line in the gambling palaces of the Barbary Coast is three-to-one in favor of the city hanging a woman before Wednesday, noon. Complicating matters, the murder has attracted the interests of the worst villains the Golden Gate has to offer: bankers, slave owners, blackmailers, a would be rail baron,  politicians, and a woman living in a matched pair of mansions on top of a hill who claims to be a voodoo priestess. What we really need here is stakes. There’s a lot of conflict, but I want to know what happens if Vespertine fails. Sure, it’s bad that an innocent person would die, but I want to know what the main character stands to lose. Also, why are all the worst villains in the case so interested in this case? Why is everyone in the area so interested in what seems like it should be a pretty cut and dry case?

VESPERTINE AND THE RED HAIRED ROMANIAN is a historical thriller aimed at young adults, complete at 70,000 words. The novel is stand alone, but with series potential.

The novel is similar in tone to Phillip Pullman’s “The Ruby in the Smoke”. I’d put this with the last paragraph. It’s a little distracting on its own.

Thank You,

False Accusations

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 28

Dear Agent,

I have recently completed a Young Adult Thriller Manuscript, I don’t think thriller or manuscript should be capitalized. Definitely not manuscript. consisting of 65,000 words. I read your listing on [here] and [here]. My manuscript titled PROPHET’S GAMBIT, is a dark plot-driven thriller that borders on horror. Based on your interests, I think my manuscript might be what you’re looking for. I think this paragraph could be tightened up a little. “PROPHET’S Gambit is a Young Adult thriller complete at 65,000 words. Based on your interest in…” And I’d maybe move it to the end, since your hook is so grabbing.

17-yearold Daisy Fitzpatrick has doled out more death sentences than the Texas Prison system. And, it’s going to get her killed. Great hook.

Daisy’s a famous teenage psychic with a controlling, alcoholic, stage-parent of a mother. She’s not allowed a cellphone, computer, not even a TV. She has to sneak out just to see her best friend. Years of death threats have turned Daisy’s mother into a warden, sheltering her from the world outside, that is, when she’s not forcing her to do interviews. I feel like there are quite a few pronouns in these sentences. Daisy’s gift, seeing a person’s death in freaky detail, makes her a target.

For ten years Daisy has been a media spectacle. Her gifts are exploited by her mother. I’m a little confused. Her overprotective mom put her in the spotlight? Why would she do that? Little did either of them know that the spotlight would put both of their lives at risk. When a cryptic letter arrives and warns Daisy that a cult, The Order of God’s Temple have focused their efforts on her, her life is thrown into turmoil. Even Daisy isn’t sure she’ll make it through the month alive. I think the stakes need to be a little more established, and I think the best way to do that is by elaborating on how big of a threat this cult is.

Since I know you are actively seeking Young Adult, I am writing to ask if you would be interested in reading more of my material. I think it sounds a little smoother to just say “The completed manuscript is available upon request.”

Thank you for taking the time to read my query, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. This is a multiple submission.


Grave Business

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 17

Dear Agent:

Six months. That’s how long sixteen-year-old Lesha Clement figures she has left to live if she remains on Earth. Her once-green planet has withered so fast it’s as brown as the color of her skin. Save a couple words by just saying “As brown as her skin.” I think it sounds a little less awkward too. She dreams of growing old in an unpolluted world and escaping the clutches of Riley, her possessive Relocation Instructor. With Operation Abandon Earth in full swing, Lesha flees to Eris, a colonized planet halfway across the galaxy. The ship veers off course and crashes in a wasteland, stranding her with seventeen survivors, including Riley. With no chance of rescue, they head toward a distant mountain range, hoping to find shelter or locate the colony.

The government was dead wrong when they labeled Eris safe. If lack of food and water doesn’t kill them, flesh-eating snakes just might. Don’t all snakes eat flesh of some sort? Maybe man-eating snakes? Fellow survivor, Malik Romero, fights the snakes off and vows to get the group to safety, or die trying. His smoldering eyes pull Lesha in as much as his savior complex pushes her away. His over-protective attitude clashes with Riley’s obsession. So when you say Riley is possessive/ has an obsession, is that Lesha? I’m a little confused why Riley is not supposed to be a likable character. Also, is Riley male or female? Too bad for them. Who is “them” supposed to be here? Having lived through famine and riots back home, Lesha can take care of herself. She’s come too far to assuage any guy’s ego. Again, when we talk about “a guy” who are we talking about?

After someone goes missing, Lesha immediately suspects Riley. Finding the teen’s mutilated corpse in a desert shrine proves his so Riley is male. innocence but reveals something’s stalking them. Something predatory. Something deadly. Something else. If they have any hope of reaching safety alive, Lesha must put aside her feelings and work with Riley and Malik. Or risk being picked off one by one until they’re morbid decorations in some sick psycho’s shrine. This paragraph is the best at setting up the stakes for the story.

Complete at 86,000 words, PHOENIX RISING is a young adult science fiction thriller, you call this a thriller but the middle paragraph seems to focus a lot on the romance aspect. The third paragraph is the only one that screams thriller to me. Consider playing that part up more. a mix of William Golding’sLord of the Flies and the film, Predator. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Focus is important. If the novel is being pitched as scifi, focus on the scifi rather than the romance. Which isn’t to say don’t mention the romance. Just don’t let the romance distract from the scifi elements.

Yet this does sound wonderfully creepy.


Query Critique 10

After a weekend off for a family reunion, I’m back! Here’s a word play challenge brought up at the reunion. How many animals can you think of that are named after the thing they do (a fly flies, an ant-eater eats ants)?

And now a query critique (the thing you’re actually here for). In true Irish spirit, comments are in green.


Dear Ms. Nelson:

I submit this query for my 76,000-word thriller, THE EMERALD EYE.

She came to protect a queen. She wasn’t expecting a quest. This hook doesn’t grab me as much as something more specific would. And the fact that it’s in italics is a little distracting.

Texan security specialist Colt Ryder is fixin’ to prove her worth. Colt—named for the gun, not the horse—holsters a fear of heights that almost keeps her from saving the day at the Royal Wedding. I’m not sure I know enough about her to care about the origin of her name, unless it’s important to the story. Her next assignment: Ireland, as part of the advance team for the British monarch’s historic visit. I’m a little intrigued why somebody from Texas is working for the British royals instead of something more homegrown like the secret service. You could either quickly mention it here or just leave the fact that she’s from Texas out of the first sentence. Also, this all seems like stuff that happens before the story rather than being what the story is about. If that’s the case it should either be shortened or cut out.

On a sweep of Dublin Castle, Colt unearths a cryptic letter hinting at the whereabouts of the long-missing Irish Crown Jewels. I think this is the part that should be in the hook. These are the specific details that most grab me out of everything I’ve read so far. She must enlist Chief Archivist Dec O’Brian—the dashing “pirate of the palace”—to help decipher clues hidden everywhere from the Book of Kells to “trad” music. Southern heat meets Celtic cool, and the two warm to each other. This is a great sentence. The IRA, rogue spies, and the Knights of St. Patrick also set their sights on Colt—targeting her as a means to the gems.

Promising the key to unlocking the treasure, Dec escorts Colt into a crypt and…Bam! The door slams shut, leaving her in the dark. How could he? I don’t think this needs to be italicized either.

Turns out, they’re trapped together. After wrangling an escape, the pair dig up the trove on a deserted island (the eerie Ireland’s Eye), only to have their bounty snatched away. Colt pursues the thief to the top of another “Ireland’s Eye”—the Ferris wheel overlooking the River Liffey. Lassoing her fears, Colt wins back the prize and discovers that even a pirate can be a prince. I almost feel like this reveals a little too much. I now feel like I know the ending, which takes away some of the “I need to request this manuscript so that I can find out what happens” feel that you want the reader to have. It sounds like when she first gets locked in the tomb she things Dec did it. If that’s true, I’d maybe leave it there so the reader is wondering if maybe she shouldn’t have trusted him. Or some other sort of cliff hanger.

I am a neurologist who has authored and edited multiple academic books. My debut novel draws from my experience living in Texas and Ireland. THE EMERALD EYE reads like a smart woman’s This suggests that it’s women’s fiction (in addition to being a thriller). I don’t think you need that, though, because I can see this appealing to men as well.“Dublin Da Vinci Code.” Excellent use of the X meets Y formula.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


T.X. Kildare


Um, I don’t think I have any overall comments for this one. I’m just used to writing something down here…

Here’s a picture of the Trinity College Library (home of the Book of Kells mentioned in the query) that I took when I was in Dublin last year instead of a useful comment on the query.