Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gearin' Up to Get an Agent BlogFest: Query Critique Contest

Okay Friends, Followers and Readers extraordinaire,
I am participating in week 3 of

Query Critique Contest

In this week’s installment, participants will be putting their query up on their blog so that they may receive feedback from other participants and anyone else who might want to share their two cents.  I’m not sure that I’m ready yet, but here it goes.     

Dear Ms. Agent-of-my-Dreams:

I am seeking representation for THE MISTAKEN, a psychological thriller of 91,000 words. Told from alternating perspectives, it is the story of a vengeful man struggling to save an innocent woman from the ruthless men he’s mistakenly set upon her.   

Skylar Karras is no longer an honorable man.  Gone is the doting husband, the sibling who never failed to bail his brother, Nick, out of trouble.  In his place is a different man, one broken by grief, blinded by rage and consumed with vengeance.  His target is a stranger, the woman responsible for the death of his pregnant wife.  He doesn’t know her, but he’ll find her, and when he does, he will make her pay.  But to do so, Sky must get into bed with Nick’s thug associates in San Francisco’s Russian mafia.  They’re experts in human trafficking and Nick’s plan offers Sky the perfect solution: his fill of sweet revenge and the chance to free his brother from the Russian’s control.  But as he stumbles forward in a numbing haze of alcohol, Sky mistakes the wrong woman for his intended victim, sending all his plans straight to hell.

With his eyes made clear by the stark reality of his mistake, Sky is driven, compelled by remorse and a relentless sense of guilt to make amends and protect Hannah Maguire, the innocent woman whose life he has derailed.  He vows to keep her safe and out of the hands of the Russians, but they’re holding Nick as leverage to force Sky to complete their deal and turn over the girl.  It’s a race against the clock as Sky strives to be the man he used to be, risking all to defend Hannah’s life and secure Nick’s freedom.  But desperation leads him to a place darker than he ever imagined and he simply can’t do it all: save the girl, his brother, and his own soul.  One of them must make the ultimate sacrifice. 

Charged with the raw emotions of human loss and regret, I believe my novel would appeal to fans of Greg Iles’s Turning Angel, James Scott Bell’s Try Dying, Neil Cross’s Burial and even Alexandre Dumas’ classic, The Count of Monte Cristo.

I am an interior designer living in Sammamish, Washington with my husband, teenaged son and two singing sled dogs.  Though I no longer have ties with anyone in San Francisco’s Russian underworld, I have loosely based my novel on villains and events from my past.

My research has unveiled your interest in thrillers.  I have included the first five pages within the body of this email.  I would be happy to provide a full synopsis, additional chapters, or the complete manuscript.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,
Nancy S. Thompson
(Personal info redacted)

So what do you think?  (This is me biting my finger nails!)


Kristi Bernard said...

I'm no expert, but I think it's well done.

Michelle Fayard said...

Hi, Nancy,

Before I dive into your query letter, I want to let you know that I hope I'm showing up as a follower now; either that or I'm now following twice. :)

First paragraph: I'd consider deleting "I am seeking representation," since it's an understood. I'd also recommend starting with your hook, i.e., your three-sentence or so pitch, before telling the title, genre and word count. You probably won't even need the rest of this graph, as the "pitch" part of your query will reveal this.

Conversely, you could lead your query with: "MAN'S NAME struggles to save an innocent woman from the men he’s mistakenly set upon her." But I'd recommend leading with your second graph and saving "MAN'S NAME struggles to save an innocent woman from the men he’s mistakenly set upon her." as perhaps a teaser for the front cover of your book.

Second graph, first sentence: Change "no longer is" instead of "is no longer." The first two sentences rock! Third sentence: Change "In his place is a different man, one broken by ..." to "In his place is a man broken by ..." I also would add more paragraph breaks, to make it easier for a busy agent/editor to take in the excellent content. It's so good, you don't even need the third graph, so I'd pull it.

I love how you so smoothly compare your book to similar novels.

I would delete the first sentence of your bio paragraph. I would strengthen the second sentence, e.g. "Although I no longer have ties with San Francisco's Russian underworld, I have loosely based my novel on events from my past." If that doesn't attract someone's attention, I don't know what will!

I like that in the next graph you show you've done some homework and aren't just sending out queries at random. Instead of including the first five pages in the body of the e-mail, I'd recommend checking the agent's/editor's submission guidelines, as many want the first three chapters or at the very least the first 10 pages.

I wish you much success with this intriguing book.


Callie Kingston said...

I like your introduction; it's exactly right. The synopsis is well written but too lengthy. Try to tighten it up by stripping it down to the bare plot line. Also, add in something that highlights how your MS is unique. Delete the final part about being ready to send chapters. That's obvious, or you wouldn't be querying.

One thing I observed is that you have double spaces after your periods. So did I, until I realized that word processors no longer benefit from this convention from the days of the typewriter. Single space is now correct.

Best of luck; it sounds like an engaging story.

Angie Cothran said...

This sounds like an absolutely riveting book. I like the idea of Sky derailing Hannah’s life and now he has to fix it. Messes make the best stories.

I would actually start at that point—when he makes the mess. You could touch a bit on how he got there, maybe a sentence, but it is just backstory and shouldn’t be in your query.

I like how you touch on the conflict of the story the mess with Hannah and the mess with Nick. You even give us what the consequences will be if Sky doesn’t fix this. That is great stuff!

Author Elana Johnson—founder of querytracker—has a great blog about writing the perfect query:

It helped me out a ton! Good luck with your query :) I also studied Interior Design in college. There can’t be many Designers turned Writers out there—we need to stick together :)

Kate Larkindale said...

I'd lose the first paragraph and dive right into the plot. It's intriguing and sounds like a real ripper of a read.

That said, it's a little wordy. Try and cut it down a little by focusing on the central character and their dilemma.

I also don't think it's relevant to say you're an interior designer. If you don't have any relevant writing experience, just leave it out.

Good luck!

Pk Hrezo said...

HI, Nancy! New follower here. Sounds like a great story! I love how you mention the conflict and stakes. I want to know why Skylar is such a broken man--what happened to make him that way?

Also, I feel like you could shorten this query a bit. Otherwise, great work! Best of luck and nice meeting you! :)

Laila Knight said...

I like the story. Hey girl, I'm working on perfecting queries myself so I'm not expert. I do know that Query Shark always tells us to start with the action. Jessica Faust would probably tell you to leave out the bit about your interior designing.

Someone mentioned the double spacing for periods...that's true about the word processors, but it's not wrong to do two spaces and it won't count against your query. Grammar rules state two spaces after period.

Also, about the length, if you leave out the bio part it should make room for the rest of the stuff. Again, I'm still working on mine.

I just keep repeating to myself: Who is my main character? What is the conflict? What is keeping this person from solving the conflict? Those are the key steps to a query. (Janet Reid's rules.)

Good luck! :)

Lisa L. Regan said...

I rather like it just the way it is. I'm sure there's a way to make it shorter and everyone is always clamoring about brevity but I I think it is quite good just as it is. It presents all the salient points of the book as well as the main conflict. If you needed to shorten it you could leave out the biographical info--I've done that at times. It really comes down to what you feel comfortable with--I don't think there's anything here that would turn an agent off. I like the first paragraph right where it is but then again, that's just me as we've discussed previously. Well done!

Bryce Daniels said...

Hi Nancy:

My two cents. (Adjusted for inflation)

I think Michelle is right. I would take out the first paragraph and put it at the end. The agent knows you are seeking representation, so delete that passage entirely.

I would also negate the "charged with the raw emotions of human loss and regret." Let your pitch, which is VERY good and interesting, speak for itself.

Lastly, are you on Twitter? The statement that you have researched the agent's interest in thrillers is a good one. Personalization is always a nice touch. I agree wholeheartedly with Nathan there.

But "my research has unveiled your interest in thrillers" to me, anyway, reads a little too generic. Not personal enough. Twitter can be an excellent resource for an agent's personal interests.

You could end up with "I note that you enjoy Greg Iles as an author" or "anyone who admires Impressionist artists is clearly someone I would enjoy working alongside." Even something as quirky as "I understand that you, too, follow Australian kangaroo races."

I don't consider it stalking. I consider any edge I can glean as an advantage to be used to the fullest. ANYTHING to catch the agent's eye. (Short of the perfumed paper, chocolates, and nude photographs, of course.)

Twitter is an excellent source of info and tidbits.

This reads great, Nancy. I think you are well on your way.

Juliana L. Brandt said...

I'm going to second the opinions that puts the first pagaragraph after the second, so the first thing the agent reads will be the major point of conflict for your MC.

Nancy Thompson said...

Thanks to all who have commented so far. Funny thing, I only just moved that intro from the end to the beginning. I know QueryShark says to dive right into the action of the book. Argh, I'll have to give it more thought.

I hate including any bio and usually leave it out entirely, but since my Russian characters are based on some scary folks I met through a Russian friend of mine back home in San Francisco, I think I'll keep that part in.

@Michelle, thanks for your feedback. You've made some good points. I won't try to use the three line hook though. That won't work. A one sentence logline is different and I have used that. I hear it's a skill agents like to see.

@Callie, I have stripped it all down to the barest of bones. That's why this is so hard for me! And the double spacing after periods is the correct way to format a manuscript. You NEVER format a manuscript like a published book. (See Anne Mini's blog. She is a wealth of professional information.)

@Angie, all that stuff before the MC's big mistake is the story. The story is actually about how a good man changes to do a very bad thing, not the bad thing itself. It's his progression. How and why he gets there makes no sense without a little background. But I know what you're saying. I read this all the time.

@PK, thanks for following and commenting!!

@Laila, I agree, I hate that bio crap. YUK!

@Bryce, I've been thinking about deleting that one part (Charged with the raw emotions...) And I do personalize each query to the particular agent. This is just my generic form for this BlogFest. But, no, I hate Twitter. Too stalkerish for me! Ha ha!

@Lisa, you above all others know how I have struggled to pare this query down to only the most imperative facts.

@Juliana, thanks for your input, too. I'm thinking now that might be the way to go.

Robin Weeks said...

You've already got some great advice, so I'll just chime in to support the "shorter is better" movement. Also, don't try to summarize your book--you've already got a great start on a summary, so just summarize the summary (etc) from now on.

Remember that the query isn't like the inner flap--it doesn't to include every interesting tidbit. It's like the back cover copy, and should only say enough to get the agent to want to read more.

I'd suggest starting with something like "Skylar promised an innocent woman to the Russian Mafia." That's the heart of your conflict, so put it first. I don't think it's important to talk about the death of his pregnant wife, his quest for revenge, or any of the other backstory deets. So long as the agent isn't confused, leaving them with questions (motive, what happens next, etc) isn't bad--it'll make them want to request the book!

On your bio, cut your career choice and family (sorry family!), but leave the reference to your experiences with the Mafia--it's what shows you're the perfect one to write this book.

Very compelling story premise! Good luck!

Nancy Thompson said...

Wow, Robin! Your comment hit me right between the eyes.

Now, I couldn't dive right into the MC sending his victim to the Russians because his need for vengeance at the death of his wife and his brothers's connection to the Russians is at the heart the story, but I did cut out all the extra crap. I think it's so much better now. Thank you! I've posted the revised version on my Pitch page.

Melodie said...

Hi Nancy:

You've clarified your Q a little on your pitch page but IMHO, it's still too long and confusing. If you had to pitch this via Twitter (140 characters) what would you say? Do that and use what you come up with as the start of a revision.

Below are my edits/comments. I've trimmed a little just to help me understand what you've written. Use what works, discard the rest.

Skyler Karras has only one goal: vengeance. His target is the woman responsible for the death of his pregnant wife. He'll find her, and make her pay. IS THIS THE NUB OF YOUR STORY? BC AFTER READING THE REST, IT LOOKS LIKE SKYLER IS CAUGHT IN A WEB OF HIS OWN MAKING AND NEVER GETS REVENGE - AFTER THIS GRAPH, THERE'S NO MORE MENTION OF THE DEAD WIFE OR ANY RESOLUTION OF THIS MOTIVE.

His shady brother, Nick, has the perfect plan, but to pull it off, Sky must get into bed with San Francisco’s Russian mafia. Experts in human trafficking, they offer Sky a deal he simply can’t resist: the woman he has targeted in exchange for Nick’s freedom. WAIT. HOW DOES SKYLER HEAR NICK'S PLAN IF NICK IS A PRISONER? Desperate to break the Russian’s RUSSIANS' control over his brother, Sky agrees, but as he stumbles forward in a numbing haze of alcohol, WAIT, HE'S DRUNK WHEN HE GOES TO KILL SOMEONE?mistakes the wrong woman for his intended victim, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? DOES HE KILL THE WRONG WOMAN? EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENS - NO MYSTERY. AND HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN - DIDN'T THE RUSSIANS GIVE HIM THE RIGHT INFO? sending all his plans straight to hell.

With his eyes made clear by the stark reality of his mistake, Sky is driven, compelled by remorse and a relentless sense of guilt to make amends and protect Hannah Maguire, THIS IS VERY WORDY. the innocent woman whose life he has derailed. He vows to keep her safe and out of the hands of the Russians, but they’re holding Nick as leverage to force Sky to complete their deal and turn over the girl. Sky risks everything to defend Hannah’s life and secure Nick’s freedom. But he can’t do it all. He has to make a choice: save the girl, his brother, or himself. One of them must make the ultimate sacrifice. WHY? WHAT ARE THEY SACRIFICING FOR? IS HANNAH THE ONE THE RUSSIANS WANT? WHY DO THEY WANT HER? YOU SAY SHE'S INNOCENT BUT THEN THAT THE RUSSIANS WANT HER. I THINK. CONFUSED.

THE MISTAKEN is a psychological thriller of 91,000 words. Told from alternating perspectives, it is the story of a vengeful man struggling to save an innocent woman from the ruthless men he’s mistakenly set upon her. YOU HAVE A LOT OF ADJECTIVES HERE - VENGEFUL,INNOCENT,RUTHLESS...THAT'S A TIP OFF THAT YOU USE THEM IN YOUR WRITING. YOU LOSE NOTHING IF YOU TAKE THOSE ADJ. OUT - LET YOUR VERBS DO THEIR JOB.

Good luck!

Robin Weeks said...

I read the pitch currently on your pitch page and, mostly because I like playing with other people’s pitches, consider this:

Vengeance tastes sweet on the day Slylar pledges the woman who killed his wife to the Russian Mafia’s human trafficking ring. As a bonus, they promise to let his brother Nick leave the business for good—with his heart still beating.

There’s just one problem: he pledged the wrong woman.

Now he’s caught in an impossible triangle of needs. Save his brother. Save his innocent victim. Save himself. When dealing with the Russian Mafia, even two out of three makes for very long odds.

(Thanks for letting me play!) :)

Nancy Thompson said...

Geez, Robin, you're good! 84 words!

I think it's a good place to start, but it's a little too short and doesn't give enough info. I've actually had a lot more requests for pages with a much longer query than with the one I've posted above.

A synopsis in a formal query (not a pitch, which is very different) should ring in around 250 words.

Melodie, 140 characters might work for an elevator pitch, but not for a formal query for adult fiction. I'm not tweeting my query! LOL!

And I think I'll just leave the logline off my title intro since it's redundant.

I do appreciate all the feedback as it gives me a lot to think about.

mooderino said...


I think the central premise of a man whose revenge falls on the wrong person is a strong one.

Teh query is alittle longwinded and repetitive and could use a bit of pruning, in my opinion.

You have a tendency to use the phrase '[something] man' as a descriptor (vengeful man, different man, honorable man - plus ruthless men and innocent woman). This kind of pattern makes it read a little stilted at times.

I would suggest using fewer descriptions, they end up thinningthe paint you're trying to create a picture with.

There's no need to refer to her as an innocent woman and then also mention he mistakenly set thugs on her. Mistakenly implies she was innocent.

With his eyes made clear by the stark reality of his mistake, i found this a little awkward to read.

Sky is driven, compelled by remorse and a relentless sense of guilt to make amends and protect Hannah Maguire, the innocent woman whose life he has derailed. This is quite repetitive. I would suggest something like:

Sky is compelled by remorse to protect Hannah Maguire, the woman whose life he has derailed.

I think trimming the query like this would make it stronger in its central premise.

My query is up at: Moody Writing

Jeff King said...

Wow… you commenter’s have cover the topic nicely; I have nothing to add to the technical side of the query.
I liked the query and thought the story was interesting… I got a good sense of voice which is huge to pull off in so few words.

Nancy Thompson said...

Thanks, Jeff, and thanks for following!

With help from EVERYONE who has commented, my query is making significant progress. Though it's difficult to accept criticism, when given time to ponder, I realize they are right.

I hope my revised query reflects this.

magpiewrites said...

Hi Nancy
I'm always tardy to the party! But I've enjoyed reading your query and the comments here. I think that I pretty much agree with all the comments. I would start with "Skylar Karras is no longer an honorable man." It's a strong, gripping sentence.

Also, this reads more like a synopsis than a query. In addition to being too long in places, it has a lot of dense information that I don't think you need in a query letter. Trim out any incidents that aren't central and even mentions of secondary (though important) characters. Concentrate on the main story between Skylar and Hannah.

Jen Daiker said...

You got such great help with the query I don't have much to add except to agree with the others in the bit that is in fact wordy. I would write what I mean but I've seen it mentioned several times above and hate to give repeated information.

Elana Johnson's FREE ebook Query to the Call is SO helpful!

I'm a new follower all thanks to this agent fun center blog fest! I do hope you'll stop by my neck of the woods and check out my query!

M Pax said...

Move housekeeping and start with the pitch. :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Try to cut down on the word count a little and this query is good to go. I know a lot of people are advising to move the housekeeping to the end, but some agents don't mind if it's at the beginning. Some read that first to make sure the story is in the correct genre so it's up to you where you want to keep it.

Joylene Butler said...

Honestly, I wouldn't know a good query letter if it hit me over the head. But I liked this one. I would ask for more. Best of luck.

Joylene Butler said...

Just one thing. it's too bad she isn't saving him from the ruthless men.

Deana said...

I felt like I was reading the back of a book. SO good. I would ask for more:)

If you are planning on submitting the final for the contest, please email it to me by 12PM ET Tuesday.

Good luck!

Nancy Thompson said...

@Magpie: No, you're not late at all. I'm just so happy you stopped by. And thanks for the advice. I like that opening sentence, too, and though I took it out, I think I might slip it back in...shhh!

@Jen: Thanks for following and if I haven't already, I will stop by your place later today. So may queries to read.

@M Pax: Will do, in fact, already have!! Thanks!

@Nicole: I moved the housekeeping. The crowd is right. Thanks for your support.

@Joylene: Well either would I, that's the problem! And she does save him, in a manner of speaking.

@Deana: Well, kind lady, many thanks for sponsoring this wonderful event. Though it is hard to take the criticism, in the end, my query will be better for it. I wouldn't have this wonderful opportunity without you. And WOW, thanks for the kind words, too. Funny how this is so subjective.

Alleged Author said...

You have great feedback already, so I don't have too much to add. However, I would KEEP this for the synopsis writing (too long for a query) because you are going to need a short form synopsis to add details to for agents.

alexia said...

No need to bite your nails, this is a great start! Also sounds like a cool book. And, really good job to list similar books, without saying you write like such and such famous author, and thus sounding arrogant.

A few suggestions: 1) shorten it significantly, 2) bring your hook to the first sentence, 3) remove your personal info, 4) you don't need to say that the synopsis, etc. are available, the agents know that.

A potential opening sentence:

When Skylar Karras' plan to avenge his murdered wife goes awry, he must protect an innocent woman from the mafia thugs he's inadvertently unleashed upon her.

Have the hook at the top, before the word count and all that (advice everyone was reminding me of earlier). I would completely remove the sentence about alternating perspectives. I would also remove all the backstory. Try to cut it to three concise paragraphs. All you need to achieve is to entice an agent to read more. Highlight only the main points (protect the woman, save the brother, regain decency), they'll find out the rest if they request pages.

Good luck!

Nancy Thompson said...

Oh, I've got every length of synopsis you can imagine!

Jennifer Hillier said...

First, can I just say that you are one brave cookie for posting your query! It's not an easy thing to do, is it?

I'm not great at critiquing queries, so I'll leave that to the experts here. :) But I will say that I love how you put your hook right up front, and that you compared your work to Greg Iles (I'm a big fan). Good stuff!

And good luck!

Alexis Bass Writes said...

Nancy - this story sounds amazing! I was intrigued right away. I also love the pitch @Robin put together. Hopefully you'll be able to use that at conferences very soon!

jamieayres said...

I LOVE this story and I LOVE Robin Week's suggestion for your query:) I know I'm late commenting on yours but still wanted to make sure I visited everyone's blog (and now I have Anne Mini's blog to add to my list, too-lol). ~gOOd luCK!!

Richard said...

I'd like to know in what way this woman killed his pregnant wife that makes him want to take revenge. Was it murder? An accident?

You could shorten this query quite a bit by leaving out the backstory, or some of it, about the mc's past life. It's probably not important to know this info in the query.

I'd like to see a little more of the plot without giving away the ending. Give us the set up and leave us hanging, wanting to know how it's resolved.

Telling us the story is full of raw emotion doesn't help very much. I think that could be implied by the plot details you reveal.

Critiquing query letters is difficult, but I hope this has been helpful. I think you definitely need to shorten it.

Lori M. Lee said...

I would trim down that first paragraph (too much back story) but keep everything else. This sounds like a thrilling book. Good luck!

Nancy Thompson said...

@Jennifer: Thanks! Can't say that I like posting my query for the world to see, but the comments have helped. Hey, I can't wait for CREEP to arrive. So excited about reading your debut book!

@Alexis: Thanks so much. I just wish I was going to a conference sometime, soon or otherwise! And Robin's suggestions went right into my revised query. She's a genius!

@Jamie: Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words!

@Richard: Well, if I get and agent then a pub deal, perhaps you'll get to read it someday, fingers crossed! And I have shortened the query. It's complete at 201 words!

@Lori: All the backstory is gone, baby, gone! Nothing but a brief allusion to the main plot.

Thanks again to EVERYBODY! You've all helped me a great deal!!

Al Penwasser said...

Your query looks really good to me. It sets the hook in, making me want to read the whole thing.
I've tried to contact several agents, but I haven't received a response. They might be all "secret" agents.
I should give your method a try.