Ask Daphne! About my Query III

October 6th, 2008 • Kate

Shoes that look like they would kill your feet (courtesy of Go Fug Yourself and Posh Spice) for Rena, who sends along her thriller query for our review. (See what I just did there? “Kill”er shoes? I’m so witty!):

Dear Daphne:
Normal people don’t catalog their neighbors by age, sex and race. But when Katherine’s son is killed and the murderer never found, she does just that.
The loss of her son causes Katherine to suffer from psychotic episodes: she hallucinates, experiences thought disorder, and is unable to remember whole days at a time.
Soon she discovers that her psychotic episodes are not only related to her son’s murder but to a family secret: when she was six-years old she found her brother, murdered, and it turns out he was brutalized in the same way as her son. Now that she remembers her past, she is convinced that her son and brother were killed by the same man.
Determined to find the murderer, she devotes her life to studying similar murder cases, and her obsession destroys her relationship with her husband David.
Frankie Jensen knows the man that killed Katherine’s son; in fact, the killer and Frankie belong to the same online community, The Convent. Frankie has something else on his mind — Cindy, the 12-year old from the community center where he volunteers.
Katherine finds the man, James Collins, who murdered her son and brother, and enacts revenge. Her husband David, realizing what she’s done, leaves her but promises to not turn her over to the police. She is contacted by Jon Wang, a man who she’d befriended at a conference months ago. After inferring from their conversations that she killed Collins, Jon asks the impossible of her: will she help him kill the priest that molested his daughter and caused her suicide. Once she had helped him with the priest’s murder, Jon reveals to her that he’s discovered other pedophiles through a website he hacked (The Convent). Katherine is eager to kill them all, and Jon is just as willing. And one of the men top on their list is Frankie Jensen.
Complete at approximately 100,000 words, JUST CAUSE is a crime novel that follows two grieving parents bent on revenge. The first three pages are attached for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Wow, that’s… that’s a LOT of information. I would say too much, for sure.
You need to focus on the flap copy aspect of your query information. How much of the book would you want given away on the jacket of the printed edition? Would you really want to tell perspective readers that the main character kills someone? Multiple people, actually? You allude to it so glibly here, when I feel like it should be something hinted at for much longer.
Then, you introduce a lot of characters in these paragraphs. Are they all necessary? Whose name can you leave out? Cindy? James? David? I would say all of them.
If the main pitch of your book is “two grieving parents bent on revenge” then you need to excise any information in your query that doesn’t support this. If there’s information that you want to convey that doesn’t fit with this log line, maybe the log line is wrong.
Readers, what are your thoughts?

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7 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About my Query III”

  1. Amie Says:

    I agree…way too much information.
    Who is your character? What do they want? What stands in their way and how are things resolved?
    Good luck!

  2. Carrie Harris Says:

    Yes, I'm afraid that I have to agree as well. Too many names and too much information to follow in what should be a short, easy-to-follow letter. You should be able to sum up your plot in one, two paragraphs tops. In order to make that happen, you've got to be really critical about what the reader needs to know about your story. Some questions I'd be asking myself:
    1. Are your first few sentences vital to the understanding of your plot? I didn't feel like you really got into the meat of the story until you got to the third paragraph.
    2. Do you need the paragraph about Frankie Jensen? Is he so essential to the story that he needs to be mentioned here?
    3. Like Kate said, do you want to give away what actions the parents take, or do you want to leave us with the image of two grieving parents discovering a covert group of pedophiles and their desire for revenge?

  3. Query Author: Rena Says:

    Thanks so much Katie for critquing my query letter Just Cause. You (Amie and Carrie) are very right. I ended up running this version on the Absolute Write Forum and they help me come up with the following:
    Dear Agent:
    I’m seeking representation for my 100,000 word crime novel, JUST CAUSE.
    The body of Katherine's son is found with his left eye gouged out, dumped naked in a ditch…exactly the same way she found her brother’s body 25 years earlier. Both had been sexually assaulted by the same man.
    Consumed by rage and suffering from psychotic episodes, she dedicates her life to finding the man responsible for both boys’ deaths. When she finds him, she corners him on a hiking trip and carves out his left eye, before forcing him off a cliff.
    Later, she is contacted by a friend, Jon Wang, whose daughter committed suicide after being molested. Guessing that Katherine had managed to get away with murder, he asks her to help him do the same. Once the deed is done, Jon reveals that he’s discovered that the man who killed her brother and son and the man who molested his daughter are a part of an online network of pedophiles called the Convent.
    Katherine and Jon storm across the U.S. slaughtering members of the Convent. Plagued by her episodes, mistakes are made: Katherine’s DNA is found at the scene of one of the murders. The FBI launches a nationwide manhunt for them. Soon, Jon and Katherine discover that one of the Convent, willing to do anything to protect his secret, is hell-bent on slaughtering them.
    It would be a pleasure to send pages, or the completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration.
    ******
    I have been told that in a query that you need to "tell all". But if that's really not the right way to do it then how can I convey that this is a 'parents bent on revenge' story without giving about too much? Thanks again!

  4. Emily Says:

    The second query is much, much better. I really liked it and there's a lot of conflict: Katherine's own pyschological issues, emotional loss, an FBI manhunt and a killer trying to find them.
    However, I disagree that you should 'tell all' in a query letter. Think of it more like the back copy on a jacket cover. Summarize your main plot in an interesting way. You might want to check out Kristin Nelson's blog- she's done query workshop stuff in the past. But all in all, I really like this second letter.
    Great job revising!

  5. dust Says:

    Okay, running against the tide.
    I liked the first query better; I would have at least flipped through the book based on it, while the second query sounds like a movie of the week.
    Reasons:
    –First query focuses on plot; second includes graphic details that I don't need to know
    –First query, I'm thinking "Did she kill her own son?" Second query, there's no question.
    –First query focuses on relationships (husband's reaction); second focuses on more typical thriller aspects (DNA, FBI). IMO, this is what sets this apart from most thrillers and helps turn it more into a Hitchcockian twister.
    I would consider these changes to first query instead:
    –Remove first paragraph; you don't pick up thread of "cataloging strangers" later, and K's obsession comes out better later.
    –Remove Frankie Jenson. Add some info from last plot paragraph of second version, making focus more on K. and less on thriller aspects.
    I don't like the title; it's 1) overused and 2) too easy to make fun of ("Why? Just cause.") –It doesn't point back to the individuality of the book.
    Also, please tell me there's a twist at the ending. If so, please hint at it. Note, you didn't put "everything" into your query; we don't know how the book ends 🙂

  6. Sheila Says:

    From what I've gleaned from various agent blogs, I think you want a query to be very concise, like Carrie said. You don't need to spell everything out in a query, you just need to hook the agent. If he/she requests a synopsis, that's where you lay it all out.
    There were things about both queries that I liked, but I have to agree with dust about the inclusion of graphic details – not necessary. If you went back to the first one and, like dust suggested, cut the first sentence, you could start with:
    When Katherine's son is killed, brutalized in the same way as her brother twenty-five years ago, Katherine devotes her life to studying similar cases and finding the murderer. Her obsession destroys her marriage, but ultimately she finds the man who murdered her son and brother and enacts revenge.
    Those are your words from the two queries, except I changed -"relationship with her husband David" to "marriage." One word replaces five and the meaning is just as clear. You have to make every word count in a query, and the more concise, the better.
    You can add another paragraph to introduce Jon, describe their quest and the people out to stop them -the FBI and The Convent. Try to do that in one paragraph – you'll have to cut details, but you can do it.
    In addition to Kristin Nelson's blog, Nathan Bransford has a side bar on his blog that you should check out. Look for "Anatomy of a Good Query Letter."
    Good luck!

  7. Query Author: Rena s Says:

    I've tried to combine the two queries, and leave out the details for the synoposis. I did notice that some details on the query (like how she murdered the guy) ended up on the synoposis too, so I see it's a better place for it to go.
    Dust, as for the title, I don't know if I'm going to worry about it so much at this point…though good points. And about the twist: aliens arrive in Chapter 13 🙂 🙂
    Here's the combined queries version:
    Dear Agent,
    I’m seeking representation for my 100,000 word crime novel, JUST CAUSE.
    When Katherine's son is killed, brutalized in the same way as her brother twenty-five years ago, she is consumed by rage and suffers from psychotic episodes: she hallucinates, experiences thought disorder, and is unable to remember whole days at a time. She dedicates her life to finding the man responsible for both boys’ deaths and ultimately she finds the man and enacts revenge, but her obsession destroys her marriage.
    Later, she is contacted by a friend, Jon Wang, whose daughter committed suicide after being molested. Guessing that Katherine had managed to get away with murder, he asks her to help him do the same. Once the deed is done, Jon reveals that he’s discovered that the man who killed her brother and son and the man who molested his daughter are a part of an online network of pedophiles called the Convent.
    Katherine and Jon storm across the U.S. slaughtering members of the Convent. Plagued by her episodes, mistakes are made: Katherine’s DNA is found at the scene of one of the murders. Things get more complicated when she finds herself falling for Jon even though she still loves her husband. With the FBI already after them, Jon and Katherine soon discover that one of the Convent, willing to do anything to protect his secret, is hell-bent on slaughtering them.
    It would be pleasure to send pages, or the completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration.