Ask Daphne! About My Query XIX

September 22nd, 2009 • Kate

gaShoes worn by one of my favorite FBI agents (Scully) for JMD, our next About My Query participant. As a reminder, the goal here is to provide helpful comments to aid the author in improving their query. Here we go!

Dear Ms. Schafer,

I am seeking representation for my paranormal suspense novel, Deadworld, complete at 109,000 words.

Jackie Rutledge is a Chicago FBI agent who walks that fine line between competence and nervous breakdown. When a killer begins bleeding people dry, Jackie’s psychic partner Laurel, tells her to get off the case. The spirit world is involved and they aren’t playing nice. Worse, the prime suspect, one PI Nick Anderson, seems to exude death worse than the local cemetery. Jackie is not a “leave well enough alone” sort of woman however. She hasn’t let a bad guy get away since she was twelve, and this one will be no different. Unless of course, he’s not the killer.

Despite the evidence, Jackie does not get the “killer” vibe from Nick. He’s not at all what he appears. His past goes back far beyond the humanly possible. In fact, nothing about the case makes sense, and the more they dig, the more it seems Laurel was right. They’re dealing with a killer who effortlessly walks between the living and the dead, and she will need Nick’s help to take that step, because facing the dead is where Jackie’s competence ends and the breakdown begins.

This is my second completed manuscript. I am Vice President of my local RWA chapter, and upon request, I would be happy to submit a partial or the full manuscript for your review. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
JMD

This is certainly intriguing, but raises the kind of questions that I think could be cleared up in a revision. One of my big ones in any paranormal story is whether or not the paranormal world is known or expected in the novel. In other words, is the FBI agent a Mulder in a world where no one believes her, or does everyone and their brother know that the strange and unusual exist next to our own world? Does her partner just happen to be psychic, or are they deliberately teamed up in a “one of them, one of us” pairing?

When we get to the PI, however, I think things get a little more confusing. For one, the “bad guy” is, one presumes, the killer. But by saying “Unless of course, he’s not the killer,” it’s clear Jackie is referring to Nick as the “bad guy,” instead of just her suspect.

I mean, I don’t want it to seem I don’t get the tropes of a romantic suspense novel, where the mysterious guy who seems to be the killer turns out not to be, just in time for the heroine to fall for him. But I think you want to say something more like “She hasn’t let a bad guy get away since she was twelve, and this guy will be no different. But when Jackie does not get the “killer” vibe from Nick, she decides to work with him to track down the real killer.”

Something. That’s not perfect either, but I hope you get the idea. The agent reading this needs to be clear that we’re dealing with four characters: Jackie, her psychic partner, Nick, and the killer.

Another confusing part is when you say “it seems Laurel was right” — the assumption is that she was right in telling Jackie to get off the case, when I think you mean that she was right about the spirit world not playing nice. It’s just not a smooth connection.

Finally, I’m not sure you need to say this is your “second completed manuscript.” It emphasizes a first novel that obviously did not sell, or you’d be telling us about your pub credits. Otherwise, my assumption is that you’re clearly involved with perfecting your craft, thus the membership and involvement in the RWA.

So those are my thoughts. Readers, am I off base? Did you have an easier time following this pitch? If you were an agent, with a couple of hundred queries a week, would you ask for material on this?

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5 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XIX”

  1. Jamie Harrington Says:

    I think this is a pretty good query, but I would read it out loud just to see if I caught some of the things in it that don't exactly flow.

    For example: Worse, the prime suspect, one PI Nick Anderson, seems to exude death worse than the local cemetery.

    I don't like the word 'exude' – I think it doesn't really fit a person. I get where you're trying to go with that, but I'm not sure how a live person can exude death… unless they're zombie. 🙂

    Also here: Jackie is not a “leave well enough alone” sort of woman however.

    I think if you just left off the however (or moved it), this would be a stronger sentence. I am getting a sense of your novel's voice here, but would be happier if it read like: Jackie's not the type of gal to leave well enough alone, so she…

    Like I said, I do see the voice here, and I think this book has potential to be kind of cool. It's not a genre I read normally, but it did garner actual interest from me. I'm not the agent you're trying to impress, though. 🙂

  2. Victoria Mixon Says:

    Daphne, I would be concerned not so much because this query has leaps and gaps in logic, but because a query with leaps and gaps may very well lead to a novel with leaps and gaps.

    "Psychic partner" appears in the middle of a sentence, introducing an important plot element (her partner is psychic) as an aside.

    Similarly, "She hasn't let a bad guy get away since she was twelve" introduces another important plot element without explaining it. What happened when she was twelve?

    Nick both "exudes death" and doesn't "give off that 'killer' vibe." This doesn't actually make sense.

    "The more they dig in" introduces a plural first person when the query is designed for a singular. Who are "they"? This becomes even more apparent when "They're dealing with a killer" leads to "she will need Nick's help" in the same sentence. Who is dealing with the killer? And why is Jackie's need the only one of theirs that matters?

    Altogether, these lapses in flow indicate the author maybe doesn't know yet how to create seamless fiction. It's great that she's written two full novels. It's great that she's the Vice President of her local RWA. Kudos to her for taking her work seriously!

    But I don't think you're off base. I've written queries like this that were rejected with a form letter and found years later, much to my chagrin, that the query very accurately reflected my writing skills and the condition of my novel at that time.

    best,

    Victoria

  3. Kathleen MacIver Says:

    I think this query did pretty well with the selection of information portrayed, although I was confused slightly by what Kate mentioned, and also by the opposing mentions of Nick. He exudes death, but doesn't give off killer vibes. I don't understand that. His past goes way back, which means he's probably paranormal of some sort…but then, when you mention a killer who is also paranormal somehow, I found myself re-reading, trying to figure out if you're saying that Nick is, after all, the killer, or if it's someone else.

    There are some punctuation errors, (no comma after "Laurel," needs a comma before "however," etc.) but they're not so terrible that they make things unclear.

    Would I request a partial? I don't know. Probably not, if I had the huge stacks that you all have!

  4. Krista G. Says:

    I'm not going to tackle the actual summary part of this query because I think the advice of the other commenters is spot on. Here are two other things to consider:

    1. A little personalization would go a long way. As it stands, you could send this query off to any agent out there (assuming, of course, that they represent paranormal suspense). Consider adding an agent-specific sentence or two in that introductory paragraph that would let him or her know you did a little more research than the bare minimum.

    2. The line "This is my second completed manuscript" stuck out to me, but not in a good way. It makes it sound as if you're digging deep for writing credentials. Just stick with being vice president of your local RWA chapter (and I'm pretty sure vice president isn't a proper noun in that situation).

    On the whole, though, this query isn't bad. Good luck with it.

  5. Jim Duncan Says:

    I agree with the posters so far. The query could definitely be written more clearly. As it stands, it's not the best query in the world, and I have no problem saying that since I wrote the thing. It does confuse things more than it should. It got rejected a good 70 or so times by agents, so saying you wouldn't request is pretty much spot on. It did somehow catch the eye of an editor though, and a deal is currently in the works. It also garnered me an agent (Nathan Bransford), who because of connections I had with him through his blog, agreed to take a second look (he'd already rejected the query) and loved the writing enough to take me on. Goes to show I suppose that mediocre queries don't necessarily translate into subsequent "blah" writing. Curious though, what others think might be the draw here. There was obviously some element of interest in it or perhaps it was just off of reading some pages from a partial, but usually the query gets read first. Anyway, I'm excited by things now, and eagerly await the deal being finalized.