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Ask Daphne! About My Query XXIII

BRITAINGoing with TWO About My Query posts today, to celebrate the end of About My Query week. My goal for the future is one a week, and while I’m set for the next month or so, I’ll be looking for more in the future. I’ll send out a call for submissions later in October. Until then, please enjoy the actual shoes worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her wedding to Prince Phillip for B, A, and Y, who wrote the second of today’s queries.

Dear Ms. Daphne Unfeasible:

We are three co-authors who seek representation for our YA mystery novella, NEW YORK MURDER (42,000 words).

After the young queen of England is murdered during her New York vacation, an attack on the president is anticipated, so three American Secret Service agents (Chris, Sarah, and Kevin) are assigned the case of finding this murderer before they strike again. Chris had been the queen’s boyfriend in high school, and he worries that his emotions might conflict with his ability to do his job. Sarah has feelings for Chris that she tries to disguise, and Kevin finds love at a motel. The agents are required to travel all across the globe to interview suspects, and with each suspect they meet with, more and more secrets are revealed. All the while the agents are being stalked by a past acquaintance that has cruel intentions. The agents make quick progress through the case, but are they moving fast enough? The murder has their sick, twisted pattern, and will strike again soon; will the agents be able to stop this vicious killer?

We have been interviewed on Cambridge Cable in Massachusetts about NEW YORK MURDER on February 19, 2009.

We hope that you will review our query and seriously consider it. We look forward to contacting you in the future, hopefully to discuss the outlook of our book.

Sincerely,
B, A, and Y

First of all, why are you pitching this as a YA novel? As far as I can tell, there’s nothing about it that’s YA. You have three protagonists, all of whom are far from their teen years. I mean, yes, I suppose they could be “young” by the standards of the Secret Service, but I very much doubt the President has teenagers protecting his life.

Then of course there’s the fact that this is a novella, not a novel after all, which is a difficult thing to be in today’s publishing world. And by difficult, I mean, nigh on impossible to publish. I’d call it a straight thriller, and double the word count — but that’s getting into manuscript revisions, not a query review.

So let’s put that aside for now, and concentrate on what you tell us about the story. The parenthetical introducing your main characters is unnecessary, and I would skip it to introduce them more fully in the next sentence. For Chris, talking about his “emotions” would be more appropriate if the Queen survived the murder attempt, and he had to perhaps deal with seeing her again over the course of the investigation. If she’s dead, you may want to emphasize his grief, to be more specific. Sara also has vague feelings — again, I think you want to be more pointed: is she pining for Chris? Obsessing over him? Acting cold to him in her attempt to keep the truth of her love from him? Kevin gets even shorter shift — he “finds love in a motel.” Well, that’s nice and all, but what does that tell us about his character? Who is he? What does he think about his partners? About the case?

Moving on, your next two sentences that set up the action of the story are awkward. Instead of “The agents are required to travel all across the globe to interview suspects, and with each suspect they meet with, more and more secrets are revealed. All the while the agents are being stalked by a past acquaintance that has cruel intentions”, what about this? “The murder investigation takes the agents across the globe, as each clue they find and each suspect they interview only reveals more secrets to unravel. Racing against time to save the President’s life, his elite bodyguard discover they may be targets, too, when a past acquaintance with cruel intentions begins tracking their flight around the world.”

I’m not sure the line “The agents make quick progress through the case, but are they moving fast enough?” is needed — you’ve already set up a race against the clock to stop the killer before he hits the President. Oh, and speaking of “he” — even if that may not be the appropriate pronoun, it’s certainly better than “they.” Saying “finding this murderer before they strike again” is grammatically wrong, as is the echo in “The murder has their sick, twisted pattern”. I think you mean “the murderer has a sick, twisted pattern,” but unless there’s additional killings you haven’t mentioned in the query, one assassination does not a pattern make. You have to give the reader more to go on if there’s a pattern to follow.

As to the fact of your being interviewed about the book — why? What about the book got you a cable interview? Was it self-published? Do your day jobs inform your writing in a publicity-worthy way? What writing experience do you have? This paragraph is also a great opportunity to tell the agent you’re querying why you think three authors are necessary — what do you each bring to the novel?

Finally, I would caution against closing your query with a promise to contact the agent again in the future. You’ve made your contact by querying, now, you wait for a response. Most agents do respond, unless their submission guidelines say they will do so only if interested. In which case, if you don’t hear from them, the proper reaction is not to contact them again, it’s to find other agents to query.

At the moment, you’re not giving the agent reading this a lot of reasons to ask for more. Readers, how would you pitch this? What would you change in this query?

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