Friday, October 7, 2011

Betsy Newmeyer's Current Query Critiqued

Good morning, readers. So today we have Betsy's query again. This time, as usual, with my thoughts, in red.

I'm still very sick, worse even than I was yesterday, but I've got a nice hot cup of black tea, so let's get to work.

Le Query:


FBI Agent Jonah White threw away a promising career to find justice for his sister’s murder. I'm not sure this is worded properly. I'm no grammarian, so please forgive me if I foul this up, but to me this sounds like it's the murder that needs justice. I think this should say "...justice for his murdered sister." That way it's his sister that's in need of justice. However, with the suspected killer already six feet under, all Jonah can do now is wine and dine the man’s grieving widow, Maya Savantes, to recover the inheritance her husband stole from Jonah’s sister. So this is clearly a great premise for a story full of conflict and intrigue, but I wonder whether you're setting it up properly. For one thing, it doesn't make much sense to me that wining and dining a grieving widow would cost an FBI Agent his career. Was he obsessing over the case for years before the killer died, or he found the wife? I think if you can give us just a tiny bit more info about Jonah's character, and how he ended up in this situation, you would compel us all to care more about his choices.

Working undercover is never easy, he threw away his career, but now he's under cover, working? I'm confused. but falling in love with Maya--a possible accomplice to murder--I personally think a double hyphen in place of an em-dash looks terrible, but it is a definitive solution for the email formatting problem with em-dashes I've been pointing out lately. definitely wasn’t part of the plan. As he tries to sidestep Maya’s suspicions, and his own feelings, he learns two things: 1) there’s a pissed off, trigger-happy loan shark willing to put both Maya and Jonah in his sights to get the inheritance money, and 2) Maya’s husband isn’t so dead after all. Wow, okay. That's quite the raise in stakes. I like this part.

When his cover is blown and Maya’s daughter is kidnapped, Jonah will be will be? Now we're in future tense? forced to plan a daring rescue. Only, it won’t be tense his life on the line in the final shootout. Good final line. I mean it could probably be logically concluded, but it still packs some punch.

REDEMPTION FOR LIARS (75,000 words) is a romantic suspense novel set in Hill’s Creek, Texas, a fictitious town where the kinfolk like their secrets the way they like their steaks; big and juicy. Nice. I’m a Romance Writers of America member and a 2nd place finalist in the 2011 Dixie First Chapter contest for the first chapter of this novel.

Thank you for considering my book for representation.

Elizabeth Newmeyer (Betsy)

Okay. So to summarize, this is another query that's already pretty durn good. I'm not much of a thriller, crime, or romance reader, but I do know queries and I'm pretty sure this one will work. It does lack some important things, like voice, characterization, and a good, clear cut description of exactly what happens, but I think it conveys enough about the story, that if an agent is looking for that kind of book, she would move on to reading the pages.

That's it.

What do you guys think? Does a query for this kind of novel really need more voice? If the novel is kind of clinical, can't the query be so too? What would you change?

Please leave your feedback in the comments. And thanks for reading!

NOTE: I'm also posting over at Project Mayhem this morning. Please go read that post, too.

ALSO NOTE: Don't forget to sign up for the Pay It Forward blogfest, I'd love to see us get to 200 blogs.

ALSO NOTATE: I'm being interviewed by A.B. Keuser, here. Yes, I am that cool. And that busy.


Dianne K. Salerni said...

I agree this is a striking premise for a story, but the query seems to miss the mark a little in the presentation of it. There are issues with preciseness in grammar, verb tense, and detail (is he undercover or fired?)but there's also little feel for what kind of character Jonah is.

My first thought was that he was a jerk, wining and dining a widow to con her out of money, but then later you reveal Jonah thinks she might have been involved in swindling and murdering his sister. Okay, that's better -- but I think we needed that up front. An adjective or descriptive phrase here or there would give the query reader an idea what kind of people Jonah and Maya are ... and whether he/she wants to read more about them.

Kristen Wixted said...

Totally agree with above, and on a more nit-picky note, I would be wary of using too many run-of-the-mill words and phrases like "promising career" and "wine and dine the man's grieving widow." Use language that isn't so ordinary.
Because Betsy does have an un-ordinary premise! Show it right away with great word choice.
Just a thought.
I love the name "Maya Savantes." It is musical.

Bryan Russell said...

Yeah, I like this, but I do think the flow of information needs to be cleared up in the first half. It's not entirely clear how things connect together - what are the causal links?

I'm also not sure about the final line. It's sort of saying that it's the women whose lives are in danger, but in sort of a roundabout way that deemphasizes his own risk. I don't think saying that he's not in danger is a way to up the stakes. If the focus is on the girls, I think there could be a better way to say it.

And Matt's right - a bit of the character's personality would be great (I mean, the line about the big and juicy secrets is great, we just need a bit of that in the actual synopsis.

I also agree with Matt that the story is interesing and might be able to catch an agent's eye.


Steve MC said...

Man, I missed a lot of what you caught - even sick, you're the FBI of queries.

I love the pissed-off part, and the only part I could suggest rewriting is "it won’t be his life on the line in the final shootout." Shootout seems to give away what will happen too plainly. Maybe "it won’t be his life on the line when the guns are drawn and the awful truth is known." Something that engages your imagination.

But yeah, plenty of action and intrigue, and because of the award I'd definitely be interested in reading that first chapter.

Weaver said...

Great suggestions above. Love the book's premise. I just attended a query class at a conference (by two editors from two publishing companies), and they said it was fine to submit a query like a business proposal. Yet online, I hear a lot about how it's important to capture some of the voice from the book. Do agents mention that kind of thing in their guidelines?

Sorry to hear you're sick Matt. Take care of yourself.

Jessica Bell said...

I think this has a lot of potential. I do agree the query could have a bit more voice, but that is totally subjective. I've had requests on clinical queries before. It really just depends who you're pitching to. Btw, you can always copy and paste an em-dash from Word. Works for me. :o)

Old Kitty said...

I definitely loved the second paragraph where all the intrigue and the plot becomes seriously complex and even more conflicted (like bad hubby may not be dead! Whoa!!).

Great advice as always Mr McNish! Good luck Betsy!!

Take care

Slamdunk said...

Good suggestions Matthew. And I agree that the undercover work after leaving the job needs clarification.

On the way over to your other post now.

Unknown said...

I agree with Matt's comments and many of the ones above.

I had to re-read the first line twice to understand he wanted justice for his sister (the way you have it, he is looking for justice for the murderer which to me implies the wrong person was accused.)

If you clear up the things that have been mentioned I think you will have an excellent query to send out.

Good luck!

Michael G-G said...

Best line in the whole query? "...a town where the kinfolk like their secrets the way they like their steaks; big and juicy."

Yet it's buried at the bottom. Get that line at the top and you've got me hooked. Add some of that kick-ass voice to description of the characters and it's a double whammy. (The story sounds promising, but the query lacked voice for me.)

Write it like a steak-loving, secret-hoarding Texan would write it, and you're on to something, Betsy.

Thanks for sharing, best of luck--and Matt, you get well soon, ya hear.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Excellent critique! Yes, this one has promise. And the 'will be' should be just 'is.' said...

You make some excellent points Matthew. I can't fault them.

A. B. Keuser said...

Great points Matthew! The "sister's murder" confusion could be remedied by saying "murdered sister" instead.

Awesome crit.
I hope you feel better soon! and thanks for doing the interview with me :D

Christina Lee said...

I agree, the FBI of queries over here! I think voice will always win an agent over, make them sit up and take notice.

I like the listing of the two points, that's when I really became invested, so should it be moved up?

Lydia Kang said...

So much going on today! Sorry you are sick! Sounds like you got the crud that got me two weeks ago. Another great query crit, thanks!

Wine and Words said...

Hey...I hope you feel better. Seems like the flu is spreading through blogland. I'll be sure and desanitize my fingers after commenting ")

mshatch said...

as always excellent advice. And I agree the query needs more voice.

Hope you feel better soon, Matt.

Sarah Ahiers said...

pretty much everything i was going to say has already been said. I would just also like to say that i really love the premise of this. And a good trick for getting more voice out of a query is to write it in first POV, then change it to 3rd.
Good luck!

Elizabeth Janette said...

Thanks everyone for your comments on my query letter. I love that Matt was able to pinpoint the inconsistencies that I was overlooking. Now to dig back in and revise once more!

Unknown said...

You covered it all very well, I think. It's a clear, concise query, and the things you pointed out are pretty easily fixable. I don't think this particular query necessarily needs a lot of voice, but if the author can find a way to work it in, all the better.

Feel better soon, Matt!

Jemi Fraser said...

This story sounds great! As a reader of romantic suspense, I'd like to see a little bit more of the romance mentioned ... for instance what is it about Maya that makes him fall in love with her when he thought she might be a murderer's accomplice? Just a tweak or two should do it. Good luck with it. I look forward to reading your book one day! :)

kah said...

RWA FTW! Woot! (sorry just had to give a shout out to one of my fav organizations)

Great comments as always, Matthew. If you ever need to make extra income you could start a query consulting business.

Black tea? I though green tea was better when you're sick? Have I been misinformed?

Hope you feel better.

Kristen Pelfrey said...

I would like to see the voice be consistent all the way through the query. You have some terrific lines in the second half of the query--can you load some into the first half?

What about a few descriptors of Jonah--is he a rogue agent who is effective? Did he break up a terrorist ring? What does "promising" mean?

I am a CGN(complete query newbie) but I hope this helps.

LTM said...

you did it! You actually made it better--I like the first sentence revision and the last of 'graph 1. Very good! And hey, hope you're feeling better today~