Monday, August 16, 2010

#171-Revised 6x

Dear QueryShark:

Frankie Donovan owes Nicky a debt he'll never forget. It sent Nicky to prison and Frankie to the police academy. He vows to be different than the dirty cops he knew growing up, but every day is a struggle to keep the oath., and he   He longs for the days when he and Nicky ruled the neighborhood.



Frankie goes to see Nicky when he gets out of prison, (you're missing connective tissue here) but Nicky soon disappears, resurfacing months later with a mysterious late-night call. He tells Frankie he has evidence against the head of a mob family and needs help.

The clauses in a sentence need to follow logically.  Unless Nicky disappears because of Frankie's visit, those two events don't belong in the same sentence.  You're missing the connective tissue if you want both phrases.  The question is: do you need them?  You've got to develop an ear and eye for this.


After two months and no word from Nicky, the murders start. Now Frankie has five bodies with mob connections, and the evidence points to someone from the old neighborhood. He can’t imagine it's Nicky, but when the other suspects end up dead, he has no doubt.

You really love those compound sentences!  As you build tension, the sentences should get shorter, the words sharper. You don't always need complete sentences.  (You get to break the rules on purpose if you want to; you can't break the rules by mistake)

Frankie is now in a quandary. He doesn't give a shit about the dead mobsters, but he owes Nicky. It's time for Frankie to decide if he wants to be a cop, or a gangster. And he has to do it before Nicky gets to him.



MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series.

Put in the word count here.

I'm not jazzed about announcing a book is a series in the query letter.  The reason  is not that I don't want to take on books that can be series because I do. Most editors want books that can be the start of a series. 

I'm very suspicious that "star of a series" means the author has written five sort of ok novels, and not one outstanding novel.  I'm particularly afraid of that when I see queries with run-on sentences that aren't quite as polished as I wish.  Polishing a novel take a  long time. If you think it doesn't you're doing it wrong.

If this is a series, I'd rather see MURDER TAKES TIME (word count) is the first of a potential series.  That way you've told me you want it to be a series, but you haven't actually done the writing yet.


This is pretty close to ready to go out.  I strongly strongly urge you to hold off on querying until you've had a chance to really look at the novel again, and apply what you've been working on here: fewer long ass sentences; polishing up the prose; energizing your writing. 














 

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Dear QueryShark:

Frankie Donovan owes Nicky a debt he'll never forget. It sent Nicky to prison and Frankie to the police academy.

When Nicky gets out of prison, he disappears, resurfacing months later with a mysterious late-night call. He tells Frankie he has evidence against the head of a mob family and needs help.
After two months and no word from Nicky, Frankie wonders what happened…then the murders start. Now Frankie has five bodies with mob connections. At each scene he finds evidence that points to someone from the old neighborhood. He can’t imagine it's Nicky, but when the other suspects end up dead, he has no doubt.


Notice how you switch from Frankie being the subject to Nicky here? (Frankie starts the sentence in the first paragraph; Nicky is the subject in the first line of the second paragraph)

This makes the query feel jumbled. Stay with Frankie. He's the main guy. Example: Frankie gets a call from Nicky after he's released. He's got evidence...etc.

This example isn't stellar writing but you get the idea.

Frankie is now in a quandary. He doesn't give a shit about the dead mobsters, but he owes Nicky. It's time for Frankie to decide if he wants to be a cop, or a gangster. And he has to do it before Nicky gets to him.

MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series. It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York.

I don't think the setting matters here. It's a book about the people, not where they are. Brooklyn is evocative, but Wilmington Delaware? Not so much. (Sorry Delaware)

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,

It's getting better, but still not there yet. Take your time revising. Develop you ear and eye for taut writing.

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Dear QueryShark:

Frankie Donovan grows up on the wrong side of the law, always loyal to his best friends, Nicky and Tony. He counts the days until he can get out of his house, away from his screaming mother and abusive father. One night, Nicky saves Frankie’s life and changes everything. Tony goes to New York and becomes a mobster, Frankie becomes a cop, and Nicky goes to prison. It is a debt Frankie will never forget.

You're trying to revamp the entire query and that's a good strategy. What you've got to do now is pare down. Everything in that first paragraph is essentially "Frankie owes Nicky a debt he'll never forget. It sent Nicky to prison, and Frankie to the police academy."



When Nicky gets out of prison, Frankie starts hanging out with the old gang, longing for the days when he and Nicky and Tony ruled the neighborhood. Frankie has discovered that life as a cop is not as honorable as he thought. But he took an oath to uphold the law and he abides by it.



Then Nicky he disappears, resurfacing months later with a mysterious late-night call. He tells Frankie he has evidence against the head of a mob family and needs Frankie’s help.



After two months go by and no word from Nicky, Frankie wonders what happened…then the murders start. Before long Frankie has five bodies with mob connections. At each scene he finds evidence that points to Nicky or Tony. He can’t imagine it‘s Nicky, but when Tony ends up dead it leaves Nicky as the lone suspect.

I'm going to encourage you to leave Tony out of this. He ends up dead, so he's not one of the main characters even if he started out as one.


Frankie is now in a quandary. He doesn't give a shit about the dead mobsters, but he owes Nicky. It's time for Frankie to decide if he wants to be a cop, or a gangster. And he has to do it before Nicky gets to him.



MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series. It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York.



Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is better, but it still needs polish. Trust your reader to make intuitive leaps with you. Leave out everything you don't need to entice me to read on, EVEN if it's an integral part of the book. I know you can't stuff a query letter like a cannoli.



Still a form rejection, but better.

----------------------
Dear QueryShark:

Frankie Donovan has five brutal murders to solve, and he is baffled by the lack of good leads. But as he sifts through the evidence, certain clues stand out.

At the first scene thirty-two packs of Winstons are lined up on the table. His partner thinks it odd that there are no prints are on them;,but Frankie knows it's a message from someone in the old neighborhood. He just has to think back all those years and figure out what it means.

After the second scene, a package is delivered to him with eleven dead roaches. Now Frankie's suspect list narrows to Nicky or Tony, his two best friends. He questions Tony and gets nowhere. Nicky has disappeared.

When a dead rat shows up in the fridge of the latest murder, Frankie knows it’s Nicky. Then Tony ends up dead, and Frankie realizes Nicky is coming after him.

Frankie has no idea why Nicky is doing this, but he has to figure it out before Nicky gets to him.

MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series, and is complete at 121,000 words(or whatever number pleases the omniscient agent). It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York.



Thank you for your time and consideration.



I'm guessing you can hack 20K out of this without losing a single ounce of story just by honing your prose. I've done this for a couple people recently and once they've recovered (by this I mean they no longer need paper bags as inhalers) they see how to trim. My guess is you'll see it too if someone gives your novel some liposuction.

The central problem now is the stakes for the book are "will Nicky get to Frankie." In order to care about that outcome, we've got to care about Frankie. You haven't given us any reason to do so.

It's a lot easier to write queries for thrillers --I don't want the world to blow up if I'm in it after all-- than it is to care about some guy who clearly hangs out with a oddball crowd..or did when he was a kid.

Look back at our poster child for revision and tenacity #119. What finally worked for her was she quit revising the query; instead she took what she'd learned, and wrote a new query with a fresh focus.

You're on your third revision here and I'm still not enticed. Yes, it could be me. My guess though is that it's not.

Take some time. Think.

Form rejection

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Dear QueryShark:

Nicky Fusco is the mob’s best hit man. When they give him an assignment to kill a woman who is blackmailing them, things go wrong. Just as he is about to pull the trigger, she twirls her necklace with her finger. That reminds him of the only girl he ever loved. Instead of pulling the trigger, he takes her on the run and marries her.

Ah the ubiquitous shadowy "they." Yuck. Faceless, nameless enemies are boring. Think about it: Darth Vader wasn't truly scary till you heard him breathe. Even though other people were fearful of him, the audience didn't gasp till we heard him.

Avoid formless characters.

Now, knowing that you should avoid formless characters, how do you actually do so?

We don't need to know who gives Fusco the assignment. It's enough to know that he has been given it. That gets "them" out of the picture.

Consider: Nicky Fusco is the mob’s best hit man. His assignment is to kill a woman who is blackmailing the wrong guy.


Now hiding out in Cleveland, he turns to the one person he can trust—Detective Frankie Donovan. He tells Frankie that his wife has evidence against the head of Brooklyn’s crime family. A few days later the mob shows up and kills Nicky’s wife, leaving him for dead.


Ok, "the mob" doesn't show up. Unless it really is a mob of people. Someone shows up. Who?

And you undercut any kind of tension or suspense with that sentence that is now struck out. See paragraph (4) below.

Convinced that Frankie betrayed him, Nicky heads out to get the revenge he promised his dying wife. First, he kills the ones who shot her, leaving evidence at every scene that lets Frankie know he’s coming. According to the laws of the old neighborhood, he is saving Frankie for last.

Cut out every single thing you don't absolutely have to have. We don't need to know (in the query letter) that he promised his dying wife he'd get revenge. We only need to know he's going out to get revenge. Simplify everything to keep this taut.

(4) Meanwhile, Frankie Donovan struggles with the two oaths he took in his life—one when he became a cop, and one with his two best friends when they were eight years old. He is working the worst murders in the city’s history, and the evidence points to Nicky or Tony. He can’t imagine it is Nicky; the last time they spoke he was going to send Frankie evidence against the head of mob family. But when Tony ends up dead, it leaves Nicky as the lone suspect.

No "meanwhile" in a query letter. Ever.

And you've got a HUGE splat here. We're all caught up in Nicky getting revenge, and Frankie being the ultimate target when *splat* you start dropping in backstory.

The line "Frankie Donovan struggles with the two oaths he took in his life—one when he became a cop, and one with his two best friends when they were eight years old. He is working the worst murders in the city’s history, and the evidence points to Nicky or Tony" isn't bad writing at all. It just doesn't work here because we're already far far head of that part of the story.

Consider this: Frankie finds himself working the worst murders in the city's history and all the evidence points to Nicky. But he can't imagine it's Nicky: the last time they spoke Nicky was set to send Frankie evidence against the head of mob family.

Frankie doesn’t care about the five dead mobsters, but he needs to find out why Nicky is doing this. And he needs to do it before Nicky gets to him.



MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series, and is complete at 121,000 words. It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York.



Thank you for your time and consideration.


I'm absolutely convinced that you can cut 20,000 words from this manuscript and end up with a better book. The overwriting I see in queries is ALWAYS present in the novels they're for.

You've also got a pretty straightforward crime/revenge novel here, which is fine. The problem is there's nothing here that makes me think I haven't read or seen this story before and more than once.

Something has to tell me that this book will have fresh/original twist on an old story. I don't see that here, and that means it's a form rejection.

-----------------------------------
Dear Query Shark:

Detective Frankie Donovan took two oaths in his life—one to uphold the law when he became a cop, and one with Nicky and Tony when they were eight years old and inseparable.

This is a long ass sentence. Think of the rhythm of what you write. You're writing a hard-edged crime novel. This is not the place for flowery sentences...unless they're lilies of course.

Consider this: Detective Frankie Donovan took two oaths in his life—one to uphold the law when he became as a cop;, and one with Nicky and Tony when they were eight years old and inseparable.

Now Tony is a mobster, Nicky is a hit man, and Frankie’s got five brutal murders to solve. To make matters worse, every crime scene has new evidence that points to Nicky as the killer. Frankie knows something is wrong and he's determined to find out what set Nicky off.

You've got a problem here in that we're not sure what "something is wrong" means. Does it mean Nicky isn't really the guy, or is Nicky the guy and something set him off?



With his lieutenant pressuring him on one side, Tony’s mob buddies from the other, and the FBI crawling up his ass trying to prove he’s crooked, the tightrope Frankie’s been walking all these years is getting thinner. His gut tells him he should turn Nicky in, but there was that oath...and Nicky had lived up to his end of it, saving Frankie’s life when they were younger, and earning himself a stint in prison.


So, why is Tony in this? And why is the FBI crawling up his asterisk? What tightrope? Cops don't turn people in...they investigate. Is Frankie investigating all the cases? What points to Nicky? Why would he NOT investigate Nicky? He didn't become a cop to let someone get away with murder did he?

You've got both too much, and not enough here. Not enough that makes this a distinctive compelling story, and too much of what I think of as throat-clearing, or preparation. Dig deeper, and give us some short compelling sentences showing an enticing story.


Frankie shook his head and cursed. The relationship with his friends has forced him to make many tough decisions, and now he faces the toughest one of his life; if he lets Nicky go, he breaks the oath he took as a cop and risks losing his job. But if he tries to bring Nicky in, he breaks an oath he has kept for twenty-five years—and he risks losing his life. Nobody fucked with Nicky Fusco.

Frankie blessed himself and said a prayer. All these years he has kept his honor, never betraying the oath to his friends or the badge, but now one of them would have to go. He stuffed an extra clip in his pocket and headed out. Somebody was going to die today.


No no no. Don't quote the book in your query. It just takes up space you desperately need for other things: showing us what the story is about.

MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series, and is complete at 121,000 words. It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York. I have the second book finished and an outline for two more books.

You have not revised and polished enough. I know this two ways: 120K words, and the two paragraphs you included. All the stuff about lean sentences and good energetic rhythm also applies to the book. Compound sentences are not your enemy but use only when needed.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Form rejection. I'm not enticed to read a story that has a formulaic set up, and the two paragraphs show me the book itself needs a lot more revising and polishing.

You're not ready to query yet. Your novel is not done. (I see this a LOT)



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Original version

Dear QueryShark:

My name is Niccolo Conte Fusco. I’m a hit man.

No no no. Don't write your query in the POV of your character. I know you're tempted to do it; I can hear that siren song of first person Query enticing you to do something Unusual! Fresh! Original! It's none of those things: it's a gimmick.

I'm not looking for gimmicks. I'm looking for hooks, yes, but there's a difference between a hook and a gimmick, and I know it when I read it.


Also, you do understand that while I read crime novels, I don't want to live in one. Thus if you really ARE a hit man, and you have my address, "yes come on over" isn't the first thing I want to say; it's "Suzie! Lower RAISE the drawbridge***!"


I’m thirty-three years old and wondering how everything went so wrong. But to understand that you’d have to go back to the beginning, back to when it was me, Frankie, and Tony that ruled the neighborhood. Frankie is now a cop and trying to pin five murders on me. And Tony…Tony is lying on the floor in front of me in a pool of blood, my bullet in his gut.


That's called set up. It's not conflict or tension. I'm not emotionally invested in a self-described hit man. In other words, you haven't snagged my interest yet.

Don’t judge me yet; I’ve done enough of that. Instead, why don’t you listen to my story and let me tell you about what happened in my neighborhood when someone broke an oath.

yea yea yea.
I'm sorry, but again, this isn't conflict. It's not a choice. It's not good intentions gone horribly awry.

MURDER TAKES TIME is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York, and is the first in a mystery/suspense series featuring Detective Frankie Donovan and repentant hit man, Nicky Fusco.

Well, it's not the first in a series if you don't get the first published. While I'm interested in books that lend themselves to a series, that's not the first thing I care about. I want to know what the book is about. You've given me set up but no plot.

Thank you for your time and consideration. A complete manuscript (121,000 words) is available upon request.


You can write. This clear succinct energetic writing. I like it.

What you haven't done is give me a reason to read on. No plot. No hook.
And you're going to have to come up with something really fresh and new here. This is a well worn path. You really want me thinking "wow, I haven't seen this before" not "wow, this sounds like the plot of Lorenzo Carcaterra's SLEEPERS published in 1996."

Sincerely,

Form rejection



***thank you to the commenter who clearly understands the ups and downs of querying.

40 comments:

Brad Jaeger said...

Don't you mean raise the drawbridge? I presume you're trying to keep the hitman at bay, instead of giving him an in :p

Great advice as always though :)

Janet Reid said...

oops. Thank you.

Lehcarjt said...

Nicky, Frankie and Tony have to be the most overused Brooklyn names out there. That right there turned me off.

However, I liked the voice, and other than the lack of a plot, the query.

adsimons said...

While reading this query it reminded me of J. D. Robb's work. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. I love her work but this felt a bit over done already. Maybe try to explain why this one stands out?

And thank you Janet for all your wonderful advise! I was playing around with a first person query letter and now I know to move on to better ways!

Stephanie Barr said...

This is not my genre and the concept still seemed well worn. A hitman is not, I'd think, a sympathetic character. You've certainly hinted we'd find some reason to think so.

For me, at least, I'd have to have more than assurances.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I actually was interested when he talked about his friend becoming a policeman and his other friend being killed - by him - but the next paragraph seemed a little cryptic. The voice is strong enough to be heard even if the query was written third person. My only problem is that I get a sense of, "Pity me please, things just went wrong, and I had to kill my best friend. I know I kill people for a living but I don't understand how it possibly went wrong." Just by reading the query, I have a few ideas about how everything could've gone wrong. :)

arhooley said...

I'm fairly new to QueryShark, so I've read back over several years' of posts in a few sittings. There is scarcely a plot that doesn't look stale and unoriginal to me, even the ones that the Shark raves about. The only thing that makes a difference to me is the voice, an inkling of style.

Therefore, I liked this query better than most. If you can preserve your voice and follow the rules in a rewrite of this query, I'd say you have something. I'm only a writer and not an agent, so "for what it's worth" et blah.

M. G. E. said...

I thought this query was about a woman "hitman" at first, and thought that was pretty interesting. Then I realized "Niccolo" is male associated. Less interested.

The problem with this query is it tells us almost nothing about the book:

"Yo, the name's Noccolo. I shot a dude, the cops are after me, and--things happen (what else is new)."

And there's no way you could do what needs to be done in a query in 1st person because it would sound silly:

"My name's Niccolo, the book I'm in is 92k words long. I like to think it's in the crime genre but mama says it's detective fiction. If you ask to read pages I promise there won't be a fish wrapped up in them."
>_>

Lise1977 said...

Contrary to the Shark, I'm not bothered by the 1st person (but I'm not an agent), just by the long delay. I'd say start at:

> let me tell you about what happened in my neighborhood when someone broke an oath.

That's the critical moment to start your story, IMHO.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Specifically, the statements about how the protag got into this situation are vague:

"everything went so wrong"

"someone broke an oath"

Writing vague things is a waste of words.

It's probably a sign I spend w*a*y too much time online, but when I got to

"Don’t judge me yet; I’ve done enough of that. Instead, why don’t you listen to my story..."

I instantly had an image of an internet troll defending himself from his mom's basement. Not saying the writer is a troll, of course! Just my brain online.

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree, the writing is tight. It will be interesting to see this writer's rewrite so we know plot instead being inside the protagonists and being told backstory.

Taymalin said...

I liked it. I like the voice, and I tend to like antiheroes like assassins and thieves. As a reader, I could care less if an idea is overdone.

I really hope the author revises this query, because I'd like to get a better understanding of what the story is about.

Alexa O said...

The set up isn't original, but how many crime novels have an original set up? Bad-guy-as-good-guy has been done, but it's still great when it's done well.

The problem I have with the query is that the author doesn't show what IS original about this story. What makes Nicky (who does, I agree, need a different name) different from other good-guy hitmen? Why do I like this guy and care what happens to him? Why am I in his corner despite the fact that he kills people for a living?

Megan said...

While I definitely see Janet's point, it's refreshing to read a really well written query letter on the first try! So I hope the author isn't too dejected that "everything" is wrong with this query letter. Because it's obvious that the author can write.

Though I do have to say that the names need to go. I agree that they were a total turnoff. You can keep one of the three, but not all of them. Think not just about ethnicity, but timing. Assuming these guys are all in their 30s and 40s, there aren't actually a lot of guys named Frank in that age group. I've only ever met one, and he was born in Ireland.

John McKnight said...

Thank you Janet. Would you please explain POV?
What if my MS is true story?

AA said...

I have a grandfather Frankie D. who is Italian, from the Bronx. He has a son Frank, but he's older than my mom. I'm 33 years old, and I don't know a single person my age named Frank. From my perspective, the name is outdated.

NG James said...

Well written, and great first try. You are brave and I salute you!

I feel like the author is holding back secrets for fear of spoiling the book. If the plot is hinged on twists, it might be better to parade those twists out as a selling point. I don't think an agent has ever read a manuscript and then said, "well crap, this author told me this twist was coming when they sent in their query. I hate this book now."

Good Luck, and I'm excited for the re-write!

Dana Donovan said...

I am in no position to critique a query, especially since I am awaiting the shredding of my third revision. That said, here I go anyway.

It seems to me that the author simply attached the first few paragraphs of the novel to his query, because for a book start, it ain't bad. The voice reminded me of #123, but without the street slang and without all the info we need, such as plot, conflict etc. If you remember, #123 really nailed it.

So as much as QS advises not to use character POV, I know she will overlook it if it's done well.

As an author of a detective series myself, I would love to read this book (I think) Good luck with the revision 171. I would like to see you win.

CB Hoffman said...

I love the voice, and I even like the basic idea. My own manuscript right now involves an antihero, so I have no problem discovering in the course of the story why we should be sympathetic, but then that's me.

Because the general story idea has been done before, I would suggest you be extremely careful about sounding too cliche, i.e. too much like something out of a 50s gangster movie or a Mickey Spillane novel. If it's taking place modern day, make sure you seamlessly integrate references to modern-day things, notions, etc., and use modern-day speech.

Lastly, you've got to give us some idea of the plot of story. And because it's a query and you don't have the luxury of building up to why we should give a rat's rear-end about Nicky, include something that creates at least a niggling of sympathy for him.

Janet Reid said...

John McNight, the QS blog is only for queries for novels. Some of what you read here does not apply to memoir, or narrative non-fiction (a lot of it actually.)

Obviously if you are the main character, ie you are writing a memoir, you use first person Point of View.

nikanors-inn said...

I'm sure if you're willing to write a whole series as this character, he's likable.

Why not go to third person, Nicky has this CONFLICT/ these TROUBLES. He started out like this and all he wanted was this and this. But maybe he should have expected days like these when he first became a hitman.

That way it is almost a surprise? I already like him and his occupation is just another of his quirks.

But I'm no expert.

Steve Stubbs said...

At the risk of appearing to be sucking up (I'm not)I have to say your blogs are the most educational tools on the internet, and forget about print media. Many thanks from your audience. The word is superb. We appreciate you. Since you don't ever see us, that needs to be said.

OK, that's said. Now for a question. When I first got into this racket there were very few agents and publishers had first readers to sort through all the dreck. Their job was not really to find publishable material but to identify which would be authors sent a query in that contained a threat. As in "you publisha my book or I'll breaka your [fill in the blanks.]" The queries that did not contain threats went in the trash, but the ones that did contain threats got special treatment. I dunno if that means they went to the police or the bestseller list. It made me wish I worked as a first reader. I think reading dreadful queries mixed in with threats would be fun. Unfortunately, publishers did not pay generously, and living in Manhattan on the minimum wage minus mysterious unexplained deductions was a non-starter so I stayed in Texas and did not move back.

So the question, after reading this query is, do people still do that? I notice Jack Abbott and numerous other criminals did rather well in publishing. Joe Bonanno got his book published and so did his son Bill. (No, no, they're not giving me any ideas. I am not Norman Mailer. I never stabbed anyone but I suspect Mailer's skills with a knife advanced his career.)

And question number two: I appreciate the need for originality, but if there are only thirty-six plot situations and they have been rehashed over and over since the days of Plautus (or is it Homer?) how is it possible to be original?

It is a real problem. Maybe the guys from Brooklyn who wrote all those threatening letters had the right idea. I know they got published because I read their books.

arhooley said...

>>how is it possible to be original?


Steve, there may be a definitive answer to this question, so take my guess for what it's worth. I think originality is found in the characters one creates.

AA said...

I'm guessing that originality comes from the author's voice, because no two authors are exactly the same. Good question, though.

Terri Nixon said...

I've written a couple of stories from the POV of a rather nasty character - one of them a hitman - and I just want to mention that you don't have to like the main character, you just have to care what happens to him one way or the other.
So, if your hitman has redeeming features, we'd like to know what they are just so that if it turns he doesn't, we can go ahead and hate him, and enjoy watching him get his come-uppance.

I liked the tone of this query; the POV didn't bother me too much but, as CB Hoffman said, there's a danger of it coming across like a cliché.

The name/s definitely need a re-think, too. You're not writing historical fiction so you're not constrained too much by names that did or didn't exist, and who knows why parents choose certain names over others ... but try to use the wide variety we've got out there wisely. A great website is www.behindthename.com - if you haven't used it yet, that is.

Good luck, and I look forward to reading of your success someday!

Stephanie Barr said...

Too cliche for me. And I have to say, I'm not much more sympathetic for a bad cop (i.e. one that would let a friend get away with murder) than I am with a contract killer (and I still don't know why I'd find him interesting). Could it be done? Yeah, but it takes a lot of work and cleverness.

I'd think, if you're going to pursue a concept so overused (and I've seen this a dozen times even though this isn't my genre), you'd need to include what makes this different in your query. Without something to set this apart, I don't see the appeal.

M. G. E. said...

Here's my problem with this book, with one quick conversation Frankie can remove himself from the entire plot, and eventually your reader will wonder why he doesn't. Would look a little something like this:

Frankie: "Sarge, I got a problem."

Sarge: "Talk to me, Dono'."

Frankie: "I grew up with the suspects. Nicky's practically my best friend, he saved my life once. I just can't be objective here."

Sarge: "Oh yeah, I forgot yous was a Queens rat."

Frankie: "I'm recusing myself from the investigation."

Sarge: "Forget that, I'm removing you from the investigation."

Frankie: "Tell the Feds to get off my ass too."

Sarge: "Done and done."

-the end-

You're trying to frame his situation as an impossible choice but it's really not.

Furthermore, you're trying to position Frankie as above-board, trying to do what's right in an impossible situation. But to avoid the difficulty I outline above he would have to be crooked already, he'd have to be hiding his relationship to the suspects.

Please tell me you found some way to deal with this problem. Otherwise, your protagonist is coming off as TSTL.

If Frankie is secretly an insider mole, hiding his relationship to the suspects, then all you've done is recreate the plot to The Departed with minor variation.

Lastly, I find it hard to imagine that any vow taken at 8-years old has much force this far into adulthood.

Zoe said...

In the latest (9/4) revision of this query, the third friend Tony isn't mentioned until the line that the evidence points either to Nicky or Tony. Since I've read the earlier versions of the query I know who Tony is, but if I hadn't read them, I would be clueless here. It's not absolutely clear tat Tony is one of the two friends Frankie made an oath with as a child, and actually I don't think it's necessary to include him in the query at all. He ends up dead anyway so the story's not really about him.

This is a story, from what I can tell, about a cop caught between two promises, struggling with the choice of loyalty to a childhood friend or loyalty to the law and his career. I like the previous version of the query, which focused more on Frankie, better, because this choice, this tension, is interesting. I wonder what Frankie's choice will be. A hit man going on a killing spree to avenge his dead wife is not that intriguing because I already know what he's doing and I already know why; you've kinda given all that away. That meant there's nothing more for me to learn about him and therefore no reason for me to want to read more.

I'm new to the whole query business, but as a potential reader my suggestion is to focus your query more on Frankie and the choice he has to face.

Stephanie Barr said...

Rev #2, OK, the hitman falls for a target, escapes and marries her, but, when he turns to an old cop buddy for help, she gets hit and he's left for dead. I mean, what kind of professional killer doesn't make sure the other hitman is actually dead? And then, he assumes the cop's behind it? Um, okay.

If the plot isn't strong, I'd think the characters must be. And I've still no real sense of anyone here.

wizardonskis22 said...

A of all, this sounds like an interesting idea, and I would definitely read this book.
B of all, it is true that the query could use a bit of work. For one thing, I'm somewhat confused about the characters. The first version has Nicky as the obvious protagonist. The second one makes it seem like Frankie is. By the third one, you seem to switch halfway through. By now, I'm not quite sure whether it's one or the other, or if they are both the protagonist, at different parts of the story. Maybe Tony is actually the protagonist in disguise, for all I know.
Also, although I am not expert, I bet you could cut half of it out and end up with a crisp, clean, captivating query. From the most recent version, I would say something along the lines of Nicky is hitman. Must kill blackmailing woman, but falls in love and runs away with her to marry. Goes to friend Detective Frankie in Cleveland, but then wife is murdered. heads out for revenge against everyone who did this, makes it clear he's heading for Frankie.
Frankie must balance b/w work and friends as he chases the murderer but suspect is his closest friend. Why is Nicky doing this? What should Frankie do?
Title, word count, etc. A lot of the other stuff seems like too much explaining to me. For example, it's interesting that the future wife twirls her necklace, reminding him of the only woman he ever loved (which, now, is no longer the only, so that part makes less sense now). Seems like a good way to save your life, actually, if she could have found out about it before... But really, for now it's only important that he fell in love and ran away to get married to her. You can leave the story to tell us why it happened, because hopefully we'll be curious.
C of all, Good luck!

Stephanie Barr said...

Rev #3 - You've bounced from one protagonist to the other and back again. Which is it? This shouldn't be query dependent - it should be in the book.

For a story like this, I think we need to be invested in the character. WHY? A detective who came from the criminal element can be a fine character, but not because of what he is, but who. You only have what.

Yet, not here and not in the other revs have I seen who he is or why I should care that his childhood chum is coming after him. (After all, being a cop can be enough reason for some criminals).

I also think the play by play of scenes isn't helping you. In a whodunit type story, you use clues for deductions, but these clues, disembodied in the query, don't lead a stranger to deduce anything. I would think this sends a bad message.

My suggestion would be to check your book. Find out there first - who's the central character and what about him makes him worth the journey. If it's not crystal in the book, make it so. Once it is, you'll know what you need to make the query reflect that.

wizardonskis22 said...

I think this one is much better than the others, if only because now I understand who the protagonist is. However, I agree with the shark that starting over might be a good idea. Now, I start reading and am immediately confused by the winstons. Maybe if you just start with a great hook, show us how awesome Frankie is, add in the little problem with his friend out to get him, and then toss in the problem, you'll be all set. Your story sounds intersting, and I'm sure you can make the queries great, too. Also, in this verison, you don't specify that Frankie is a detective. We all know it, and we might be able to figure it out, but he could be a PI, a cop, a CIA, or a guy who likes solving crimes. Throwing that in would help, I think. Good luck, and way to keep trying!

Stephanie Barr said...

Rev #4 This seems much improved. I would follow Janet's advice and trim where she says and excise everything but the conflict between Nicky and Frankie.

Perhaps you might, instead, provide a hint (not a lot, just a nibble) on WHY Frankie thinks Nicky is the only suspect (other than Tony croaking). If Nicky's been in jail, why think Nicky's involved at all? I mean, it's New York; surely there are other suspects.

Zoe said...

I just want to say, after 5 revisions, kudos to the author for perseverance! Don't give up! Focus, focus, focus.

wizardonskis22 said...

Nice job! This query is much better! Especially compared to the first version, this is superb! It could still use a tiny bit of tweaking, just what the Shark said, but you're doing great! Also, it looks to me as if you have a few sentences you don't need, and are lacking some you do. Also, it has a bit of a slow start. If you can stick in a bang, like the murders, in there, it would be a lot more attention-grabbing.
You're almost there, so keep it up! Best of luck!

Stephanie Barr said...

Rev 6 - demonstrably better. This isn't my subject matter, but I found the last story-related paragraph quite effective, even compelling.

Way to improve and stick with it.

Carol said...

This entry mentions word count must be included. I recently heard that word count is 250 words times the number of pages rather than the word count supplied by Microsoft Word, text in Times New Roman 12. I have found that is a significant size difference in my manuscript. Which word count should I use when I submit my query?

Thari said...

Carol, that's going to depend if your MSWord pages are single, 1.5 or double. If you format the way agents want, including title/name as a header and page number footer, you'll probably be down around 250.

For para two, howza bout: "Released from prison, Nicky disappears. Months later he resurfaces, telling Frankie he has uncovered evidence against a mob boss. Now Nicky needs Frankie's help desperately."

In para three, replace the second and third commas and the *two* words after each with a period. Viola, instant tension.

"After two months and no word from Nicky, the murders start. Now Frankie has five bodies with mob connections. Evidence points to someone from the old neighborhood. He can’t imagine it's Nicky. When the other suspects end up dead, he has no doubt."

I'd love to read this novel, but I agree with everyone else about the author needing to re-read it and chop those compound sentences.

Idem said...

As people have said, these revisions are going really well! I would just add one tiny comment: "owes Nicky a debt he cannot forget" has a sort of rhythm and rhyme to it that, for me, detracts from the sentence's gravity.

Sherrill said...

After all the revisions, I think the author is finally getting it. I'm not real sure I would buy or read this book, but, I enjoyed reading all the comments.