Sunday, March 31, 2013


Dear QueryShark:

His code name: Kangaroo. His special ability: The Pocket--a unique portal into an empty "pocket universe," which Kangaroo can use to smuggle contraband throughout the Solar System for his intelligence agency employers.

The bad news: Kangaroo sucks at being a spy.

Even equipped with state-of-the-art, 22nd-century biotechnology implants, Kangaroo keeps screwing up. Now his whole department is under internal investigation, and Kangaroo's handler sends him away: mandatory leave aboard an Earth-to-Mars pleasure cruise, where the agency's auditors can't reach him.

But even on vacation, Kangaroo can't seem to stay out of trouble.

First, there's an unexplained murder on the cruise ship, and security thinks Kangaroo is the prime suspect. Then a hijacker seizes control of the vessel, threatening to crash it into Mars Capital City, and Kangaroo risks exposing his true identity to help the crew take back their ship.

When he discovers another spy on board, conspiring with the hijacker and intimately familiar with agency tradecraft, Kangaroo must face the possibility that this act of terror is an inside job. Cut off from his support team and unsure whom to trust, can Kangaroo prevent an interplanetary war--and prove he has what it takes to be a real secret agent?

WAYPOINT KANGAROO is a 115,000-word science fiction spy thriller. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Let's do something a little different today. This query is a Win on the First Try.

Tell me why. Use the comment column below.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Introducing the Sharkives--revised

The amazing Michale Lewis has uploaded all the QueryShark archives to my DropBox account in pdf format.

The Sharkives are the QueryShark Archives in ten separate documents. Rather than clicking back and forth to each new entry, you can just scroll.

I think it's a great new tool for reading the archives.

If you'd like to receive these archives, send me a link to your dropbox account and I'll upload them to you. send me your email address and I'll add you to the Dropbox folder so you can share it.

Please list the email address you want me to use in the body of the email.

Your message should read: Please send an invitation to the Sharkives to: (email)

If you don't know what DropBox is, here's their site. 

If you have questions/problems, post them in the comments column. We'll get an FAQ started.

In the meantime, three cheers for Michael!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

#241-revised 2x

At fifteen, Vani’s bright future is snuffed out when she is forcibly married. This unholy union takes her from her small Malayan town to Jacaranda, a British colonial home in Singapore. By day, Vani aims to be her employer’s best cleaner and by night, she keeps alive her childhood dreams of being a teacher while enduring her husband’s acts of depravity. She plans to run away before lunacy sets in, unless her husband kills her first.

Does she really have a bright future or is it just what she dreams for herself?

At sixteen, Vani is a merry widow***. She befriends the Chinese servants. Soon after, she is seduced by a new arrival – her employer’s nephew, John. Vani is introduced to the sights, sounds, flavours and wonders of an intoxicating city. She falls in love with John, who releases feelings in her she never knew existed. If her employer found out about this affair, Vani would be sent back to her parents, who would rather see her dead than their family name ruined. When John gives her his most prized possession before leaving abruptly, Vani is sure she will see him again. While waiting, Vani begins night-school, determined to be a teacher. She soon learns she is pregnant.

At seventeen, Vani is a single mother who vows to keep her daughter’s paternity secret. When her suspicious employer tricks Vani into giving her baby up for adoption, Vani is desperate. Keeping her baby can only mean a precarious life ahead, tainted with condemnation and scandal. Giving her baby up for adoption means misery but also the life she always dreamed of and good prospects for her child. Dare Vani believe she can have both her baby and the dream life?

 If you stop here, it entices someone to read on.

With help from a motley group, especially her employer’s daughter, the Chinese servants and a teacher at her night school, Vani chooses a path which pushes her limits of trust, patience and confidence. In her pursuit of an education and self-reliance, Vani learns she can have much more than she ever allowed herself to dream.

By eighteen, Vani is beginning to live the dream.

If you stop here, you give away the entire plot=not enticing.

Set in the sixties, spanning Singapore’s early years of independence, JACARANDA traces Vani’s spectacular transformation from country bumpkin to shining star in a richly textured story of friendship, loyalty and love in a fledgling multi-racial nation.

Again, you're giving away too much story here.

JACARANDA is women’s fiction, complete at 87,000 words.
 You still don't have enough words but this is a lot more hopeful than what you had before. I still think you need to clock in at 120k to have a fully furnished world built. Remember, the sights, smells and sounds of Singapore are essential here or you've just got a plain old romance novel.  (I've said this every single time you've revised, but I fear my words are falling on deaf ears!)

This is a LOT better format as well.

This is a workable query but I'm still worried that you don't have enough book yet.

***This is a clear misunderstanding of the vernacular. Merry Widow means a rich widow who is beset by suitors. Vani is a widow, but not a merry one. Relieved maybe.


First revision

Vani dreams of becoming an English teacher and marrying a kind man. Instead, she is forced into an avunculate marriage to an abusive uncle by her tradition-bound parents and becomes a live-in servant for a British family at Jacaranda, a magnificent colonial bungalow in Singapore.

This is all set up. You'll want the query to begin when Vani has to make a choice.  The way this is written there's no choice made, she simply obeys her parents even though she doesn't want to.

Vani is only fourteen. Bruised but not broken, she finds solace in the countless books at Jacaranda while her husband tends the garden. When a cobra kills him, Vani does not grieve; she flourishes. Soon, seduced by a new arrival - her employer’s freshly-graduated nephew, John - she experiences absolute delight for the first time. He creates a new world for her, one filled with love and secret rendezvous. Their blossoming relationship is disrupted when John is summoned home to attend to family matters. He gives Vani his prized possession, a first edition of Tagore’s Gitanjali, and promises to return soon.

And here's the problem: this is a series of events but there's no plot. Vani isn't making choices. She's just having experiences. That's what real life is but that's NOT what novels are.  Novels need a plot.

When Vani bears a light-skinned Eurasian girl and names her Gitanjali, her employer is suspicious and secretly plots to keep her unknowing nephew away from Singapore permanently. Meanwhile, with calls for Independence mounting and hopes for a reunion with John dimming, Vani plans her future while the Chinese live-in cook and his washer-woman wife help raise her child. She juggles work, motherhood and night classes in the hope of being a teacher, believing John would be proud of her.

Again, no plot. This is a recitation of events. There's no emotion here, no passion. I don't feel anything when I read this, and that is death in a query.

In the following years, chronic unemployment and a dire housing shortage rage outside, fuelling the servants’ fears of an unpredictable future without their British masters. Wanting the best for Gitanjali, Vani realizes their survival depends on unity with the Chinese servants. The spirited foursome, once cocooned in comfort and security at Jacaranda and still not ready for the freedom thrust upon them, rebuild their lives together with a mixture of anxiety and optimism in turbulent times.

JACARANDA weaves a story of loyalty and hope in a fledgling multi-ethnic nation ushering in new beginnings while struggling against all odds to become self-sufficient.

JACARANDA is women’s fiction, complete at 65,000 words.

And here's the second HUGE problem. You've described a book set in what would be an exotic, unfamiliar location for most US readers, set in a time most people are not familiar with, and spanning at least a dozen years. There's simply no way to do this in 65K words.  There just isn't. [And to make matters worse, this is 4k FEWER words than the 69K you had last time when I said pretty much the same thing--ARGH!!!]

You'll need at least twice this word count before I'd believe you'd gotten the story down on paper.

This is my first novel. My memoir,[title] was published by [publisher] late last year.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

No plot.

Short word count.

I'm thinking the problem here is not the query, it's the book. Don't revise the query. Revise the book then work on the query.


Original query

Dear QueryShark:

Vani is an avid reader whose favourite author is Jane Austen. She dreams of becoming a teacher and marrying a man like Mr. Darcy. Instead, she becomes a live-in servant for a British family at Jacaranda, a magnificent colonial bungalow in Singapore, after she is forcibly married to her abominable uncle according to an ancient South Indian tradition.

This is a nice set up. I wonder who forced her to marry her uncle: her parents or the social norms of her community. It seems odd to have a tradition to marry a close blood relative, but I'm willing to suspend my skepticism and read on.

For any blog readers tempted to jump on the juxtaposition of "magnificent" and "bungalow" remember the Brits use bungalow to mean something quite different than we do. 

Vani is only fourteen. In between cleaning, she finds solace every afternoon in the countless books which line the shelves of every room while her husband tends the tropical garden. Within months, she is widowed. Soon after, her employer’s nephew, John, arrives from England. Before long, he is summoned home to attend to family matters.

There's no connection between John and Vani. There's no followup to her being widowed. A lot happens but it's not the plot.

When the coffee-coloured Vani bears a coffee-with-lots-of-milk-coloured Eurasian girl, Vani’s employer is suspicious and secretly plots to keep her unknowing nephew away from Singapore. While waiting for John to return, Vani juggles work, motherhood and night classes in the hope of being a teacher.

Ok, well, that is one way not to do plot: off the page. You've just skipped over the most important part of the story: John and Vani. Are they in love? He's part of her employer's family. I do NOT assume that she is in love with him at all.

It is the late fifties; anti-colonial sentiment is strong and Britain is losing her grip on Singapore. On the cusp of independence, with chronic unemployment and a dire housing shortage, the live-in servants, cocooned in comfort and security at Jacaranda, are not ready for an unpredictable future without their British employers. The impending reality is especially harrowing for Vani, who has a young child and does not know when, if ever, she will see John again.

That last sentence makes it sound like you're introducing Vani, when in fact the first two paragraphs are about her.  Suddenly introducing the wider world in paragraph three is jarring.  So far this has been a story about two people. Now it's about the end of colonial rule in Singapore.  You've got to blend these two aspects of the story.

Here's the description for UNDER THE BANYAN TREE which is about the changes wrought with the arrival of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia: 

For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours, bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus. Over the next four years, as the Khmer Rouge attempts to strip the population of every shred of individual identity, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of her childhood— the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival.

Spanning two decades, from British rule to a young Singapore going through a sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll phase, JACARANDA weaves a story of friendship, loyalty and hope, drawing parallels with the tide of uncertainty in a fledgling nation struggling against all odds to become self-sufficient.

This is all tell and no show. Because there's no plot I'm afraid the first couple of chapters will be only a series of events.  This is where I'd stop reading and send a form rejection.

JACARANDA is women’s fiction, complete at 69,000 words.

There is NO way in the world you can write a fully developed novel that spans two decades and is set in colonial Singapore in 69,000 words. This is the kind of book that needs to clock in close to  120K.  Detail takes time, and if you've got twenty years of events, those too take time.  If I hadn't already said no after the paragraph above, I would here.

Most of the time word count is a problem on the other end: too many. But historical novels (like this), fantasy, family sagas, novels with a BIG story---those need more words than a thriller, or a romance.

This is my first novel. My memoir, (title redacted) was published late last year.

It's crucial you include the publisher if you've had a book published before. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind regards

There's not enough here to pique my interest, and what is here isn't plot. The characters are almost two dimensional.   We have no sense of what they think or feel, let alone the choices they have to make.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Dear Query Shark,

Sophie Anderson has finally accepted her fairly large butt and somehow managed to snag the coolest, hottest guy in school.  Are the two related?  Who knows and who cares.  Sophie’s sophomore year of high school is guaranteed to be totally awesome.

This does what it needs to do: I want to find out what happens next.

Then Anthony (who?)  cheats on her with his ex-girlfriend, Chelsea.  The same one he dumped so he could be with Sophie in the first place.  Ugh.  Seriously.  The irony would probably be hilarious if it wasn’t busy ruining Sophie’s life.  Probably.

When you introduce characters in a query, you can't label them and then name them. We don't know who Anthony is. We know she's with the coolest, hottest guy in school, but we didn't learn his name.

Is a sophomore in high school going to think this is ironic? And ironic while it's ruining her life?

This feels distant, like you're observing Sophie not actually showing us what she's feeling.

Now Sophie not only has to deal with her first heartbreak, which is like, the hardest thing ever, but she also has to see that homewrecker at school every freaking day, flaunting her non-boobs, raccoon makeup, and oompa loompa tan.  Once again, ugh.

I LOVE oompa loompa tan. I love it so much I can forgive almost everything else.

Then there’s that cute new guy.  Too bad he’s full of himself and has that way of getting under Sophie’s skin… but he has the softest, nicest looking hair and all she wants to do is run her fingers through it…

Remember the oompa loompa tan? I loved it cause it was fresh and funny.  Running her fingers through his hair isn't either of those.

 At least she has her friends to get her though it all.  Sure, they’re completely insane, but they’re all she has, and for some reason they put up with her insanity, too. With them around, Sophie may just get out of this unscathed.

Ok, you've avoided character soup here, that's good. But again, this feels distant "Insane" is how I describe my friends in a throw away comment. If I was REALLY describing them, I'd be more specific: they're slithery for starters, fierce, don't suffer fools gladly (or even at all), and funny.

Then again, this is high school, so probably not.

And that's funny too, but it's ironic and distant and I'm not sure it's the right tone BUT oompa loompa tan still keeps you on the plus side of things.

 BECAUSE I’M AWESOME is a 60,000 word Young Adult novel. 

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Wait, that's all? This is only half the story.  You have things that happen but NO PLOT! 
"Wait, wait," I hear you gasp, clutching your gold ticket to the QueryShark tank. "There's plot, look at all the stuff going on!"

Plot is not what happens. Plot is how the characters react to what happen. [I know this is true cause I read it in a comment on one of my blog posts!] We need a sense of the choices Sophie has to make, and the consequences.

And right now, this feels very thin to me in terms of what does happen.  I'm not well-read in the YA category but what I have read of contemporary YA seems to always involve MORE than just a romance. Something more is at stake. You need a subplot here, or a plot with the romance element is the subplot.

This is also what editors will call "too small" a book: there's not enough story there to carry a full book.

Go back and read your 20 favorite YA novels published in the last five years. (Yes, they MUST be published within the last five years)

When you read them, map the book's plot and subplot. See how they intertwine and relate. 

It's not enough to have one great phrase, you've got to also have one great plot. And you need to have a more immediate sense of Sophie and her friends in the query. We're can't be ironic observers, we need to be right there with her.

Research. Rewrite. Revise. Resend.

Revision takes time. Not just time to write, but time to think (and in this case research.)  More good writers shoot their career in the foot with impatience than anything else.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

#239-Revised 2x

Second Revision

Dear QueryShark,

Kris Kennedy is living a nightmare.

A mental health counselor at Bison Mental Hospital in San Jose, California, one fateful day Kris is assigned a schizophrenic named Lorelei Cooper who turns up out of the blue at Bison. Within days of working with Lorelei, who acts extremely erratic around Kris, she quickly realizes that Lorelei has a disturbing fascination for her.

This is awkward nonrhythmic writing. I'd stop reading and send a form rejection after this first paragraph. Awkward writing in a query means awkward writing in the novel.

How to fix this: put the sentence in the right order first. Subject. Verb. Clause. Every sentence. Then, when you have the form right, you can revise it to be more artful. Right now this is a mess because you're not using this sentence structure on purpose to make a point. It's just raw.

One night Lorelei escapes the hospital, clearly having been let out. Kris's master set of keys are found near the crime scene. The janitor saw her come in late the night of Lorelei's escape. Offices were searched; Lorelei's shredded documents are found in Kris's office. Quickly everyone turns on her.

But Kris is innocent.

Her close friend and administrator at Bison, Mac, regretfully gives her an ultimatum, restrained by his primary obligation to the hospital: figure out who let Lorelei out soon, or risk being thrown in jail by the police for the crime you didn't commit, by the people who hate you: everyone. I'll send out search teams to find Lorelei, but you will still seem guilty unless you defend yourself, he advises. Kris knows that Lorelei, who is mentally unstable, could be a danger to the public, and especially to herself, since Lorelei has such a fixation with her.

The grammar here makes me weep. Even some quotation marks would help. If you don't know what's off here, it's time to do a refresher course. Honestly, I'm not a grammar Nazi, and which/that confounds me to this day, but this paragraph should sound wrong to you.  If it doesn't you need to recalibrate your ear.

Kris must figure out who the culprit is before it's too late, all the while battling her personal problems. And in the end, when all is said and done, she learns of a secret that changes her life forever.

"Learning a secret that changes her life forever" isn't the resolution of the book. If it changes her life forever, it's the start of the book. Also, I strongly urge you NOT to include the resolution of the book in the query.  The purpose of a query is to entice me to read the book. If I know how it ends why would I read it?

I grew up in San Jose, which is the reason why I set my novel, PUZZLES, there. I also write for a local newspaper, and have been published in many magazines.

PUZZLES is my debut suspense novel, and is complete at nearly 61,500 words.Thank you for your time and consideration.

 I'm not sure if you're revising too quickly, or in getting the query down to a manageable number of words the awkward writing is just more prominent.  Whatever the reason, it's the writing that's going to be the problem here now.

One of the ways to tune your ear to awkward writing is to read things aloud.  Read  books you love aloud. Or listen to them on tape.  Hearing things rather than just seeing them will help a lot.

Sentences have to flow. They have to have rhythm.  And you've got to be able to create sentences with flow and rhythm for the query to work.


First Revision

Dear QueryShark,

    Kris Kennedy is living a nightmare.

    A mental health counselor at Bison Mental Hospital in San Jose, California, one fateful day Kris is assigned a schizophrenic in her fifties named Lorelei Cooper who turns up out of the blue at Bison as her patient. Within days of working with Lorelei, Kris quickly realizes that Lorelei seems to have an intense fascination for her, bordering on the disturbing. Lorelei acts very erratically around Kris. One day she'll be a sweet old woman, the next she'll try to bite Kris's hand off. Kris soon develops a fear for Lorelei, which is abnormal for a calm, stoic professional like Kris.

You're drowning in words here. All of this is backstory and set up. All we need to know Kris has a disturbing patient; one who is erratic and fixated on her.

   One night soon after Lorelei's arrival at Bison, she escapes the hospital, clearly having been let out by someone. And looking at the crime scene (Lorelei's room), it's not hard to see who did it: Kris's possessions are strewn round the crime scene. Plus, people saw her come in late during the night of Lorelei's escape, unusual for Kris. Quickly, everyone turns on Kris.

And again, too much information that we don't need. Lorelei escapes. Kris's possessions are strewn about her room. Kris gets blamed.

    But Kris is innocent. In fact, she only came in late that one night to grab her coat.

    So whodunit really?

One of the commenters to the original version (Raquel) pointed out that "whodunit" is both abrupt and too comical for the  rest of the query and I agree with that.

    Her close friend, and administrator at Bison, Mac, gives her an ultimatum: figure out who let Lorelei out soon, or risk being thrown in jail for the crime you didn't commit. Kris knows that Lorelei, who is extremely mentally unstable, could be a danger to the public, or especially to herself, since Lorelei has such a fixation with her. Kris realizes she must figured out who let Lorelei out before its too late.

Wow, Kris REALLY needs better friends. If any of my friends threatened to throw me in jail for a crime I didn't commit, I'd quit my job and move to Texas where they let you buy guns at the drive through window.

But what this really does is illuminate a key problem with the novel.  This isn't plausible.  Unless  the rule of law has ceased to apply in this novel, ordinary people can't just get their friends thrown in jail. Trust me, I've asked.

There has to be a plausible reason Kris is both accused/suspected of helping Lorelei escape, and why Kris has to find Lorelei on her own.

    Unfortunately, there's a billion other problems going on in Kris's life. She is suffering from intense depression, having killed her mother in a freak fireworks accident. Soon after she becomes involved in the mystery behind Lorelei's escape, an unknown stalker begins to terrorize her at night. Her best friend, and only source of support, Julia, begins to slowly drift away from Kris, tiring of Kris's misery. A new friend she makes, Eli, has ulterior motives, and after pretending to be friends with Kris and helping her to figure out whodunit, he uses the information they found together to try to solve the mystery himself, for the cash prize involved. In the end, when she finds out who the culprit is, she learns a secret about her mother that changes everything, including her life.

This is a list without any purpose to the plot.

    I grew up in San Jose, which is the reason why I set my novel, PUZZLES, there. I also write for a local newspaper, and have been published in many magazines, like (redacted). I have also won several writing contests.

Writing contests really don't count unless they're well known.

PUZZLES is my debut suspense novel, and is complete at nearly 61,500 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

You're well over the desirable word count here: 460 is  200 words too  many. The reason you want to adhere to word count is it forces you to write sparely, and focus on what matters.

You've got a lot of stuff that doesn't matter.  Take that out.  Focus on getting the plot on the page.

I'm glad you paid attention to the very astute commenters on the original post particularly those like Lauren H.T. who pointed out the problems with mental health nomenclature and description.

I think you're trying to revise too quickly here. This feels like you read all the comments and my critique and rushed to fix it.  That's good. What you're missing is the revision process.

You need to let your work sit for at least a day, maybe two. Then go back and figure out what you can take out.  Revising is almost always taking stuff out. 

All first drafts are dreadful. Novelist Bill Cameron once said "give yourself permission to suck" and that's really good advice.  Revision is where you get out of suck and into "this works." 

You've got some awkward constructions and some sentences in the wrong order.  It's easier to see that with fresh eyes.  

Revise. Wait. Revise. Wait. Revise. Resend.

Dear QueryShark,

Life is out to get Kris Kennedy. Not to mention a crazy old woman, a stalker, etc.
etc? Et cetera is used at the end of a list to indicate that further, similar items are included. It's only useful if the reader already knows what that list would be. I have no idea what the next item on the list of things out to get Kris Kennedy is. Her girdle?  Her cat? A posse of clowns?

If I'd gotten this query for real, I would have stopped reading here.  (Scary isn't it)  Your first sentence should grab me, but if it doesn't it should at least not make me think Huh?

As a grieving young woman who burned her mother alive in a horrible accident, Kris, usually sharp, crisp, and at the top of her game, is drowning in depression.
And right here, my response is whaaat?  For starters, you'll want to reverse the order of these phrases--
 Kris, usually sharp, crisp, and at the top of her game, is drowning in depression. A grieving young woman who burned her mother alive in a horrible accident,

-- to get the description in logical order.

And really, you just can't leave us with nothing else about what happened to Kris' mom. It's too awful to leave hanging.  Either leave it out (you don't need to explain the cause of her depression) or elaborate.

One day, Kris, a mental counselor at Bison Mental Hospital in San Jose, California, is assigned a new patient, a brooding old woman named Lorelei Cooper who is sort of...creepy. Kris quickly realizes how pathologically insane Lorelei is. Soon, Lorelei escapes from Bison, let out by someone, and with some incriminating evidence, Kris is quickly under everyone's suspicions.
A mental counselor? I think you mean mental health counselor.  I'm not sure "pathologically insane" is something a mental (health or otherwise) counselor would say. It sounds awkward to me.  Also "sort of creepy" would seem to be a lay-person's description of someone, not a professional.

Also this doesn't make sense. If Kris is the counselor and Lorelei is her patient, there's paperwork attached to the case. Kris isn't going to "realize" how pathologically insane Lorelei is, cause it's going to be on the admittance form.  

And why is Kris under suspicion? She's a counselor not a guard. Or a nurse. Unless Lorelei escapes while Kris is meeting with her, why would she be the target of the investigation?

But whodunit really?

Kris, deep in peril, must battle her misery and investigate who let Lorelei out and framed her, before Lorelei, one of the most insane patients Bison has ever housed, does something dangerous to the public. She must solve the perfect crime before the police get involved and throw her in jail for the sin she didn't commit. With powerful enemies and fickle friends lurking, high stakes, little time, and a mystery maniacal stalker terrorizing her, Kris confronts truths, makes foes, and learns of the greatest deception of her life, an epiphany which rocks her to the core. Her journey is one fraught with danger, destiny, and above all, discovery, about life and all its own puzzles.
The stakes here are pretty abstract: something dangerous to the public. It's always better to have something specific. Lorelei has a long standing enmity toward someone and now she's out, she's going after him/her/them/it.

And the rest of this paragraph is too generalized to be useful.

Go in to the archives and read the posts. Look for the ones that show you how to get plot on the page. You don't have that here yet, and that's a fatal weakness in a query.

I grew up in San Jose, which is the reason why I set my novel, PUZZLES, there. I also write for a local newspaper, and have been published in many magazines (names mentioned.)  I have also won several writing contests. I have an interest in psychology and penning stories, and this book is the crossing point of those interests.

I have a personal aversion to the phrase "penning stories" because it evokes a sense of Victorian ladies at their escritoires with a damn feather.   It makes writing sound bloodless and I've seen the carnage y'all inflict on yourself and others.

PUZZLES is my debut mystery novel, and is complete at nearly 61,000 words.Thank you for taking the time to read my query. Thank you for your time and consideration.

61K is pretty short for a suspense novel, which is what this is.


This isn't doing what a query needs to do: entice me to read on. Lorelei is a cardboard villain, the other villains (powerful enemies, fickle friends,  a mystery maniacal stalker) are one dimensional. 

The protagonist is a depressed woman who burned her mom alive. 

When you see the setup rephrased like this, you can understand why I'm not all that keen to spend the next three hours reading your novel.

Characters have to be enticing and interesting. They don't have to be paragons of virtue, in fact it's better if they aren't but they have to be interesting, and these aren't yet.

Here's one way to learn how to describe characters well in a query. 

1. Make a list of 20 books you've read that had characters you liked.  Books where you hope there's a sequel soon cause you want to go back to that world.

2. Look at the flap copy for those books and see how the characters are introduced. What words describe the character?  Make a list of the words. What does the character DO that reveals what they're like.  Dick Francis was a master of this. All of his heroes were essentially the same guy albeit with different names, circumstances and professions.

3. Look inside the book to see what the characters DO that reveal what they're like.

Analyze those lists and see how to do the same kind of thing in your book.

This is one of the reasons you keep a list of books you've read, and a notebook of observations, comments and tricks and tips you picked up from reading.