Tuesday, February 24, 2009



Dear Query Shark:

Toni Matthew’s life is almost perfect. She’s a top-producing real estate agent, is engaged to a man who loves her even though she’s hardheaded as hell, and has finally begun to overcome the trust issues she has suffered since being abandoned by her mother.

This is all superfluous. Get to the story.

But Toni’s next-to-perfect life begins to come apart when, two days before the wedding, her fiancé, Scott, plunges to his death from the top of a new hotel. Toni knows the man she loved would never jump. However, after the medical examiner rules Scott’s death a suicide, the police detective assigned to the case won’t investigate any further.

Refusing to accept the ruling, Toni retraces Scott’s last few days, looking for a reason someone would want him dead. When she discovers a spreadsheet on a hidden flash drive, she realizes the list of addresses and columns of numbers may lead her to the answer.

Why? I look at spread sheets/royalty statements every day. What information in that document would provide a motive for murder? (I have several suggestions, all involving reserve against returns, but that's another matter entirely)

After an unknown driver forces Toni’s car off the road and into the river, she decides to let the killer think she’s dead. Deciphering the spreadsheet while keeping out of sight may be next to impossible. But Toni won’t give up until she finds the truth.

There's just nothing here that makes me want to read this. Faceless enemies, unknown problems, and a main character we have know nothing about except she has trust issues with her mother, and her dead fiancee thought she was stubborn.

My thriller, NECESSARY VENGEANCE, runs 77,000 words and is my first novel. I would appreciate the opportunity to send you the complete manuscript.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is better, but it's still not compelling. A query letter needs to elicit "I want to read more" and this doesn't.

Who is the antagonist? What are the stakes? Be specific. Find a compelling reason for someone to read this book and use that in your query.

And if you can't, time think the unthinkable: it might not be a problem with your query letter. It might be a problem with the actual book. I've seen that more than once.

Dear Query Shark:

Two days before his wedding, real estate developer, Scott Chadwick, plunges from the top floor of a hotel under construction in Nashville, Tennessee. Was his death suicide, or murder?

Opening with a guy who is dead on page one focuses our attention on the wrong person.

His fiancée, real estate agent, Toni Matthews, won’t give up until she finds the answer.

You need to start with Toni: Toni Matthews fiance plunges to his death just two days before the wedding. Was it suicide or murder?

The other problem is that it's not obvious why Toni would investigate. Where are the police? Even in traditional or cozy mysteries with amateur sleuths, there needs to be a reason for their sleuthing.

Others will go to any lengths to ensure the truth stays buried.

Oh yikes. Cliche! And why is anyone worried about Toni? Does she have super detection skills?

After an unknown driver forces Toni’s car off the road and into the river, she decides to play dead. While in hiding, she races to uncover the killers’ identities. If they find her first, she’ll be dead for real.

Races to uncover the killer's identities is a terrible cliche. And what is Toni racing? The clock? The midnight train from Georgia?

My thriller, NECESSARY VENGEANCE, runs 77,000 words. I would appreciate the opportunity to send you the complete manuscript.

There's nothing compelling here. For all I know from this I might be glad Scott is dead and Toni might be next. There's nothing here that gives me a sense that I'd care about anything that happened to them.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Form rejection


none said...

Maybe Toni wants to prove it was murder because everyone's saying he couldn't bear to go through with the wedding....

You don't need the commas around the names, especially Scott's.

If you gave us more personal details about the two characters, that might help us care about them. Otherwise they're just ciphers.

D.B. Henson said...

Thanks for the comment BuffySquirrel. I emailed a revision late last night that included personal info. I hope it helps.

Teagen said...

I guess I'm mostly confused about why it might be considered suicide. Falling through the floor of a building under construction doesn't seem like suicide to me unless he had no business being there, in which case I think you should mention.

Lehcarjt said...

It seems like the author is trying to give us the drama of the story and the high-points, without really telling us what is going on. I think it would really help to give specifics of the actual plot.

For example:

Someone killed the fiance and is now after Toni. Why? Who?

Toni is trying to solve the mystery. Why does she even think there is a mystery? What is the mystery?

How is the upcoming wedding and hotel under construction related to the undisclosed mystery?

Sheila Deeth said...

I am so glad I've found this blog. Thank you!

Xiexie said...

I think all the highlights and stakes are given here without any character support -- it makes the story sound really generic: Dead Lover->Sleuthing Significant Other->Secret Killers/Evildoers. It's been done many a time, but what about Toni's story makes this unique. I think that's what we're missing here.

Any a mystery, I'll read it.

Dave said...


I have to agree with you and with the other comments here -- it's possible to hang a very good story on these plot points, but you need to know the characters and what's in it for them.

Most people don't investigate a death, so what makes Toni different? What makes her different from other sleuths, so I know that it's her story that's the most compelling on the shelf.

Thanks for giving us these critiques; they're truly helpful just to see them as a reader.

mbenkin said...

I know this is a minor detail, but I'm not sold on the title. 'Necessary Vengeance' sounds like Toni is going to be climbing up the side of an unfinished building with a knife in her teeth and an AK-47 on her back. If this is the case, you might want to mention that in the query. ("Fortunately, Toni knows how to break a man's spine in three places using only a chopstick.") If she's not going to be the one dishing the vengeance, why not consider a real estate-related title? E.g., CLOSING COSTS or BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER or BROKER? IT NEARLY KILLER 'ER! or something of the sort. I know a lot of people nowadays would like to read about a real estate agent in trouble instead of homeowners.

You might be able to get around the "why is Toni investigating?" issue with the old "case closed" routine. (Example: "Real estate agent Toni is fed up with her fiance' Scott. Instead of focusing on their upcoming nuptials, he's ranting about [mysterious assassins/ corporate negligence/ the price of eggs]. Toni chalks it up to pre-wedding jitters-- until Scott plunges 30 stories to his death. Suicide, says the Tennessee county sheriff. Murder, says Toni." Etc. etc.) Of course, this'll only work if there's a valid reason for the local authorities to suspect suicide-- a letter, or a complete lack of other evidence, etc. That might be worth mentioning.

I'll echo the other posters in wanting to get a better feel for who Toni is. Is she a wallflower who'll use her knowledge of the finer points of contract law to win the day? Or is she a retired lady wrestler who'll relish knocking the skulls of the nearest no-goodniks? More details about the heroine might help sell the vengeance plot.

VinceInAZ said...

"After an unknown driver forces Toni’s car off the road"??? Uh...should she know instinctively who forced her off the road? Should they have a sign saying "Bob's 24 Hour Assassins" on the door? And why not make it interesting? Have a cop car force her off the road. That would both provide something better than "an unknown driver" AND a plausible reason to go into hiding.