Sunday, September 27, 2009


Dear Shark,

The Victims of Violent Crimes online forum provides support for those wanting to process through tragedy—but two of its members need more. Kimberly Caudill and Brad Ellis meet in an online forum that provides support for victims of violent crimes. They decide to quit being ‘victims’ and become perpetrators instead. They write a new treatment plan: partner up, hunt down the people responsible for their pain. And kill them.

Brad, a therapist in rural North Carolina, is enraged when two sisters he’s been counseling are brutalized by a meth dealer with a craving for kids. In Brazil, Kimmy’s six-month-old is ripped from her arms, murdered and discarded in the alley trash.

The two agree their first target will be the meth dealer. But, in pursuit of the pedophile, their thirst for revenge sweeps Kimmy and Brad into the broiling undertow of an inter-state gang war, fighting to right more wrongs and avenging abuses beyond their own.

Now the gangbangers are after them. And the meth dealer? He just found the most mouthwatering little boy.

That last sentence revolts me. I'm not sure I'd keep reading past it.

You've got a real problem here when the protagonists of the story become the perpetrators of crimes. How exactly are they going to keep our sympathy particularly when their "thirst for revenge" is turning them into vigilantes.

You've got more story here than you know what to do with.

How Kimmy gets to North Carolina, speaks enough English to navigate etc. is beyond the scope of a query letter. You might leave out that her story starts in Brazil. You don't need every detail in a query and the ones that raise more questions than they answer are good candidates for being left out.

MURDER THERAPY is a 100,000 word crime-thriller that draws upon my own decade of experience in therapy as a Qualified Professional in Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Wilderness Therapy Senior Instructor, and years of teaching Mixed Martial Arts. In addition to attending writing conferences and workshops, I also studied Creative Writing at Brigham Young University.

It's not really a thriller since there's no ticking clock and no issue beyond the personal stories of the protagonists. This is a crime novel most likely. If you kill Kimmy and Brad at the end, it's probably noir.

Form rejection.
Dear Query Shark,

In Wilkes County, North Carolina—birthplace of moonshine and NASCAR—a therapist, Brad Ellis, is rocked with grief when two of his dearest clients are brutalized by a pedophilic meth dealer.

When you mention moonshine and NASCAR in the first sentence, it's not unreasonable to expect the book is about those two things. When I continue reading, I expect to see it. When I don't, I'm confused. Confusion is NOT a good thing in a query letter.

You're using that to be descriptive, but you're describing the location, not the story.

"dearest clients" sounds very strange to me as well, particularly given Brad is a therapist. Are his clients children? And "rocked with grief" is a strange reaction to "brutalized." I'd expect "raging hot anger" --and in fact, given what follows, that's probably more accurate.

Kimberly Caudill is a new mother just arrived in Brazil. Before she’s even unpacked, her six-month-old is ripped from her arms by experienced kidnappers but needlessly murdered once the ransom is paid. In the aftermath of her loss Kimmy’s spiral of self-destruction is amplified by her ‘morning bowl of Zoloft’ and rampant promiscuity.

This is a mess of events, much like too many characters is character soup. The story doesn't start here (but I bet your novel does) The story starts here
------>Then she meets Brad at an online counseling forum. The two agree to augment their treatment by hunting down the people responsible for their tragedies. And kill them.

While Kimmy critiques her target’s fashion sense and Brad struggles with the hypocrisy of being a vigilante-therapist, this crack team botches their first assassination and runs up against a sheriff with his own agenda. He just happens to know someone, a rare individual with a unique skill set, who can help them if they agree to do this one thing—

whoa. Kimmy critiques her target's fashion sense? The fashion sense of a kidnapper who killed her child? This is lunacy. The tone and subject matter combination is so disjointed it makes me think of "Springtime for Hitler" or broccoli ice cream: two things that just do not go together.

And you're off in mish-mash again with "a rare individual" etc. What's the unique skill set and why on earth does he need these two?

From the streets of Sao Palo to the back roads of the rural South, MURDER THERAPY is a story of revenge, filled with violent gang lords, inbred trailer-trash, bikini-clad coeds, special ops soldiers, and crusty old bomb makers.

And we're done. This is where I stop reading. Are you trying to be sardonically humorous? If so, I missed it.

This 100,000 word thriller draws upon my own decade of experience in therapy as a Qualified Professional in Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Wilderness Therapy Senior Instructor, and years of teaching Mixed Martial Arts. In addition to attending writing conferences and workshops, I also studied Creative Writing at (redacted).

This isn't a thriller. I'm not sure what it is, but it's not a thriller. A thriller needs a ticking clock, and stakes larger than what happens to the characters (the difference between burning down one house and burning down a city for example)

Thank you for your consideration,

This is a mess right now. There's a lot of stuff, but no sense of what the book is about and certainly no sense of the book's tone.I have no sense of why I'd want to know any of these fact, I'm pretty sure I don't want to know them, and that's counterproductive for the purposes of a query.


Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

Not to nitpick, but it's a personal pet peeve.

"The two agree to augment their treatment by hunting down the people responsible for their tragedies. And kill them."
THis consstruction is not parallel. It should read 'And killing them.'

Werecat said...

Why are the children already his clients? Are they meth dealer magnets?

Robin Lemke said...

I believe people are "wracked with guilt" not "rocked with guilt"

But, really, I'm a mom with young kids. Somebody kills my baby, I don't care what he's wearing. All I see is my baby. And I'd probably tear his head off.

I can't tell if this is supposed to be a dark comedy or a thriller, but the two aren't working together. said...

Kimmy’s spiral of self-destruction is amplified by her ‘morning bowl of Zoloft’ and rampant promiscuity.

I just love this line! And I don't know what Zoloft is.

I have a question for the Shark.

When will these queries, and your astute reactions to them, be a book? Seriously.

Mimzy said...

The bit about Kimmy critiquing the killer's fashion sense made me instantly hate her for some reason. Your subject matter seems too dark for light-hearted humor.


I'm abundantly confused from the get-go. I get that Brad is upset for what has happened to Kimberly, but what connection does he have with her (other than the fact that she's a client) that would lead him to put his career and his freedom on the line to help her hunt down and kill people? I need to know this in the query, and "dearest clients" doesn't do it for me. Further, you mention "two" of Brad's clients in the opening, but I only see Kimberly in the query. Who is the other client? If you're not going to tell us, then perhaps your query doesn't start in the correct spot.

The line about Kimmy targeting fashion sense made me pause, and not in a good way. It's not like there's not room for humor in your query, but coming right after the news of her murdered newborn and Zoloft OD'ing, it just doesn't seem right.

I was also turned off by the inbred trailer trash, et al, line. It doesn't seem relevant to me, and it almost belittles the meat of your query.

You definitely have something here, but I'm confused as to what I'm looking at. What section would I find this in a bookstore? What other books is it like? I get a Quinton Tarrantino vibe from it, but I'm not sure that's what you're going for.

Best of luck in finding a home for your work! (And I do hope my critique is not overly harsh; I meant only to assist.)

word to yourmother said...

Brilliant, so let me see if I can sum this up--my query sucked fantastically? That about right?

Seriously though, thanks for all the feedback. I knew the query needed emergency resuscitation--if not a coroner's toe-tag. It helps to see through others' eyes.

I completely failed to represent my characters accurately or express the tone of the manuscript. Even the basic plot was lost.

"Mish-mash" is right; I tried to cram everything in there and wound up with this random splatter of literary vomit dribbling across the page.

This process has helped me appreciate comments along the lines of: query-letter-writing is an art and craft all its own. One that writers have to master.

This is exactly what I needed to hear, thanks for your investment and honest input.

As a fan of Ralph Macchio I'll be sanding the deck and painting the fence until I can crane-kick this query letter into submission!

Unknown said...

"A rare individual with a unique skill set" ... Is it Liam Neeson? somebody must have just watched 'Taken' before writing this query.

_*rachel*_ said...

" "Mish-mash" is right; I tried to cram everything in there and wound up with this random splatter of literary vomit dribbling across the page. "

I just went from googly-eyed is-this-real to hoping your next try works out better. Toe-tag this one and start over.

Genre, title, rounded wordcount, applicable publishings, and plot.

Unknown said...

While the letter is obviously a mess, I have to say I would probably read this book, and enjoy it.

...I liked Springtime for Hitler. LOL!


Aimlesswriter said...

I think there's a good book here but you're drowning us in useless facts. There's a lot of stuff we don't need to know until we read the book.
How about something more like; When Therepist, Brad Ellis, hears of the death of two of his favorite clients he's devasated. Then he meets a woman bent on avenging the death of her baby and together they ban together to hunt down the evil men and destroy them. A true vigilante story of...
Okay, maybe that wasn't great (hey! it's not even 8 a.m. here) but it got the story across without too much extra clutter.
Tighten up your query and I think it would be better.

Shakier Anthem said...

One other small detail -- misspelling "Saõ Paulo" hints at a lack of research or at the very least a lack of attention to detail.

Good luck with revising it!

JS said...

Lots of good tips here for the query writer, and again this is a query writer who is willing to take critiques seriously, which augurs well.

If this is meant to be a darkly funny caper, in which we root for the vigilantes who take out criminals the law can't touch, the query needs to communicate that strongly and concisely.

I love that genre myself, and it can work beautifully ("Dexter" and Donald Westlake's The Ax are two great examples), but it's hard to do well.

Best of luck with your revision!

M. G. E. said...

I love it, QS, just wanted to drop a quick note thanking you for what you do here :)

Phebe H.L. said...

Ha ha I love how some people make such dumb mistakes such as:

-Too many characters
-Crazy things happen (like this letter says >.>)

Any-who, I think this is HILARIOUS! >:D

Marian Perera said...

The darkly funny part (e.g. critiquing the target's fashion sense) might have worked for me if not for the mention of pedophilia at the start and the murder of an infant in the middle. As others have mentioned, that's just too much.

the Lola Letters said...

I think this sounds like a fun, BASIC idea wrapped up in a hot mess of a query with a lot of confusion as to how real people would deal with this sort of situation.

Yeah, the whole "critiquing the killer's fashion sense" thing did me in too.

word to yourmother said...

Thanks for the comments and advice.

About the 'critiquing the killer's fashion sense' thing--I was trying to inject some humor into the query-- please don't fret, the character does NOT care about the clothing of her son's killers. Having worked with people in therapy who've suffered similarly, I assure you all that in the manuscript her reactions are realistic and true to her character.

I just didn't word it well and as we all agree--it didn't work.

I have done a revised query. I sent it in last week but its not up yet. I'm sure QS is busy with other things right now and will get to it when she can.

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to offer their opinions and constructive comments.

Jm Diaz said...

Dear Query Shark:

Hope you don't, but i referenced and linked back to you on one of my posts.

If it's problem, let me know, and I'll remove the back link.

Anonymous said...

Why does everyone in the south get classified as trailer trash? Yanno, lots of southerners live in plantation houses and penthouses (not me, but some of us). I hope you're a better therapist than querier. Bless your pea-pickin' heart and pass the Zoloft.

Anonymous said...

Mystery Robin, couldn't find a place to contact you through your blog profile, so didn't get to tell you I love your avatar (and agree completely with your comment).

HeyZeus said...

I sent a query letter to the shark. It hasn't been critiqued yet, but I did recieve a form rejection from Janet the agent (as opposed to Janet the shark).

What does that mean? Do all letters to the shark automatically get read as a query too by Janet the agent? Does a form rejection from Janet the agent means the shark won't be critiquing my query on the blog?

I haven't queried any other agents yet and was really hoping for a critique from the shark at least before moving on with the querying process. Does anyone know?

Janet Reid said...

NO letters to Query Shark are considered queries to the agency. If you receive a form rejection it's for one of two reasons:

1. I made a mistake. RESEND the QueryShark query.

2. YOU made a mistake and did not include QUERY SHARK in the subject line. RESEND the QueryShark query with correct subject line.

All queries to the QueryShark are acknowledged with a QueryShark specific email.

There are 2000 queries pending for Query Shark, just FYI.

Anonymous said...

Doctor Query is open for business!

That is all.

Doctor Query

HeyZeus said...

Janet Reid said...

"There are 2000 queries pending for Query Shark, just FYI."

Damn, that number keeps going up fast. Are there options in query derivatives I can buy?

Lehcarjt said...

The redo is a huge improvement, however I still wouldn't read the book. The story itself is problematic -- the story itself is unappealing.

I think you need to take a hard look at why someone would want to read this story and then bring that into the query. Where is the hook?

Shane Stewart said...

Hey bro, Way too much going on in one too many places. Keep this thing close to home, at least within driving distance.

Get us into the mind of the main character and feed us the conflict at close range. One main character will keep your story going in one direction and make things easier for you. Ultimately, which one determines the outcome?

Good Luck.

joemullich said...

While I agree the query could be stronger, I question the remark, "You've got a real problem here when the protagonists of the story become the perpetrators of crimes. How exactly are they going to keep our sympathy particularly when their thirst for revenge is turning them into vigilantes." The Query Shark may personally dislike vigilante novels, but this is a huge and successful genre. "Death Wish," Tom Clandy's "Without Remorse," and the 500-book "Executioner" series are just a few prominent examples.

The Norris Ranch said...

This doesn't seem like a true vigilante story to me. The query makes it seem like the MC starts out with justice in mind, but then begins to enjoy the act of murder.

All in all the query didn't throw me off...the "protagonist" himself did.

Jenn McKay said...

Dear #135, “a craving for kids” disgusted me more than “mouthwatering little boy” for some reason. Maybe by the time I read the second description, I was already writing these characters off as jokes. Pedophilia is serious; killing a pedophile is fun.

The revision was better than the original. Speaking of the original, did the self-destructing Kimmy smoke Zoloft?

sanjeet said...

believe people are "wracked with guilt" not "rocked with guilt"

Work from home India

Jaded Enlightenment said...

I see some hints of "Dexter" in here too and I dig it. It's a pretty bad query but the story definitely has promise -- good luck!

Heather M. said...

Maybe this is just me, maybe not but writing aside, I hate this query just because of what it's about.

As a mother of two young kids, I would NEVER pick up a book where children have been hurt, molested etc even if it's a background story.

From a readers POV, most of us picture ourselves in the hero/heroine's shoes and I, for one, do not ever want to read something that will make me imagine scenarios like that happening to my kids.

Perhaps you should rewrite the thing using characters who've lost loved ones to a robbery, or something just...leave the kids out.

Joy Slaughter said...

Caps the title, instead of italics. I haven't seen that anywhere else, but on this site.