Sunday, September 26, 2010


Dear Query Shark,

Protected witness Jessica Reynolds is in deep trouble. The killer she helped put behind bars ten years ago has escaped, and thanks to a breach in cyber-security, knows her new identity. A federal marshal shows up at her home without warning, ready to immediately whisk her away for a second relocation. Jessica refuses to go, unwilling to walk away from her career, home and friends without a fight.

Yes! This is exactly how to start a query. We know what Jessica wants, and who is trying to thwart her.

Veteran Marshal Max Prescott's assignment sounded simple: contact an endangered witness, and transport her to a safe house to await a permanent relocation. Instead, he's faced with protecting the stubborn woman, while using her as willing bait to draw a vengeful killer into the open. Still plagued with guilt after his wife's tragic death, it's the last duty he'd choose. The last duty he'd shirk.

Yes! This adds a layer to the story, introduces the hero, gives us a sense of what he's about. At this point we know the characters, what they want, and have a sense of who they are. There's nothing extra here, but also nothing left out.

The trap laid and baited, Max and Jessica wait. While familiarity often breeds contempt, in this case it breeds something far warmer. As their feelings for each other grow, they have no idea the killer watches, and prepares a deadly trap of his own.

Two excellent strategies here: "the trap laid and baited" Notice the author doesn't give specifics. There's no step by step list of what Jessica and Max do to lay the trap. This way the author isn't bogged down in unnecessary details. Same with what the bad guy is doing. We know what he's doing but it's not how or why. This is exactly the way to do it.

WORST CASE SCENARIO is a 100,000 word romantic suspense. It is my first novel.

Nice title too.

Thank you for your time.

I'd request pages the moment I finished reading. Nice job.


Claire Dawn said...

Nice job 179!

Ann Stewart said...

Very nice. I think people get the query and the synopsis confused. This is a query, short, sweet, and to the point! Great job.

crows said...

Can I get a hell yeah? I don't typically enjoy romance/romantic-suspense etc, and I want to know the details here. Even this little teaser about Our Hero sounds intriguing, like a gent I'd want to get to know (bonus? I don't immediately hate the 'heroine'. I have a problem with that in this genre).

I'm especially interested in how reading solid queries has given me things to take back to my own in-progress work. Thinking about what I'd say when I had a high-pressure, limited-time framework to make my point but still entice a reader really helps focus building the plot when I begin to get mired in the details.

jjdebenedictis said...

The last sentences of the first and second paragraphs are particularly good. I immediately empathized with each of the characters at that moment. They both have grit.

Stephanie Barr said...

I like.

Sara J. Henry said...

Tiny suggestion for first graf: could just whisk away - immediately is implied.

Beth said...

I, otoh, look at it & go -- been there, done that. I feel like I've read 100 stories or 1000 in which the brawny FBI (or CIA or cop) protects the innocent maiden from the big bad killer.

Unless I have read something from this particular author before & know she can write, this setup is an automatic no for me as a reader.

It can be done, but to me, this looks like just another in a long series of chase and sex scenes, with nothing interesting added.

The "plagued with guilt" thing for the hero -- so done. The too stupid to live heroine who won't leave -- I care why? [And why would she believe that someone who shows up at her door unannounced is a good guy?]

Sorry for the rant, but this isn't the setup for The Breach to me.


M. G. E. said...

Well done. Short and sweet, all the fat's trimmed off. Way to make it look easy, damn you! ;P

Jessica Silva said...

I don't think romance is my thing. While I knew a bit about the characters and I'm willing to read about how they'll fall in love, I don't know anything about the story. And for me, that means I won't read it. Of course, that's probably just me!

John K said...

This is one hell of a query, makes me very jealous since I can't get mine under 400 words. Perhaps my petty envy, but it does sound like an Ashley Judd movie or three. Still, #179 gets to show an agent or two whether it's got legs...and I don't! Good luck 179!

St0n3henge said...

This is a good query. It's concise and there's lots of action. The characters' motivations are clear. The story isn't to my taste, though, so I probably wouldn't read it. Mainly, I think I've seen this plot dozens of times. Good query, just not my thing.

Zoe said...

The plot and characters don't strike me as that original, but I found myself enjoying the query anyway. I think you set a good hook by talking about setting up a trap while the killer is also setting a trap, but then not laying out all the details. It's enticing. It makes me want to read more and not even care about originality. So I guess you did a pretty good job.

Unknown said...

To Beth:

I immediately had the same thoughts when I read the query.

However, I for one, happen to like cliche plots and so do thousands of readers of romantic fic. And the point wasn't that her story was "been there done that," the point was that she wrote a GREAT query.

Taymalin said...

I don't think refusing to leave your life, again, constitutes too stupid to live. Having your life uprooted sucks. I can admire someone who wants to stand and fight instead of running away.

She doesn't want to let someone else control her life anymore. I get that, and I like it.

Is the plot new? No, not really. But what plot is? I think that a strong voice could carry this, especially in a romance novel. The male in a protector role speaks to a lot of women (not all) on a very primal level.

MB Dabney said...

Good job. Good luck with it.

April said...

Definitely one of the best queries on the site. I'm inspired to go back and look at my own query to see if it can be made as clear and concise as this!

Miranda L V said...

Heck, I want to read this right now, forget waiting on getting it published!

Orlando said...

I never really understood why if your life is on the line any person would not be willing to relocate, especially since they have done this already.

Once they draw the vengeful killer out into the open, what then? Kill him? Cause if they take him back to jail, don't they still have to relocate her?

I also find it interesting that after ten years she still is not dating anyone but as soon as a marshal walks in, it's on.

But that's just me. Real life is a total mess and filled with clich├ęs, so… although I'm not feeling the story, the query itself is well written. If the story line is well written as well I would definitely watch the movie.

wizardonskis22 said...

No comment about the plot (which could be amazing or terrible; I know nothing of this genre), but this query is really great. Way to go, 179! It's impressive that the only comments that aren't praise are about the plot, which is, after all, a matter of opinion.

dana e donovan said...

I loved the query. From a purely academic standpoint, it is nearly flawless. I agree with others that the plot seems a bit pedestrian, at least to me. The writing would have to be exceptional or the voice utterly unique for me to want to read the MS.

But that is not what this site is about. It’s about crafting the perfect query, and the author did that. Kudos #179. Best of luck to you!

patrick said...

I kind of sympathize with and agree to a large degree. The query presents the story as just another stock romance seasoned with a bit of suspense. Yep. Been there, done that, but these days (and perhaps it's always been that way) stock romantic suspense novels, especially those that are well-written sell. I confess that I've read quite a few. Do I get tired of them? Yeah, sure but after a long abstinence, reading another one of these stock romances is...relaxing. Then again, I'm the type of a reader who owns a complete collection of Agatha Christie works - they are all the same, cookie-cutter literature in the worst degree but I love reading them over and over. Why? I guess one man's drivel is another woman's relaxation.

Wishing all the best to query author. She needs to find an agent who is not yet burned-out in the romance/suspense field.

Patrice said...

Well done. Like a smoothly undulating shark, this query plies the waters making barely a ripple, achieving its goals through minimal movement.

All of this bodes well for the actual writing.

Congratulations #179!

So... Ms. Shark, do we ever get to hear if the FTW queries result in representation and eventual sales?

Ocean Archer said...

Great job 179. I didn't think dual POVs was acceptable, but apparently it works. It gives me something to think about for my own query, which I'll resubmit to QS after Halloween. Thanks for the ideas!

Uma said...

Clear and concise, love it!

Unknown said...

I would first like to say that for nearly forty years, I have owned seven not so full priced bookstores. In researching the market to see what’s hot and what’s not, I read and study trade publications, best seller lists, writers’ and authors’ blogs, and, even the Query Shark. I have made lots and lots of money off of the QS. She has represented some really great books. Now that I am officially semi-retired, I have the time to post some comments, perhaps, from a different perspective.

I agree with Beth. “Been there, done that.”

Didn’t we just see this in a episode of CHASE on NBC, or, perhaps, in a episode of IN PLAIN SIGHT on the USA network. Why pay for something (the book) when you can get it for free (the tv shows)? The market is already too saturated.

I’m afraid that, if published, this book will be one that the author and the agent would not want to put up on their web sites. You know, the one that hits the bargain table at Barnes and Nobles before I can get the half price for it. Sorry, QS. I don’t want this one taking up space on my shelves, or burning up my shredder. There are other sharks in the water, and they also like chum. Thanks QS, for being my chum.

Unknown said...

Seriously, been there, done that? How would you know? The beauty of this query is that the writer supplied a premise, an inciting incident, NOT a plot summary. We have no idea where the writer may have led these characters. No idea of the plot twists/turns that may be in the actual story. Maybe the heroine saves the Marshal. Maybe the killer is actually the Marshal's long lost father. Maybe the killer was set up by the heroine, who actually murdered the killer's wife in a jealous fit. Heck, they could have ended up on the moon, for all we know. Besides, this is supposed to be about the query itself, which in my not-so-humble opinion, ROCKS.

Unknown said...

"Still plagued with guilt after his wife's tragic death, it's the last duty he'd choose."

Is this a misplaced modifier, or is this ok to do? I know I'm late on this one, but I've been reading the old ones to help with writing my query and this jumped out at me. Not trying to nitpick, just curious.

Scribble Orca said...

If this query snags an agent, who cares if the plot has been there and done that? Aren't we all here to find out how to write a query?

The one thing I do think from ploughing through all the queries and comments is that most of the queries which make it to acceptance are similar. There are the exceptions eg "Last week, Claire's...".

But this style that the winning queries emulate is obviously what works. It's not valid at this point to discuss whether the book is going to end up half price, because we are all here for the query.