Sunday, October 3, 2010


Dear Query Shark:

Some kids walk out of juvie with freehand tattoos or new gang affiliations. Delia Clark left with a plan to become an FBI agent.

This is as good an opening sentence as we've seen here in a while.  Notice that what we know about Delia is what  happened to her and how she wants to change.  In other words, not what she looks like.

Now twenty-three, Delia’s almost there.

A lot of times, mentioning a protagonist's age is pointless. Here, it gives us valuable info: Delia is moving toward her goal. It's also mentioned at the right place.  The writer did not say "23 year old Delia Clark etc." 

She just has to get through law school first. With its harsh authority figures, cutthroat students, and terrible cafeteria food, Delia’s finding law school eerily similar to prison. If it weren’t for her close friendship with fellow student Violet Cross, Delia might actually follow through on her threat to invest next semester’s tuition money in a Subway sandwich franchise. Luckily for Delia’s career plans, Vi’s got her back. Or at least she did.

This is a nice setup for the plot.  We know where Delia is, what she wants to achieve.  We get the sense it's not easy.

The police find Vi beaten to death in an alley the day after she slammed a door in Delia’s face and told her that she didn’t want to see her again. As Vi’s emergency contact, Delia must identify the body. Haunted by the image of her dead friend and guilty that their first big fight was their last conversation, Delia makes it her mission to assist the police with their investigation. Until she discovers that the detective in charge of the case was being investigated by Vi herself for planting evidence in a capital murder trial. Suddenly, the detective’s disturbing lack of interest in finding out who killed Vi makes sense.

This is a key paragraph.  In any amateur sleuth mystery (which this is) one of the things I always look for is why the sleuth is investigating.  It has to be a logical reason, not just because you need the sleuth to investigate to make the book work.  Generally you find those reasons in the stakes of the book: here it's a little different. Delia think if she doesn't do it, no one will.

Delia knows firsthand that sticking her nose in a criminal investigation can lead to trouble. After all, it’s what landed her in juvie in the first place. This time she’s an adult and the consequences could be much worse. Even if she doesn’t end up in prison, the FBI certainly doesn’t look kindly on applicants who’ve been charged with obstruction of justice. The smart thing to do would be to just walk away. Then again, Delia’s never been known as someone who can just let things go.

And here are the stakes in the novel.  This is a very very nice set up.

Delia decides to investigate Vi’s murder herself, teaming up with an with an old high school flame, now rookie cop, and her smartest study group pal in order to solve the case. But as the stakes grow higher, Delia will be forced to face the question that landed her in juvie so many years ago: Is retribution worth her future?

EMERGENCY CONTACT, a mystery complete at 92,000 words, is my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

In this case, you probably do look forward to hearing from me, since I'd be requesting pages, but still, Thank you for your time and consideration is enough.

This is 384 words but I wouldn't pare a single one.

This query works: I'd request pages.


fairyhedgehog said...

I'm impressed.

I hope this query gets an agent and a publishing deal so that later on I can buy it and read it.

Guinevere said...

I want to read this book. brilliant query.

Stephanie Barr said...

I found the story interesting, but parts of the query redundant. I think it could have been pared.

However, I also agree it works anyway. The litmus test is getting interest - and that it did.

Anonymous said...

First, great work. But just to make this query SPECTACULAR :) ....

Janet wouldn't pare any words, but I'd pare two, in this sentence:

Delia decides to investigate Vi’s murder herself, teaming up with an with an old high school flame

And just one more teeny tiny issue: if Delia is going to law school, she's been through college. The bad cafeteria food and cutthroat competition to get into law school should have prepared her for her prison-like law school experience. And in four years of undergrad study, she must have encountered a harsh authority figure or two.

wizardonskis22 said...

182- Nice job. That was a superb query, and now you need to pubhsilh it so we can all read it! I know I'm dying to know what happens. It sounds sort of like it could be one of those good movies where the person has to investigate even though they shouldn't be involved/were kicked off the case, but nobody ever makes books like that. I'm glad you did! Good luck!!

Irene Troy said...

As an avid reader of mystery (it’s my not so secret vice), I like the query and suspect I’ll love the book. One, very tiny concern: Sara Paretsky’s (author of many well written mysteries) protagonist is named V.I. (Warshawski). I know the protag here is Vi, but it’s very close, so you might consider a different name. Otherwise, this query is very enticing and I certainly would like to see the book.

Jo-Ann said...

Well done, #181.

Somebody wanted an example of a spectacular query? Cast your corneas on this!

This is one of the better successful queries I've seen on the site, on a par with the one about the "idiot" (Sergio?) in the court.

Zoe said...

I like it! It's clear. It's concise. I know who the protagonist is, what she's doing, and why. Well done!

M. G. E. said...

So often, getting it right mostly means just avoiding all the ways you can go wrong :P This query does that well.

The key here is logical sequence.

Everything -makes sense-. There's no disconnect moment, no "huh" after reading a sentence. The prose is polished, effortless, and clear.

Beyond that we get a real sense of who the protagonist is, what drives her, what she wants, and what's at stake.

All that and in a compact form. Well done.

Orlando said...

I loved the way the plot was presented, showing the risk the protagonist had to face and the question; is it worth taking the risk.

It was straight to the point, simply, believable, enticing, and new. Love the title as well.

Teagen said...

The protagonist isn't named Vi. The protagonist is Delia. The victim is Violet, Vi for short (she's the friend who ends up dead after investigating a shady detective). So as far as the name thing goes, I don't think this author has to worry too much about that.

Stunning job. I don't read much in the mystery genre, but this is a book I'd pick up to read.

Delia Moran said...

Very nicely done. If the author managed the same flow in the book as in the query, I'd read it.

Margaret Yang said...

Yayyyy! As I was reading, I thought it was a little long, sneaking into synopsis category, but it manages to stay firmly on this side of the query/synopsis line. I was cheered at the word count of 92k because it shows that the writer knows exactly what she's doing. Great job!

M. G. E. said...

What's especially good about this query is that the author didn't use any "cheap tricks" to make it sound like they had voice. Just smooth, well thought out prose with all the fat trimmed. This is writing.

Tom M Franklin said...

Thank you for posting this one. It is a great example of how to do it right -- and your commentary breaks down the why and the how of it working. Exactly what I need as I'm working on my first query.

-- Tom

Remilda Graystone said...

This sounds like an interesting story, and I really liked the query. I also like how it shows that you can break the 'rules' when it works.

Anonymous said...

This is really not a genre that I have any interest in... but it's such a great query letter I really want to read the book and find out what the deal is! It sounds like a really well thought out story, and this letter is very well written.

Query Shark, do people ever get back to you and say "thanks for your help, I got an agent and a contract and my book will be published in the spring"? It would be awesome if you posted that information... I'd love to be able to check out some of these books that actually make it!

Allie said...

Clean writing, characters I'm already getting to know, and... what's that? A plot? With a side dish of logic? Woo-hoo! Well done, #181!

John K said...

I'd read anything that had 'juvie' in it-quite the hook!

Hey Sharkie, what % of the books you agree to rep end up selling? Just curious if the long odds get better at that point.

Jamie Smith Hopkins said...

I'd totally read this. Great query!

Unknown said...

I am impressed with the query. But, the plot sounds a little simple. Book may be a little more suited to Y/A (if there are no overt sex scenes or language)than Adult. I would read it, hoping it didn't turn out to be a sleeper.

Hope said...

Can you be in the FBI if you've been to juvie?

I'm pretty sure they don't let you do that.

The Morrigan's Pet said...

Gakked from the FBI web site:

There are specific elements that will automatically disqualify job candidates for employment with the FBI. The FBI Employment Disqualifiers are:

Conviction of a felony

Use of illegal drugs in violation of the FBI Employment Drug Policy (see the FBI Employment Drug Policy for more details)

Default of a student loan (insured by the U.S. Government)

Failure of an FBI-administered urinalysis drug test

Failure to register with the Selective Service System (for males only)

Is it possible to be thrown in Juvie for something less than a felony?

Sarah said...

I really want to read this! I hope it exists.