Monday, January 25, 2016

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1295 has submitted the following revision and seeks your comments.

Dear Evil Agent,

Ever since her dad abandoned the family, Lucy has taken on the burden of caring for her six-year old twin brother and sister while her mom, married straight out of high school, works two menial jobs to keep the family afloat. At fifteen, Lucy’s world has narrowed to little more than childcare and homework. [We don't need to know that Lucy's dad abandoned the family, that her siblings are twins, when her mom got married, that mom's jobs are menial... If you must tell us about Lucy's home life, you can get by with: At fifteen, Lucy has time for little more than homework and caring for her younger siblings while their mom is at work. Though possibly you should dump even that and begin the query with the next sentence, adding Lucy's age.] When Lucy’s [Lucy] discovers her elderly neighbor shot dead, the police make a quick arrest, but they disregard Lucy’s report of multiple gun shots because Mr. Phelps has been killed in his home by a single gunshot through the heart. [Shooting twice and hitting once is probably pretty common, either because the killer misses the first time, or thinks the first shot might not be fatal, but misses the second time because he's freaked out by the loudness of the first shot. The police know this, so they aren't going to assume that because one bullet hit the victim, there aren't any other bullets.]  On a street where most residents take out their hearing aids and crank up the television volume at night, no one can corroborate Lucy’s story. [A guy was shot, and the police are disregarding the report of the only witness who heard two gunshots, because all the potential corroborating witnesses were essentially deaf? And thus heard no gunshots? That's like a murder taking place at the Braille Institute and the police ignore the UPS guy's eyewitness account because everyone else present was blind, and thus couldn't corroborate his account.] Lucy tries to move on, but she can’t shake her conviction that the wrong man has been arrested. [The fact that there were multiple shots doesn't mean the man they arrested is innocent. Maybe he shot twice. Tell us what makes her think someone else did it.] With her siblings trailing behind, Lucy begins sleuthing, but when her clues lead to the arrest of a different neighbor, and then the police decide to let him go, [Thanks to Lucy we have enough evidence to arrest you for murder, but screw it. We've decided to let you go.] Lucy fears her own life may be in danger.

The Mysterious Death of Mr. Phelps is a 66,000 word young adult novel with series potential.

Thank you for your time,


That long paragraph should be broken into two or three paragraphs. 

But it's probably best to scrap everything about Lucy's home life and focus on how she succeeds where the police have failed. Police can be as careless and incompetent as other people, but the better detectives usually work homicide cases and go over a murder scene with a fine tooth comb, not just to find hairs left behind by the killer, but also fingerprints, fibers, bullet holes, spent shells....

Better to just say Lucy's the only one who heard the shots than to add an unlikely explanation for why she's the only one and why the police don't believe her. Get rid of the stuff I suggested, and you'll have room to tell us what clues Lucy finds that lead to the arrest. 

If the killer knows Lucy found these clues before he's been arrested, you can convince us she's worried about her own life without telling us the police simply decide to let the guy go.


Anonymous said...

Queries for mysteries need a few things:

A mystery <- mysteriously dead neighbor

Crime solver <- amateur sleuth Lucy. In this case, you need the reason she's the one who's going to solve the crime. Name, (age in this case,) experience, skill set, involvement with crime/victim, that sort of thing. We don't need extensive details about her home life except in how it impacts her ability to solve the crime.

Suspects, clues <- You've mentioned 2 neighbors, but haven't told us why they're suspects. The only clue you've mentioned is multiple gunshots, with an unbelievable explanations as to why the police ignore the clue, and then don't mention anything about how she gets the other neighbor arrested.

The joy of mysteries is trying to figure out the whodunit along with the sleuth. Give us suspects and the reason why they're potential suspects. Give us clues that point at the suspects. Give us a reason Lucy needs to be the one to solve the crime. All of these need to be in the query. Think of it as a trail of footprints leading to the perpetrator of the crime. You need to show us the beginning of the trail and the direction it's heading.

Ending with Lucy's life being in danger sounds like you'd prefer to make this into a YA thriller, throwing in mystery elements sounds like you want it to be a mystery, and talking about her home life makes it sound like you want it to be commercial or literary fiction. If this is really a mystery, focus on the mystery.

khazar-khum said...

If the killer picks up the spent shells, Lucy's claim that there were multiple gunshots will make more sense. The cops will only see one bullet wound, but Lucy knows better.