Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Feedback Request

The author of the book most recently featured here would like your opinion of the two versions below:

Mr. Evil Editor:

Years ago Leah watched as her husband was murdered by a man who was never identified or caught.  A decade later, police detective Leah Chase still has nightmares of her husband dying in her arms, murdered by an assailant who was never identified.  She still wakes up screaming. [Don't put two spaces between sentences.] 

Leah is assigned a low profile case to find the murderer of a man with no relatives and no friends. A man who just barely escaped being convicted of manslaughter. [I find this confusing. I'm not sure whether the man who just barely escaped being convicted of manslaughter is the murderer or the man with no relatives and no friends.] [Also, how do they know this man has no friends?] [I'd go with a comma or dash instead of a period after the first sentence, so the reader doesn't get to the end of the second "sentence" and wonder where the rest of it is.]

During the investigation, Leah meets Harry Finch. He asks her to coffee, then dinner.  Still traumatized by the death of her husband, [It was ten years ago. If she's still traumatized, I question whether she should be working as a police officer.] Leah worries she’s not ready for this new relationship they begin. Though Leah’s eleven year old daughter doesn’t like Harry, Leah and Harry’s friendship begins to grow into something more. [If it begins to grow, then it's growing, so just say it grows instead of it begins to grow.] 

Leah sees similarities [to the murder she's investigating] in a second murder, and by the third, she sees a pattern.  Her superior doesn’t agree, but as the killings continue, Leah finds herself at the center of a much bigger investigation than anyone was prepared for. 

While Leah and Harry fall in love, the murderer becomes more daring, killing four in a downtown restaurant, then killing families in their own homes.  When the killer makes a mistake and two victims escape, it forces him to leave evidence behind.  Evidence that leads her [Leah] to Harry, the man she loves.

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration. A partial or full manuscript is available on request.


Note:  I’ve never been happy with the previous versions that concentrated on Leah.  They came out of people telling me to concentrate on a single character.  Except that the novel is about 1/3 Leah alone, about 1/3 Harry alone, and 1/3 the two of them.  (With other subplots thrown in as well.)  So, by concentrating on Leah, I feel like I’m leaving out large parts of what (to me) makes to novel worth reading.  The following query feels much more representative of the book.

Mr. Evil Editor:

Leah [Chase] is a single mother of an eleven year old girl and a police detective who hates her job. [This makes it sound like she's the mother of an 11-year-old girl and also the mother of a police detective who hates her job.]  She’s assigned a low profile case to find the murderer of Matthew James, who had no relatives and no friends. A man who was charged with manslaughter for the death of a teenager, but released on a technicality. [Still confusing. She's assigned a low-profile case: the murder of Matthew James, who was recently released on a technicality after being charged with manslaughter.]

Harry Finch’s son was killed by a drunk driver who was set free because of a minor legal error.  Harry wanted justice for his son, so the man responsible, Matthew James, had to die.  In that man’s death, he finds solace, but he also finds the excitement and joy of knowing that wrongs are being righted, that those who persecuted [Who are those who persecuted?] were punished, and victims received the justice they so desired.  [Victims of murderers don't actually desire anything. Also, you speak of wrongs and victims as if he's killed several people. So far he's killed only Matthew James.] There were so many more victims still without justice.  How could Harry stop now?

Leah interviews Harry during the investigation. The following week Harry asks her to dinner.  Though Harry is still technically a suspect, Leah accepts.  As weeks go by, the friendship they have begins to grow[s] to something more.

The stories of Leah and Harry intertwine, weaving together and apart, the police detective and the murderer.  [We know. You don't have to say this.] Leah struggles to catch a serial killer; Harry meticulously plans and executes murders, slaughtering four at a restaurant, and forcing his way into homes and killing families. [Killing entire families gets justice for . . . people who were murdered by entire families?] And Leah and Harry fall in love.

When one family fights back, Harry leaves evidence behind — evidence that leads Leah to Harry, the man she loves.

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration. A partial or full manuscript is available on request.



I prefer the first version. Others may disagree. The first one has the advantage that "evidence that leads Leah to Harry, the man she loves." is more shocking if we haven't already been told that Harry is the serial killer Leah is after (Okay,we may suspect it, but we can imagine her reaction as the evidence piles up). In the second version we know Harry's the one she's after before she does. There's no mystery.

Of course maybe I want the query to focus on Leah because I would also prefer the book to focus on Leah so that I, as a reader, gradually suspect Harry is the serial killer, as Leah does, instead of being aware of it from the beginning. Possibly that isn't the book you've written. 


Sean said...

This isn't a mystery novel, and it was never intended to be one. As I mention in my notes, the novel has three major stories: Leah's story, Harry's story, and then the story of the two of them together.

Nor is it intended to be a police procedural, though I did attempt to make those parts as accurate as possible.

So what is it? Well, it's partially about a guy who decides the killer of his son needs to die, and then slowly loses any sense of reality about what he's doing. It's also about a woman who hasn't gotten over her husband's death eight years ago. (I know I said ten in my query. That should be changed.) It's about how their relationship heals Leah, and, in a way, redeems Harry.

It is not a conventional crime novel, and certainly not a conventional romance novel.

Which is why I'm struggling with a query. The first version, the one Mr. E. Editor prefers, seems to promise something the novel doesn't give, and that bothers me. It seems to me an agent would prefer to read a query about the book I wrote, and have expectations set accordingly, then to read a query and then find the query only covers half of the what the book is about.

SB said...

This isn't my usual genre, but I've been reading some of it lately, and I've noticed that these sorts of stories tend to go one of two ways: either the reader doesn't know who the killer is until the hero finds out or the reader knows and the story goes back and forth between the hero and killer, with the tension coming from the reader knowing that eventually things will come together in a dramatic fashion rather than from the mystery. I've found that both can work well. Your story seems to be the latter.

IMO, I prefer the query that does one paragraph on her, one paragraph on him, then two on them together, partly because that seems to be more reflective of the story. For me, the enjoyment with this kind of story is that I as the reader can see that the closer the two of them get, the bigger the dramatic moment will be when she finds out he's the killer. Personally, I think I prefer that because I can savor the tension over most of the story rather than only having the big reveal moment. (Plus, it would help me stay interested in the story as I read. But I'm much more about the characters and their interaction than I am about the plot and mystery solving, so that's probably why I prefer it this way.)

So, I prefer your second version, though it does need some tweaking, and I don't think the third paragraph (about the two of them) works very well. I agree with most of what EE says, too. I'd suggest submitting an edit of your second version, then once all the paragraphs work okay and the overall flow of the query is good and doesn't raise any questions it shouldn't, then there might be some small tweaks I could suggest.

This query does make me interested in your story, though. There's a lot of drama inherent in the setup, and I'd expect the finale to be exciting and maybe a bit heart-wrenching. Also, I genuinely don't know how it would end (Does she kill him in a shootout? Does he go to prison for life? Does she leave the job she hates in favor of the man she loves?), which is a great thing. Whenever this gets published, I'd like to read it.

Evil Editor said...

A book doesn't have to be a mystery novel to have some mystery.

As for whether this is a conventional crime novel, your two main characters are a murderer and the detective assigned to hunt him down. That those characters have their own demons to fight doesn't change the genre; in fact, I can't think of many detectives or serial killers in modern crime fiction who aren't dealing with personal demons. I assume that much of the plot involves gathering the evidence that reveals Harry's not what he seems to be.

The paragraph for one, then the other, then the two together is tried and true in romance, for the hero and heroine, so there's no reason it can't work here once it's cleaned up.

Anonymous said...

FYI, the second query is straight up romance plot format: i.e. a paragraph about her, a paragraph about him, paragraph(s) about what's bringing them together and what's keeping them apart.

From your comments, it sounds like you think of your book as a chimera that is something of both romance and crime fiction, but the book will still need to be shelved somewhere and marketed somehow. Not having clear direction there makes it difficult to sell, which usually results in low sales.

I think you need to sit down and decide where you want your book shelved in the bookstore. If you want it shelved with romances (and there are plenty of romances out there with mystery/suspense/crime) then go with version two. If you'd rather it sits by the crime fiction crowd and keep the romance a strong subplot, go with version one. The agents you query should also reflect that choice.

SB said...

The inability of publishers to know how to deal with in-between type stories like this is, I think, one of the reasons that self-publishing is taking off like it is.

Tk said...

Hi Sean. Since other books that work the same way do exist (SB has read some), perhaps you could make a list of such books and check where they are being shelved.

Because the story is character-focused, the only comment I have to offer is to beef up Leah a bit more in whichever query version you choose. Harry seems more alive because he has a driving motivation, however warped. Leah comes across less clearly - she has nightmares, she lets Harry woo her, she sees a pattern. I think she'd be more compelling with more of a sense of her personality - perhaps you can include what her coping mechanisms for the nightmares are (throwing herself into her work?) - and more of sense how her active choices are driving the story (do her discoveries pressure Harry into making his mistake?).

Anonymous said...

Certainly self-publishing is "taking off" from the point of view of those who make money selling services to self-publishers.

SB said...

Anonymous - Are you really trying to tell me that self-publishing has not objectively "taken off"? Things are changing, and quickly. But that's another discussion.

AA said...

The problem with version two isn't the genre. The problem is that it's all over the place.

Leah is a single mom and detective. She's assigned to find the murderer of Matthew James, who has no friends or relatives. (So?) He was also charged with manslaughter and released on a technicality. This is a lot of info, so obviously this is a main character.

Next, we're introduced to Harry, whose son was killed by a drunk driver who was released on a technicality. Not a coincidence, it actually is Matthew. You don't need to give us Matthew's information twice.

Harry kills Matthew, so why we get Matthew's life story here I have no idea. He's dead now. Anyway, Harry wants to go on killing people who have done whatever he considers heinous crimes. Who knows what that means to him?

Leah and Harry fall in love, but their love is obviously doomed. The End.

Problems: I can't like Harry. He comes across here as a zealous nutjob. So I can't like them getting together. Yet, I can't really fear for a seasoned detective, and Harry doesn't want to kill the "good" people anyway. So no real suspense. And the relationship is so obviously doomed, it's sad. Who am I supposed to root for and what am I supposed to like about this?

And why did you mention a specifically eleven-year-old daughter and then never mention her again?

InkAndPixelClub said...

Of the two, I think I also prefer the second one, partly since there's no clear connection between Leah trying to solve the murder case and Leah falling in love with Harry until the very end. But have you tried a query with Harry as the main character? I know I'm not the first minion to say that he seems more interesting than Leah and he seems to know everything that the readers of you book will know early on while Leah does not. I'd be very curious to know why Harry starts dating Leah. Is he so cocky that he believes he can successfully date the woman investigating the murder he committed? Is he just trying to keep tabs on how the investigation is going initially and then actually falls in love? Was he so immediately won over by Leah that he couldn't help himself?

I think part of what's missing is any point where either character has to make a choice. There's tension for both characters: Leah has a murder mystery to solve and Harry is in danger of getting caught. But the story needs to come to a climax where at least one of the two characters has to make a decision: to run or face the consequences, to do her job or show mercy to the man she loves, or whatever choices your characters might face. Once you have that, you can construct the rest of the query to build to that moment. It may even tell you who the focus character for the query should be.