Query Letter Feedback Thread

Im currently querying, and thought it would be good to start a thread for those wishing to get feedback on their cover letters.

If you post a query for feedback please leave some feedback on someone elses. I’ll post mine first, and will then leave some feedback on whoever posts next!

This is the general bulk of my query email which begins with a personalised reason why I am querying that particular agent (clients that are similar, genre interests etc) :

This is why I am sending you my novel, Even Time Bleeds; a speculative fiction novel of 101,748 words.

The premise: What if suffering could damage the fabric of time?

Black Bridge Farm is a place of pain and tormented memory. When the body of a young boy is found dead within its ruins another child, James Hendell, is convicted as the killer. Twenty eight years later James is released from prison, days before the kidnapping of his niece.

Terrified that he will be blamed he hires PI Jon Leary, ex Detective Inspector for Colchester CID, to look into his past. A past he cannot remember clearly. He claims to have been wrongly convicted of murder. If that is the case then Jon could be hunting a killer who has slipped through the net.

As Jon delves into James’ case his own daemons come echoing out of the past. An unstable father who fled, taking his older brother with him.

All the while the ruins of Black Bridge Farm call him closer. Speaking of fire, of blood and of pain. For they hold a secret. A horrifying truth and a new, disturbing reality.

Can time itself truly bleed?

The blend of genre used in this novel is similar to that used by John Connolly for his Charlie Parker series, of which Every Dead Thing is the first. It presents fantastical elements, though these are always open to interpretation by the reader and speak as a metaphor for the experience of trauma itself. The audience I would be aiming for would be fans of “Stranger Things”, with which my novel shares some themes.

I am a 33 year old professional dancer, having worked in the theatre industry for 15 years. This is my first novel. I have been working with professional author Jim Kelly for the past two years on this novel as part of the Gold Dust Mentoring Program. I have planned at least one sequel to this, though the story could easily expand beyond that too.

I have attached the first three chapters to this email, along with the synopsis. I also have the complete manuscript ready should you require it. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Good start! Looks like you did some reading on how to write a query.

Before I dig into the wording, I have a question or two. If his niece just disappeared, why would James hire a PI to investigate his own background? There’s a huge leap there. The girl disappears. He is afraid he will be blamed. Okay to there. But why does he think his past has anything to do with this case? Even if he is innocent of THAT murder, it wouldn’t necessarily clear him of this crime to have that exposed. So we need to know why he thinks the cases are intertwined.

This part, honestly, is just hyperbole. It’s meaningless. Specifics will take you a lot further in a query than nebulous description.

Who is the protagonist – James or John? Which one drives the resolution? What does he actually have to overcome to get there, and what are the stakes?

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Thanks for the reply!

In regards to the actual plot, there is a very good reason for him hiring Jon and thinking the kidnapping is connected to his past conviction. Obviously i cant reveal that reason in the blurb, but I will have to think how I frame it and make it make sense within the context of the blurb. In my mind, im putting James forward as simply being worried that as he was convicted of killing a child, then days after his release his niece is kidnapped, he will be afraid that the police will assume he is responsible. If he can prove that je wasnt guilty of the original crime, then he believes (either correctly or incorrectly) that this will exonerate him of having anything to do with the abduction.

Jon is is MC of the book. Though there are three main view points within the plot.

Re the ending, some of it is actually more specific than it appears to be, though without knowing the book beforehand (which an agent wouldnt) you wouldnt know that. There is something more specific I could include, but id have to work hard to keep the word count down. I’ll have a ponder on that one.

A pitch in a query is NOT a blurb, and you absolutely can include spoilers when necessary. A pitch has two purposes:

  1. To entice the agent to read pages. (This is how it’s very similar to a blurb.)
  2. To show the agent you have all the elements of a commercial novel – premise that can sustain a complete novel, protagonist with a goal, antagonist, stakes, and an emotional hook.

If John is the protagonist, then the query needs to focus on him. Right now it feels more like the protagonist is James. (# of pov characters is irrelevant. The protagonist doesn’t even have to be a pov character.)

Question – does John have a character arc/growth separate from the story? What is his goal in this story?

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Yes i see your point! I hadnt thought to consider this “blurb” to not actually be too literally a blurb.

Jon’s own aim and arc is integrated with the case itself. It becomes clear early on that his father, who he believes ran off with his brother when he was a child, is involved with the kidnapping and also with James’ past. His aim is to discover what happened; why his father abandonded his family and why did he take his brother over him?

I think I would start with “PI Jon Leary, ex Detective Inspector for Colchester CID, is hired to…” and rework the query from there. Start with what he was initially hired for, and then work in that his own family is involved. I think what you said in post 5 is compelling info that makes this sound like an intriguing, complex story.

It does bug me, though, that James hires him to look into his past rather than the kidnapping. It isn’t LOGICAL that clearing him of that crime – if that is even possible, since he doesn’t remember what happened – would have ANY bearing on the current case.

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My MC does actually have the same reservations, but he is being paid by James, who seems to be quite paranoid and insistent that Jon will be able to find out something to exonerate him. He doesnt hire him to look into the current case as the police are already doing that. And due to the fact that he is lying. He actually is involved with the kidnapping and is being blackmailed by Jons father. So that is likely why you can sense that something doesnt quite add up, simply due to the fact that it doesnt! James already knows what Jon will find. He genuinely doesnt remember whether or not he killed that child originally, though he knows he was involved, but the real reason he gets Jon involved is at the behest of Jons father (the guy blackmailing him).

Okay, gotcha! I’d play down the current case. I mean, say it’s tied to a current case, but don’t open the can of worms that it was James’ connect ion to the current case that had him reach out about the past one.

You can be more clear about how it all works together in your synopsis.

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Thanks for the feedback so far. I’ll try a re-write and see what I come up with.

It may also be worth mentioning that there is quite a weird premise at work, that is ultimately the crux of the narrative, which is that suffering can damage the fabric of space/time, causing tears to the past. Its what the main antagonist (Jons father) is attempting to do, use suffering to tear a whole to the past.

I would say to include that, but be clear about it – and why he wants to do it. Since that adds a supernatural element, you don’t want to position the story as just a crime novel.

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Thats something Ive been struggling with. Having full disclosure in that sense regarding the genre, but not having the blurb just seem all over the place. Something to think about anyway!

Is Jon’s father the antagonist?

Yes, I can see how it’s difficult to work in the supernatural side.

Yes he is. In the actual book the supernatural side is shown right off the bat in the first section, so the reader knows that even though the book may read largely as a crime/thriller, theres something else going on. Its harder to coalesce into something that doesnt sound just completely bonkers in a short blurb type summary is all.

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Can you start with that? Is Jon aware of the supernatural thing at the beginning?

I could start with it. Jon is not aware of this side of things until much later in the book, but other characters are aware.

Play with it. Maybe a single lead in sentence that captures something mysterious happening. Then “Unaware of x, ____” and introduce your protagonist.

I dunno. Something.

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Haha, thanks! I’ll have a play and see what else I can come up with.

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I’ve a had another go, and I’ve been more forth right and a bit bolder in what I’ve included. Would you say its a better step in the right direction?

PI Jon Leary, ex Detective Inspector for Colchester CID, is hired to look into the past of a child killer. James Hendell was convicted of killing a six year old boy when he was fifteen and served twenty eight years. Now he claims to be innocent.

As Jon delves into James’ past he unearths unwelcome truths about his own. About a father who fled when he was a child.

For Jon’s father is attempting the impossible. To tear a hole into the very fabric of time itself. He is fuelled by a belief that suffering can wound time, calling together two moments of trauma like chords in an horrific harmony. He is willing to kill the innocent and vulnerable to achieve it, all to satisfy his own desire for revenge.

Jon must discover the truth behind James’ crime if he is ever to understand his father and he must do so quickly. Because another child has gone missing.

I play with it a little:

PI Jon Leary, ex Detective Inspector for Colchester CID, is hired to dig into the past of a man convicted of a horrible crime. Twenty eight years ago – when he himself was a child – James Hendell was convicted of killing a boy at a place known locally as Black Bridge Farm. Or, at least, that’s what he was told. He doesn’t actually remember what happened.

As Jon delves into James’ history, he unearths eerie connections to his own past and the father that abandoned him around the time the child was murdered at Black Bridge Farm. Jon discovers that, motivated by revenge, his father has found a way to fracture time by aligning two moments of trauma into a horrific harmony.

To stop his father, Jon has to uncover what really happened that night, and he has to do so quickly. Another child has gone missing…

How’s that?

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I really like it. I see what you are trying to do for sure! Layering the info in without neglecting style. I’m gonna have another play around using this as a template. The first and last paragraphs work well for me. In this version, considering that its quite a bold idea, the “fracturing time” line might be too vague. Or would that be enough for you as a reader?