Sep 23, 2011

Query Critique #15 - Baby Doe

Baby Doe by Bill

Query:
Dear—
BABY DOE is the first of a mystery series with a Mad Men meets small-town 1957 Oklahoma sensibility. Bucky Ontario, twenty years old and full of illusions, struggles to find his feet in Wayberry, Oklahoma. He has all it takes to become a successful businessman—until confronted with a teenage mother's dead child, a murdered elderly couple, and rumors of incest. Situations unheard of in Wayberry.
When a racetrack scheme draws the attention of the FBI, a femme fatale agent uses Bucky for the Bureau's purposes, complicating Bucky’s world. As the town buries a product of American ingenuity, a brand new Plymouth Belvedere, to celebrate Oklahoma's fifty-year anniversary, Bucky needs to decide if he is willing to risk his sparkling future in Wayberry by exposing a multiple killer and child molester.
I am submitting (blank) of BABY DOE, a 87,000 word completed mystery. My grandparents grew up in Oklahoma and told colorful tales that inspired my work. I believe my OKLAHOMA LONESOME series plays on a unique place and iconic time in America’s past. I have been a Hollywood script doctor and am currently writing the second book in the series. Thank you for your review and I look forward to working with you.
Sincerely, Bill
Redline:

Dear—[I assume you know what should go here, but make sure you are addressing the specific agent and using a comma. This is, after all, a letter first and foremost.)

BABY DOE is the first of a mystery series with a Mad Men meets small-town 1957 Oklahoma sensibility. [I’d drop this first sentence. It doesn’t connect with the rest of the paragraph and isn’t necessary.] Bucky Ontario, twenty years old and full of illusions[Vague], struggles to find his feet in Wayberry, Oklahoma. He has all it takes to become a successful businessman[Vague]—until confronted with a teenage mother's dead child, a murdered elderly couple, and rumors of incest [really? How is he confronted with this? Why Bucky? Why should we care?]. Situations unheard of in Wayberry. [Having this as a separate sentence pulls the reader out of the paragraph. And frankly, I don’t think you need it. The three examples you’ve given are enough of a jolt to the reader. They’re not exactly popular themes in any other city in 1957 – as far as I can recall]

When a racetrack scheme draws the attention of the FBI, a femme fatale agent uses Bucky for the Bureau's purposes, complicating Bucky’s world. [where’d this race track stuff come from? With nothing else about it, it seems like a random, tossed in thing. And the term femme fatale has always seemed cliché to me. Then you get super vague again, how is she using Bucky and in what ways does it complicate his life.] As the town buries a product of American ingenuity, a brand new Plymouth Belvedere, to celebrate Oklahoma's fifty-year anniversary,[Why is this important. It seems completely unnecessary to the query.] Bucky needs to decide if he is willing to risk his sparkling future in Wayberry by exposing a multiple killer and child molester. [This makes the character completely unsympathetic. Jobs are important, yes, but if you know someone’s molesting children and killing people… and you are honestly struggling with turning them in, you’re no better than they are. If that’s not what this sentence is supposed to imply… you’ll want to rewrite that.]

I am submitting (blank) [I assume you’re planning on putting “10 pages” “50 pages and a synopsis,” here. I think it’s best if you put out what it is you’re selling  (Baby Doe)  and then in a separate line say what’s attached.] of BABY DOE, a 87,000 word completed mystery. My grandparents grew up in Oklahoma and told colorful tales that inspired my work. I believe my OKLAHOMA LONESOME series plays on a unique place and iconic time in America’s past. I have been a Hollywood script doctor and am currently writing the second book in the series. Thank you for your review and I look forward to working with you. [I’d change this to “I look forward to hearing from you soon.” Because I think that the way it’s worded now is a bit presumptuous.]

Sincerely, Bill

Notes:


You claim that the story is Mad Men meets small town Oklahoma in 1957… and then do nothing to explain how that’s so. If you want to keep this reference in, Show us how it’s like that in the body of the pitch and THEN put your ____ meets _____ in the paragraph with your housekeeping (word count, genre, etc.)
Wayberry, Oklahoma does tend to make me think of Mayberry, North Carolina. You may not care about that, but it does seem a little too close.
One of the biggest problems with your query is how vague it is. I know this is a mystery, but you’re going to have to give a little from the get go, you don’t have to delineate things, but at least make them clear and accessible to your audience. Your fist chapter doesn’t give us anything specific and then hits you in the face with three crimes that are extremely out of the blue and seem to have no connection to Bucky. You don’t give the person reading this query any motive for him to actually want the case to be solved (other than the vague reference to his career) and you don’t give any clue as to how it’s related to him or what’s truly at stake.
 In the last paragraph, you discuss that your grandparents were from Oklahoma . While I don’t think that’s going to necessarily help you. I don’t think it hurts either, so I’m not going to tell you to take it out. But I would seriously consider whether you couldn’t do yourself more favors by replacing those fourteen words with others that would hook an agent.
You also mention that it’s a series in your last paragraph. Some agents don’t want you to pitch a series, some do. Make sure you check Agent websites in the event that their submission guidelines ask you not too.

1 comment:

  1. They actually bury a car? Like underground? That sounds pretty cool.

    ReplyDelete