Workshop Wednesday

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 25 2011

By repeated request we’ve started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we’ll just have to see. We’ve received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don’t be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that’s great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I’m leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don’t make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never “met” Query Shark, get over there and do that. She’s the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Per your guidelines, I am querying you about representation for Grand Theft Dog. It is the first story in a series featuring over-the-top dog lovers told from a cat person’s perspective. The manuscript is a completed 90,000 word cozy mystery set in Barrkview, CA where dogs are considered citizens and cats is a four letter word. That’s according to Catalina (Cat) Wright, the local TV reporter/producer at KDOG, who’s WDI Scale (Wright Dog Insanity Scale) must be revamped after she investigates why three champion Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s are doggnapped and the Mayor’s wife murdered.

This is lame (what I’m going to say), and I don’t know why it bugs me, but I do not like indented paragraphs in queries, or letter correspondence for that matter. It seems to me that letters should be single-spaced, not indented, and double-spaced between paragraphs. I know, this really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme, but if I’m critiquing I’m going to point out every little detail, details I might not even necessarily notice while simply reading queries.

Cute title. The title clearly says “cozy mystery” to me and that’s what you want from a good title, a clear definition of the genre.

An interesting idea. I’m intrigued. My only thought is whether a book about dog lovers from a cat person’s perspective is really enough of a hook. I like the KDOG and dognapping, but the fact that your heroine is named “Cat” starts to feel a little much to me.

Concerned that her Cavalier will be the next target, Cat’s eccentric Aunt Charlotte convinces her to dog sit. A prissy canine underfoot turns Cat’s life, not to mention her investigation, into a circus. Overwhelming evidence pointing to her aunt’s guilt can’t possibly be right, but who would frame her? Aunt Char doesn’t have enemies, but Cat does—dangerous men who swore vengeance a dog’s life ago.

This works. It’s a well-written paragraph. From a content perspective, though, I don’t think a dognapping is enough to sustain a mystery. Typically mystery readers, especially those of cozy mysteries, are looking for murder. Murder gives a book a different level of urgency. ***What’s interesting is that I was rereading my comments and noticed in the first paragraph that there is a murder, it just isn’t played up enough. I would think there would be more concern that someone was murdered and not as much about the dognapping. Maybe that’s part of the satire, but it didn’t work for me.

I also have a few concerns that this paragraph is disconnected. She’s dog-sitting, her aunt might be framed, but it might be because of Cat? I would streamline this. What is the true motivation? If it’s because Aunt Char is the chief suspect, that’s enough to focus on.

Armed with the help of an in-your-face Cavalier, an allergy challenged FBI agent, and a town focused on protecting their internationally publicized dog show, Cat’s walk with the leash-lovers is a humorous look at the extent people will go to for their pets. Throw in a stick of romance and you have a light-hearted romp that forces a dogged woman to face her past, proving once and for all that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The FBI agent really throws it for me. Why would an FBI agent investigate a dognapping? Most important, though, this is a stretch for cozy. It’s taking the book out of a typical cozy realm. Typically FBI agents are not part of cozies. I do think you did a great job of not just telling me that this is humorous, but showing me. One concern I have is that it seems like you’re writing a tongue-in-cheek look/satire of pet lovers, and I don’t think that works for the cozy market. Pet lovers tend to buy cozies with a pet hook because they truly love their pets that much, and I’m not sure they think it’s humorous.

While I am concerned that the puns get to be a little too much here, overall I think this is a great paragraph.

Grand Theft Dog was inspired by my father’s champion Cavalier, who ruled his household with a royal touch. I was a Romance Writer of America’s Golden Heart finalist. I won the Windy City’s Four Seasons Contest. In addition, I finished second in the Laurie, Beacon, and Stepping Stone contests. I also placed in the Gotcha, Marlene, Great Expectations, Golden Rose and Jasmine writing contests.

Very impressive credentials and writing credits. This is great. I also like how you made it just a tad personal with one line about your inspiration, but didn’t take it over the top.

In a business where creativity must be tempered with the reality of consumer sales, finding the right agent and forging long-term partnerships is essential to an author. Your reputation in the field and recommendations from numerous authors has led me to you. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

This is good. Again, a personal touch, but not over the top.

This query is very strong for a query’s sake and I think you’ll notice that most of my feedback is about the story and not the query. In other words, for the most part I wouldn’t reject this query because there’s anything wrong with the query. If I did reject this it would be because I have concerns, based on the query, about whether the book is right for the market, and that makes this a fantastic query. The book is clearly described enough to allow the agent to get a real feel for it.



7 responses to “Workshop Wednesday”

  1. Avatar Richard says:

    For me any book that has an animal in it is always pretty much a winner. Everyone loves pets. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon county.

  2. Humor is, of course, so subjective. On my first quick read — not the second, careful one I do when I'm critting — I found the puns completely overwhelming the story. Much as Jessica pointed out not seeing the murder at first, when I finished my read-through, I would have been hard-pressed to spout back what the actual story was about.

    For me, the query falls a bit flat in that it seems to present a story where the humor is not sophisticated and situational but cheap and easy. That, however, may well be my subjective reaction to what seems to be a pun-filled romp in the dog park.

    I too was brought up a bit short seeing this labeled a cozy. I am captured by the underlying voice and writing here, and that's something missing from soooo many of the queries I see, so big kudos on that!

  3. Avatar scifi13 says:

    I am not sure that this would necessarily be my cup of tea, but saying that I don't generally read cozy mysteries. I do think it would have appealed to me as a young teenager though. I don't know if that necessarily means that it would suit younger readers more or just if my tastes have changed, but thought I would mention it anyway.

    I did like the way the query was written and thought that all the dog humour really captured the spirit of the story. I also really like the idea of an allergy challenged FBI agent. The fact that he/she is in the FBI doesn't bother me too much; maybe this is cos I'm British or maybe it's because I felt that this type of mystery didn't really need to worry about the likelihood of an FBI agent investigating dognappings. Of course, I am no literary agent though, so I also have no idea how that might impact the coziness of the mystery.

    WV: orcorbil – medication for orcs.

  4. I have trouble with the character named "Cat," not because it's yet another animal reference, but because the query specifically states that "cats" is a four-letter word. Why would someone choose to go by a nickname that conjures up the negative? There's a reason why no Richards under 50 go by Dick …

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    …who’s WDI Scale (Wright Dog Insanity Scale) must be revamped after she investigates why three champion Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s…

    Two incorrect apostrophes in the same sentence would turn me off — more than indented paragraphs.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    You've got an extra "g" in dognapped.

    I had trouble figuring out whether the characters were people or critters.

  7. Avatar Miss Worded says:

    I think in terms of the puns, pick you best dog and cat one and use it once. More than once is overwhelming in 250-ish words, and lessens the impact each time.

    I think that "WDI Scale (Wright Dog Insanity Scale)" is probably a great joke in the book, but it seems thrown in here and not explained well enough (at least not to my wee brain). Your query doesn't need it, and it clunks up the paragraph. There's so much in there, I missed the KDOG bit. You don't need the WDI.

    Good luck!