Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Query Critique: Cozy Mystery

I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the Bookends Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog.

Dear Query Queen,

Wildlife carer Madison Starr is in trouble. She’s back in Australia after her father’s death with one goal: to sell the family home and leave forever. But thanks to her big mouth her plan is in tatters. When Jaylee Olsen, the local realtor, offers to buy the perfectly situated property herself.  Madison lets an old grudge speak for her and refuses to sell to her childhood nemesis. Their confrontation is watched by most of the small town. Hours later Madison is horrified to find Jaylee dead on her doorstep.

I did not like the word "carer" this is super picky and a little ridiculous (no query is judged on one word), but I had to read it twice since I thought you misspelled career. Caretaker?
My only suggestion is maybe to tighten this a bit.  

Branded the number one suspect Madison is forced to surrender her passport, killing any chance of heading back to her carefully constructed life in America. She has no option but to hunt down the killer and clear her name. Her best friend from high school, along with her old teen crush, now a forensic expert, reluctantly help her delve into Jaylee’s life.

Collecting a kleptomaniac dog, assorted puppies and an orphaned ring-tailed possum along the way, Madison and her friends discover she’s not the only one who considered Jaylee their nemesis.

DEAD IS FUR-EVER is a 72,000 word, third-person cozy set in Australia. I hope to feature Madison Starr in a continuing series (The Pet Shop Mysteries - featuring a mix of Aussie wildlife and rescued domestic animals, each with their own quirky personality) and am currently working on a sequel.

I’m an environmental scientist and have lectured in wildlife caring as well as being a carer myself. I am a member and active participant of Romance Writers of Australia and Sisters in Crime Australia. This series has interest and a request from an editor of Penguin Australia but is not yet submitted.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Honestly. I think this is a really solid query. My only concern is that your hook, which is vital to cozy mysteries, is buried at the end and doesn't appear in the blurb at all. 

In cozy mysteries, the hook is what initially sells the book. What makes your book stand out from every other book on the market? What will the publisher put on the cover? A gorgeous home with books out front? A lighthouse? A knitting shop? etc. 

For the cozy market I think this would be stronger if the reason she needed to return to Australia had to do more with the hook. Perhaps she's selling her father's shop of some sort. 

I love that it's set in Australia, but it might make it a more difficult sell, especially if your hook is more or less anywhere. What about a hook that's more unique to Australia? 

Lastly, on a beyond-the-query note, I think you should consider a hook that stands out a little more. A pet shop has been done. Is there something that hasn't been done yet? 

This is great overall.



John Frain said...

I also stumbled on "carer," so I'd agree with you. Didn't stumble the second time, at least I learn!

Nice job overall though. Succinct yet it tells the story.

Jessica, I'm struck by one change you made. You deleted "third person" and I'm curious why. Is that a given for a cozy or is that information that you don't need to know at the query stage?

Sign me,
Curious in Queryville (except I think Google automatically sticks my name at the top -- oh well)

AJ Blythe said...

Interesting how different genre need slightly different things. I had no idea that for a cozy the hook needed to be at the start before the blurb.

Thanks for the energy you put into the query critiques, Jessica. Very appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Sticking my hand up anonymously as the author of the query.

Apologies for the use of carer. Didn't realise "wildlife carer" was an Aussie term.

I guess if an Aussie setting is a harder sell, it would make sense for the hook to be both unique to Australia and as a cozy hook.

Her family home is actually a house with a shop (downstairs) and living quarters (upstairs). In my ms her father was a barber, and she turns the shop into a pet shop.

But that can be changed.

Only it is hard to know what unique Aussie hook would actually be recognised in America. Off the top of my head I have some ideas but I don't know if they will work. In all of them she still does wildlife caretaking. So a question for readers of the blog, what are your thoughts on the following...

Premise: Her father has an Australiana based tourist shop (selling Aboriginal art, opal jewellery, work by Aussie artisans etc with a native Aussie food cafe attached) and she takes it over.

* The Daintree Mysteries - Have you heard of the Daintree? I'd set the story there. It's in north Queensland (a few hours north of Cairns). It's a World Heritage rainforest right on the beaches of the Great Barrier Reef.
* The Down Under Opal Mysteries - Australia's national stone, we produce 97% of the world supply of opals
* The Outback Mysteries - I'm assuming the outback is a term most Americans have heard of? Obviously would have to change the setting to the outback.

Any of them hook you? Should I go back to the drawing board?

All thoughts and feedback very appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Oops, hit publish instead of preview! Hadn't finished.

The other hook idea is focusing completely on the wildlife caretaking "The Aussie Wildlife Mysteries".

Finally, a big thank-you to Jessica for offering this opportunity and for taking the time to help those of us aspiring to publication.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hi anonymous,

I'm an American. I've heard of the outback and I'm aware of Australia is the land opals come from. I am familiar with Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. I had not heard of Daintree before.

BUT, today we all have search engines and smartphones at our fingertips. It could be a wonderful way to educate as well as entertain. I like to read about places I have not visited through stories.

John Frain said...

Never heard of the daintree, but have heard of both Queensland and Cairns. Couldn't tell you anything about them though. And, embarrassing, I couldn't pick them out on a map, except to know that they'd be in the south Pacific.

As another point of reference, I was doing an assignment for a client on Berlin and mentioned a World Heritage site there. They had me take it out completely, stating that their audience would have no idea what a World Heritage site was. Didn't resonate with them.

Did not know that you guys tossed out 97% of the world's opals, but I certainly have a reference for mining (if that's how you get opals?) and know what opals are, so you'd be good there.

Yes, the outback is both a term and an area that I'm familiar with. Could actually pick out on a map!

I'd agree with Lisa, I love to learn about new places, especially places where there's a chance I'd visit one day. So maybe in addition to what you mention, you also figure out ways to incorporate more well known things and places like Sydney Harbor, etc.

I think you can make a lot of these things interesting to readers anywhere in the world as long as you give them a reference point that they can follow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lisa and John for your feedback. Definitely gives me something to think about.

John, the problem with the well-known things is how far apart they are. Sydney is approx a 27 hour drive north to Cairns (and another 3 hours to the Daintree). The Outback (technically) is about 10 hours from Sydney- although there's no real definite line for the Outback.

And I know that practically no-one would know things like the capital of Australia is Canberra, or that macadamias are native to Australia (imported to Hawaii), or that koalas aren't bears (and can actually be quite vicious). So the things I think everyone should know doesn't really work for me :-)

Lisa, I hope that readers would be able to learn about Oz, but it's getting them to pick the book up in the first place that I'm worried about!

Again, thanks for your help!

John Frain said...


Don't sell everyone too short. I think the vast majority of folks know koalas aren't bears. At least, the vast majority of people who read. A majority would know Canberra is the capital. The macadamias? Had no idea. But I couldn't tell you where any nut capital of the world is. Almonds? Love 'em. Don't know where they come from tho.

Good luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your comments, John. Will keep that in mind.