Strength In Your Queries 2: The Lost Girls

Next on Strength In Your Queries (ALL ABOUT QUERYING) is THE LOST GIRLS! Speckled between this month’s querying posts and interviews will be critiques where we point out the strengths in the query letters you amazing readers sent to us, as well as what could be made stronger.

The goal is that at the end of the month, even if your query wasn’t critiqued, as a reader you can create a successful query letter of your own.🙂


I am seeking representation for my adult thriller, THE LOST GIRLS, which stands complete at 96,000 words, with series potential. Readers will like my book if they enjoy a strong female protagonist with a dark past, such as the Jana Berzelius and Nena Knight series.

Detective Sergeant Melanie Hunter is suffering through the posh fundraiser of her former best friend’s foundation when a Russian journalist, who seemingly knows too much about her past, approaches her. Before she can confront him, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Williams calls her, asking her to a crime scene — an unidentified young woman found strangled in a park.

A well of contradictions from the get-go, Jane Doe’s case takes a dark turn for Melanie when a tattoo is found etched on the woman’s inner thigh. The sloppy initials scream human trafficking. Melanie sports matching ones on her ribcage. Soon, she finds herself sucked back into an insidious world hiding in plain sight. A world that turned her into a murderer.

When bodies start piling up, Melanie realizes this runs deeper than she’d ever imagined. Target on her back, she embarks on a journey across Romania and Russia to bring down the leader of a human trafficking ring and to prevent other girls from becoming the next Jane Doe. Her obsession for the truth is deadly. One wrong move will be the end of her. Still, she owes it to all those lost girls and to herself to try.

Born and raised in Romania, I currently live in a small town called Drobeta-Turnu Severin and I am simultaneously working towards obtaining an MBA and my second Bachelor’s Degree in Law. With my first novel, I wanted to showcase a vivid picture of life in poorer Eastern European countries and how they have come to be plagued by human trafficking.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.


Writer’s Comment:

When it comes to my strengths, I think I am introducing the main character and explaining what the stakes are if she fails. I am happy with my bio as I believe it is brief enough, while also showing that I have a personal connection with the story.

Lucia’s Comments:

Strengths

  • Great word count. Sounds weird but for someone who struggles with word count I have to commend yours!
  • The 3rd paragraph makes one sit up with interest.
  • The stakes are shown wonderfully in the 4th paragraph and stirs a bit of wanderlust.
  • Bio is tastefully written!

What could be Stronger

  • 2nd sentence can be tweaked to “It will also appeal to fans of Jana Berzelius and Nena Knight series.” It’ll also be great to use more popular comps for stronger effect!
  • The 1st sentence of the 2nd paragraph needs to be broken down so we can be clearly introduced to Melanie. It’s also bulky hence hard to understand. E.g. …posh fundraiser of her former best friend’s foundation… can be shaven.
  • The use of ‘Detective’ can maybe be removed? It’s like this huge block obscuring the core of the paragraph from view. Melanie and this strangled woman should be brought more into the limelight!
  • A well of contradictions from the get-go, Jane Doe’s case… I read this twice to really understand so I suggest you rewrite it to be much clearer. I understand you mean the case is a complex one but only after rereading it!
  • The final 2 sentences in the 3rd paragraph are intriguing, but you need to brush them up and make them clearer to be even more intriguing.
  • Melanie’s voice needs to shine a bit better through the query letter so it’s less stiff and more relatable.

In general, your story sounds really good. However, your pitch can be made stronger if you take out confusing details, bring more important ones to light, and let your MCs voice shine.

Sarah’s Comments:

Strengths

  • It sounds like you have a very tight plot that knows exactly what it is supposed to be. You own it in a way that doesn’t sound cocky either. Your query is written with confidence and that’s going to be attractive to agents!
  • I echo Lucia—a very strong bio. (Coming from someone who struggles to talk about herself. Good job!)

What could be Stronger:

  • While the second half sucked me in, the first half of the query gets lost in the details a bit. Things that will be relevant to the plot may not be relevant to the pitch. You could probably cut out the portion with fundraiser entirely and let that speak for itself in the manuscript. Especially when later in the query, you mention Melanie’s dark twist in a much more bombshell way!

Amber’s Comments:

Strengths:

  • Fascinating plot! I think the main conflict is outlined very clearly in Para 3 and links really well with what you’ve said in your bio. You’ll be able to answer the “Why are you the best person to write this story?” question in some agents’ Query Manager forms perfectly 🙂
  • The little detail about her journey taking her across Romania and Russia is great. Makes me so interested to see where it takes her!

What Could Be Stronger:

  • I agree with Sarah that the first half of the query may have a little too much detail that could be trimmed in order to make it tighter. The hook of the story should appear up front (in this case, the part about Jane Doe’s murder and Melanie’s association with it), so you could consider merging Paras 1 and 2.

    Suggested edit: Detective Sergeant Melanie Hunter is asked to a crime scene that holds a link to her own dark past — an unidentified young woman has been found strangled in a park, bearing a tattoo etched on her inner thigh with sloppy initials that scream human trafficking. Melanie sports matching ones on her ribcage. Soon, she finds herself sucked back into an insidious world hiding in plain sight. A world that turned her into a murderer.
  • I do love the 3rd paragraph, so here are just some suggestions on tweaks that can help introduce more specifics about your plot!

    Suggested edit: When bodies start piling up, Melanie realizes this runs deeper than she’d ever imagined. Target on her back <I’d move this down, because it might seem strange that she has a target before she even starts her journey>, She embarks on a journey across Romania and Russia to uncover and <I’m assuming she doesn’t know who it is from the start> bring down the leader of a human trafficking ring and to prevent other girls from becoming the next Jane Doe. Her obsession for the truth is deadly and places a target on her back. One wrong move will <will expose her carefully hidden past and ruin the life she’s rebuilt – or worse, be the end of her? Just a suggestion to link back to the earlier mention of her being a murderer, which is certainly at odds with her current career as a detective> be the end of her. Still, she owes it to all those lost girls and to herself to try.

Gabi’s Comments:

Strengths:

  • I completely agree that your plot sounds intriguing. There’s a great story here and it sounds fascinating and dangerous
  • I love the dramatic twists!
  • You’re very clear about why Melanie cares about this case. We know why Melanie is personally invested which is great and really important for a thriller
  • Great bio paragraph! Tells us about you and how this story relates to you. Love it!

What could be stronger:

  • I want to echo that beginning of this query is a bit bogged down by details. For example, we don’t need to know about the fundraiser since neither it nor the former best friend are mentioned again. We also don’t need to know that she’s approached by another detective or his name since he’s not mentioned again
  • The Russian journalist felt like they were going to play a bigger role than they are. Does the Russian journalist play into the stakes? Threaten to expose Melanie? Make her investigation more dangerous? If so, make sure to mention that later! If not, I think you can cut him out
  • What I really like about Amber’s suggested edits for the beginning is that we get to the major twist of the inciting incident in that first plot paragraph. A Jane Doe being found in a park isn’t as dramatic of an ending to a paragraph as the knowledge that she and Melanie share a past with human trafficking. It immediately gives Melanie a personal stake in this Jane Doe’s investigation
  • If that first plot paragraph is tightened and combined with the second paragraph, there’s room for more meat in that second plot paragraph! Here you can give a few examples of what kinds of things she does to figure out what happened to this woman, a few thorns in her side that make this investigation more complicated, etc. (if that reporter plays a role in this, great time to mention him!). If you have the space for it, this second paragraph is a great place to introduce more tension into Melanie’s investigation
  • In that final plot paragraph, I think you can afford to be a tad more specific. For example: bodies are piling up. Whose? More Jane Does? People Melanie knows?
  • How does this investigation take an emotional toll on Melanie. Since it’s clear why she’s personall invested and, as Amber said, you mention her own dark past and herself being a murderer, what kinds of dark memories does this dredge up? How does her past come back to haunt her? You’ve made the life or death stakes very clear here, but with a topic like human trafficking and a MC with personal stakes in it, it feels like there are most likely other stakes. Melanie’s past coming back to haunt her, Melanie being willing to risk the life she’s built for herself to save others from her past. If there’s a way to connect the beginning of the query to Melanie’s personal stakes, I think that would really stregthen this query
  • I love the idea of Melanie being obsessed with finding the truth because these stakes really are high-intensity and I love that! But what does she do that demonstrates that obsession? If there any major risk she takes (before the midpoint) that can hint at the level of this obsession and how close she’ll get to the edge?

Mariana’s Comments:

Strengths:

  • I liked how you began your query stating you’re seeking representation, adding the genre and also the word count.
  • I think you did a good job with the comps and the type of reader that would like your story.
  • Great unexpected surprise when you mention Melanie has the initials too.
  • I love that the story is going to take place in different countries, I think it would make the book really interesting for the reader, since it’s a way to “visit” those sometimes far away places. Enjoy your research.
  • I think the last three sentences are great, it really makes me want to know more.
  • I consider you did a great job with your bio paragraph and how you added why you’re connected to your story.
  • Good job adding a last sentence thanking the agent for their time.
  • Don’t forget to add your complete contact information on your query.

What could be stronger:

  • I would suggest that in your first paragraph you address why are you querying that agent specifically.
  • When you talk about your comps, you could also say something about what is special and different about your book.
  • In your bio is there anything writing-related you could add? Like courses, webinars, critique groups or writing communities you are part of?
  • You’ve received several valuable suggestions on how to edit your plot paragraphs. I can share that when reading your query, the first paragraph didn’t have the same feeling or emotion as the second and third paragraph did. So, merging 1 and 2 seems like a good idea to try.

Strength-o-meter: 5.5!

Published by path2pub

From The Trenches To The Shelves

9 thoughts on “Strength In Your Queries 2: The Lost Girls

  1. Omg I love this!!!! I love this so much. This is such as awesome thing to do, an open critique! I’m taking so many pointers I can’t even explain. Awesome work ladies!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love seeing all the contributors give thoughts on how to better this query letter. All the different critiques weave together well and it’s also like getting five different rounds of edit! Great job. I’ve learned so much and almost envy the sender of the letter 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is AMAZING!
    The detailed breakdown of the query offers so much invaluable insight. All the critiques fit together so well and they definitely help strengthen the query. With your help, this can go from zero to hero🤩
    You’ve taught me so, so much about how to improve the query letter and I can’t even begin to express into words how grateful I am.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: