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Query Critique for Stacey Joy Netzel

by Linda Epstein 22 October 2010 8 Comments

Stacey Joy Netzel is the brave soul who won the opportunity to have her query letter critiqued.  (Take a deep breath, Stacey, you wrote a good letter and I’m not totally mean.) I’m going to let you know all the things Stacey did right, the things that piqued my interest (and which would have me request to see her work) and then point out the couple of places that either didn’t work or just bugged me. Sound good? Ok, let’s go…

The Query Letter

Dear Linda,

I’d like to submit my novel LOST IN ITALY, a fast-paced 105,000 word romantic suspense that runs high on danger and adventure.

The best laid plans… Halli Daniels spent two years planning the trip of a lifetime to Italy. Her itinerary did not include being stranded by her siblings, kidnapped by a sexy American movie star, dodging bullets, or fleeing criminals in a car chase around Lake Como. And that’s just in the first three hours.

…often go awry. Trent Tomlin put his movie career on hold to investigate his brother’s murder-ruled-suicide at his Italian villa. He’s closing in on the killers when an American tourist unwittingly films the murder of the retired Italian cop helping him. The bad guys will stop at nothing to get the evidence―including holding Halli’s family as collateral. Thrust into the role of real-life hero, Trent finds himself falling for the Plain Jane whose beauty blossoms with every challenge they face. Can he manage to keep the evidence and get justice for his brother and friend without betraying Halli and her family? Life’s a little different unscripted.

The full manuscript of LOST IN ITALY is available for immediate review. (I also have sequels planned for both the heroine’s brother and sister.)

I’m multi-published with The Wild Rose Press since 2007 and my contemporary Christmas Anthology, Mistletoe Rules, took first place in WisRWA’s 2010 Write Touch Readers’ Award. A member of RWA and WisRWA, I’ve served on the board for my local chapter the past four years.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Stacey Joy Netzel

LINDA’S COMMENTS

First of all, Stacey started off great by giving me the nuts and bolts facts: type of book (novel), title (LOST IN ITALY), word count (105,000), genre (romantic/suspense) and the skew (high on danger and adventure).  In my head: “This query doesn’t suck. Oh yay, she didn’t say fictional novel. I’ll keep reading.”

I really like the next paragraph. Halli Daniels spent two years planning the trip of a lifetime to Italy. Her itinerary did not include being stranded by her siblings, kidnapped by a sexy American movie star, dodging bullets, or fleeing criminals in a car chase around Lake Como. And that’s just in the first three hours. In my head: I like the quick pace and ironic tone of that paragraph. I’ll keep reading.

But the next paragraph gets a little muddled. You have to remember, agents (and agents’ assistants) are trying to zip through lots of queries to see if there’s something they want to request to read. It’s the author’s job to make it easy for them.  This part is fine: Trent Tomlin put his movie career on hold to investigate his brother’s murder-ruled-suicide at his Italian villa. He’s closing in on the killers when an American tourist unwittingly films the murder of the retired Italian cop helping him. We now know a. who the movie star is; b. who the love interest is; c. who the kidnapper is. Trent. Trent. Trent.  In other words, we can tell that there’s going to be two sides to this romantic adventure. In my head: I don’t usually go for romance but this sounds like it could be a fun romp.

Only then there’s the last part of the next sentence, The bad guys will stop at nothing to get the evidence—including holding Halli’s family as collateral, which just threw me off.  I’m pretty busy. Most agents are busy. Spoon-feed this to me.  Talk about Halli in the first paragraph and Trent in the next.  Don’t mix me up. And then the rest of that paragraph kind of rambles on a bit too long for me, but I like the phrase Thrust into the role of real-life hero, and the last sentence, Life’s a little different unscripted.

And please, let’s just delete the lead-in sentences to these two paragraphs: The best laid plans… often go awry. This is what happens when you start paragraph two with The best laid plans… then tell us the Halli part, and then start paragraph three with…often go awry, then tell us the Trent part: it makes me stop reading.  (Was I in any way understandable just now?!) In order for me to take in the “cuteness” of breaking up the aphorism, I had to glance back up to the second paragraph to re-notice it. You don’t want me to do that. You don’t want me to stop reading, even to think, “that was cute” (which, I’m sorry to say, I didn’t think anyway).

Then Stacey tells me the manuscript is complete and that she’s already begun to think of future projects using the same characters. I think: Ok, good. And then I find out she’s been previously published and is a member of RWA and WisRWA. In my head: Excellent. I like to know that she takes herself seriously as a writer.

Next she gives me all of her contact information in one place. Full name. Address. Phone number. E-mail. Website. In my head: I really appreciate it when authors don’t make the mystery be about how to get in touch with them.

Finally, a quick thank-you sentence. In my head: I like being appreciated. Stacey wrote a professional letter. Not bad at all.

My overall assessment of this is that it was a well-written query that just needs a few tweaks to tighten it up.  If this came across my desk I would probably request the first 20 pages to see if it was something in which I’d be interested. That wasn’t so bad now, was it? (Ok, Stacey. Stop holding your breath. You did fine!)

Dear Linda,

I’d like to submit my novel LOST IN ITALY, a fast-paced 105,000 word romantic suspense that runs high on danger and adventure.


The best laid plans… Halli Daniels spent two years planning the trip of a lifetime to Italy. Her itinerary did not include being stranded by her siblings, kidnapped by a sexy American movie star, dodging bullets, or fleeing criminals in a car chase around Lake Como. And that’s just in the first three hours.

…often go awry. Trent Tomlin put his movie career on hold to investigate his brother’s murder-ruled-suicide at his Italian villa. He’s closing in on the killers when an American tourist unwittingly films the murder of the retired Italian cop helping him. The bad guys will stop at nothing to get the evidenceincluding holding Halli’s family as collateral. Thrust into the role of real-life hero, Trent finds himself falling for the Plain Jane whose beauty blossoms with every challenge they face. Can he manage to keep the evidence and get justice for his brother and friend without betraying Halli and her family? Life’s a little different unscripted.


The full manuscript of LOST IN ITALY is available for immediate review. (I also have sequels planned for both the heroine’s brother and sister.)

I’m multi-published with The Wild Rose Press since 2007 and my contemporary Christmas Anthology, Mistletoe Rules, took first place in WisRWA’s 2010 Write Touch Readers’ Award. A member of RWA and WisRWA, I’ve served on the board for my local chapter the past four years.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Stacey Joy Netzel

8 Comments »

  • Silver James said:

    Nice job, Stacey! Linda, thank you for giving a glimpse into your head and your process. I just sent out query/cover letters on a project pitched at a conference that ended up with five requests for fulls and one request for a partial. I think I covered all your salient points in my letter. I hope. I’ll definitely keep your advice in mind for the next round (if necessary) and/or the next project. Happy Friday!

  • Laurie Ryan said:

    Great query, Stacey! And I very much appreciate your comments and the timliness of this post, Linda, since I’m polishing one of my query letters at the moment. I need to go look now and make sure I kept it short, got the essential facts in, and grabbed the attention of the agent or editor reading it.
    Thanks!

  • Robin Covington said:

    Stacey: Good letter and kudos for being brave!

  • Lavada Dee said:

    Stacey, my hats off to you. Linda, what a great blog and critique. I hope we’ll be seeing more of your informative articles.

  • Stefanie Lipsey said:

    Thank you for giving us step by step insight into the process! This is certainly useful information for all writers. Great article, Linda, and good luck, Stacey!

  • Linda Epstein said:

    Glad you are all finding this useful. It can’t be said too many times that your query letter needs to be really smooth. Agents are inundated with hundreds of queries a week. Have yours stand out because of its excellence.

    I’m taking suggestions for my blog contribution for next month. For those of you who don’t know me, my most recent gig was spending the past year as the submissions manager and assistant at a boutique literary agency, where I easily read 1500+ queries and was responsible for requesting and reading submissions. What information would be helpful to you?

  • Stacey Joy Netzel said:

    Linda, sorry for the delay in commenting…I just returned home from a weekend at my parents’ house with the kids. Thanks for being so gentle–that didn’t hurt at all. I hesitated before hitting the submit button, then figured better to know before I send out any more queries. I’ll definitely do the tweaking you suggested and appreciate your pointers! Thank you!!

  • Stacey Joy Netzel said:

    And thanks to everyone else for the encouraging back pats. They always help!

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