1. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Query Letter How does my Query look?

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by TheRealStegblob, Mar 16, 2016.

    I've seen people making threads asking for feedback on their queries, so I thought I might as well ask here, as well. I'm sort of happy with it, but I feel it could maybe be a bit better somehow. Maybe it could stand to be shorter, maybe longer, maybe more detailed, maybe less shit in general, I dunno. I've had one agent I queried to give me a really informal "Wow! Really nice query/manuscript but it's not what I work with so piss off." kind of reply, which helped me feel a little more confident with it, but I'm still wondering what some general feedback might be concerning it, so here I go. I redacted some names out of a form of unjustified retarded self-embarrassment for my own writing.

    So there it is. Anything glaringly wrong with it? I feel it may be too long, but maybe it's "just perfect" in length, I dunno. Any thoughts?
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2016
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It is a little long. In terms of pure word count it's 542, and 350 is a good marker to aim for. More importantly, you use a lot of unnecessary words which might make the agents worry that your manuscript is the same.

    Overall, this query doesn't make me want to read the novel which is a query's only job. I don't even know what genre it is which, as an agent, means I can't sell it. It needs to be tightened up, you need to identify the core conflict and get to it quickly, and you need to cut a LOT of the stuff at the end.

    All my opinion and I'm certainly no expert. Take from this what you like.

    I'm assuming "a man" and "Poopy Idiot Man" are the same person? The way it's phrased is unclear.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "show the world that he's arrived" and because I don't know anything about him, I don't care if he achieves that goal or not. So, for me, not a great opening.

    Here's an example of the extra words. 'Legendary' implies the same thing as 'world renowned', so you don't need both.

    Why? Because of his morals? Because he got caught stealing? If I'm going to spend 96k words with this guy, I need to know what makes him tick.

    Why does he accept a desk job?

    Here's where your story starts. You've spent 100 precious query words on backstory and set-up.

    I know more about his partner's personality than his, just from that one line in bold.

    It's not relevant in the query that the country is tiny, obscure, or on the verge of merging with the EU. This is an example of filler words that can be cut.

    "Find themselves" is very passive. Your protagonist should be making things happen, not stumbling into them. Anyway, he's been sent there for this job, so it shouldn't be a surprise to him?

    These jewel thieves are presumably the antagonists, so give them some flavour like you did the sidekick. Why are they so deadly? Why should the reader be afraid of them?

    This is his motivation, then. Not "showing the world he's arrived". If there's any set up we needed, it's to know why he's desperate for a challenge. With the query as it is, I have no idea what's behind this yearning.

    So the novel is about him discovering himself? The query needs to reflect that all the way through, not just at the end.

    I don't feel there's any real question at the end. There's nothing I'm burning to know that's going to make me ask you for the manuscript. I either have to desperately want to know what choice PIM is going to make, or desperately want to see these thieves defeated. Or both.

    The way I see it, this is your story:
    - PIM is desperate to prove himself because [reason]
    - He's finally got a chance with the biggest case of his life
    - But it's not going to be easy because [reason - why the antagonists are scary]
    - Difficult thing he has to do or choice he has to make to achieve his goal
    - The question at the end: what will he choose?

    How can you have words without spacing? Just say "NAME OF NOVEL is a [GENRE] complete at 96,000 words."

    You've lost me. How can adventure books be undecided? Or are you undecided whether it's a series or whether they're adventure books? From the query, this doesn't sound like an adventure book, and I don't think that's even a genre. Leave this out. You can say it has series potential if you want, but leave the rest.

    Your novel is either aimed at middle grade, young adults, or adults. If you don't know your audience, you don't have an audience. Pick one and run with it.

    In the nicest way possible, agents don't care about this stuff. You're querying, so it's a given that you like your own book and you want to be published. The only time you put in a paragraph like this is if you have special knowledge that makes you the right person to write the book, e.g. "I worked at ICPO for 10 years and understand international case proceedings".

    Don't put this in a query letter. You've written a book: they already know you like to write.

    "I write for a local newspaper" is fine. Leave the rest out, especially the question at the end.
     
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  3. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Wasn't expecting a reply so quickly, especially such a good one.

    Concerning the "without spacing" thing, let me give you a little background on that/the whole query in general.

    When I wrote this query it was when I just finished the first draft of my manuscript and I had no fucking idea what to do next. I am absolutely awful at condensing stuff like an entire book into a single little blurb (even though I feel like I should be really good at it, I dunno. I've just always been bad at keeping non-story writing short and to the point). I've learned quite a bit more since then but I was still grappling with just what to do with my stupid query letter, so I decided I could use a (good) outside look at it and see what others thought, so I thank you for giving me a lot to consider. I can only assure you that my manuscript (though in need of some editing, naturally) is nowhere near as sloppy and redundant as my query is, which is why I want to have a fix at it.

    Okay so AGAIN, concerning the "without spacing" thing, I want to remind you I didn't know what I was really doing when I wrote this, and I'd read somewhere that agents/publishers want a "true" word count with spacing (so the manuscript of 96k words would be more like 116k or something with spaces), but some agents have been questioning what the hell I mean when I call a 96k manuscript a 116k one, so apparently this whole spacing thing isn't much of an industry standard.

    Really just nice to get a fresh outside opinion on it. I'll revise the thing and see if it comes out more marketable than before.

    Edit: Oh yeah, to ask you further about some points;

    Do I necessarily have to expunge upon this somehow in the query? The novel itself explains why the guy is the way he is (I swear), but I do realize the query is the hook and all, etc etc. Basically, he finds the rush exciting and finds it's easier to operate with the law as opposed to against it. It's not quite like something like 'he wants to be a good guy' so much as he wants to fulfill himself, especially against worthy opponents. If you feel a potential agent would absolutely want to know this to be drawn in, do you have any suggestions how I could word it? (I'm already thinking of some, but your thoughts would be nice, too)

    (more edits to come because I can't copy-paste everything into one edit because of this annoying edit window thing)

    He doesn't, exactly. He accepts it under the pretense that he'll be doing 'real' work but just gets thrown into a desk. To my credit, I suppose, this is touched specifically upon very early in the story (like literally the first hundred words or so) so any agent reading through it would instantly know why. Could I word it somehow to say "he accepts but finds himself put in a desk, waiting for a real job that never comes" without overwording it? Did I just word it nicely enough with my example?? Help????????? HELP?????????????

    Yeah this is the one really amateur thing that really holds me up and I'm pretty embarrassed to admit. It makes me feel like a fool, but I don't exactly know just what genre my manuscript exactly falls under. It's a sort of mishmash, I guess, but I suppose pretty much every book is a mishmash and ultimately you just categorize it under the genre it most fits, eh? I'll have to think on this.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2016
  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's a rare author that is good at writing a query or a blurb. I cried actual tears over mine. Several times!

    I still have no idea what a word count without spacing is. :D If you paste your novel into Word, does the word count come up at (roughly) 96k or 116k? That's the word count agents want.

    I think motivation is absolutely crucial for a query. Even if it wasn't, the job of a query is to entice me to read more. At the moment I feel no connection to PIM because I don't get what makes him tick or why he makes the choices he does. I need to have a connection with him to want to spend 96/116k words with him, and understanding why he's working for the good guys when he comes from a family of bad guys will do the trick.

    I still don't get him, even with this explanation. Wouldn't there be more of a rush in going against the law? It might be harder, sure, but there's more personal gain and it's more exciting. I'd think he'd need a stronger reason than "well, it's easier" to go against his training and family history and work for the police? I mean, I assume the police are pretty despised by his forebears?

    Maybe:

    Cracking two novice cases on his own, [POOPY IDIOT MAN] is extended an offer to join the ranks of the ICPO and seizes the opportunity to show off his skills. Instead, his mistrustful superiors chain him to a desk and give all the juicy cases to his colleagues." Obviously in your own words, but something like that. It ties in his motivation and we feel his frustration and disappointment.

    To me, it sounds more like a thriller than anything else. Maybe ask your beta readers where they'd expect to find it on a book shop shelf?
     
  5. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Okay, okay, so let me start over. When I first Googled "how do i make a query frontal nudity", I stumbled across a little article or something like that that was all "there are two types of word count, basic and full, basic is just the word count and full is the word count with all the spacing in it" with a little step-by-step to find this "true" word count. I have as of yet to meet anyone else on planet Earth that knows what the hell this 'true' word count thing is, including literary agents, so apparently the person who wrote this article I found was an insane person and I should just forget this sloppy, obscure 'rule'.

    Alright, let me go further in detail (because I did a shit job of that in the previous post lol). He's a character who isn't just a trained thief, he's kind of a 'genius', so to speak, in that he understands what makes thieves tick incredibly well. Remember that Psyche show where those two douchebags pretended that the one guy was a psychic because it was easier to explain that "he's just super good at detective work" or some bullshit like that? Yeah, my story is NOTHING LIKE THAT, but it's sort of the same shtick. The Main Character isn't just a taught and honed thief, he understands thievery on a deeply personal level and this is what makes catching other thieves so exciting for him. It's the rush of thievery, but he's not just "pulling off his own job", he's actively tearing down and 'defeating' the jobs of other thieves in a sort of ultimate 'versus' mode.

    This is exactly why I needed to post my shitty query somewhere, because just talking about my story is pretty much providing me with all the answers I need to actually make a query that doesn't suck.

    As of right now I have no good beta readers (something I actually came to this forum to fix but I'm not allowed to post in the section of the forum for finding beta readers because lol stupid gating). I've had half a dozen friends read it and naturally they love it but that's because they're friends and I've already impressed them by just being me, so it hasn't been the most helpful of feedback, and I'm sure you know how it is.

    "Thriller" might be the best genre for it. I'm certain that, from the sounds of it, you're probably picking up on this story as more of a kind of 'Bourne Identity' (The fuck were those movies even about, I dunno) or some kind of like NCIS Law and Order (lol ew) serious kind of story or something, but it's really not. It covers lots of serious tones and like my turd query says, it has some elements of violence and fighting and characters that smoke cigarettes and say PG words, but the theme of the novel (in moi opinion) is far more in the tone of something less serious. It's more about the 'adventure' and the quirkyness of the characters and how they interact and talk with each other. It's got some sort of sillier moments (but nothing too outlandish). I'd compare it more to, I dunno. Metal Gear Solid, where it's serious in tone but doesn't take itself too seriously. If you're familiar with Lupin III, that was a massive inspiration for this, so it more or less is what I stole from what inspired the general 'feel' of the plot. It'd still be a Thriller, I'm sure, I just wanted to clarify it's less "Some gritty cop show" and more "Scooby Doo", if that helps anything at all.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2016
  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think you're right! 96k is much better anyway - 116k is too long for a debut novel that's not sci-fi.

    Yep, you're getting there now. This builds his motivation as well as his character, because we can see he's always looking for the next level of challenge and thrill. Stealing isn't enough, so he turns to outwitting the best thieves. Nice.

    Eep! Don't send out any more queries until you've had several beta readers (preferably total strangers) give you their feedback. There's no point writing a killer query and getting loads of requests if the manuscript has problems, and as authors we can't see the glaring problems. Agents will.

    It doesn't take that long to reach the requirements for the collaboration forum, and it'll really be worth it. Beta readers literally saved my novel.

    Hmm, I can see where you're having trouble. Maybe it's a mainstream novel, but if beta readers can pin down a genre for you it'll make it more attractive to agents. If not, it is what it is. Like you said earlier, many books don't fit neatly into one, so you pick the most fitting genre and cross your fingers.
     
  7. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Well my question is, the 'requirements' said it was like 20 posts and two weeks of being on the forum. No offense but I don't know if I want to wait two weeks, like damn. I understand why the forum gates off stuff like that (otherwise it'd be flooded with people just spamming 'BETA READ MY BOOK' and 90% of those people would never even revisit the forum again, but do I really have to just sit on my chair and wait for two weeks before I can request people to beta read?

    Some thoughts from some decent beta readers would be most helpful, but really considering it all, I think 'thriller' might best suit it, if not very perfectly so, but I'm not expert of genre classification, so there's always room to see what others think.

    Oh well, I'll rewrite the query soon and we'll see how it looks then.
     
  8. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Alright, how does draft number 2 look?

    I know you mentioned "tell me why the evil thieves are so scary", but is mentioning 'the heads of anyone who gets in their way' not enough to sort of tell you they're pretty bad guys? I suppose I could go for something a bit specific, but they're an entire group of different people, so any suggestions how I could best summarize that specifically without going too much into it?
     
  9. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    1/ You've waited however long it's taken you to write 96k words so far; why the impatience that another couple of weeks is too long?

    2/ If you want your novel beta-read, posting on here won't work:
    a) Nobody's going to critique 96k of work (I'm not sure that the forum can handle a file that big!)
    b) If you post your novel on here (you could do it, chapter by chapter) it's considered to be published, and no publisher is going to pick you up for second publication.

    As far as asking people to beta-read it, there's nothing to stop you doing that in another thread, and PMing any offers that you get with your MS. BUT, that's a big ask when nobody on this site knows you from Adam; we don't even know if you've got some sort of devious agenda. Wait your fortnight, do your couple of critiques, let us know you're a good guy!

    Good luck!
     
  10. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    It's not the wait of the two weeks, it's that I'm not entirely sure I have the time or energy at the moment to invest myself in integrating into a forum community to the point I could be considered to be 'worthy to post in a place to ask for deeper review'. I don't mean to come off as impatient or even pretentious in anyway, I'm just very consumed in other projects/distractions at the moment.

    From what I saw lots of people were requesting to be beta read/offering to beta read on this forum. Obviously I wasn't planning to throw my manuscript up over the series of dozens of posts or anything, I'd assume anyone on the site who would offer to beta read for me would do so through off site means such as an e-mail or something.
     
  11. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Honestly?

    Beta readers usually do it on quid-pro-quo basis. And being only a taker will cut you no slack. You only stay around for however long it takes to get your WIP read. For me, that is no great enticement to spend time away from my own WIP. Beta reading takes loads and loads of time (not to mention effort if you do it right) and I would only do that if a) I felt some connection to you (posting and making friends is the key here) or b) I would get an equally serious beta read out of the process (and again, that means commitment which I would first have to see through postings).

    Sorry for the disillusion, that is how I work.
     
  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Better! I don't think you're there yet, though. You still spend too long setting it up before you get to the inciting incident - Léon being assigned the case. The set-up would be okay (would still need to be shortened) if it set up his motivation, but you're still leaving that detail out. We need to know why he's catching thieves, and why it matters to him that he catches this jewel-stealing gang.

    It's very common in queries for the stakes to be "character must do X or he'll die". It sounds like the ultimate stake, right? But agents hear it so often that it doesn't have much impact. What's interesting in your story isn't that Léon might be killed, but that if he fails to catch these thieves he will lose all respect for himself (or whatever the personal stake is - you know him much better than me). For that to work as a stake, we need to know why he's so desperate to prove himself. It all goes back to motivation.

    When I was trying to write a query recently, I set myself a little checklist that might help you. I said my query had to cover:
    - The MC's personality (just two or three words to give an idea of what she's like)
    - The love interest's personality (in your case this is Léon's partner, whether they're a love interest or just a sidekick)
    - What the MC wants (to catch the thieves) and why (? this is currently missing)
    - Why and how the antagonist stops the MC getting what they want (this is currently missing)
    - The stakes if the MC fails (I think you need a different stake to "he might die", as above)
    - The difficult choice the MC has to make (?)

    Just a thought.
     
  13. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    What disillusion, lol. I never suggested I ever thought people would just beta read for me without any reciprocation or anything like that, you just asserted that for me. All I said was I didn't know if I had the time at the moment to invest myself consistently, for two weeks, just to start soliciting for some beta readings.
     
  14. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Well, wouldn't you consider "finally gets the ultimate test true challenge" a pretty good reason for him wanting to stop the bad guys? I mean, it says he's finally getting a true test so it should speak for itself that failing that test would be bad for him and that's what's at stake, or should I somehow convey that better, do you think? Also, doesn't 'thieves want to steal stuff and stop anyone in their way' essentially speak for itself that they're trying to do something bad that he, the detective hero, would be there to stop, or should I specifically expunge on how they're going to try doing it somehow?

    There's not really an overtly "difficult choice" of any kind that he makes (at least not any kind of formal, plot heavy major turning point choice), if the question mark was meant to ask me if there even was one that would want to be included in the query.

    I'll wrestle with trying to reword the fuggin first paragraph bit, though. Thank you for the continued replies.
     
  15. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe if I understood why he was so desperate to prove himself. But without specifics it's too vague a motivation for me to be rooting for him.

    I had a total fail at my job a few weeks ago, and lost my company maybe £70,000 over the most ridiculous mistake - misreading a date. I was annoyed with myself, sure. I was embarrassed. But I didn't have a meltdown and I got over it quickly. My boss was like "shit happens, we've all done it". Nobody thinks any less of me. Basically, my failure meant nothing. It wouldn't even make an interesting short story, let alone a novel.

    Now, if I had seventeen children and I was on my final warning at work, and THEN I'd screwed up... that'd be an interesting story, because I have a hell of a lot to lose.

    Do you see what I mean? Failure in itself isn't a good enough stake. We need to know what happens if he fails. What's really at stake.

    In a query, specifics are your friend. Do I care if some rich prince has his jewels stolen? Nope. I don't know the prince and I don't care about his jewellery. I care about Léon. What threat do they pose to him, personally?

    You need to end on some sort of question, because the agent needs to want to find out the answer to something. A hint that something can go one of two (or more) ways, and the wrong result could land your MC in a whole heap of shit.
     
  16. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Hm, alright. All fair points in their own way. Thank you for the reply, I've been struggling over this stupid letter. I'm rereading my manuscript and the writing is damn fine (lol i'm congratulating myself look at me) but this FUCKING LETTER is my bane, I swear.
     
  17. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Alright, now how does this look?

     
  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    For someone who struggled with her own query, I think @Tenderiser is offering you great advice on yours!

    That said - this latest version doesn't really really seem like an improvement over version 2, to me. You've maybe cut it too short, and if I hadn't read the earlier versions I wouldn't understand a lot of details (like why Leon Vert is stuck on desk work, etc.) And there are a few things I haven't understood in any of the versions (like how catching jewel thieves is connected to the future of the EU).

    Maybe it would help if you thought of your query as a sales pitch rather than a plot summary? What would make agents/editors want to read your pages, rather than someone else's? I think Tenderiser is on the right track with the characterization stuff (make us care about this guy and his goals) but maybe you'd be more comfortable with details of the action? (Tenderiser writes romance, which is character-focused, but possibly your book isn't like that?) Ideally you'd have both, but I feel like this latest version doesn't really give me enough specifics to distinguish this book from others.


    (Also... for the love of all that's holy, "suave" isn't a noun! Try "suavity" or "suaveness or a whole new word)
     
  19. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    I am thinking of it as a sales pitch, don't worry. I know my first (awful) draft was a bloated plot summary more than anything else, but like I said, I am terrible at condensing stuff. Never been good at it.

    Just how much should I expunge, though? If I answer why he's stuck at desk work, then wouldn't it just be seen as unnecessary backstory, or just raise more questions I'd have to answer? That he's stuck at the desk work and about to quit is sort of a major part of the story, so I feel it has a place in the query but if you're right about it needs a little more information, how do I go about spinning that in without making it too long/bloated? Should I possibly just omit it entirely?
     
  20. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think backstory in a query is probably best handled the same way as backstory in a novel - only given as necessary, and spaced out in little bits.

    Maybe something like:

    Leon Vert thought he had the opportunity of a lifetime when he was hired by ICPO [I'm assuming this acronym will be familiar to whomever you're pitching? I've never heard it before], but after two years on desk-duty, he's almost out of patience. When x [administrative oversight? understaffing? whatever] leaves an active case on Leon's desk, it's his chance to prove to everyone that he's someone to trust, unlike his legendary jewel-thief of a grandfather.

    As Leon begins to investigate, armed with little more than his intelligence, style, and a partner that would rather shoot him than help him, he finds that his throwaway case is more complicated than anyone imagined. The crown jewels of [tiny country name] have been stolen, and if they aren't recovered [somehow something bad with the EU is involved?]. Leon is hungry to match wits with the best thieves in the business, but as the body count rises, he begins to fear his first case will be his last.

    [And then I actually disagree with the "end with a question" advice - I mean, the 'idea' of a question, or something that makes the reader want more, yes, but maybe not an actual question?]
     
  21. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    ICPO is International Police (a real organization), but maybe for the sake of avoiding confusion I should just call it the International Police.

    But alright, I kind of see what you're saying. Thanks for the feedback, I'll think about this some more.
     
  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That's what I was recommending, although I don't think I was clear. Like "Léon must X or X" rather that "What will Léon do?"
     
  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is it the same as Interpol? (That's the name that comes up when I google ICPO). For a North American audience, I think Interpol is the more familiar term...
     
  24. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Yes, they're the same organization. Interpol is kind of the older name, ICPO is the more modern branding.
     
  25. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Okay, okay. Another shot at this. Thoughts on draft 3?

     

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