Thursday, January 23, 2014


Genre: Adult/Murder Mystery
Word Count: 70,000

My Main Character is most uncomfortable with:

Born and raised in northern Ontario, Gilda Greco has a great appreciation for winter and feels most uncomfortable during the dog days of summer. As the humidex rises, Gilda seeks air-conditioned comfort and dreams of the first snowfall.


Dear Amy and Michelle:

A few hours before the grand opening of her career counseling office, brunette lottery winner Gilda Greco discovers the dead body of golden girl Carrie Ann Godfrey, neatly arranged in a dumpster outside her office. Gilda’s life is put on hold as Detective Carlo Fantin, her former high school crush, conducts the investigation.

When three more dead blondes are found in Gilda’s wake, people start pointing fingers in her direction. Gilda gets involved in the investigation and discovers a gaggle of suspects, among them a yoga instructor in need of anger management classes, a lecherous photographer, and mean-to-the-core Anna May Godfrey, who is related to all the victims. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

First 250 words:

If not for the dead blonde in the dumpster, the three thousand Euros worth of pastries might have been worth it. When I agreed to import the pastries, I had no idea I would be subsidizing the failing Italian economy and helping Silvio Berlusconi stay in power for a few weeks longer. Left to my own devices, I would have gone down the street to Regency Bakery, picked up some pastries and just walked them over. But my mother and Aunt Amelia were adamant. The open house for my new career counseling office needed a proper launch, one that could only be achieved with pastries from a Sicilian bakery.

To be fair, both of them were horrified when they saw that final four-figure amount on the invoice and swore me to secrecy. While conspicuous consumption is greatly valued in the Italian community, being taken for a ride is not, and we would never hear the end of it from Uncle Paolo who is still complaining about the ten cents he has to pay for a shopping bag at No Frills.

I watched my mother lovingly rearrange the amaretto cookies, stuffed figs, biscotti and other delicacies that had arrived yesterday. She and Aunt Amelia had brought in their best silver trays and carts and spent hours—according to Uncle Paolo—creating a colorful Italian corner.

“Everything is perfect. Maybe too perfect.” My mother made the sign of the cross and mumbled a Hail Mary.


  1. As a Sicilian American, I am of course intrigued by this premise!

    There is some awkward phrasing in the query ("...found in Gilda's wake," a wake is the aftermath of an event, not a person), and some things I found unclear in the first sentence of the query ("a grand opening" is not something I ordinarily would associate with a counselor's office, and the fact that Gilda is both a counselor of some kind and a lottery winner seems a bit jarring). If the lottery reference is really relevant, consider moving to later in the query.

    Those might seem like nitpicky grammar concerns, but they might cause an agent to pass on the query.

    I like the first line of the book, funny and to-the-point. Yet for at least the next 4 paragraphs, you don't mention the dead body again! The character goes on about the bakery items and money and cheap Uncle Paolo, when what the reader wants to hear about is the dead body! Consider integrating more of the murder details in the opening, or recast to introduce the dead body later.

    I see some nice humor here. Be careful you don't fall into cliche when characterizing the family, which one sees a lot in books about Italian Americans. Creating a three-dimensional, realistic family (though still fun and funny) is key. Good luck to you!

  2. Hey there, A SEASON author! Mentor Sarah Marsh here. I'm glad to see an adult murder mystery make it onto Team Snow, as I read nothing but murder mysteries (adult ones) as a teen! Now I write YA...strange world, right? :)

    Looking at your query, the first question that comes to mind is whether the detail about Gilda winning the lottery is relevant to the rest of the MS. If it isn't, I suggest cutting. In the line about Gilda's life being put on hold, I might actually say something like, "Gilda's life and new job are put on hold" to tie back into the fact that this happened outside her brand new office. I like that I know right away there's a romantic storyline here as well. Nicely done!

    The biggest thing missing from your query, for me, are high stakes at the end. What will happen if Gilda can't figure out who the real killer is? Will she be put on trial, sent to jail? Might the real killer target her for looking into all this, and come after her? You've done a great job showing me who Gilda is, but the last lines of the query should be high stakes that make me want to dive into your pages to find out what will happen next. I think even just one good line about the risks Gilda faces while looking into these murders would be enough to entice mystery-loving agents to read on.

    In your first 250, I LOVE your opening line! What an attention-grabber. From there, I definitely recommend cutting away some of the narrative about the bakery and Gilda's relatives in favor of talking more about this body. I think you'll succeed in drawing in more readers if you pay more attention to the details surrounding the murder immediately.

    Best of luck with this!!

  3. Catchy title! I think you're query was doing great until it ended. It felt too short and I was waiting for more! You should add a couple more sentences to the end to show what is really on the line for Gilda and show the urgency of her solving this murder before _____ happens.

    I'm not mad that the body isn't mentioned in the first 250. I'm assuming none of that stuff has happened yet. I actually love the last sentences from Mom and felt like it was really great foreshadowing. The only thing I would say is to maybe add a frown or some kind of eye contact Gilda's mom makes to add even more to that. : )

    Good luck with this! : )

  4. PS. When I said that the body isn't mentioned, I meant elaborated on. ; )

  5. Query: I agree with Sarah that the lottery thing felt thrown in there. The important thing is she wakes up feeling like it's the first day of her awesome new life and a dead body ruins it! So capture that feeling. "Gets involved" is very vague. Is she a suspect? Is she hanging around the cute investigator and butting her head in? Not sure you need to call out Anna May because I was actually a little confused why we were naming her and not the others, and at first I thought this was the first victim (I realize they are related, but it still threw me for a loop.)

    First 250: I love that we are getting to know her interesting family, and I love that things going so well is so ominous. You really set a great light-hearted mood, and I love knowing there's a dead body around the corner. :)

  6. Mentor of Team Snow, Copernicus Nerd here! It's all subjective in this grand 'ol writing world of ours, but I hope whatever I have to say helps out at least a little!

    First off - love the title. It immediately conveys an adult mystery and it's catchy. As for your query, not sure how I feel about the lottery win as the others have mentioned. While it's in the query, ti doesn't turn up again. If this is truly important, we need to know why. We know the dead body is important, but what makes the lotto win important.

    I think the query needs to be expanded upon a bit more to reveal the stakes. We have the hook (dead body discovered) and the investigation, but what are the stakes surrounding this investigation. Is she going to be a target as well? Even though she is a suspect? I know a murder investigation in itself is a big deal, but I want to hear about the characters stakes if all goes south.

    Onward to your 250! I love the opening line. There's something about it that makes it clever and catchy that pulls me right in. Be careful with the narrative voice as it gets a little bit cumbersome, but your descriptions are very well done. I would suggest not losing the interest grab of the opening line, and instead focus a bit more on the dead body. That's what we want to hear about! Back story and character intros can come in time. Give us the dead! hahaa!

    Great work though, and I'm craving an amaretto cookie now.....

  7. Hello, I'm Vicki Lemp Weavil, mentor for TEAM SNOW.

    Love your title and the overall premise -- I'm a big fan of mysteries that have some humor, so this would definitely capture my attention.

    So -- advice (You can take or leave, capiche? :-) )

    I think you need some type of "hook" sentence before your first paragraph. Something that sets up the overall story stakes -- Ex. (only an example!) "Someone is killing blondes and dumping them on brunette Gilda Greco's doorstep." Okay, not great, but something like that. Then you can move into the first paragraph of your query and give more details.

    I too would change "wake" to something else. Also, think about using "people point fingers" -- "start to" before a phrase tends to weaken its impact. I think you could find something more dynamic than "gets involved" as well -- dives into, leaps into, etc.

    As others have pointed out, you need another sentence or two at the end to really emphasize the stakes. What happens to Gilda if she doesn't find the killer(s)? Jail? What happens if she does? Death? Dangle the possibilities so the reader wants to read more to find out what actually happens.

    First 250 words:

    Like everyone else, I really love your opening line. I would like to know a bit more about that dead body, though, before the jump into the familial scene. (It's a great scene, so keep it, but maybe weave in something more about Gilda's dilemma with the dead body). On that point, as someone else noted -- it isn't exactly clear if the scene with Mom, Aunt, and the pastries is before or after Gilda finds the body. I think you could add a bit before the third paragraph (before we are really IN the scene with Mom and Aunt) to clarify this, and -- if Gilda has already discovered the body -- bring some more info. about that to the fore.

    I really do love this concept and your voice and look forward to reading this again!

  8. Hi, Snow mentor Kate Brauning here, of Month9Books!
    Your title made me raise my eyebrows, so great job with an intriguing start. You have quite a bit of room left to expand in your query, so here are some things I’d clarify:
    The lottery- does it matter? If so, how? If not, trim it out so it doesn’t distract.
    How does Gilda get involved in the investigation? Does she run into conflict with Carlo? Does she suspect him at all? Her involvement and the love interest sound like they have the potential for a lot of conflict and complication, so I’d boost that and show us a little more of what’s going on.
    I’d end the query with a twist and a line about the stakes—what does Gilda stand to lose? What will happen if she can’t find the murderer?
    It sounds like you have an interesting story here with some really fun elements!
    Your sentences have great rhythm and a humorous sense of fun that’s perfect for this kind of mystery. I would definitely come back to the body so it doesn’t sound like your character is more concerned with her pastries than with the body. I’d also be careful to not characterize the family with only those often-seen big Italian family details. You can have them, but I’d go a bit deeper and also use details that are particular to those individual people.
    Something I’d suggest to improve the structure of your first page is to get us involved in what’s happening right at that moment. So far we’re seeing things that already happened, and nothing that is happening in the present. Can you blend the two so we get grounded in the current scene right off the bat, then hear more about her office opening that has been ruined?
    Otherwise, this is voicey, fun, and intriguing. :)

  9. Team Snow mentor Kat here!

    LOVE your title. I would pick that up immediately in a book store, and the premise of your story would carry me over to the cash register.

    Query: For me, I think you've done a great job with this, and would just reiterate what the other mentors have said about making it clear what the stakes are. You already had me hooked with the title and what you already have in the query, so it just needs that extra element adding to wrap it up at the end.

    First 250: The writing is great - plenty of voice and personality. I just think maybe it starts in the wrong place. That first line is SO attention-grabbing that the pastry issues, though funny, just don't have enough impact to follow the first line. My best suggestion is for you to start at another point in the story - this might be as simple as cutting your first page, or might mean writing a new beginning, but that is what I'd do. What you have is good, but I'm betting you could make it absolutely fantastic.

    Good luck!

  10. Hi!

    Mentor here. So my preface for this 'critique' is that this story isn't my cuppa tea. So, y'know, feel free to ignore me. :D

    A few hours before the grand opening of her career counseling office, brunette lottery winner Gilda Greco discovers the dead body of golden girl Carrie Ann Godfrey, neatly arranged in a dumpster outside her office. Gilda’s life is put on hold as Detective Carlo Fantin, her former high school crush, conducts the investigation.
    <--okay, so this para does what it needs to do. We get the premise, quick and dirty, but I worry about the phrasing. I think you have a descriptor overload in sentence one. Do we really need to know she's won the lotto or just opened career counselling business specifically? The main point here is that Gilda's life is turned upside down when a trio of dead blondes turn up outside/near/in the vicinity of her office.

    That's where the confusion arises. Just why is she the suspect?

    When three more dead blondes are found in Gilda’s wake, people start pointing fingers in her direction. Gilda gets involved in the investigation and discovers a gaggle of suspects, among them a yoga instructor in need of anger management classes, a lecherous photographer, and mean-to-the-core Anna May Godfrey, who is related to all the victims. <--we have suspects, yes? So why then is this whole thing quite so instrumental to Gilda? By the sound of things, she's cleared of the blame quite early on. Beyond that, what are the stakes?

    With the 250, I think you're going backwards in going forwards. That is to say you dangle a dead body in front of us and yank it away with some stuff about pastries. What's the real inciting incident? Is it the pastries? Or is it MC walking outside and discovering the dead body? Because that's your beginning, in my opinion.


  11. QUERY:

    I'm with everyone else on the first sentence. There's a lot of information there and not all of it seems relevant. Streamline, streamline, streamline. Cut out what's unnecessary and keep what's vital.

    In that vein, what's the hook? Why should I read this book? Establish that. Another thing I'm getting from this query is clear stakes. Okay, so there's a killer on the loose. That's a cause for concern, but there's no sense of urgency or of GIlda's place in it all. And how does her former crush turned detective figure into this? I need more information, but without it feeling like a synopsis.

    The rest of the query feels more like a laundry list of story items without informing the plot. I'd recommend reading the back cover/jacket flap copy on books in your genre that you like. Remember, this is your chance to sink your claws in an agent/reader and convince them that they have to keep reading. Make them WANT it.


    Loved the first line, but then it's squandered by focusing on things that are vastly less important. Who cares about Silvio Berlusconi or the price of pastries or Uncle Paolo's opinion when there's a dead body hanging around? As a reader, I would have skipped all of that to get to the juicy bits you introduce in your first sentence. And I want to see more voice in the first 250. I don't really have a sense of this character, only that she's more concerned with mundane scraps of information than a dead body. And I don't think that's what you intended.

  12. Hi, fellow TeamSnow writer! I love the idea of this; I’ve been an avid mystery reader for years. Like others said, I think you could easily ditch the lottery winner part, only because it doesn’t seem important, and it doesn’t come up again. Really, same with her hair color; is it important? How else would she identify herself? This is your chance for her to be voicy about herself.

    I think you could tighten up the first sentence of the second paragraph: When 3 more dead blondes (ah, maybe I understand the brunette thing? But it’s not explained here, so maybe you should if you’re going to use it; why is hair color significant?) are found in close proximity to Gilda, fingers point in her direction. (I suggested a change for wake). I think there’s something humorous about Gilda getting involved in the investigation. Could you give us a few funny details that add to this?

    Like others said, you need some stakes here. What happens if she doesn’t solve the crime? Or if she gives into her crush? The crush is introduced, then lost, so find him and make him part of the stakes.

    I love your first paragraph. Great hook. Even the pastries discussion works well. But, after the first paragraph, I want the focus to return to the body. Any way to trickle this other information in as the story progresses instead?

  13. Just a reminder to take the feedback that works for you when revising for the agent round. It’s a lot to take in, but you’re the expert on your story and know best. If you have any questions about the next round you may ask here or on twitter.

    Thought you’d like to know why you were picked. What clinched it for me was the first 250. I think this short passage shows so much about the MC. She listens to her meddling elders, but does so with a dry sense of humor. The pastry story was actually key to my decision. Your query is clear and concise and I could perfectly imagine the stakes.

  14. Hi, fellow Team Snow member here. Following are my suggestions, for what they are worth.

    Your premise is very interesting. The query felt like it ended abruptly to me. It needs a punch at the end.

    And on the first 250 words, I am left wondering how the corpse ties into what is currently going on. Maybe that gets clarified in the next paragraph.

    Good luck in the agent round!

  15. Hi, there! Fellow Team Snow member here with a few comments for you--hope some of them are of some use!

    Query: Your query is succinct, which is great, but it's a little too short, I think. Most specifically, the end fell a bit flat for me. I think another sentence or two detailing the stakes would really help. Is Gilda risking anything by participating in the investigation? What happens if the culprit isn't caught? You say people are pointing fingers in her direction--are the police? Because I feel like they're the ones that matter. I can't quite tell if she's actually in danger of being convicted for this (if she is, you might want to make that a little more clear), or if people are just suspicious of her.

    First 250: The opening line was great, but I was a bit confused (and a bit disappointed) when the dead body mentioned in it completely vanished after that. It may become clear later on, but the link between the body and the pastries wasn't clear to me in these words alone, and I think this would be stronger if it was.

  16. I agree that the query is too short. Give us more. Where's the dead body in your first 250? Don't open with the bakery except maybe for a brief mention of how over-the-top the cookies cost. Good luck!

  17. Great title and I really liked the writing in your first 250!

    Wishing you good luck in the agent round!

    #TeamSun Leader Amy

  18. Hey there! Gonna dive right in, but first a disclaimer of sorts. I’m gonna offer feedback without reading what everyone else has to say. If I repeat a suggestion, it’s helpful that you know what I’m seconding instead of me giving an overall ‘I agree!’ that could be applied to everything.

    Answer: I totally empathize with Gilda. I’d rather be cold than hot.

    Query: Short and sweet and to the point, which is working for it in all ways but one: there are no stakes. At least, not anymore. You do a fabulous job in showing us what’s going on and gradually building up how people are dying, and other people are blaming Gilda, and all of these people are involved! But then you point the finger at Anna May, and it’s like Gilda is instantly off the hook. What happens if Gilda is found guilty? What is mean Anna May doing that’s got Gilda looking at her as a main suspect? What’s the bad, where is the bad? I know that sentence violates all manner of rules, but I want the bad! You’re so close, just a few more sentences—believe me, you have more than enough space to squeeze it in—to tell us the stakes and you’re golden.

    250: First line is a killer. Ha, I made a funny. Loved it, hooked me immediately. Then the paragraph goes into failing economies, and people in power, and going to a bakery, and a mom and an aunt, and pasties, and nothing about the body. To be honest, everything after the first sentence drags the pace way down, and if I picked this up, read the query as the blurb on the back, then the first page, I’d think the jacket was on the wrong book.

    There was so much in this query that doesn’t follow through in the first page. Past the first sentence anyway. The body doesn’t come up at all for the next couple hundred words. It’s all about pastries and money and aunts and uncles and I’m left scratching my head wondering what happened. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is nice, but it doesn’t fit the picture painted in the query or with your first sentence.

    However, if you wanna start in a warm family moment, which you can totally do, I’d begin with the third paragraph. I would begin the paragraph with “My mother lovingly rearranged the…” instead of I watched. That’s telling. And I would toss out the absolutely fabulous line—I hate myself for saying that—if you aren’t going to expand upon it.

    This was indeed an attention grabber, best of luck in the agent rounds!

  19. Teammate #6 here, stopping by to wish you luck with revisions and the agent round! I'd love to connect on Twitter, so I can keep up with you after the contest! @kranky_crow

    Let's blow Team Sun away!

  20. Hey, fellow Team Snow member here,

    I enjoyed your entry and loved the voice in the first 250. I also thought your query was well-written, but agree that taking the above comments would greatly help. I think this sounds like a fun mystery and if I could, I'd keep going and see where it went. Best of luck in the agent round!

  21. Team Snow mentor Matt Sinclair of Elephant's Bookshelf Press... I found the query both a bit short and a bit congested with name soup. I'd also like a more clear hook to it. But the idea sounds intriguing. And the voice in the first 250 seems right on point for the genre, and I really like the first sentence. But I'd think the dead body would be a bit more of a focus -- at least more of a distraction -- than the pastries. She comes across as uncaring otherwise. And I doubt that's what we should expect of her.