Tuesday, March 24, 2020

March 2020 Pass or Pages Entry #1

It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Stephanie Winter of PS Literary, Amy Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and Samantha Fabien of Laura Dail Literary Agency for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!



Emily and Will have two things in common: sex and murder [SW1]. Emily Daniel is an anti-heroine who suffers from devastating depression born of loss, isolation, and a lack of self-worth. On several occasions, her desperation has led to suicide attempts and yet her life goes on [AB1]. A chance meeting in an elevator brings a stranger into her life, a man Will Grant, who on the surface appears to be successful, sophisticated, and entrenched in Washington DC politics and society. Will Grant is a Washington lobbyist with seemingly impeccable pedigree [AB2]. These two disparate people become friends and when Emily believes they are about to take it to the next level, he informs her that he is getting married [SW2].

Buoyed by this new sense of self [AB3], Emily does not withdraw into her former life of misery but instead begins to make changes in her habits, appearance, and personality all designed to continue to attract the man from the elevator [SW3]. When his wife is suddenly murdered, there is no shortage of suspects including Emily, Will, and the dead wife’s party-girl sister [AB4].

When Emily begins to look deeper into this man’s past it turns out he has far more secrets than anyone in Washington knows. Told from the dueling [AB5] viewpoints of Emily and Will [SW4], in the style of Gone Girl [AB6] and The Silent Wife, THE KILLING YEAR is a whirlwind, sexy thriller, a whodunnit with motive and opportunity suddenly turning up everywhere.

This manuscript is complete at 76,500 words. It is an evocative and compelling read with twists and turns that will penetrate deeply into those of us who carry secrets of our own [SW5].

Stephanie's comments:
[SW1] Very catchy!
[SW2] This portion here gives some backstory, but it feels disjointed from the first line. Try to build off of that first hook. Emily’s characterization seems vaguer than Will’s. Try to lean into specifics to demonstrate relevant characterization. I’m likely to start skimming when the text turns vague.
[SW3] I’m unclear on when this is happening. Hasn’t Will just shut down any possible future for these two? I’d stop reading here.
[SW4] I’m getting from this query that this is more Emily’s story. 
[SW5] I like the point that this novel will resonate with readers. We want to read why we’ll care about a book. Where possible, try to show how the novel is ‘evocative and compelling’ rather than telling us that it is. 

Amy's comments:
[AB1] I don't think we need to know this in the query.
[AB2] This line could be cut - we know that he's based in D.C., and that he's successful (so do we need to specifically know his job in the query?) and sophisticated (so do we need to know the specifics about his pedigree?)
[AB3] The transition here is a little clunky – I might say something like, “However, despite this disappointment,” or “Despite this setback, Emily is buoyed by her new sense of self and…”
[AB4] Don’t think you need to include the sister here, especially because she hasn’t been in the rest of the query.
[AB5] Dual?
[AB6] Glad you have comps, but GONE GIRL is pretty old at this point – I’d see if you could find a newer one.

First 250

It felt good to bleed [SW6]. It had been quite some [SW7] time, quite some time indeed but you never forget a feeling like that, that final surrender. When the razor slices deep enough, the ulnar nerve shoots darts through your arms, then you hit that artery and the dark red crimson begins to flow. The first wrist is easier than the second, the memory of the severed nerve so fresh in the brain makes it difficult to do it again so soon. You can press hard with the blade, but it won’t cut through that…tendon-what was it again? The flexor [SW8] something…radialis maybe-whatever, you can’t cut it with a blade, but no matter, it’s the artery that counts.
The smell of lilacs rose from the water and flooded the room, they were her mom’s favorite flower and the funeral [SW9] home had been filled with them. She kept that scent her secret weapon for times like this, a weapon to use against herself. The water in the tub was full of bubbles and the depth hid her belly but allowed her breasts to show like buoys in a lathering sea.
She liked her breasts, they were perhaps her best feature with their perfectly round half-dollar sized red areolas on smooth milky white skin, the pretty blue veins visible just beneath the surface. She certainly did not like her belly. Too much fast food and too much Netflix had added forty pounds since junior year, and it all appeared to be in her belly [AB7][SW10].

Stephanie's comments:
[SW6]  A gripping first line!

[SW7] There are a few lines here that are a touch too superfluous for me.
[SW8] I appreciated the technical knowledge. It makes me expect that this character will have some specialized knowledge.
[SW9] I enjoy the subtle world building here.
[SW10] Overall, I liked how this opening page set such a vivid mood and tone.  It’s the difference between the quality of the first page and the query that makes me hesitant to request more. The query was a bit too vague and didn’t have a strong enough hook. In the query, I didn’t feel the details shared gave me a clear enough picture to feel invested in these characters. 

Results:  Pass

Amy's comments:
[AB7] I’d probably stop reading here. The descriptions are helpful in envisioning the scene, but start to feel a little purple. And is the first thing we need to know about this character really an in-depth description of her breasts and belly?

Results:  Pass

Samantha's comments:

At present, this query skews toward the assumption that Emily is the killer. Whether that's true or not, I'd leave space for the reader to question who is truly responsible by avoiding phrasing like "anti-heroine." In this case, GONE GIRL and THE SILENT WIFE are the best comp titles but beware of using these as go-to choices. Agents receive hundreds of queries comped to these two thrillers, so try your best to find other break-out titles. As for the sample, I can always appreciate repetition that creates an ominous tone but examine if the sentence still carries the same weight or meaning without it.

Results: Pass

1 comment:

Amren Ortega said...

Strongly agree with Amy's comment on the first 250 - it's just demeaning and disappointing that this is how Emily is introduced. The opening paragraph read really well, but as soon as I saw "She liked her breasts" you lost me.