Hook Me! Lead with Your Inciting Incident.

Welcome back. Here’s a query pitch for a suspense trilogy. By the way, DON’T QUERY A TRILOGY. You have to sell book #1 before you can sell subsequent titles, so use all your query letter’s valuable real estate to sell the agent on your lead title. Mention in your query’s closing that books two and three are complete, but don’t elaborate. If you pique an agent’s interest enough that she reaches out, that’s when you chat about your plans for a series. But for now, one query, one book. Which is why I’m only going to break down the pitch for the first book.

OK. Let’s get started:

Before: We’d like to introduce you to Jane Smith, the heroine of an exciting new suspense trilogy.

Fake Book Title (88K words) finds Jane at the peak of her career as an FBI agent who made a name for herself taking down the notorious psychopath, Tim Brown. Jane is now in New Orleans investigating a series of child abductions. When one of those children turns up deceased, wrapped in the skin of an exotic snake, Jane realizes her case may be spiraling into an unfathomable darkness. Meanwhile she’s also dealing with a troubled adolescent daughter she barely knows and the reemergence of buried memories from her final, traumatic encounter with Brown. As a clash of cultures, religions and personalities drive Jane to the breaking point, she determines one final, unthinkable course of action: she must leave the FBI forever in order to survive.

After: When a child’s body is discovered near New Orleans wrapped in the skin of an exotic snake, FBI agent Jane Smith must take on the most harrowing case of her career.

X years ago, Jane made a name for herself in the Bureau by taking down notorious psychopath Tim Brown. She thought she’d put the Brown case behind her. But as she tracks a child killer through the swamps of Louisiana, memories of her final encounter with Brown drive her to her breaking point. Now, to confront her past, protect her troubled teen daughter, and stop the killer, she’ll do the one thing she never thought she’d do: leave the FBI.

Fake Book Title is a thriller complete at 88,000 words. It is the first in a planned trilogy; books two and three are also complete.


1. Don’t tell me you’d like to introduce me to your character. That’s a waste of your words and my time. Just get on with pitching your book already.

2. Please don’t tell me your book is exciting. It’s suspense. It had better damn well be exciting, because if it’s not, you’re not ready to query.

3. That word “finds” again… Stories always seem to be finding their characters doing stuff. Characters always seem to find themselves in certain situations. find such phrasing to be awkward. Such phrasing is awkward. And wordy.

4. Be careful about introducing your character with a snippet of backstory. While this pitch does circle back to the notorious psychopath she took down earlier in her career, you’ll be better off leading with the conflict at the center of this novel—the New Orleans child killer.


1. Sometimes it’s most powerful to lead with your novel’s inciting incident. Which in this case is also your most evocative image—your hook. A dead kid wrapped in an exotic snakeskin? Damn, Kids, that’s a hell of an image. How can you lead with anything else?

2. As written, I’m confused about the connection between the Brown case (backstory) and the current case (the child killer). Without diving too much farther into backstory, can you make that connect for me in a phrase or sentence? If, in the novel, the Brown case exists solely to give your protagonist a little complicating PTSD, then, plot wise, that seems a little weak. If the connection is important enough to mention in your query, then I’m guessing there’s a stronger connection in the manuscript.

3. Overall, the original query is both vague and overwritten. “Spiraling into unfathomable darkness” is too much. “The reemergence of buried memories from her final, traumatic encounter with Brown” can simply become “memories of her final encounter with Brown.” And “a clash of cultures, religions and personalities” is vague—it’s a missed opportunity to evoke your story’s milieu. Is the culture clash related to the fact that Jane is from the north and this is her first time in the deep South? What religions are we talking about? Voodoo? Catholicism? Southern Baptist? Satanism? Each would evoke a different type of story in my mind. Finally, personality clashes with whom? The only non-criminal you mention is her daughter, and you’ve already implied with “troubled” that we’re going to witness some clashing between them. So is the mention of personality clashes redundant?

4. Finally, sometimes it’s OK to put the project summary (title, genre, word count) at the bottom of your query instead of the top. This one just felt better at the bottom. Play with it.

That’s it, Folks! Join me next time.

One thought on “Hook Me! Lead with Your Inciting Incident.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s