Earlier this year I entered the first 50 pages of a romantic suspense in a contest. I didn’t win or place, but I was given a critique by others who write and read mysteries. I got that critique back over the weekend and thought I’d share it with you. Before I received the following critique, I tweaked, changed the title, did a little revision and submitted the first chapter and a synopsis to Love Inspired Suspense. You can read their rejection at the end of this post.
Hopefully, you can learn something from the judges comments as well as the rejection. Mainly, how interesting it is that several people can read the same thing and come away with vastly different opinions.
For those of you who have never entered your manuscripts in contests, this is pretty much what you receive. Sometimes less. Read it and weep, or get your first chapter ready for a contest. One way or another, they can lead you to publication.
Please note that, even among publishing professionals, preferences in style and content are subjective. These notes are only suggestions and reflect the opinions of the judges. We hope you’ll find them helpful.
Title: Death Makes it Right
Author: Jessica Ferguson
Judge 3: Rudd and PK both seem like interesting characters. I was more drawn to Rudd than to PK. He seems well-intentioned and honorable, as well as likable. She has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. Maybe understandable since her dad was just murdered, so I’d give her the benefit of the doubt for a while longer. The reporter doesn’t seem very well fleshed out. The story would be stronger if she were depicted in more depth and complexity.
Judge 2: The scene where Rudd barged in on P.J. and Lori was a good example of this authors command of dialogue.
Judge 1: I like the idea, but it was so rushed that I didn’t have time to appreciate any particular aspect. I’m guessing you have some passing familiarity if not expertise with the trucking industry, so I would encourage you to incorporate more of that into the plot. As it is, it’s fairly standard fare, and nothing about it really grabs my attention.
Judge 2: Started fast and continued to move. The scene where Rudd and PK embrace at the reporter’s apartment seemed contrived. Also, it was hard to imagine the protagonist allowing the reporter to follow her into her hotel room. Other than that the plot flowed well and worked.
Judge 3: An interesting premise. I’m interested to learn who killed PK’s dad and Randolph, interested in what will happen between Rudd and PK. (I can guess, but I’m still interested.)
Judge 1: Again, too rushed. There’s no time for me to become apprehensive about something before you bull onto the next section. Slow it down, let me wonder about things for a bit.
Judge 2: Building suspense and creating tension is one of this writer’s strengths.
Judge 3: Tension/suspense were handled well. In a few places, it might be heightened by slowing down a bit.
Judge 2: Plenty of conflict.
Judge 3: Plenty of conflict, which arises naturally from the situation. Telling us a little more about the situation would engage the reader more; we understand that she’s mad about her father’s murder, but it would help to know why she thinks Randolph is behind it. There’s plenty of information that can be legitimately withheld from the reader, but we need some of this background in order to understand what’s happening.
Judge 1: The rushed quality is absolutely burying the good aspects of this book.
Judge 2: For the most part the pace flows well. It bogs down a little after they leave the reporters house on their way to his apartment.
Judge 3: Generally good. A little rushed in the beginning, a little slow with reporter. I’m sure she’ll play an important role, but right now, it’s not clear what that is.
Judge 2: The voice was sharp and crisp. “His breath fanned her face.” “His eyelids were tortured by unshed tears.” “The oppressive humidity was like a blanket covering his face.” Sometimes things were overstated: “He acted dazed.” The reader can see that.
Judge 3: The voice is good, fresh but not intrusive.
Grammar & Mechanics: THIS IS HUMILIATING! I KNOW HOW TO SPELL!
Judge 1: Generally fine. It should be “All right,” not “alright.” Also, watch your verb-noun agreement.
Judge 2: Some words are misused, but probably editing oversights: grown for groan; on for own Directional words (up, down, over, etc.), unneeded prepositions and words like “that” are overused. Also used adverbs when not needed: nervously looked, A few missed punctuation marks (periods, commas) but overall, ok.
Judge 3: Generally good. Needs another pass for typos and tightening.
Judge 1: Rewrite this, and take your time with each section. You have a strong voice and good writing style, but that’s being washed away with your rush to get to the next scene.
Judge 2: Could be a contender.
Judge 3: No additional notes.
And here is a rejection I got on the same manuscript, revised BEFORE I got the above critique, and retitled:
Thank you for participating in the Love Inspired Suspense Fast Track and submitting BETRAYED, but I don’t feel like this project is right for LIS. While I think the idea of setting this story in the trucking world is interesting, your heroine came off as unlikeable. Our readers want a heroine they can relate too, and P.K. is much too combative. I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you. I recommend reading some of our books to get a better feel for the Love Inspired tone. We appreciate your submission and wish you the best of luck in your writing.
All the best,
Love Inspired Suspense