Hello everyone!

This is my entry for The Writer’s Voice contest, which is hosted by Cupid of Cupid’s Literary Connection, Krista Van Dolzer of Mother. Write. (Repeat.), Monica B. W. of Love YA, and Brenda Drake of Brenda Drake Writes. I would like to thank them for hosting this contest, and also so many other contests in the past.

Withour further ado here is my query and the first 250 words of my manuscript.


The Query

The twentieth century is but a few years old. Helen Hawke thinks that it is about time Detective Wilson Adkins starts to take her seriously and accepts her as his young assistant. Staying behind a desk is not something she can endure much longer.

But before she even gets to celebrate her first successful case, a mysterious letter arrives addressed to detective Adkins, and its contents could not be more intriguing. A stranger invites the detective not for a tea party or a conversation over dinner, but to watch him turn a small English village into chaos. Perhaps even kill people. It’s a game, this stranger says, and warns him that he will not be able to stop him. He’s welcome to try, nevertheless.

Mr Adkins claims he has no idea why this person would choose a small-time detective like himself. Yet Helen suspects that might not be the whole truth. As Helen is thrown into a world of almost constant worry and danger, she starts to find that the person she trusts the most might not be exactly who he says he is.

The time to prove herself has arrived, as she wished for so long. But will she regret it?

SINCERELY YOURS, THE VILLAIN, an YA Historical Mystery, is 54,000 words long.

250 Words – Sincerely Yours, the Villain

The cold welcomed me with open arms as soon as I opened the doors. I buried my face deeper in my scarf. I did not want to be ungrateful, but I had just woken up and traces of my warm bed still lingered on me. Only then, with a deep breath to gather my courage, did I throw myself into the awakening streets.

I did not even like getting up so soon, but it was becoming more and more common, now that I spent my days with the detective. I used to tell him I was still young, and therefore I had to take advantage of the reputation that I spent all morning in bed and the whole afternoon doing nothing. He then would answer that he was old enough to spend his days comfortable in an armchair, smoking a pipe and reading a classic novel. However, he did not. Everyone had to compromise.

Given that I had to walk to his house, instead of taking a carriage, it meant I would arrive already awake and ready to work. The cold would take care of that even if I did not want to. It also meant I would have the opportunity to observe people in their natural habitat, as he was always telling me to do. Not that I had the chance to do that spending the whole day closed in his office, but he still believed I was not ready to go help him with his work cases. (…)

Thank you for reading!

81 Responses

  1. Hi Diane, really unusual premise. Love that it’s a girl protag. The Language suits the era. Wondering if that first reference to the letter arriving to ‘the detective’ should be clearer. Do you mean detective Adkins or Helen? Good luck!

    1. Hey Elizabeth! Thank you!
      Helen is just an assistant for now, so “the detective” is Adkins. But I’ll change it, thanks for pointing it out :)

    1. Thank you! I hope you like Sherlock, it’s amazing! It’s a shame it has so few episodes.

  2. I love a girl detective! And the fact that the antagonist is playing a twisted game with her makes me want to find out what the antagonist will do next! Great premise. Good luck!

  3. A female detective in that time period AND a more than interesting villain AND a boss who isn’t quite what he seems? Sign me up! Love the premise! Best of luck. :)

  4. Such a great premise! I’m especially intrigued by Detective Adkins, and what he really knows about this villain. Good luck!

  5. I love historicals and I love mysteries. A combination of the two with a head-strong female protag? Fantastic! :) Best of luck with this.

  6. I’ve been reading the comments and I have to agree. A YA about a female detective is right up my alley. I also REALLY love your title. Good luck!

  7. I absolutely love the title, and the query letter has me wanting more. Your title–kudos! This sounds amazing. Well done, and best of luck.

  8. First of all – killer title. Seriously, I’d pick up your book just from that! But your pitch was awesome too, and your first 250 already draws me into a world I want to be apart of.

    Great job and good luck!!

    1. I tried to come up with a title that would tell the reader something about the setting and voice, without telling too much. I’m glad I was able to do it and it’s still a good title!
      Thank you!

    1. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” — Sherlock Holmes

      Thank you! ;)

  9. The setting along with these three lines: “Perhaps even kill people. It’s a game, this stranger says, and warns him that he will not be able to stop him. He’s welcome to try, nevertheless.” sucked me right in and made me want to read more! I definitely want to know who sent the letter and what Detective Wilson Adkins’ involvement might be/why it was sent to him. Best of luck to you!!!

  10. I’d love to read more of this! Mystery doesn’t seem to be a popular YA genre, so it’s great to see it represented here. It really helps your book stand out.

  11. Ooo–I got goose bumps reading the query. This sounds so intriguing and like a book I would love–historical mystery and feminism–perfection.
    And the way you describe the character’s age in the second paragraph is subtle and effective. It feels like your first words are whispering to me…something big is being set up. Love this! Best of luck!

  12. Your query really draws me in and I love the line ‘…but to watch him turn a small English village into chaos.’ (It reminds me of ‘A Murder is Announced’ by Agatha Christie – I think that’s the one anyway – so a YA version in a similar vein gets a thumbs up from me!) Good luck!

  13. Hey Diana, I really like the premise of a young woman getting respect she deserves and aiding an older man with a strong case. I’m also a fan of historical stuff in YA so I think you have a great opening for agent interest.

    I like the elements and the feeling of cold in the beginning. One suggestion I might have had is having her interact with the detective straight off and us seeing her cold with him and trying to hide it perhaps and maybe that’s a further way the reader would see how he doesn’t take her seriously though she may want to be. Your writing is very strong so I’m really interested in the story overall.

    1. Thank you, Jenn! I hope so!

      Helen gets to interact with the detective few paragraphs after these ones, and there are a lot of scenes where he doesn’t take her seriously enough. She would say it’s very frustrating.

      But thank you for your time and suggestion nevertheless! :)

      1. What’s not to love? Mystery, England, villages, smart females. Have you read the Maisie Dobbs series?

  14. Although I’m not usually one for historical I like that aspect of your entry. And I’m always envious of people who can write mysteries cause I’m not sure if I could. I think you’ve got a good start to your query but I think you are missing some details

    In the first paragraph you give us what Helen wants right off the bat which is great. I’d cut the first line and just give the year. The second line is a little wordy maybe cut it down to something like: In 19XY Helen Hawke thinks it is about time Detective Wilson Adkins starts to take her seriously as his young assistant. Staying behind a desk is not something she can endure much longer.

    In the second paragraph I’m not sure the first half of the first sentence is relevant to the query maybe just start that paragraph with something like:
    But when a mysterious letter arrives inviting Detective Adkins to a stranger’s tea party he is forced to watch the man turn a small English village into chaos (I filled in with what I knew from your query but I think chaos is a little vague and you could give some details as to what this stranger does and if you can identify the stranger without blowing the plot, I’d do it.)

    My other issue with the second paragraph is it’s all about Adkins but im guessin this is helen’s story since it’s a YA. So she needs to be the predominant player in the query and right now she feels secondary to Adkins.

    The third paragraph is too vague to get a good handle on what Helen is going to be helping Adkins investigate. It needs more details. I had problems with this when I first wrote my query I felt like I was spoiling the whole plot, but the person reading your query knows nothing so you have to give them more specific details about what’s happening to your character.

    Example: As Helen is thrown into a world of almost constant worry and danger, What kind of worry what kind of danger? Give an example of what this madman is putting her through and what kind of mystery she ultimately has to solve.

    In your first 250 you have really good voice. However I think you have a lot of detail up front that doesn’t move the story along. I’m sure its important information but I think it needs to be sprinkled into the story a little later on. It has some resemblance to the I woke up and now im headed outside to my daily routine. At the start you don’t want ordinary you want what makes this day different for Helen.

    I think this may not be the right place to start your story. What is the inciting incident? I’m guessing the arrival of the letter, so shortly before there is probably where you should be starting your story. Build the troubled relationship between Helen and Adkins (troubled as in she’s frustrated to not being taken seriously.) and then go right for the jugular (i.e. the big incident)

    I think you’ve got a great start here you just need some finesse. I hope you find these comments helpful. As with any critique don’t feel obligated to use all (or any of my comments) use what works for you and ditch the rest. I wish you the best of luck with this in the future :)

    1. I did find your comments helpful! Sometimes you just need a new perspective to see what’s wrong with something.

      I don’t think I can talk much about the villain without revealing part of the mystery. But I see what you mean, and I’ll try to go at it from a different angle.

      That’s precisely what I thought… would I be writing too much details? On the other hand, if I don’t tell enough, people won’t be interested. I’ll add some more there, then.

      This was really helpful, so thank you Jamie! Best of luck to you too!

      P.S.: I’m not even sure myself if I can write mysteries… people seem to think so, but who knows ;)

      1. Yeah the details thing is hard. I struggled with that a ton. I felt like i was being mysterious by leaving things out but i was really just confusing people. So I added more. Now I feel like I’m a bit spoilerish but I think agents want that. They want details about whats going to happen. Not necessarily how it all turns out but i think queries are supposed to spoil things a little bit. It’s a really tough balance though. Keep throwing more and more details in until people stop getting confused or asking questions. It took me a while to find the balance. I’m sure you will get there :)

  15. There’s not much I can say except that I love the concept in the query abc the voice in the first 250 words! Good job!


  16. I like the premise.

    Overall, few comments. Since your book is historical fiction I understand the concern about using cannot versus can’t, but sometimes it does slow the pace. I’m not really sure what the real answer is here, but I’ve been TOLD to use can’t. (sometimes it still doesn’t feel right, though! haha)

    The query seems to lag just a little bit, and I think you want tension. For examples, I’ll make an attempt to modify the paragraph below:

    But before she CAN celebrate her first successful case, a mysterious letter arrives addressed to detective Adkins. ITS contents could not be more intriguing. A stranger invites the detective TO watch him turn a small English village into chaos–perhaps even kill people. THIS STRANGER INVITES HIM TO A GAME. THE STRANGER warns THAT THE DETECTIVE will not be able to stop him, BUT BEGS (OR ENCOURAGES OR OTHER WORD HERE) TO TRY.

    See what you think, but I encourage more tension. Make it a trap the both the detective and the agent you’re querying cannot resist!

    Good luck!

    1. That was a concern I had during the whole process… I read books written at the time to see how they spoke, but on the other hand I’m not Charles Dickens or Jane Austen… so should I write like I speak, or like they were supposed to? Not every characters speaks like that, though. It depends.

      Thank you for your suggestions, Ann! :D

  17. Hi! Here from #TheWVoiceCrits. I’m gonna tackle your query first.

    I agree that the query needs more tension. The meat of your query comes in that second paragraph–“Helen hasn’t even had a chance to celebrate her first successful case when”–THAT’S your springboard. And the mysterious letter would serve your query better if it was in your initial hook:

    “At the turn of the twentieth century, budding detective Helen opens an invitation to a deadly game…” Something along these lines. And then dive into Helen’s struggle to be acknowledged as a detective in her own right, allow us to connect to her character, etc, and then close with a second hook regarding the letter.

    Remember your three Cs: Character, Conflict, Crisis. So if you’ve built up Helen in that first para, jump right to your conflict:

    “It’s a game, this stranger says, and warns him that he will not be able to stop him. He’s welcome to try, nevertheless. Mr Adkins claims he has no idea why this person would choose a small-time detective like himself. Yet Helen suspects that might not be the whole truth.”

    ^A little tweaking to fit with the first para, but the meat is right there.

    And here’s your crisis:

    “As Helen is thrown into a world of almost constant worry and danger, she starts to find that the person she trusts the most might not be exactly who he says he is. The time to prove herself has arrived, as she wished for so long. But will she regret it?”

    Tighten up that tension, make it unbearable, and you’re golden. This query just needs a little more suspense. I think you’re really almost there.

    Now the 250…

    I like your 250, but I have a suggestion. Helen mentions that Adkins has advised her to observe people–so have her observe! It would serve as an excellent introduction to her character, establish her skill as a detective, as well as her intellect, and it would give you the perfect opportunity to set the scene, add in some description, etc while also introducing us to her as a character.

    I don’t know if you’re a fan of the BBC show Sherlock, but man alive, do I ever love the scenes where the viewer is shown the world through Sherlock’s eyes. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. That’s the best approximation I have for what I mean here, but as a reader who’s always enthralled by especially observant & intelligent detectives, I LOVE that sort of thing. If you brought that into your story & Helen is that kind of character, it could serve your first page on several fronts.

    Hope some of this was helpful :)

    1. Some great suggestions for my query, thanks! When the “rules” are applied to a concrete example, like you did, it’s much easier to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ll certainly take this into consideration.

      And another great suggestion for the beginning. Why didn’t I think of that?

      Do you think that would slow down the action or be unnecessary description? It seems like a great idea, but as I’ve heard time and time again “jump right into action” I don’t know if it would be the best place for it?

      And I do watch Sherlock, and I also love those scenes :D

      Thank you again, Anne!

    1. Oh, wow! I apologize for only reading this today!

      I’m sending the email now :)

      Thank you!

  18. Hi Diana! :)

    I really like the change Anne suggested to the opening for your query – it really dives into the heart of your story. Start there and then build things up from Helen’s perspective.

    With regards to the first page, I think you’re starting in the wrong place. Maybe start further along, when she’s arrived at work (and give us her observations so we can see her detective skills in action).

    Like I said in my previous comment, this reminds me a little of ‘A Murder is Announced’ (can’t go wrong with Agatha Christie!), so I’d be keen to read this.

    Thanks for your comments on my blog – and congrats on the request from the agent! :) Good luck!

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