Submitting to agents is a brutal process. There’s a lot of good in this opening, but an accumulation of tiny details, insignificant by themselves, would probably mean that if I were a real agent, I’d reject it. Make up your own minds as to whether I’m being too severe.
Title: Dead man floating
Synopsis: When the body of a man who injured a bar girl floats to the surface, an English woman is suspect. A criminal targets her because she stole his ten million baht from the dead man. She msut prove her innocence before she ends in the sea too.
Text: Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God! Please don’t let her be dead. Please, God, let her be alive. I promise not to drink any more. I’ll close the bar, and open a nail shop instead.
Brina muttered over and over as she neared the circle of hotel staff. Sara lay on the hot dusty ground at the rear of the hotel, her bare legs splayed, short skirt rucked.
Dropping to her knees, Brina vowed to find whoever had hurt the girl and dumped her. The hotel staff, and every bar girl in town knew every Western man who arrived in this part of Thailand before they stepped through Immigration at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Knew their name, their status, their profession, their income, their age, without being introduced. It would be easy to find the bastard, and she would make him pay.
Sweat dripped off her face but her hands were icy, and she blew on them. Concentrated on pressing two fingers against the side of Sara’s neck where she detected a faint pulse. “She’s alive.” Her voice broke, and after swallowing, she tossed her phone to the barefoot boy who brought her. “Ring for an ambulance. Tell them Khun Brina will pay for it.”
Relief swamped her after finding no broken bones. But it disappeared when she moved the hair back from Sara’s neck. Cursed with a vivid imagination, the image of cigarettes stubbed out on her flesh caused the contents of her stomach to rush to the back of her throat.
“Jesus!” She reared, wanting to run and hide, but forced the horror aside. Now was not the time to be her cowardly self. “Sara. Can you hear me? It’s Brina. You’re going to be okay. There’s an ambulance on its way.” Her own pulse raced when she saw Sara’s bare stomach, as raw as a side of scored pork. A mix of bruises and scratches on her face had her grinding her teeth. No. Not scratches; cuts, tiny nicks in the skin.
She swallowed the urge to vomit again and held Sara’s hand, murmuring to her until the ambulance came. After climbing in, she shouted to the barefoot boy before the doors closed. “Tell Anee. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Thanks to the priority attention she received as a white woman, she was back at Bar Thai within an hour. Although grateful for the speedy treatment, the lines of Thais queuing for service when she swanned in ahead of them made her squirm.
Editorial critique: I’m first put off by the typo in the synopsis. That probably seems horribly unfair, but consider the fact that lots of submissions to agents will not contain any typos in their synopses (like the others to this site so far, for example). That already puts them ahead of your submission. You owe it to yourself to make sure that absolutely everything is as good as you can make it. Remember, the agent is looking for an excuse to put your MS down. Now, you’d think that an agent would have to be a pretty pedantic character to get that perturbed by a simple typo, and perhaps that’s right. Perhaps they’re now just “on notice”.
Reading your first para, the first few sentences drop us beautifully right in to the middle of the action. (This whole para should be in italics, as direct thought, but I’m not going to hold people up for formatting errors on submissions here, since it might have just got lost in the submission process.) The sentence that jars is the last one. “I’ll close the bar, and open a nail shop instead.” This sounds like a joke, like a flippant aside. We had just begun to get involved, thinking that something terribly dramatic has happened that we need to know more about, when whoever is doing the narrating makes a joke about closing her bar down and opening up a nail shop. It’s out of kilter with the tone of the other lines. Now we begin to think that maybe “party-girl” Sara just had a few too many pina coladas and has passed out again. Don’t forget, we know nothing about her at this moment. To an agent who is reading this for the first time, the tone doesn’t seem to be consistent. To an agent who has already been put “on notice” by the typo in the synopsis, this is probably a fatal error.
Reading on, the second para is equally problematic. “Brina muttered over and over” begs the question, what did she mutter? The answer is presumably the internal monologue in the previous para. Why not make this dialogue then, and not internal thought? “Oh God,” Brina muttered over and over as she neared the circle of hotel staff. “Please don’t let her be dead.” This is far more economical with words than writing “Oh God” out several times and then telling us that Brina was repeating herself. We got the point when you wrote “Oh God” out three times in a row. Try not to “show” something happening, and then “tell” us it’s happening afterwards.
(A plot query arises here. There’s a circle of hotel staff standing around a body that might need urgent medical assistance. Why is Brina the first to try and find out if Sara is still alive, and why is Brina the first to ring for an ambulance? Is there a cultural thing here, that local Thais would defer to another Westerner to call for medical help?)
Brina’s first thought as she kneels in the dust next to Sara is not, “is she still alive?” but vowing to find “whoever had hurt the girl and dumped her”. At this point she doesn’t even know that Sara is still alive, so this thought seems premature.
Another plot query. Brina’s first and indeed only thought about the perpetrator is that it must have been a “Western man”. Her sole task is to merely narrow down the list of suspects until she identifies him. Now this might be true, I don’t know, but it seems to rob the book of a lot of potential suspense to narrow down your list of suspects this early (third paragraph of the book). Since “all the hotel staff and every bar girl” know every detail of every Western man landing at the airport, I find myself wondering how short this book is.
At this point, you’ve lost me as an agent. I’m struggling too hard to keep involved in the story. Too many questions are popping up that aren’t answered in the narrative. As I read on, more questions arise. Why does she toss her phone to a barefoot boy to call the ambulance, when one assumes she could just ring herself? She touches two fingers to Sara’s neck, detects a pulse, but also manages to establish with this single gesture that Sara has no broken bones? It was only on reading the line including “lines of Thais queuing for service” several times that I realised you meant at the hospital, not back at Bar Thai, to which the protagonist has returned.
There’s nothing hugely wrong with this opening, which is why I could understand it if you feel frustrated at the reception it has received here. It starts off with what is a significant event in the plot, an “inciting incident”. There’s plenty of local colour and an economical way of describing scenes without going overboard. But importantly, pay attention to the details. Those tiny errors, that appear to be quite insignificant in isolation, quickly add up to throw a first time reader out of the story. While that might not be earth-shattering news if it’s a single reader browsing on Amazon who decides not to buy, it might be considerably more significant if it’s an agent you’re trying to interest.