A Sample Evaluation Report
Professional Prepublication Report
Eleanor and Bootsy—A Mystery
Length/format: Approximately 85,000 words, no images, no required permissions identified. Standard trade publication, fiction.
Genre/type: A cozy mystery (protagonist mostly not in physical danger, little or no gore). Designed to be the first in a series of standalone mysteries featuring the primary characters of this book.
Regional/Special interest: Oregon coast setting and author, Pacific Northwest. Features older main characters (60+) and themes (euthanasia, aging, mature romance, and friendships).
A well plotted story weighed down a little by a bit too much artistic introduction of the various characters, possibly tighten a bit in the first few chapters, otherwise it moves well. The main character, Eleanor, is well drawn, sympathetic, and relatable, especially for more mature readers. The male protagonist (possible killer) is also handled well. Bootsy, the other title character is actually a minor character and although also well-fleshed in her limited appearances, she doesn’t rate a title nod. The group of ladies comprising Eleanor’s “coffee club” are delightful, but more care is needed to set them apart from each other, especially because they almost always appear together. Perhaps highlight and reinforce each woman’s quirks. For example, perhaps have Josephine the therapist spout more interpersonal relationship jargon, the mayor should more obviously discuss politics, etc.
The setting works well, but the veiled name of the small town on the Oregon coast really suggests that the nearby towns also be given “cover” names or consider simply using the real names all around (would be an advantage in local sales). There is more than adequate detail in the various settings, especially considering that the places are fictionalized.
The mystery and reveal is critical in this genre—you want surprise, but also acknowledgment that it all makes sense. It’s all right that some readers will guess the killer, and I think many will; however, there is enough doubt, tension, and suspicion to satisfy most mystery fans. This is very well handled!
Your writing style is good, but consider tweaking the voices of the secondary characters a bit more—Bootsy seems a bit too mature at times and as noted, the coffee club ladies tend to blur together in dialogue. The use of humor and the “talking bird” are very good, especially when offset against the more poignant passages involving Eleanor’s husband Walter. (great side story, but it needs to be pulled back a little bit because it shouldn’t distract from the main story). Adding the poem (the protagonist is a published poet) is good, but perhaps consider adding more (short) poems throughout to help illustrate her feelings and reinforce her creative side. The morning mental inventory opening is a bit confusing to start the book, but by the second or third chapter her mental checklist upon awakening before actually doing the first recitation of the list would make it less confusing as an opening.
The first couple paragraphs are critical in not only setting tone, but can be a selling point—many potential customers check the first few pages to see if the writing seems sound and interesting.
The manuscript is fairly “clean”, but it requires a thorough copyedit to bring punctuation under control and for consistency. For instance, most dialogue passages use periods where commas should be, such as “Put that away.” Eleanor said. Too often, you’re complicating and disrupting the narrative flow with unnecessary alternatives to “said”. Variants should have a strong reason for being used and most of the time, you’re better off moving the action/emotion away from the dialogue tag. For instance, one passage from the middle of the manuscript, “I was just trying to help you! “ Angus sputtered angrily. Would arguably read smoother as Angus became visually angry as he said, “I was just trying to help you!“
A good copyeditor should be able to identify and correct the majority of these dialogue construction issues. Although your word choices are mostly solid, be aware of using “since” and “while” as alternatives to “because” and “although” the first set denote time, not cause. Again a copyeditor should mark these along with other common mistakes.
Layout, Design, Market issues
Your existing chapter stops are both inconsistent in length and in narrative appropriateness. Consider dropping the entire chapter structure all together and instead use an icon for denoting a scene break—and only use them for full breaks.
Consider having the poems (and other written correspondence) set in a contrasting font and set differently than the main narrative. This will immediately clue readers into the fact that they are reading something special, outside the basic narrative structure.
The title does not work for this type of book for a variety of reasons. We don’t know, and won’t know who Bootsy and Eleanor are until we’ve read the book, so, before that happens, why should anyone care? Likewise, “A mystery” doesn’t really give us a reason to care—presumably, your book will be in a mystery section (or listed as a mystery novel online) so it doesn’t give you any new reason for choosing it. Consider putting the “crux” of your mystery in the title “Murder or Mercy” or reference the murder weapon, “A Recipe for Dying” either of those titles would immediately let readers know there is a murder mystery to be solved!
Interior: This is a publishable book with a nice story arc, narrative flow, and most importantly, a highly sympathetic and interesting lead protagonist and a nice cast of supporting characters. You can almost certainly address the minor structural issues (do it BEFORE you hire a copyeditor). These include refining the novel’s opening sequence, moving from full chapter headings to perhaps minimalist chapters (numbered, but not titled) or even simple icons used to show narrative breaks.
As with virtually all manuscripts, it needs a solid copyediting to address the punctuation and minor grammatical issues. Using an experienced book copyeditor is highly recommended.
Cover/Title: The title is a major issue. It is critical that the title convey as much info about the book and what people can expect. For your genre, successful titles often include references to crimes, death, or brief descriptions of the victim(s). For example “Dead End Girl”, “Killer Instinct”, and “The Dark Bones” are all fairly recent mystery novel titles that have appeared on the bestseller lists. For cozy mysteries, where the protagonist generally is not directly involved in the crime other than investigating it, the emphasis is most often on a specific aspect of the crime that makes it noteworthy. For instance, Agatha Christie’s classic “And Then There Were None” makes it clear that we can expect multiple, sequential murders/disappearances. We highly recommend a title such as “A Recipe for Dying” for your book—it immediately gives a clue that this is a murder mystery.
You should consider a series description. It isn’t terribly important to have a series title prominently on the cover and for a first novel, it can even be detrimental to sales.
However, having this book easily connected to any future books is important. The most common strategy is to name the series for the protagonist, such as “A Miss Marple Mystery”. If you do go this route, be careful to ensure that the series title won’t become restrictive down the line. “An Eleanor and Bootsy Mystery” isn’t a good choice in our opinion because Bootsy is too minor a character in this book, but if she is going to be prominent in the next book, it could work, but she’d also need to be a big part of each subsequent book.
Mystery covers almost always feature a scene of death, a weapon, or a potential victim along with a title that hints at sinister events. Of course you can choose to buck tradition, but you should remember that there is a reason those traditions exist. Genre fans searching for their next book will likely bypass yours if they don’t immediately recognize it as a mystery.
Marketing: With a suitable title and cover concept, your book should be quite marketable. Do not take shortcuts with your front cover—finding a good, (preferably experienced) designer is important. Conveying the “feel’ you want is also critical. A good strategy is to visit a bookstore and look at the covers of books like yours. Find a couple you like, note trends, and show them to your designer and explain how yours is similar and different from the examples. The cover is your primary marketing tool!
Once your front cover does its job and a potential customer picks your book up (or clicks on it online), inevitably, they’ll turn it over to read the back cover copy (or look inside the dust jacket for hard covers). You should have a brief synopsis of the book there. It doesn’t have to completely describe the story and it should not be obviously saying “buy me!” Rather, it should convey the type of book readers can expect. If you have reviewer blurbs, you can put a couple on the back. Only place them on the front cover if they are very prestigious!
You’ve written a very nice novel in a strong category. The book does not really need major revisions, but mystery novels are a very competitive genre and you need to polish the interior (a thorough copyedit and layout changes at a minimum). Some adjustment to characters (Bootsie needs to be more child-like, the club ladies more individualized). But the biggest challenge will be choosing a compelling title and having a professional cover design created.
Good luck and thanks you for choosing GladEye Prepublication Services! This is a title we look forward to seeing in print! If there are areas of this report that you require more clarity on, please let us know and we will be glad to provide further information and/or examples (up to 500 words).