Query #8 January 2015—Revised


Below is the eighth public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. This will happen once a month (as long as I get a response). I choose one query per month. If your query is not selected one month, it will be in the drawing for the next month. Please do not resubmit unless you’ve made significant edits. To enter, see the rules here. If you want a guaranteed critique (plus line edit) of your query or synopsis, private ones cost $35 each.

My comments are in blue below. To read the original query first, simply read only the black text.

Revision 1

This revision is much improved! It’s short and concise. However, it could still be more precise.

Dear __,
In an age of social injustice, I’m not in love with “in a world” or “in an age” openers, but that’s personal. However, you could make this more specific. Are we in our world? Are we in a fictional one? Is this contemporary? Be specific to set the scene immediately. where the very rich and well connected have power, money and live above the law, one brilliant young man decides to even the playing field.  He steals millions from two of the world’s richest women in order to save his childhood love’s home from going into foreclosure. Cut the cliche “even the playing field.” How does he steal it, by hacking? Because “hacktivist” is more interesting and precise than “one brilliant young man.”
I’m querying you with [Title in italics], TITLE IN ALL CAPS is a 58,142-word 58,000-word thriller. Always round to the nearest thousand. Otherwise it suggests that not a single word of your text shall be altered.
Twenty-two year old Age isn’t necessary, and MIT student is more precise. We get he’s in his 20s if he’s a student there. Age is more important in MG and YA titles, in which case “-year-old” needs to be hyphenated as well. MIT student Gawain Hagadal is on the run from private detective Mia Enou. His crime is that he tried to help his friends and neighbors—not to mention Gwyneth, the only girl he’s ever loved. HeGawain imagines himself as a modern day twenty-first-century Robin Hood, taking from the rich women who received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and giving to the poor. The poor, or the “more deserving,” or simply “his friends”? I doubt his buddies fall below poverty level. Be precise. That fantasy ended ends the minute Gwyneth tells him that she would never love him. I’d like a transition here. Something that brings it back to him being pursued. Unfortunately, Mia Enou isn’t the only private detective on his tracks.  Instead of promising justice like EnouWhile Enou promises justice for the theft, Bryden Sleeper, a man without a conscience[comma] vows to bring Gawain down dead or alive, regardless of motive (something clearer here to show that he doesn’t have a conscience, either that he doesn’t care about Gawain’s intentions, or that he will do anything for a price, and his rich employers are promising stacks of cash.) Gawain finds himself in a fight for his life“finds himself” is passive, and “a fight for his life” is a cliche. Start the sentence here: as he tries to rationalize a life without Gwyneth and comes to terms with the crime he’s committed[comma] [now say what Gawain is actually doing, not what is happening to him]. He is the last hope for his family; [em dash] his father is out of work[comma] and his older brother suffers from PTSD. Does his older brother need medication? Does his PTSD keep him from working? Will any more conflict drive him over the edge? Be specific, so we know why it’s relevant.  If he were caught, his own family will be worse off than the people he’s saved.
I am a native New Yorker who began writing in 2010 about politics, economics, and culture.  My articles have been featured in more than a dozen print and online publications. As a pundit I have been featured on multiple radio and television shows.   With a background in politics and culture and a love for thrillers, my book will be politically and culturally relevant. Much, much improved bio. Just cut the part about your book being relevant, because nobody knows what the world will be like by the time this would be published (~2 years from querying).
You’ve put a lot of work into this revision, and it’s looking great. It’s lost the weight—now it just needs a custom-fit wardrobe.



Dear –,

First impression: This isn’t a query letter, it’s an essay. The body of your query is 355 words, and your bio is 280 words. Total, I want the query about 250 words, no more than 300 when you include your bio paragraph. Most of this edit will be cutting down. Even if the writing isn’t technically bad, every single word in a query needs to earn its keep.
In an age of social injustice, where the very rich and well connected have power, money, and live above the law, one brilliant young man seeks to right society’s wrongs. This sounds like every Robin Hood knockoff of the last seven hundred years. The point of the hook is to start with what makes your novel unique, unlike any other. This isn’t a hook, it’s set up. It’s well written, but it’s not effective as a hook. For example, Arrow is a superhero Robin Hood of the twenty-first century.
This is the [title in italics], a thriller with a historical fiction backdrop. This is unnecessary, and it’s also wordy. Thirteen words down to seven:[ALL CAPS title] is a contemporary thriller set after the 2008 recession. Because this is a thriller, I expect to be thrilled by your plot. The paragraphs below are more like a thematic exploration of a literary work than an attempt to get me interested in reading your thriller.
An MIT college senior named Gawain Hagadal, who comes from very humble blue-collar origins in Lynn, Massachusetts, I know you think the name is clever, and sure it is, but it’s not important in the query. The point of your query is not to show an agent how clever you are, it’s to get someone to want to read your writing. These are the kinds of things you put on your blog for fans, like a “Fun Facts” section. Because that’s what these tidbits are—fun. A query can be fun, but it ultimately needs to be functional. sees the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis plaguing his neighbors and family, including a girl named the girl he loves, Gwyneth, with whom he’s been in love for years.  Distraught, Gawain decides to take justice in his own hands: He hacks the bank accounts of two women who received bailouts from the Federal Reserve and wires the money to the bank accounts of homeowners who are having their homes foreclosed upon. How is that justice? I feel more empathy for the women robbed than Gawain’s friends. This isn’t justice to me, unless you give me reason to empathize with Gawain’s friends and be upset that those women in particular got a bailout. The two women hire a private detective named Mia Enou, a strong woman of Italian and Japanese descent, to find the thief by any means necessary.
On its face, it’s an entertaining historical novel and thriller with a basic Robin Hood premise, dealing with complicated characters who are suffering from real world events: the recession, family members’ jobs being outsourced, military men coming back from Iraq, and the trappings of growing up in a less secure world.  Also ever-present are identifiable human relations issues regarding love, relationships, family, finding your place, and dealing with loss. Don’t editorialize. By that, I mean, stop giving a book report on your own novel and just tell the story. Make me care. Make me connect. Saying someone is lovable doesn’t make me love them. You need to show me. If you want to keep any of this, condense it and give me the story, first.
There is also an underlying philosophical question about pursuing truth at the sake of disturbing order.  The two main characters, Gawain Hagadal and Mia Enou, have their beliefs in their names.  Gawain Hagadal is an anagram for Gawain and Galahad, the two knights of King Arthur’s round table who pursued truth and were so pure of heart they were able to find the Holy Grail.  Mia Enou is an anagram for Eunomia, the Greek goddess of good moral order and governance according to good laws.  Pursing that connection – truth versus order – throughout the novel creates a clash, and it’s when they finally meet and confront each other, and their philosophies, that we get the denouement. Again, this isn’t a book report. Read “The Kinds of Queries that Work” and start again. Make Gawain empathetic. Give him a goal. Give him obstacles. Show us the conflict and the struggle. Tell us the story, don’t tell us about the story. Show me how Gawain pursues truth, and how Mia pursues justice, and how they clash.
I think you can keep some of your theme in your one-sentence hook. “[TITLE] is a contemporary thriller that pits a post-recession Robin Hood against a law-abiding PI more Veronica Mars than Sheriff of Nottingham.”
[Title] Titles need to be in ALL CAPS. Part of this is formatting, since italics don’t always transfer over. It’s also because your book is not published yet. It needs to earn those italics. is a completed at 58,142 words. Is a completed . . . what? It’s a complete contemporary thriller with a diverse cast of characters.
This is where a short bio goes, written in FIRST person. You have a very lengthy bio. The solution to that is to put that lengthy bio on your website, and include your website in your signature. If the agent wants to find out more about you, s/he will click on the link. Include a Twitter handle or other contact information as well. For the query, keep it short. How would you introduce yourself to an agent in real life? If you have a webpage with links to all of your published work, link to that as well.
Rules for the bio paragraph: Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it relevant.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
[280-word biography]
Rewrite, resubmit, and I’ll look at it again.

Query #6 November 2014


Below is the sixth public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. This will happen once a month (as long as I get a response). I choose one query per month. If your query is not selected one month, it will be in the drawing for the next month. Please do not resubmit unless you’ve made significant edits. To enter, see the rules here. If you want a guaranteed critique (plus line edit) of your query or synopsis, private ones cost $35 each.

My comments are in blue below. To read the original query first, simply read only the black text.

Dear –,

To seventeen-year-old Zéphyrine, the minds of others are playgrounds.

I wasn’t in love with this, but I still liked it. It was just bogged down with sticky words—short, common words that slow the eye down and distract from the important parts. Now it’s tight and snappy.

P.S. Watch your spaces. Some of these paragraphs had extra ones between them.

As a mind witch, she can manipulate thoughts, rewrite events and erase memories. She’s the Ravager’s most useful asset, but after so many years at his service, she’s tired of using her powers to hurt others. Those underlined words I’d usually trim down, but I think here it works in your favor, giving that annoyed, tired voice. If Zeph isn’t annoyed and tired of working with the Ravager, then you’ll want to cut “so many.” You were also missing a space here. The one time she tried to walk away, her father—the Ravager and immune to her powers—burned her half to death, and Zéph fears what will happen if she ever tries to say no again. I feel thrown under the bus here. Telling us that the guy she’s enslaved to is her father shouldn’t be a throwaway statement. That needs its own sentence, or it needs to be the most emphasized part of the sentence. The last few words of any sentence are the most important. So you could say something like “she’s tired of using her powers to hurt others, and she’s tired of the Ravager using her. It didn’t exactly make for the best father/daughter relationship.” Then mention her trying to walk away and what she fears, cutting the immunity part.

Other than that awkward bit, this is a great paragraph. We know what makes her special, what her problem is, and what she wants.

As her father’s hunger for power grows, Zéph is sent deep into the heart of the enemy territory of Almar—the neighboring country her father intends to conquer. Cut the cliches. Her task is straightforward: infiltrate the castle and manipulate the King’s thoughts. Following orders, she compels Her straightforward task/orders didn’t mention the king’s son, so this is confusing. And “compels” is a common enough verb that I didn’t get that she was using mind control. She could have just been nice to him, for all I knew. Agents skim, so you need to be as precise and concise as possible. I suggest “manipulate the thoughts of the royal family. As a result,”  Jasen, the king’s only son, to think thinks of her as a friend and confidente confidant. (Don’t be repetitive; choose the more specific word.), but the respect he has for her intelligence is all his own. delete extra space When Iriae, a mad girl as powerful as the Ravager, asks Zéph to join her in defeating him Wait, who’s “him” here? I read this as defeating Jasen, you know, because Iriae is mad, so why not, and she happens to be as powerful as the Ravager. Is Iriae wanting to defeat Ravager? This is the problem with parentheticals—they can be eliminated from the sentence. Eliminate this one, and Iriae wants to defeat Zeph’s new friend., it’s time to no, cut this. make a choice: shatter the illusion she has with Jasen and ask for his help and his father’s army, or carry on being the Ravager’s mind witch. This seems like a false dilemma. Why does she have to ask Jasen’s help if she can team up with Iriae to defeat her father? If Iriae wants to defeat the prince, then this dilemma makes a bit more sense, because Zeph either has to cancel her mission to save Jasen, or she has to let Iriae win and become just as bad as any of these crazy powerful people.


Zéph makes no commitments, but when her mother, who she thought long-dead, turns up very much alive and on Iriae’s side, Now you’re going to give another reveal in the query, and another dilemma? Do we need this extra information? I don’t think so. she gives in to temptation and risks everything to finally break free of her slave-like existence. Three cliches here. Break free is fine, since you’re using it literally, but the others need to go. But if they fail, Jasen will lose his kingdom, Huh? Is this implying he’s the king now? Iriae and Zéph’s mother What? They’re sisters? will be killed, and Zéph will be condemned to eternal torture at the hands of her father. I’m sure that this is all built up steadily in your manuscript, but all of this thrown into a sentence makes this seem like a melodrama. I expect a radio voice to come in and say, “Will she survive? Come back next time for the next installment of . . .”

MIND WITCH is a YA dark fantasy novel complete at 75,000 words that will appeal to readers of Ubik and A Girl of Fire and Thorns. Why aren’t these titles in all caps? How is this like Ubik? Try to keep any comp titles fairly recent. Within 5 years is best, 10 is okay. Ubik was published the same year as the first moon landing. Like Clive Barker’s ABARAT, it’s an illustrated novel, . . . Arabat is? I’m not seeing any illustrations in any of the Amazon previews. And reading reviews, the revised versions of the novel don’t include any illustrations. Can you think of another, more recent or accessible illustrated novel?  . . . and my portfolio can be found at [redacted]

Your hook and first paragraph are solid, or they will be when you cut the excess. The second one is confusing, and the third is overly complicated. Show us who the character is (check) what she wants at the beginning (check) what stands in her way (check) what the stakes are (check). If you want a third paragraph there, then I want to know what her secondary goal is. Sure, she wants to be free from her father, but what else does she want? Friendship with Jasen? Then tell me that and what gets in her way. Does she want to be reunited with her true family? Then hint at that, without spoilers, and tell me what gets in her way.