Query #12 October 2015

Below is the twelfth public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. 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 [agent],

I am looking for representation for my science fiction thriller novel [TITLE]: THE BEGINNING set throughout the 1990s.  The novel focuses on the virtues of small town life contrasted with the short comings of organized religion and man’s need to fit in with society. Unless you have something more important than your character (like the fact that this agent requested you query him/her or if you met the agent at a conference), start with your character.

Continue reading

Query #11 April 2015

Below is the eleventh public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. 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 Agent,

If being shy around girls were a serious disease, sixteen-year-old Jason Martyr would be on the terminal list.  ha! It turns out girls are the least of his worries when a secret government agency abducts him, claiming he has a rare genetic ability to travel through time. I’m not a fan of the phrase “it turns out” because 1) I see it a lot in queries and 2) it’s a passive, abstract phrase. I’d suggest cutting it, but this premise has me excited, so I’m not that bugged by it.  The agency threatens Jason’s family and friends to ensure his cooperation. Let’s swap this to give it more immediacy. Always end on the strongest point: “To ensure his cooperation, the agency threatens Jason’s family and friends.” Later you mention the “perfect girl.” Does he have a particular crush? Is she threatened as well? If so, this would be a great place to put it, putting a name and personalizing the threat.


His Jason’s mission is to go back in time to and stop a ruthless group called the Masters of Infinity[comma] from altering history and taking control of the future. This was a long sentence. Break it up and rework the second half to give specifics about the Masters of Infinity. With the sentence as it was, we lose that awesome name in the middle. You could rewrite this as “…Masters of Infinity, a group of ___ wanting to take control of the future by altering history,” but that’s a bit blah, so I’ll leave the rewrite to you. Their next attack is a 1937 coup attempt aimed at deposing FDR and installing a fascist dictator in his place.  If the Masters succeed, the U.S. may never take part in World War II, setting off a catastrophic domino effect through the rest of the timeline. Ooooooh. Honestly, at this point, I’m assuming you’ve already snagged an agent since you sent this to me 3 weeks ago. Granted, I don’t read a lot of YA time travel, so an idea like this could have already sold, in which case the problem is timing. I hope the timing is on your side!

P.S. Find/Replace those double spaces after each period. That’s carried over from typewriters. I assume you won’t be sending agents a manuscript printed with a dot-matrix printer. Double spaces should only be used if typing in a monospace font, like Courier.

All Jason wants is to return to his normal life and the quest for the perfect girl. This is where the query starts to falter. Hopefully your premise will get you far enough that the agent will look at your pages. Otherwise these stakes aren’t personal or intense enough. The only thing keeping him from saving the world is laziness and hormones? Make it personal. Again, if there was one girl in particular, does he feel like he needs to prove himself to her? Is he up against crippling self-doubt? Before that can happen he This is a bit wordy. “First he” easily cuts three words. must survive martial arts training from the most dangerous fighter in the world, and then prevent the Masters’ henchmen from carrying out the coup. Since you stated that this was his mission already, this is redundant. His enemies know he is coming, and have some lethal surprises in store for him. I think you could cut everything in this paragraph except for this line, and you’d have a tighter query. But I would like to get a stronger, deeper reason for what he does what he does. Jason will go home when he completes the mission – if he survives.

[Fun title in ALL-CAPS], a work of speculative fiction for the YA market, is complete at 82,000 words.  It features action sequences similar to the television series Chuck, and light science fiction aspects similar to Roland Smith’s Cryptid Hunters series.  It is a stand-alone novel with series potential. While Chuck is one of my favorite television series of all time, it’s difficult to compare a written action sequence to a visual one. I’d cut the “action sequences” part and mention that it’s similar to the TV series Chuck and Roland Smith’s Cryptid Hunters series.

I can definitely see the Chuck similarity. Remember that when we meet Chuck, he’s a failed genius working a dead-end job and has been betrayed by both his best friend and his girlfriend. He’s pathetic, but we know he has potential. What Jason is lacking is Chuck’s motivation. Chuck wants to figure out what happened to him, he wants to feel successful, and he wants to feel like less of a loser. Incorporating the emotional stakes into your query will help sell it.

I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and MBA with emphasis in marketing, both from the University of Missouri.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

PLEASE let me know when this book comes out.

Oh, and…er…if you want to send me a revised query, I’ll look at it.


Query #10 March 2015

Below is the tenth public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. 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 Agent:

Aristocrat Tanner Mills, in theory, knew not to trust anyone his parents haven’t you switch to present tense here, then switch back. extensively vetted. In theory, he should have been in school instead of the bar close to the docks How old is Tanner? Is he a schoolboy, a Yale man?You never give his age or the age category of this novel—please do…and then quickly finds himself I’m not a fanof “finds himself,” because it’s a passive cliche. If you want to use passive tense to show that he’s a victim, then you can cut the wordiness and say “is tied,” etc. tied, gagged, and bound if you want to use the bound and gagged trope, that’s fine. I love tropes! But “bound” and “tied” are redundant here. on an airship where the city of London is nothing more than a distance dot wrapped in cloud cover. I’ll be honest, the first time I skimmed this, I completely missed the “air” part and the “cloud cover” part. Since this is steampunk, and setting is muy importante in steampunk, I’d like that up front. Start with what makes your book unique, not with a trope.

I’d recommend starting with a personalization, then leading into your genre paragraph, then starting immediately with the hook (the shanghaiing of the aristocrat, not the disobedience of the aristocrat). It might look like this: Continue reading

Query #9 February 2015


Below is the ninth 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.

Her life is a lie but Fiona doesn’t know it, until a chance encounter and a brush with death blows the lid off her neatly packaged world. These are all cliches. “Blows the lid off” is a cliche, too, but you’ve made it fresh with “neatly packaged world.” Still, this hook doesn’t tell me what makes your book unique.
Fiona’s in the spotlight cliche again, and this time it’s a little more serious than a step from the closet. Is this a reference to her coming out of the closet? Because that’s not clear. A mysterious girl, created in a lab as an eternal sixteen-year-old, plops beside her on a park bench, and instantly ensnares her mind. Now, she’s smack in the middle of a deadly pursuit.
Cut the cliches and the set up of these two paragraphs and get to what’s important: “When a lab-created girl plops beside her on a park bench and ensnares her mind, __teen-year-old Fiona is about to get even more unwanted attention than when she came out of the closet.”
A black ops team is on the hunt; their project’s running loose, and if she becomes active, the entire world will suffer. I’m not sure what’s going on here. Is the girl who sat next to Fiona and ensnared her mind this “project”? What is that girl’s name? I want to know more about her, even if it’s just a sentence, so that I’m really concerned when I read that a black ops team is looking for her. And how will the world suffer? Give us a precise idea of what could happen. The squad of government-trained assassins will stop at nothing cliche, especially in queries. to keep their secrets from surfacing, but Fiona’s determined to safeguard this long desired sense of belonging, which stems from her new friend’s presenceThis is a bit awkward and needs to be its own sentence. Flip it to make it less awkward: But Fiona has long desired the sense of belonging which stems from her new friend’s presence, and she’s determined not to lose either.
On the run, confused, and desperate, Fiona turns to the strongest person she knows, her girlfriend/martial arts instructor, Isoko. With the help of the woman she loves, Fiona fights to uncover the truth behind Project Snowfall. However, the more she digs, the more her own existence begins to unravelI don’t know what this means. I know what the words mean, but I don’t know what it means in the context of the story. It’s too vague. What kind of things come into question? How can someone’s existence unravel? When I hear that, I picture the melting Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Your title is stellar. If you want to share it in the comments, feel free, but I need to keep the workshops anonymous. [GREAT TITLE], a YA techno-thriller, is complete at 53,000 words. Told in an omniscient third, this LGBT themed novel is geared toward general suspense lovers, literary action seekers, and those with a flair for the romantic. This is pretty much akin to saying “everyone will like my book.” Again, be specific. Marketers can’t sell books to everyone—they need a direct audience to target. That’s why agents and readers like comp titles. Try “my book will appeal to fans of ___ and ____.” While [TITLE] works as a stand-alone, it has series potential; comma, not a semicolon. and would appeal to mature teen readers through adults.
Thank-You Just “Thank you,” no hyphen. for the time you took in considering my query.
This is a great start, and your concept alone should garner some requests, but I’d like to see fewer-to-no cliches and some more specifics. Feel free to revise and resubmit to continue the workshop.