Query Critique 52

Dear [agent name here],

September 28th, 2013 is just a normal day for most people. And for Grace Kincaid, it would seem to be just that— normal. She has coffee, takes a shower, and goes to work as she usually does. But in the evening, she sits in her bedroom and cries for the first time in nearly a year. You see, September 28th, 2013 marks the 364th day since Grace’s husband died in Afghanistan. This is what the hook needs to talk about. It takes way too long to get to anything specific about the conflict of the story. Also, the “you see” part reads a little awkward to me. It’s also the day her life will change for the better. This last sentence is also sort of vague. I want to know what exactly happens that causes such a turn around.

There are bumps on the road to recovery, of course. Again, this sentence is sort of vague and doesn’t do much to develop the plot. Grace will discover that she’s infertile. Two of her sons will be murdered in a brutal school shooting. But when she finds the woman of her dreams, and her daughter (assigned male at birth) comes out as transgender, Grace will remember what’s really important in the world—her family, her friends, and her happiness. These are all interesting things, but I’d like to see them tied together. I also want to get more of a sense of stakes. She has all these things that happen to her, but how do they really affect her? What does she still stand to lose? Why do we need to continue worrying about her? The query is pretty short, so you have room to develop something.

DAY 364 is a completed novel of 75,000 words. It is aimed toward adult readers, and is entirely fictional. Unless otherwise specified, we tend to assume that it’s an adult book. I’d also maybe call it contemporary fiction.

Thank you very much for your time.


Road to Healing


Query Critique 48

Dear Agent,

Twenty-one-year-old Lea Cobb has a legion of fans at her feet, but the man she wants keeps running away.

A former KidCast actress, Lea is making a comeback on a new hit show. I almost like this better as a hook. The leading role of sexy-nerdy African-American college student should get her back on the cover of popular celebrity magazine, Rules of the Stars. I’m a little distracted by the name of the magazine. Is it important? To solidify her rise to fame, she only needs one thing: a steamy guy to show off on the red carpet. Lea sees her chance in the smoking hot Australian body of the last actor to join the show.

Thirty-one-year-old star Joshua Housten accepts the small part hoping for a change of scenery after his catastrophic divorce. Is this the Australian guy, or a different guy? Make it clear. Desperate to escape his past while rebuilding his career and image, he’s determined to follow three hard-and-fast rules: no relationships, no co-stars and no younger women. Easy enough–until he meets Lea, the former child star that makes his body react in a very grown-up way. 

Joshua tries to stymie Lea’s seduction attempts, and as her feelings for him grow, she uses every seductive tool she possesses to convince him rules are meant to be broken. She’s set on winning his love, but the closer she gets, the more he throws up walls. Lea knows one thing for sure: she isn’t ready to take no for an answer, because if Joshua chooses his rules, he’ll break her heart. Overall, I would say this is a pretty solid query letter. Good sense of setting and conflict. If at all possible, I’d like to get a little more indication what their personalities are like. 

Told from Lea and Joshua’s POV, RULES OF THE STARS is an Adult Contemporary Romance novel complete at 69,000 words.  I think you could easily pitch this as New Adult. I also don’t think you need to capitalize contemporary or romance.

Upon your request, I would be delighted to send the complete manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. 


Rising Author Star

Query Critique 42

In the 1990’s, half-black David escapes his crazed mother and flees to Chicago with the dream to become Gatsby, not work as a janitor and live in the city slums. He can’t entirely despise janitor work, though: he met Mary after sweeping the floors together, and months later they exchanged rings in the most romantic marriage the Chicago Courthouse ever witnessed.

But then their seven-year-old daughter is diagnosed with a rare, organ-destroying disease that can only be treated by a costly medicine. With no way to pay for Penelope’s life, Mary resorts to desperate tactics to get the money—and David’s desperate for her to stop. What desperate tactics? Be specific. His mother’s words crash around his mind once again, “Don’t be black, they’re worthless,” and with a white wife who seduces their white insurance manager, David feels nothing but worthless. The transition into this idea feels a little awkward to me. This time, Mary’s can’t heal him. Mary’s what? This is the paragraph where we really get the first taste of conflict. While the first paragraph establishes some relevant information, it’s lacking in conflict. You may want to consider reorganizing your query so that  more of the conflict found here appears in the first paragraph to grab your reader. Also, be specific about conflict. 

Their wallet gets tighter and the only other option to save enough money is to move to the Chicago south side, almost entirely made up of blacks. How are these south side folk going to help them get the money they need. Who are they, and what is their connection to David and his family? Cue David’s sleepless nights and sweat-drenched pillows. But the thing is, these south side blacks aren’t who he imagined. In fact, they might do the most to save both Penelope and David. This paragraph could use some elaboration.

SAVING PENELOPE is an Adult Contemporary with a strong literary bend. Neither adult nor contemporary needs to be capitalized. It is complete at 76,000 words and, if it was nonfiction, would fit easily in Jonathan Cohn’s SICK. Italicize Sick to set it apart from your title.

Query Critique 41

Dear Secret Agent Man:

Lily Monroe survived the end of the world. Most would say she’s lucky. She’s not so sure.

The plague left surviving males virtually sterile and the hope of rebuilding society nearly nonexistent. Now, stuck with her ex-fiancé Garrett in a rural cabin in Tennessee, Lily is ill-equipped to survive whatever comes next – until what comes next arrives in the form of Cash Walker. This is good over all. I’m a little confused why she’s in a cabin with her ex-fiancé. Are they together despite a falling out? Or if there was no falling out, why is he her ex-fiancé?

Tall and trim and tough, Cash is exactly the kind of man who can get Lily and Garrett to one of the government-sanctioned survivor colonies. But Cash, tormented by his past, seeks only the solitude of the Louisiana bayous he calls home. Guiding two city-slickers through a landscape of burned-out buildings and mass graves is the last thing he needs on his post-apocalypse plate, and his attraction to Lily is a complication he wants to avoid as much as the plague itself. Yet Lily’s maddening mix of stubborn independence and kind-hearted determination proves more than he can resist. How does Cash end up in Tennessee? And if all he wants is to get down to Louisiana, why would he stop to help out this random couple? The only reason given is his attraction to Lily, but before that develops, what reason does he have to get involved.

As they trek deeper south, Lily sees the kind of man You’ve already used this “kind of man” phrase once, so it sounds a little repetitive here. Cash Walker is: broken, tortured, determined to fight off anyone who gets close. But Lily has spent her life healing broken creatures, and she’s convinced love can heal Cash, too, if only he will let it.

But when their arrival at the first colony ends in disaster, Cash saves her by leaving a severely injured Garrett behind. Feeling betrayed by his choice, Lily must choose: strike out alone or follow Cash to Belle Terre, a plantation colony in south Louisiana. Lily is torn between her anger with Cash and her growing feelings for him. When she learns she’s carrying Garrett’s child – possibly the last unborn child on earth – the rift between them widens and leaves Lily doubting the one thing she’d always believed – that love can heal any broken heart. Good. Stakes are established.

THE BEAUTIFUL EARTH is a 108,000 word adult post-apocalypse romance – the kind of romance created when a Deep South author reads Gone With the Wind and The Road in rapid succession. The novel can be read as a single manuscript or as the first of a proposed trilogy focused on three couples struggling to build a new society in south Louisiana. Thank you for considering it for representation.


Southern Harm

This query has a lot going for it. Good conflict and stakes. Just look into tying up some of the loose questions, and you should be good to go!

Query Critique 40

Dear Agent,

In SUFFER THE CHILDREN, Alex, a recovering alcoholic, is slowly regaining horrific lost memories, memories that could expose a decades old ring of human trafficking. I think human-trafficking ring sounds a little better than ring of human trafficking, but that might be personal preference.

Thaddeus Cahill lured thousands of Mexican immigrants onto his land, promising them a better life, and then betrayed them by using their bodies as fodder to create a formula, which could clone humans to anyone’s liking. If in the wrong hands, this formula which enables the cloning of humans of any gender, age, or level of intelligence, could be used to create an army of evil in a greedy bid for power, encompassing sexual trafficking and human experimentation. Thaddeus Cahill’s grandnephew is seeking the formula, and his intentions are vile and nefarious; and he’ll destroy and annihilate anyone who attempts to thwart him in his quest. Maybe I’m dense, but I’m having a little trouble wrapping my mind around how cloning works. Also, I’m not sure the history of how cloning came to be is as important to the query as establishing the problems that it is causing now.

Alex must find the formula and destroy it before Cahill’s grandnephew does. If Alex fails, the consequences will be disastrous. So I’m assuming Alex is the main character, but he/she (I’m not sure, because it’s common name for both genders) doesn’t even get brought up until the very end. He/she should be in the query from the start. Also, rather than saying the consequences will be disastrous SHOW me. Give me something tangible.

SUFFER THE CHILDREN is a thriller/suspense novel, intended for the adult reader and is complete at 76,500  words.

Sincere thanks for reading this query,

Author 2.0

Query Critique 38

Coby married a man who ought to be dead—and he’s starting to regret saying ‘I do.’ This is a good hook. It did sort of set up expectations for something speculative fiction, but that may just be my reader’s bias because I gravitate towards spec fic.

The night Coby pulled Jimmy, half-dead at seventeen, out of a seedy back-alley, everyone told him not to get attached. They said Jimmy was going to break his heart. But he told them he could handle Jimmy. After all, fate brought them together when Jimmy needed a friend the most. And for the last ten years, despite all of the hell Jimmy’s gone through, Coby’s never given up. My one complaint with this is that I feel like it uses Jimmy’s name a lot. Obviously you have to avoid pronoun confusion. But it’s like when you say a word a bunch of times and it loses meaning. Or maybe that’s just me.

Coby made a promise to Jimmy when they got married: he’d stand by him, give him a family, and never leave him.  But when Jimmy has an atomic meltdown at work, gets admitted to the psych ward, and loses his job, Coby, the man who swore he had no breaking point, breaks.

When Jimmy is released from psych, a vicious cycle begins: Jimmy refuses to stay on his meds and starts falling back into drugs.  Coby isn’t sure anymore if his obligation is strong enough to make things work.  But with Jimmy off his meds and back-peddling into addiction, Coby is about to admit that everyone was right.

RESCUE ME is LGBT, dual POV, Commercial Fiction, complete at 82,000 words with series potential. I don’t know that you really need to specify commercial fiction or LGBT (though you can). I’d maybe say adult contemporary instead. As far as the dual POV, there’s nothing in the synopsis to suggest that it’s told from the POV of anyone besides Coby because the query essentially tells everything from Coby’s point of view. My short story ‘Anguish’ was published in Winter’s Regret by Elephant Bookshelf Press in 2014.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Breaking Point

Query Critique 29

Dear Miss Nelson,

“Be wary, my friend… death follows on swift wings when a Raven smiles.” I’d work a little on the hook. It doesn’t grab me as much as I would like. I like seeing something in the hook that is very specific to the character, plot, or setting of the novel discussed.

Shadows and darkness are home to The Raven, who kills without thought and takes pleasure in solitude. Hunting men for the sake of coin consumes his waking hours, but when the flood of requests for his services come inexplicably to a halt, the Hunter needs to know why. Is the Hunter the same as the Raven? And is the Raven a human or an actual Raven? Or something else? Seeking answers to unknown questions, This phrase confuses me a little, as I generally don’t seek answers to questions I don’t know I have. Raven becomes the unlikely savior to a girl who promises truth, in exchange for her life. Now, the black-hearted assassin finds himself caught in a torrent that carries him away from the comfort of death, and into the world where he is forced to fight to hold on to his edge of darkness. Rework the way this last sentence is phrased, as it’s a little confusing.

Torrent is a simple serving maid. Lowly and invisible in her castle home, the girl is ill prepared for the dangers that pursue her when she unwittingly witnesses the unfolding of a conspiracy which threatens the very existence of her beloved King. For some reason the “very existence of” is rubbing me wrong. Maybe just say it threatens the life of. Forced to run from men who will take her life to protect the intricate web of secrets which are poised to crumble an empire, Torrent escapes with the knowledge that only she can warn the monarch of his impending demise. Frightened and alone in a world that seems bent on her destruction, Torrent finds herself face to face with The Raven, a creature who most whisper is death itself.

Complete at 100,000 words The Raven, is the first novel in an epic fantasy series which will captivate readers of all ages. The Raven, will appeal to fans of, Game of Thrones, Villains By Necessity, and Pitch Black the Chronicles of Riddick.

My work, is dark, thick with character development, and (though it is in the genre of fantasy,) does not contain characters pertaining to zombies, vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, witches, warlocks, or any other supernatural beings. I would say this paragraph is unnecessary. It’s better to focus on what the novel has rather than what it doesn’t. You don’t need to mention character development, because it should be apparent in the writing, and it’s expected that any author querying has adequately developed their characters (though many haven’t). And I think the query adequately portrays that the tone is dark.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Best regards,


A note on capitalizing titles from a previous blog post.