Query Critique 22


After arriving on Mars with no memory of her life on Earth, a young girl must uncover the mysteries of her past while attending an institution training the red planet’s next generation of leaders.

When she arrives at the Academy, her file only contains her name — Aurora — and she is one of many students learning how to survive on the strange, lifeless planet.  She develops friendships, competes on the gymnastics team, and…

…there’s a boy…

Over time, life seems to find normalcy. I’d condense these two lines in with the second paragraph so that the letter follows more standard formatting. I also don’t think the part about the boy needs to be that set apart, since the romance doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be the focus.

Until students begin to have strange, seemingly unrelated injuries.  The Administration claims these injuries are “accidents,” but Aurora and her friends are convinced that someone is attacking students.  To uncover the truth, she must dive deeper into the society developing on Mars.  She soon finds that the shadows lurking beneath its surface are intertwined with the mysteries of her past, and that her arrival on this planet may hold the key to its future. I’d elaborate a little on the elements in this last sentence. Be specific.

I am looking for an agent who believes — like I do — that young adult audiences are feeling fatigue with dystopian novels, and that an original concept can engage readers with adventure, mystery, and suspense without relying on a totalitarian setting.  I don’t love this part. Because 1) I think it’s better to focus on what the novel is rather than what it isn’t. 2) To me it shows a little ignorance about what is on the market. A lot of successful YA books recently have been genres other than Dystopia (The Fault in Our Stars, Throne of Glass, Code Name Verity, Dangerous…. To name a few). In fact, right now the NYT Best Sellers list for YA is ruled by contemporary.

At my day job in the nonprofit healthcare industry, I’ve excelled in organized and disciplined technical writing.  However, I am left with a yearning to flex the left-side of my brain, which I do by crafting stories about the adventures of a young girl on Mars.  I thought it was the right-side that was creative? When not writing, I also enjoy chasing around my beautifully opinionated, two-year-old daughter.

ADVENT MARS: THE ACADEMY is a young adult, science fiction mystery, complete at approximately 110,000 words.  If successfully published, it would be a debut novel. Just say this is your first novel. Don’t say “if published.” Be confident!

I have included the [required sample] below.  Thank you for your consideration.

Mister Martian

Query Critique 18

Dear Mrs. Nelson,

No-nonsense, 19-year-old Violet Mason knows what she wants: she wants to rock college like a hurricane, she wants to take her little sister trick-or-treating, and she wants the nightmares to stop. Vi’s always dreamed of ice and blood, but they aren’t dreams– they’re memories, and they aren’t hers.

When Evie Beware of names that look to similar on the page (in this case Evie and Vi)—beautiful, bubbly, and bloodthirsty—sits down beside Vi and says ‘hi’, things take a turn for the bizarre. There’s the confusing attraction between them, for one. Does Vi know that she’s blood-thirsty? Then, the boy who’s been watching Vi for months attacks her with a strange knife. This seems a little out of nowhere. Also, what is strange about the knife?

Evie saves Vi from being ripped apart by a snake-like monster, Where did the snake-monster come from? Also, what happened with the thing with the knife? and the girls embark on a twisted, deadly road trip across the American southwest. Evie has the dreams, too, and she knows about guns, which is great. Why is that great? What’s less great is that their chance meeting has set off a cosmic beacon that’s drawing more monsters to them. And that boy who tried to kill her? He’s an amnesiac named Toby and might be Vi’s only ally. It’s too bad he’s possessed by an entity that can’t decide whether to kill her or kiss her. There’s a lot happening in this paragraph. I’d like to know more WHY things are happening. What’s causing these things to happen? Also, just smooth the transitions a little.

So here’s Vi’s carefully organized To-Do list: learn to kick ass, or at least bruise it, while on the lam; find out whose memories are in her head and why it’s made her a target; fix an amnesiac, if she can find the time; and, most importantly, stay alive. This paragraph has great voice.

No problem. The body count might be rising, but she’s got this. Also good voice.

VESTIGE is a complete, 87,000 word YA urban fantasy action/adventure novel with strong elements of action/adventure and romance. I’d pick either action or adventure. I don’t think you need both. Also, 19 is a little old for the YA range. Do with that what you will.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Dream Slasher

If you want a little more of my thoughts on New Adult versus Young Adult, check out my post on New Adult.


Query Critique 16

THE HIDEAWAY is 88,700 words of contemporary women’s fiction. The novel tells the story of two women—Margaret Van Buren, known to most as Mags, and her granddaughter Sara. When Sara takes over The Hideaway, Mags’s tumble-down B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama, she discovers her eccentric grandmother led a life of passion, bravery, and bold choices Sara never imagined. I’d like a solid one-line hook somewhere in this paragraph. I do think the part about passion, bravery, and bold choices would be a little strong if shown rather than told.

After the unexpected death of her grandmother Mags—her only remaining family—Sara goes home to The Hideaway expecting to tie up loose ends and quickly return to her busy life and successful shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed her The Hideaway and charged her with renovating it—but that’s only the first surprise. A box in the attic containing clues to Mags’s real life, a motley crew of elderly B&B residents, and a handsome contractor named Crawford I almost feel like you don’t need the name. Like not saying his name makes him more mysterious and intriguing. Especially since we already can tell he’s the love interest. tie her to Sweet Bay in ways she didn’t expect. When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and new family she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but lonely life in New Orleans. So this paragraph has all the right information in it. It establishes setting, character, and conflict. It is really long, though. I wouldn’t necessarily say cut information, but can some of it go in the first paragraph? 

In my former career, I published many articles in regional magazines and in Southern Living. I currently write a monthly column in The Homewood Star, our community newspaper that reaches 14,000 readers each month. This is my second novel; the first is in a box under my bed.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Belle of the Ballpoint Pen

My overall comment on this one is to say not to underestimate the power of white space in queries (or in general. I love white space). A paragraph may be very well written, but if it’s long, my brain decides it doesn’t want to read it before I’ve even gotten to the first word.

Of course, this is hard when you’ve already been asked to strip your novel down to the bare bones. But then, is anything about querying easy?

Query Critique 14

So how about that Twitter contest Saturday? I know I was impressed by some of the pitches. I’m also impressed by this query letter.

Dear Agent X,

Three years ago Sabina Delacruz walked away from her criminal family. Goodbye to breaking and entering, stealing, and confidence tricks. Hello to life on the right side of the law. Now Sabina’s life is filled with art history papers, roommate disputes, and preparing for her final year of college. But when an old friend from Sabina’s past shows up at her apartment, her new life is endangered before it’s barely begun. If the story is NA, I’d like to see that indicated in the first paragraph, either by mentioning her age or the fact that she’s a college student. Also, the friend is a little distracting. Are they just there to give her the news, or are they actually important in the story?

Sabina discovers her twin sister, Serafina, Sometimes having two names that are really similar (start with the same letter) can be confusing for readers. has gone missing. Complicating matters is the fact that she vanished while on a job. Not just any job either but the con of a lifetime: infiltrate a crew of thieves set on stealing a priceless artifact and then when the heist is complete, steal the score from underneath their noses. This sentence feels long. Is there to break it up without making the flow feel clunky? It would make sense to declare the con a bust except Serafina’s employer does not like being disappointed and there are bodies to prove it.

To protect both her family and the life she’s built, Sabina assumes her twin’s identity and rejoins the thieves. Not only does she hope to complete Serafina’s job and deliver the artifact, she also intends to locate her missing sister. But fooling her new partners is the easy part. As Sabina slips further back into the life she left, she finds it harder to face the prospect of saying goodbye a second time — especially when she finds herself dangerously attracted to one of her fellow thieves, who believes she’s someone else.

BAD GIRLS LIVE FAST is a 75,000-word contemporary are other subgenres like suspense or thriller appropriate? NA. I like to think of it as an older, multicultural Heist Society with the contentious family dynamics of The Curse Workers. This is really good.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The Infiltrator

No overall comments. This is looking pretty polished to me!


Query Critique 9

Somebody on Twitter called these Kyratiques, which I think is fabulous. I’m going to see if I can get that to stick.

Comments are in green (in case you’re new here and haven’t caught on to my rainbow (sans red) comments yet).


After reading on your blog/on twitter/ on the agencies website your wish-list included women’s fiction, I thought my manuscript,Watercolour Riddles & Bergamot Tea, might be a good match. Put the name of the manuscript in all caps.

If MARICA If you put this in all caps, people will think this is the title of the book. learned anything from her mother, it’s that make-up is no more effective at covering crow’s feet than cried-out eyes.

But at twenty-four Marica finally had control of her life. A completed degree, a planned career and her own apartment far enough removed from her mother’s indifference and step-dad no. three’s interference…until her mother’s sudden death. With her mother gone, regret helps Marica decide to abandon her cute Paris loft and her fear of affection, and return to Melbourne Australia to live with heroctogenarian GRAN, longing for nothing less than ordinary. The placement of this modifier makes it seem like Gran longs for nothing less than ordinary. Also, I wouldn’t put GRAN in all caps.

And for a minute normal seemed possible, she even meets a hot new guy with a deliciously sexy accent. What type of accent? Specifying can help you play up the diversity, and a lot of agents are looking for diverse books. Then she uncovers one-hundred-year-old Russian journals which reveal her family’s part in the Romanov murders and subsequent four generations of deception. THIS. This is what needs to be in the hook. This is ten times more interesting than any of the stuff that leads up to it. The more she discovers the more uneasy she becomes about her family and more specifically her Gran, the one person she’d always called ‘home.’ I don’t think the quotes around home are necessary. So when the truth about her father’s death is revealed, Mention that the dad died sooner, or I might just assume that he and her mom were divorced. what remains of her world crumbles and then implodes.

With a grandmother who’s been keeping secrets, a mother who wasn’t who she seemed, and a father who died for all the wrong reasons, Marica feels deceived and fragile. With her relationship with Gran as brittle as toffy I think the more preferred American spelling is toffee, because the first time I read I thought it was taffy, which is like the least brittle candy in existence. shards, her flimsy grip on reality spirals Marica into a depressive melancholy. If she can’t break free of her family’s past, Marica’s future is assured. She’ll become the next family tragedy.

Set in Melbourne, Paris and Moscow, WATERCOLOUR RIDDLES & BERGAMOT TEA is a 90,000-word women’s fiction with historical elements, I’d break this into a new sentence right here. It gets a little long as is. think Coco Chanel & Doctor Zhivago/Romanov’s-style Russia, dealing with family and trust, and if the truth should remain buried with the dead.

Per submission guidelines I have not included …


Screen shot 2014-07-10 at 11.31.07 AM



Overall, I would say WAY more information about the involvement with the Romanov murders and quite a bit less information about how she’s trying to live a normal life. Normal is boring. That’s a lie. There are lots of great books about normal people, but I don’t think that’s where the focus should be here.

The Romanov murders are a great premise, though. People have been fascinated with that bit of history for a long time, and I think there is definitely more room for stories about it.

Query Critique 4

Our first women’s fiction query!

Comments in pink. I’m running out of font colors that aren’t too hard to read. Which makes me sad, but I’m still not going to stoop to using red.


Dear Agent,

Based on your representation of X and Y (or other personal note), I believe you will be interested in REFUGE OF DOVES (88,000 words), a work of women’s fiction set in present day and medieval France. From the query, I’m not entirely sure I know which parts are set in medieval France. Are there scenes that actually take place in the past, or just sort of flashbacks?

Fans of the romantic tension and supernatural flair of Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, the historical conspiracies of Christi Phillips’s The Rosetti Letter, and the lyrical past-meets-present storytelling of Kate Mosse (Labyrinth, Citadel) will enjoy REFUGE OF DOVES, which I was inspired to write after living in France.

REFUGE OF DOVES is the story of a woman standing at the crossroads of fact and faith, revenge and redemption, I don’t love constructions like this. I see them too much. who must uncover the truth of a thirteenth century murder to free a man haunted by ghosts from his past But this part is interesting. It is the story of love, reborn. Eh. This, again, is less exciting.

In January 1208, the assassination of a papal emissary in southwestern France changed the course of European history: it launched genocide against the Cathars, followers of a faith deemed heretical by the Christian church. This, to me, is more interesting than the last paragraph. I think assassination is a great way to start with a bang! I would start with this.

Eight hundred years after this murder, and eighteen months after her husband’s death, historian LIA CARRER I wouldn’t put this in caps. Caps are usually reserved for the manuscript’s title. flees the Pacific Northwest for a friend’s home in southwestern France, determined to rebuild her life. This sentence has a ton of great information, but is a bit on the long side. If it can be condensed, I would do that. Instead of finding solace in the quiet hills and medieval ruins of the Languedoc, she stumbles into the lives of a winemaker, a photographer, and a priest. Lia learns the truth of these men’s pasts and it sends her into an emotional tailspin: she is entangled with enemies who perished during the only religious crusade to take place on European soil. I’d like to see a stronger connection between the string of events of meeting the three guys and getting involved in this historical assassination. Also, this sentence seems like it could mean the story has paranormal elements (she is literally being haunted by ghosts from the crusade). If this is the case, make it clearer. Reincarnation is familiar ground for Lia, an expert in the mystical beliefs of the ancient Cathar faith. To reconcile the truth of that long-ago assassination, the logical researcher must accept religious fantasy as historical fact. And the woman trying to heal must risk love, and loss, again. I like the way this leaves off.

My work has appeared in the anthologies Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss, Flash of Fiction, Stories for Sendai, featured in the literary journals Cobalt, Granny Smith Magazine, River Poets Journal, and Cirque, shortlisted for the New Millennium Writings Award for Fiction, the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Award for Fiction, and awarded First Place, Romance, by Short Story Competition HQ. Here’s my two bits about including information about anthology publications and awards. I usually don’t particularly care. If it’s not a publication or award I’ve heard of, I don’t know how prestigious it is. Like you won this award, but how many other people were you up against? And it’s just sort of easy for my eyes to glaze over. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t mention it. But I like sections like this to be fairly short. And if the book doesn’t sound interesting, none of this matters to me at all. But the book does sound interesting, so that’s good. Part of that is just personal preference, though. Okay, rant over.

Per your submission guidelines, a sample chapter and synopsis are attached. My sincere thanks for your time and consideration.



Overall, I think this a pretty solid query. It did feel a little long, so I would consider condensing a few parts. But the premise really intrigued me, and the writing style seemed smooth. I like to see books about lesser-known historical events.