Query Critique 66

If being shy around girls were a serious disease, sixteen-year-old Jason Martyr would be on the terminal list.  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 like this opening! Fun spin on the “so and so was a normal teen until…” formula I see a lot. The agency threatens Jason’s family and friends to ensure his cooperation. Something about this sentence seems a little abrupt. I think it may be the wording more than the concept. Important information, though, obviously.

His mission is to go back in time to stop a ruthless secret society called the Masters of Infinity from altering history and taking control of the future.  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. Good job establishing conflict!

All Jason wants is to return to his normal life and the quest for the perfect girl. Before that can happen he must survive martial arts training from the most dangerous fighter in the world, and then prevent the Masters’ henchmen from carrying out the coup. His enemies know he is coming, and have some lethal surprises in store for him. I don’t know if this is necessary. It’s a little to vague to have a real punch, and you’ve already established a lot of conflict in the letter. Jason will go home when he completes the mission – if he survives.  It’s good that you’re establishing stakes. I think it could have a little bang though. This last sentence isn’t terrible, but it feels a little weaker than the rest of the query. Overall, a very good summary though.

THE DESTINY MATRIX, a work of speculative fiction for the YA market, is complete at 82,000 words. I don’t particularly mind “speculative fiction” as a genre label, but I know some agents prefer something more specific.  It features action sequences similar to the television series Chuck, and light science fiction aspects similar to Roland Smith’s Cryptid Huntersseries.  It is a stand-alone novel with series potential. 

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.

Query Critique 49

Dear [Agent Name],

I am seeking representation for RISING THROUGH ASHES, a diverse YA fantasy, complete at 97,000 words.

To Fallon, high castle walls, armed soldiers and cold are not obstacles. This is a good hook. I would like to see “cold” get beefed up so it sounds more intimidating. She relishes her assassination and endurance skills but hates being forcibly dispatched to the land of the birdfolk where she must secure a legendary truth-revealing Red Ink for the king. So, there are a lot of things in here that I don’t quite understand. Lots of worldbuilding that is very sudden. It probably all needs to be in the query, but maybe not all in the same sentence.

But the birdfolk, with feathers for hair and a penchant for face tattoos, are fiercely protective of their magic. Fallon continues her search crossing paths with storytellers and figures out of legends. When a failed excursion results in the birdfolk’s prince hunting for her, Fallon’s escapade leads her to confront a truth from her past – a suppressed history that pushes her to a greater role than she imagined. This is where I’d like to see the stakes ramped up. What happens if she doesn’t get the  Red Ink (why does the king even need it?)? What happens if she fails in this “greater role.” Why should I care if the history stays repressed or not? Work on answering these questions, and you’ll have a much stronger query because the reader will have a real reason to care what happens to the characters.

The manuscript is first in what could be a series. I believe it will appeal to readers of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Leigh Bardugo’s The Grisha Trilogy. Good comp titles.

Thanks for your consideration.
Birds of a Feather

Query Critique 47

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Samuel Morgan is in serious trouble. Part of me likes this, but part of me feels like I want to just be told specifically why he is in serious trouble.

Not your average fourteen year old’s trouble, but more of the he-might-wind-up-dead-or-wish-he-was sort of trouble. It wasn’t so much the oversized Irishman whisking him away to a magical pocket of old Norway, or the fact that Shadow Casters were hot on their heels. Heck, it wasn’t even that his dorky parents turned out to be spellcasters. No, Sam has taken all of that pretty well. His problem is the Disgraced. I kind of feel like a lot of details are being thrown at me, and some of them are sort of vague. For instance, what is a Shadow Caster, and why should I be afraid of them? Also, why does this Irishman want to take him to maigical old Norway?

In his new life at the Viking stronghold turned spellcasters academy, everything was going surprisingly well; he’d even made some friends. But then they visited Australia. When Sam and Titus–the aforementioned Irishman–have a chilling encounter with the Disgraced everything changes. This is the second time that the Disgraced have been mentioned. And I still don’t know what they are. If they really are as important as I think they’re supposed to be, I need to know sooner what they are and why they’re important. Also, Australia seems kinda random. And really far away from Norway. Namely, Titus and Sam. Titus is quickly descending into despair. Worse still, Sam is changing. Every fear and failure he has known, true or imagined, threatens to swallow him up. He can’t let them be right. These sentences read as a little bit choppy.

Sam and his newfound friends must find a way to save Titus before it’s too late, but no one seems to know a thing about the ancient, parasitic evil. In truth, the hard part is getting someone to believe them. It’s hard for grownups to take you seriously when you’re chasing an old wives tale used to frighten children.  Every dead end they encounter sends Titus closer to enslavement. In a desperate measure, Sam procures some reliable information, if a bit unscrupulously. Ok, so he stole it, but this is important. Who does he steal it from? Are they the type of person we would feel sorry that he stole from? Unfortunately, the truth is hard to swallow, and things look dire for Titus. Now, Sam is forced to wonder what he is becoming. He has no choice: he must stop the Disgraced or lose Titus–and be lost himself. Clear stakes. Good. My overall comment is just that I need a better sense of world-building. In particular, I need a better understanding of how the Disgraced work.

THROUGH THE CASTER’S GATE is a young adult contemporary fantasy and is complete at 105,000 words. Diverse characters of varying cultures, ethnicities, and social classes will strike a chord with teens living in an increasingly diverse world. I think you can just say that it’s diverse. Agents already get why that’s important. This is my first novel. Although I do not possess any magical powers, I do have previous experience as a socially awkward teenager. I like this. Thankfully, I’m retired from that role. I am also a member of SCBWI.

My thanks for your time and attention. I have included the first ten pages per your guidelines for your consideration.  Synopsis and full manuscript are available upon your request.

Best Regards,

Ye Olde Norse

Query Critique 46

There is very little actual critique on this query, as it’s already very polished. I think it’s important for writers to be able to see really good queries as well, to have a model to work off of.

Dear Kyra Nelson,

Thirteen-year-old Stevie Blake shoots lightning at 1.21 gigawatts a bolt. I like this opening! Very specific about what makes the character unique. He supercharges iPhones into iDuds just by touching them. He even flies. (Landing is a whole different story.) Good voice.

But in less than thirty days, he won’t exist. I know this is set apart for emphasis, but I’d almost like to see it at the end of the first paragraph, because I think it would really tie the paragraph together. That’s pretty nitpicky, though.

His dad’s former sidekick, Artimus Smiles, has stolen a time machine and is using it to alter history. Suddenly, the good people of Summer Springs can’t remember a time when Smiles wasn’t the richest and most powerful Remarkable around, and they barely remember Stevie.

In the name of the greater good, Stevie breaks a few of the Superhero Handbook ™ rules to find out what’s going on. Unfortunately, breaking-and-entering isn’t legal, not even when spying on a super villain wanna-be. Neither is stealing a Memory Serum so that Stevie’s cousins remember him. Destroying the robot protecting the serum practically guarantees Stevie a life sentence, but he soon uncovers a connection between his dad’s past and Smiles’ present. A sinister connection, straight from a comic book, that could zap Stevie’s shot at a future.

But time is against Stevie, literally. His powers are weakening, he’s fading from pictures, and he could disappear any day. He has to travel in time, Marty McFly style, and stop Smiles from erasing him from existence, even if it means altering history himself. Over all, I think this query is very strong. I would maybe like it to be a little more clear on what exactly Smiles (I love that the bad guy is named Smiles of all things) is doing that’s causing Stevie to disappear. Overall, though, great voice, conflict, and stakes. All the important elements of the query are there.

THE REMARKABLE STEVIE BLAKE AND THE TIME TRAVELER is a 68,000 word upper middle grade novel with series potential. It will appeal to fans of Matthew Cody’s Powerless and John David Anderson’s Sidekicked. Italicize the comparative titles. I hold a BFA in Creative Writing, but unfortunately I possess no superpowers. Thank you for your time and consideration.

R.E. Markable

Query Critique 35

Dear ______________,

Missy Foxx found one thing more frightening than being bullied.So, having this in past tense feels weird. The query is usually in present tense, even if the novel is past tense. Love. Missy spent the better part of four years being terrorized and pranked during high school. Getting called Miss Piggy on a daily basis by the popular crowd is enough to bring her self-esteem down.This sentence shows what the last sentence told. Both sentences basically give the reader the same information, but the second sentence does it a lot more effectively. I read a lot of queries that begin by saying that the main character is bullied, and it gets easy to tune out. But being called Miss Piggy is vivid and demands the reader’s attention. On that note, I think you should work that into your hook. To me, it’s much more powerful than the sort of vague bit you have about love. She leaves the small town of Kennesaw, TN after graduation determined to change things.“Things” seems a little vague. She’s off to change her life? Her future? Missy is off to college to pursue her dream of being an actress.

While getting passed up for acting roles due to her weight she encounters the attractive personal trainer L.C. He starts to fall for her but the years of insecurities and being teased because of her weight she, at first, rebuffs his advances.This transition seems a little abrupt. Possibly because you say “at first” she rebuffs his advances. That sort of implies that then she starts to fall for him, but we don’t fully get there before we’re suddenly in NYC. Missy uproots to New York City to start her acting career and leaves L.C. devastated. After many struggles and only landing small roles, with the help of fast talking playboy agent, Quinlan Porter, Missy achieves her goal and becomes a successful actress.

When her mother suddenly passes away, Missy finds herself back in the town where all her problems started and now she’s a celebrity. It is there she reconnects with her old flame L.C. Now leading completely different lives she is torn between choosing her second shot at love and her lifelong dream. It needs to be more clear why she has to choose between the two. Why can’t she date the hottie and be an actress at the same time?

INTRODUCING MISSY FOXX is a diversity friendly I would just say diverse. new adult manuscript complete at 65,000 words.New adult is an age range, not a genre. I would specify that it’s contemporary. Also, some comparative titles would be great.

I have included the first ______________ pages for your review.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Very sincerely,


Query Critique 34

Dear Agent,

Any human servant would choose the workhouse over Evlalia – and her most recent two just have. Evlalia isn’t a common name, so it took me a minute to understand that that’s who “her” referred to.

She sacrificed hours informing them of every flaw. But her words were wasted on people, as usual. At least she didn’t dare to make a positive start: it would clearly have gone to waste as well. Short (1-2 sentence paragraphs) can be really effective, but only if used sparingly. Also, the number of short paragraphs in this query make it feel longer than it should be.

No High person makes their own food or laces their own corsets. Evlalia needs a new servant, and a magic one will have to do.

Part metal, part human, a unit is a magical servant summoned from the Internet. They come with unique software: some read or run faster than a forming thought, others grow their toenails or eyelashes six times faster than normal. To me, this seems more interesting than the first bit. 

Buying a unit so damaged it’s considered unsellable? At least he needs her too much to ever leave. And it reminds everyone that Evlalia picks the road less travelled, even if it leads over a cliff.

Her new unit is Tace, and he can teleport. At least he could, before his old user left him without hands and on a ventilator. I think handless and on a ventilator flows a little smoother, but that may just be personal preference. Thanks to Evlalia, he no longer passes out after twenty seconds, but he still waits on the roof every night for his old user to come back.

Evlalia’s words stop her disappearing into just another average, replaceable person; Tace’s muteness is more voluntary than everyone thought, and his body is built around being able to disappear at will. Maybe rework this sentence. It’s a bit confusing. Friendship between them was a risk neither planned to take; it just seemed to happen, like the cutting remarks Evlalia always assumed she could keep back if she tried.

Not being able to dismiss people makes interaction complicated; as Evlalia meets other units, she’s relieved to find them just as easy to offend as humans. Being installed with dictionaries and perfect memories just seems a bonus. I’m not sure how relevant this is to the main plot line.

Kyrillos can read every blood vessel pumping in Evlalia’s neck, and when his domination over his user is questioned he knows exactly which artery to pinch shut.

Halimeda can read every regretted word and past mistake in Evlalia’s mind, and when the motives of her sudden friendship with Tace are questioned she knows exactly what Evlalia wants left unsaid. I wouldn’t mention Kyrillos or Halimeda unless they’re REALLY important. Even still, they seem a little distracting.

Tactful silence might save Evlalia’s life, but also makes her indistinguishable from everyone else. That less travelled road does end in a cliff – and it might be better to jump.

Um… What genre is this? Age group? Comparative titles? (reminds me a little of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder)

Mystic Cyborg

My biggest concern with this query is lack of direction. I felt a little like I was wading through various plot lines. I think the query would be improved by focusing on the biggest source of conflict. Is it Evlalia’s lack of servitude? Is it Tace’s injuries? Is it that there are these other units potentially causing problems? Flesh out the main conflict, make it obvious, and establish clear stakes.

Query Critique 33

I commented in purple cause the main character is very manly… And I was too lazy to change away from purple after I chose it.


Life as a clone of Alexander the Great is just one big Gordian Knot. I started out really excited about this hook, because clone of Alexander the Great is really cool. But then it sort of lost me because I have no idea what a Gordian Knot is. I looked it up, and now I know it’s a thing. Maybe it’s something people should have heard of, but I hadn’t.
In near future England, Alexander 2.0 has been fighting his impulses since a childhood head injury roused his ancient memories. His warrior side wants to eviscerate anyone who crosses him. His domesticated side keeps a tight rein on his urges for the sake of his medical career and family.
But the normalcy Alexander longs for starts to slip away after he protects the son of a dangerous, drug-dealing acquaintance. He threatens to expose the illegal activities, and the dealer tries to silence him. Is he and him in this paragraph referring to Alexander or the drug dealing son? Alexander nearly loses his wife and infant children, and he ends up in the hospital with a bullet in his chest. When he awakens, so does a bloodlust of epic proportions. His fury only deepens when he learns his assailant has evaded police and disappeared.
With his peaceful world spiraling beyond his control, Alexander can no longer suppress the impulses that dominated his ancient life. Now the greatest danger he faces isn’t battling a psychopath. It’s keeping his thirst for revenge from turning him into one.

Complete at 119,000 words, THE SANDS OF HIS EMPIRE is speculative fiction with a historical twist and series potential. Any comparative titles? I read Jasper Fforde’s The Eyer Affair recently, and that has some sort of similar elements. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Awesome Author 2.0

Some sort of general questions I have. I’m not sure how many of them you can address in the query, but decide which might be important to talk about. The more you can compress what you have (without making it confusing of course) the more of this you can address.

Does Alexander know he’s a clone?

Does he know who cloned him? 

Is cloning common?

Are there clones of other famous people?