Friday, September 14, 2012

Query Critique #1

Okay, y'all, here we go.

I read queries like a book flap, looking for simplicity and punch. Do I want to keep reading? Am I confused? And most of all, do I want to read this book?! :)

We all know each query should start with a "hook," then flesh it out and end with a bang. You want the agent to think "I want to read more" when s/he finishes the query.

So without further ado, here's the first query (and thank you Emma! :D) My comments are in blue. 

Dear Agent:

Marie is an orphan how old is Marie?, raised within the Southern California social services program, plagued by a history of abuse and mental illness. Nice set-up, but clarify: is Marie plagued by the history of abuse or the social services program? Unclear. Now that I've read further, don't think you need the phrase "raised within the SoCal social services program."Things have gotten better since she moved in with her new foster mother in the small oceanfront community of Revera: a supportive older “sister”, social acceptance within her posh high school, a stable and loving boyfriend, and a medication cocktail that seems to keep seems to? does it keep them away or not? her demons at bay. But lately she’s been having vivid dreams of fire and death, and she can’t seem to seem to? watch this phrase--it dilutes your verb :) It's stronger if you delete the "seem to" stop crying blood. Last line is a GREAT hook. I'm intrigued: an orphan, vivid dreams, bloody tears, diagnosed with a mental illness but perhaps misdiagnosed? :) I'm in. :) Maybe condense the second sentence to get to this line sooner.

In “Adore”, Marie tells you her story as it unfolds. The bleak past, the bright future as she prepares to graduate and go on to art school...and how it all goes wrong when I'd delete everything before this point. You've taken the reader out of the story. she begins shedding bloody tears we already know this and has a chance encounter with a hot-blooded stranger who gives her some unwelcome news: she’s an angel. Marie thinks it’s just another delusion until the wings literally delete literally rip through her skin, and suddenly the dreams begin to make sense. Whisked away in the night to the home of a secretive, brooding and handsome billionaire, Marie learns she is one of the Celestials, an ancient supernatural race charged with overseeing all aspects of the universe. Cool. Marie struggles to make sense of the memories and feelings from another life that begin to awaken and cope with the growing fear that a bloody destiny awaits her. I want more here. What choice does she face? What consequences? Give me stakes. :)

I am querying you because I’ve followed you on Twitter and your blog, and feel “Adore” fits well with the type of material you’re interested in. In addition I think our personalities would be a great match and a good foundation on which to build a strong partnership. I'd cut this last sentence.

“Adore” is my first novel where is your word count & genre? based on an unfinished short story about a disturbed woman who sees angels which I wrote over fifteen years ago. It is the first in an open-ended series, in which I plan to delve deeper into the world of the Celestials and elaborate on other characters introduced in Adore. My genre of choice is speculative fiction with an emphasis on Y/A and children’s themes. All the agents need to know here is title,  word count, and genre of the work you're querying, which here is ADORE. It's totally fine to say "it stands alone but has series potential," but no need to delve into the guts of the potential series on a query, or talk about what the novel is based on. :). I tweet as @EAyC and my blog is Take info from this sentence and put after your name at bottom of email. I am not yet published but am active on LitReactor, where my piece “Waiting” won their July flash fiction contest and my horror short story “Crystal” placed sixth out of over 150 entries in August. Awesome bio for a query! Woohoo! :) I have a BA in Japanese language and a background in small animal medicine and furniture buying. Last sentence not necessary, unless you tie it into your novel and it's important.

May I send you the first three chapters of “Adore” so you can decide for yourself? Thank you so much for your time and consideration. Love the politeness. Very professional.:)

Emma Clark


You've got some great stuff here. :)

I like the idea of an angel living among humans as an orphan, and am wondering why. Why was she hidden among non-Celestials? Why didn't she know she was an angel? Is that important? But the biggest question is that an orphan taken to a "handsome billionaire's" house and told she's special might be relieved at the change of circumstance--so what problem/dilemma does she face? What choice must she make? A fear of a "bloody destiny" is too vague.  Does she have to make a choice between her Celestial family and her human one? The query MUST give the stakes; it's the ending punch. 

You definitely have something here. Generally, queries should be around 250-300 words (with the guts being around 250, according to Janet Reid of QueryShark fame :D) and you've done a nice job of keeping it within those limits. But use each word to your advantage; show what sets your book apart from other paranormal/angel novels.:)

Good luck Emma! :) I hope this helps. Remember, trust your writer's compass. You know your story better than anyone, and the query is your chance to make your novel shine. Yay!


  1. Thanks so much Lynne! Really helpful, and I sent you the revised version with your suggested changes a but ago. Hope others find it as useful as I did.

    1. So welcome Emma! Happy to help.:)

      I'll take another look and get back to you...

      Happy Saturday!

  2. Hi Emily,
    Thanks for sharing your query with us. I have a few comments.

    The whole first paragraph seems like backstory since it doesn't seem like it would have much to do with the climax of the story. I would suggest paring it down to one sentence: When 17 year old Marie starts crying blood she knows something is wrong.

    Then you can either make a brief reference to her dreams, or even leave them out and tell us how she finds out she's an angel. After that we need to know the stakes. Is she in any danger? Does she need to leave everybody she loves behind?

    Otherwise, I think you've got a great story here. Deciding what to keep in and what to take out is one of the hardest things to do. Good luck!