Novel Boot Camp – Workshop #5: Query Letter & Blurb Critique

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The very last week of Novel Boot Camp is upon us! I can hardly believe it!

I’ve been enjoying your questions on the previous workshop, so I will leave it open in case you have any more questions you want to ask the editor (me).

I also want to let everyone know that the contest results and winners will be posted this Friday. This means that this workshop will be open for two days after the winner has been selected.

Now that your novels are starting to look shinier, let’s look towards the future – a future in which you all seek publication! Let’s focus on our query letters and blurbs. If you aren’t quite to the querying stage yet, don’t worry. Writing out a practice query can be a great way to solidify the plot and catch structural errors.

Want to get a leg up? Here are my best tips for a successful query (they work on most blurbs too):

How to Write a Query Letter

There are six important elements of a query letter. When all six are present, you know you’re getting close to a winner!

Character

What is your character like? What are her good and bad personality traits? The query letter should lightly incorporate this information, but should nestle the info in active, interesting sentences.

Motivation

What does your character want? What motivates her? The query letter should clearly define what it is your character hopes to achieve.

Obstacles

What stands in the character’s way? Why can’t he get what he wants? The query letter should make the obstacle(s) in the path of the character clear.

Proaction

What does the character have to do to solve the problem? What is required of him or her? The query letter should explain how the character is proactive.

Stakes

What happens if the character fails? What will they lose? The query letter should use the story’s stakes to suck the reader into the tension of the conflict.

Tone

What is the tone of your novel? The query letter should mirror this tone so that the reader gets from the novel exactly what they would anticipate after reading the query.

Workshop #5: Query Letter & Blurb Critique

July 28 – August 3

(Winners chosen on August 1st)

How to Submit Your Query Letter or Blurb

*Please read all of the rules before posting.*

Your submission should be posted in the comments section below and should include nothing but your genre and the first 250 words. Do not begin or end your post (or reply to your own post) with any additional information. The goal is to get unbiased, authentic critiques.

The critique is open to both query letters and back cover blurbs (for those who are self publishing).

Each writer may post up to two times. This may be two versions of your query letter or blurb, two different query letters or blurbs, or one blurb and one query letter.

What to Do After Receiving a Critique

You are welcome to reply to critiques on your work to thank the critiquer or to seek clarification.

Please do not post updated versions of your query letter or blurb. This will prevent any individual writer from dominating the workshop. Asking for subsequent critiques is also asking a lot from your fellow writers who already took time to help you out.

Absolutely do not, under any circumstances, reply to a critique in an aggressive, insulting, or demeaning manor. It’s okay to disagree, but please do so respectfully.

I want this to be a positive and empowering experience for the Novel Boot Campers! If I feel that someone is disrupting that experience, I reserve the right to remove their posts and/or ban them as necessary.

How to Leave a Critique

Please post your critiques as a reply to the query letter or blurb, not as a general reply in the comments section.

Please do not post one sentence critiques, such as, “I liked it.” Why did you like it? Be specific.

Do not mention your writing “status.” For example, do not mention that you’re a published author, an editor, a bestseller, an award-winner, etc. I do not have time to validate these statements and do not want writers being misled into believing they are being given professional advice.

Prize – Free Query Letter or Blurb Critique

Due to the volume of participants, it is unlikely that I will be able to select a winner based entirely on merit. Unless there is one critiquer who really stands out from the rest, the winner will be selected randomly.

That said, I will check through the posts of the random winner to ensure that they participated to the best of their ability. This means that the winner must have made a minimum of 5 critiques, all of which must be 3 sentences or longer in length.

My Participation

I will be offering critiques as I am willing and able. I’m editing novels 50 hours per week (not including the time spent on Novel Boot Camp) so it is unlikely that I will be able to offer critiques for most writers.  😦

Please do not take it personally! The ones I comment on will be more or less random.

And who knows? Novel Boot Camp will be over someday and maybe I’ll have time then to offer some critiques.

Connect with Other Novel Boot Camp Participants

Need a writing friend? Got a question? Need a shoulder to cry on? We’re there for you!

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I will be answering writing and editing questions on our Twitter hashtag as time allows. Due to the insane volume of emails I’m receiving, I cannot provide free advice or assistance via email. Thank you!

What is Novel Boot Camp?

Novel Boot Camp is a free online novel writing course focused on identifying and correcting problems in your novel. Learn more about Novel Boot Camp and find past (and future) posts here.

150 thoughts on “Novel Boot Camp – Workshop #5: Query Letter & Blurb Critique

  1. Chase Curtis says:

    Genre: Sci/fi

    Avery Keller had no idea when he took his family to the lake that he’d come home with superpowers; or an alien passenger in his head, or that he’d be expected to save the world, or maybe destroy it

    • Julie Griffith says:

      Great blurb. It could possibly be broken into two sentences to avoid using “or” so much.
      Avery Keller had no idea when he took his family to the lake that he’d come home with superpowers, or an alien passenger in his head. He had no idea he’d be expected to save the world, or maybe destroy it.
      To be honest the repetition of “or” doesn’t bother me. I think it might bother some, but I like it that way, too.

    • English Tim says:

      ((This is a very short blurb. I’m trying to remember where I’ve seen one shorter. It almost reads like a movie poster. Or something on the front cover of a movie tie-in. It’s very snappy, but I’m not sure what you really gain by keeping it so brief. More on this later.

      Avery Keller had no idea when he took his family to the lake ((This sentence is the wrong way round. It should start active and you can save a word, like this: Taking his family to the lake, Avery Keller had no idea)) that he’d ((try to avoid abbreviation outside dialogue))come home with superpowers;((you don’t need a semi-colon here. A comma will work, but in a blurb a full stop is even better)) or an alien passenger in his head, or that he’d ((no abbrevation)) be expected to save the world, or maybe destroy it((full stop))

      ((You seem reluctant to use full stops, but they would definitely work here.))

      ((Also, why would Avery have any idea this was going to happen, unless strange things were already happening? Assuming they weren’t, this is an easy fix. So, with full stops too:

      “Taking his family to the lake, Avery Keller could have no idea he would come home with superpowers. Or an alien passenger in his head. Or that he could save the world. Or destroy it.”

      ((For the purposes of the blurb, do we need to know he was taking his family to the lake when all this happened? If not:

      “Avery Keller could have no idea that he would come home with superpowers. Or an alien passenger in his head. Or that he could save the world. Or destroy it.”

      ((Or you can go ultra-short, like this:

      Avery Keller came home with superpowers.
      And an alien in his head.
      To save the world.
      (Or destroy it.)

      ((Whichever you chose, are you sure you don’t want to reveal more? How did he come home with superpowers? Why is there are alien in his head? Is it a spiritual being, or does it physically live inside his skull? Where and when will he save the world? Why could he destroy it?

      ((I think you could answer these questions in a second paragraph which raises yet more questions and makes it even more likely that the reader will flip to page one.

      ((There’s nothing to stop you keeping the ultra-short version as paragraph one, and then expanding, with longer sentences, in paragraph two, or three. Then you would have a more comprehensive blurb with a snappy first paragraph.

      ((Hope the suggestions help.))

  2. Chase Curtis says:

    genre; Sci/fi

    Avery’s father once told him it was a lucky man who could say with certainty where his head would be laying that night when it left the pillow in the morning. Avery knew he was lucky, blessed with a beautiful wife and two children he enjoyed the predictable pattern of his days. His only fear was that his life was a dream he might wake from at any minute. So when Avery found Lero-niat dying in the wreck of a crashed space ship he should have just left well enough alone. Avery had never heard of the Ersid; had no way of knowing that they were servants of the Astani; a race of immortal beings who change bodies as others change clothes. Or that Lero-niat was the last of his kind and on a mission to destroy the Earth and the Astani. Dying and desperate Lero-niat did the unthinkable and imprinted Avery placed his alien consciousness inside Avery’s mind in the hope of completing his mission. Now gifted with amazing and strange new abilities Avery has to learn a lot and fast if he’s going to survive, and protect his family as his mind slowly meshes with the aliens to form a unique composite, if it doesn’t drive them insane first. All Lero-niat has to do is convince Avery to save the universe from the Astani; but asking someone to destroy their world is a hard topic to brooch even for the best conversationalist.

    • Julie Griffith says:

      It’s nice getting a bigger picture of what your story is about, Chase. I think you could end it after “…completing his mission.” Everything prior lets us know that Avery found a crashed spaceship and a dying alien that was on a mission to destroy Earth, then the alien invaded Avery’s mind in hopes of completing his mission. That’s a good set-up. That gives the agent a teaser, makes them want to know what happens next and how it effects Avery. That said, yours is much shorter than mine, so good job getting yours more condensed than I did.

    • Lara Willard says:

      I think your query starts with “When Avery found Lero-niat dying in the wreck of a crashed space ship…” Everything before that is set-up. Starting with Avery’s father is especially confusing, because he doesn’t factor in later on, and it gives me the impression that Avery is a child.
      I’m also wondering if you could keep to just one or two proper nouns. Avery’s father, Avery, Lero-niat, Ersid, Astani…it’s a bit overwhelming. I think if you 1) focus more on the story, and Avery’s goal and motivation, 2) save most of the world-building for the story itself, and 3) break up the text so it isn’t one big block of text, this will be more readable and make me want to read more about the world and the characters.
      Good luck with your query!

    • English Tim says:

      ((Hi Chase, People are generally required to write queries in the present tense. You risk quick rejection by keeping it in the past. I’ll critique your version but do suggest that you change it.

      ((In my opinion your query is too big and there’s too much telling. You need to show more and avoid info-dumping. I would suggest you rewrite this query in the present tense at half the length, dropping Avery’s father. Instead, draw the agent in with action and conflict. Then, lower down, introduce the bigger issues and backstory.

      ((Before you start, establish what is unique and compelling about your novel and make sure it appears very high up in your query. Of course, a rewrite will make some of my comments below irrelevant, but hopefully they will help you self edit.))

      Avery’s father once told him it was a lucky man who could say with certainty where his head would be laying that night when it left the pillow in the morning.

      ((Long sentence. This breaks it up a little: “Avery’s father taught him: “It’s a lucky man who lifts his head in the morning and knows where he’ll lay it at night.”))

      ((Avery – He)) knew he was lucky,((full stop)) blessed with a beautiful wife and two children((comma)) he enjoyed the predictable pattern of his days. His only fear was that his life was a dream ((which)) he might wake from at any minute. So when Avery found Lero-niat dying in the wreck of a crashed space ship((spaceship)) he should have ((just – redundant word)) left well ((enough – redundant)) alone.

      ((Lero-niat is a long name. After using it a few times, you could abbreviate it to Lero, especially if you are planning to introduce more aliens with long names.

      ((The connection of the last two sentences is a little confusing. You can spell it out like this: “So when Avery found Lero-niat dying in the wreck of a crashed space ship he might have kept it by leaving well alone.”

      ((However, what is well in this scene, that he should leave it alone? Is it well that Lero-niat is dying? Is it well that his spaceship has crashed? I think you mean that he should never have gone near it. If so, you need to rewrite the end of that sentence. Something like: “…kept it by walking away.”))

      Avery had never heard of the Ersid; had no way of knowing ((that – redundant)) they were servants of the Astani; a race of immortal beings who change bodies as others change clothes.

      ((I don’t like semi-colons. People who use them should most often have used something else:

      ((“Avery had never heard of the Ersid. He had no way of knowing they were servants of the Astani – a race of immortal beings who change((d)) bodies ((as – like)) ((others – we)) change clothes.

      ((Or – Nor)) that Lero-niat was the last of his kind and on a mission to destroy the Earth and the Astani. Dying and desperate Lero-niat did the unthinkable ((why is this unthinkable? For all we know, he’s from a race of suicidal warriors)) and imprinted ((Avery placed – redundant, out of place)) his ((alien – redundant, we know he’s an alien)) consciousness ((inside – upon)) Avery’s mind in the hope of completing his mission.

      Now gifted with amazing ((to who?)) and strange ((to who?)) new abilities((comma)) Avery has to learn a lot and fast if he’s going to survive((, – no comma)) and protect his family as his mind slowly meshes with the aliens ((to form a unique composite – redundant, this is a given: we know a mind mesh with an alien is unique and that it is a composite)), if it doesn’t drive them insane first.

      ((I think you wrote this last section in a hurry. How can he learn a lot, and fast, if his mind is only slowly meshing with the aliens? Who could this drive insane? His family or the aliens? And why will it drive them insane, since it’s a slow process? If it’s his family, can’t they just leave him and keep their sanity?))

      All Lero-niat has to do is convince Avery to save the universe from the Astani;((full stop)) ((Surely that’s not all he has to do. Surely he has to make sure Avery actually do it. What guarantees does he have? None that I can see. At the moment he’s still waiting for his mind mesh to work.))

      ((And, big question now, why does Lero-niat have to convince Avery to save the universe from the Astani? What are they up to? And, more to the point, how many of them does it take to threaten the whole universe? The universe, at full size and not represented by a little diagram, is massive beyond the scope of my imagination. So massive that our own solar system is as near to nothing as you would care to imagine. Who besides God is big enough to threaten that? Why not shift down a few gears and have them threaten the galaxy? We can cope with that.

      ((B))but asking someone to destroy their world is ((a hard topic to brooch even for the best conversationalist – I suggest you rewrite this. You’ve suddenly made Lero-niat some sort of alien raconteur when previously he was a soldier on a mission to destroy the Astani and Earth. If he is the chatty type, introduce that earlier, before we have formed our own mental image.

      ((Hope this is helpful.))

  3. Jenna says:

    Some people sort recyclables, photographs, or coupons. Mindy sorts the dead as they stumble off her elevator.
    She’s fabulous at injecting a second life-story chip into their necks. Sending them to the appropriate elevator to return as animal or human—she can do that as many times as After’s mailman can crack a sex joke.
    Then Jonah appears. He’s not dead. As Mindy looks for clues to explain his appearance, she accidentally falls through a portal back to earth. Her AWOL act fails to impress the boss who owns her soul. He sentences Mindy and Jonah to lead separate second lives.
    Mindy starts an impossible manhunt. Jonah will be in a different body, his mind erased. If she earns back his memories, he’ll get more time with family, more time with her.
    But the connection between the two is stronger than they know. Jonah’s already living his second life. When Mindy discovers who he was in his first, she might want to erase her own memories.
    Told in dual points of view, WORLDS APART, a YA fantasy complete at 85,000 words, is Victoria Schwab’s The Archived meets David Levithan’s Every Day.

    • Julie Griffith says:

      Oh, I’m so glad I get to find out what this is about! I like the first part, it explains the idea of the story and how your characters fit into it. The “After” part confused me a little. Is this a character in the novel? Is this the name of her boss? I think maybe you give too much away toward the end. I would end it before you go into the fact that they are closer than they know and the rest. It’s my understanding that the query letter should just set up the story, give the basics about what it’s about, like a teaser of sorts. Maybe I’m wrong? Other than that, this sounds great! I like the closing paragraph. It’s worded well and I’m familiar with “Every Day” and can see the similarity.

      • Jenna says:

        Thanks for your help, Julie! I will revisit the things you mentioned. I’m taking out the After part. It’s the name of the place humans go when they die.

  4. Julie Griffith says:

    Genre: YA Science Fiction/Romance

    The year is 2040, and it’s become clear that the biggest threat to the world is no longer global warming or nuclear weapons. Pandemic viruses have taken over as most likely to succeed in putting humans on the endangered species list. And seventeen-year-old Trig Conners could end up being the last man on earth.
    Trig’s mother was exposed to a dangerous virus while she was pregnant with him. Desperate to save his wife and unborn child, Quentin Conners, a brilliant and slightly unstable scientist, injected her with an experimental drug designed to turbo boost the immune system. She became very ill, sustaining permanent damage to vital organs—damage that later led to her death. Miraculously, the child suffered no detrimental effects. In fact, Trig was found to have the remarkable ability to rapidly fight off every virus he’s exposed to. Within hours of contracting a virus, he’s completely free of illness.
    Crazed with grief and his inability to duplicate the results, Quentin spends years experimenting on Trig to find the answer. After a failed attempt to run away, Trig becomes a prisoner inside his father’s research facility. His dream of someday having a normal life is the only thing keeping him going. When he finds out his father is planning a risky experiment, one he may not survive, he knows what he has to do. But his plans are complicated by the discovery that he’s not the only one who’s been forced to be a part of Quentin’s cruel experiments.

    • Rae says:

      Julie, if you had a 30 second elevator pitch to me as an agent, what would you tell me about your book? I can see if I can help you whiddle this down to a query and not a synopsis. PM me on Facebook. Rae

      • Julie Griffith says:

        That’s exactly what I’m working on– If I had to describe my novel in just as few sentences, what would I say? I think it’s a bit harder when the genre is sci-fi or fantasy, because you not only have a character and their situation to present, but a whole different world or idea that is unfamiliar to present. That’s my conundrum. I’ll try to get it down to the bare bones tomorrow and toss that at you. Thanks for offering to help. 🙂

    • Lara Willard says:

      This sounds really intriguing! However, I’m not getting the romance at all. What’s the main conflict of the novel? Who’s the love interest? While this query is interesting, it’s all backstory for the main conflict, which (I’m guessing) includes Trig and a love interest versus Trig and his relationship with his father. Most of this query deals with Quentin, not Trig.

      I think you can sum up most Quentin’s story in a sentence or two. “An experimental drug administered to Trig’s mother while she was pregnant left him immune to diseases and left her dead. The man behind it all was Trig’s father, who, crazed with grief over his wife’s death and his inability to duplicate the results, has been experimenting on Trig for years. Now Trig’s imprisoned…” It’s not pretty, but it gives you an idea.

      This also sounds like a dystopian romance to me, if it is a romance. Good luck with your query! Feel free to drop by with questions.

      • Anonymous says:

        I know, this is an awful query. I’m starting to figure out how it’s done now. The main conflict is between Trig and his father r/t him keeping him prisoner and the inhumane things he’s doing at the research facility. Yeah, it got so long with all the backstory that I ran out of room to go into the romance aspect. The romance comes later with a girl he meets after he escapes. I really shouldn’t have listed romance as part of the genre anyway since it’s a less prominent feature of the novel. I finally decided it’s not dystopian because it doesn’t fit the characteristics of that genre. It’s our world in the future and not dramatically different as far as government and society goes. Thanks so much for taking the time to sort through it and give suggestions. I’ll definitely take your advice with focusing less on Quentin and cutting out a lot of the backstory or at least work on telling it in a more succinct way.

        • Julie Griffith says:

          The above comment is from me. I guess I forgot to fill in my name, etc. before posting. Shouldn’t have tried it before coffee.

    • English Tim says:

      In my opinion that long first paragraph is backstory and info dump. I think agents might hit Autoject and float safely to earth while your query crashes and burns. That would be tragic, because there’s a good and potentially great story starting at your last two lines.

      I couldn’t find any conflict in the first half of the query and the motivations were confusing throughout. Is Quentin brilliant? Mad? Desperate? Angry? Cruel? Dedicated? Heartbroken? If all seven, where does he get the time to find cures? Pick one or two and settle for that. What about Trig, your protagonist? Was he ever a willing guinea pig? As your query stands, he seems to have the personality of one. Use up to a full line of this query to flesh out his character.

      In my opinion, if you start your query where it ends then it suddenly becomes exciting. Trig has to get out, and we’re right with him. Isn’t this where your novel starts anyway? Now that you’ve dumped the backstory, show more of the plot and convince the agent he has to see more.

      Incidentally, one of the most popular comedy characters on British TV was named Trigger and regularly nicknamed Trig. The actor has died now, but the character is almost immortal. Sorry to be the herald, don’t shoot me etc.

      • Julie Griffith says:

        I agree with everything you said, and wouldn’t blame them for hitting “Autoject.” I had another comment about the conflict not being clear, so that’s something I’ll work on. The intense, inhumane experiments came after the death of his mother, five years prior, and then he became an unwilling participant, which is why he became a prisoner. I need to make that more clear in a brief way, somehow. I’m going to try again and start with what’s at the end and skip all the backstory. Thanks so much for your helpful comments.
        Great, there’s a famous Brit named Trig. And I thought I only had Sarah Palin’s grandson to worry about.

        • Julie Griffith says:

          Oh, wait, Trig is Sarah Palin’s son’s name. And another character in my novel is named Willow, which turns out to be the name of another one of her kids. All I need now is a Piper, Track, and Bristol and I’ll have the whole family in there. *Insert expletives

          • English Tim says:

            I think you would be OK because Trig was his nickname, but I thought I should mention it. I had to change my beloved tough guy’s character name when I discovered it was a pot plant. Oh well. If it was easy everyone would be doing it…

      • Chase Curtis says:

        Am I that bad, you skipped mine and did everyone else’s. I have wondered why you always skip mine, you’re one of the few people one of the few people I wanted a comment and/or critique from and it’s never happened so I want to know do you just think I suck, hate sci/fi, find my style repulsive. Just wondering?

        • English Tim says:

          Hi Chase, It’s nice to be appreciated, but I’m not sure you’re aware that I leave very few critiques. Four or five in this workshop and eight to ten in First Page. I probably skipped you if I thought you were already getting attention I couldn’t add to. To show you it’s nothing personal, look out for a critique or comment soon. All the best, Tim

  5. Nikki says:

    Dear Agent,

    When twenty-four year old Neha is left standing alone at her wedding in Mumbai with nothing but henna designs on her hands as humiliating souvenirs, she has to swallow her pride and do the unthinkable – embrace the age old Indian tradition of arranged marriages.

    Worried the stigma will adversely affect her younger sibling’s prospects, her parents place matrimonial ads in leading newspapers. While Neha is not entirely thrilled about being reduced to ‘Hindu software engineer girl, slim, fair seeking alliance with highly educated engineer or doctor in Bombay’, she goes along with it for the sake of her parents. With her stressed father on the brink of a second heart attack, she agrees to marry Sameer – a man she barely knows. He treats her family with respect and Neha knows in her heart that here is a man who would never walk out on her.

    But when Neha is sent to New York on an IT consulting gig with her nerdy, but compassionate teammate Raj, somewhere between battling snow storms to making coriander chutney, they fall for each other. Now Neha is having second thoughts about her impending nuptials. But with Raj planning to marry a U.S citizen to permanently stay in America, Neha must choose between her family’s happiness or fight for Raj and true love.

    PROJECT MATRIMONY, complete at 56,000 words will appeal to readers of the Namesake and A Suitable Boy.

    • Jenna says:

      The first sentence, while very interesting, is 44 words. Try to condense. Maybe “Neha’s been left at that altar, Mumbai-style. With nothing but henna designs on her hands as humiliating souvenirs, the twenty-four year old swallows her pride. An arranged marriage will have to do.” I might be making the voice lighter than you want (and who knows if Mumbai-style is grammatically correct or even a thing?), but play with it. If you emphasize the fact that she’s Indian, you don’t need to emphasize the fact that arranged marriages are tradition since that’s commonly known.
      In paragraph 2 (with the exception of the final sentence), every sentence begins with an introductory clause set off by a comma. Vary the sentence structure. If her parents are worried about how the ad will affect her sibling’s prospects, why would they put it in leading newspapers? That part confused me. “Her parents jump on board by placing ads in leading newspapers.” Do you even need the part about the sibling? I think you could get away with cutting that entire phrase since the sibling never pops up again in the query. An agent might wonder why you stuck in the mention. Love the part about what she’s being reduced to in the ad! If you use the line I suggested about her parents jumping on board, remember to take out the part “she goes along with it for the sake of her parents.” But then I also think “With her stressed father on the brink of a second heart attack” is then redundant. You can make the thought one.
      Ex:
      Her parents jump on board by placing ads (cut matrimonial because your newspaper ad example says “seeks alliance”) in leading newspapers. While Neha is not entirely thrilled about being reduced to “Hindu software engineer girl, slim, fair seeking alliance with highly educated engineer or doctor in Bombay,” (can you use snippets of this instead of the whole thing? It’s long) she doesn’t want her dad to have a second heart attack. Sameer becomes the solution. The two are practically strangers, but she likes the way he treats her family with respect. He’s not the type to leave a girl stranded. (Tie-in to altar jilting).
      Next paragraph is yours; I just made comments in parentheses.
      But when Neha is sent to New York on an IT consulting gig with her nerdy but compassionate teammate Raj, somewhere between battling snow storms to making coriander chutney, they fall for each other (too long but super cute. I’d suggest at least moving “they fall for each other” to before “somewhere” phrase). Now Neha is having second thoughts about her impending nuptials. But (Don’t start two sentences in the same paragraph with the same word) with Raj planning to marry a U.S citizen to permanently (cut: permanently/stay mean same thing) stay in America, Neha must choose between her family’s happiness or fight (needs to be and fighting for because you said she must choose between, not choose either) for Raj and true love.

      I hope these comments are helpful! Take or leave them. I felt a little bit of a comedic tone. If that is, in fact, the case, make your voice more playful throughout.

      • Jenna says:

        Oh, and I love the premise. And…is 56,000 words a bit too short for this genre? You didn’t specify the genre (add it to your last sentence) and with a 24 year old main character, I’d think this is adult, but what, specifically?

        • Nikki says:

          Hi Jenna,

          Thank you so much for taking the time out to critique my query! Loved all your suggestions. It’s primarily about Neha’s journey with a dash of romance so I think this falls under women’s fiction. The idea about the sibling was that no one would marry her sister because of what happened to her, I’ll work on either making that more clear or taking it out all together.

          Thanks again for all your help!

    • Julie Griffith says:

      The first part works well for me. I understand Neha’s situation, and the way it’s written lets me know how she feels about it. The description of her ad is awesome and gives an idea that there will be some humor in the novel. I noticed you didn’t identify the genre in the last paragraph. Overall, I think you did a good job here. I’m sure someone more experienced with this might have some advice to give, but this newb thinks it’s pretty good.

  6. Scott Grimon says:

    Genre: YA Scifi/Mystery
    Dear ________,
    When twelve year old Oliver Rose joined the crew of the starship Atlas and the Space Exploration Team, he’d been looking for adventure. What he found instead was something far more sinister.
    Harry Potter meets Star Trek in The Voice Of Mutiny, the 69,000 word first installment in this six book series. When Oliver was accepted to the crew of the Atlas, he was ready for adventure. He wanted try to locate his father’s ship which had vanished in deep space with nothing but an untraceable cry for help. During his first week aboard, however, it seemed as though everyone was coming down with a bad case of the flu. It got worse when the sick crewmen began to swell up like grotesque balloons and the doctors were powerless to cure it.

    When the ship’s entire dairy supply seems to be poisoned, Oliver and his friends suspect the Captain of trying to start a war with one of Earth’s biggest trade planets. With a mutating crew on one side and a power-hungry Captain on the other, Oliver knows it’s up to him and his friends to do something. Will Oliver be able to stop the Captain and save the crew or will he doom the human race?

    • Chase Curtis says:

      I like this, I don’t really know how a query letter is supposed to go so I’ll I can do is pretend I’m an agent and then tell you how I felt about it. So right off I’m thinking Treasure Island, which is good I like Treasure Island. That said does the book have magical elements, if not maybe pick a different kids book to relate it to maybe you could just use Treasure Island itself, And I would take out the dairy supply part, maybe just drop from powerless to cure it. Then go right to With a mutating crew…race? l’d read it though sound like a cool concept.

    • Julie Griffith says:

      You did a great job in the first paragraph. You introduced the who, the where and the what (well, hinted at what).
      In my opinion, the part about Harry Potter meets Star Trek, the title, and word count should go at the end, or lead with it, instead of sticking it in the middle of the description. Also, don’t forget to state the genre along with the title. I know you probably didn’t do it here because it’s at the top, but when you really send it out, make sure it’s there.
      I think the happenings on the ship could be simplified, like, “During his first week aboard, crewmen began to fall ill to a mysterious flu-like illness, causing them to swell up like grotesque balloons. I like the sentence “With a mutating crew..”
      Simply ending it with the fact that it’s up to Oliver and his friends to do something is sufficient. The question at the end seems like something more suited for a blurb rather than a query letter. Sounds like an interesting story, and as a mother of two boys, it’s good to see someone writing a novel with a male protagonist. That’s why I’m writing mine. 🙂

    • Hailey says:

      I’m curious, how does a twelve-year-old become part of a spaceship crew, isn’t that really young? Maybe put in a sentence explaining that, because it seems kind of improbable to me at this point. Other than that, it’s a good, short letter, although the bit with the title and word count could go at the beginning or end. I’ve never seen it in the middle before.
      Good luck with your story.

      • Maree Jones says:

        I’ve heard agents say at conferences that you should never use Harry Potter as a comparison novel. It’s such a unique phenomenon that the writer sounds cocky or unrealistic to mention it. I’m also not getting anything from your query that would make me think Harry Potter? What he found instead was something far more sinister” was a bit vague for me – this is your hook, so WHAT did Oliver find? Good luck with it.

    • English Tim says:

      ((Great fun, fantastic ship name, great title, good book length, which you can increase. But your query leaves the best ’til last and I don’t think many agents will get that far. Here’s why: ))

      When twelve year old Oliver Rose joined the crew of the starship Atlas and the Space Exploration Team, he’d been looking for adventure. What he found instead was something far more sinister.

      ((Unlike the reader, I don’t think agents have the time or inclination to be flirted with. Use the present tense throughout your query, get straight to the point and tell them what he finds. Oliver Rose is good, but Oliver Twist is already out there. He was about twelve, lost his parents and fell in with a bad crowd too. Your story is absolutely not similar, but why invite any comparison by calling him Oliver?))

      Harry Potter meets Star Trek in The Voice Of Mutiny, the 69,000 word first installment in this six book series.

      ((This info goes at the end. Moving it up higher does not earn you Supersaver Stars. You do not need to mention Harry Potter. At all. I saw Potter In Space from your first line, so you can bet any agent will.))

      When Oliver was accepted to the crew of the Atlas, he was ready for adventure.

      ((Almost a word for word repeat of your first line. That can get a rejection right away, which would be a terrible waste. The agent knows a professional wouldn’t repeat, so you have to be this attentive and edit yourself rigorously.))

      He wanted try to locate his father’s ship which had vanished in deep space with nothing but an untraceable cry for help.

      ((I thought you said he was looking for adventure? Which is more important? Finding his dad or enjoying himself? Dad wins, so put him higher. Now we understand Oliver’s motivation and share it. We want to help him find dad, alone out there in the vastness of space. We’re intrigued, but not hooked. Yet.))

      During his first week aboard, however, it seemed as though everyone was coming down with a bad case of the flu. It got worse when the sick crewmen began to swell up like grotesque balloons and the doctors were powerless to cure it.

      ((In my opinion you should be much more dramatic, much more graphic and do not mention the flu. Who cares about people with colds? If they swell up like grotesque balloons, won’t they just float about helplessly in low gravity?))

      When the ship’s entire dairy supply seems to be poisoned,

      ((So they’ve got salmonella now? Maybe the milk just went off? Avoid these assumptions by inventing a terrible epidemic of your own and make it appalling. I like space plagues where sweaty people get boils, go crazy and start stalking each other with sharp objects, or big blunt ones. Doesn’t everyone?))

      Oliver and his friends suspect the Captain of trying to start a war with one of Earth’s biggest trade planets. With a mutating crew on one side and a power-hungry Captain on the other,

      ((Now you’re talking! I love it! Tell the agent there will be mutants and mutiny in line one. I was starting to worry here. You’ve got a good tale after all. Bring on the mutants! But don’t have them swelled up like grotesque balloons. To see what I mean, look in the mirror while holding your breath and puffing your cheeks out. Does that look scary to you? Now put a cushion under your jumper and stick your arms out, still puffing your cheeks. Are you afraid? Me neither. So ditch this. Deform them in truly grotesque ways that give us all nightmares.))

      Oliver knows it’s up to him and his friends to do something.

      ((You don’t say. If he forgives you for stating the obvious, the agent’s immediate question is: “What is he going to do?”))

      Will Oliver be able to stop the Captain and save the crew or will he doom the human race?

      ((Which means you’ve answered his question with another question. Instead of asking the agent, show him how Oliver will battle these mutants, defeat the captain, find his dad and save the world. Then bring all this up to the top and start your query with it. I would want more, but only if you’ve made it exciting and put everything in the right order. You query is disjointed, so I suspect the novel might not be in the right order either. Think “Action”. There’s something good here.))

  7. amcasselman says:

    (This is my second version)

    Dear (Agents name),

    First off, I would like to thank you for considering my work. I am going to try and make this as “short” as possible for you, without sentencing this query to a literary death. Here we go:

    Adopted at a young age, Krista Delton could never identify with her past, but when work sends her overseas on a coincidental assignment, she is thrown head first into her own twisted and magical lineage.

    Krista’s ancestry is made up of folklore legends, beautifully concealed by Mother Nature herself as earth’s elements take front row. Unfortunately, these charmed descendants are blindly led by a book which leaves even the most lucid puzzled and they only seek Krista to fulfill her destiny as a Born. One male, one female, created to unite their elemental world.

    She tries to get her riddled past to make sense, but the journey’s unforgiving nature soon tests her humanity because in the process of self-discovery, she unintentionally falls for the wrong suitor. Krista is forced to choose between whom she’s grown to love and her predetermined future with a man, that turns out, she genetically cannot resist. With both choices heading serious consequences, she struggles to put all the pieces together in time and embrace her birthright to unite them all.

    This new adult/fantasy novel is approximately 71,000 words and complete. (This portion of the query would reflect why I picked the certain agent and any bio info on me. I just left it like this because it would obviously change based on the agent I query.)

    Looking forward to hearing from you at your earliest convince, (Agents name).

    Candidly,

    My name
    Address
    Telephone
    Website

    (This query is would end up being around 280 words)

    • Maree Jones says:

      My thoughts are in brackets:

      Dear (Agents name),

      First off, I would like to thank you for considering my work. I am going to try and make this as “short” as possible for you, without sentencing this query to a literary death. Here we go: [delete this as it is unnecessary]

      Adopted at a young age, Krista Delton could never identify with her past, but when work sends her overseas on a coincidental assignment, she is thrown head first into her own twisted and magical lineage. [How old is Krista? You say New Adult below, so I’d give her age here… “Twenty-two year old Krista Delton…”]

      Krista’s ancestry is made up of folklore legends, beautifully concealed by Mother Nature herself as earth’s elements take front row. [I don’t know what you mean by elements taking front row?] Unfortunately, these charmed descendants are blindly led by a book which leaves even the most lucid puzzled and they only seek Krista to fulfill her destiny as a Born. One male, one female, created to unite their elemental world. [This is very unclear to me – how did a book lead them? What’s a born? Is this a romance? If so, who is the male?]

      She tries to get her riddled [I’d delete riddled] past to make sense, but the journey’s unforgiving nature soon tests her humanity because in the process of self-discovery, she unintentionally falls for the wrong suitor. [Aha! The romantic interest – I’d move this up above] Krista is forced to choose between whom she’s grown to love and her predetermined future with a man, that turns out, she genetically cannot resist. [Again, this is confusing to me] With both choices heading serious consequences, she struggles to put all the pieces together in time and embrace her birthright to unite them all.

      This new adult/fantasy [New Adult Fantasy] novel is approximately 71,000 words and complete. (This portion of the query would reflect why I picked the certain agent and any bio info on me. I just left it like this because it would obviously change based on the agent I query.) [I would put this information in the first paragraph so the agent knows your word count, the genre and the fact that it is complete straight away]

      Looking forward to hearing from you at your earliest convince, (Agents name).

      Candidly, [I’ve never heard of anyone signing a letter “candidly”?]

      Good luck! 🙂

    • Lara Willard says:

      I agree with Maree. Delete the first paragraph. Just dive into the story.

      Your first two paragraphs are vague backstory. They tell me information, but I’m not sure if/why the information is relevant. Try starting with “Twenty-something Krista Delton is destined to be a Born, [state specifically what a “born” is].”

      Then give Krista’s motivation and goal in a short paragraph.

      The conflict is that she meets someone. Who? How? Why is this a conflict of interest?
      “Krista is forced to choose between whom she’s grown to love and her predetermined future with a man, that turns out, she genetically cannot resist.”

      “With both choices heading serious consequences…” What consequences? What are the stakes?

      “This new adult/fantasy novel” No slash. New adult is the age category, and fantasy is the genre. New adult fantasy novel.

      “Looking forward to hearing from you at your earliest convince, (Agents name).” This feel’s a bit gimmicky to me.

      “Candidly,” This too.

  8. Kelli Uhrich says:

    Dear [Agent],

    After his death as an eleven-year-old boy, Aaron Reed discovers an entire new life, delineated by the laws of The Order. Helpless, frightened, and alone, he has only one choice: progress through each tier until immortality is obtained, and observe the High Law, always forward. But each step forward is met with pain. As Aaron climbs higher in this new-found existence, the people he loves fall further behind him, placing them beyond his reach.

    For centuries, Aaron waits for his family, friends, and the woman he loves to obtain immortality too; but each passing year when they don’t arrive, his hope of reuniting with them fades. So, when his name is placed onto the Union Decree roster, Aaron must make an impossible decision. Moving forward will require him to let go of the past and spend the rest of eternity with a stranger. But going back will cost him everything he’s worked for–breaking the High Law is an act of treason.

    [BOOK TITLE] is the first saga of a four-part Young Adult/Sci-Fi series, completed at 83K.

    [AUTHOR BLURB]

    • Maree says:

      My thoughts:
      – 11 is too young to be YA. This is Middle Grade. If you want it to be YA, Aaron needs to be 14 or older. Does Aaron age as he waits for centuries?
      – You need to pitch this novel as being complete in itself, not as a four part saga. Most advice I’ve read says to say “This book is a stand alone, with series potential.”
      – “Helpless, frightened and alone” feels a bit cliche to me. Same with “each step forward is met with pain” – what sort of pain? Physical or emotional?
      – I don’t know what the Union Decree is. I don’t know what the High Law is. Why would an immortal care about an act of treason?

      I think this sounds interesting, but it’s very difficult for me to get a feel for the story. You say “the woman he loves” but he’s an eleven year old boy. Even YA with an 18 year old MC wouldn’t say “the woman he loves.” It sounds like you have a book about an adult which starts when he’s eleven?

      As was mentioned in the critique above by Lara, YA is the age category (or not in this case), and Sci-Fi is the genre so it should read “YA Sci-fi” without the slash.

      Good luck!

  9. Alison Henry says:

    YA Dystopian

    It’s been two hundred years since men and women were allowed to marry. The rebellions seem to have all been silenced and the average citizen lives in peace. Camden isn’t an average citizen.

    After her mother is killed by the government Camden is captured and forced into a marriage with a government official, but it doesn’t take long for Camden to escape past the countries borders into unclaimed territory. After waking up three days later in a random shack in the woods she meets an ex-soldier named Mercer and a crazy old lady living peaceful, if not strange, lives. Camden quickly comes to enjoy this new life and has two children with Mercer, but that’s when the soldiers find them. Camden and Mercer die trying to lead the soldiers away from their daughters but one of them is found.

    Fifteen years later, the two daughters are living two very different lives, but how they meet is the thing that will change their lives.

    • Julie Griffith says:

      The first line had me intrigued, but then it gets confusing for me. Are people rebelling because they want to be married? If marriage is not allowed, how did Camden get forced into a marriage? It sounds like an interesting idea, but I need more explanation of why this stuff is happening to get hooked into the story. It seems like you tried to tell the whole story in a few paragraphs, when all you need to do is introduce the main characters, tell what the main conflict is, and what’s at stake for a query letter. Also, with dystopian novels, the world they live in is a very important element, so I’d play that up here too. My first try was a mess, but I’m figuring it out and rewriting it. Reading others helped me get a better idea of what I need to include and exclude. Good luck, and I hope this helped.

    • English Tim says:

      ((Are you sure Camden is your main character? Your query kills her off without a second thought and heavily implies that a much longer story is about to start.

      ((I think the daughters are the main characters and we’ve been following the wrong people. The query below is their backstory. If I’m right you will need to reorder your novel and rewrite your query. The prize could be a highly charged and engaging first page in which the sisters meet again.

      ((Even if I’m wrong I do suggest you have a good hard look at your novel and think whether it could be put into an order which is easier for the reader to follow.

      ((Here are some comments specific to your query as it stands:

      It’s been two hundred years since men and women were allowed to marry. The rebellions seem to have all been silenced and the average citizen lives in peace. Camden isn’t an average citizen.

      ((Presumably we’re still breeding, because it’s been 200 years. So what was the point of the marriage ban? Did someone in power suddenly have an aversion to rings, confetti, tiered fruit cake and mothers-in-law?))

      After her mother is killed by the government

      ((Why? The rebellions seem to have all been silenced and the average citizen lives in peace.))

      Camden is captured and forced into a marriage with a government official,

      ((Marriage has been banned for 200 years.))

      but it doesn’t take long for Camden ((“take Camden long”)) to escape ((past the countries borders – redundant)) into unclaimed territory. After waking up three days later ((Why? Has she been on the run three days or out cold for three days?)) in a random((?)) shack in the woods she meets an ex-soldier named Mercer and a crazy old lady living peaceful, if not strange,((strange but peaceful, but even this is an odd phrase. Why strange?)) lives.

      Camden quickly comes to enjoy this new life and has two children with Mercer, but that’s when the soldiers find them.

      ((Presumably these soldiers are hunting Camden for running away from the official and not for having two children with Mercer because nothing says that’s illegal. People have carried on having children for 200 years: seven generations of healthy, happy, bouncing babies.

      ((And they’ve been hunting her for at least nine months over this (assuming the children are twins). At least two years if they aren’t.))

      Camden and Mercer die trying to lead the soldiers away from their daughters but one of them is found.

      ((Why would the soldiers even look for them?))

      Fifteen years later, the two daughters are living two very different lives, but how they meet is the thing that will change their lives.

      ((This can’t be the end of your novel. Surely it is the beginning? Please see my comments at the top.))

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