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


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!


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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!

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 10.41.51 AM 93-facebookgroup

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. Ann says:

    Set in present day South California, 17 year old Alexandria “Drea” Smith doesn’t know she’s more than just an average teenage girl. When she’s in a tragic accident that leaves her father dead, her true abilities start to take over. Drea returns to school just as the new student, Ryan, starts, who immediately shows interest in her. Drea then finds out she was adopted, leaving her with more questions. She doesn’t realize she isn’t the only one who’s testing her new physical and mental abilities.
    With the help of her best friend, Dylan “D”, and new friend, Ryan, they go off in search of who or what she really is. On their journey, they are chased by people from Eugenica, the dimension she was created in. They want to use her abilities for her their own agenda. Drea comes across a message from her biological father, he warns her she isn’t safe and confirms her fears of being chased by the green eyed man; the person who plagues her dreams. He tells her he implanted a virus in her head to protect her identity and keep her safe from the people who are after her.
    Drea’s alliances will be tested. She will be forced to choose between two worlds. One she has known her whole life and one she was destined to be a part of.
    I am submitting my speculative fiction, young adult novel entitled Road to Eugenica for your consideration. Road to Eugenica is the first novel in its series and is complete at approximately 82,000 words.

    • Jenna says:

      You might consider “Seventeen year old Alexandria…” If you keep it as is, you are saying that Alexandria is set in present day South California instead of the story. I also wouldn’t use her full name. If she’s referred to as Drea throughout the story, use that the first time and don’t put it in quotes (in the spirit of keeping only what’s necessary in your query). “When she’s in a tragic accident that leaves her father dead…” is longer and more casual than saying. “After an accident kills her father” or even “After her father’s killed” (do we need to know it’s an accident?) (we already know that would be tragic). I’d split up the semi-colon sentence. It’s too long. Also, I think your first paragraph could be about 2-3 sentences. What will hook your agent? I definitely think her abilities/powers would. What are her abilities? This is a great place to be specific. You could start with “Drea Smith has the power to…” The agent will understand this means she’s not an ordinary/normal girl. This sentence is too long: “Drea returns to school just as the new student, Ryan, starts, who immediately shows interest in her.” Too many commas. Make it less complicated. This could also be condensed: “She doesn’t realize she isn’t the only one who’s testing her new physical and mental abilities.” I had to go back and read for clarification. The line “Drea’s alliances will be tested” can be cut. The sentence after kind of sums up both thoughts. Mostly, I felt like I was reading a point by point synopsis. If you can, strengthen transitions between sentences. Make the voice interesting. I get the feeling the novel is tense, but I didn’t feel the urgency from your query. Really try to work on that hook at the beginning. I’m curious how a virus can protect her. I usually think of that as a negative thing.

      • Ann says:

        Thank you for your response. I see ways I can improve! Thank you for taking the time and providing your feedback. Every little bit helps!

    • Julie Griffith says:

      I think there is a lot more detail here than is neccessary. You probably don’t have to go as far into the story as you do here, Just set it up and end it where they go off in search of who or what she is and maybe hint at what she has coming. I have the same problem of not being able to give this info in a succinct way. I’m going to try to pretend I HAVE to tell what my novel is about in three sentences, just to figure out what the basic idea is. If I can do that, then maybe I can figure out how to just focus on those main points and not go into unnecessary stuff in my description. Maybe try this with yours, too? Just a thought. Hope this helps.

      • Ann says:

        Thank you so much for your feedback. Yes, I agree with you and Jenna that there is some serious edits to make. I appreciate your time and constructive criticism. Have a great day to both of you!

  2. Rae says:

    Dear Agent in the UK:

    Athletically uncoordinated, musically obsessed decaf diva Brynne Howell is in a complicated relationship with heels, men, and alcohol. An embarrassing incident in a London cafe involving spilled coffee and a bomb introduces her to “Mr. Tall, Single, Extra Hot!” and an older woman who is far more than the unassuming retired librarian she seems to be. This sets off Brynne’s hilarious foray into espionage, high-stakes romance, and the naming of herself as the “Patron Saint of Working Your Way Out of Shit.”

    It would be my honour to have you as an agent to represent my romantic comedy novel, Save the World, Get the Girl, which tiptoes out of the shallow end of the pool. As a cartographer I have published thousands of versions of local county road atlases and make murder maps indicating the whereabouts of stalkers, homicides, body dumpings, and arrests. Binge-watching Spooks (MI5) two years ago resulted in a dream involving myself, Richard Armitage, and Patty and Selma from The Simpsons. The culmination is my completed manuscript, the first 30 pages of which are attached.

    The Improv Comedy Club atmosphere in our home is a magnet for teens, young adults, college students, and musicians, with whom we often explore larger than life issues with humour. Also, through social media, I have internationally crowd-sourced many details for the novel, cultivating a market eager to help promote the book when it is published.

    I’ve read it’s a no-no to ask for money, so let me state upfront since U2, Keane, and Coldplay are all referenced in the book, I’m really just hoping for free concert tickets and the chance to meet Richard Armitage on the publicity tour. (It would also be nice to receive recompense for demonstrating “spy gravity grips” to my husband, which resulted in 6 men in my bedroom shooting me up with drugs before whisking me away in an ambulance.

    I appreciate your consideration of Save the World, Get the Girl and myself for representation

    • Maree Jones says:

      Hi Rae.

      I would swtich your first and second paragraphs around, but I’d delete the information about you being a cartographer. It’s interesting for sure (wow!), but if it doesn’t relate to your story (it doesn’t seem to?), I’d delete it. I would also delete the Binge-watching Spooks etc. line because it also isn’t relevant. I’m also not sure of the relevance of the Improv Comedy Club? I know you’re going for humour in the last paragraph, but it comes off a bit strange to me. Just my opinion! I definitely love your description of the book – you’re obviously humerous in writing style there, so there’s no need to try quite so hard in the rest of the letter to demonstrate your comedic chops.

      Good luck!

      • Rae says:

        Thanks for the suggestions Maree. The unfortunate part about the limited tech options in this forum is that you can’t see the cover I’ve made involving maps and headphones and concert locations. In this case, mentioning my qualifications (from hours of research about query letters) an agent wants to know if you’re previously published and what qualifies you to write on the subject.

        I see the need to rework the improv line, so thanks for the suggestion. I was trying to say through friends and our kids friends along with social networking that I have been cultivating an audience that will help sell the book. (Apparently agents want to know how involved you are in the process, if you have a following, if you’re willing to do P.R.). Cheers. Rae

    • Chase Curtis says:

      I have to agree that the section about listing the fact that you are a cartographer, I would just use space to really sell the book. You mention the book in the first paragraph but then it sort of moves into a different territory. I’d be afraid that the agent might read this and sort of think you aren’t taking it very seriously, the line about not asking for money just comes off as a coy way to ask for money. Also listing all the bands in the book might not be good, do you have permission from them to use their names and likenesses if you do, and if you don’t then why mention them at all it seems like name dropping. And saying that it’s hilarious isn’t as good as making me laugh. Also what’s up with the ending, did you OD writing this book, that’s how I read it anyway. I think you might lose more than you gain with that last bit. But I really liked your first paragraph I think you should just focus on a synopsis, but that is just my opinion. You already know I think your a good writer so I don’t have to go into that, keep fighting.

      • Rae says:

        Chase, I did not OD writing the book, I had a displaced kneecap demonstrating gravity grips, and the 6 men as indicated took me to an ambulance. You mentioned focusing on a synopsis, but this exercise is about query letters. Agents also require one or two page synopses of your book. My impression of this workshop so far is that people are writing short synopses rather than queries. Yes, I can use the band names, it’s done all the time in my genre. I like your comment about saying it’s hilarious, and will give c that some thought. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

        • Maree says:

          Ouch re: displaced kneecap! However, I don’t think it’s relevant to the book. It might be a good story to tell later on, but for a query letter it feels unnecessary. Agents don’t seem interested in HOW you wrote the book or WHY, in a query letter they just want to hear about the book. I’ve never heard of an agented author (obviously common in self publishing) who designed their own cover, so again, that might be something to discuss after you’ve got your agent interested in the book. It’s also my understanding for fiction, Twitter follower numbers (and other “platform” things) are not necessary. Again, it would be icing on the cake for an agent/publisher, but you have to get the agent first! 🙂

          • Ellen_Brock says:

            I agree that you should cut down on the extra information. I don’t see anything other than the info about the story that would influence my decision as an agent. The extra info made me want to skim to get to the point, which is not what you want to happen when agents read your query.

    • Julie Griffith says:

      The first paragraph sums up your novel in a fun, humorous way that sets the tone for the novel. I don’t know if I’d add the experience as a cartographer since it’s unrelated to novel writing (although it sounds really cool!). It’s good that you brought up your social media status and plans for promotion. The other things (the inspiration for the novel and antecdotes) seem like something more suited for the page at the end of the book where the author thanks everyone and talks about the journey of writing it. Being a newb, I’m not really sure what’s acceptable or desirable in these things. Your sense of humor definitely shows through here, but I probably tend to lean towards a more serious type of query letter, which may be too far to the other extreme. I guess we need to show some of our style, but not too much. Again, that blasted balance.

    • Jenna says:

      Your query is 329 words. Most agents recommend not going over 250 words because they lose interest. I also wanted to know a lot more about your story! The first sentence–amazing! I love that you mentioned her saint name. Shows the character’s sense of humor. The rest of the paragraphs focus on what you have to offer as an author.
      I saw your responses to the other comments and I see you’ve done research about what agents are looking for, as in affiliations, qualifications, etc. But from what I’ve read, this should be reduced to about three sentences or less in the last or second to last paragraph. You definitely have a voice, but if it could be expanded into two or three short paragraphs about the book, I think you’re more likely to hook an agent. You’re selling the story first; you, second. There are times when this out-of-the-box type of query works (check out Nathan Bransford’s blog), but they are the exception more than the rule.
      Since I can tell you’re talented at writing comedy, I wish you the best of luck with this book!

    • Lara Willard says:

      You have one short paragraph about the story, and I have no idea what the real story is. Take out all the description, and all it says is “A girl does something embarrassing (what?) and meets two people. Somehow this results in espionage and romance.”

      The rest of the query is about you. Unless you are writing nonfiction, you don’t need a platform. When agents sell novels to publishers, they are selling the story, NOT the author. Focus on the story. Use Ellen’s tips above. Focus on the character, her goal and motivation, her conflict / obstacles, and the stakes.

  3. Brooke Kennedy says:

    Romantic Fantasy/ New Adult

    Raewyn is tougher than your average mermaid princess. She lives in a fortress far beneath the surface of the ocean, where she constantly breaks the rules by fleeing the safety of her home in search of treasure. After a quest gone wrong, she finds herself held captive aboard the Devil’s Pearl, among the worst humans of all—pirates.
    Captain Aiden Flynn is handsome and charming, spending his time sailing the seas and hording treasure. His villainous reputation has even reached the depths of the ocean. When he finds a dark-haired beauty ensnared in his net, he puts on his best charms in hopes of finding out just who she is.
    Will his dangerous, yet charming, demeanor win her over? Or will he fall, as many other men have, to the wiles of a mermaid princess?

    • Maree Jones says:

      Hi Brooke. I immediately thought of Ariel from The Little Mermaid from your first few sentences. This isn’t a bad thing (I love Ariel!), but I’m not sure what agents would think of an almost identical set up. Obviously the rest of your story is different. All the stuff I’ve read on query letters says to avoid asking rhetorical questions. I would also like to know why Aiden is interested in Raewyn – what’s his motivation? What does Raewyn want? She obviously isn’t happy at home so is she looking for a lifestyle change? How will a mermaid and a pirate have a happily ever after unless she grows legs or he has a tail? 🙂

    • Julie Griffith says:

      Maybe just mention that Raewyn is tougher than your average mermaid princess,and hint at the fact that she causes trouble instead of going into the searching for treasure thing. Even if that’s what she does, I would hesitate stating it here because of the similarity to that Disney movie. You know the one. I like the idea of a twisted fairy tale, so it doesn’t bother me, but it may come off as unoriginal to an agent if it sounds too similar.

    • English Tim says:

      If there are already treasure hunting mermaid princesses out there (I don’t know, not my field) then you may have to demote Raewyn to a regular mermaid, drop her treasure hunting and give her a distinction other than royalty. You’ve already shown she’s a rebel, so why not make her an antihero and have her thrown out to really distinguish her? The mermaid/pirate romance is your thing.

      There’s obviously a fun and engaging adventure here, but it can and should be sold stronger in your blurb. At first I thought there were at least four major characters in two separate stories. This was because you repeat, sometimes in contradiction. Cut words and you earn the space to show more detail.

      I liked your opening line, but I think it’s more active like this: “Princess Raewyn is much tougher than your average mermaid.” Or even: “Princess Raewyn is one tough mermaid.”

      Now come some repeats and contradictions. You say she lives in a fortress, but then point out that she’s hardly ever there. You say she breaks the rules, but she is the Princess. Is the quest her search for treasure? Did it go wrong because she was caught in the net? If so, it’s a repeat when you say the captain catches her. Why does she find herself held captive? Was she unconscious when caught? Also, pirates are not the worst humans of all. Not by a long shot.

      The line about Flynn implies that he’s handsome and charming because he sails the seas hoarding treasure. To fix that, you could just split the sentence: “Captain Aiden Flynn is handsome and charming. He sails the (high) seas hoarding (his) treasure (and etc).” Alternatively you could try: “Handsome and charming, Captain Aiden Flynn sails the (high) seas hoarding (his) treasure.”

      But how can Captain Flynn be charming when, a few lines ago, you described his crew as “the worst humans of all” and “his villainous reputation has even reached the depths of the ocean”? If the charm is fake, you should say that, especially since your last line hints that she’s going to turn him around. Also, “charming, charms, charming” is repetition.

      I’m not sure why a pirate captain would use a net in the first place. Is he trawling the sea bed for treasure he has somehow hoarded down there? Is this wise? Perhaps he is deliberately trawling for mermaids. If so, that should come much higher up. Those are the only two reasons I can think of. Unless he hauls up fish for his lunch, which doesn’t sound much like a pirate.

      Your last line is your first mention of her “wiles” and your first proposition that all mermaids are wily. Are they? I always thought they swam around being gracious and beautiful, but I’m not a mermaid person so what do I know?

      Incidentally, is your mermaid Welsh, or otherwise connected with the undersea kingdoms of Wales? Since Raewyn is such a distinctly Welsh name, you may need to explain why she has it. Maybe you could play on Welsh Celtic tradition to add more mystery to her.

      I think that when blurbing a fun novel you can be really bold, keep it simple and save even more words. Maybe something along these lines:

      Pirate Aiden Flynn roves the high seas hoarding serious booty. Now he’s been boarded by a mysterious beauty!

      Mermaid Princess Raewyn lies snared in his net aboard The Devil’s Pearl after she abandoned her undersea fortress to search for treasure on the ocean floor.

      Will X happen or will Y triumph/fail etc when the dark-haired ((plenty of room for more plot here))…or will Flynn fall, as so many men have, etc etc. ((I liked the idea of your last line but you need to polish it until it shines.))

      Hope this has helped.

  4. Brooke Kennedy says:

    Paranormal Romance/New Adult

    Sometimes love comes in a form that we don’t expect…even after tragedy strikes

    I hate moving.
    Especially since everyone at my new perfect school looks at me like a freak. Yet they still have the nerve to ask me if I’ve seen anything weird in my house yet.
    Yeah, so what?
    Apparently, this house has had a string of murders and suicides in it ever since it’s been built, and no one lives here for too long.
    Awesome, thanks Dad.
    So here I am, trying to go to sleep amidst the creaks and groans of the house and this sinking feeling that I’m being watched.
    To top it off, there’s this mysterious neighbor of mine who keeps popping up.
    I’m not sure whether to curse him our or kiss him.
    Wish me luck.

    • Amber says:

      Hi Brook,

      The standard that I’ve seen for query letters is for then to be written in third person present tense. So while I think what you have here is very grabbing and interesting, it does deviate from what agents want to see. If you to to an agent’s specific agency website, a lot of them will require that formula.

      Other than that, love the premise and I think you’ve got a great hook.


    • Julie Griffith says:

      Most blurbs I’ve seen are written in 3rd person, but there may be some in first and I just haven’t come across them. This is weird because I write all my stuff in first person, but I think I would prefer to read this in third person because that’s more familiar to me for these blurbs.
      The part about the house would flow better, I think, if you said: Apparently, this house comes with a dark history involving murders and suicides dating back to the time it was built. No one lives here for long. I do think you’ve done a good job letting us know what the story is about and creating interest.

    • English Tim says:

      It’s a very nice idea to blurb this way, but I think you still have an obligation to grab the reader. I was gripped by your First Page, but not by this. Problem! My first instinct is always to look for the easy fix, and in this case I think there is one. With a tiny rewrite, you could perhaps reorder it something like this:

      No one lives in this house for too long. No one survives it. A string of murders and suicides going way back. Ever since it was built.
      Awesome. Thanks Dad.
      To top it off, there’s this mysterious neighbor of mine who keeps popping up.
      I’m not sure whether to curse him our or kiss him.
      ((Everyone has mysterious neighbors. Most of them are weird. So you could drop mysterious and make him scary, even if he’s not. Maybe you could rewrite the “I’m not sure” line to be more intimidated. You’re setting up the reader for this moment:))
      So here I am, trying to sleep amidst the creaks and groans and (((this sinking…I get the certain, no doubt about it))) feeling that I am being watched.
      ((Add another comment to keep the structure, as sarcastic as “Thanks Dad” but much more afraid.))
      Everyone at my new school looks at me like a freak. Yet they still have the nerve to ask me if I’ve seen anything weird. Well, now I have. It’s standing right in front of me.
      ((Hose on the terror now. Big time.))
      Wish me luck
      ((Great finish. I think it should be the one line handwritten, with no full stop.))

  5. Eliza says:

    Dear [agent],

    When Dana Gale leaves the bunker after ten years underground, she expects to step into a post apocalyptic world. What she finds is even more shocking. Nothing has changed.

    On a quest to understand why her most formulative years were stolen from her, Dana must learn who she can (and can not) trust and how to handle those who wish to take advantage of her.

    Beyond the protection of the mother who hid her away, Dana is thrown into a situation more dangerous than the fictitious war. A world of people who will kill to prevent her from uncovering their own buried secrets.

    When the ultimate betrayal destroys everything Dana has ever believed in, will she crumble or will she find the strength she needs to survive?

    Black Road is a contemporary reimagination of the Baum’s classic, The Wizard of Oz, and takes a hard look at the darker themes and motivations of the characters we think we know and love.

    • Maree Jones says:

      Hi Eliza. You’re missing word count, and maybe a bio paragraph too? I like the idea of reimagining The Wizard of Oz, but I’m not sure I see too many parallels in your query. You should really state the similarities. The Wizard of Oz is such a beloved classic, you’d need to really show the links. I’m not sure your first paragraph really conveys to the reader what the story is about. I read “Nothing has changed” and I thought “Well, then what’s the story about?” If you mean she thought ten years passed, but it was like no time at all passed in the world, then I think that needs to be clearer.

      • Eliza says:

        Thanks. Great I’ll add in more information to show the parallels. I was trying to keep it brief. I haven’t got anywhere near querying yet so haven’t done much research. I also don’t know my word count because I’m only through my first draft which is very rough.

    • Chase Curtis says:

      I like the idea of reimagining the Wizard of Oz but I feel you should really explain more of how it is a reimagining. Also it seems to be a bit like blast from the past, with Brendan Frazier which isn’t a bad thing, (my book is a lot like, et, or animorphs) So maybe explain more about the bunker or why she went in it, and where is her mother what happened to bring her out of the bunker. And if nothing has changed then why is there a story, shouldn’t she have just came up and went to Wendy’s or something. The world has changed just not as much as she thought, etc. etc. I think this could be a really good story though, its an awesome idea. Just show it more and everyone will get excited because it is a really cool concept. Will she meet the tin man the cowardly lion, go to the porcelain city, or the emerald city.

      • Eliza says:

        I don’t know that book you mentioned.

        In a query letter, how much of the plot do you want to give away? One of the ideas of my book is that it’s all a bit of a mystery that Dana has to figure out and we experience it along with her. I’m struggling to not give too much away.

        • Jenna says:

          I believe the only think you should leave open ended is the stakes part. What’s at risk for the main character? You don’t have to tell the agent what she chooses in the end. Just make it clear she’d be risking something. Without specifics on the other parts, the agent won’t know what to expect and whether he or she could represent you well. Make them care! Get them hooked on your characters and their obstacles so they have no choice but to request some writing!

          • Eliza says:

            “Make them care!” Wise words, I will work on that.

            At this point in time I’m not necessarily planning on querying agents at all, as I’m considering the world of indie publishing. However, I still feel this is a valuable exercise in fine-tuning the entire plot and purpose of the novel. People ask me all the time what my novel is about, and I struggle to answer, not that I don’t know but I don’t want to give the story away, so I need to sort this out.

            I’m not even sure I should mention the parallels with The Wizard of Oz, as that was more a roadmap for my story than the engine driving it.

            Perhaps I should have concentrated on the back blurb, which I will have to write regardless.

    • Jenna says:

      What about this?
      “When Dana Gale leaves the bunker after ten years, she expects to step into a post apocalyptic world.
      But nothing has changed.”
      The shock is conveyed with the third sentence, so make it the second. Also, I think you can remove “underground” because most bunkers are located there.
      The sentence “On a quest to understand why her most formulative years were stolen from her, Dana must learn who she can (and can not) trust and how to handle those who wish to take advantage of her” is too long. It’s also pretty vague. You’re allowed to mention character names (usually up to three). Give the agent details to grab onto.
      “Beyond the protection of the mother who hid her away, Dana is thrown into a situation more dangerous than the fictitious war.” The first word confused me. I was expecting you to say something like “Beyond the protection of the mother…Dana had no one.” Maybe use a different word or phrase. “A situation” is very vague. You can keep the ending a secret, but I think overall, paragraphs two and three need more details to really sparkle. As the other commenters said, it’s hard to see the parallels between The Wizard of Oz because none few of your details are similar. I see a connection with quest and betrayal, but those could relate to others stories as well.

      • Eliza says:

        Thanks. I see where I need to add some detail about the characters and parallels. Also need to clarify that her mother was the one who made the bunker and hid them both away for ten years.

    • Julie Griffith says:

      I agree that the sentence “Nothing has changed” causes a bit of confusion because it’s clear there’s no devastation as one would expect in a post-apocalyptic world, but it also sounds like nothing has changed in ten years, like time was suspended when she was away. This sounds interesting, especially when you call it a contemporary reimagination of The Wizard of Oz. The title Black Road is cool, like a more sinister yellow brick road. I find that I’m not really clear on what the story is about, especially when you talk about people wanting to kill her,secrets, and betrayals. I understand that you don’t want to give the story away, and while a reader will stick with the story to figure it out, an agent might not want to waste their time if they don’t know where the story’s going, so I’d be less secretive when it comes to the query.Good luck, it sounds like a great idea.

  6. Maree Jones says:

    Dear Ms Agent,

    My YA Paranormal novel, The Bone Singer, is complete at 88,000 words.

    17-year-old October Haven is told she is a Bone Singer: one of three people with the highly coveted magical ability to sing to the bones of those who have died, temporarily bringing them back to life.

    Given a choice between developing her magical gift or a lifetime of mental illness, October agrees to be trained by the Council. Struggling to balance her new role as the Bone Singer with the recent passing of her estranged mother, and the care of her pregnant 15-year-old sister, October forges a strong relationship with her Council appointed handler, Michael. When she is attacked and her magic nearly stolen, October is confronted with stories of corruption in the Council, and the possibility that the attacker was Michael. October must figure out who she can trust, how much she is willing to sacrifice, and what the magic inside of her really wants.

    The Bone Singer is the first in a projected series, and can also stand alone.

    I live in Perth, Western Australia with my two dogs. In my day job I teach junior college students psychology and counseling. This is my first novel. This is a multiple submission. I have read your submission guidelines, and included my first ten pages below.

    • Amber says:

      His Maree,

      I think you’ve got a great story. I would love it if you could make your first line to paragraph 2 a little more ‘hooky.’ Maybe you can describe his she feels about being a Bone Singer? Other than that, love your last paragraph. I think you did an amazing job getting all the info in that agents would like to see without it seeming contrived.

    • Hailey says:

      This is really nice, I like it. A few things I’m curious about, though: what world is she in, because this sort of story could be anywhere. What is she before becoming a Singer, and how did she learn she has magic?
      Also, if the genre hadn’t been stated, I would have thought fantasy. Paranormal doesn’t really have magic as such. It’s more about ghosts and telepathy going on what I’ve read.
      Hope this helps.

    • Jenna says:

      Your writing is so lyrical and lovely! I really enjoyed reading this.
      In par. 2, sentence one, you might change “is told she is” to “…October Haven finds out she is a Bone Singer.” Ideally, you’d put who tells her, but that might be introducing a character too minor to the story. I like that paragraph, but the sentence is pretty long. “Highly coveted magical ability” can probably be cut. If she’s one of three, we’ll assume it’s rare. Unless someone wants to steal her job, you probably don’t need to mention it’s coveted. We also understand it’s magic (and you repeat that fact in the next par.) by the fact that she’s reanimating the dead (awesome concept by the way!). “Struggling to balance her new role as the Bone Singer with the recent passing of her estranged mother, and the care of her pregnant 15-year-old sister, October forges a strong relationship with her Council appointed handler, Michael.” Extremely long.
      What about this?
      “Overwhelmed by caring for her pregnant sister and the death of her estranged mother, October forges a strong bond with Michael, her Council-appointed handler.”
      We already know that she’s juggling/balancing being a Bone Singer with these things. Also, it’s a challenge to care for a pregnant person whether or not they’re a teen. Cutting her age cuts a few more words but doesn’t lessen the struggle. Then you also only have one age– the main character’s, which is the most important.
      You have “attacked” and “attacker” in the same sentence (words close enough to be considered repetition).
      “When she is attacked and her magic nearly stolen, October is confronted with stories of corruption in the Council, and the possibility that the attacker was Michael.” You could change this to “After an attacker nearly steals her magic, October is confronted with rumors of Council corruption that pinpoint Michael as suspect” (or a suspect). Also, condense the amount of times you say “magic/magical.” For the line about your novel being a series, the line I’ve seen most often suggested is “The Bone Singer is a standalone novel complete at _____ words with series potential.” Then you aren’t sounding too eager about turning the novel into a series. You might consider combining this info. with your first line since it has the word count.
      I absolutely love this concept!

    • Julie Griffith says:

      This sounds like an interesting story! The sentence about her mother and sister sounds clunky so I’d work with rewording it. I don’t know if your dog family is pertinent here. (My dog is like family, too, but an agent may not care) Also, I don’t think it’s necessary to say it’s your first novel because if you had been published before you would have mentioned that. This sounds pretty good though. Good luck!

    • English Tim says:

      ((Hi, Great concept, which hooked me from line one. I have a lot of query suggestions, all positive I think. Hopefully you’ll be able to use some of them. When I read your title I thought of the Denzel Washington movie “The Bone Collector”. This was an odd and unique title when the film was released. Your book is nothing similar, but your title might be close enough to put off an agent. A simple way to avoid this is to drop “The” from your title. With the removal of that one word they are nothing alike. Also, the printer will be able to slap your title nice and bold across two decks.

      ((17-year-old – move this down to the next line, it slows your great reveal)) October Haven is ((told she is – redundant in this query. Only relevant in your novel)) a Bone Singer: one of three people with the ((highly coveted magical – redundant, of course it would be coveted and magical. More than that, it would be miraculous, which you don’t have to say either)) ability to sing to the bones of those who have died, temporarily bringing them back to life. ((Why temporarily? Isn’t that in some ways cruel? Maybe this is a plot point, in which case please ignore.))

      ((Therefore: October Haven is a Bone Singer: one of three people ((with the ability to – drop this and save two words with “who can”)) sing to the bones of ((those who have died – the dead)), temporarily bringing them back to life.

      ((Therefore: “October Haven is a Bone Singer: one of three people who can sing to the bones of the dead, temporarily bringing them back to life.”))

      Given a choice between developing her magical gift or a lifetime of mental illness, October agrees to be trained by the Council.

      ((It wasn’t immediately clear to me the October is already mentally ill. I think the line should read: “Given a choice between developing this magical gift or continuing a lifetime of mental illness” etc.))

      Struggling to balance her new role as the Bone Singer with the recent passing of her estranged mother, and the care of her pregnant 15-year-old sister, October forges a strong relationship with her Council appointed handler, Michael.

      ((This sentence is too long because the first ten words are actually repetition. You’ve already told us she has agreed to be trained. Therefore:))

      Struggling ((to balance her new role as the Bone Singer – all redundant)) with the ((recent – redundant. she’s still struggling)) passing of her estranged mother((, – no comma)) and the care of her pregnant ((15-year-old – younger will do)) sister, ((October – she, you named her last line)) forges a strong relationship with her ((Council appointed – redundant, you’ve already said she’s agreed to be trained by the Council)) handler, Michael.

      ((Therefore: “Struggling with the passing of her estranged mother and the care of her pregnant younger sister, she forges a strong relationship with her handler, Michael.”))

      When she is attacked and her magic nearly stolen,((this implies incorrectly that she carries her magic around with her, in a pouch or a box)) October is confronted with stories of corruption in the Council,((Why would these stories confront her? She is not to blame)) and the possibility that the attacker was Michael. October must ((figure out – decide)) who she can trust, how much ((she is willing to – will)) sacrifice((, – no comma)) and what the magic inside of her really wants. ((Is magic alive? Surely it is a tool. This covers either: “and the true purpose of the magic inside her.”))

      ((Therefore: “After she is attacked and her ability almost stolen, October hears stories of corruption within the Council. Worse, her attacker might be Michael. October must decide who she can trust, how much she will sacrifice and the true purpose of the magic inside her.”))

      The Bone Singer is the first in a projected series((, and – full stop. The novel)) can also stand alone.

      I live in Perth, Western Australia ((with my two dogs – you love dogs and so do I, but the agent may not. I have heard of a rejection because the agent didn’t like cats.)) In my day job I teach ((junior college students psychology and counseling – psychology and counselling at junior college.)) This is my first novel((. This – and)) is a multiple submission. I have read your submission guidelines, and include((d – present tense)) my first ten pages below. ((You’re emailing it? If not, drop “below”))

      ((I’ve been through your query one more time, shorter still, giving you space for more detail. Please use what you like and discard what you don’t. I think it still needs work because I think you have been very conservative in selling you book. Here goes:

      Dear Ms Agent,

      My YA Paranormal novel, (The) Bone Singer, is complete at 88,000 words.

      October Haven is a Bone Singer: one of three people who can resurrect the dead by singing to their bones.

      ((You now have space to tell the agent, right here in the second paragraph, what happens during this process and what becomes of the people who are resurrected.))

      Already struggling with the death of her mother and care of her pregnant younger sister, the 17-year-old agrees to be trained by the Council to develop her incredible power and quickly bonds with her handler, Michael.

      But when she is attacked and nearly robbed of her ability, October suspects Michael and uncovers a web of corruption within the Council. With her own life in the balance, she must decide who to trust and how much to sacrifice as she learns the true purpose and power of the incredible life force within her.

      The Bone Singer is the first in a projected series. The novel can also stand alone.

      I live in Perth, Western Australia, where I teach psychology and counselling at junior college. This is my first novel and is a multiple submission. I have read your submission guidelines, and include my first ten pages.


      All the best, Tim

  7. D.L. says:

    This is Ryan’s story, not mine. I am merely the Magen angel assigned to protect him.

    Name’s Cabel. I hold the power of the Light within me. And I’m kind of a foodie. But Ryan is the real hero, even if he doesn’t know it yet. I just hope he survives long enough to find out.

    Darkness is stronger than ever. Demons I had only heard about are tracking Ryan and the other eleven Bachirim. It means The Chosen. But even though they are chosen for this destiny- to join the battle against Darkness and defeat their Stronghold- they also must choose it. And they usually do, if the Dark Ones don’t get to them first.

    Free will is a most dangerous weapon. Especially when the course of mankind is at stake. And the fate of everyone hangs on the choices of twelve teenagers. Ryan’s choices may prove the most important, and the most dangerous. He thinks he is a nobody with a banged up life. He has no idea the power he carries, or the path he must follow to save us all.

    Ryan will face his doubts, his fears, and fight supernatural enemies he never knew existed. But Darkness knows every weakness, every temptation, and that is their strength. The odds are stacked pretty high.

    Betrayal among the faithful.
    Unlikely heroes.
    Souls won… and lost.
    When the lines between good and evil begin to blur, none of us are safe.

    We must go now. They are coming.

    • Julie Griffith says:

      While this sounds really cool and is well written with a definite dark tone, I can’t really give my opinion until I know if this is for a query letter or a blurb. It seems too long for a blurb, but it’s also not the typical, and safe, way to present your novel in a query. If it’s for a query, I would change all of this to third person and focus more on telling who and what the story is about instead of having it be through the thoughts of Cabel. It would need to be shorter as well. If it’s a blurb, I would definitely make it a lot shorter.

      • D.L. says:

        It was meant to be the blurb originally, but I have a hard time paring down what I want to say. Sometimes my story runs away with me. Thank you for commenting!

  8. suewritestoo says:

    Dear Agent,

    I am inquiring about representation for my book, THOSE FIVE DAYS, due to your interest in YA realistic fiction.

    Motherless fifteen-year-old CeCe Perez spends her days cooking and cleaning while her overbearing Papi works two jobs. Isolated, she sings along to Tejano and Reggaeton artists, hoping to one day become a professional singer so she can escape her sheltered life and travel the world. But she’s worried she isn’t beautiful enough for the spotlight. She’s soft around the middle, a bit too plain and awkwardly shy, unlike her confident and worldly best friend, Angela.

    CeCe is stunned when “The Stranger”, a beautiful performer in a salsa band, sings with a voice almost identical to her own. After a chance encounter, they bond over their shared Colombian heritage and love of music. CeCe is then faced with a decision. Will she abandon her possessive father and her jealous best friend to join the stranger on tour? What if she is not a stranger after all, but the one person Papi has been sheltering her from all of these years?

    THOSE FIVE DAYS is reminiscent of Cynthia Rylant’s Newbery Honor Book, A FINE WHITE DUST, in which the protagonist grapples with issues of betrayal, identity, and evolving family dynamics.

    I am an active member of SCBWI, GrubStreet Writing Center in Boston and the International Women’s Writing Guild, where I’ve attended The Muse and the Marketplace Conference and the IWWG Conference. I participate in a monthly writer’s workshop and have been a Writing and Reading teacher for over twenty years in and around Boston.

    I’m currently building a media platform and am eager to extensively promote my THOSE five DAYS, complete at 30,000 words. Please find my synopsis and first 5 pages attached.


    My Name

    • Maree Jones says:

      This is a great query and a really interesting sounding story! I think your bio paragraph might be a bit long – I would probably delete your attendance at conferences as I don’t think that’s overly relevant. One question on your word count – 30,000 words is pretty low for YA (55,000-90,0000 are the counts I’ve seen), and is more novella length. You might want to look for an anthology or publisher of novellas? Good luck.

    • Jenna says:

      Great premise! I think it might be a bit long for a query. One place you could trim is the paragraph with the comparison title. I’m not sure that you need what happens in the other book/how it’s similar. If it’s a Newbery winner, I hope the agent will know without you stating it.
      “But she’s worried she isn’t beautiful enough for the spotlight. She’s soft around the middle, a bit too plain and awkwardly shy, unlike her confident and worldly best friend, Angela.”
      I think this can be condensed.
      “But with a soft middle and plain features, CeCe believes the spotlight would better fit her worldly best friend Angela.”
      I’d also advise against two questions in a row. I think the second is more powerful. Cut “shared” if they are both bonding over the same things.
      You could cut the first sentence because it doesn’t reveal much detail-wise (the “CeCe is faced with a decision” part).
      “CeCe’s chance to tour with the stranger might be an escape from her jealous best friend and possessive father. But what if CeCe has stumbled upon the one person Papi has been sheltering her from?” LOVE this twist!
      “…all these years” is nice but not necessary. If you mention he’s possessive, the reader will assume it’s been an ongoing behavior.
      I wish you lots of success with this novel. I’d read it!

    • Julie Griffith says:

      I think you’ve done a good job of telling what your novel is about. I like how you say you’re building a media platform and are eager to extensively promote your novel. I imagine they love to see that. I envy your enthusiam. I may add something like that to mine, but I’d be lying a tad bit if I use the word eager. Maybe, “I’m prepared to extensively promote” would be more fitting for me.
      The only thing negative I have is I would leave out some of the things in your bio such as being a member of a writer’s group, etc. Your history of being a reading and writing teacher is what will impress them; anyone can join a group or attend a conference. Have you thought of filling it out some for a higher word count? I think this is pretty low for a YA novel.

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