Workshop #2: Query Letter Critiques

2550243063_35b750a523_oWelcome to the second week of Novel Boot Camp! This week we’ll continue with homework assignments designed to improve your novels. We will also be moving on to our second workshop.

If your first page has not yet been critiqued in the first workshop, don’t panic. I may continue to post them this week or I may wait until next week. It depends on how many query letters are submitted and how long it takes me to get through them. Please be patient. Thank you!

Some Quick Query Writing Tips

Before we get started on the workshop, let’s go over some quick query writing tips.

  • Focus on what makes your story different by highlighting your hook. Your hook could be an unusual protagonist, unique circumstances, an original concept, a great sense of humor, etc. Show what makes your novel awesome.


  • Don’t try to cram too much into the query. The query should focus on what the protagonist wants, what motivates him/her, who the bad guy (or thing) is, and how the bad guy (or thing) creates conflict for the protagonist.


  • Follow generally accepted query letter guidelines. Being too “cutesy” or “artsy” with your query letter is likely to backfire. For example, writing your query letter in first person makes it look as if you either don’t know or can’t follow the rules.


  • The Slush Pile

    The Slush Pile

    Shorter is almost always better. The tighter you can sum up your story, the more likely the agent will read the whole thing. Most agents have only seconds to spare on each query, so don’t expect them to sift through a seven paragraph query letter.


  • Struggling to write the query could signal trouble with the manuscript. If you find you’re trying over and over and just can’t make your story sound compelling, there’s a good chance your novel is missing some key components (such as character motivation or genuine conflict). Try writing a compelling query letter (without worrying about your actual manuscript) as a guide for revisions.


  • Remember that no single query letter is going to please everyone. Opinions vary widely about what should be included in the bio, whether you should use comparison titles, whether the word count should be at the top or the bottom of the query. A killer story summary will overshadow any differences in opinion about these other elements.

Workshop #2: “I stopped reading when…” Query Letter Edition

This workshop will be exactly like the previous workshop but with query letters instead of first pages. If you didn’t participate in the first workshop, I recommend checking out the directions and some of the feedback so you know what to expect.

Submit Your Query

For this workshop, we will only be focusing on your query letter’s plot summary. I don’t want to get bogged down in editing bios or comparison titles so I feel that this will allow me to offer the best possible feedback.

If you are self-publishing, feel free to send your back cover blurb instead of your query letter, but make sure to identify it as such in the drop down menu. Thanks!


14779520072_914171dbb7_o Discussion Question (please discuss in the comments below):

What is the hardest part about writing a query letter?



11 thoughts on “Workshop #2: Query Letter Critiques

  1. allisonnewchurch says:

    For me, the hardest part is condensing a whole novel to one or two paragraphs. Working out which bits to put in and which to leave out. All the while, trying to make it sound enticing and not like a shopping list.

  2. Pedro says:

    The hardest part is keeping it under 250 wors. I find it nearly impossible to write a proper query in such a limited space.

    Also, thank you Ellen for doing this. The first workshop was very informative and a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to this one!

  3. LADY OF LORE says:

    It was hard to whittle it down without taking out what I thought was vital info. At first, I started with just talking about my MC’s motivation, but soon discovered that the world was complicated to describe, and cut some of the character stuff out to simply explain the world the reader is about to enter.

  4. Amber Brown says:

    My problem isn’t the actually condensing my novel down part it’s the condensing it down and making it sound hooky. It’s also extremely hard for me to sell myself/my book. Not that I don’t believe in myself or my work. I do 100%. It’s just hard putting it into actual words.

  5. Dean says:

    I’m going to be honest and say that the hardest part for me is that I’ve never written a query letter… I hope you like my query, Ellen. haha

  6. Cat Lumb says:

    I really struggled with the first couple of sentences – trying to sum up the complex ‘backstory’ and current situation of my character before everything changes in one or two lines was difficult; especially given the subject matter.

    When I first wrote my novel I had everything backwards – thinking my antagonist was my protagonist and misinterpreting the story as hers instead of his. A lot has changed since then, and I think I’m finally clear as to why this story is my protagonists and how the situation changes his life.

    But, have I managed to communicate that in 200 words appropriately?
    Over to you Ellen 😉

    • Cat Lumb says:

      Argh – I posted the wrong version! Ellen: please ignore my first submission: it had a whole (very significant) sentence missing! Have resubmitted: Thanks!

  7. Robert Buchko says:

    Definitely fitting in enough info to make the story make sense while still making it engaging. Extremely difficult, but a fun challenge. I like the way mine turned out, though I’ve since cut a few pieces and modified some others to make it even more succinct. I particularly didn’t like one of my turns of phrase. I think you’ll know which one I mean when you get to mine, Ellen, assuming you read that far!

  8. Pam Portland says:

    The hardest part about writing a query for me is trying to find the balance between saying too much and saying too little. For my submission, I erred on the latter because I could always write more, but paring down is not my strongest suit.

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