Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Surprise Query Critique

The week that I unplugged, I was the recipient (i.e. victim) of a surprise query critique (i.e. query killing).

A few weeks ago a literary agency was accepting queries for critique and agreed to post the critiques of 7 lucky queries on their blog. I entered the contest on a whim, sent my query out and a week or two later, I was surprised to read the blog and find that my poor, little query was featured!

I nearly hid under a desk.

All I can say is thank goodness it was anonymous. I'm not going to direct you to the post because I'm still embarrassed. But I will give you some query tips:

1. Don't have an awkward opening! My sentences were too wordy. Keep it short and attention grabbing.

2. Sell your character! Not just your plot! The letter did not share enough information about who my character is. I was all wrapped up in selling my plot, I didn't share enough about the person behind it.

3. Make exciting plot points...exciting! Apparently, my plot was considered dynamic, but the telling of it was flat and boring. Use dynamic sentences to explain dynamic adventures.

4. Don't bury your character's psychological struggle! I would imagine this is only relevant if you have a character-driven novel (as I do). Any trauma or struggle he or she may need to overcome should be highlighted upfront.

5. Don't capitalize genres! It's women's fiction. Not Women's Fiction. (Apparently I missed that grammar lesson)

6. Mention your word count! This is apparently the only thing I did right...

7. Mention if it's your first novel! Oh wait, I got that one right too. As if it wasn't painfully obvious based on my pathetic, sickly query.

I'm sorry about all the exclamation points. But, with the amount of agency blogs I read, I'm at the point where I feel every agent is yelling at me. I know they aren't. I imagine that they are really good people. Good people who read a lot of crap. So I don't blame them if they get ornery about the things they receive in their slush piles.

I feel fortunate that I got this query critiqued before I sent it out. They confirmed what I had long suspected: my manuscript would have been rejected. But guess what? It wasn't real! I have another shot! So, the experience is ridiculously valuable. Ridiculously. I told you that was my crutch word (no, I didn't use it in my query).

I urge all of you to try and enter these kinds of contests. I will try and post more of them here.


  1. Hooray for this "better now than later" gift! I entered a query/first pages contest last fall and won a trip to NYC. Still, I was so glad my query wasn't posted w/my name on it (I could totally visualize your pain even w/the anonymity). What was wild is that I'd had an agent friend explain to me why this very same "winning" query wouldn't have worked for her. It is hard to get queries right and to know how much is subjective and how much is needing to rewrite.

  2. Very cool that yours got chosen. And hey, what doesn't kill you only makes your query stronger, right? Right.

  3. Queries are a bitch. Seriously. Wear your battle scars proudly! They will only make your query stronger. Next you've got to enter Miss Snark's First Victim's Secret Agent Contest. That one totally kicked our butts.

  4. I thinks the points you made are very good ones, yet I think they could vary depending on the recipient of the query. I wish you were a bolder with this and provided a link so we could actually read your example to decide whether we agree with the critique. You shouldn't be ashamed, but instead be honored to help others by demonstrating what you are talking about. Maybe I'm a bit dense, but if I could see your actual query and how it illustrates the points you are making it might make them more clear to me.
    In any case, thanks for some good tips. You were brave to put this in the open.

  5. Good point Lee. I e-mailed you the link to the query so you could see it in context. Anyone who wants to see the actual query, please e-mail me! thistooblog(at)gmail(dot)com

  6. i think it's so awesome that you had the courage to even post the critiques of your query on your blog. it's so helpful and so insightful (even for me, even after landing an agent, it's still so helpful to read). i commend your spirit and i really hope you have the best of luck on your journey toward publication. you've got the right attitude. i'm sure you'll get very far!

    thanks so much for sharing!!

  7. Thanks everyone for all the encouraging words. I don't think it's so brave as it is necessary to evaluate these things. To spell it out like this on my blog helped me. I thought it might help others. :-) Thanks again for the encouragement!