"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Query Critique

I just wrote my first query. Until now, everything I have submitted/published has been by invitation so I had no need for one. It’s time to dust off at least one of the books I have written and submit it for publication. Thus, I am sharing my first attempt at a query and I humbly ask for your opinion/critique. Please be honest as this is a learning experience. Any advice or comments will be greatly appreciated.

Dear Submissions Editor:

Stone of Destiny is a completed 70,000 word historical romance set in fourteenth century Europe. It’s the story of an English woman whose sister is kidnapped and the Scottish Laird forced by circumstance to help save her. Together they must fight for trust and love.
My novel will appeal to fans of both romance and history. I taught English and writing classes centering on this time period. I live in Texas and have been published in several newspapers and anthologies. I’m a member of the Golden Triangle Writer’s Guild.
If my book interests you, I would be delighted to send you the complete manuscript. Enclosed is a synopsis and the first three chapters along with a SASE for your reply. If you prefer, you can send an e-mail.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sylvia Ney

Side note: A special thank you to Carole Anne Carr for this Inspiration award. I am a fan of Lewis Carroll so I absolutely love her blog design!
Here are the rules for receiving the award:

1.  Thank and link back to the person who awarded this to you.
2.  Link posts to ten fellow bloggers you find inspirational.
3.  Forward the award to 10 other bloggers.
I have met so many wonderful bloggers this month, I cannot pick just ten. Instead, I want to invite any of my followers to accept this award by leaving a comment below with a link back to your own site.
Don't forget to critique my synopsis. Thank you and Happy Writing!


Tara Tyler said...

You should visit the query shark to see some examples of what not to do - she's extreme, but helpful in many ways.
happy q day =)

mooderino said...

The actual pitch part doesn't really tell us very much about the story. Where is it set? English meets Scottish in Europe, that doesn't really narrow it down. They don't get on but are forced together to save the sister - what forces them together? What makes them hate each other? To which circumstances are you referring?

There are fairly cliched versions of all these plot points sp you need to highlight what marks your story apart.

The pitch isn't there to give the agent a rough idea of the kind of thing the story is about, it's a very specific, brief summary of the story presented in a way that hooks the attention.

hope that helps,
Moody Writing

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

Best of luck with your querying!

the writing pad said...

I've never seen or written a query letter, so I'm probably not qualified to comment. I do, however, feel that, as it provides a brief indication of the characters and story-line, and an idea of the potential market, some info about yourself, and all in a manageable amount of words, it's pretty much bang on ? :-)
Good luck with the submissions and thanks for sharing your letter

Melissa Sarno said...

Good for you for putting yourself out there! From what I've read about queries (and I'm kind of obsessed with reading about them), I think people want to learn more about the book than what you currently have. Your first paragraph description is concise (which is a good thing) but it doesn't really sound like it stands apart from other historical romances. You should use that paragraph to really hook the reader and describe your book so that it sounds as special and unique as I'm sure it is. Good luck as you query! :-)

Sylvia Ney said...

Thank you! I've been told to keep the query short so I wasn't sure how much of my story details to include since I am also sending a synopsis.

Paula Martin said...

Sylvia, I'm by no means an expert on query letters, but I'd be inclined to add a little more detail about your story. Instead of 'It's a story of' go straight to the action e.g. (Heroine's name) discovers her sister has been kidnapped (does she know who by or where her sister is?). Scottish laird, (give his name), is forced (why?)to help her Together they must overcome (what conflicts?) in order to ... etc.
IMO you really have to 'sell' your story in these few words, therefore you have to make it as interesting as possible, so that the editor will go on to read your full synopsis.
Just my two cents worth!

Bethe77 said...

I really dont know much about synopsis.
But I will be praying for you.
Congrats on your award.

Halli Gomez said...

I agree with Paula. Everything I have read states that you really have to sell your story in the first paragraph of your query letter. I know there are a lot of examples online. I found some good ones on Writers Digest.

mooderino said...

Hey Sylvia,
You don't want it to be a long, detailed, step by step recounting of the whole thing, but neither do you want it to be a generic two-line account that could apply to any story.

Capturing the gist of your story and giving a taste of why it stands out from similar books in the same genre, all in two or three short paragraphs is a tricky skill to master.

It's important you show how things happen and highlight the unexpected elements that make your story stand out.

initially I would suggest you go longer than you need and then cut back, maybe using feedback from this blog to work which parts are the most engaging.


Sylvia Ney said...

Thank you all. This is very helpful!

Ru said...

I didn't find this out until later - when you refer to your book title in a query or other material, it's ALL CAPS, not underlined or italicized. Also, it seems like most of the queries I've seen save the, MY STORY is a this type of novel completed at X number of words for the last paragraph. Try to open with a paragraph about why you are querying that particular agent, or just go straight into the story.

Amy Wood said...

Good luck! Like Tara, I've found the query shark to be a huge help with writing my own query letter. I would suggest adding more of what your story is about. Janet (query shark) gives a lot of good advice on how to do that without saying too much.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Hi Sylvia - I've read so many articles about "the perfect" query letter that my head spins. Writer's Digest did an online feature some time ago highlighting query letters and having several editors/agents critique them. There were so many contradictions I stopped reading! The main points I have seen many times are these:

1. Do tell the agent/editor why you chose her/him. It lets them know they aren't part of a random mailing and you have done your research.
2. Bio information should be pertinent to your subject matter. For instance, if I'm submitting a horror story, the editor doesn't care that I've been published in Chicken Soup.
3. Before you send chapters, synopsis, manny, etc. be sure of their preference. Some only want your letter and a synopsis. Others want the first and last chapters. It varies, so be sure before sending.
4. Get his/her name right, and be sure you're sending the right genre to the appropriate editor.

Now that I've said all of that...surely there are folks out there to say they've heard just the opposite. LOL I guess, really, what it boils down to is this: the right way is whatever works! :)

Nofretiri said...

1. Your title is Stone of Destiny, but in your first paragraph there is no more about it? What is that stone all about? Then about the main characters, I would love to know their names and a bit of their background. How are they conected? Maybe you'll write this part just like an intro with a cliffhanger? That you simply have to know, how the story is!?!

2. My novel will appeal to fans of both romance and history. That's a statement, but there's no explanation WHY?

I can't say anything about the rest! GOOD LUCK! :-)

Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

K.C. Woolf said...

Hi Sylvia,

I would like to read a bit more about your story in the first paragraph, to get a better idea of what makes it unique.

I also missed your main character's name in there. Knowing the name and a bit more about her, would give her an identity and would make me care more.

'Must fight for trust and love' sounds vague. That, too, might need more clarification, and I think it'd be great if you could tie your title into it.

I hope this was useful. Feel free to discard what doesn't fit; it's your query!

Best of luck with the querying process.

Sarah Allan said...

Sylvia, I'll (hopefully) be doing this before the end of the year, and I'm dreading it. Please keep us posted as to how your query process goes!

xoxo Sarah

Tracy Moore said...

Best of luck Sylvia! You received some good advice from in the other comments.

Bish Denham said...

Writing a query is hard. Check out Elana Johnson's blog, (YA Author Elana Johnson) she's written a great deal on querying and has pamphlet you can download on how to do it. She also successfully queried and is now a published author.

As for you query, I can tell you from experience, you need more about the story. Who are your main characters, what is the conflict? Try putting yourself in an agent's or publisher's place. What is it about your story that would compel them to want to read it, that is different, that is special.

Denise Covey said...

Hey Sylvia. Congrats that you're at the querying stage. You've probably read a lot of 'how to query' posts/sites, but to me it sounds a bit formal. The para about teaching this time period is too passive to me and doesn't flow. I may be way out of line Sylvia, but that's just how it read to me. These days everything has to be wow, wow, wow!

Congrats on the award and to those who pick it up.


L'Aussie Travel A-Z Challenge

A Girl and Her eBooks said...

I think this is a wonderful query and that the story sounds interesting as well.

Plain Jane said...

I just skimmed all those comments and it sounds like there are some great helps out there. I don't know anything about query letters, but it sounds like you got a lot of great advise. Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your book and best of luck w/ your query. I have never written one, but spent years in sales and marketing, and from that standpoint, I think it would be advantageous to you to include more detail about what is compelling about your story and why people would buy it. What makes it stand out? That sort of thing. GOOD LUCK TO YOU!!

Marie Anne said...

I'm clueless on what should actually be in a query, but it appears well written to me. Good luck!

Popping in by way of the A-Z Challenge. I’m blogging at:
Write, Wrong or Indifferent
Marie Anne’s Missives
In the Garden With Sow-n-Sow
Every Day Crochet

Curt Iles said...


All of the comments are helpful. Your challenge is to select from them and not be overwhelmed. I thought your query was the perfect length.

A query as well as a story answers this: who, why, when, what, and how. Keep those in mind.

Your willingness to put your work out there for critical feedback is the sign of a professional writer. You're on the right path to publication!

Susan Kane said...

I believe writing a tome in simple compared to writing a query letter. Agonizing over each word, the tone of the writer, selling myself to a stranger on the other side of the envelope...I really cringe in fear. Good luck in your query.

Gujjari said...

Let me first convey heartfelt thanks to you for your visit and following my blog.

I think, I met a wonderful writer through this blog. Nice to meet you in this blog fest.

I am new bee to the writing. Your Query post is wonderful and novel story luring us to read.
Best of luck for your wring and publishing.

With warm regards,


Kristin said...

I don't know enough about queries or proposals to critique that but I'm a huge fan of Romance novels and it sounds like a great book. Have you thought about asking the ladies who run Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, on of the best Romance fan sites around, what they think about it?

nutschell said...

Congratulations on the award! we must be on the same wavelength as I posted about querying (and quitting) on my blog as well.
Great meeting you through the A-Z!


Unknown said...

Congratulations on your blog award. That is great.
Also congrats on reaching the query step of your writing. That is awesome.
I just downloaded an ebook from Elana Johnson's sight called From the Query to the Call. I think she has some great advice and examples of query letters.
Also Matthew at qqqe.blogspot.com has great examples of queries on his site.
One thing I do with my submissions is try to have a name of the editor, usually it is someone who presented at a conference I attended. I try to establish the connection in the first paragraph.
If you haven't attended a conference then maybe reference a book they edited that you enjoyed and your book is similar to.
I've heard editors say that getting mail addressed "Dear Editor" is like you or I getting mail addressed "Dear Resident"

Sarah said...

Hi Sylvia!

I agree with a lot of what was said:

1- personalize the letter
2- summarize, and I mean, elevator summary, of your plot/conflict. Too much - you'll lose them. Too little - you don't get their attention. Practice what I call search engine summaries: 160-220 characters, then build it up to about 2 sentences.
3- use a hook to intro your project.

Where I differ from others: you have to view this as a sales pitch. Agents want to know about the project, but they're afraid of choosing something that won't sell. Show them why it'll sell, whether through your pre-existing social media empire, your success with previous stories, whatever you can use to show them you can - and will - move books!

My $.02.

Lizzy Ford