QueryDice #2

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

There is no greeting in this query. Now I feel like you’ve just thrown yourself in my face without warning.

A young girl, destesting the move to the gold rush territory in 1849, tries unsuccessfully to avoid the journey.  


There is a typo in the first sentence. It happens. It certainly won’t earn you a form rejection just on its own. But I hate typos. And now I know you ignored the wiggly red underline in Word or you didn’t bother to proofread this yourself. I don’t know you, so I’ll just assume you’re lazy and unprofessional. I know you’re probably not, so don’t make me think you are.

Judging by this sentence, it sounds like your whole book is about this young girl trying not to go on this journey. But since that’s not really the conflict, we don’t need to know this information. You should save it for the synopsis. Begin your query, instead with the main character or with the main conflict.

During the five hour trip from NYC to Philadelphia, she is annoyed by the endless chatter of her siblings, and the small size of the wagon that must carry her family of six.  

I like the idea of a young girl caravanning with her family across the country to get to the gold rush. I’d read that book. But I need to know more about it.

I thought she was going to gold rush territory, but now it sounds like she’s going to Philadelphia. In two sentences, you’ve mentioned three different locales, which seem to be disconnected.

Her perspective towards the journey changes when a widow joins her family’s caravan and invites her to sit in her wagon.  

This sentence is a bit ungainly since you’ve used the word “her” twice within five words to refer to two different women. I don’t think the young girl sitting in the widow’s wagon is even important at this point. I’d rather you use the space to tell me about their friendship.

Thus begins a friendship that involves the widow’s life stories of love, inheritance and possible deception through a little known California ruling.

What kind of deception? What ruling? Why is this important to the young girl? The significance and poignancy of their friendship needs to be clearer to me if your whole manuscript revolves around it.

The widow’s murder abruptly ends their wagon train’s friendships, yet the widow’s influence on the young traveler is profound.

Which friendships of the wagon train does the widow’s murder abruptly end? Just the one between the young girl and the widow, or is the murder the type of event that causes larger strife among the whole caravan?

A young black traveler is involved as an ally in helping track down the murderer.

So then this has a thread of mystery too. And another character. How thick is this thread? Is it just an aside? Who is this new character that gets mention only in the last sentence of you query?

My biggest problem with this query is that it doesn’t introduce a conflict strong enough to be the focal point of a whole novel. A young girl being forced to go to California is not conflict enough. I think part of the problem is the length of the query, which is only about 130 words. I need to know more about this young girl (including her name) what her troubles are and how she might overcome them.

There’s no salutation at the end of this query, so it feels a bit abrupt. Also, I like to know the word count. I would reject this.

Posted on July 14, 2011, in Advice, queries, Query Dice, slush pile, submissions. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. ps, just wanted to add… a Salutation is the opening of a letter, “Dear Mr. Howdy”. The bit at the end is called the Closing.

  2. I was just swinging through here, months later, and yeah, that five hours stopped me on a dime.

    In 1849 the nation’s road systems were so bad, even in the East, that travel by water was much easier. Maybe they went from NYC to Philly by ship, with a wagon? Even so, I don’t think they could’ve done it in five hours unless they had a very favorable wind.

    Wagons seldom traveled faster than a person could walk. The advantage they had over walking was merely that they could carry stuff.

    The writer lost me at that point. I assumed she hadn’t done her research.

  3. Yea, the five hour thing caught me up. I didn’t even finish reading because I had to google the distance. To my understanding (I haven’t researched it exhaustively but I’ve looked into it) It’s not likely wagons went more than 20-30 miles in a day. And that would be in perfect weather with dry roads.

  4. It’s funny–I almost always feel like queries are too long when first submitted for critique, but this feels too short! I’m not getting enough of the story to get hooked–and it feels like what I do get is mostly backstory (like the siblings bickering) or really vague pieces (little known ruling).

    I also felt that the last sentence–there’s another character, he’s black, he’s an ally–is really disjointed. It felt like an afterthought. I’d try to work him into the explanation of the plot a little more organically.

    I’m also not sure about the one historical detail supplied here–that it took five hours to get from NYC to Philly in a wagon. That seems really, really short for 100 miles–more like a week’s worth of travel than half a day’s–and it’s the only impression we’ve gotten of your research, which is a bad thing if it’s incorrect.

    It sounds like your story has good bones–good luck with your query revisions!

    • Rowenna, thanks for your comments. The historical detail about the trek from NYC to Philly hadn’t even occurred to me. This is a very good point. To travel from New York to Philly in rush hour traffic could take two hours–even in a Porsche Carerra. So I’d say five hours in a covered wagon seems like historical inaccuracy. Authors should always make sure they put their best foot forward when submitting to agents. Authors of historicals should always, always make sure their queries are as historically accurate as they’d want their published books to be.

%d bloggers like this: