QueryDice #18

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!

Dear Ms. Ruth,

At seventeen years old, I was a voracious reader.

This is not important information and since you have so little space to tell us about your book, I would leave this out. I’m not going to request more information based on this, nor will I reject based on it.

Still, there were never enough of the kind of books I liked to read- the ones with characters so real and flawed that they were like old friends, or people I’d met at school- so I wrote one myself.

This sentence is one of my pet-peeves. I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but here’s what I hear in your sentence: “I’m a better writer than anyone I’ve ever read (and I read voraciously, so that’s a lot).” Now, I think you’re cocky and difficult to work with, which is never good, and I think this before I’ve had a chance to learn anything about your book. While I’m learning about your book, which will happen in the next 10 seconds, I’ll be looking for genius work, which is what you’ve set me up for. Anything less than that will turn me off because it isn’t what I’ve been promised.

Eight years later, [redacted] is complete at 101,000 words, and I’d like to submit the end-result to your agency for consideration.

[redacted] follows Karli and Marián, two cousins with almost nothing in common: she scores goals, and he writes scores; she breaks bones, he breaks hearts; she creates drama, and he embodies it… (you’ve spent precious words making the same point three times here, and I still know nothing about your characters) but they really aren’t as different as they think. Their story, like a hockey-game, (I’m assuming hockey is a thread in your book, but you’ve left me guessing. You don’t want to leave my understanding of what you’ve written up to chance) is a fast-paced, emotional ride, but also a tale of love, in all forms— friendship, first romances, family-ties, and, above all, learning to love oneself.

We’re at the end of your query and I have no idea what your book is about. Loosely, it is about two cousins who are both similar and dissimilar. Hockey is a thread. They go through some journey or other and come out the other side different people. This is just about as generic as you can get. I would reject this query because I don’t know what it is and I worry that I’ll read a partial and still not know what it is.

Other considerations: Marian is a very ethnic name. Is this cross-cultural fiction? Is there a romance involved? How do the cousins’ stories interact or converge?

[redacted] is geared primarily toward older teens, specifically girls between the ages of 14 and 21, and, as such, is equal parts tender, dark, and humorous. This is my first novel, and I am sending it to you exclusively— I can be reached at [redacted] and [redacted] or emailed at [redacted]

Thank you for your consideration, and I eagerly anticipate your response.

Best regards,



Posted on November 17, 2011, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hi, Lauren-

    I’ve been without internet access for so long that I almost forgot I’d submitted this at all. Looking at it now, I completely agree with you (and the other posters): when I wrote this, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and I thank you for your honesty- there isn’t enough of it out there, and I have more respect for those of you who weren’t afraid to call me on my obvious inexperience.

    Fortunately, I’ve done more research since then~ this really is more “elevator-pitch” than query letter (I’m terrible at summarizing), and it does come off as kind of conceited. Nonetheless, constructive criticism is always appreciated, and perhaps I’ll resubmit once I’ve had a chance to fix it.

    All the best, & many happy returns.

  2. The only thing I have to add is with regard to the last paragraph. The author says the novel is aimed at 14-21 year olds, which is roughly YA (though 21 is a little old for YA). This person may be a voracious reader, but how well-versed is s/he in the publishing world? Granted, this might not kill the query (the other things Lauren already indicated would do that), but my impression is that agents like to see authors use standard category names. This shows the author has researched genres and has an idea where a bookseller might place his/her novel.

    Other than that, I think what needs to be said has been said.

  3. I ate those books right up, ripped out the pages and swallowed them down, tore off the hard covers and chewed until they became palpable.

  4. QueryDice Submitter:

    As Lauren pointed out, you use a lot of words, but don’t say much. Remember to address the basics first: Who’s the protagonist? What’s the challenge they’re facing? Why does the agent care? (I think you can use work on those last two.)

    Personal information doesn’t strengthen the presentation of your story to an agent or editor. They are going to judge your work, not you. Even if they like you, they might not request pages. Even if they dislike you, they might still buy your book — if it’s very good. Include publishing credits and relevant credentials at the end of your query. If you have none, it is better to say less and appear succinct than to include that you like to read and look amateurish. IMO

    Consider that 101,000 words combine with an unfocused query might indicate that your novel needs tightening.


    “Marian is a very ethnic name. Is this cross-cultural fiction?”

    Maybe I’m misinterpreting your use of the term ethnic, but Marian seems pretty standard to me. Perhaps an old-fashioned name, but then “grandma” names have been in style for the last several years. Do you have time to elaborate? Thanks.

  5. Maybe we all need to get a buddhist monk to write our queries, with nothing but humility, respect, and caring for others. Certainly we’d do no worse than this.

  6. Wow, Lauren! With no disrespect to the writer of this, if this query is anything like you receive in real life, I feel for you. EVERYTHING you said hit the nail right on the head. BEFORE I even read what you wrote I was thinking it in my own mind. I can have a voracious appetite, but I’m not sure it truly goes with the word reader. Yeah, I know people say it all the time, but I guess I’m just not into eating books per se.

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