QueryDice #20

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 Lauren Ruth,

I would like to introduce you to my adult love story called A struggle of the heart. This is a Contemporary romance. My completed manuscript consists of 71,539 words. A young woman faces the age-old dilemma: what to do when you are torn between two lovers?


Unless your work is written for young adults or children, there is no need to mention what age-group you’ve targeted. The agent will assume it is for adults. Your second sentence is redundant. You’ve already told us in the first sentence that this is a romance by using the words “love story,” although I prefer to see this genre called “romance.”

The story you’ve set me up to receive certainly is age-old. Right from the first paragraph, I need to feel there is something different about your romance, something new or exciting that would make me choose yours among the hundreds I see. Romances are a dime a dozen—I’m looking for the one that’s a dime a piece.


Annette, a beautician in Norman, Oklahoma, (these are the first words that catch my eye in your query. I’ve never read a romance about a beautician in Norman, Oklahoma. Interesting…) does not believe she’ll ever find love, let alone two men who fall head over heels for her. Aaron, a handsome and virile Native American (again, I’m interested. This is different…) with long dark hair and sensuous brown eyes, draws her to him like a magnet. Tim, a good-looking, happy-go-lucky fellow, is always there to help, care for and comfort her.


While I understand your temptation to succinctly describe these men in as few words as possible, this felt too punchy for me. I would prefer to see a description of her love affair with the first man, and then the other man stepping in to distract her instead of a bland description of the men. Additionally, Aaron seems much more interesting than Tim—who reads to me like a lukewarm guy-next-door—so I can’t feel any tension. Of course she’s going to pick the more interesting one…or she should, if the book is going to be interesting.


With Aaron, it is love at first site, while Tim grows on her over time. ß-you do not need this sentence. This is one of those things that a query can do without, but the synopsis she show. How will she ever decide? It seems at first that fate might make the decision for her when Aaron joins the army and is stationed overseas. While he is gone, Tim fills the huge void left in her aching heart.


I’m not so sure you should explain that she had her eye on both men before Aaron joined the Army. You might consider saving Tim’s introduction for after you explain that Aaron joined. This would free the men from being lumped together in the same paragraph.

At the same time, Annette knows she must follow her own dream. After the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, she yearns to find a more fulfilling job helping others. This leads her to begin emergency medical training and after that, to attend paramedic school.


You do not need the above paragraph at all in this query. It is a good idea to give Annette this extra depth of character, but it could be exposed in passing, as in, “…taking Aaron’s cue to follow her own dreams, Annette enrolls in paramedic school…” We don’t need to know anything beyond that.


Upon graduation, Tim asks for Annette’s hand in marriage but what about Aaron, who just returned home from Afghanistan?  It is truly “A Struggle of the Heart” as Annette finds herself torn between two lovers.


The biggest problem with this query is its lack of tension. It is not very interesting that she has two men who love her and must choose between them. This is not extraordinary. I have a feeling, however, that this is not a problem with your query, but rather with the story itself. For the torn-between-lovers plot to work, there must be something overarching the story that is at stake. Perhaps Annette has something valuable that one man wants to help her cultivate and the other wants to exploit for his own gain. Maybe Annette stands to lose something if she goes with one man, but has something else to lose if she goes with the other. These two things should be extremely important—like loved ones or her career or her life. Either way, there must be another element to this that extends beyond a girl making an emotional decision. Maybe your manuscript already has this, but if that’s the case we all want to know about it.

I hope this query letter interests you and you will want to pursue reading more. I am looking for a publisher to help me in my endeavor to share this love story.  Your experience is very impressive and I would like to congratulate you on joining BookEnds as a full time literary agent. It would be an honor to work with you on this novel.  


This is great. Agents love it when you prove you’ve researched them and made an educated decision to query them, rather than blindly sending your query to everyone and her mother.


As I read through the FAQ on your website, it states fiction writers should copy and paste the first three chapters or no more than 50 pages, a synopsis, and an author bio stating what writing experience that we may have.

The first three chapters and a synopsis are the components of a fiction book proposal and are never to be attached to a query. Most agents these days do not want you to attach anything and want your 250-word query in the body of an email. I personally do not mind when authors paste the first ten pages or so after their query in the body of the email.


For my author bio I only have one thing that I have written. It is a book called Alzheimer’s A Caretakers Journal, which is a diary about taking care of my father in law with Alzheimer’s. I wrote and published this book in the hopes that I could help others with this terrible disease. I do keep a Alzheimer’s Blog which I have written since 2008.


While it is helpful to include an author bio if you have writing credentials, it is not helpful to include non-fiction credentials if you are querying with a work of fiction (unless that work is loosely related or has lent you a platform) or vice-versa. These are two very different skill-sets. Because your bio consists of one published work of non-fiction, I immediately think writing is a hobby to you, rather than a career aspiration, and that your writings are unfocused. In this case, it is better to just leave the bio out and skip right to your polite closing.   


I have copy and pasted my synopsis and the first 50 pages of my manuscript. Thank you for reading my query letter.







Posted on January 5, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I want to thank Laura and everyone else who read my query. It seems like I didn’t do a good job with telling why this story is a Struggle of the Heart for the herion. With out giving the story totally away, Aaron quits writing Annette while in Afganistan which leaves her heart broken. She doesn’t meet Tim until they are in paramedic school and slowly they fall in love.Tim asks her to marry him and she says yes. Upon coming up to a bad car accident she helps a man with a swollen and bloody face. She finds out that this is Aaron and now the love triangle begins.
    I want to thank you all so much.
    Marie Fostino

  2. Beyond the plot issues that have been pointed out, the misuse of the homophones site/sight and lack of hyphens in father-in-law tells me the manuscript might have similar errors as well. As a teacher, those things immediately pop out at me.

  3. For me, the description of the two male characters hurts this query from the outset. I don’t read much in the Romance genre, but I’ve seen plenty of Romance novel covers, and that’s what I pictured when I read the description of Aaron. I’m sure there’s a lot more to these characters than the stereotypes the author’s description invokes, but you only have 250 words to sell your whole work. For this reason, I would definitely agree that the descriptions are unnecessary and hurt the query more than help. Give the barest amount of detail–only that which serves to sell the story, and certainly nothing that creates negative images that would be an instant turn off.

  4. Collyn:

    Yes, I will agree about the cliches. This is a both a tendency of mine and a huge pet-peeve. Hypocritical, but there it is!

  5. I don’t get the “struggle of the heart”. Reading the query, it’s pretty clear, at least to me, that Anette loves Aaron more than she loves Tim. If Aaron were to stay in Afghanistan for many years to come, then maybe she should marry Tim, who is near her, instead of waiting and waiting. But Aaron is back in town, so naturally her heart will lead her to him. Just my take.

    • Giora, I agree. I have not read the author’s synopsis, so I don’t know who Annette chooses, but it seems like this is a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t choose the more interesting guy? In the same vein, who would want to read a romance in which the heroine (shudder) settles for the less interesting guy?

  6. I thought this query was really charming in tone, with a lot of the author’s character coming through. That’s unusual for a query letter, as to me they usually read as if written by a Dalek (and that includes mine!) Obviously, I haven’t read any of this author’s work but I would agree that lack of conflict may well be an issue. I do a lot of contest judging and see this often: stories that are too ‘safe’, and describe life unfolding rather than a conflict that has to achieve resolution. The other observation I would make is this query letter has quite a few cliches creeping in. Descriptions are not original enough. All of this can be fixed by hooking up with a good critique partner and/or joining an organisation like RWA. Best of luck to this author and thanks to her for allowing others to critique her work so we all learn.

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