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,

I am seeking representation for my young adult novel, [redacted], complete at just over 61,000 words. Your web site described an interest in young adult and fantasy fiction, and I hope you will enjoy a blend of the two.

Very nice. Any agent representing those genres would continue reading. This is professional and to-the-point. The only criticism I have here is a matter of personal taste and honestly I hesitated to even comment. I’m not a fan of an author telling me in a query that she is “seeking representation” for something. I already know that. Also, if you need to save words, you don’t have to write “…complete at…” If you simply wrote, “…novel, [redacted] (61k)” it would be more concise and it would save some precious real estate.

When Grace Branford crashes her car, killing her two best friends, her life is turned upside down. (Wow) The once-popular eighteen-year-old is now ostracized by her classmates, teachers, and even her parents. Throughout the turmoil she faces daily, she cannot help but wonder how she survived when her friends did not. For answers, she turns to an old book of poetry left to her by her dead cousin and becomes immersed in a world of ghosts, angels, and the afterlife.

Double wow. Not only is this well-written, it’s compelling. This screams YA from the rooftops, but it also hints that the author has gone beyond the boring ol’, tried-and-true “teen is ostracized” thing. 

Grace soon meets a mysterious, handsome boy named Jack, who always seems to know her thoughts and can find her whenever she is in trouble.

Hmm. A handsome boy? Voice is very important and “handsome boy” sounds like something my 80-year-old grandma would say.

As she gets closer to him, she finds out the truth about her own past, his present, and their future – and what exactly it means to be a Guardian Angel.

We didn’t know she needed answers to questions about her past, and this paragraph seems like a departure from the first half of the query. What does this mean for her guilt and confusion over the accident? I’d like to have a stronger grasp of what exactly the conflict is. What does Grace want? Why can’t she have it?

More precisely, a Fallen Guardian Angel, because that’s what Jack is. Now the two are falling in love, but Grace is still hesitant. Why, after all, would a stranger be her Guardian Angel instead of her beloved cousin? Cousin? What cousin?

Determined to find answers, Grace and Jack embark on an adventure that will surely end in disaster – or death.

You wrote above that Grace finds out the truth, but a sentence or two later you write that they embark on a journey to find it. Which is it? You cant tell us she finds the truth and then afterwards mention there is a journey before she does find out.

I am currently working on an MA in creative writing
(good to know)and have received several awards for my writing, most recently the Woodward Prize for Writing Distinction at Pace University. The completed manuscript is available for your review, should you wish to see it. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.



This was a professional, largely well-written query. Agents will request more material.


Posted on July 20, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I assume the beloved cousin is the same one who left her the poetry book. I’d wondered if perhaps the cousin was one of the friends killed in the crash? Anyway if you save words on the into perhaps you could expand from “dead cousin” into cousin who died three years ago from cancer or cousin who was killed in the crash.

  2. I agree with Jane– the first half sounded better than the second. The second half sounded like too much that’s already out there.

    The capitalization of Guardian Angel threw me, because it immediately made me think of the occasionally-controversial citizen safety patrol group.

    In the first paragraph it seemed odd to me that you would talk about combining YA and fantasy as if that were an unusual thing. YA fantasy is a genre in its own right. I get that you’re writing to an agent who says she represents YA and fantasy but doesn’t specifically say she represents YA fantasy. Assume she does, and don’t waste words on the distinction.

  3. I really liked the first half of this query, but the second half sort of went splat. You become lost in general statements- “discover the truth”, “go on a journey”- where I want specifics. I know you don’t want to give away too much of the plot (which sounds really interesting) but I do want to know what the story problem is. What choice does Grace face? What’s the central conflict? How does the Guardian Angel relate to the car crash?

    But clearly you’ve good a good story here. I would definitely read this, though I’m a bit worried about voice as well. “Handsome boy” is what my grandma would call my little brother, not how I’d describe a hot angel guy I’m in love with. Punch it up a little. YA is all about voice.

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