Query Critique Wrap-Up
GAH! Yesterday I reached 100 followers! This is momentous — MOMENTOUS, I SAY! I feel so very loved.
♥ THANK YOU, FRIENDS! ♥
Now back to our regularly scheduled program: my Query Critique Week(s) is coming to a close — though there’s still another week of it on Let the Words Flow (with agent feedback!).
I critiqued a total of 25 queries, and I wanted to give a quick overview of some of the various issues I saw.
By biggest, I mean “most harmful”. These are the issues that mean instant death for your query. Think “box jellyfish of the query world”.
1) Not following the “formula”
Those of you who’ve really researched query letters know what I mean by the “formula” — it’s the information that’s expected in all queries (for fiction). If you need to know what I mean, then check out my own post on this or head over to the Query Shark and watch her feast away on poorly constructed queries.
2) Absence of specifics
You must tell your plot in your query letter, and you must be specific enough that the reader knows exactly what the story is about: the protagonist’s GMC, what is at stake if the protagonist fails, and how the plot escalates in tension as the story unfolds.
For example, saying, “When horrible events unfold outside of her control, Suzie-Q must make a difficult choice between following her heart and protecting her family.” Um, when you say something like this, I’m left wondering what these horrible events are, why they’re outside of Suzie-Q’s control, why Suzie-Q has to make a choice, and what it is in her heart that she’s following.
Each sentence should logically follow the one before it — cause/effect, decision/consequence. If you raise more questions than you answer, this is bad. There is only one question you should leave the reader with at the end of the query, and that is what happens next?
3) Telling not showing
This connects to #2. Often time the absence of specifics leads to telling. Declaring “Suzie-Q is a clever, strong-willed girl who wants to see her dad again” is not nearly as strong as saying “Suzie-Q, the local chess champion, will do anything to see her prison-bound dad again — even if it means getting herself landed in jail with him.” When we can see Suzie-Q’s characteristics according to the choices she makes and the goals she has, you kill two birds with one stone: you show us the story and you show us the protagonist’s personality.
Most Common Issues
These errors were frequent, but not so life-threatening. We’re talking dog bite versus cobra bite — these could really hurt your query, but they’re not necessarily kisses of death.
1) Too many unimportant details
On the other side of the detail-spectrum from Big Issue #2, there were those queries that had too many. I’m right there with you — my earlier query drafts were long and had too much unimportant stuff included. I finally managed to scrape away the dead weight by focusing ONLY on two things in my query:
- My protagonist’s GMC: what she wants, why she wants it, and why she can’t have it.
- The most MAINEST of MAIN external plots: only the events and choices that drive the entire story — the events that without which there would be no story.
2) Not snappy enough
This connects to #1, but it can also be a problem all on it’s own. Maybe you’re only sharing the most important details, but are you using too many words to share them? Each sentence should roll of the tongue if you read your query aloud. Your voice should shine through (without being overbearing! There is such a thing as too much voice), and the specifics should be laid bare in as few words as possible. Again, go back to the formula — start with the basics, and then add detail and voice in layers overtop.
This builds off of #1 and #2. Though most people were good about staying under the 250-word pitch limit, there were still a lot who had too many words. Remember, it’s better to be brief and pack a punch than to be long and meandering. For example, I think Laura Pauling’s query was a great example of lots of bang for your buck — it was short, yes, but she enticed me enough to want to read the book!
4) Irrelevant credentials in the bio
This actually can be a killer. Kind of like if the dog that bites you turns out to be rabid, putting in that one wrong detail can mean instant death. What detail is that? Do not — DO NOT, I repeat — mention you are self-published unless the book you’ve self-published has sold over 5,000 copies. I realize the industry is changing and self-publishing is becoming more and more common, but it does not matter in the eyes of those who still follow traditional publishing (i.e. all agents, all editors, and most traditionally published authors).
Less “dangerous” items are those you mention that have no use in the query. If your credentials have nothing to do with writing, don’t mention them. If a credential is only tentatively related to writing, err on the side of caution and don’t mention it. For example, scientific publications or newsletters don’t count. Nor do courses in writing or a long-time love of writing. Save that precious word count for more important things: the story!
Finally, avoid quoting people’s comments about your book. Unless the person is ridiculously famous (read: Stephen King or J.K. Rowling) or a client of the agent you’re querying, don’t mention these blurbs. Ever.
5) Incorrect genre
Make sure that whatever genre you’ve chosen to label your book with is the correct genre. I’ve seen quite a number of mislabeled romances and books squeezed into YA that were not YA. Do your research, abide by commercial “formulas”, and find the perfect spot for you book. It exists, I promise!
I don’t want you to think I only saw mistakes. In fact, it was quite the opposite. There was a lot of good in these queries! So many of you had really stellar queries or were off to fantastic starts!
1) So many great premises
All I can say on this is: WOW. I got to read about so many amazing stories, and all of them were unique. You guys are so creative, it just boggles my mind! I can’t wait to see your stories on shelves at my local bookstore — and I have no doubt that one day I will!
2) Fun voices
Oh jeez, I fell in love with some of these stories based on voice alone. When It shines through the sentences, it really shines. For those of you struggling with this, just keep practicing — tightening and rewriting will help you reach that point.
3) Strong writing
You peeps can write! Seriously, I was so pleased to see no one messed up grammar or screwed up those critical basics. This may seem minor to you, but as a stickler for grammar and punctuation, I found it to be a real breath of fresh air. Go team!
Thanks to everyone
And now a big, enormous thank you to all of you who participated or stopped by to read. These weeks of query critiques (that totally rhymed!) have been a huge success because of all of you awesome readers and writers. Thank you so much for sending your queries to me for feedback, for offering your critiques to the posted query letters, and for staying friendly and helpful the whole time!
I ♥ you all so much, and I can’t wait until we do this again!
NOW, everyone hang onto your hats because I have something new and different coming next week to the blog. Have I piqued your curiosity? There are ::cue dramatic music:: giveaways!
You tell me: Did you find my critiques useful? Did the community feedback help you any? Would you like to do all this again in the future?
February 4, 2011 @ 10:15 am
Oh Sooz, you were such an amazing query-ripper hostess! Even though I didn’t enter (still in editing) and/or critique any queries (I’m way too positive about everything, wouldn’t be of any use), I’ll give you a standing ovation for your effort and kind words. YOU’RE. THE. BEST!
Also, loved the reference to the box jellyfish! Scientist Sooz strikes again! And congratulations on 100 followers – take about Miss Popularity 😀
February 4, 2011 @ 2:41 pm
AWWWWWW. Thanks so much Caitlin. 😀
And dude! I knew my Australian buddies would know the dreaded BOX JELLY.
February 4, 2011 @ 1:40 pm
OMG, YES, you were helpful! Thanks so much for the critique you sent. This story is so !@$! complicated, it’s been close to impossible to distill and not confuse in 250 words. Your help is much appreciated; I’ve worked my backside off trying to perfect the summary paragraph all week. My backside needs more work, but the query is much better. LOL
February 4, 2011 @ 2:44 pm
You are SOOOO VERY welcome, Victoria! Your story sound amazing, so I’m really glad I could help you with your query. Boiling down a novel is nigh impossible, and it really helps to have outside feedback. D
February 4, 2011 @ 1:50 pm
I think you’re awesome. And I had a great time critiquing the queries, and got awesome feedback as well 😀 Great job, Susan!
February 4, 2011 @ 2:45 pm
YAY! Thanks so much for all your critiques, Holly! <3 <3
February 4, 2011 @ 2:59 pm
I think you just about summed up not just problems in query letters but writing in manuscripts too! This was awesome! Thanks for taking the time to crit all those letters! Way to pay it forward! And the feedback was extremely helpful!
February 4, 2011 @ 7:40 pm
You are so very welcome, Laura! I’m glad you found it so helpful, and I can’t wait to hear good news from you!!
February 4, 2011 @ 5:45 pm
Thank you for taking this newbie under your wing, and introducing her to your blog family. Thank you all so much for critiquing my query on RUN, DELANEY. I am almost ashamed I didn’t want my name mention, because you all were so nice and your suggestions really clicked. I still have a long way to go, but I will take what you taught me along the way. Thanks again Sooz, for hosting this. I look forward to the next time. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
February 4, 2011 @ 7:05 pm
So it was YOU! Hi, Ashley! *waves furiously* So glad and proud you came out. <3!
February 4, 2011 @ 7:58 pm
Thanks Yahong, and it’s nice to meet you too! *waves furiously back* 🙂
February 4, 2011 @ 7:41 pm
I’m sooooo glad to hear I (and all the commenters!) could help with your query!
We all have to start somewhere, and like Laura said, I’m just paying it forward! GAH, querying can be so darn intimidating. 😛
GOOD LUCK, and I hope to see you around the blogosphere! 😀 😀
February 4, 2011 @ 6:24 pm
Both your comments and the comments from everyone who was nice enough to stop by and look at my query were SO helpful. Thanks to you guys, I’m reworking it right now. Seeing everyone else’s was really fun too, and there were tons of stories this week that I want to read when they make it to publication! 🙂
Thanks so much again!
February 4, 2011 @ 7:43 pm
YAY! I’m glad you were able to use all the feedback — sometimes it can be overwhelming! 😀 And you had such a strong query already!
PLEASE keep me updated on your querying. I expect to hear good news soon!
February 4, 2011 @ 7:15 pm
Yay for Susan, who totally deserved to make it to 100 followers! Congrats to everyone who participated, critiquing and submitting a query. Fun, eh, gals??
February 4, 2011 @ 7:43 pm
Look at your adorable Candian-ness!! I used to say “eh” when I lived in Ontario — it’s such a great word!! 😀
February 4, 2011 @ 9:51 pm
I think this has been great, both in having mine looked at and see what worked and what didn’t in others. Thanks, Susan! 🙂
February 4, 2011 @ 9:52 pm
seeing, I mean…obviously. 😀
February 7, 2011 @ 3:02 pm
Sometimes critiques can be overwhelming, but I think we had a nice number and most people were very consistent.
The great thing is that EVERYONE’S will be better than the average bear now, so I expect to hear GOOD NEWS from everyone! 😀
February 5, 2011 @ 12:28 am
Congratulations on 100 followers, Susan!
Your feedback was incredibly helpful. Thanks so much for doing this!
February 7, 2011 @ 3:00 pm
You are very welcome, Emy! Thanks so much for participating! 😀
February 5, 2011 @ 1:48 am
Congratulations on getting to 100!
I really enjoyed reading the letters and feedback, it was very interesting and I learned a lot. I would love to see more!
February 7, 2011 @ 3:03 pm
Thanks Carrie! I will definitely do more in the future–once my deadline for THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS passes, at least… 😉
February 5, 2011 @ 8:21 am
Hey! I just wanted to say that while I’m nowhere near the querying stage- I found reading this helpful regardless! I’ve even had a crack at writing my own and it’s really helped me streamline my plot and figure out what’s important. Thank you so much for doing this- it’s lovely seeing everyone help one each other out! I can’t wait for you to do it again 🙂
February 7, 2011 @ 3:04 pm
I’m so glad to hear this, Pico! It’s great to know that the people who weren’t actively participating could still participate and learn from the sidelines! Thank you so much for stopping by, and I promise I’ll do more stuff like this in the future!