Query Critique

The Original Query:

THE LOST STORY, completed at 80,000 words, is the tragic and triumphant story of Danielle (Dani) Caldwell, an American girl who meets a Cuban boy and falls in love, only to find their world-views divided over the Cuban Revolution.

The story opens in 1980.  Dani’s walking through the streets of Manhattan when she sees a man laying in a puddle on Wall Street, looking half dead, while passersby walk over him on their morning commute.  It’s enough to overcome her; to beckon her to the side of a man she doesn’t know.  She steps onto a metal bench, and as if it were her pulpit, pleads with the onlookers in defense of the broken man.

Some people say a radical is born in an instant, like a crime of passion, but for Danielle, her transformation begins when her mother gives her the gift of travel as a graduation present.  The year is 1958.  It’s the summer before the Cuban Revolution, Eisenhower is in office and there’s still a daily flight to Havana, Cuba.  Each year, a deluge of high rollers, high society and socialites descend on the Forbidden City; known for its legal gambling, glamourous nightclubs and white, sandy beaches. None of which Dani has any interest in experiencing, until she meets Jose Medeiro, a progressive, intelligent store owner who’s smitten with her.

In the heat of the Danze de Amore, under the moonlit skies of the Malecon, Jose breaks down Dani’s walls of reserve and steals her heart.  But when the American mob threatens the future of his family’s storefronts, Jose aligns himself with Fidel Castro, and the two young lover’s stars cross as their worlds collide.

Author Bio:

Name Withheld is a wife, mother and writer.  She has written mostly non-fiction for television, newspapers and websites.  She writes a monthly column for ____.com, focusing on lack of sleep, how potty training can save your marriage and other self-deprecating and humorous tales from the home.  She holds a master’s degree in converged journalism.

Thanks again,

Name Withheld

Contact information

The Query Critique:

Dear Ms. Agent’s Last Name,

THE LOST STORY, (what genre is it? i.e. THE LOST STORY is a YA Historical complete at… Maybe even give the agent an idea of which readers it will appeal to.) completed at 80,000 words. is the tragic and triumphant story of Danielle (Dani) Caldwell, an American girl who meets a Cuban boy and falls in love, only to find their world-views divided over the Cuban Revolution. (This is unnecessary “telling.” Your query letter should “show” the agent what your story is about. I’d totally cut this part out. Also, just as a personal preference, I’d put this down toward the bottom and open with your blurb, unless an agent states they like a more personalized greeting upfront.)

The story opens in 1980.  Dani’s walking through the streets of Manhattan when she sees a man laying in a puddle on Wall Street, looking half dead, while passersby walk over him on their morning commute.  It’s enough to overcome her; to beckon her to the side of a man she doesn’t know.  She steps onto a metal bench, and as if it were her pulpit, pleads with the onlookers in defense of the broken man. (I’m going to pause right here. So far this is a GOOD synopsis, but it’s not really a query. You want your query letter to read like the back of a book blurb.) 

What is your hook? Your hook needs to sum up the main conflict of your novel in a way that makes the reader (agent) want to read more…NOW. 

Example: Main Character has everything a sixteen-year-old could want…except for  _____.  (What is the main driving force of your novel? What does your MC want more than anything? What is the major conflict?)

To really show the agent what kind of novel you’ve written, adding a few extra details will immediately let them know what genre your book is. 

Ex: Jane Doe has everything a sixteen-year-old astronaut warrior wants…except for an alien annihilating spaceship.

Now the reader (agent) is grounded in this being some sort of science fiction or fantasy AND we know there’s a major conflict. An astronaut warrior without a spacecraft is quite an issue; how oh how will the MC go about securing themselves a spacecraft and kick some alien invasion butt? We can also assume it’s a YA book based on the MC’s age.

IF your hook is an “American girl and Cuban boy fall in love during the Cuban Revolution,” you’re going to need to flesh it out a bit more. Highlight the stakes and don’t be afraid to really let your conflict shine. Then build from there in the following sentences/paragraphs. SHOW the reader (agent) this amazing world you’ve built. (I.e. Is Dani a mobster’s daughter? If she is, and her family is threatening Jose, then that spells out MAJOR conflict.) 

Here are some helpful hints/questions to keep in mind while working on your blurb:

What is your hook?

What does your MC want?

What’s preventing your MC from getting what he/she wants?

What choice(s) does your MC face?

What happens if he/she doesn’t succeed?

If you can answer those questions your blurb will be in good shape. Moving along…

Some people say a radical is born in an instant, like a crime of passion, but for (insert her age here) Danielle, her transformation begins when her mother gives her the gift of travel as a graduation present.  (Okay. So I really like this paragraph. I’m thinking you can use this as your opening blurb and flesh this part out a bit more.) The year is 1958. It’s the summer before the Cuban Revolution, Eisenhower is in office and there’s still a daily flight to Havana, Cuba.  Each year, a deluge of high rollers, high society and socialites (using both “high-society” and “socialites” is redundant, eliminate one of those) descend on the Forbidden City; (a comma would work better here) known for its legal gambling, glamourous nightclubs and white, sandy beaches. None of which Dani has any interest in experiencing (why? I want MORE of her personality to shine through), until she meets Jose Medeiro, a progressive, intelligent store owner who’s smitten with her. (Is Jose her age? Is he a mysterious older guy? It’s unclear.)

In the heat of the Danze de Amore, under the moonlit skies of the Malecon, Jose breaks down Dani’s walls of reserve (how?) and steals her heart.  But when the American mob threatens the future of his family’s storefronts (why do the American’s threaten him?), Jose aligns himself with Fidel Castro, and the two young lover’s lovers’ stars cross as their worlds collide. (Is she a mobster’s daughter? If she’s not, I don’t really understand the tie-in with the mafia and how it challenges Dani and Jose. It kinda comes out of left field. How are their worlds colliding? Give the reader a hint more here. What happens next? What do they have to choose? End with the choice your MC will have to make. Does she have to choose her family or her love? And what are the consequences of her choices? You’ve got great bones in this section of your query letter, you just need to add more to flesh out the conflict.)

THE LOST STORY is a YA Historical Romance and is complete at 80,000 words.

Name Withheld is a wife, mother and writer.  She has I have written mostly non-fiction for television, newspapers and websites. (You might want to include which television shows/episodes, newspapers, etc. That way an agent knows if it’s national or local and the size of readership.) She writes I also write a monthly column for _____.com, focusing on lack of sleep, how potty training can save your marriage and other self-deprecating and humorous tales from the home.  She I holds a master’s degree in converged journalism. (Since this is a query letter, writing your bio in first person works well.)

Thanks again,

Name Withheld

Contact information

Okay! So I think with a few more tweaks (and fleshing out some of the details) this will really work. Here’s some of it without all my notes so you have a better idea of what it’ll look like. Take what you’ve got here and build up by applying those questions I mentioned earlier:

The query aftermath: 

Dear Ms. Agent,

Some people say a radical is born in an instant, like a crime of passion, but for Danielle, her transformation begins when her mother gives her the gift of travel as a graduation present.  The year is 1958.  It’s the summer before the Cuban Revolution, Eisenhower is in office and there’s still a daily flight to Havana, Cuba.

Each year, a deluge of high rollers, high society and socialites descend on the Forbidden City; known for its legal gambling, glamourous nightclubs and white, sandy beaches. None of which Dani has any interest in experiencing, until she meets Jose Medeiro, a progressive, intelligent store owner who’s smitten with her.

In the heat of the Danze de Amore, under the moonlit skies of the Malecon, Jose breaks down Dani’s walls of reserve and steals her heart.  But when the American mob threatens the future of his family’s storefronts, Jose aligns himself with Fidel Castro, and the two young lovers’ stars cross as their worlds collide.

THE LOST STORY is a YA Historical Romance and is complete at 80,000 words.

Author Bio:

Name Withheld is a wife, mother and writer.  She has written mostly non-fiction for television, newspapers and websites.  She writes a monthly column for ____.com, focusing on lack of sleep, how potty training can save your marriage and other self-deprecating and humorous tales from the home.  She holds a master’s degree in converged journalism.

Thanks again,

Name Withheld

Contact information

Thanks so much to the author of this (AWESOME sounding) novel for sharing your query letter with me. I hope this crit helps–keep up the amazing work!!!

I’ll be posting a new query letter critique each Wednesday from now through December. (With the exception of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.) 

If you’d like me to mark up your query letter (or first page) please send your work to Kerri.writes@gmail.com

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9 thoughts on “Query Critique

  1. WOW Kerri – I thought it sounded like an interesting book blurb initially, but after seeing the changes you suggested it absolutely ROCKS! Those seemingly small changes made a HUGE difference, and I can see why it would be more likely to grab an agent’s attention. You’ve tightened it up and it seems more polished. Every word carries more punch. This is a MOST helpful post – thank you 😀

  2. I love your blog, Kerri! I can see where the opening reads more like a synopsis, now that you mention it. Thank you for helping your fellow writers out!

  3. I am privileged to have your feedback. Finally, I can see this query letter through someones else’s eyes. I only hope to help other writers down the road like you have helped me. Lets stay in touch.

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