Query Critique (Non-fiction)

The Original Query:

Address

Address

Address

To Whom This May Concern,

GO BLOG YOURSELF!

What better way to showcase concrete research on blogging as a legit form of writing for students then to place it next to blog entries from the researcher, and teacher, herself?

My book, GO BLOG YOURSELF, would include entries from two of my blogs (a teaching blog and private blog, started in the spring of 2002) intermingled with chapters that include blogging research I’ve conducted over the years. Due to the recent nature of blogs this book would fill a much needed void of concrete research connected with blogs for academics, as well as attract recreational readers of blog and bloggers alike.

Through the process of becoming an Associate Professor (in North Dakota!), I’ve kept up with several blogs, and I’ve co-published an article* on blogging with Dr. X and Y, both professors at _____. In addition, I’ve taught using blogs (class blogs, too) since the spring of 2002 at NDSU and, currently, at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, ND (a hour south of Fargo). Within the last few years, I’ve also given presentations on how blogging has worked in my classrooms.

I believe GO BLOG YOURSELF would be suitable for the ___ Corporation. Enclosed, you’ll find a Table of Contents and a sample chapter of GO BLOG YOURSELF. A SASE is included for your reply. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

*That article can be found here: (Redacted)

The Critique:

Address

Address

Address

To Whom This May Concern, Dear Ms. Agent, (Make sure you’re researching agents and personalizing your query letter. This is someone who’s going to (possibly) be your business partner, so include their name. I’m sure that you aren’t sending out letters “To Whom This May Concern” but for the purpose of the critiques, I have to point that out.)

GO BLOG YOURSELF! What better way to showcase concrete research on blogging as a legit form of writing for students then to place it next to blog entries from the researcher, and teacher, herself? (As an opening, this isn’t working for a couple of reasons. The first being it almost comes across as an “As Seen On TV” infomercial (sorry!). Yes, you want a sales pitch, but it doesn’t have to be over-the-top. Query letters, whether they are for fiction or non-fiction, should start with your hook. And in order to have a successful hook, you want to remove the question element altogether. STATE what this book is about and why it’s unique and why readers are going to pick it up. Here’s what I mean…let’s say you’re at a dinner party and your friend asks you what your book is about. You probably wouldn’t answer them with a question, you’d explain it in a sentence or two.)

My book, GO BLOG YOURSELF, would include entries from two of my blogs (a teaching blog and private blog, started in the spring of 2002) intermingled with chapters that include blogging research I’ve conducted over the years. Due to the recent nature (maybe insert what recent nature of blogs here, because leaving it so open-ended could mean anything. Are you talking about the recent downfall of blogs? The relevance of blogs? How blogs have changed/evolved? Don’t be afraid to spell it out – it’ll only take a word or two to clarify what you mean) of blogs this book would fill a much needed void of concrete research connected with blogs for academics (how?), as well as attract recreational readers of blogs and bloggers alike. (If it’s research about blogs for academics, why would it attract recreational blog readers?)

Through the process of becoming an Associate Professor (in North Dakota!) (Why is this here? It doesn’t add to your query, save the space for more pertinent information relating to your platform and what exactly your book is about. By this point, I’m still not sure who your target market is (Students? Teachers? Readers? Bloggers?) and what exactly your book is going to cover), I’ve kept up with several blogs (you’ve followed several blogs, or you personally keep several blogs? And if it’s blogs you just read, that’s not really telling the agent about your proposal. If this is the research part, how reliable are the sources?), and I’ve co-published an article* (This is one of those parts where you want to tell the agent your credits. Where was this published? National, local, print, academic journal, e-format? Don’t be vague with your credentials.) on blogging with Dr. X and Y, both professors at _____. In addition, I’ve taught using blogs (class blogs, too) since the spring of 2002 at NDSU and, currently, at the North Dakota State College of Science. in Wahpeton, ND(a hour south of Fargo) (Again, this is unnecessary, tell the agent more about why this book? Why you?) Within the last few years, I’ve also given presentations (How many? To whom?) on how blogging has worked in my classrooms. (How has blogging worked in your classrooms?)

I believe GO BLOG YOURSELF would be suitable for the ___ Corporation (Just one place? I thought from your opening it would appeal to students and bloggers and blog readers, too?). Enclosed, you’ll find a Table of Contents and a sample chapter of GO BLOG YOURSELF. (Make sure you’re researching agent guidelines; find out if the agent you are querying prefers JUST a query letter first. You can say “sample chapters are available upon request” if they don’t ask for material upfront.) A SASE is included for your reply. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Your Name

*That article can be found here: (Redacted)

Okay, so here’s the thing: platform is an essential part of non-fiction. Yes, you mention you’ve got two blogs and have co-published an article, but the agent isn’t hearing about the numbers. Do you promote your blogs on social media? How many followers/subscribers/friends/fans do you have on twitter/blog(s)/facebook, etc. You’ve given presentations, that’s good! How many, and how many do you do a year? Are there opportunities for you to sell your books at these presentations? Are they local, national, etc.? This is your place to SHINE, talk yourself up.

Credentials and platform mixed with a great/unique idea are the basis of what you want to come across in this proposal. I can’t give a more in-depth critique like I can for fiction,  but I can give you a few questions to keep in mind while you’re crafting your next draft.

After reading this several times I’m still not entirely sure what your book is about. Yeah, it’s about blogging and blogging relating to academics (I think), but what exactly are you teaching the reader? How to make money at blogging? How to quit your job and blog full-time? How to grow readership? How to integrate blogs in the classroom?

You mention that it will not only appeal to students, but to bloggers (and readers of blogs) as well. Again, I still don’t know why, because I don’t know much about the book.

I think your title is catchy, and you’ve got a good voice – you just need to hone it into a streamlined pitch that’s CLEAR. You’re the expert on the subject, make sure you “show” your expertise.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my agent, basically you want to answer three questions:

Why you?

Why this book?

Why now?

The questions don’t have to be answered in that order, but they do need to be answered. Find a way to let your voice shine through authentically (without being forced  or over-the-top), and you’ll have a killer proposal. 

Here are some helpful links for non-fiction query letters that you can use as reference guides: (the people who wrote these have stellar advice and are much more in-the-know regarding successful non-fiction proposals.)

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/02/how-to-write-nonfiction-book-proposal.html

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/03/nonfiction-query-sample.html

http://writenonfictionnow.com/how-to-write-a-query-letter-for-a-nonfiction-book/

http://kidlit.com/2011/07/11/how-to-write-a-non-fiction-query-letter/

MOST importantly: Thank you to this brave author for sharing their query with everyone. You are ten kinds of awesome, I mean it. Critiques are NEVER easy, but I *know* you are going to come up with a kick-butt pitch that’s going to land you some amazing requests. Good luck with this!

Query Critique

Original Query:

Dear (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it.

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain on the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world, they have no choice but to work together, despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And when his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories.

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The Critique:

Dear Ms. (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it. (How old is he? We find out it’s YA at the end, but you want to ground the reader (agent) in what kind of book you’ve written up-front. That can be fixed easily by adding: Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old…etc. Also! You can tighten this and make it more present by moving a few words around. Ex: Seventeen-year-old small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.)

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. (This can also be condensed a bit for more impact. It’s a wordy way of continuing to talk about Tristan’s hanging when the reader should be thrust into the action/conflict faster. So far we’ve read a lot about the stuff that happens BEFORE the action. Since most of the conflict occurs after this, flesh that out more.) Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain (this is unnecessary) On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world (since they were sucked through a portal, the “foreign world” part is assumed. You can cut this extra info so you have more wordage to add to the conflict and obstacles) they have no choice but to work together (by saying “they are forced to work together” it conveys the same message and chops extraneous words), despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And When his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories. (Who steals her memories? The henchman or the evil god? It’s a little unclear. A fast way to fix that is like this: When a henchman fails to capture the girl, he steals her memories instead. Or better yet, do we need to know the henchman steals her memories? It might be best to remove that element completely to avoid character soup.)

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god(dess) of Earth. (What conflict does that pose for the evil god? We need a little something here about why the evil god wants her and what the consequence will be if he succeeds. What are the stakes or choices? Will capturing her soul destroy their world?)

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy. (Good ending. One minor tweak; I would say that it’s a stand alone with series potential.)

Thank you for your time and consideration. (Perfect!)

Your Name

Phone Number

Email

Other Contact Info/Website/Etc.

A couple of nitpick-y things: Be aware of using too many words that end in “ly”, there are quite a few that are “telling” instead of showing. I.e. Tightly, accidentally, desperately, suddenly, reluctantly, etc. It’s okay to use some – just know that for a short blurb they start to stand out when they aren’t necessary.

The Aftermath:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.

Just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky, smashing the gallows and freeing him. While attempting escape in the midst of the chaos, he’s accidentally sucked into another dimension.

On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped, they are forced to work together despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. When his plan of capturing the girl fails, he steals her memories instead. Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the goddess of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It’s a stand alone with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Your Name

Okay…so with this condensed version, you now have extra word space to flesh out the conflict and choices the characters face once they are in the other world MORE. Don’t be afraid to lay the stakes out there for the agent. 

Thanks so much for sharing your query and for letting me dig my little fingers in. Your book sounds like a really fun read, and the query has a great voice!

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