Query Letter Clinic!

December 1, 2009

So a couple of days ago I put a call out on twitter, saying that the first three people who emailed their query letter to me would get it critiqued on my blog. It was the holiday weekend, and The Boy had friends over, so I was tucked away in our bedroom trying not to get in the way of male bonding time 🙂 Anyway, I turned a book in yesterday, so this morning I sat down to critique.

(Disclaimer: These are JUST my opinions. Feel free to take what helps you and ignore the rest. Also, I haven’t read the books these queries are for, so when I needed plot stuff, I just made it up or did an kind of thing. These are also rough, as I wrote them off the top of my head, and would definitely need a little smoothing before they were sent.)

Query Number One:

Dear Ms. X,

The monsters who lurk in the shadows might think Elle is a kindred spirit — they’re wrong.

Elle hates being a werewolf, hates that the blood of the beast who killed her family also runs through her veins. But now she has a new home and family, including Cass, her dhamphir foster-sister. The girls join forces to keep the local supernaturals in line and make their town as normal as possible.

It’s a job they treat like a hobby, until the night something attacks the high school quarterback, leaving him like a living zombie. As friends, enemies, and strangers alike fall prey to the soul-stealing demon spawn, Elle and Cass are forced to up their game. Rather than pinpointing a suspect though, Elle’s werewolf senses have her chasing her tail — and her cute new tutor, who smells a little too much like the demon spawn.

When her foster-mom is attacked, Elle’s home life is shattered. Armed with more attitude than experience, and running out of suspects, Elle must embrace her inner beast if she wants to stop the demon spawn from destroying her new family — or at least their souls.

PRETTY SOULS, a young adult urban fantasy, is complete at 85,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers series, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, and Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series.

I would be thrilled to send sample chapters or the full manuscript at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Writer Number One

My Thoughts:

Paragragh #1 – I think you need to cut the first paragraph. I get that maybe you’re going for something that will get attention right off the bat, but I think the next paragraph does it.

Paragragh #2 — There’s an intriguing set-up here. Unfortunately, I think it’s a little bit confusing. I like that Elle’s a werewolf, and that werewolves also killed her family. But I want to know how she came to live with a half-vampire foster-sister, and also how/why the two girls join forces. And to do what exactly? What kind of creatures are in their town and how do they keep it normal? Also, did she just move in with the foster family or has she lived there since she was born? I need a little more info.

Paragraph #3 — The third paragraph is good, but I think it needs to be streamlined and include just a touch more info.

Paragraph #4 –The last paragraph, I like — it’s like the last straw is her foster mom being attacked, the catalyst for her embracing who she really is. But I don’t know if the whole “home life shattered” line needs to be there. Obviously her home life would be shattered. Also, I like that she has now decided to “embrace” her inner beast, but I’d like to know a little more about HOW or WHY she decided to do this. Is there some power she has that she hasn’t used yet for some reason? Or maybe she has to infiltrate the group of wolves that killed her biological family? Also I think the “or at least their souls” can be cut.

Maybe Try Something Like:

“When sixteen-year-old Elle’s family is killed in a vicious werewolf attack, Elle is sent to x to live with x. Elle hates being a werewolf, hates that that blood of the beast that killed her family runs through her veins. But Elle has a new family now, including Cass, her damphir foster sister.

Once Elle is settled in to her new home, the two girls join forces, spending their days and nights keeping the local (specific supernaturals?) in line by (whatever they do that shows they are keeping the town as normal as possible, but that’s it’s still only a hobby).

But when the high school quarterback is found on the football field, brutally attacked and left as a living zombie, Elle and Cass are forced to up their game. Suddenly, the town is reeling, and as friends, enemies and strangers alike fall prey to the soul-stealing predator, Elle’s werewolf instincts have her chasing her tail. Her only suspect? Max, her cute new tutor, who’s setting off her senses with his weird behavior.

When Elle’s foster mom is attacked, Elle realizes the threat may be closer than she thought – and she wonders if she’s the real target. Armed with more attitude than experience, and running out of suspects, Elle must finally find a way to embrace her inner beast if she wants to stop the demon from destroying her family.

Query Letter Number Two:

Dear Ms. X:

Madeline, "Maddie" McGee hates cleaning. Always has – always will. Her motto? "I solve your mystery…you clean my room."

But when her messy room becomes an obstacle in her vacation plans, she needs a case…in a hurry! In the nic of time, a nerdy fellow student, Victor, comes to Maddie for help in finding Sylvia (his boa constrictor). Unfortunately, Maddie hates snakes almost as much as she hates cleaning. But since her room is even scarier than the boa constrictor – the search is on!

As the mystery deepens, Maddie learns that snakes aren’t always hidden in the grass…sometimes they are in plain view, wearing a suit and tie.

SEEKING SYLVIA: A Maddie McGee Mystery is a completed chapter book written in first person. I hope you will allow me to send you the entire manuscript. Thank you for your time.

Joy and peace,

Writer #2

My Thoughts:

Paragraph #1 — I like the concept of this! A girl sleuth, what’s not to like? The problem is, when you start with Maddie McGee hates cleaning, it makes it seem like it’s a book about cleaning. Also, it’s a little unclear — she solves mysteries, and every time she does, the person has to clean her room? If so, I think you need to make the fact that she solves mysteries front and center. Also, I didn’t get a real sense of Maddie’s age from the beginning, which was confusing. I was picturing this book as a middle grade, but later you say it’s a chapter book. So I’d put her age in here somewhere.

Paragraph #2 I like the set up for the mystery. I just think you need more info, and I think you need to make it more clear that Maddie

Paragraph #3 The suit and tie part is great – I love thinking that maybe there’s a mysterious man who has something to do with it! But the mystery, which is such a huge part of the book, is kind of buried here. How does the mystery deepen? We need a few more details, especially since otherwise there’s no real mystery – it’s just a search for a snake.

Side note: This is a minor thing, but I wonder if you need a snappier title. I don’t know if “Seeking Sylvia” is catchy enough for a chapter book. Something with the word “snake” in it, like SNAKE ON THE LOOSE! Or something that would appeal to kids more and is a little catchier might be better.

Maybe Try Something Like:

Eight-year-old Madeline “Maddie” McGee is a super sleuth. Whether it’s figuring out x or x, Maddie can do it. Her only request? You clean her room in return.

When Maddie’s parents lay down the law – clean her room or risk missing the family vacation — Maddie realizes she needs a case…and fast. So when Maddie’s classmate Victor asks Maddie to for help finding Sylvia, his boa constrictor, Maddie signs on. The only problem? Maddie hates snakes almost as much as she hates cleaning. Almost. Besides, how hard can it possibly be?

But soon a simple chase for Sylvia turns into a bunch of weird happenings as Maddie starts uncovering x, x, and x. And when a mysterious man shows up, one might know more about the case than he’s letting on, Maddie starts to realize that snakes aren’t always hidden in the grass..sometimes they’re in plain view, wearing a suit and tie.

Query Letter Number Three:

Dear Ms. X:

I am seeking representation for my 60,000 word YA novel Through Her Eyes

Leila Lefley is awkward. While the rest of the students in Eastbay High are panicking over prom and college applications, Leila struggles to come to terms with the real meaning of idioms, her peer’s lack of interest in van Gogh’s disfigured ear, and the need to wear heels. Why would someone willingly risk a bunion the size of a golf ball? Leila resigns herself to drooling over her crush Neil from a distance. What would the insightful, fashion savvy heartthrob want with Loony Leila? Especially since Leila has Asperger’s syndrome.

Then she bumps into the crude Thor, literally. He tells her that he is a nymph and she is his charge. His mission is simple– make Neil fall in love with Leila. Welcome to Dating 101. As a nymph, Thor is a master of seduction. A simple look from Thor and the school’s ancient Latin teacher is ready to drop her pants. But this nymph has his work cut out for him since Leila is different. Cue uncomfortable silences, unnecessary rambling and cringe-worthy situations.

The rules are straightforward. Follow Thor’s instruction, don’t like an idiot and most importantly, don’t fall in love with the nymph. Some things are easier said than done. The closer Leila gets to Neil, the more she finds herself longing for Thor. But Thor’s mission comes with a timestamp, and with it, his own expiration. Leila has to make Neil fall in love with her fast, or she’ll lose Thor forever.

Thank you,

Amna Mohdin

My Thoughts:

Paragraph #1 — Okay. I like that this girl has Asperger’s syndrome. I think that there’s a real lack of strong YA heroines with disabilities in YA fiction. However, this paragraph has two main problems. One, it’s missing a really great opportunity to set up exactly who this girl is, and two, the voice is a little bit off for YA.

I did some googling, and found out that people with Asperger’s have trouble with idioms, and that Van Gogh is thought to have maybe had Asperger’s. But I wouldn’t know that unless I knew something about Asperger’s. So right now it just reads that those are the things she’s into. I think you should change it up just a little, so that agents/editors who are familiar with Asperger’s would get some of the references, but that if they don’t have that much background in Asperger’s, they would still think, “Wow, Leila sounds like a really cool character.” Also, we can cut the first sentence, since it becomes obvious that Leila is awkward. I also think the words “looney” and “heartthrob” are dated, so they should be replaced.

Paragraph #2 — I like this set up, but I want to know a little more. Instead of saying “Welcome to Dating 101” can we see some examples of how Thor teaches Leila? Also, I didn’t really care for the school’s ancient Latin teacher dropping her pants. I think it would be more impressive if it were the hottest girl in school swooning ☺

Paragraph #3 – Like it! Good as is!

Maybe Try Somethingg Like:

While the rest of the students at Eastbay High are panicking over their facebook statuses and making sure the height of their stilettos is worthy of prom, seventeen-year-old Leila Leifley is researching the long-term implications of social networking sites, and debating whether or not Van Gogh’s early work showed signs of his depression.

Unfortunately, Leila’s differences haven’t left her immune to the torture that is high school crushes. Leila’s been watching Neil (last name) from a distance for what seems like forever. And she intends to keep it that way. Her Asperger’s Syndrome makes normal social interaction hard enough – forget about talking to the most sought-after guy at Eastbay.

Then Leila bumps into Thor. Literally. Thor’s a nymph, and his mission is simple. Make Neil fall in love with Leila. Thor is a master of seduction (one grin can make the hottest cheerleader swoon), but with Leila, he has his work cut out for him. She can’t flirt to save her life, she really does not get the point of short skirts, and she almost singes her hair off in an unfortunate incident involving hot rollers. Add her uncomfortable silences, unnecessary rambling, and tendency to take everything literally and Leilia wonders if she’ll ever get Neil to even look at her, much less fall in love.

But Leila’s determined to follow the rules. Do what Thor says, don’t act like an idiot and most importantly, don’t fall in love with the nymph. But some things are easier said than done. The closer Leila gets to Neil, the more she finds herself longing for Thor. But Thor’s mission comes with a timestamp, and with it, his own expiration. Leila has to make Neil fall in love with her fast, or risk losing Thor forever.


Thanks to all who sent their query letters! This was fun, and now that my book is done, I might do it again this week…

More later,

Posted by Lauren @ 7:54 am  

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  1. Christina says:

    Cool! I knew I should have read your twitter…

  2. Amna says:

    I didn’t even see this


    THANK YOU SO MUCH! You are awesome 🙂

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