Don’t write queries in the second person (Query critique)

by | Dec 12, 2019 | Critiques | 1 comment

If you’d like to nominate your own page or query for a public critique, kindly post them here in the discussion forums:

And, of course, if you need help more urgently or privately, I’m available for edits and consultations!

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I’ll present the query without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to prowriter6970, whose query is below:

Dear:

Imagine being hunted by something you can not see. A specter who disguises itself in the winds which chill and tattoo your flesh with goose bumps. What you cannot see, but yet you can feel like guided faith. It is back. Why did it come back with a vengeance over the lacunae in time? This time it will not leave until it possesses what was taken from its very essence; it’s heart.

The antagonist is a despicable avatar who covets the anger that savagely mutilated and brutally murdered a young man who appeared to be a woman. The only eye witness at the time was the victim’s eight years old younger sibling; now a married woman, Clarke Lattimore Capers. Decades have passed; Aaron Stone has been convicted and sentenced to death. A young trial attorney who seeks infamy through Aaron’s cries of innocence has put the lethal injection on hold for one last time. Opening this case again was like opening Pandora’s Box. The past clashes with the present and springs Harold Lang Esq. into a world he has never known when distinctions of reality become obfuscated by imposed surreal situations. Clarke’s assiduous task of attempting to permeate past reveries puts her in a delicate dilemma. Betraying her family by telling what she had always felt, or continuing to betray herself by what she thought she saw. There are two women whom emerge from her past with different remedies to what ails her. Dr Gretchen McQueen, a psychiatrist and Claudia Mobei, an omniscient who delves into the supernatural. These two attempt to separate the worlds that have clashed in comity. Is it all in Clarke’s head or is this her anathemic reality? Secrets unveiled will bring together comrades and adversaries. The scientific and the supernatural. But most of all unmask the miscreant who robbed Myair Lattimore of his heart.

This haunting novel will intrigue the same audiences of Tananarive Due and Simon Clark. The agency listed above is one of three queried on this finished project. Excerpts of the completed manuscript and synopsis are available upon request. Thank you for considering my novel, “Twisted Tongue,” for future representation. I look forward to your timely response.

I gotta be honest: this query is in rough shape, so it’s great that the author is getting feedback.

There are quite a few things in this query that I wouldn’t recommend:

  • Starting the query off in second person. Don’t take up an agent’s time asking them to imagine themselves in some farfetched hypothetical situation to put them in a certain “mindset.” Just tell them the story.
  • Glaring typos. Lord knows I have my own struggles with typos and copyediting, but there are degrees of severity. Right off the bat there are two different uses of “can not” and “cannot” and its/it’s confusion.
  • Convoluted sentences. What does this mean? “The antagonist is a despicable avatar who covets the anger that savagely mutilated and brutally murdered a young man who appeared to be a woman.” What does “avatar” mean in this context? “Anger” murdered someone?
  • Vagueness. What is literally happening in this stretch? “The past clashes with the present and springs Harold Lang Esq. into a world he has never known when distinctions of reality become obfuscated by imposed surreal situations.”
  • Passive voice. “Secrets unveiled will bring together comrades and adversaries.”
  • Introducing a major character at the very end. If the novel hinges on finding out who stole Myair Lattimore’s heart, why are we never told directly who Myair is? “But most of all unmask the miscreant who robbed Myair Lattimore of his heart.”
  • Telling an agent a confusing query strategy. Why tell an agent that they’re only one of three you’re querying? They’re not going to feel lucky, they’re going to be confused why you’re doing that. (Here’s the best strategy for sending out queries).
  • Missing important information. Tell the agent the genre and word count.
  • Passive aggression. Don’t tell an agent to be timely. “I look forward to your timely response.”

This is a tricky query letter to edit because there’s a lot that’s vague. Rather than doing a redline, I’m going to take elements from the above query letter, make some guesses, and get it into a structure that the author can then flesh out with more detail and personality.

At just eight years old, Clarke Lattimore Capers was the only eyewitness to her brother Myair’s brutal murder. Decades later, an ambitious young trial attorney, Harold Lang, has succeeded in staying the murderer’s lethal injection one last time.

As Clarke attempts to make sense of her reveries about the murder, she confronts a delicate dilemma: Should she betray her family by telling them her doubts about what happened or be honest about what she thought she saw? She seeks help from two very different sources: Dr. Gretchen McQueen, a psychiatrist who [add more personalized detail here to reveal personality], and Claudia Mobei, an omniscient who specializes in the supernatural.

As these unlikely allies join forces, Clarke must sort out what’s in her head and what’s reality in order to unmask the miscreant who robbed her brother of his heart.

TWISTED TONGUE is a [xx,xxx] word paranormal suspense novel that will appear to readers of Tananarive Due and Simon Clark. [Brief bio].

Thank you for your consideration.

Thanks to prowriter6970 for volunteering!

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Art: Sigismunda Mourning over the Heart of Guiscardo by William Hogarth

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ABOUT NATHAN

Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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