After a lot of back and forth with critique partners, I ended up writing a non-standard query letter. It got better feedback by far from betas/CPs than any other letter I've tried.
However, I won a free query critique on social media, and the query expert who I subbed it to was adamant that it was unacceptable.
I trust both groups but they can't both be right?
Dear Query Shark,
Remy is a waitress, scraping by in the waking world. Ro is her dream-self, fighting monsters in the dreamworld.
Remy has depression and a catalogue of failure. Ro has magic guns and kickass friends.
Remy is planning to commit suicide. Ro is pretty sold on staying alive.
If Remy dies, Ro is fucked.
Because this is how it works: dream-selves don't survive the death of their dreamers. If Ro wants to live, she must breach the divide between worlds (no problem) to save someone who doesn't want saving (little harder), while not breaking reality in the process (no promises).
ANCHOR (TO YOUR OTHER SELF) tells the story of two different women in two different worlds, who share one life between them. This standalone novel of speculative fiction (93,000 words) may appeal to fans of Michael Marshall Smith, or anyone with a bleak sense of humor.
Thanks for your time and attention.
Delicious Chum Jr.
What exactly makes this non-standard? Did the so called expert have anything specific to offer?
And anyone who says this is unacceptable is an idiot. You can quote me.
This query is terrific.
It sets up stakes. It's crisp. The writing is clean.
The only thing I'd worry about here is that the stakes aren't high enough: the only thing bad that can happen is the protagonist might die. Usually heroic stakes involve the fate of another person as well. You die for a cause, for a person, for something larger than yourself.
But that's a problem with the novel, not the query.
Which brings me to self-described query letter experts. There aren't any. Not even the Shark. The closest you can get are agents who actually read and evaluate queries and we can disagree with each other about some pretty weird things. Other people, like editors, can be trusted, IF they actually did acquisitions in a previous career iteration. To be avoided are those folks who've never actually used queries to find work they sold, or bought.
An effective query is the one that gets your pages read, and hopefully generates a request for your manuscript. That's the ONLY measure of an effective query. "Bad" queries can work. "Good" queries can fail.
The purpose of QueryShark is to get a second set of eyes on your query; eyeballs that actually dive into incoming queries on a regular basis and can see some things you don't.
I like this query a lot. If I took on projects in this category, I'd read the pages.