Sunday, July 30, 2023



I've been querying agents for the last 6-months and have over 50 rejections. I'm not sure if my novel isn't very interesting/sellable or if my query letter is the problem. After reading the archives on your site, I did a total rework and would appreciate any feedback!



Dear QueryShark,


There are stories that never get told, but need to be. TITLE, a 92.000 upmarket women’s historical fiction tells the remarkably true stories of three generations of Italian women as they face World War II, the Fascist Movement, immigration, unexpected pregnancies, and a global pandemic. Challenging societal expectations, they experience the love, loss, and yearning for better that binds us all across generations.


Are you thinking this is a hook?

(it's not)

It's more like the start of a book review.


An effective hook gives us a sense of the problem that drives the book.


Here's the hook for All Roads Lead Me Back to You by Kennedy Foster


Hard-working, no frills Alice Andison barely scrapes by after her father's death when Domingo Rolodan, an undocumented Mexican horse and cattle man, knight in shining saddle, arrives to not only save her father's legacy but win Alice's heart if he can just steer clear of the oppressive clutches of the increasingly gestapo-like modern INS.

See the difference?

The characters have an emotional component and we see what problem they face.


Vittoria was born in a small town in Northern Italy in 1914. Growing up in the absolute poverty of a war torn country, she longs for better and isn’t afraid to take on anyone, even Mussolini himself to find it. But challenging societal norms takes unexpected turns and soon she finds herself with the broken promise of a soldier, a growing belly, and no ring.


Anna was born an illegitimate child amidst the height of World War II. Distrustful of men, yet always seeking their attention, she solicits the attention of the boy next door– the one with big dreams, who soon leaves for Canada, asking Anna to join him. She sees a chance for a new land, a new start, a new life. Who needs love when you have an opportunity?


Grace was born the child of immigrants. Trying to make something of herself, she is tired of trying and quitting a million things – including relationships. No sooner does she commit to completing her master’s degree, then she meets Jax, and everything comes together and falls apart. Suddenly, there are too many choices and one big question: How does one define “better”?


You've introduced three characters here, but there's no plot.

Plot isn't what happens. It's not the events of the book.

Plot is choices the characters face and what's at stake with those choices.

 You must have plot in a query, even if you're querying a character-driven book.


You also don't tell us how these women are connected. (Are they?)

Three generations makes me think they're related to each other, but that's not obvious from the query.


Also, by introducing all three characters equally, you can't focus on the start of the story.


If the story begins with Vittoria, let's give her more page time. If the story starts with one of the other two, lead with her, give her more page time.


You have a limited amount of space here to engage your reader. Focus on how the story starts.


 Vittoria (or whomever) wants to (what?)

BUT, (problem) prevents her.

Now she must (choose a path.)

Get that on the page first.

Then show how the characters are linked.

You do NOT need the details of  Anna and Grace, unless one of them is the main character, not Vittoria.


TITLE would be the love child of

Resist the urge to be clever with comps.

Just say your book will appeal to readers who liked:


Sisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson,


Untamed by Glennon Doyle,

This is a memoir. Don't use NF as a comp for a novel, even historical fiction.



What We Carry: A Memoir by Maya Shanbhag Lang,

also a memoir



and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

This was pubbed in 2017 so it's too old to be an effective comp.


If you take a look at the Amazon description of Sisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson, you'll see there is conflict and tension (which is what you need in the query)


Grace Steele and Eliza Jones may be from completely different backgrounds, but when it comes to the army, specifically the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), they are both starting from the same level. Not only will they be among the first class of female officers the army has even seen, they are also the first Black women allowed to serve.


As these courageous women help to form the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, they are dealing with more than just army bureaucracy—everyone is determined to see this experiment fail. For two northern women, learning to navigate their way through the segregated army may be tougher than boot camp. Grace and Eliza know that there is no room for error; they must be more perfect than everyone else.


When they finally make it overseas, to England and then France, Grace and Eliza will at last be able to do their parts for the country they love, whatever the risk to themselves.




A melding of immigration, identity,


I have my master’s in English with an emphasis in Technical Writing, and currently work as a content creator and SEO specialist. When I’m not working or writing you can find me reading a million children’s books to my one and two year old sons (or removing whatever object they’ve found to turn into a sword). I’m passionate about telling untold stories in literature, the stories that make us feel like we aren’t alone.



I am querying you because (whatever).


 Thank you for your time and consideration of my submission.


Best regards,

You only need one closing.





Sunday, June 11, 2023

#346 (revised 1x)

Revision #1



Dear Query Shark:


Lily Carter has hid her singing voice away for years for fear of rejection.

Lily Carter has hidden, not hid.


These kinds of mistakes can fell your query before you know it.

If grammar and syntax aren't your forte, it's ok. It's not a sign of bad writing, or low character.


Just recognize that it's a stumbling block and make friends with Miss Picklepuss, the copy editor from hell. She'll help you remove these gremlins. It might cost some money, but this is something you do want to invest in.


Her best friend (now ex-best friend)

you don't need both of these.

Your reader will intuit that they were once best friends if she's now the ex-best friend.


Watch for this kind of over-writing.



made it clear she should never sing in public if she can help it.

Suggest taking this last part out just to give the sentence more drama.


So Lily sings only when she's sure no one else can hear her. Imagine her embarrassment when the new kid in town catches her in the act.


Imagine her embarrassment takes us out of the narrative.

You're telling, not showing.


Avoid that.


She's embarrassed.


But embarrassed is such a tepid word for the plot point that's driving the narrative.

Here's a good place to get out the Thesaurus and dig around for more vivid words.




(and there are others, take your pick)


Already at odds with Jack Sutton after an encounter with him at school, Lily expects nothing but scorn from him.

Again, pare out what you don't need.

This is the meat and tater tots of revising. Early drafts are almost always too long. Pare out everything you don't need.


But instead of making fun of her, he compliments her, throwing all her preconceived notions about what a terrible singer she is into question. 

It's NOT a preconceived notion, is it? It's what someone told her (someone with some sort of malevolent agenda it sounds like.)


Internal conflicts in a query are huge red flag. It tells me you don't have a handle on the plot, and the full manuscript may not hold together very well. Again, here's where Miss Picklepuss can be of great value.



Suddenly, the aggravating yet undeniably charming Jack keeps is popping up all over the place. At school, at church, and then there’s the real icing on the cake. It turns out that Jack is the brother of her new best friend.

Do we need to know any of this?


This next sentence connects to the previous one more directly.


With a musical background himself and a dogged belief that Lily has talent, Jack makes it his mission to get Lily back on the horse. Or the stage, so to speak.



Jack has a musical background himself, and seems to think Lily has talent.

He makes it his mission to get Lily back on stage.


There's a LOT to be said for starting your sentences with the subject, not burying it in a clause.






As Lily spends more time with Jack and his spirited sister Cat, a self-consciousness Lily didn't even realize she had developed begins to mend.

She didn't realize she was self-conscious about her singing?

Are you serious here? That just doesn't make sense unless Lily is blindingly un-self aware.

She's literally stopped singing outside of the shower.


She even gets up the courage to enter the high school talent show thanks to a little prodding from Jack and his agreement to help her prepare for the show. When Jack starts giving her singing lessons, Lily slowly begins believing in herself again.  


But Lily has a few obstacles to overcome. Like that pesky stage fright thing. Or the ex-best friend who unexpectedly resurfaces and tries to sabotage Lily’s chances. Or the growing feelings she’s developing for her best friend’s brother. Lily must rely on her friends, her family, and her new-found confidence in order to get ready for talent show day.


You've got a lot of stuff going on here, but not very much plot.

What's the problem here?

Lily has been told she shouldn't sing in public.

What problem does that create?

Then Jack comes along and tells her she does have a singing voice.


What problem does that solve?


TAKE A DEEP BREATH is a young adult novel complete at 60,000 words

You don't need to say it's complete.

That's assumed.


And this just doesn't feel YA to me. There's no sense of Lily or Jack learning to navigate in the real world. There's no real romantic element.




that portrays the sarcastic, yet vulnerable Lily along with her lovable family and kindhearted friends.


Not in these pages she isn't.




A story of personal growth with a touch of romance, this novel is similar to Maybe This Time by Kasie West or Eyes on Me by Rachel Harris.


I am a small town Minnesota gal, where a person can go from wearing a sweatshirt and wool socks one day to a tank top and sandals the next. This is my first novel.


Thank you for your time and consideration.



you've got a lot of concept but not enough story.

You need more plot on the page. The problem Lily faces, and the choices to solve, and what's at stake.


It will help if we see those things for Jack too.


You've only got 60K here so you've a got a LOT of room to add more depth.





Original query

This query is a completely revised one from the one I started with as that one got me a couple of partial requests, but nothing serious. Now, since I've started using this query, I haven't even gotten a nibble. 

In the first  53 words you have two problems that could lead to an immediate pass.

While agents aren't actively looking for reasons to pass if you give them two in short order, that's what's going to happen.


My first query was succinct but a bit commercial in my opinion. So I tried to offer a quirkier approach with this one.



 A bit commercial isn't a bad thing. Agents are looking for things they can sell (ie commercial).

 I did beef up my bio after reading your archives. 

141 words is about 100 too many. See notes below. An extensive bio doesn't make up for problems in the query so lets focus on that.

You also stated in the archives that queries should have at least 2 comps. Is it okay to comp an author instead like I did?  

 No, see notes below



Dear Query Shark:

People are creatures of habit. They take the same route to school every day, they buy the same brand of soap they always do, and they listen to the same radio station, day in and day out. And they also sit at the same school desk every morning in first period English class.


When I read this, I have no idea if you're querying for fiction or non-fiction.

That's a big problem when agents are getting dozens of queries a week.

Big problem = pass.

It's more effective to start with the character's name and what problem she faces


At least, that’s what Lily Carter used to do.


Consider instead:

People are creatures of habit.

Lily Carter is a creature of habit.


They take the same route to school every day, they buy the same brand of soap they always do, and they listen to the same radio station, day in and day out.


She takes the same route to school every day, buys the same brand of soap, listens to the same radio station, day in and day you.



 And they also sit at the same school desk every morning in first period English class.

And sit at the same desk every morning in first period English.



But when you revise like this the real problem becomes very clear.

You're describing someone who doesn't sound very interesting. In fact, she sounds dull as dishwater.

That's DEATH in a query, particularly in YA.

Death = pass.


Now, if there's a reason Lily is so methodical in her daily life, that would give her some depth.

Is this how she feels safe?

Did she read Gustave Flaubert and take his advice to heart: "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work."

Let's give Lily some context here.



 Until Jack Sutton just waltzed in and stole it right out from under her. The gentlemanly thing to do would have been to give it back. Instead, he refused to acknowledge her rightful claim of dibs and in the process managed to ruffle her feathers, push her buttons, flip her lid, and get her goat. If you know what I mean.


Because he sat in her chair?

Does this seem like a very intense reaction to something that's essentially not important?  It's not like he said her mum wears army boots.


So, Jack is the last person on earth that Lily wants witnessing her humiliating attempt at singing.


There's no connection here between Jack stealing her seat in English class and witnessing her humiliating attempt at singing.


How is it that Jack is in her life at all?



Lily has been very careful to keep her voice under wraps after receiving rejection at the hands of a close friend.

What was Lily trying to do that a close friend rejected her?

Specifics are much more compelling than generalities.

You don't want to be awash in too much detail, but you need more than you have here.


Surprisingly though, Jack challenges her belief of mediocrity. 

What he actually does is challenge her belief that her singing is mediocre.

You need razor sharp, precise sentences in a query.


He actually begins to make her question a lot of things. Like the idea that the talent show is out of her league. Maybe, it's not. Maybe, she could even win it.


Although there is the small matter of that pesky stage fright thing…

So far, there's nothing interesting about Lily, and she sounds rather like a basket case. This is a HUGE problem in YA that is character driven.


As Lily gets closer to Jack and his spirited sister Cat, a self-consciousness Lily didn't even realize she had developed begins to mend. Thanks to a little prodding from her new friends, Lily signs up for the talent show. 

 What does Jack see in Lily that he's investing time and emotional support in her?

But someone from Lily's past is determined to see her fail. 

This is absolutely out of left field. With no context it's like a big ink blot on the page.

Let's give the antagonist some more page time.


Lily must rely on her friends, her family, and her new-found confidence in order to overcome the obstacles in her way. 

What obstacles? I thought there was an antagonist trying to thwart her.



Take a Deep Breath is a young adult novel complete at 60,000 words that portrays the sarcastic, yet vulnerable Lily along with her lovable family and kindhearted friends. A story of personal growth with a touch of romance, this novel will appeal to fans of Kasie West.

You need to use titles, not authors. Those titles need to be recent, no earlier than 2019.


Your bio is 141 words. Given a query should be 250-300 you've spent a larger percentage of your word count on your bio and not your book.


I am a small town Minnesota gal, where a person can go from wearing a sweatshirt and wool socks one day to a t-shirt and sandals the next. With a penchant for staying in every night with my two cats and a DVD collection to rival a Blockbuster store (are there any of those in existence anymore?) one might be tempted to call me an introvert. If it weren't for my extroverted husband, I just might be. Kudos to him for getting me out of my comfort zone and making friends with the outside world. Who knew I would enjoy things like pickleball and Korean BBQ? (not at the same time, for heaven's sake). This is my first novel and



 I'm looking to team up with an agent who can help an eager, wide-eyed newcomer navigate the ropes of the literary world.


This kind of statement is counter-productive.

Agents see this as code for needy and naive.  Even if you are these things, they're not something you'd put in your bio.  Remember a query is also about the agent assessing if you're someone they want to work with. Someone who clearly will need a lot of hand holding is less likely to get a nod. Just leave this kind of statement out.


Thank you for your time and consideration.




This does not have enough edge to be YA.

It sounds middle grade to me.


There's no sense of Lily coming to terms with the larger world, or figuring out her place in it.

It's all character development and very light on plot.


There's not enough story on the page.






Sunday, March 26, 2023




Regarding the acceptable word count of a query letter, the body of this letter is 250. I had other short versions (<200 words) but continued receiving form rejections from agents. I added more content to this letter to provide better story detail. Still, my concern is that the letter needs to be shorter, more enjoyable, or both. I don't know which.


Word count is a flexible target. You can go over the 250 target without worrying about some sort of auto-pass. Some queries need more words.  If you're over 400, that's when to sharpen your scissors. Anything under 250 runs the risk of not getting enough story on the page. 


BUT, word count isn't the issue with your query.

The issue is you don't have the story on the page.


Getting the story on the page means that after reading the query I should be able to tell you:

1. Who the main character is

2. What they want

3. What's getting in the way of getting what they want.

4. What's at stake if they don't get it. 

And I should be able to do this without needing to take notes. Remember, agents are NOT reading your query as though it's a text book. They're reading to get an idea of the story and your writing style.

A lot of detail, or too much abstraction stymies them.

Avoid that.


Dear Query Shark,


Meet Dr. Niklos Krylov, inventor of the Save-Transmit Machine (STM). With it, the world is forever changed... for the worse.


The excitement of the STM's debut 

What was STM designed to do? If there's excitement, your reader is led to believe it was something good.


quickly turns to horror when the machine unleashes identical hydrogen bombs in cities across the Earth. The event, known as the Trinity Attack, drives the world to anarchy. Nik, overcome with guilt and shame, retreats into hiding.


My hope is that Nik did not invent the STM machine in order to unleash hydrogen bombs.

What did he invent it for?


In other words, what did Nik want to do that was thwarted by the godawful results of his experiment?


But his concealment is short-lived. A slave-mining operation captures Nik and forces him to dig for the radioactive fuel that powers the STM.


Slave mining implies that the operation is mining for slaves.

I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean here.


What you mean is a mining operation that uses slaves to dig.  Revise this for clarity.



When a fellow prisoner's life is at risk, Nik's expertise as the STM's inventor is exposed. His captors issue a brutal ultimatum: reveal his identity or die in silence.


Ok, but why? What do the captors want that revealing his identity will get for them?




Nik surrenders to their whips, but a group of freedom fighters rescues him before he becomes another pawn in the STM-powered apocalypse.


What STM-powered apocalypse? You've told us that the world dissolved into anarchy when the STM unleashed hydrogen bombs. Is the machine still functioning? What is it doing? Who's got their foot on the metaphorical gas pedal?



With their help, Nik sets out on a journey of survival through the ruins of civilization and into the reaches of space. When he uncovers the origin of the Trinity Attack, Nik is shocked to learn a horrible secret. The STM was used to alter the human condition. 


Alter the human condition? That's too abstract to be useful. Specifics are very useful in a query.


Faced with moral and ethical dilemmas, Nik tries to right the wrongs of his past and end the destruction caused by the STM.


He can't end the destruction if it's already happened. He can either fix the destruction, or stop the destruction from continuing. 


So, who's the antagonist here?

Is it the STM machine, or the person who's operating it?



Comps go here

You should include 2-3 books that your intended readers will have read and liked. Comps need to be recent (pubbed no earlier than 2019); on your shelf (in this case SF); and pubbed by a trade house large or small (but not self-pubbed.) 

Bio goes here

It's useful to include a couple lines about you. It warms up the query. If you don't have any pub credits don't worry. Your bio is about you, not your work. Where you live; dogs/cats/dragons and other pets. That kind of thing.


Eschaton, an 87,000-word science-fiction thriller, explores the consequences of technological advancements gone wrong. It would be my debut novel,


One of the main requirements of a thriller is a ticking clock. That's not evident in your query. If it's NOT in the book, this isn't a thriller. That's ok. Just don't call it one if it isn't. 

and I would be grateful for the opportunity to bring this work to publication with you. 


 You are not a supplicant even if it feels that way sometimes.

You are providing an agent with the opportunity to sell your work and make some money. Be grateful when she does that. Right now just thank her for her time and consideration as you do next.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


It sounds like your story is: A machine goes haywire. Chaos ensues.

That's the concept for a gazillion movies, most of them based on books.

In other words, something that we've all seen a lot of.

Agents are looking for fresh and new.

That does NOT mean you can't have a machine going haywire and chaos ensues.

What it means is that you need your fresh take on this. You need distinctive characters that we're engaged with and care about. You want to tell us a story in a way that makes us see things in a new light. You have to elevate the category, not just add to it.


In other words, you gotta tell me what makes your book better and different.

And that's not by saying "my book is better and different."

You have to show it in the story you're enticing me to read.

So your revision is twofold: get the story on the page, and frame it in such a way that it feels fresh and new.

This is NOT an easy task. It's not a matter of changing up a few words here and there.

Good revising requires deep thinking.