Sunday, October 23, 2005

WRITING CLINIC – Critique of writing – Query Letter

WRITING CLINIC – Critique of writing – Query Letter

Would you like your query letter critiqued? This is the place to post it.

Place your query letter in a comment and our guest panel will critique it.


SORMAG said...

October 14, 2005


Dear Editor,

I am submitting a synopsis and the first three chapters as requested of my 90,000 words historical novel, How Long Blues.

How Long Blues is the coming-of-age story of Isabel Breedlove, a young girl who slowly comes to grips with a series of life-altering changes including loss and racial strife in her Arkansas community during the early 1960s. The novel covers the period from 1960 when Isabel is twelve years old until 1963 when she is fifteen.

Two young childhood friends, young boys, are killed in a mysterious fire in the summer of 1960. Rumors run rapid through the Negro community that the Ku Klux Klan is involved. Isabel, sheltered by her family up until then, begins to view her world in terms of racial pride and identity as she listens to the stories of her beloved grandmother who tells her of how their family as always stood up for their rights. The year 1963 finds Isabel, older and more mature and with a desire to participate in the momentous event of the March on Washington. She starts out to D.C. with her best friend and cousin but the trip is aborted when tragedy strikes.

The book incorporates episodes from the civil rights movement in the south, the Blues scene in rural areas, young love and a sense of redemption and hope despite tragedy and strife. Extensive genealogy research of my family in Arkansas is a basis for my novel.

I have had my creative nonfiction stories published in anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort for Women and Life's Spices from Seasoned Sistahs. My story, My Mother, Myself, will be published in the upcoming, Help! I've Turned into My Mother to be released December, 2004. I have attending writing programs at Squaw Valley Writers Conference on fellowship and University of San Francisco's summer program, Voices of Our Nation.

If the premise of this story appeals to you, I will be happy to send the completed manuscript. I am enclosing a SASE for your convenience.


Dera R. Williams

SORMAG said...

October 7, 2005

Dear Ms. :

I would like to submit for your agency’s consideration, Powwow Pickup
Chebon’s Journey, the first two novels in a romance trilogy, which will
conclude with Ilianna’s Dilemma. The trilogy is a contemporary
(Native American) romance targeting women of the 35+ age group.
However, I
have also had men read it and say they have enjoyed it as well.

Powwow Pickup was originally self-published under the auspices of
Books. At this time, I am actively seeking to have it republished with
publishing house that will give it, along with Chebon’s Journey and
Ilianna’s Dilemma, a larger audience. I am hoping to find an agent who
find this contact for me. After viewing the information on your
website, I
see that your interests are General Fiction and Romance, categories
this trilogy encompasses.

Powwow Pickup is a love story with a twist. The relationship is
between a
woman, Ilianna, who believes she may be part Indian, and Chebon, a
full-blood Assiniboine Grassdancer. The title, “Powwow Pickup” is a
derogatory Native American term for a one-night-stand. But, Ilianna is
searching for love not a one-night stand. Since publishing this novel,
have tightened the original manuscript by cutting about 10 pages from
last quarter of the book. The ending still remains the same.

Chebon’s Journey, the second book in the trilogy, is complete and in
manuscript form (just over 106,000 words.) It is a further study of
his life, his romances—basically a study of what makes him ‘tick’ and
why he
did not return to Ilianna as promised.

Ilianna’s Dilemma, returns the focus to Ilianna, who is faced with
some major decisions when the three men most influential in her life
confront her at the same time. This manuscript is currently in

For more details of each of these story lines, I have included a
covering all three novels so that you will get an overview of the

Ilianna is representative of growing numbers of Americans who have
that they indeed have some Indian blood but have no documentation or
proof. It is interesting to note that
October 7, 2005
Page 2

researchers have found that nine out of ten third-generation and above
Americans have some degree of Native American blood. This is backed by
200% increase of those claiming some degree of Native American blood in
last census--with over half that number being women.

I have also found that women of any race or age group can understand
crux of the story and I foresee a female readership who can relate to
Ilianna because they know they are part Native American but cannot
prove it. Also, many women born during the ‘baby boomer’ era can also
relate to Ilianna because of age, cohort commonality and they tend to
generally career oriented but lacking emotional involvement, which they
crave. The story also gives the reader insight into contemporary Native
American culture while exploring the twists and turns of the love

I feel qualified to write on this subject as I grew up around this
beginning with my attendance at powwows since childhood and having been
married to a full-blood Northern Cheyenne and having a daughter by that
union. I am still an active member of a local Gourd Dance Society and
continue to be involved with this culture through my daughter and my
sister-in-law. My publication record includes articles regarding
culture and have been published most notably in American Indian Review
HerbalGram (see attached vita.)

Readers of Powwow Pickup state that they like my descriptive form and
easily relate to Ilianna. They are interested in future sequels. I am
a stranger to garnering media publicity as I have done television and
interviews as well as being familiar with writing media releases for

I am enclosing a copy of Powwow Pickup along with the first three
from Chebon’s Journey and a synopsis covering all three books. I have
included an SASE for your reply. There is no need to return any of the
enclosed materials. I am looking forward to hearing from you and hope
is the beginning of a good working relationship with your agency.


Leanna K. Potts

SORMAG said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bonnie Calhoun said...

Dear Editor:

Did you ever laugh when a senior citizen said, " The weather has never been the same since we went to the moon in the 60's." Or have you ever wondered about the truth of government conspiracy theories put forth on the internet?

Fifty years ago, the United States military installed a 'black project' on the moon. The purpose of the Project-eventual security for America. Over the years, government officials buried the Project beneath layers of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, with no visible accountability.

Ten years ago, Captain Barbara Hamilton gained the leadership position on the US Air Force's public version of the Project. Later, the Air Force transferred it to Alaska and Barbara moved on.

The Project-(HAARP)-High Altitude Auroral Research Program. At best, is a classified technologically advanced transmitter capable of studying ionospheric phenomenon. At worst, according to internet conspiracy theories, it is a weapon to control the weather.

Today, Barbara discovers that her beloved Project is a catastrophic doomsday device. Who is controlling it? Will Barbara lose her life, trying to save the United States?

If it is not complicated enough that the world seems to be spiraling out of control, Barbara's personal life heads down the same path. Her mother arrives; bag, baggage, and 'born again'. In addition, a man from her past reappears; a man that she really loved but had to leave, to survive.

Touched by Fire is 80,000 words and my first novel. I am planning this as an action, adventure series. The next two books, E-BOMB and NanoTech Virus are both in progress.

Please let me know if you are interested in seeing a synopsis and three chapters or the completed manuscript of Touched by Fire. I am contacting a handful of editors and agents who I think might be interested in this book, and I hope to find a home for it soon.

Thank you very much for your time.

Bonnie S. Calhoun

JENNA said...

October 23, 2005

Dear Ms. ,

When Jillian Welch learns women are the fastest growing market in the global golf industry, she grabs onto the fact with both hands. Researching the tasty tidbit, she learns golf courses have become the new singles bar – a place where men and women of similar backgrounds can meet up. Jillian uses this truth to convince her editor to let her write her Dating Diva column about the phenomenon. Never mentioning what she really wants to do is fan an old flame.

Just once is all it will take for Jillian Welch to stop obsessing about her college crush and move on with her life. Ben Cannon is just a man after all, and once he disappoints her as all men do, she’ll be able to get him out of her head for good. Except every move he makes is the right one, in bed and out of it, making Jillian wonder if leaving is the right thing to do after all…

There’s something familiar about the columnist who arrives at his golf course to write about how the clubhouse is the new singles bar. Ben’s only felt this magnetic pull once before, for a bespectacled brunette who kissed him, then ran away. The platinum blonde from New York couldn’t be more different. Confident, poised, and hitting on him like crazy - is she interested in him, or looking for fodder for her Dating Diva column?

PAR FOR THE COURSE is a completed 75,000-word manuscript written specifically for XXXXX. My erotic romance novella, Night of Inspiration, is published by Phaze. I’m an active member of the eHarlequin community, CataRomance, Romance Divas, and a book review editor for Coffee Time Romance.

I can immediately send you either a partial or complete manuscript. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.


Enc: Synopsis, return envelope

Leah Mullen said...

Dera Williams:

Dera: I liked your letter. You successfully summarized what seems to be a very long plot in just a few sentences. I just saw a few very minor things.

First I’m wondering if you’re writing about the 1960’s would that be considered a “historical novel?” I think you might just mention the time period instead. When I think of historical I think of something before 1900.

This sentence here: “…her beloved grandmother who tells her of how their family as always stood up for their rights…” has a typo. “as” should be “has.”

I realize this is a work of fiction, but perhaps you might want to mention something about marketing and who your book will appeal to? Where do you think it belongs on the bookstore shelves? Is it literary or commercial?

Those are my only comments.

Good luck,

Leah Mullen

Leah Mullen said...

Leanna K. Potts:

Your letter was very engaging and thorough. However it was a tad bit long since at this point you’re trying to pique the agent’s interest. The synopsis will do the rest.

Here are my comments:

The following is your KEY sentence. It’s buried and should be as high up as possible in your letter:

“…The story also gives the reader insight into contemporary Native American culture while exploring the twists and turns of the love angle…”

Your letter will still work if you cut the three paragraphs below. Some of it is about research and editing which is interesting but bogs your letter down:

“…I am hoping to find an agent who can find this contact for me. After viewing the information on your website, I see that your interests are General Fiction and Romance, categories which this trilogy encompasses…”

“…Since publishing this novel, I have tightened the original manuscript by cutting about 10 pages from the last quarter of the book. The ending still remains the same.

“…researchers have found that nine out of ten third-generation and above Americans have some degree of Native American blood. This is backed by a 200% increase of those claiming some degree of Native American blood in the last census--with over half that number being women. I have also found that women of any race or age group can understand the crux of the story and I foresee a female readership who can relate to Ilianna because they know they are part Native American but cannot legally prove it…”

One last thing is the genre of your trilogy. You’re calling the books romances yet, I believe the guy, Chebon, doesn’t get the girl, Ilianna, at the end of the first book, right? And the second book is a reflective character study about Chebon and why he doesn’t come back to Ilianna.
I don’t see the elements a “romance” requires, but rather I see an epic love story or something like that. A relationship story, general women’s fiction etc.

Those are the things I saw. Hope this helps.

Good luck,

Leah Mullen

Leah Mullen said...

Bonnie Calhoun

I love the topic you’re writing about. Sounds exciting. Below are my comments.

You should make it clear from the start that this is a work of fiction. At first I thought you were proposing a nonfiction research book or biography about a real woman named Captain Barbara Hamilton.

I did like your opening tho, got my attention. If you want to stick with that attention grabbing intro, as quickly as possible afterward you must let the editor/agent know you’re pitching a novel called Touched by Fire and then quickly delve into the story which is about Barbara, her mother and her relationships.

In addition, who is the market for the book? Who will this action/adventure/doomsday story appeal to? Where will the book be placed on bookstore shelves?

Lastly, you wrote something very interesting that I’ve wondered about myself. You wrote:

“…I am contacting a handful of editors and agents who I think might be interested in this book…”

I’m not sure if it’s proper etiquette to tell one agent or editor that you’re in contact with others. When I’m contacting agents I tell them when I have editors interested, but I don’t know if I would tell agent “A” that agent “B” is considering the work. And the same with editors.
Some publishing houses won’t accept work if it’s under consideration somewhere else. The flip side is that one house might take a year or more to get back to you, so what do you do in the meantime?

This is definitely a question for the others on the panel.

Good luck

Leah Mullen

Leah Mullen said...


PAR FOR THE COURSE sounds Hot! Hot! Hot! Love the story. Here are my comments.

You’ve summarized the story very well--sounds like a backcover blurb! But a query letter is essentially a business letter where you’re telling the recipient exactly why you’re writing, the title of your novel, what you’re enclosing etc. As soon as possible get all of this information in and then tell the story.

Other than that, the letter looks ready to go!

Good luck.

Leah Mullen

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Thank you, Leah for the insightful comments. I will change it appropriately, as soon as I close this window.

I will keep watching for a response from the other panel members on what to do and how long to wait between queries.

Again, thank you!

Leann said...

Thank you so much! I mean that from the bottom of my heart. So many times we are too close to a subject to break it down. My problem has always been that I wind up writing the story all over again--lol. And once you pointed out the KEY, it was like --yeah, why didn't I see that! I also appreciate the comment about what needs to be there and what is bogging the letter down. This has really helped me, I have done a rewrite--now keep your fingers crossed.
Many thanks!

Leann said...

P.S. I also appreciated getting to read what others have written and the critiques on theirs as well as it is all a great learning experience for me.
Many thanks to all of you--Leann-134

Cindy Appel said...

I think all these query letters are on the right track pretty much... The thing is to keep them "brief and to the point". Any longer than one typed page and you run the risk of losing the agent's or editor's interest.

A format I've used successfully is first paragraph a strong quote or "what if" statement about the storyline. The second paragraph is a very brief synopsis, touching only the big points and giving info on genre, ms length, etc.

The third paragraph you should briefly list your publishing credits that are related to this ms. (If you are submitting fiction, you may want to skip mentioning your non-fiction publications, unless these are the only ones you have so far.) Include your contest wins and writers group affiliations. (I've heard others who say no, but a little bit of info here shows that you are serious about writing.)

The last line should be a quick "Thank you" and you're done. Be sure you've enclosed a SASE and your address/contact info is in the header.

Wayne said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wayne said...


I just add to Leah's comments.

1. I found your story's premise to be interesting and if I were an editor/agent I would definitely request the full manuscript.

2. The letter is also the perfect length and covers the essential information that any editor would request.

4. From the letter, I was also able to get a sense of your voice - strong, confident, and passionate about the story.

4. You mentioned attending writing programs. How did this help you? Be specific, don't just mention it.


Dera Williams said...

Leah and Wayne,

Thanks so much to both of you for your insightful and helpful comments. I appreciate it and will incorporate in my revision of my query.

Thanks again,


Dera Williams said...

Oh and thanks Cindy. I didn't see your comments until just now. Thanks for the advice.


Dera Williams said...

A quick question. In your query letter, should you mention a book that is similar to yours?


Badge #15

JENNA said...

Thanks for looking at my letter. Queries get me so turned around, and the line I target takes QL & S only. No sample chapter or anything. Yikes.

So - are you saying I should start with business? PAR FOR THE COURSE is a completed..... and then do the blurb paras?

Jenna - Agent 08

Stephanie said...

Badge #144

Dear Editor,

I have completed an 85,000 word manuscript entitled Soul Mates—a love story with the potential to tap the urban market, appeal to romance readers, entertain the chick-lit crowd, as well as cross over into mainstream women’s fiction. I am interested in having my novel included in your XXXXX line.

Soul Mates is a story about what happens when true love and terrible timing collide. Jake Clayton, new to Los Angeles and reeling from a disastrous break-up, has sworn off all women—until he lays eyes on Samantha Merrick and she sets his wounded heart on fire. But when the two finally meet, Jake discovers that Samantha's own heart is not open. Although tragedy forced her apart from her first love, Tony, long ago, she is still in love with him. As Jake sets out to win the heart and trust of this impossibly stubborn yet wildly enchanting woman, a story of love, relationships, and second chances unfolds. But before Samantha is able to fully commit, a chance encounter brings Tony back into her life, and it is very clear that the two of them have unfinished business. As passions flare, who will Samantha finally choose—the man she is falling in love with, or the man she has always loved?

I once described Soul Mates to a friend as “Sex and the City meets Friends, except with all people of color.” The heart of the story centers on the romance between Jake and Samantha—two strong, determined, charmingly flawed individuals. But the multicultural supporting cast and touching sub-plots woven throughout the story provide the spice and humor, elevating the novel up and out of the romance genre. Soul Mates showcases friendships, relationships, and the lessons we learn through having them, with an emphasis on the themes of love, growth, and healing.

I have outlined story ideas for five other novels, including the prequel and sequel to Soul Mates. My next book, When Love Isn't Enough, is the prequel, which tells the story of Samantha and Tony's relationship and the tragedy that tore them apart and changed the course of their lives. A synopsis and sample chapters of When Love Isn't Enough can be downloaded from my website at

Enclosed is a synopsis of Soul Mates, along with the first three chapters and a short biography. I have a great deal of energy and enthusiasm for my writing, and I would be delighted to discuss Soul Mates and my other projects with you, as well as send you the complete Soul Mates manuscript. I believe that after you read it you will agree that the book has great potential. Many thanks in advance for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,

Stephanie Casher

BlackButterflyReview said...

My comments are along the same lines of the other panelist.
Dera, "Extensive genealogy research of my family in Arkansas is a (I would use the) basis for my novel" and also did you mean that your story will be published December 2005? I just recommend that whenever submitting your work that you pay attention to eliminating typo's.
Best of Luck. Eleanor Shields (#17)

BlackButterflyReview said...

You provided alot of information in this letter. I however agree with Leah and those paragraphs could be eliminated. I as a reviewer/reader/writer always find that direct information is key. I would avoid filler information.
Good Luck. Eleanor Shields (#17)

BlackButterflyReview said...

Your letter caught my attention and held it until the end. I would eliminate the comment about other agents and editors. Very impressive topic. Best of Luck.

Eleanor Shields (#17)

Wayne said...

Stephanie Casher:

Since the other queries have all been taken care of, I'll do this one.

I really like this query. I'm not a chick-lit fan, but I'm intrigued by SOUL MATES.

I'd omit the chapter about the other stories. Don't take the focus away from the story you are pitching. If they like the query and ask for a full, you'll have time enough to pitch more stories.

Instead of "I once described.." use "Soul Mate may be descrited as "Sex and the City meets Friends..."

And please don't ask an editor to download stuff from your website.

Don't include a separate bio, just add a paragraph in which you highlight the most important aspect of your writing career.

The final paragraph says too much. Just say, "Enclosed is a synopsis and the first three chapters of Soul Mate. I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for your time and consideration.

eharlequin has a simple but very effective sample query letter which I used for my first submission:

Hope this helps.


BlackButterflyReview said...

I like the query and look forward to reading the book. Good Luck,

Eleanor Shields (#17)

Stephanie said...

Wayne and Eleanor,

Thank you so much for the feedback! This is my first time out, so I'm just soaking up everything I can. All your thoughts are much appreciated :)


Bonnie Calhoun said...

Thank you Eleanor for the feedback, I will do just that! Leah suggested that at the beginning but said to wait until someone else on the panel added an opinion.

Leann said...

Thank you for your comments as well. I went back and removed the paragraphs from the letter. I really appreciate the feedback.

Ann Clay said...

Hi everyone, sorry I'm a little behind. I have a computer novice in the house, and well let's just say I didn't have access to a computer yesterday.

Since the session yesterday, basically critiqued query letters, I'm hoping to catch folks who will log on later, and may or may not have done their queries. For those writings, I would like to just share some tips I've picked up over the course of my writing venture that may help you.

First, remember that the query is the first glimpse of your work. And doing your best will lead to other things... a request for your proposal.

1. Always try to make your query one page in length.

2. Create your own professional letterhead. Don't be fancy, it won't win you points.

3. Use new, quality, WHITE paper, and laser printer if possible. You want your letter to be crisp, clean, and professional. First impressions are lasting.

4. Include brief, relevant publishing/writing credentials. Don't be shy. It's okay to toot your horn, just don't get carried away.

5. Research your sources. Make sure you have the correct address and name of the person you're sending your proposal to.

6. Make sure you include all of your relevant contact information. I doubt an editor interested in your work will call all over creation to find you if she decides she wants to see more of your work or to get clarification.

7. Be brief when describing your work. What I learned from an editor’s pitching session is that you should be able to tell your story in 25 words or less.

8. Include a self-address, stamped envelop for a reply and return of your work if you want it back.

9. Always be courteous. Present your work and yourself professionally.

Good luck and happy writing!

Ann - #41

Cindy Appel said...

Great query letter, Stephanie. It intrigued me.

I'd go along with Wayne about not asking editors to check out your web site. Also, if this book is a part of a series, you should mention it, but you should be prepared to have at least a brief synopsis on the other projects if the editor asks for an overview of the entire series.

Best of luck all you talented query writers! :)

Cindy Appel #19

Leann said...

Ann (41) pointed out creating your own professional looking letterhead. LaShaunda, that may be of interest to others as to what that letterhead should look like--should it be stark, should it have color, should it have watermarks, logos? etc. Maybe a workshop on letterheads and business cards? And I noticed it was already asked in another blog but just what do agents and editors think of self-published authors? Should you mention you are self-published?

Cindy Appel said...

Great query letter, Dera!

It's a little different than the "three paragraph" format I use, but I think it works well since you are telling a more complex story. You may want to include info in your introductory paragraph on what particular line you are marketing to, for example, if the publisher has a line that's geared toward historicals, AA, etc.

I like how you've kept your writer's bio brief, and it does list your publications. I usually put the "enclosed are the sample chapters, etc." toward the end of the query, but it works fine the way you have it.

Best of luck!
Cindy Appel #19

Cindy Appel said...


The "self-publishing question" is a real hot topic it seems nowaday.

Some agents/editors think self-publishing isn't worth a mention, but others may feel differently. My advice is to find out the opinion of the agent or editor you're targeting before you query them. If they are open to self-published authors, then by all means let them know. I'd especially tell them if your book has sold a significant number of copies (i.e. 10,000+) as a self-published title. That usually gets an agent's attention that there is a definite market for it. :)

If an agent or editor is not very open to self-published works, then I wouldn't mention it. Say you have completed so many manuscripts, but don't mention they are self-published in the initial query.

After all, I'm assuming you own the rights to the self-published works. If the agent or editor shows interest, then you can mention they were self-published and take it from there.

Just my two cents...
Cindy Appel #19

Leah Mullen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Leah Mullen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Leah Mullen said...


Sorry I didn't respond yesterday, I logged off the computer in the early afternoon.

Your letter jumps right into the plot of PAR FOR THE COURSE, which is good, however, I think you should first tell the agent/editor why you are writing. You can take a look at Leanne's and Dera's openings and adjust to your project since you are sending a QL and S only. You could say something like: "Dear...I've recently completed a romance novel called PAR..." Or you could say..."Dear... I'd like to submit for your consideration a synopsis of my romance PAR..." Just one or two sentences then go into the story.

Best of Luck,

Leah Mullen (25)

JENNA said...

Leah -
Thanks for the clarification. I used to start that way, then was advised to go hook first. So many opinions...
Jenna (08)

Leann said...

Thanks Cindy--Leann 134

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