All The Kissing Query Letter Critique

Query Letter Critique

“This is a subjective industry.” As writers, we hear that all the time. It’s a standard line when we’re querying, a standard line when we’re on submission, when we enter contests, and when we read about trends in publishing.

What better way to illustrate the subjectivity of the industry than by having more than one person give a critique of the same query? We chose a random receiver from our giveaway for this joint query letter critique. This month, Tricia Lynne and Gwynne Jackson each weigh in on the selected query letter.

Tricia’s Query Letter Critique

Dear Agent,

I’m submitting this query for my contemporary romance novel, BOOK XYZ, written under the name Boobs McGee and complete at 70,000 words, for your review.

Jump straight into the story. Start with “Christina Shipley is the…” The word count and genre info should be moved down to the paragraph beginning BOOK XYZ. Your job in the first paragraph is to hook the reader.

You also don’t need to supply both your pen and your real name. Pick one. If you have dedicated yourself to using the pen persona on social media, then write your query as if that’s who you are.

[1]Christina Shipley is the poster child for determination, independence and a thorough plan. It’s what propelled her out of a [2] rough childhood home and through a highly competitive Master’s program, and she’s counting on it to help her jump start [jumpstart is one word] the perfect career. With her plan in place, Christina’s finally willing to relinquish her steadfast control and have a little fun. Within certain limits, of course.

[1] This is your beginning, but you’re still lacking the hook. i.e. Ex: Christina Shipley is driven to succeed in order to get as far away from her abusive childhood as she can. Master’s degree in hand…etc.

[2] You’re using a lot of generalities. Be more specific. Why was the childhood rough? Did she have abusive parents? Say that instead of the more general “rough childhood home.” Same with the Master’s degree and the career. What’s the degree in? Why was it rigorous? Did she get it at Harvard? What’s her plan?

Whittling down to specifics to gives the characters depth and allows the agent to form a connection.

One thing her plan didn’t cover, however, was spending an evening with Luke Prescott, a man someone just as stubborn and determined as she was is. At least It was only [3]one night one amazing night that she wants to push from her mind (be specific, the fringes of what?)can push to the fringes and not let affect her well laid plans. [4&5] Except Luke Prescott isn’t satisfied with just a one-off and has a bad habit of pushing right past Christina’s defenses.

[3] You’ve got some unnecessary wording that you don’t need. Be concise without affecting your voice dramatically and tell the agent what you need them to know as straightforward as possible.

[4] You have to tell us somewhere in the query why a relationship with Luke will screw up her plans, and what those plans are.

[5] Again, too many generalities. This is where you need to introduce your MMC, and not just as “someone.” I need to know why Luke isn’t satisfied with a one-nighter, if he has conflicts in addition to Christina’s.

With emotional distance as her friend and her only protection against a childhood she’d rather forget keep stamped down, but Luke just keeps getting closer threatens her precious plans and iron control. When the walls of perfection she’s spent years building built to protect herself from emotions begins to crumble, Christina is faced with an impossible choice-–stick to her stubborn ways and enforce her self-imposed [6] dating ban, or face her past and finally take a chance on happiness.

[6] This is the first we’ve heard of the dating-ban? Earlier you said she’s ready to have some fun. It’s confusing. We need to know why Luke is a threat to her plans, why she has to face her past to have a future with him.

Also, you give a lot of internal conflict, but the external conflict is murky–dating ban, her life plan–We need the external conflict to properly understand the stakes. Is it the demands on her time from the new career? Is it the dating ban because she knows this guy from wayback? Is it herpes?

Does Luke have an internal and external conflict? You’ve said below that it’s dual POV, but you give the reader very little info about him. You need to beef up Luke’s information substantially.

BOOK XYZ is a contemporary romance complete at 70,000 words that written from the viewpoints of both Christina and Luke and will appeal to fans of Lexi Ryan’s Unbreak Me and Santino Hassell’s Sutphin Boulevard. It’s the first in a four book series that blends strong women, mental health issues and happily ever afters. A stand-alone with series potential, this novel tells the story of a strong heroine with mental-health issues, and how those challenges directly affect her relationships.

I’m a member of Romance Writers of America and I have an extensive background a trained family resource worker. I have considerable experience working with people [7] in crisis, which has enabled me to bring a sense of authenticity to the messier side of life and love showcased in this novel. I live in Alberta, Canada with my husband and three children.

[7] Be careful with the term “in crisis”. Be specific so we understand why you’re qualified to tell the story. “In crisis” is broad term that may not correlate to mental health depending on circumstances and if you’re vague, an agent may call you on it.

That brings us to a really big issue…CHRISTINA HAS A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE I’M JUST FINDING OUT ABOUT?!? It’s almost an afterthought when it would be essential to Christina’s character development. An agent will want to know her issue(s) (i.e. OCD, Bi-Polar Disorder, etc) and how it/they affect her daily life and interactions with Luke. You’ve glossed over a big piece of the story, and, I’m going to wager, a large part of the external conflict you’re lacking earlier in the query.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Gwynne’s Query Letter Critique

I’m submitting this query for my contemporary romance novel, BOOK XYZ, written under the name Everly Reed and complete at 70,000 words, for your review.

Delete. I would suggest jumping right into the query, and incorporating this information in your closing paragraphs instead.

Christina Shipley is the poster child for determination, independence and a thorough plan. It’s what propelled her out of a rough childhood home and through a highly competitive Master’s program, and she’s counting on it to help her jumpstart [jumpstart=one word] the perfect career. With her plan in place, Christina’s finally willing to relinquish her steadfast control and have a little fun. Within certain limits, of course.

One thing her plan didn’t cover, however, was spending an evening amazing night [1] with someone just as stubborn and determined as she was is. At least it was only one night- one amazing night that she can push it to the fringes and not let their night affect her well-laid plans. Except Luke Prescott isn’t satisfied with just a one-off and has a bad habit of pushing right past Christina’s defenses.[2]

[1] You want the strongest terms possible to evoke the strongest emotional response in your reader. Spending an evening with someone could be playing chess, or it could be mind-blowing sex. Be as directly descriptive as possible.

[2] Also, with that last line, How does Luke push past her defenses? Is he a bully? Is it a bad habit, or just a bad habit to her? We need to know more about Luke and his motivations so he doesn’t seem like a terrible person.

Emotional distance is her friend and her only protection against a childhood she’d rather keep stamped down[3], but Luke just keeps getting closer[4]. When the wall of perfection she’s spent years building begins to crumble, Christina is faced with an impossible choice- stick to her stubborn ways and enforce her self-imposed dating ban [5], or face her past and finally take a chance on happiness [6].

[3] In that first line, be specific. “A childhood she’d rather keep stamped down” can apply to so many people. You want to tell us, not just hint at, whatever it is that’s buttoned Christina up so tightly.

[4] But it was a one-night stand. Although apparently it wasn’t, if he’s hanging around to keep getting closer. So this becomes confusing.

[5] Does the one-night stand not count here?

[6] The only thing we know about Luke is that he’s pushy. We know a lot about Christina, but not much at all about Luke’s goals, motivation, or conflict. Right now, it reads like he has no story arc himself.

Also, what is it about her childhood? Was she abused? Lose a sibling? Run away? The more specific you can be, the more interesting the character becomes.

BOOK XYZ, my 70,000-word contemporary romance, is written from the viewpoints of both Christina and Luke [7] and will appeal to fans of Lexi Ryan’s Unbreak Me and Santino Hassell’s Sutphin Boulevard. It’s the first in a four book series that blends strong women, mental health issues and happily ever afters. [8] It’s a standalone novel with series potential.

[7] If you rewrite this query in the standard dual-POV format, you won’t need to state this explicitly. Here’s the format as I learned it:

Paragraph 1: Christina has a simple goal. And it is to succeed at that goal.

Paragraph 2: Luke has this other simple goal. And it is to complicate Christina’s goal.

Paragraph 3: But when the world intervenes in their little plans, they both find themselves at odds with their own stated goals — and each other, the world, etc.

Paragraph 3 (still): And the stakes are incredibly high. If they don’t achieve those stakes, there will be consequences.

[8] Since you just spent the query telling us what the book is about, you don’t need to repeat that information here.

I’m a member of Romance Writers of America and a trained family resource worker. I have considerable experience working with people in crisis, which has enabled me to bring a sense of authenticity to the messier side of life and love showcased in this novel. I live in Alberta, Canada with my husband and three children. [9]

[9] This is the kind of information that’s better suited to a nonfiction query. For fiction, keep it to your professional associations and writing credits, if any. If not, you can simply say “BOOK XYZ is my first novel.” The exception is if the query makes it absolutely clear you’re dealing with people in crisis in this novel. Then the experience is relevant.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The Joys of Subjectivity

As you can see, no two opinions will be exactly the same, although in this case much of the feedback is similar. What one person sees as a strength, another might see as a liability. When you’re querying, pick through the feedback the same way you would comments from a critique partner. Incorporate the changes that resonate for you. Don’t rush to change things. If you feel the feedback is harsh or negative, let it settle for a few days to see what you can reap from it.

We’d like to thank our query critique winner for letting us showcase their work. Keep your eyes open for future giveaway opportunities on All The Kissing.

Feature image by Nic’s events via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

G. L. Jackson
G.L. Jackson lives in the Seattle area with her family and pets. Although born in New York City and raised in New England, she prefers the west coast.

She's been writing since childhood. While some things never change, she hopes the quality of those stories has increased at least a little over time. These days her focus is primarily on contemporary rock & roll romance featuring strong, sassy heroines who know what they want and aren't afraid to reach for it. She does her best to bust at least a few tropes per book. Banter is her guilty pleasure.
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