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Query Critique #1

Updated: May 6, 2018

Greetings, all! This is the first in a series of free query critiques I'll be doing on the blog. If you'd like to see your anonymous query here, email it to Thanks, mysterious querier, for volunteering to be first!

Genre: Middle Grade Adventure


I saw that you are looking for a funny and whimsical middle grade novel, so I think you will enjoy MANUSCRIPT TITLE. [Great to personalize the query to the agent. Make sure to avoid parroting back their website/MSWL, though.] In my book, four kids gain superpowers, but all of the powers come with a crucial, and funny, weakness. [You don’t want to describe to the agent what your book is “about.” Let the query do this!] It will appeal to readers who enjoyed Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. [You want to all CAPS book titles as sometimes formatting gets lost in the email process.] It is complete at 53,000 words. [Good!]

Jaden thought it was going to be a normal field trip. Get in, get out, and get back to the things he actually cared about: making the swim team and getting a new high score in Tetris. [This is a good example of setting up “the status quo.”]

Then they found the box.

Jaden knew he and his friends shouldn’t have opened the box. [Try to avoid saying what your character “knows” (or thinks, or understands, or realizes, etc.) because those are writing crutch words and let you avoid the showing in favour of the telling.] And they definitely shouldn’t have drunk the strange, obviously-came-from-a-secret-government-program vials they found inside.

But they did, and that’s when the weird stuff started. One second, Jaden was in his bedroom. The next, he was on an empty train platform. Something similar happened to everyone else that drank the vials. [Just go ahead and tell us.] Raheem, the new kid, had illusions he couldn’t control pouring out of his face. [I’m not sure I’m picturing this right. Maybe reword?] Kendra, the nerdiest girl in Jaden’s class, was making pencil monsters come alive, and her sister, Teagan, is moving things with her mind, sort of. [Watch your tense. In general, queries should be written in third-person present tense no matter what POV or tense your book is in. You’re mostly writing this in past, except here you slip to present. Try to switch it all to present.] When Jaden’s best friend, Scott, learned about these magic tricks, Scott was he’s [it’s not confusing who “he” is here, so you can avoid saying “Scott” twice] certain they would all become superheroes.

But, [no need for a “but”] wWhen Agent Sarah Bloomfield showed up at his school, Jaden was sure that he would be shipped off to live out the rest of his days as a lab rat. There’s only one thing left they can do: everyone who drank the vials must teams up in order to save all of their skins.

As if outwitting a government agent wasn’t enough, Jaden has to babysit his little sister, deal with two super powered fugitives who are also on the run from Agent Bloomfield, and make sure his dad doesn’t find out about all the trouble he’s getting into. [I would lose this paragraph. You have a good hook with “team up in order to save their skins” and this paragraph is a kind of “aside.” If you want to include this, you should incorporate it into the earlier paragraphs. However, you want to really concentrate on the A-Plot of your book in the query and not get lost in the weeds of subplots.]

At least he can teleport. Well, he can teleport to bus stops. [This is great humour that shows what the book might sound like. You would just have to massage this a little bit to fit if you take out the previous paragraph.]

Thank you for your consideration,. I am a former bureaucrat currently rehabbing myself in teacher’s college. If I’m not teaching sixth graders the finer points of sentence structure, I can be found playing rugby in the sun, biking in any weather, or at my writing group. This is my first novel. [This is a great example of a bio paragraph for someone without writing credits. Having short, interesting tidbits about yourself really works! (Some agents don’t even want that, but they’re not going to reject you for having it.) Avoid mentioning this is your first (or second, etc.) novel. No point in bringing attention to it. However, if you’ve queried them with a manuscript previously, it’s usually good form to mention that, especially if they requested that manuscript.]

In addition to running the OWC, I am a freelance editor and writing coach. Check out my website if you're interested in learning more!

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