Literary agent critiques my query

May 14, 2009

During an Editor Unleashed forum on Wednesday, literary agent Jessica Faust critiqued my query (the same query I shared with you in a previous post).

Her critique is very specific and quite helpful, which is why I’m sharing it here in full:

Never start out with “hoping I’m the right agent” it gives the impression that you really haven’t done your research. Remember when querying agents that you need to think of it as giving us the honor of reading your work. In other words, come on strong and sure. I’m excited to tell you about my travel memoir would be more appropriate. I’ll decide if I’m the right agent, but you don’t want to give me an easy out. You’ll also want to make sure that somewhere in there you have a word count.

In the second paragraph you describe your book as poignant and yet I get no sense of poignancy in your voice. Anytime you’re describing your work as something–humorous, poignant, suspenseful–you need to show in your voice that it matches the description. As you’ve written it here it feels very stiff and, frankly, not special. What about your book makes it different from the many other travel memoirs currently on the shelves at bookstores. Did you find adventure? How will it inspire readers to take those leaps? All of this needs to be shown.

I would skip revealing your age as well as the fact that you’re full of potential and good at editing. That’s always assumed. Let that show in your writing.

The next paragraph confused me a bit. I couldn’t quite figure out why you described your book, stepped away from that, and then moved back to it. It seems like this should all follow each other. You should start with really focusing on the book since that is the most important part of the letter, that’s what your reader is really looking to discover so don’t bury it at the end. Then you can move into who you are.

This paragraph is a little more description, but still a little too vague. I’d like to see more specifics, again to make it stand out from other books.

The information on your travel blog is really important because it shows you’ve already built an audience ala Julie and Julia. Make sure you’re clear about it. Is it still active, does it get 50,000 hits or 50,000 readers (there’s a big difference) and how many readers do you have now? If it’s no active why not and when was it active?

And lastly, you mention that you have a proposal and sample chapters to me that implies that the book isn’t finished. With a narrative nonfiction, like a memoir, the book should be finished and fully edited before you even start querying. If it is finished I would just say that the manuscript is completed and ready for review.

Looks like I have some work ahead of me!

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    0 Replies to “Literary agent critiques my query”

    • Karen Walker says:

      Fantastic feedback, Alexis. Now you know exactly how to fix it. And yes, you do have some work ahead of you. Thanks for sharing Jessica’s feedback. If it’s all right with you, I’m going to save it for when I next query an agent.


    • You are blessed to receive such a helpful reply. Most agents would not take the time to tutor an author like that. Excellent advice, too. I would suggest you re-query that agent – she obviously HAS taken an interest in you, and if you can rewrite an effective query that shows her you are a quick study she just might take a chance on you.

      At the very least, you now have some valuable info and input with which to query other agents.

      You’re really going for it – I’m enjoying your sharing your journey with us.

    • Jessica is definitely one who tells it like it is. I follow her blog on RSS feed. I think she offered some constructive criticism that will help you out. I bet that the next query you send (for real) will result in a request for a partial or full…


    • Okay, good stuff. Do you agree with most of it? I’m with, Marv, I think, who said you’re lucky to have gotten the feedback.

      I, too, thank you for sharing her response. It’s very toughtful and closes the loop for those of us who read the initial query.

      Best, Reards, Galen

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Yes, I understand all her points. Since I’m new to this, I wouldn’t have picked them out on my own, which is why this feedback is so helpful.

        Her best point, I think, is that my voice needs to come across in my query. It can’t simply contain all the essential information; it’s gotta be written in a similar style as the book.

    • Thanks for sharing Jessica’s critique. A thorough agent or editor critique like this one contain clues for all of us. Jessica was one of the agents who attended the Northern Colorado Writers conference in April, and she participated in an agent panel and the agent slush pile workshop. She knows what she’s talking about, and gives very honest feedback. This is the kind of information that helps us become better writers.


    • That’s an interesting and helpful critque. Thanks for sharing.

      Jane Kennedy Sutton

    • Destineers says:

      That is a very helpful critique and lays the groundwork for the real query. Do you read Nathan Bransford’s blog? (There is a link on my blog or you can google him) He is an agent with the Curtis Brown Agency and he gives excellent advice as well. He has several of his blogs bookmarked on the right side column of his blog that are extremely helpful.

      Thanks for sharing this – looks like you made a good contact!

      NA Sharpe

    • Enid Wilson says:

      This is a very help critique. I particularly liked the bit about getting the sense of poignancy in your voice. I think I commit this offence of telling, not showing, as well.

      In Quest of Theta Magic

    • K. A. Laity says:

      You are indeed lucky to have received such specific details from an agent. Normally you just get the form letter. Take it into consideration and think about how to better represent yourself. You’re well on your way!

    • Karen Brees says:

      These kinds of posts are helpful. You take the reader on a journey beyond your own experience. Nice job.

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