Friday, January 4, 2013

The Query Letter: Revising With Feedback By Kate Hart

Congratulations! You've finished a manuscript! Your critique partners have shredded it, you've revised and polished it to a brilliant shine, and you've researched literary agents. Now you're ready to click send on a query that's also been shredded by your most trusted advisers and--

Wait, what? You didn't let anyone critique your query?


This is for your own good.

Yes, I know, a query is just a short email. You send hundreds of those a week! You can proofread it yourself! But a good query does more than prove you can run spellcheck-- it proves you can craft a compelling piece of writing with an arc that leaves readers wanting more. Just like with your manuscript, you need someone to read for clarity and appeal, as well as mechanics.

Ideally, you'll have several someones. At least one should know next-to-nothing about your book-- just like the agent who'll receive the query. Think of this reader as an abbreviated version of Veronica Roth's Strictly Objective Beta Reader: "He or she doesn't even point out weak areas. All he or she does is tell you what you have." If the main conflict and themes s/he pinpoints aren't what you intended, it's time to revise.

At least one other reader should be a beta who's read your manuscript. This person can tell if your query's tone matches your manuscript's, and let you know if your summary sounds anything like the story s/he read. For instance, a friend said my first query could be describing Beautiful Creatures... which was problematic, since my book was supposed to be more like Friday Night Lights.

You'll probably have to repeat these steps several times, whether with fresh eyes or very patient re-readers. But if you're in need of readers, don't despair! I found most of my critique partners on Absolute Write, where members can also post in Query Letter Hell for feedback; I believe Verla Kay's forums have something similar. Beth Revis has a great post on finding beta readers, and there are lots more querying, revision, and other writing links on the YA Highway Publishing Road Map (as well as examples of successful queries).

Now: Get back to that keyboard and revise!

KATE HART is a young adult writer and history nerd represented by the lovely and brilliant Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary. She and her husband build treehouses, and on Fridays she writes the round up at YA Highway. She has two little boys, an oversized garden, and a fairly strong Southern accent.

Want to see the query that landed Kate seven (!) offers of representation? Check out this post with her and her agent's (awesome) comments as part of YA Highway's Query Series! 


  1. Query Letter Hell on AW is like running a gauntlet but will absolutely improve your query. They will call you on everything!

    The Pitch University website also has some great archived "lessons" on pitching that help with queries too.

  2. LOL step away from the keyboard is awesome advice! :D also has a great forum and tons of fun and helpful features :)

    Great post!

  3. Good point about getting different types of beta readers. I do that for my manuscript, but hadn't thought about how much it would help with a query.

    Loving the revision conference so far, ladies!

  4. Good advice Kate! I've critted lots of queries, but sometimes I forget to have someone look who hasn't read my ms read MY queries!

  5. Oh good point, I never thought of having someone who's not familiar with the work crit the query. Thanks!

  6. Query letter hell is brutal but necessary. I ran a query from one of my first novel attempts through them and came out wondering if the book I'd written even qualified as a book. By that I mean they pointed out every possible plot hole just from the query. I don't regret it because I learned so much, but I think I'm better off nowadays with fewer strangers and more writer friends. Now I think query writing is kind of fun. Just don't ask me to write a synopsis. :p Great post, Kate!

  7. I love this. Great advice. I still struggle with the same query a year later.


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