We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.
Final note: with 4 agents on the panel, we have trimmed down some of their comments to keep the posts from being overwhelming.
Entry #5: ALL THAT REMAINS
I’m currently seeking representation for my Contemporary Women’s Fiction novel, ALL THAT REMAINS. With your interests, I believe it may be a perfect fit for your list.
When Hope West’s predictable life comes to a crashing halt, the anxiety-ridden woman must take a journey into a past she’s tried to escape. Returning to her hometown is something she’s sworn never to do, but when she gets the phone call informing her of her estranged mother’s grave illness, she realizes she has no choice.[MJ1] Still reeling from a recent miscarriage and imploding marriage, Hope returns to the war zone of her mother’s home. Unexpected new neighbors, a box of surprising letters revealing the identity of her mysterious father, and a shocking face-to-face experience with her first love is nearly more than the fragile Hope can handle[AS1][MJ2]. In the end[MJ3], Hope must decide if she can forgive those who have wounded her, and accept herself and her reality.[PN1]
The completed manuscript of 58,251 words[MJ4][DB1][PN2] is available upon request. Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
[AS1] The description of Hope as "fragile" worries me a bit, as readers (and editors) tend to prefer protagonists who are resilient. I think that the query letter is well written, however, from the summary, I'm worried that not enough happens in the novel.
[MJ1] This reads very over the top. Give me more facts than feelings.
[MJ2] Maybe take a little more time to develop these avenues. Feels like you’re throwing too much at the reader.
[MJ3] Not very compelling. IN THE END is overused by others.
[MJ4] At least 20,000 words too short for the genre. 80 to 90K is more suitable.
[DB1] I was really vibing with this query until I got to the word count. This is on the short side for women’s fiction. Generally, I’d want to see between 70,000 and 90,000 words. Still, this is a good query.
[PN1] This query is a little short – and also has the over-packed long paragraph issue. But my bigger concern is that I’m not sure from this description what sets this story apart from others with similar premises. What’s the “hook”? What are the stakes?
[PN2] This word count is low for women’s fiction – I’m generally looking for 70,000 – 95,000 words in this genre. With a WF word count under 60K, I assume the story here is going to be under-developed. I might glance very quickly at the sample pages, but I would likely stop reading here.
Looking out the window of the airplane, I tried to ignore the knots in my stomach.[MJ1] Dark, dismal skies and swirling grey clouds peered back at me; they were a reflection of my mood. I shifted restlessly in my seat, tapping my fingernails nervously on the tray table in front of me. I was certain that the walls were closing in on me, and my breathing came fast and short. All I could think about was getting off of the plane. The flight attendant, who seemed to sense my agitation, quietly informed me that we would begin our descent into Seattle soon.
I nodded slowly at her without making eye contact. It was embarrassing that my turmoil was so obvious. “You can do this, Hope,” I said to myself, taking several deep breaths and trying in vain to settle my nerves. Every muscle in my body was tight, making me a giant, clenched ball of stress that refused to uncoil. I rotated my neck and tried to relax my shoulders. A dull, throbbing ache radiated across my forehead.
The events of my shattered life paraded relentlessly through my head, invading my peace of mind while I tried in vain to block it all out. I would not think about any of it right now; I couldn’t. But try as I might, I couldn’t fight off the memories; they clawed at my brain like a vulture decimating a carcass.[AS1][MJ2]
[AS1] This might come off as a bit overly dramatic.This is a pass for me. There's some solid prose in these pages, but I think that I'm going to have a tough time warming up to Hope.
[MJ1] So, she’s going to a place. That’s the most trite of openings for any book. Have her in the midst of the situation.
[MJ2] There isn’t much here to compell me to read on. A woman having an issue dealing with her flight. I know nothing about her conflict.
Danielle's Notes:I like your writing! It is very clean and I am curious to know what happens next. I’d love to take a look at the first fifty pages of this! (OA's note: send to Danielle's query address and include Operation Awesome or Pass Or Pages in the subject line)
Andrea Somberg: PASS
Melissa Jeglinski: PASS
Danielle Burby: PAGES!
Patricia Nelson: PASS