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« Rebel With a Cause: Rule-Breaking | Main | Lessons from Queryfest »

The Query Critique Group


One of the sit-down groups, Open Space, Trusted Advisors, ACMP 2012
Photo by Deb Nystrom

We all know that critique groups and beta readers can be a great thing.  I have a fab critique group and have also met up with a few super awesome beta readers with this last manuscript (*waves at J. Leigh, who got through my book in record time and offered awesome input).  So I'm a big proponent of getting this kind of feedback.  I think it's the rare writer that can produce a perfectly polished manuscript in isolation.


However, what I never considered was the query critique aspect of things.  That letter, which we talked about yesterday, can make or break your chance with an agent or publisher.  I typically send mine to my crit group and get their opinion, which is uber helpful, BUT I didn't take into account that they usually know the story by the time they see the query.

At Queryfest, the agents suggested having separate people to crit your query--people who haven't read your story.  Your crit group may be great, but if they've already read your story, when they read the query, their mind is going to automatically fill in any blanks the letter may have.

I think this may have been the issue with a few of the queries they critiqued in the workshop.  You could tell the people knew how to write, but the summary was so confusing that we were left going, "Wait, what?"

So seek out others to run the query by, see if they "get" your story and are hooked by doing a cold read of that letter alone. Let them play agent.  Or, post on a site like Public Query Slushpile--I've always gotten solid feedback there as well.  If you find yourself having to answer questions and fill in the blanks for the people reading it, then you haven't conveyed the idea clearly.  Revise.

I've already taken this advice and hooked up with one of my new buddies I met at RWA *waves at Murphy* and it's been great to get an outside opinion.

So what do you do to get your query in shape?  Do you get it critiqued or just go for it?  Have you ever posted on one of the public sites to get feedback?  And feel free to put your email in the comments if you want to exchange query critiquing with others.


**Today's Theme Song**
"Selling the Drama" - Live
(player in sidebar, take a listen)


Reader Comments (20)

Blogger Carrie Dair said...

You're absolutely right! I've never thought about that before. Good thing I've been fortunate enough to have a trusted friend in my writing critique group who hadn't read enough of my manuscript to have it taint the query, and my poor protagonist took a beating because of it. That's a good thing of course because it meant I had missed conveying the right tone. *rinse, repeat* SUBMIT! :)

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie Dair

Awesome point. It's amazing what someone will find confusing in the query sometimes if they haven't read the story--and SO helpful.

Same thing with the synopsis! Granted it's a little different because the entire story is kinda told to them, I had a friend find a plot hole because she hadn't read the story. It was a small one, but it made a huge difference!

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara McClung ♥

I ask Roni at Fiction Groupie to please have a look at my query.....please? Love you? Be your best friend?

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSierra Godfrey

First, thank you for brightening my morning with the picture of Sawyer. Sigh. (People ask me how I could keep watching Lost when the plot kept spinning more and more out of control. You have the answer.)

This is great advice on query readers. I'd say get as many people as possible to critique the query--especially those who don't know the story--to see if what you say makes sense to somebody who doesn't know how to fill in the blanks.

But most important, read each agent's guidelines before you send: they vary WIDELY. Both at Public Query and Query Shark, you'll get a lot of advice to "explain" and "flesh out" your hook into a mini-synposis.

But many agents only want a hook --three sentences at most. Some even ask for more on your credentials than on the book--the opposite of what you've been taught.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnne R. Allen

Good advice! No one looked at my current query, and so far it's not been well received. I'm thinking I should have it critiqued, though I don't even have a critique group for my actual writings yet, let alone for my query letters. I've tried online forums for critiques, but I haven't been too happy with the responses. Maybe I'll give the one you suggested a try for my query letters.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric J. Krause

After c aouple years of frustration and people wanting to charge me a ton of $$$ (no thanks), I had a stroke of genius. Why not have my editor give it a makeover. Duh! $50 and a few days later he returned a gem of a query letter." rel="nofollow">Stephen Tremp

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Tremp

What great advice! I'm just starting to write my query now and it's SO much harder than I thought it would be at first. "'s just one page. How hard could it be!?" Yeah. Right. How hard could it be to simplify a whole novel, plus your qualifications down into one page.

the idea of having someone unfamiliar with the story read it is GREAT! I think having a bit of both is a good idea. Because the people who know your story can tell you which points might buff out your query to make it perfect, and the people unfamiliar with the story can tell you when things don't make sense.

Thanks for the great post!

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermadameduck


Love the purdy pic!

Yep, always go for someone who hasn't read query let/synopsis/partial.

A reader from outside a crit group (non writer)is worth more than writer/crit group input. That is, once the silly niggles and irritating mishaps are put to reasonable rights!

100% reader feedback is worth gold.

I'm profiling another romance publisher on my blog today!


August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrancine

Wow - I never thought of that! Of course someone who's read the manuscript would receive the hook/query/synopis far differently than a 'virgin' reader!

Great advice, and great post as usual! Thanks for sharing...

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterroh morgon

On Beta Readers...I'm having a REALLY difficult time finding them. I'm still in the process of writing the first book of my series, though the whole thing is mapped out. I've had a few people read bits and pieces, but finding a consistent pool of readers has been difficult. Do you have any suggestions on finding some that would be serious about reading for me?

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKiera Bryant

Great advice-Beta readers know the book up and down, and so does the writer (of course). A fresh perspective is always helpful. :)

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

Kiera, finding good beta readers can be tough. I found mine through blogging. Feel free to post what you are looking for in the comments here, list your genre, etc. Maybe someone will have something similar and want to trade off. :)

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

Okey dokes: I'm writing a paranormal romance series. While there ARE vamps and weres in it, they are not the central focus of the story. I'm drawing on Norse, Celtic, Greek, and Romanian mythology and folklore as well as my own imagination. It's not going to be an open-ended series - it's only going to be 7 books. I'd be thankful for ANY beta readers, but I'd love people who love pnr. Also, people who are into mythology and folklore.


August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKiera Bryant

This is a great idea, Roni! I'd love to find a couple people to exchange query letters with. Believe it or not, I tried going to the library to get random people's opinion, and well...that was just embarrassing. :)

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJami Gold

Hi Roni!

Great post. I've got a few people already lined up for a query round-robin event. *waves to them* I knew I had to do something the moment I heard about Jami's library extravaganza. I figured it was a humanitarian effort. :) And, um, Jami doesn't know it yet, but she was officially named Captain Of The Query Swap. (Voting was limited...okay, non existent - I just happen to love her well organized spreadsheets, and HER BY FAR, more efficient note taking ). :D

So, I’d say, if anyone is interested, they can email me (all my contact info is on my website) and we’ll get it put together. I’m so looking forward to doing this! And, you know? I really wish I was a gnat on the computer screen when my CP reads this. I can hear her screams now. (hehehe)


August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMurphy


Library extravaganza??? Do I even want to know what you're talking about? My 80 free books? What does that have to do with me organizing a Query round-robin. Uh-huh, yeah, did you really think that non sequitur would fool me?

*sigh* But I'll do it...on one condition. I'm Queen of the Query Swap. *snort* Captain. What were you thinking? :)

But you really should email me and let me know what kind of swap you were thinking of. You know. So I can start working on the organization for it. ;)

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJami Gold

Hi Jami:

Hey, I remember the random people questioned in the library conversation. I was scared for them...especially when I found out how tall you were. Those poor strangers were probably too scared not to give you feedback! ;)

And what's wrong with Captain? I like it. But hey, you know how much I hate laundry - so let's not air our dirty laundry here, k? I actually thought I copied you in on the emails I sent out about this. If I didn't? Sue me. I've been so busy trying to figure out twitter you're lucky I can remember my multiple names. :D

M. I mean, Murphy

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMurphy

Oh, that library extravaganza. The one I've been trying to block from my memory, thank you very much.

Um, Roni, do you have any spare muzzles around here? ;)

And no, Murphy, you haven't copied me on any of those emails, which you know darn well, or else you wouldn't have assumed that you were catching me by surprise with all this. :)

For the rest of you wondering who the heck these people are who have accidentally taken over Roni's comments *ahem* again (sorry!), apparently Roni, Murphy, & I are now working on some way to start a query critique group. Stay tuned!

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJami Gold

I prefer to have people who haven't read my ms crit my query (though I've received a lot of great help from writers who have read my ms). I had mine on the Write On Con forum and got some good (and mixed) advice. Now I just have to figure out which advice to follow. Groan.

August 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStina Lindenblatt

I think there are pluses to both sides of the coin here. People who have read the story have the ability to see whether or not you've captured the true essence of it. People who haven't can tell you what's confusing as well as what sounds boring or is too overwritten.

In my crit group we have 11 people. Most of us don't ask for more than 3-4 crits per chapter and most people prefer to go start to finish on an MS. This way, we have a good half and half ratio for the query.

I've gotten just as much good advice from the folks who've read my MS as those who haven't.

August 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMin

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