Query Critique 8: Strung Along

23 Jun

Welcome to the third day of our 3-day-long Query Critique Week (say that five times fast)! We received a ton of queries, and even though we wish we could have chosen more, we were only able to pick 9 of them to critique. Let’s get started!


Query 8: Strung Along


Dear Let The Words Flow,

Seventeen-year-old Sarah Avery has always been a violinist. It’s the only thing in her life that keeps her from falling apart, the only thing that helps her deal when her uncle makes his way to her room at night. Now, if she could just get into Juilliard.

But getting in proves to be harder than Sarah thought. For starters, she’s missing the community service hours her high school requires her to graduate, so the guidance counselor with the overly processed hair forces her to tutor another girl in violin—a girl who starts finding out a little too much about Sarah’s home life. There’s also the problem of perfecting her Paganini caprice and from keeping the neighbors across the street from interfering in her life.

But most importantly, Sarah has to keep her audition secret from her overbearing family. Because if her uncle finds out she plans to leave him, he very well may kill her.

STRUNG ALONG is a young adult novel complete at approximately 59,000 words.

Thank you for your time,

Nita Tyndall



Sarah J. Maas:

I love the ideas here, and I love the strength of the voice. I think it gets a little tripped up in one line, which is WAY too long:  “For starters, she’s missing the community service hours her high school requires her to graduate, so the guidance counselor with the overly processed hair forces her to tutor another girl in violin—a girl who starts finding out a little too much about Sarah’s home life.” I’d break that up into two sentences, perhaps three.

Because the query is so short, there’s room for expansion, so I’d perhaps dedicate another sentence or two about the girl she’s tutoring—as that seems to be the tension that’s propelling the plot (in addition to the Juilliard audition).

I’d also like to see a line or two about you (the author) at the very end (right after the word count). Other than that, with a bit of expansion, I think this could be a really solid query. Good luck!


Savannah J. Foley:

I agree with Sarah that you have room to expand, but I would go a little further by saying this query is way too short. I think you described a lot of singular events here but no action that spreads throughout the book. I get that there’s tension, but I think you need a few more active sentences, like ‘Sarah struggles to keep her two lives separate’ or ‘As Sarah’s secrets begin to expose themselves, she struggles…’ Just something that describes a lot of the action, not singular events.

Not really a big issue, but I would like to know why her uncle has access to her… maybe you could give a little more background on her family situation? Why is she living with her uncle? Are there other family problems going on? How will she pay for Julliard?

I also think you could pad out the query more with some information on the neighbors who keep interfering with her life. Are they offering assistance in any way that she has to turn down because she doesn’t want them finding out about the abuse?


Sammy Bina:

As the other ladies have said, your query is a bit short. But that’s good! That means there’s plenty of room for improvement. I think the tone of the story is conveyed really well through what you’ve given us, and Sarah’s voice shines through and makes me interested to see more. I think adding a few more details like “the guidance counselor with the overly processed hair” to your query would be really great.

Also, beef it up. Your story sounds like it’s got a lot going on, what with her creepy uncle, nosy neighbors, and the girl she’s tutoring. Delve into those things a little more. Why would her uncle kill her? Would the neighbors helping her really be so bad? How about the girl she’s tutoring? Besides the violin, do they have anything else in common? Really get into the emotional storyline, and I think you’ll be golden. Right now it’s all plot points that, as Savannah said, are very singular, and don’t really span the entire book. Go with major themes and storylines that cover everything, rather than singular events. Save detailed plot descriptions for your synopsis.

Good luck!


Tell us what you think! Never written a query before? Only heard of them last week? You don’t have to be an expert to make comments; you know what sounds good and what doesn’t. Did we miss something? Let us know your thoughts!


Helpful Links

Queries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blog

Query Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog

How to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blog

Query Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back together

AgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letter

A Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America


One Response to “Query Critique 8: Strung Along”

  1. Nita June 23, 2010 at 11:58 PM #

    Oh, thank you all so much for the help! I had a feeling the query was too short, and now I know how I can ‘beef it up’.
    *Scurries off to revise*

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