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Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we’ve started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we’ll just have to see. We’ve received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don’t be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that’s great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I’m leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don’t make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never “met” Query Shark, get over there and do that. She’s the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Ms. Faust,

A firefly is a curious thing. A casual glance shows a tiny flying bug that glows in the humid summer nights of the South but there’s more to that twinkle. Blinking patterns flash in different intervals and wavelengths. For the firefly, each illumination tells a story.

I love this opening so much that my usual chatter about indents and email style vs. letter style is forgotten. You grabbed me with this right away, and do you want to know why? It’s the voice. There’s such a lovely, Southern rhythm and flavor to this and I knew this was set in the South before you even told me. You grabbed me with this. I loved it, plain and simple.

That’s how Adeline Stewart sees everyone around her; every feeling and emotion played out in swirling colors and flowing movements. These colorful auras tell their story. Even death shows itself with its violent black clouds and waves of nausea. Adeline is all alone with her secret, careful not to stand out in her small southern town. But all secrets come out eventually. The only problem is there’s someone out there who thinks she should take her secret to the grave.

This query is not necessarily full of “don’ts,” but I would suspect that if it were turned over to a query critique group it would be ripped apart for all of the things it doesn’t do, all of the “rules” it doesn’t follow. The biggest being that it doesn’t really tell me anything about the plot. That being said, I like it a lot.

The voice in this comes through beautifully and I get from the first line of this second paragraph that it’s YA. I did have to read the last paragraph to confirm, since I thought maybe it was going to be women’s fiction, but I got what you were doing here. Your voice made that clear.

WATCHING FIREFLIES is young adult paranormal novel complete at 78,000 words. My manuscript was a finalist in the Santa Fe Writers Project contest. The judge was Pulitzer prize-winner Robert Olen Butler. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Great ending. Adding the contest mention is smart. It shows me that others have recognized your work and that you are actively out working on your writing and learning about publishing.

There’s no question I would request this and I imagine I’m not the only one. Bravo!



Category: Blog



  1. For me the opening didn't work, but it is a personal rather than critical response. Blame my cynical and embittered heart, I found it a trifle twee for my taste. (I was also expecting it to be a non-fiction book about fireflies, but I'm not entirely with it at all times.)

    That said, I do like the style (because it has substance with it) but my immediate thought is: What have fireflies got to do with seeing colours for emotions? The link remains quite tenuous. If it is something lifted from the text, grand, but otherwise I wonder if there is a better lead in.
    Your second paragraph makes me think of brushes in water – when you have a brush full of watercolour paint and you swirl it through a clean glass of water. It shows you where it's been.

    This is just me though. Congratulations on your query.

  2. This query was also short and sweet; it told everything that needed to be said in under 250 words. Bravo and good luck to the author!

  3. My favorite thing about this query is the voice. I so rarely get to see a glimpse of the author's prose writing in a query, so this is refreshing.

    I have almost no idea what this is about, but I would have requested it based on the strength of the author's writing.

  4. I'd have the exact opposite reaction. The voice is missing, not sparkling. This reads like a technical paper.

    "Each illumination tells a story".

    This is clunky, and illumination doesn't really fit. Iteration, maybe, given the emphasis on blinking, but not illumination.

    It's definitely not a YA voice, and if the book is written in the same, I wouldn't be interested.

  5. This author has a strong voice in her short (but sweet) query.

    While I'm not quite sure what the plot is, it sounds engaging enough to pique my interest.

    I like how the author lists her creditials in a casual way.

    I would have liked to see more about the plot. Also, the title does not scream YA-Paranormal.

  6. Actually I did think it was women's fiction rather than YA, b/c the voice (while lovely) sounds very mature. Don't get me wrong, I would totally request this manuscript / read this book, but that was my one critique.

    (Nitpick: I think there should be a comma after "South" for readability.)

    Great query, and thank you for sharing!

  7. You're so right about the power of this writer's voice. Amazing how beautifully that comes through. With a query this captivating, I would want to see the entire manuscript, too.

    What's interesting to me is how quickly rules fly out the window if the writing is strong and/or the voice unique. It's all about the story.

  8. I am so weary of hit-'em-fast and hit-'em-hard openings and smart-mouthed, kick-ass heroines. I am ready right now to open this book, fall into this world, and experience the story as it unfolds.

  9. It's perfect timing for this time of year, too…I wait all year for those few nights when everything lights up like Christmastime. We call them lightening bugs in Bucks County.

  10. I have to agree with those who say this isn't a YA voice.

    To be honest, with the rhythm, tone, and word choice, I expected this to be about someone who was autistic or otherwise differently-abled. The shift into something paranormal was jarring.

    It's definitely pretty writing, but the query's all premise, without any real clue as to what the plot entails. We don't know what happens to this girl, how her secret is exposed, anything about her personality or life, or anything at all, really.

    It might fit as a back of the book blurb, but it's not effective as a query.

  11. My thoughts immediately flew to Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen. (One of my favorite stories because of an amazing voice.) This query has managed to capture that same whimsical, magical, essence.

    While there are only hints at plot, I think that's fine and I do get a sense of where this story is going. If you examine that second paragraph you'll see an excellent choice of words to foreshadow the darker side of the story. This author has a light touch but I'll but she can pack a punch.

  12. Spot on!

    Hooked me right from the get go. Showed me enough of the story throughout the query without revealing too much. Perfect length, and still left questions about what's to come.

    Well done.

  13. I love the discussion here. Voice sells, but it seems this voice resonates with half the readers and not with the other half. For me the voice plunked rather than blinged, but that's taste.

    The query is successful. It enticed one agent to want to read more.

    The question is would it entice a majority of agents to request? Is the voice universal enough for that? Because Jessica is right; this would have been picked apart on my site because of the logic issues and lack of plot specificity with the caveat that the writing is solid and to not lose that when revising. Maybe we're just getting jaded when it comes to YA paranormal where the same themes keep popping up: seeing auras, small towns, secrets.

    Of course it's all about the execution. And that's why the final piece of advice in getting critted is that sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

  14. I loved the voice in this too, but I did not see YA. In fact, when Jessica said that, I went back and reread several times…I completely thought it was Paranormal Womens Fiction. In fact I was all excited about it because it sounded right up my alley.

  15. The voice in this is so strong that it makes up for anything else the query lacks, although I did get at least a sense of the plot from it. Maybe not the exact details, but I got a feel for the kind of story it would be. I did expect for a moment that it might be women's fiction, but think it is well-suited for YA too.

  16. I loved this query, although mention at the bottom of the letter pointing out it is a YA novel threw me. I was thinking something more akin to 'Prodigal Summer'. Maybe mention of the MC's age would help clue in the reader.

  17. Had to come out of the woodwork for this one.

    LOVE this. Love the voice, love the mystery left behind by that query. What the heck is this about? Someone please tell me when this hits the shelves, I want to read it!


  18. I've noticed that lately it seems like every query on here always has a sci fi/paranormal/vampires/ zombies/twilight rip off bent.

    Could you do something in another genre please? It would really help those of us who don't write paranormal. How about a critique of a regular YA book for a change.

  19. I have to chime in to say how much i loved this query. The voice is nice, but i really liked the refreshing way it was presented and didn't subscribe to the usual formula for genre fiction. It may be paranormal, but i suspect there's a literary bent. And what's really great is that agents not attracted to this query would obviously NOT be right to rep this book, so in essence, it screens out those agents who might do a poor job selling the book. Super kudos to the author!

  20. Can I haz book??? This sounds like a really cool concept and something that I (as a young adult reader;)) would love to read.

  21. I hear what you're saying about the voice, it's certaily distinctivel. But it really didn't grab me. I don't understand how 'each illumination tells a story', or what that has to do with swirling colours.

    If nothing else, this really shows that in some cases, it's not the query so much as the agent you choose to send it to. 🙂

    Good luck to the writer!

  22. interesting. i'd never have thought of writing a query in this way. seems too flirty, giving little information about the plot or the lead character for that matter. but, now i wonder, should i attempt something like this?

  23. This is beautiful and breathtaking. I am interested to read on as well. Now, I’m left wondering if a query should have more feeling than plot. With this query, I'm realizing maybe feeling is the way to go. The plot is sort of just lost in the striking words but it doesn’t matter, the reader just wants more. The whole point of a query I suppose.

    Thank you for posting these queries by the way… this is truly helpful.

  24. But where’s the plot? I’m sorry, I’m always told I have to show the plot and the character. And here I see neither. So how can you request it if you don’t know what’s the novel about?
    In my opinion, the prose was beautiful, but is it enough?

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