Agency Lessons: Query Feedback Results

A few weeks ago, I opened up the inbox and offered to give query feedback to anyone who wanted it. You guys are awesome. Not only did you take me up on the offer, but you were unanimously gracious with your responses. I didn't get a single negative response to any feedback I gave. I'm not sure when, but I'll definitely do this again some time in the future.


In the meantime, I thought I'd share some thoughts on the most common feedback notes I sent. Hopefully, this can be useful to anyone in the query trenches.

The Non-Query Query
I'll admit that this one puzzles me. Usually, it comes in the form of a tag line followed by a line that includes genre and word count. And that's it.

There are lots of contests out there that include tag lines and maybe that's where the confusion is coming in. I don't know. What I do know is that a tag line is not a query. 

A tag line is a short one liner more suited to movie posters than books. "One choice can transform you" is the tagline for the Divergent series. That's a great attention getter, but it doesn't tell us much about the book. A query needs to be closer to what you find on the back cover.

Generic Phrases are Generic
Your query needs to be as specific as possible without spelling out the entire plot line. Why? We've all heard that there are no new stories, just different version of old ones. This is never more evident than when you read a query with generic phrase. It takes what can be an interesting and original story and turn it into something that sounds like everything else already on the market.

A few common generic phrases are "Finds her inner strength", "Discover the true meaning of brave", "Overcome life changing obstacles". While these may apply to your novel, they could easily be applied to hundreds of others. In today's crowded YA market it's even more important than ever to stand out. Generic phrases do the exact opposite.

Where's the Stakes
The most common issue in this latest batch of queries is a lack of stakes in the query. I often find myself asking "So what?" What happens if your main character doesn't achieve their goal?

For example, if you're writing a police procedural, what are the personal consequences if your detective doesn't solve the case? Is his job on the line? His family in danger? Maybe he is worried about disappointing his retired detective father. There needs to be something at stake if he doesn't achieve the goal (catching the criminal) that is personal to the MC.

Stakes are what keep me reading. I want to know that things can go wrong and, if they do, your character will suffer. Maybe that makes me sadistic, but it's also what makes a story interesting. If your character can't find solve the mystery, what happens? Do they go back home and try again later? Boring! Does the unsolved mystery threaten their mom's mental stability and puts a favorite uncle in danger? Hey there, interesting. 

So there you have it. If you're querying now, or about to send your fresh and shiny query out into the world, check to make sure you aren't sabotaging yourself with one of these common issues. And keep an eye out for another round of query feedback opportunities.