Posted On March 7, 2011 by Print This Post

Query Writing 101 with C.J. Redwine

C.J. Redwine tackles another query letter in today’s Query Writing 101. Thanks to florence fOIS for your letter!

Dear Agent:

They both needed a way to start over again and get it right this time. I think you’d be better off cutting this. It’s too vague to really serve your story well. Jump right in with the characters and help us connect with them instead.

Twenty years have passed since Gail first saw Tony Cimino behind the counter of his father’s pizza shop. The first time was a chance encounter she is certain he would not remember. She doesn’t know yet that he is her second chance at happiness and tries to push him out of her life. But Tony, a man who knows what he wants and sees it in Gail, is not going to give up so easily. I kind of understand the story set-up here, but I have no sense of the characters. I suggest you devote this paragraph to Gail. Cut everything after the first sentence and give us who Gail is. What makes her tick. What she wants. What stands in her way. A nice descriptive paragraph that shows us Gail. Then do another paragraph doing the same thing for Tony. Your last plot paragraph is a quick sum up of the stakes of the novel (what they want, what they have to do to get it, what happens if they fail).

Second Hand News is about family, the invisible older sister, the vain, status conscience mother and “pretty” younger sister; a story of fun, friendships and final vindication, woven with the antics of a feisty, hilarious Bubbie; the mortar between the bricks. Add Gail’s supporting characters; the young Dominican girl who befriends her, the gun-toting ex-vet who helps her, her out of bounds girlfriends, hot dates and two people falling in love. Listing these elements drains the magic from your story. Instead, work a few of these into the paragraphs about the characters and their lives. You honestly don’t need all of these unless you can find a way to work it in as part of describing the conflict and the stakes. You have some FUN things here, but we aren’t getting that when it’s presented like a grocery list.

Chaos rules, as Bubbie escapes from assisted living, moves into her granddaughter’s small apartment, and entertains the neighbors singing Ethel Merman tunes late at night in the elevator. Gail fends off dates arranged by her mother and sister, squashes a Yuppie co-op conversion, and uses her wit and talent to find a new career. Most of this probably needs to go. I’m confused about the true stakes of the novel and Gail’s agenda. You start me out thinking this is a romance about two characters finding a second chance at love, but you end with Gail alone fending off dates, finding a new career etc. What happened with Tony? Is this Tony’s story as much as Gail’s? If so, this paragraph needs to be totally focused on what they must overcome to get what they want.

Second Hand News, complete at 80,000 words, romantic women’s fiction, explores how two people find a better way to live. I suggest cutting “explores …” You should already have shown us this in your hook. Stick with a nice, tight stats sentence. “Second Hand News is a romantic women’s fiction complete at 80,000 words.” Awesome title, by the way. πŸ™‚

I found your name (Insert pertinent agent information) I would be happy to send part or all of the completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. Looks like you’ve got some really fun, quirky characters in this story. Your job now is to make GAIL and TONY fun and relatable to us and deliver the clear agenda and stakes. Good luck with this!



For our readers, if you have a letter you would like C.J. to critique, go to our Labs page and click the link or send your letter in the body of your email to C.J. will also take questions if you would like to send them. We will post a letter on the first Monday of each month so be sure to check back.

Join us Wednesday when literary agent Elaine English tells us whether we need an agent or a literary attorney.


Bio: C.J. Redwine writes urban fantasy with a side of comic relief and is repped by Holly Root of the Waxman Literary Agency. She also teaches a monthly online query workshop where she offers unlimited critiques of each writer’s query until it’s perfect. To learn more, go to

Similar Posts:

Share Button

CJ Redwine/Query Writing 101


13 Responses to “Query Writing 101 with C.J. Redwine”

  1. C.J., Thanks for another great critique!

    Florence (waving hi), thank you for submitting your query letter!

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | March 7, 2011, 5:33 am
    • Tracey … a wave back at you and a huge thanks for RU and this opportunity.
      I had actually forgotten I sent this in and it was a very pleasant surprise. Love the support and positive feedback provided to writers here. πŸ™‚

      Posted by Florence Fois | March 7, 2011, 11:45 am
  2. Hi CJ. Thanks for another great letter. And thank you to Florence for submitting, Let us know how these suggestions work for you.

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | March 7, 2011, 7:34 am
  3. Morning CJ and Florence!

    Sounds like a fab story Florence, lots of fun! Thanks for the crit CJ!!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 7, 2011, 8:00 am
  4. Florence – I LOVE a story full of quirky characters. Best of luck with querying this book!

    And CJ, thanks, as always!


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | March 7, 2011, 10:39 am
    • Kelsey, Second Hand News was my first romance “type” story, if you will. Funny, full of off-centered people and experiences for both of my clueless lovers. I would so love to see it work for me. Thanks so much for your comment.

      Posted by Florence Fois | March 7, 2011, 11:49 am
  5. Florence – Thanks so much for sharing your query letter!

    CJ – Thank you for your comments. Now I’ll have to try and and make your suggestions work with my own story. Query letters are not easy to get just right!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | March 7, 2011, 10:55 am
  6. Hi CJ,

    What a great service and difficult one too. Queries are hard to write and dissect. Good luck Florence.

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | March 7, 2011, 11:24 am
  7. C.J. : What can I say after I say thank you a dozen times? Yes, like everyone, I hate the dreaded query. I am also determined to master the skill. Having positive feedback and constructive criticism from someone like yourself is half the battle.

    I will disect and use your well placed comments and improve my query. Hopefully, that will peak an interest in my two lost lovers and the romantic comedy, Second Hand News.

    Just to let you know and since it is a small intimate moment between Gail and Tony, Second Hand News is Fleetwood Mac’s iconic hit and my all time favorite from Rumors.

    Thank you so much, C.J. … I am back to the boards to do it all over again πŸ™‚

    Posted by Florence Fois | March 7, 2011, 11:56 am
  8. Hey Florence!

    I thought the title sounded familiar. I used to have a mad crush on Lindsey Buckingham. πŸ™‚

    Love the title and the array of characters. CJ, your crits are always so helfpul.

    Florence, thanks for submitting!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 7, 2011, 3:07 pm

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts





Follow Us