Posted On November 7, 2011 by Print This Post

C.J. Redwine Critiques a Reader’s Query Letter

C.J. Redwine returns this month with an awesome query letter critique. A big thanks to Kristen Boe for the submission!


Romantic Suspense
90K words

You’ll want to include your title, genre, and word count as the part of a final paragraph. One that also includes any publishing credits, contest finals, or other pertinent information. If you don’t have pub creds, finals, etc, your paragraph looks like this: CAUGHT COLD is a romantic suspense complete at 90k. I am querying you because __insert well-researched reason here__.  I look forward to hearing from you.

The trouble with trading in human misery is not the repeat customers as much as their growing sense of entitlement. Which is why fake psychic Lolita Vette doesn’t get involved with clients. Ever.

You caught my attention with “trading in human misery”! Nice job. I feel like the “growing sense of entitlement” portion of that first sentence might be better off as its own sentence. “The trouble with trading in human misery isn’t the repeat customers. It’s their growing sense of entitlement.” Something like that? And I think you need to give us a tidy one sentence example of this so we understand Lolita’s motives. i.e. “After a client begs for her help only to steal her blind while she was busy trying to mend his professional life, fake psychic Lolita Vette learned her lesson. Don’t get involved with clients. Ever.” Something along those lines so we really get Lolita. She has a big heart, but she’s been burned.

But when the mentally handicapped son of a client attempts to rob Shelby First National Bank and Trust, she can’t help but step in. What Lolita doesn’t know was that by stopping the robbery, she put her straw smack dab in the middle of kingpin Queenie Trent’s bourbon.

Substitute “Lolita” for “she” in the first sentence. How did she know he was going to rob the bank if she’s a fake psychic? We need that little detail. And why can’t she help stepping in? Give us that little detail too. I love that you are clearly adept at concise sentences–perfect for query writing! So I think you’ll find a good way to work those in without giving us five additional sentences here. I think you can streamline your last sentence by saying “Unfortunately, by stopping the robbery, Lolita ut her straw…bourbon.”

Now Queenie and her men are after Lolita like collection agencies to a past due. Assaulted, robbed and with a body count mounting, she’s forced to turn to shadowy smart-alec, Tug Shelby. The man she hasn’t yet decided whether he belongs in a shallow grave or in her bed.

One suggestion for the first sentence: “…like collection agencies after a past due debt.” Your second sentence makes it sound like Lolita herself has a body count mounting. Is she killing people? Or do you mean Queen and her men will do anything to get to Lolita and the body count is rising? Is Tug Shelby any relation to the Shelby First National Bank and Trust? If so, make it clear how he ties in. If not, think about either changing the name of the bank or leaving it out to avoid confusion here.  Before you get to your last sentence, give us a sentence describing Tug and how he responds to Lolita, or how he messes with her head, or whatever it is he does. We need a bit of context for your last sentence to really have power. And I suggest this edit for your last sentence “Lolita still hasn’t decided whether he belongs in a shallow grave or in her bed.” (Also, LOL) Now, you need one more sentence to really make this query sing. One sentence telling us what Lolita and Tug must do and what will happen if they fail. i.e. “Tug and Lolita must __insert appropriate task here___ before Queenie has them silenced for good.” Or whatever works for you.

Then make sure to put your true last paragraph here (as discussed above). Great job overall. Sounds like a fun romp of a story! Best of luck with it.


Thanks again to Kristen Boe for allowing C.J. to review her query letter. Kristen, please keep us posted on your submission process. 

On Wednesday, agent Sara Megibow talks about the creation of an agent’s to be read (TBR) pile. Please stop by again!


C.J. Redwine‘s debut YA fantasy DEFIANCE, the story of a girl who escapes her cloistered city to rescue her father and finds heartbreak, danger, and a new romance, comes out Fall 2012 from Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins. When C.J. isn’t putting her characters in danger or running after her four children, she creates tools designed to help other writers master the craft of synopsis and query writing. For more information on C.J., her books, or her writer’s tools, visit

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14 Responses to “C.J. Redwine Critiques a Reader’s Query Letter”

  1. Thanks, C.J.–great info as ever! Kristen, thanks for submitting your letter.

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | November 7, 2011, 5:17 am
  2. Hi CJ,

    It’s interesting how one letter can make or break. Your suggestions make a big difference.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | November 7, 2011, 6:46 am
  3. Kristen – Your query really caught my interest! Thanks for sharing it with us – and good luck submitting your story!

    CJ – Excellent suggestions! Thanks so much for the advice you gave Kristen. I’ll try to apply it to my own query now.

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | November 7, 2011, 7:38 am
  4. This was a fun query, and it sounds like a very entertaining book! Thanks, Kristen, for letting me critique it.

    Posted by C.J. Redwine | November 7, 2011, 8:24 am
  5. Kristen –

    I absolutely want to read this book :-).

    CJ –

    Thanks for another great crit. These are such a huge help every time I’m trying to write a query myself!

    Happy Monday, all!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 7, 2011, 8:25 am
  6. Morning CJ!
    Wow, great job on the query letter – should we try to use the characters name as often as possible rather than he/she?

    Kristen – sounds like a grrrrrrrreat story! best of luck!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 7, 2011, 8:51 am
    • You can use your judgment on the he/she vs names question, but once a paragraph, I recommend using the character’s name. You don’t want overkill, but you do want to save yourself from a slew of he/she + verb sentence structures.

      Posted by C.J. Redwine | November 7, 2011, 9:41 am
  7. I totally want to read this book! Good luck with your submissions.

    C.J., what is the top mistake you see writers make with query letters?

    P.S. Love the new photo!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 7, 2011, 9:31 am
    • Thanks!

      The top mistake I see writers make with query letters is failing to find the balance between too vague and too much detail. That’s why I often recommend writers grab a few books in their genre and read either the back of the book synopsis or the more detailed synopsis listed with the book on Amazon/Barnes & Noble etc. to get a good sense of what should go in and what can stay out.

      Posted by C.J. Redwine | November 7, 2011, 9:43 am
  8. CJ – thanks for the info!

    Kristen – bravo to you for sending in your letter.

    Posted by Robin Covington | November 7, 2011, 10:09 am

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