"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On-line critique of my query letter.

For those of you who are still working on you query letter and looking for more feedback, here's a idea you might want to try. I thought the following might be helpful.

I started writing my query letter a year or so ago, around the same time I was nearly finished with my memoir and also working on a proposal. Since I'd never written a query before, I spent a lot of time reading books and searching on-line to learn as much as I could about writing good queries.

After I had a handle on it, I began posting my letter in places where writers could read it and give me feedback. One of the best places, a place where I got a lot of feedback that helped me end up with my final copy, was SheWrites.com.

I spent a lot of time re-writing the letter, incorporating the best suggestions from other writers, and finally got it to a point where I was just about satisfied. I say "just about" because I don't think any writer is 100% satisfied with her writing. She always feels  like it could be better...and this may be true.

A couple of months ago, after the letter had been sitting on my desk for a while I decided to submit it to Marla Miller, a writer and editor who has her own on-line query critique page at Writer's Magazine. Below I've posted my query letter and then the video of Ms. Miller critiquing it.

Query Letter
Dear Agent, 

Demanding divas, naked Irishmen walking in their sleep, and amorous honeymooners leaving remnants of unforgettable wedding nights are all part of the parade of flamboyant guests who came in and out of my life as an innkeeper.

Despite being a reclusive, retired schoolteacher with no business experience and little start-up money, I took a risk, purchased a turn-of-the-century mansion, and turned it into into a charming bed-and-breakfast. Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen: An Innkeeper’s Tale is the humorous and sometimes poignant story of my 17-year journey through a minefield of contractors, housekeepers and eccentric guests looking for Southern hospitality and gourmet breakfasts. I have included recipes reflecting the content of each chapter and descriptions of how and why many of them were developed at our inn.

I am co-author and editor of Room At The Table, a cookbook written for the Bed and Breakfast Association of Kentucky, for which I won the president's Award in 2009. In addition to maintaining several websites and several blogs, I write online for examiner.com, eyeonlife.com, Pink Magazine, Salon,  and Hub Pages. A teacher of music and English, I have taught and written creative nonfiction, poetry and lyrics throughout my adult life.

Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen, a 65,000-word memoir, combines wit and humor with delicious recipes, a subject that may appeal to a wide audience—more specifically, to women ready to reinvent themselves, whether they are starting a second career late in life, coming out of a divorce, or forced by the recession to stop mid-career and rethink their options. In addition, it may appeal to the same audiences of books by Ruth Reichl and Maya Angelou.

A manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your kind consideration,

Query Critique

if you enjoyed this post, feel free to leave a comment


  1. Great critique. Sounds like you're on your way.

  2. @thelmaz. Thanks for the supportive comment..but just to throw in a little reality, I could be on my way to rejection. But I'm ready for whatever..........

  3. Hey, Nancy, congrats on that! Bet it was a relief to hear. Good advice, too. I'd read that memoir! I mean, who can resist naked Irishmen? And what's that silly expression? Rejection's the path to acceptance? Also, thanks for the quick query site. That's fabulous.

  4. Valery, Love your comment about the naked Irishmen. You are probably right about rejection's path...at least I'm hoping so. So glad you found the information useful. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Nancy, Nancy, Nancy
    I admire your fortitude but worry about your shortage of self-confidence. You are successful on so many levels.
    Might I suggest you check out the Passive Guy's blog at www.thepassivevoice.com and read all this author/attorney has posted about agents, publishers and other pitfalls in real time.
    Believe in yourself girl!

  6. @BCW: I guess I gave you the wrong impression. I absolutely do believe in myself. And after years and years of successes, I am very self-confident. However, I am also a realist. You need to know just because I brought up the possibility of rejection, it doesn't mean that I wont eventually publish. Remember, I'm a non-fiction writer. I deal with reality and the truth.

  7. And here's one from an attorney/writer who found the perfect agent, but...

  8. Trust in yourself, woman. You are an inspiration to those of us coming up the rear...

  9. Brenda, I do. Thanks for caring and commenting.

  10. Wow, I see that and realize I have so much to learn. I just want to write and want someone to pay me for it without doing anything like a query letter or book proposal. I know, I live in a dream world. Good luck to you, Nancy! It's great that you did your homework - I thought it was really good, but I'm no professional and she pointed out things I will someday need to know when doing this for myself! Thanks for posting and sharing with us.

  11. Cindy, Yes, writing is one of the most concentrated work things I've ever done in my life. But for me, it's a perfect vocation because I'm a work-a-holic. I wallow in it. I love writing...and the bigger the challenges, the more I like it. I makes me feel productive, creative, and happy. I would do it whether I got paid for it or not. That is not my main motivation or goal.

  12. @BCW: Thanks for your second comment. In response, just let me say that I am not against self publishing. I just want to give the traditional way a chance first.

  13. Can I be honest Nancy, I think this lady is helpful, but I did not jive with everything she had to say. For instance, saying that your book is perhaps similar to other bed breakfast books, that observation seemed a little snappy on her part. I think her advice is good, but I would have liked her to read some of your excerpts on Hubpages because she jumped to this conclusion.

  14. Of course you can be honest...that's the kind of feedback I'm looking for.

    In ref. to her remarks about books on B&Bs, I don't think she's up to speed on this. I'm working on a proposal and have done a thorough search of books on B&Bs. The majority are about the business side of opening an Inn. They may also go over what it takes to operate one.

    But there are only 3 or 4 memoirs that detail the life of the Innkeeper. And those are not very novelistic, like my is. A very few have recipes too, especially recipes that are related to the content.

    Before I finish writing and submitting my proposal, I will do another search to make sure I haven't missed anything.

  15. I have read a lot of books and I can say for certain there really is nothing like the one you have shared with us. I would even go so far as to say send out the query letter now, as is, and you never know, you might get a response from someone. Also, I am beginning to see the publishing world as a bit of a dinosaur at this point. Every big celebrity is writing a book, with a ghost author, because they know this sells. Some publishers are really just not considering things they would have publishing fifteen or twenty years ago. Self-publishing is becoming more viable to me for this reason.

  16. @Jats: What a nice thing to say. I just hope pothers feel the same way. I tend to agree with you about the publishing industry and self-pub.

  17. Nancy, Thank you for posting the query letter and the video. I thought the letter was great, and by providing the video, you helped to inform us how people in the business might perceive it.
    I would read the book. I love books about people's adventures and discoveries.
    And this is a great blog!

  18. Hi Tina, thanks for checking out my blog and commenting. Glad you liked the post and the video. I was hoping, when I posted it, that it would be helpful to some of my writer friends. Looks like it'll be a while before my book will be out there. In the meantime, I have posted excerpts here on my blog and will be posting more.

  19. Nancy
    Thanks so much for posting my video critique of your query-I invite your 'peeps' here to do the same when/if they need feedback on their query letter's hook-ability.
    Good luck & please keep me posted.
    Marla Miller

  20. Marla, You are very welcome. And, thank you for posting and critiquing my query letter on your page. It was very helpful. I agree with you about the last paragraph and am working on it now to improve it.I am also finishing up my proposal and will take your advice on having it ready in case an agent wants to see it.

  21. Hi to all,
    Just read something Nancy wrote which sparked this: remember, just because your query is written well does not equate w/acceptance---Agents have few venues to pitch to---their editor connections have been reduced-like everything else-in this tough economy.
    Indie publishing is an option now that is very viable. There is more than one way to get published so write the best query you can, pitch it to your list of agents and also learn about epublishing options-
    best to all,
    Marla miller

  22. Marla, Thanks so much for remembering me and coming back to give me more information. I can use all the help I can get. Right now, I'm in the middle of a major re-write of my complete manuscript. I'll be posting some of it on CC. Hope you'll critique.