SPILLED INK Query Critique

OR 

A Tale of Tattoos, Grimy City
Streets, and Gimmicks

Original:

 

Literary Agency. – Query

Hello Agent Agency, 

As a creator of fiction I find it remarkably difficult to write truthfully – especially in this letter about my novel,“Spilled Ink.” However, I will twist, squirm, and sweat with effort to lay out the facts of this 75,000 word Young Adult story of tattoos, grime, and compassion. 

This story is not about drugs. It is not about a brown haired girl with sharp eyes or her career as a tattoo artist. It isn’t about her rough edged boss. It isn’t about this girl’s wounded past. It’s not about a romance she fights to not feel. It is not about people who’ll abuse the world as much as they can. It is not about feeling bad for anyone and it isn’t about feeling good either. It’s about not crying over mistakes.

But I pulled a quick one, see I just told you what this story is about while lying – my novel is about many of the above things – each reader will hopefully understand the story as they wish.

But truthful I said I would be so truthful I will be. The following describes my story in truth: 

Tattoo artist April, a girl without much to her outside besides her bludgeons of  tattoos, experiencing the divide between the grime of city streets and the expanse of regular life, realizes that much of what is withheld, can’t be. 

I was truthful this time and in such a way that you know very little about what the story is truly about – in a good way. Perhaps you are interested in turning the page (or requesting for the 1st page) and reading onward.

Sincerely,
Jacob Woodbourne
(na… my real name is REDACTED) 

P.S. Jacob/REDACTED is a chemistry student in Brooklyn College (USA) with hopes of becoming a doctor. He is an avid athlete and a two time finisher of the Lake Placid Ironman triathlon. An artist too, his works have been displayed in local galleries. He is the president of Stuck in the Library, a student literary magazine in Brooklyn College. His writing has been developed by his readers, editors, and cohorts through the magazine – “Spilled Ink” is his first novel. 

Compare:

It may seem a little arrogant to compare my book to one of the “Bigs,” but I like to refer to my book as a tougher and realer “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” A backstory to “Tweak,” and a fuller story version of “Almost Home.” “Spilled Ink” offers a true character in a full narrative – one that misses no descriptions or points. An entire story is told – one which doesn’t want to be told.

  

Here we go: 

Literary Agency. – Query 

Dear [Agent’s Name]: 

As a creator of fiction I find it remarkably difficult to write truthfully – especially in this letter about my novel,“Spilled Ink.” However, I will twist, squirm, and sweat with effort to lay out the facts of this 75,000 word Young Adult story of tattoos, grime, and compassion. Your logline is so diluted that I could hardly tell it was a logline. Be straight to the point. Agents don’t have time to sift through frilly speech. 

This story is not about drugs. It is not about a brown haired girl with sharp eyes or her career as a tattoo artist. It isn’t about her rough edged boss. It isn’t about this girl’s wounded past. It’s not about a romance she fights to not feel. It is not about people who’ll abuse the world as much as they can. It is not about feeling bad for anyone and it isn’t about feeling good either. It’s about not crying over mistakes. Okay, well what is it about? 

But I pulled a quick one, see I just told you what this story is about while lying – my novel is about many of the above things – each reader will hopefully understand the story as they wish.

But truthful I said I would be so truthful I will be. The following describes my story in truth: 

Tattoo artist April, a girl without much to her appearance besides her myriad of  tattoos, experiencing the divide between the grime of city streets and the expanse of regular life, realizes that much of what is withheld, can’t be. This sentence is too long and confusing. I read it twice and still don’t understand what you’re trying to say. 

I was truthful this time and in such a way that you know very little about what the story is truly about – in a good way. Perhaps you are interested in turning the page (or requesting for the 1st page) and reading onward.

Sincerely,
Jacob Woodbourne
(na… my real name is REDACTED)

P.S. Jacob/REDACTED is a chemistry student in Brooklyn College (USA) with hopes of becoming a doctor. He is an avid athlete and a two time finisher of the Lake Placid Ironman triathlon. An artist too, his works have been displayed in local galleries. I am the president of Stuck in the Library, a student literary magazine in Brooklyn College. His writing has been developed by his readers, editors, and cohorts through the magazine – “Spilled Ink” is his first novel. 

Compare:

It may seem a little arrogant to compare my book to one of the “Bigs,” but I like to refer to my book as a tougher and realer “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” A backstory to “Tweak,” and a fuller story version of “Almost Home.” “Spilled Ink” offers a true character in a full narrative – one that misses no descriptions or points. An entire story is told – one which doesn’t want to be told. 

You told me to butcher this and so I will. 

This query is gimmicky. And I don’t know of any agents who like gimmicks. Please remember that you are writing a professional business letter, and though you think you are being cute and quirky with your witty asides and commentary, it will do nothing but make an agent roll their eyes. Research the proper format of a literary query. 

This is about two-hundred words too long but I still have no idea what the story is about. April is the main character. What is April’s goal? What does she want to achieve? What stands in her way? What must she do to overcome that obstacle? What does she stand to lose if she can’t achieve her goal? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and that’s the main point of the query. 

There needs to be a hook, then a paragraph introducing all of the necessary elements, then your logline (or the logline can go at the beginning–personal preference), then the closing. Make sure you clearly state the genre, word count and title, with the title being in all CAPS. Within that same paragraph you should state that you are the president of a literary magazine. Always write in first person when you are referring to yourself. Also within that paragraph mention your name and that you write under a penname. The only experience that should be mentioned is your writing experience, as in whether you have any published stories or a degree in English. Don’t put everything in italics. 

Be careful using those comparisons—you better live up to that standard. 

I say start over and build off of the paragraph that introduced April. Watch out for long, meandering sentences and wordiness. I can tell you have talent and a lot of potential, but you must apply it correctly. 

I can’t wait to see what you come up with. This sounds like an interesting story. 

Love, 

The Query Faerie

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3 thoughts on “SPILLED INK Query Critique

  1. This takes some swallowing. It’s interesting because when I read the 1st query, I thought it was well. But after seeing your critique, I understand why it is gimmicky.

    There are a jillion queries to be read weekly and agents aren’t going to be interested in something nice – they’re going to want something navigable. And also, you certainly did butcher it.

    • Tylor, that’s exactly right. Agents get several hundred queries a week, depending on the agent, and definitely want something easily navigated and understandable. You have about two seconds, or a sentence, in which to hook that agent.

      I could call myself the Query Butcher…but I’m afraid that might scare some people away. 😉

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