Why critiquing others' queries is so important
Here at QueryConnection we encourage those posting queries to go out and critique others on the forum. Why do we do this? One benefit, simply, is that by critiquing someone’s work you are encouraging them to return the favor and critique your query.
For those of you who reply, ‘but I don’t know how to critique…’ my answer is simple—even if you have no experience you will still be able to respond to what is and isn’t clear about their story. What questions do you have and are they ones that leave you wanting to read more or leave you confused? Is it a monster at 400 words? Or too short at 175? What about the metadata—does it contain all the pertinent information without much fluff?
No critique experience? No problem
The thing about queries is that the best way to learn how to write an effective query is studying others. The Query Shark archives offer one way to study (and we recommend a full read of the archives), but here at QueryConnection we offer a unique experience of watching the evolution of a query through multiple revisions. Oftentimes, we are too caught up in the minutia of our own stories to see our queries clearly. Even those writers who have written multiple queries for multiple stories get caught up in their own words. We need others to help us weed out the sub plots and the unimportant details so we can whittle down our words to just the core of the story in the most interesting way.
You’ll find two types of queries. The first is the new query. The freshly finished project is getting its first query draft. These tend to read more like synopses, but it is the ideal place to get help from other writers with your query. This is where you will narrow focus and pull out extras and when you query, you can do so confidently knowing the letter has gone through multiple revisions and your story is laid out clearly with a strong hook, a concise but compelling summary, and a strong closing that leaves the reader asking for more. It means you won’t be wasting submissions with cluttered queries.
The second is a revision based on lack of agent response during an initial query phase. These queries will often look polished, but they may be bloated with unnecessary info, need a different perspective to become more engaging, or need help looking for a different hook/angle. For myself, I find asking probing questions to the author the best way to approach these types. Get the author thinking of different ways to make their story appealing to agents.
Unfortunately, queries aren't things that can be traditionally taught with a quick course or an article or two. Don’t worry though, you won’t be lost in queryland forever. After gaining some critique experience with others’ you’ll find it easier to piece together your own queries, leaving you with fewer revisions and better queries.