Query Critique/Workshop: A MURDER OF ANGELS (YA Dark Fantasy)



Critiquer: Natalie Parker

Alright, before we get into the meat of this, I’m going to tell you a secret: a query can lie.

I don’t mean they should misrepresent a manuscript. That would be a waste of everyone’s time and energy, but they don’t always have to tell 100% of the truth. Stay in the ballpark of 90% true and you’re golden. Dip below that and you didn’t get this tip from me.

If your manuscript has the breadth and fury of an army, your query should be representative of that force, but not comprehensive. A good query is sharp, dense, and pointed; one sword instead of many. Sometimes this requires smudging the finer details of your novel. That’s totally, absolutely okay. The trick is for the query to make promises the rest of your manuscript can keep.

In the query below, I noticed a tendency for the author to try to show us the army instead of the sword. Many of my in-line notes urge them to shift their focus to what is most salient – instead of giving the reader/agent the breadth of context, give them the reason it matters to the reader.

In that same vein, here are a few quick tips I think will help any query:

  1. Be quick! Exposition is for the manuscript; explosion is for the query. Don’t delay your points.
  2. Be specific! Avoid relaying on vague words or phrases. Your query is no time to dissemble. Don’t tell the reader that some exciting, unexpected thing happens, tell them EXACTLY what that exciting, unexpected thing is.
  3. Stay focused! (Don’t be too specific!) Don’t overwhelm your reader with too many details. Pick the salient points and don’t dilute them.

 All of that said, strong queries come from meager beginnings, and the query below is anything but meager.

“For thousands of years, war has raged between the children of angels: the militant and bloodthirsty Hunters hold to a sacred mission in persecuting their ‘sinful’ nephilim brethren, and the Watchers. Led by a man believed to be the avatar of the Hunters’ patron angel, (Consider making this focus on why the Hunters want Alex – what does their victory mean for them? For humans? For the world?) In pursuit of their specific nefarious goal, the Hunters have been relentless in their search for a mysterious key to victory—a key hidden within Alex, a seventeen year-old Watcher girl.

Whew! There’s a lot of information packed into that paragraph, but it’s slightly off-point. There’s a lot of effort spent on WHO the players in this war are and not much on WHY they’re fighting. For the sake of a query, I’d encourage you to make this snappy to give the reader an understanding of why this war matters. What are they fighting for? Why should I, the reader, invest? Skip the who. The intrigue is in the why.

She would use it to save her people if she could, but there’s a problem.

She has no idea what the key is.  (Consider cutting. On the heels of the previous statement, this feels anti-climactic. Also, resist the urge to characterize her in the midst of establishing the stakes. You do a very fine job of that in the next paragraph. )

Alex knows it’s only a matter of time until the Hunters catch her. After years of living on the run being a threat to everyone she loves (Since this will be key, can you be more specific? What happens that she arrives at this decision?), she’s ready to give up. (I’ve done a bit of aggressive restructuring here to drive the point home in a more direct way. See what you think of my changes.) While attempting to lure the Hunters to her, she accidentally befriends Connor, a human boy. (I’d urge you to be more specific here. This seems to be the actual crux of your plot, so don’t sell it short! What is she doing and why does Connor get sucked in?) Through his friendship, Alex begins to regain her hope, but it’s short-lived: the Hunters have caught a pair of Watchers, and they’re (Again, this is unnecessary information that hinders our understanding of what’s going on. Consider staying closer to the most salient action points!) are planning an attack that could obliterate the Watchers completely. To save her people and protect Connor, Alex will have to overcome her despair, find her will to fight (These are both abstract challenges. I wonder if you can make them more specific by fleshing out the above?), and confront the truth about the key. If she uses it, she can lead the Watchers to victory, but the key has a cost: her life. (Exciting! Make sure we really understand what has happened to make her crave life at this point so this feels as tense as you want it to.)

Told from the perspectives of three characters, A MURDER OF ANGELS is a YA dark fantasy, complete at 82,000 words. With its monstrous interpretation of nephilim lore, strong elements of horror, and emotionally complex characters, I believe the novel will appeal to readers of Brenna Yovanoff’s The Space Between and Brodi Ashton’s Everneath. It is my debut.


If you have any thoughts or questions, the comments are open, but please keep it constructive. No douchebaggery allowed.

3 thoughts on “Query Critique/Workshop: A MURDER OF ANGELS (YA Dark Fantasy)

  1. I should add that whenever I do a query crit, I focus on the pitch instead of the dressing. Intro/closing statements are so personal that I rarely feel like I should comment on them. That said, I think the closing on this is strong and I would only suggest an opening line that’s specific to the agent you’re contacting.

    Also, I queries are so tough. I think of them as collaborative projects. If the author wants to contact me, please feel free!

  2. Thanks again for the awesome critique! I’ve tried a new draft, and I think I’m getting closer. Maybe. Your crit provided a very useful guide as I was rewriting. Seriously, thank you 😀

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