Agent Insider on Queries…

AVAILABLE FROM 21st March until 28th March!

Okay, so I’m going to offer a NO HOLDS BARRED query offer here.  This is NOT for the faint of heart, so if you’re a delicate flower, I would sincerely ask you to sit this one out.  However, if you are gutsy, have a metal-spine, and don’t mind some seriously honest feedback…read on…

There are lots of pitch workshops, lots of query critiques, and lots of advice on the Internet for aspiring writers on how to hook an agent or editor.  I’ve partaken in plenty of these too, and they are super useful.  However, sometimes it’s good to know simply – does my query work or not?  Would you pass on it or give it a shot?

DISCLAIMER:  I am but ONE person with ONE opinion.  This is a subjective business.  I have worked with two agencies, primarily working through the inbox and incoming submissions, but also working on full manuscripts and edits.  I partake in contests such as Pitch Madness and Pitch Wars as a host or co-host, and I am used to seeing plenty of things come through the slush pile.  But again, I am A SUBJECTIVE OPINION.

So what does all that have to do with you?

Simple.  You post your query and first 250 words.  I will give you a straight up – yes, I’d pass it to the agent.  No, I wouldn’t.  Or a “Let me think this over, as it’s almost there but I don’t quite want to reject yet”.  Those last ones are the ones that take me the longest to reply to, btw.  I will even tell you why or why not I’d pass or take the sub further.

Please, please remember this is totally subjective and from an agent intern (not an agent), but I do have a pretty good vibe of what the agents look for.  Also, I will reiterate – only go ahead if you can handle 100% honest.

Alright then – see you in the comments!!

92 thoughts on “Agent Insider on Queries…

  1. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    Something far more sinister than nightmares follows sixteen-year-old Sierra Callahan to White Falls, Ohio.

    Riley Walker’s summer plans didn’t include falling for the new girl, especially one with all the baggage this one brought with her.

    When Sierra’s stalker disappears his parents suspect her and vow to destroy those responsible.

    Sierra is determined to regain control of her life – even if that means breaking the law. Riley is desperate to protect her and to keep her safe he’ll break a few of his own.

    FRACTURED SPIRIT is an 85,000 word YA romantic suspense available upon request.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.


    Kaylee Knight

    From my hiding place, at the back of the church, I watched as people dressed in their Sunday best, filtered in. Soon the only seats left were those reserved for immediate family. There were so many flowers that someone had cleared a path to the altar.

    Two hundred people speaking in hushed tones filled the air with a steady hum. When it suddenly got quiet, I looked to my left and found Father Andrew standing only a few feet away. It was time. I got in line next to my mom. She took my hand and squeezed. I tried to smile but it came out like a grimace. With my free hand I brushed, at my new dress, for imaginary lint so no one could see my hands tremble. On cue we walked down the center aisle, me with my head slightly bent so as not to make eye contact with anyone.

    At the front of the church, we slid into the pew and waited. Despite, my best efforts I could not avoid looking at the rectangular box that held what was left of my dad. Over the next hour, I tried to take comfort from the many kind words and prayers but it was no use.

    My mom, sat to my left. Her eyes glued to the coffin while her hands destroyed one tissue after another. I looked to my right and pretended not to see the tears in my cousin, Justin’s eyes.


  2. Dear Fiona McLaren

    I have submitted my query and first 250 words for your perusal and look forward for your comments thanks for the oppurtunity.


    Seventeen-year-old Misty Hunter hates falling asleep. Everyone in the underworld believes that she is the crowned Messiah, predestined to redeem the condemned souls. Discovering that she is on their commander’s most wanted lists doesn’t help either.
    When Misty meets Juan, the new hunk in her community, all she wants is to fall in love and live an average teenage life, but her relationship is soon threatened by the inheritance of a mischievous demon whose only mission is to transport her into the grasp of his cohorts.
    Amidst crazy tales of shadow riders, dark princes and mystical ancestors, Misty unwillingly unearths the hidden secrets of the underworld that could release her community from the control of an evil ruler.
    I HAD A DREAM, is a Young Adult Urban Fantasy of 99,350 words. It is a story of romance, mystery and a lot of adventure, based in a parallel world. Per your submission guidelines, I have pasted the first five pages of my manuscript below.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Yours Sincerely
    Denese Young-Williams

    Excerpt: The air in the cave was tense with the anticipation of the heist, creatures and critters alike stood silent and motionless as their commander pace the hard floor with swift scraping motions. The greatly anticipated day had finally arrived. The troops had been trained and were prepared for the effortless battle that was ahead.

    Diego smiles his satisfaction; he knew the humans would be no match for him. The sound of someone approaching breaks his rumination.

    ‘What is it?’ Diego’s nostrils flare at the interruption.

    ‘Something is happening, your Highness.’ The queen drops to her knees in front of him.


    ‘Master, someone has blocked the portal.’

    ‘Impossible,’ Diego’s voice bellows like thunder through the expanse of the dark cave. Impatiently, he swerves his hand through the air. Nothing appears. Again he repeats the brisk movements, still nothing.
    ‘How could this be?’ He whispers angrily, stroking his clean shaven head, ‘who could have done this?’

    ‘I do not know.’ The answer was barely audible.

    ‘But you will find out, no one can deter my plans.’


    Diego turns in the direction of the queen who was now making an attempt to get of her knees.

    ‘Find her,’ he orders, ‘now!’

    Without waiting for a second command the queen scrambles out of the frosty room.

    Diego turns towards the direction of the now invisible portal, lifting his head into the air he lets out a bellow from deep within the depths of his being.

    Somewhere in New Jersey his roar mingles with the distinctive cry of a newborn girl.


  3. Dear Agent,

    Spending time with a dead guy, being interrogated by the cops and getting stitched up by a cute ER doc wasn’t exactly the evening plans private investigator Kimberly Murphy envisioned. Especially the getting caught standing over a dead body, again, part. Only this time it wasn’t her fault. Just once she’d like it if homicide detective Grant Tompkins didn’t assume she was guilty.

    To clear her slightly tarnished name, Kim goes after the clever killer while avoiding a certain hot homicide detective determined to put her in handcuffs – and not the pink, fuzzy kind – not that she’d mind. Too bad Kim’s efforts lead to dead ends and even more dead bodies. Kim will need all her skills and a bit of luck to outwit a killer who’d like to put an end to Kim’s meddling permanently.

    DEATH BY HIGH HEELS, a 75,000 word mystery available upon request.

    Thank you for your time.

    Violet Ingram

    Cops hate it when you vomit all over their crime scene – a mistake I had no desire to repeat. Then again, the fact that I’d just trampled all over this scene was probably a whole new mistake I should have avoided. I stared at the corpse and fought the urge to hurl. If only I hadn’t answered the door, I’d be eating dinner instead of standing in my neighbor’s apartment looking at a dead guy.

    Said dead guy was just sitting there in the chair. You would think he was asleep – if not for all the blood and guts spilled onto his lap. I tore my eyes from him and asked the question I most wanted the answer to.

    “What the heck did you hit him with?”

    Lindsay dropped the strand of blonde hair she’d been twirling and glanced down at the floor. “My shoe.”


    “I’ve already told you. Twice. I hit him with my shoe.”

    “Damn it, Lindsay, you can’t kill someone with a shoe!”

    “Hello, they’re Via Spiga.”

    “Ugh.” I glared.

    There was no way in hell she had done this kind of damage with a shoe. If she had, women would soon be saying goodbye to their much-beloved accessory. Men-even NRA members- would insist on an instant ban of the deadly yet sexy weapon.

    I set my hands on my hips. “Any idea how he got this giant hole in his stomach?”

    “What? No, I hit him and ran.” Lindsay’s face paled and she leaned against the doorframe.


  4. Dear Ms McLaren,

    Sisters Madie and Allie fight over more than just clothes and boyfriends. Conceived as twins, with one huge difference, Allie didn’t survive. Madie has everything, friends, popularity, a fancy new car and most of all…a body. Allie enviously lives vicariously through her twin watching, waiting…wanting. That is until one day Allie discovers a way that she can live her sister’s life. Souls of the Chimera is a young adult paranormal novel about 77000 words in length.

    At sixteen Madie is used to her twin sister’s ghost hanging around. Allie is interfering and often annoying, but Madie is fiercely loyal…and forgiving of her sister’s antics. The sisters have a bond like no other. They even share a body now and then. Life is as normal as it can be under the circumstances…until Allie, naively makes a deal with an evil demon named Allegra. Madie has her soul forcefully ripped from her body leaving her to fend for herself in a strange world full of demons and spirits that prey on the weak. Madie joins forces with an unlikely ally Demetri, a demon with his own agenda. Together they must race against an impossible deadline, and evil forces to save the twin’s souls from a fate worse than death.

    This story is a true testament to how far sisters will go to protect each other, even when they sometimes hate each other. Souls of the Chimera is the ultimate showcase of sibling rivalry and the true principle that family comes first, no matter the cost.

    Thank you for considering my submission. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Cynthia Stacey


    My hands won’t stop shaking and now my eyes look like racoons. I sigh in frustration throwing the offending mascara at the wall. “Crap,” I look at Allie who is smirking at me from my bed. “Seriously, can you not find somewhere else to be, rather than bothering me?”


    My hands ball into fists at my side and without thinking; I pick up my lipstick and throw it at her aiming for the center of her forehead. It hits the wall behind her. She doesn’t even blink.

    “Nice,” her grin disappears replaced with a dirty look. “You know you can’t hit me.”

    “Oh but it is so satisfying to try.” I ignore her and go back to attempting to get ready. My mascara is nowhere to be found. I grind my teeth in an attempt to calm down.

    “Why are you so nervous?” Allie whispers behind my ear causing me to jump. I didn’t notice her stealth move behind me.

    “Shit Allie, you know I hate when you do that.” I’m freaking out. Cameron will be here any minute and I’m not ready.

    “Relax,” she shrugs like it’s no big deal.

    “Seriously?” I look at her in exasperation. “You and I both know how much of a big deal this is.”

    “It’s just a party.”

    OMG, I can’t believe she said that. “It is my sweet 16 party and as we both know, it is a miracle I even have a date…let alone a super cute, hot date.


  5. This is an “almost” for me. The query feels overly mysterious (kind of like a movie voice over), so I'd suggest editing it to segue it together more smoothly. Also, I can't decide if this is a single or dual POV book. I think single, but that second sentence throws me off. Clarify the pitch and it'll be much stronger.

    Writing – Much better than your query led me to believe it would be. Concrete, nice word usage “hiding” “could not avoid” “destroyed” “It was time” “pretended”.

    Overall – writing is good enough for more of a read, but with a shaky query it wouldn't have jumped out for me and would be on my “wait” list.


  6. Okay, this is hard, but it would be a no. However, the reasons are really easy to change this to a yes. Let me explain why…

    Query – simply put,predestined MCs are a very tough sell. Not that they can't sell, but it is tough. That aside, the query needs to be tightened. You actually had me sold (despite the predestined issue) until the last part of the pitch “Amidst crazy tales of shadow riders, dark princes and mystical ancestors..” felt unspecific to me.

    Writing – this was good. I really liked it. And then I realized it was a prologue. Prologues don't do well (they can usually ALWAYS go). If you lose the prologue and tighten the end of your pitch, this would go on my “waiting to decide list” (which is not a bad place to be!).


  7. Dear Ms McLaren,

    Avery Mann’s biggest worry before his eleventh birthday is avoiding atomic wedgies from Max “The Wild Thing” Lovell. However, his fear of overstretched underwear vanishes when he becomes an unsuspecting pawn in a supernatural chess match between wise-guy magi, scheming witches, fiendish monsters, and storybook villains come to life. Getting dragged into an inter-dimensional conspiracy to re-shape the world into a twisted fantasyland throws a flying monkey wrench into his summer plans, which did not include magically bonding himself to a murderous raven or making fishy deals with Long John Silver. Worse yet, Avery's only chance to get out of this tangled web is to free the Wicked Witch of the East from Dante's Inferno. And if he fails, his family will wake up to a different world, his newfound friends will be killed or imprisoned, and he'll never finish reading his Ultimate Spider-Man collection.

    THE UNBELIEVEABLE MISADVENTURES OF AVERY MANN is a 69,000 word long middle-grade contemporary fantasy book.

    I am an award-winning writer in the role-playing game industry and an active member of the SCBWI. I also have a master’s degree in Library and Information Science with a focus on children services and literature.

    This is a simultaneous submission. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Joseph Miller


    The walled garden in Kensington Park wasn't as impenetrable as Superman’s Fortress of Solitude or high-tech as the Batcave, but it made the perfect hideout. It was a place where I could read comics, practice magic tricks, and avoid trouble, especially my arch-enemy Max “The Wild Thing” Lovell.

    Not to mention it was quiet here, too.

    Chip! Chip! Chip!


    Three baby chipmunks poked their heads out of a rose bush.

    “Again?” I tossed them the last few peanuts from my lunch bag.

    They dashed out, stuffed their chubby cheeks, and raced back home. Not even a thanks. Oh well, what could I say? I was always a sucker for animals.

    A breeze blew through the gazebo, bringing with it the scent of white and purple roses. I breathed in. Mmmm. The garden smelled so much better than the bushes behind Ms. Crabtree’s compost heap—which had made a great hiding spot last year, but required nose-plugs and deodorant sprays.

    I glanced at my watch. It was almost noon on the first full day of summer vacation and nobody had bothered me here. Not my six older brothers. Not Max. Not—


    A piece of paper flew into my face.

    “Gah!” I yanked the thing off me, ready to rip it into subatomic particles, but then the word, “Magic” caught my eye. A thrill fluttered up from the bottom of my stomach to the back of my neck as I shoved the flapping flyer against the ground.


  8. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    On the day 10-year-old Sara Lew’s dad marries Charlotte “Potty Lottie” Stepp, Sara goes from being a favored only child to the only girl in a house full of unruly, red-headed “Stepp” brothers. And when her dad and the new step-monster leave the kids alone to go on their honeymoon, things get particularly bad for Sara. She escapes to the forbidden BookHouse on Sour Grapes Lane, where she meets Randalf the Lizard. He invites her into the spooky house and shows her a magical library full of books with titles she almost recognizes. Randalf tells her she can slip into any book she wants, but she’ll want to choose carefully. The right story can help her with almost any problem.

    Sara’s a little hesitant, at first. She doesn’t see how books like “Hairy Pauper” or “Lord of the Onion Rings” can help her get rid of some unwanted house guests. But, on a particularly bad day with the boys, she flees to the BookHouse and falls into the story of “Alex in Danderland”. Unfortunately she didn’t pick this story and having tea with the Bad Hatter hasn’t given Sara any ideas about how to get back at her new stepbrothers. But, if she listens to what the Cheshire Cat-erpillar has to say, maybe the Queen of Parts can help. Of course, rumors in Danderland warn that dealing for parts with the Queen always comes with a price.

    Sara decides to take her chances. If she can get the right “part” she needs to help her survive life with the Stepps, it might all be worth it. Of course, all the parts in the world won’t matter if she can’t find her way out of one particular storybook.

    My MG/Contemporary Fantasy novel, SARA AND THE STEPPS, is complete at 40,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


    Donea Lee Weaver

    Sara pressed her fingers gingerly against the back screen door and tried to open it as quietly as possible. As she slunk through the smallest opening she could fit through, she raised her eyes to the sky. The sun hovered just above the fields to the east of her house. It was still early and, as far as she could tell, she was the only one awake. Gripping her roller blades in her left hand, it was the last part of her body outside before she turned and closed the screen door behind her with a soft ‘clink’.

    She sat down on the porch to put her blades on. As she started lacing them up, she glared up at the sun and the blue, blue sky. She stuck her tongue out at the fat robins tweeting away in their trees. A tawny cat strolled by, minding its own business, and Sara hissed at it. The poor thing jumped about a mile high and scurried away once it landed on solid ground again. Sara blew out a big, long puff of air and shook her head.
    It was her Dad’s wedding day today. And Sara had wished for thunder and bucket-loads of rain.

    She wobbled up onto her feet and glided over to the garage to fetch her purple street-hockey stick, helmet and safety pads. Sara strapped on her gear and knocked the end of her stick against both her blades. She was in the mood for a serious game today.


  9. This is on my “wait” list. I love the twin and sister angle. I would love to see more of that come through my inbox. Really. The query is professional and strong. Demons can be a little overdone, so this is why I'm dithering query wise. As for the writing – again, strong and clean. I like the “teen” feel it has. However, I think the snark while good is also hard to sell at the moment. By all means, keep the snark, but have a line or two in there that helps soften your reader to one of the sisters. As it stands, I didn't connect fully to one of the sisters straight away. It's an almost. I'd ask another intern to look over this actually.


  10. This almost gets a yes, but rests in my maybe pile. The query is a little overblown for me, and a lot gets lost in details and sub plots. I can tell it's going to be a lot of fun, but if I have to read your query twice it makes me wonder at your ability for concision.

    The writing – strong, full of voice, and a lovely way to connect the reader to the MC by having sympathy with animals. There's a lot of skill in the writing, so it'd be on my “wait” list and probably would get through to the agent after I unscrambled your query. 😉


  11. Oh gosh, you are making this very hard indeed. I want to say a HUGE big yes to this…BUT…I'm not quite there yet. You have an awesome premise and wonderful skill in writing, but your query reads more like a short synopsis than a pitch. You need to trim it back. As for the writing – again, you have wonderful writing, but by having Sara hiss at the cat and stick her tongue out at the robins, it made me dislike her. I get that she's in a horrible mood, but show a little softness amidst the bad mood, and you'll truly hook the reader.

    I would end up passing this to my agent, but I'd have been SO much more enthusiastic with a little character softening in the opening. If that was done, I'd even ignore the fact your query rambles. I really love this, but it needs some tweaking!


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