Query Critique: Dealers of Light

The Query

Dear Ms. Gardner:

Moira is a nurse practitioner with a hidden talent, one she knows little about- the ability to send healing energy she calls “Light” into others to augment healing. When one of her patients dies in her arms passing along not only a powerful gift, but a dire warning of doom, Moira discovers that cast into the darkness of society are people who thrive on “taking” the Light and torturing their victims.

When unexplained deaths linked to these Takers begin to escalate and one of her patients is targeted, Moira is drawn into the conflict and discovers the Takers have plans more sinister than murder. They plan to spread their evil and enslave the entire east coast using the catalyst of a dangerous, primordial artifact.

An attack on Moira is thwarted by the appearance of a mysterious, but alluring, stranger with ancient knowledge of Light. After she discovers this stranger is immortal, her growing attraction to him complicates her destiny even more. Moira must decide if she trusts him enough join his quest against the Takers and develop their relationship.

Moira’s path leads her to understand that following her heart is part of the talisman that will defeat the evil, but only if she learns how to use her gift in time.

DEALERS OF LIGHT is my paranormal romance of 92,000 words. I am seeking representation for this novel. I appreciate your time and kind consideration of this work.

A. Writer

My Response

I really like what I see here. I’ve made some comments below, but mostly the query just needs smoothing out. I was interested after I read the query, but then when I read the pages I was even more interested (and I was bummed when I came to the end of the sample pages!)

I like how the query starts right into the pitch for the novel. It’s a little over 200 words, a nice length. The last paragraph tells me the title, word count and genre, which is about all I need. If there’s no other pertinent information to share, might as well keep it short and sweet! This is a great example of a query that doesn’t try too hard to oversell, or to tell me all about the writer’s background and whatnot. It just lets the story sell itself. Love that!

Paragraph #1: The second sentence is awkward. First, it’s too long and should probably be two sentences. Then, the grammatical construction of “cast into the darkness of society are people…” is weak. Additionally, the reader won’t know what “cast into the darkness of society” even means. The first paragraph could be more powerful if the sentences were more smoothly constructed and avoided making the reader feel immediately confused.

Paragraph #2: This paragraph is better. It’s pretty good up to “the catalyst.” I have a feeling that again, you’ve either awkwardly constructed this sentence, or you’re wrongly using the word “catalyst.” Also, a “dangerous primordial artifact” is meaningless for the reader since we don’t know what it is or how it would be used. I’d actually cut it, and end the paragraph after “entire east coast.”

The rest of the query looks good! I requested a partial and look forward to reading this manuscript.

Readers: Your thoughts?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Tom on March 30, 2010 at 10:07 PM

    >I never considered pitching to Rachelle because I read her submission guidelines. No fantasy, and I have a fantasy novel. What makes this different, I wonder.

  2. Rick Barry on March 25, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    >I appreciate that your response illustrates there is no single cookie-cutter template for queries. For instance, your March 18 critique expressed that you liked having the word count and genre in the first sentence. But this author saved those details for the end, and that was fine with you. So perhaps one lesson is that the order of the ingredients isn't as crucial as developing a delicious overall recipe?

  3. Random Thinker on March 25, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    >I want to read this book. She has me hooked.

    And I love your detailed explanations of your thought process. Thank you!

  4. Glynis on March 25, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    >I am not in a postion to comment on how good or bad the query is. I am still to get to this point of my writing career.
    I did think the story had a bite of something good, and I am not surprised you asked to read more Rachelle.

    I wish the author good luck for the future.

  5. Em-Musing on March 25, 2010 at 6:44 AM

    >So far, I'm loving how you're critiquing. Your gentle way is very effective.

  6. Anonymous on March 25, 2010 at 2:42 AM

    >First paragraph was a little awkward, but the rest works for me. If the sample pages are good, why fret over the query letter?

  7. mkcbunny on March 24, 2010 at 9:57 PM

    >My first thought after reading this query was, "Dang, that's a good query."

    It felt a little cumbersome in the places Rachelle already mentioned, which gave me a general feeling of its being overlong, but I read right through those areas anyway.

    But overall, I got a real sense of forward motion and story with this query. Good luck to the author!

  8. Rachelle on March 24, 2010 at 9:21 PM

    >Jacqueline, if people hadn't already responded to your comment, I'd have deleted it. I disagree with your tone as well as your conclusion. In future, please be respectful when commenting on my blog. Thanks.

  9. Jacqueline Lichtenberg on March 24, 2010 at 6:03 PM


    Perfect analysis. Thank you.

  10. Lucy on March 24, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    >Jacqueline Lichtenberg said…

    I found this query to be fraught with signals that say the author does not know how to WRITE, nevermind write a query, which is a piece of marketing copy, not fiction.
    Now, would anyone care to show me what I've done wrong with this query rewrite?


    Well, for one thing, you've managed to completely lose the lovely and contemplative tone that the author captured.

    For another, your re-write and comments come across as screamingly arrogant, and I don't find that attractive.

    I would read the manuscript based on the author's original query. I would not read it based on this so-called "re-write."

    Kudos to this author for getting a request for pages. I'm not at all surprised, and I imagine a number of agents beside Rachelle would also make requests.

    L.C. Blackwell

  11. Livia on March 24, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    >Looks like an interesting story! Although I was surprised that you requested a partial because I would have categorized it as sci fi/fantasy.

  12. Jacqueline Lichtenberg on March 24, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    >Timothy Fish:

    Excellent analysis. That was precisely my point.

    A well styled query projects the genre market the work should sell to.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  13. Jacqueline Lichtenberg on March 24, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    >I found this query to be fraught with signals that say the author does not know how to WRITE, nevermind write a query, which is a piece of marketing copy, not fiction. I'm glad the MS shows solid craftsmanship.

    The query is written from an ineffectual point of view, so all the phrasing comes out "weak."

    What does it mean "weak?"

    It means "passive" and that means grammatically passive voice.

    Also, every sentence is STATIC, describing a situation but not how the situation changes. Moira "must do," or Moira "is forced to" — which is what makes it sound and feel "weak."

    Here's how I would rewrite this query — which might mean rewriting the novel. I'll just make up bits to fill in what's missing.

    Moira hides her most treasured talent even from herself, the talent to Heal. She dares to become only a nurse practitioner, not a doctor.

    Her ability to send healing energy she calls “Light” into others manifests when a tortured patient dies in her arms, sucked dry of "Light" by mysterious sadists called Takers.

    When another patient is targeted, Moira plunges into the underworld of The Takers to save him.

    But The Takers are using an ancient talisman to increase their numbers so they can enslave the east coast. Her patient becomes a Taker and turns on her siphoning her Light away.

    A mysterious, but alluring, stranger with ancient knowledge of Light snatches her from certain death.

    And this stranger is an Immortal.

    Despite her growing attraction to him, Moira decides to join his campaign against the Takers.

    She follows her heart into a deepening relationship with him and finds the courage to pit her gift of Light against the Takers.

    DEALERS OF LIGHT is my paranormal romance of 92,000 words. I am seeking representation for this novel. I appreciate your time and kind consideration of this work.

    A. Writer

    If it were my novel series, she'd be graduating Medical School at the opening of the next novel.

    Now, would anyone care to show me what I've done wrong with this query rewrite?

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  14. lauradroege on March 24, 2010 at 3:43 PM

    >I think everybody else has covered the main points of what I wanted to say. It's not my typical genre, so I can't say I would read it. But congrats to "A. Writer" for getting Rachelle to request a partial. 🙂

    One question. I noticed the author didn't say anything about previous publications (stories, etc.) or platform (ie, a blog that reaches bunches of people, etc.). Does including this info in the query make any difference in whether agents request a partial or not?

    Obviously, platform and marketing ideas will come into play at some point, but I wondered if some info on this might be good to include in the last paragraph.

  15. Ca.ll.y on March 24, 2010 at 2:56 PM

    >Hey! I think this writer is in my writing class! Way to go, girl! Lasso them words! (Hahaha. Inside joke.)

    Okay, wait. If that is not actually her query, then somebody else wrote her book. With, I might add, a very similar writing style.

  16. Jana Dean on March 24, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    >Rachelle, so very helpful to see your query critiques. Thank you for this series–

    the MC's name is Moira vs. Moria, so no Middle Earth toes stepped on quite yet–


  17. Karen on March 24, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    >I have a question about paranormal romances…This query says it's a paranormal romance, but it's different than the typical ones with vampires, werewolves, fallen angels, etc. Are editors shying away from the 'typical' paranormal romance? It just seems like there have been so many. I know it's a popular genre now, but is it starting to fade out in the acquiring stage?

  18. Reesha on March 24, 2010 at 1:22 PM

    >:D This is a book I would want to read.

    I actually really, really liked the part about the ancient artifact.

    To me, that line tells me that the story is linked to different time periods than just the one in which the main story takes place. It tells me that the scope of the story is big, and yet the query was focused enough on Moira to let me know the story isn't overbearingly steeped in its own history.

    I'm a sucker for any story that has one or more of the following three things:
    1. Journals or mysterious books
    2. Ancient Artifacts
    3. Biological warfare

    😀 I'm sure I'm alone in this, but after reading this query, I wanted to say "And it has an artifact in it! Sweet!"

  19. ChrisB on March 24, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    >How about posting the sample?

  20. M Clement Hall on March 24, 2010 at 12:11 PM

    >Surely what really matters is, "Will enough people want to buy this?"
    Which depends on, "Is this an interesting and original story line?"
    Yes perfect punctuation (for which read, the way CMS does it) is nice, but that's fixable.
    Dull and unoriginal stories are not fixable.

  21. marthawarner on March 24, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    >Like the others pointed out, it needs a little finesse but it sounds like one that I would take to the check out! I would read it just based on this. Good job.

  22. Liberty Speidel on March 24, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    >Other than what's been pointed out, I liked it (and I don't read paranormal, but would possibly consider reading this!)

    Thanks for another good query critique! Got me thinking about how to improve the one I submitted…

  23. Brandi Schmidt on March 24, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    >I like it! I read paranormal all the time. My only concern is her name. "Moria" is middle earth in The Lord of The Rings so it's an awkward name for me. I would much rather see a name like Maria or Mary.

    Otherwise – can’t wait to read it.


  24. wonderer on March 24, 2010 at 11:20 AM

    >I was surprised when I got to the end and realized it was a paranormal romance. If it were me, I'd emphasize the romance more in the description. But clearly it didn't stop Rachelle from being intrigued, so kudos to the writer!

  25. Mira on March 24, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    >Oh, cool. Thanks so much, Rachelle, for showing us a successful query. That's really helpful – to see what works.

    Best of luck to the writer – I hope it works out well for you!

  26. Deren Hansen on March 24, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    >In chemistry, a catalyst promotes a reaction.

    Instead of "using the catalyst of a dangerous, primordial artifact," it would be more consistent with standard usage to say, "using a dangerous, primordial artifact as a catalyst."

  27. GunDiva on March 24, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    >I'd want to read it. It intrigued me.

  28. Katie V on March 24, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    >This story sounds intriguing! I'm surprised though, I thought you didn't care for speculative, Rachelle?

  29. Maryann Miller on March 24, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    >This reads like a query that the author spent a long time polishing the first paragraph, then was more lax with the others. Like most comments here, I found the ensuing paragraphs less concise and clear. So I guess the point is that we need to work on all the paragraphs as if they were the opening one.

  30. T. Anne on March 24, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    >The premise sounds interesting. If I were an agent I would have eagerly read the first five pages and hoped for stellar writing. Congrats to the author.

  31. Jessi Adams, WORD DOCTOR on March 24, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    >First, kudos to the writer for intriguing us with an interesting storyline!

    I'd have to agree with most posters here that the query's a little clunky. I thought the second sentence should have come first because I had to stop and reread the first one to understand the order in which the events occurred.

    Good writing never causes the reader to get disconnected from the story. So I agree that punctuation and flow are important.

    I appreciate these query critiques, Rachelle. Thanks!

  32. Obe on March 24, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    >I get that good feeling about this book reading the query. It's definitely a story that would catch my interest. I know authors have a lot riding on their initial push to get a partial or a full. I think this author did an awesome job and judging from the other comments many agree. I can't wait to see this in the store. Love that title too Dealers of Light makes me think of people buying and selling life. Can't wait to find out more about this author.. Yummy stuff and no I'm not a paranormal reader but as a history buff this is appealing.

  33. Jessica Nelson on March 24, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    >I don't read much fantasy, sci-fi, or paranormal but I definitely found the Takers plot intriguing, plus the romance. 🙂
    For the query itself, I think the plot points/set up in the query could be smoother and more focused. I felt like there might be too many details…yet those details set up questions that made me want to read the story, :-), so it's definitely an effective query.
    Nice job!

  34. Elizabeth Poole on March 24, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    >My feelings were pretty much the same as echoed above: liked the idea, thought the wording was a little awkward. I read my writing out loud to find trouble spots, especially something as short as a query letter. Try to read the sentences out loud, and you will immediately see the chunkiness of the sentences we mentioned. Other than that, it’s great! Short, sweet, and to the point!

    Rachelle, would you be so kind as to elaborate further on what exactly about a book idea intrigues you? I know that it’s going to be different for every agent, since everyone has their preferences, but I am curious what exactly about this idea made you request a partial, since this query is still fresh in everyone’s heads.

    Good job!

  35. Rowenna on March 24, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    >Though this is not something I'd read, the plot is clear and the writing strong in this query (I'm just not a paranormal fan). I had the same two quibbles that Mr. Fish had–I was unclear on whether the "gift" mentioned was her light-giving ability or something more, so I was confused on the order of events (did she already have this ability, then gain more from the patient, or was the patient's death the beginning?). But that will be easy as pie to clarify. And the east coast thing raised more bad questions than good ones–why the east coast? Did their evil lack the ability to cross either oceans or mountains to move east or west? (Kidding, of course, but I had this image of a shrinking evil batwing creature shouting "Drats! Thwarted by the mountains again! Will limit tyranny to east coast only…") I'm sure it's explained beautifully in the book, but for the query, maybe saying something more generic, like "entire cities," would actually work better than specifics.

    My only other nitpick–I find it reads cornier than it ought to when words like "destiny" and "her path" are used, just because these are common fallbacks. Try for more unique wording that isn't quite as overused.

    Other than that, really readable and engaging! Perfectly sized paragraphs, too, in my opinion–no hunks of text and no snippets, either. Best wishes with this!!

  36. sharonbially on March 24, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    >Agreed: good query, minor flaws aside. I like the notion of starting directly in with the story, kind of like a press release, and including the book's specs (title, genre, word count) at the end. Standard query advice usually says put those things up front, but this is better!

  37. Sharon A. Lavy on March 24, 2010 at 6:57 AM

    >Iris Johanson is my favorite author. This query reminds me a bit of her writing. So yes, when will this be in the stores?

  38. Timothy Fish on March 24, 2010 at 6:47 AM

    >I could see myself reading something like this, so I think the story has potential. But the query is a little rough. I felt the first sentence could have been worded better. It mentions the hidden talent and then mentions she knows little about it before finally going back and saying what it is. I would rather it read, “Moira, a nurse practitioner, knows little of her hidden talent of sending healing energy called Light into others to augment healing.”

    The second sentence messed with me because it isn’t clear whether we’re talking about the talent that was just mentioned or another gift. I hope it isn’t another gift. That would be bad form.

    In the second paragraph, it talks about a plot to enslave the entire east coast. Why the east coast? Is there some boundary that keeps them there? Why not the whole country or the world? Hitler had plans to rule the world and all he had going for him was a eloquent tongue, a bunch of intelligent engineers and an army. This appears to be a Monster in the House story, so I would like to see the walls of the house more clearly defined.

    But like I said, I could see myself reading this.

  39. Krista Phillips on March 24, 2010 at 6:02 AM

    >Nice! Congrats to author!!

  40. Nic on March 24, 2010 at 4:10 AM

    >I actually want to read this, it sounds interesting. I stumbled through the query but wouldn't mind reading it.

  41. Anonymous on March 24, 2010 at 3:34 AM

    >I found the query letter to be awkwardly worded and confusing. If the query is a sample of the writing, I would think that the book may have the same issue. But, here's the thing, I really thought the story was a great idea and it would be something that I'd pick up in a bookstore; therefore, I would've requested pages too if I were an agent. I think it goes to show that the query doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to be good enough to get the book in the door. The book will sell itself.

  42. The Alliterative Allomorph on March 24, 2010 at 2:41 AM

    >Sounds like a pretty amazing story. The only problem I had with the query was the punctuation. I kept having to reread sentences because they didn't flow properly. But all in all I quite liked it. And I didn't really mind that I didn't know what he/she was referring to with 'dangerous primordal artifact', it actually made me want to read the ms and find out!

  43. blissful_e on March 24, 2010 at 2:13 AM

    >When will this be in stores? I want to read it! 🙂

  44. Ronda Laveen on March 24, 2010 at 1:13 AM

    >Pretty much the same. It was no frills, straight to the point and into the story. It was a little awkward and confusing, as you point out. And even though I have been a student of the Light many years, I found myself re-reading a few of those sentences. I kept stumbling on them.They blocked the flow of the query.