Query Critique 51

Dear Agent,

I’m seeking representation for my ~80,000-word manuscript, Second Time Lucky, a women’s fiction novel with romantic elements and feminist undertones, set in the USA and India. You can just say 80,000 words. We assume you’re rounding. Also, put the title in all caps. 

One would think Priya would be used to being second best by now. Try wording this as “Priya should be used to being second best by now.” It’s a little shorter and catchier.

Her mother constantly reminds her that she isn’t capable enough; her (ex-)boyfriend, after stringing her along for years, leaves her for a girl he has loved for several years; she loses her promotion at work to someone whom she trained, because he is “better.” The punctuation in this sentence is a little awkward.

To top it all, when her mother confesses that she has a twin who was given away for adoption, a little research reveals just what she has feared all along: her identical twin is infinitely more successful, happily married with a beautiful child, holds a PhD, and is a professor with internationally bestselling textbooks. Hell, her “identical” twin is even bestowed with a better, more exotic name than her commonplace one, a dimple, and silky hair.

At thirty-one, Priya makes a snap judgement to return home to Chennai, one of the most conservative cities in India, to be judged for being single and childless at her age, and becomes a radio jockey, on a whim. The bit about “being judged for being single and childless…” has sort of awkward wording. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but I’m not quite sure what it means. Also, having “snap judgment” and “on a whim” in the same sentence is a little redundant. When she makes contact with her twin, she meets her twin’s charming ex-boyfriend and neighbor, Kashyap. There’s an undeniable chemistry between them, but she can’t help but wonder: what if she is second best even to him?

She also faces an unexpected challenge – convincing her twin that she is good enough even though she was the one who was given away. All the shes and hers in this sentence make it a little confusing.

My heroine, Priya, cannot be a damsel in distress even if she tried. She doesn’t need rescuing, and she’s strong, opinionated and confident, a real woman whose story I want to read as a feminist. She questions orthodoxy and societal prejudices, and makes controversial decisions on-air, which make for light as well as thought-provoking reading. These are all things I’d rather see developed in the course of the synopsis. See my post on showing vs. telling for more details.

Second Time Lucky is a standalone novel, but it could also work as the first of a series of three books. Priya’s three friends, recurring characters in this book, have interesting stories of their own to tell (with a romantic plot between two of them, very evident towards the end of the first book), should you be interested in this manuscript and the idea of a trilogy. I wouldn’t focus too much on the possible sequels. It distracts from the book you’re actually pitching.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I really look forward to sharing my full manuscript with you.


Second Time Charm

Post Contest Thoughts

I recently participated in Pitch Slam. In the past year I’ve also made some ninja requests on Pitch Wars and Pitch Madness. The contests have actually become a major part of what I do for the agency, so I thought I’d reflect on them.

Every time I look at the entries for these contests I feel like a kid in a candy shop. There are so many good options to choose from. It’s actually a little painful to go back to reading regular inbox slush after, because the contest stuff is so much better. Not that I don’t find good stuff in the slush, but that’s like trying to find a diamond in the rough. Contests are like trying to find a diamond in Tiffany’s.

That said, I can’t request everything I want. Hypothetically I could, but I wouldn’t have time to read it all. In all three contests, I’ve actually probably requested more than I should.

There are a lot of things that influence what I request and what I don’t. First, I’m not actually an agent, so I’m trying to keep in mind my agent’s tastes and wish list. The number of other agents in the contest also affects my choices. Fewer agents means less competition, so I usually request more rather than focusing in on the projects I desperately need. Whether or not I think I’ll have other interns reading stuff I pull also influences how many I take.

Contests like these are sort of a double edge sword. Yes, they will draw agent attention because it is the Tiffany’s of manuscripts. However, it means that instead of your pitch standing out from regular slush, it has to compete against other superstar pitches for attention. That’s why contests like these seem to favor high concept, big idea type books. Quieter books have a harder time competing even if the writing is good.

Almost every entry I look at, I think, “I would probably request pages of that if it came through my inbox.” Or even if it’s something I think is not for me, I always think it could be right for somebody else. The entries are just that good.

One final point, I’m always happy when good books find a home. I get warm fuzzies every time I see somebody has signed with an agent, even if it’s not with our agency. Because I want everyone’s dreams to come true. Also, I just want to be friends with all the writing contest people.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the recent contests I’ve been part of. Excited for the upcoming contests!

Query Critique 50

DEPRAVED is a 55k word commercial fiction piece. Can we pin the genre down a little more specifically. Also, any comparative titles? What age range is this? Young adult? New adult?

We all have our sick secrets, and the characters of Depraved are no different. This opening is a little vague for my tastes. I think the query would be stronger if it addressed a specific character or characters and a specific sick secret. What happens when a humble boy crosses paths with a self-loathing narcissist? Sex, drugs, murder—and that’s only the first night. When Edward ends up in bed with the schools most notorious girl, Jessica Harwell, he falls fast and hard into her drug induced world. I think this would make a better opening sentence than what you have. It’s specific and cuts straight to the conflict. This wild beauty shows him the uninhabited pleasures life has to offer, but hides a sinister agenda all of her own. This doesn’t bode well for young Edward. Again, “sinister agenda” and “doesn’t bode well.” Are sort of vague. Giving specifics would make the query more interesting. Unbeknownst to him, Edward has somehow offended the great and vicious, Sebastian Hartley, who’s made it his mission to destroy the boy from the inside out. This hedonistic bisexual has a way of enthralling all those around him, and in doing so has made a decision to drag Edward into the depths of Hell. Can Edward break free from the desire and vice Jessica provides in time to figure out the dreadful plot Sebastian has in store? Or will he fall into an abyss of sex, drugs, and death? I see that these two sentences are trying to set up stakes, which is good. They come off as a little melodramatic, though. In the process of watching their own lives fall to pieces around them, nobody seems aware of a star-crazed psychopath roaming the streets of their quiet little town. He has a game changing plan that may land everyone in an early grave. The psychopath sort of came out of nowhere. I’d like to see him brought up somewhere sooner. Also, I’d like some indication of why the psychopath has fixated on these three.

This query letter is really pretty short. As I mentioned several times, it’s important not to be too vague about the conflict or stakes. Especially when you have room to flesh out some of the plot points.

Query Critique 49

Dear [Agent Name],

I am seeking representation for RISING THROUGH ASHES, a diverse YA fantasy, complete at 97,000 words.

To Fallon, high castle walls, armed soldiers and cold are not obstacles. This is a good hook. I would like to see “cold” get beefed up so it sounds more intimidating. She relishes her assassination and endurance skills but hates being forcibly dispatched to the land of the birdfolk where she must secure a legendary truth-revealing Red Ink for the king. So, there are a lot of things in here that I don’t quite understand. Lots of worldbuilding that is very sudden. It probably all needs to be in the query, but maybe not all in the same sentence.

But the birdfolk, with feathers for hair and a penchant for face tattoos, are fiercely protective of their magic. Fallon continues her search crossing paths with storytellers and figures out of legends. When a failed excursion results in the birdfolk’s prince hunting for her, Fallon’s escapade leads her to confront a truth from her past – a suppressed history that pushes her to a greater role than she imagined. This is where I’d like to see the stakes ramped up. What happens if she doesn’t get the  Red Ink (why does the king even need it?)? What happens if she fails in this “greater role.” Why should I care if the history stays repressed or not? Work on answering these questions, and you’ll have a much stronger query because the reader will have a real reason to care what happens to the characters.

The manuscript is first in what could be a series. I believe it will appeal to readers of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Leigh Bardugo’s The Grisha Trilogy. Good comp titles.

Thanks for your consideration.
Birds of a Feather

Query Critique 48

Dear Agent,

Twenty-one-year-old Lea Cobb has a legion of fans at her feet, but the man she wants keeps running away.

A former KidCast actress, Lea is making a comeback on a new hit show. I almost like this better as a hook. The leading role of sexy-nerdy African-American college student should get her back on the cover of popular celebrity magazine, Rules of the Stars. I’m a little distracted by the name of the magazine. Is it important? To solidify her rise to fame, she only needs one thing: a steamy guy to show off on the red carpet. Lea sees her chance in the smoking hot Australian body of the last actor to join the show.

Thirty-one-year-old star Joshua Housten accepts the small part hoping for a change of scenery after his catastrophic divorce. Is this the Australian guy, or a different guy? Make it clear. Desperate to escape his past while rebuilding his career and image, he’s determined to follow three hard-and-fast rules: no relationships, no co-stars and no younger women. Easy enough–until he meets Lea, the former child star that makes his body react in a very grown-up way. 

Joshua tries to stymie Lea’s seduction attempts, and as her feelings for him grow, she uses every seductive tool she possesses to convince him rules are meant to be broken. She’s set on winning his love, but the closer she gets, the more he throws up walls. Lea knows one thing for sure: she isn’t ready to take no for an answer, because if Joshua chooses his rules, he’ll break her heart. Overall, I would say this is a pretty solid query letter. Good sense of setting and conflict. If at all possible, I’d like to get a little more indication what their personalities are like. 

Told from Lea and Joshua’s POV, RULES OF THE STARS is an Adult Contemporary Romance novel complete at 69,000 words.  I think you could easily pitch this as New Adult. I also don’t think you need to capitalize contemporary or romance.

Upon your request, I would be delighted to send the complete manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. 


Rising Author Star