Query Critique 55

Dear Wonderful Agent,
Seventeen-year-old Adelie Elliot used to have big plans for her life. She wanted to get into a great college, marry her high school sweetheart, and become a doctor of psychology. Now, she’ll be happy if she just wakes up in the morning.
Between the nightmares laden with death threats and being stalked by mysterious shadow people, Adelie is a mess with paranoia.I would like to see the shadow people woven into the hook. An odd encounter with the shadows leads her to the discovery of an alternate world within dreams. Or the idea of a dream world would make a catchy hook. A clan of Dream Seekers welcomes her, ready to guide her in her new abilities as they take down stray nightmares and combat the growing threat in the land: the fallen god Morpheus. His plot to regain full control proves deadly to all that get in his way. Basically everything in this paragraph is more interesting than what you have in your first paragraph hook.
If Adelie is unable to shake the hold Morpheus has over her mind, she will fall under his control forever –and forfeit her life in reality. This is good, as it gives the reader a sense of what the stakes are. I would like to see this idea of Morpheus having mind control powers being more thoroughly explored.
Some dreams are hard to wake up from –for Adelie, it might be just be impossible. Sounds like an interesting concept!
SLEEPLESS CONFINEMENT is an 86,500 word YA fantasy novel with series potential. It is comparable to THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS and INCEPTION with mythological flare. Italicize the comparative titles to set them apart from your title.
I am currently raising two, rambunctious preschoolers at home that keep my imagination in working order. Like my protagonist, I drink entirely too much coffee and always have a crazy dream to share upon waking.
My completed manuscript is available at your request. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
As per your guidelines, the first XX pages of the novel are included below for your review.
Dream Author

Query Critique 54

The Confessions of Gabriel Ash

1982. As the Falklands War erupts, a disgraced diplomat recounts his sins while confined to a medieval castle in the Eastern European country of Keshnev.Gabriel Ash, an American-born representative for Keshnev at the United Nations, has enjoyed the luxuries of a privileged life in New York for several decades.  A series of romantic missteps and catastrophic events trigger his diplomatic recall to the People’s Democratic Republic of Keshnev (“Like Albania, but without a sense of humor”), where further events plunge him into captivity, amid accusations of treason and attempted murder.  In confessions ranging from New York to the coast of the Black Sea, Gabriel Ash is haunted by his affairs with dangerous women, pursuit by the CIA (and later, by agents of Keshnev’s Ministry for State Security) and the electrifying transformation he undergoes after his escape from confinement.  The Confessions of Gabriel Ash charts a journey of self-discovery amid personal betrayals, state-sponsored assassination and the turmoil of identity in a world ravaged by the last gasp of colonial war.

My biggest concern with this query is that it needs to be fleshed out. There are some good elements of conflict there, but they need to be better developed. The query is quite short, so there’s certainly room to do this. Also, I want to really see stakes introduced. I want to see just how much Gabriel Ash stands to lose.

Also, the query is going to need some conventional things. I want the word count, genre, and comparative titles in the query. It helps ground the reader.

Query Critique 53

Vespertine sees all the world as stories, but not all stories have a happy ending. I almost like this as a hook. But it’s a little vague. To me, it also had sort of a speculative fiction vibe about it. 

Vespertine Clement is a young woman who lives with her uncle over his bookshop shortly after the gold rush in San Francisco, California. “Young woman” is a little vague. I’d like an exact age, which would help root it in YA. Mrs. Adler, her employer, tempts her with money, position, and independence to take on an almost impossible task: defend the innocence of a fallen woman accused of murder. This is the idea I would like to see brought up in the hook. Mrs. Adler has even arranged for the amiably corrupt Sergeant Cuinn of the police to guide her. I’m a little lost on why Mrs. Alder feels so strongly that Vespertine needs to do this. Why does she care so much? And why not ask somebody else?

Her uncle would prefer she settle into domesticity. The coroner doesn’t like her examining the corpse.  The victim’s family wants her to leave them alone. The accused woman isn’t talking. The victim’s priest, and the lynch mob he leads, definitely doesn’t want her meddling. But, she finds signs the victim was poisoned before his throat was slashed. With some odd glassware from the dye makers, a few simple chemicals, and a chemistry text from her uncle’s shop, she sets out to prove it. She calls together witnesses at the police station, assembles the apparatus, and utterly fails to find any arsenic in the victim’s blood.

Now she needs to find a new story, fast. The trial starts Tuesday, and the betting line in the gambling palaces of the Barbary Coast is three-to-one in favor of the city hanging a woman before Wednesday, noon. Complicating matters, the murder has attracted the interests of the worst villains the Golden Gate has to offer: bankers, slave owners, blackmailers, a would be rail baron,  politicians, and a woman living in a matched pair of mansions on top of a hill who claims to be a voodoo priestess. What we really need here is stakes. There’s a lot of conflict, but I want to know what happens if Vespertine fails. Sure, it’s bad that an innocent person would die, but I want to know what the main character stands to lose. Also, why are all the worst villains in the case so interested in this case? Why is everyone in the area so interested in what seems like it should be a pretty cut and dry case?

VESPERTINE AND THE RED HAIRED ROMANIAN is a historical thriller aimed at young adults, complete at 70,000 words. The novel is stand alone, but with series potential.

The novel is similar in tone to Phillip Pullman’s “The Ruby in the Smoke”. I’d put this with the last paragraph. It’s a little distracting on its own.

Thank You,

False Accusations

Why We Need Books

A lot of my academic work has focused on young adult literature, and it’s not uncommon for me to get some backlash from the academic community. They wonder why I would waste my time on something as fluffy as YA lit when I could be focusing on more important things (like completing corpus-based studies examining syntactic shifts in written American English from the past two hundred years… Exhilarating).

The answer is simple. I’m passionate about youth literature, and not just because I love it (I love a lot of adult books, but I don’t focus my energy there). It’s really important to me that we write and publish engaging books that kids and teens want to read because the advantages of reading for pleasure are astounding. Here are just a handful of advantages that my research has looked at:

  1. Kids who read find reassurance in characters who have similar struggles.
  2. Reading improves analytical skills.
  3. Kids who read are better readers (go figure).
  4. People who read are more likely to engage in volunteer work.
  5. People who read as kids are more likely to read as adults.
  6. Reading improves writing skills.
  7. Books can provide an escape and allow readers to de-stress.
  8. Avid readers are more likely to engage in cultural events like going to museums or attending concerts.
  9. Books introduce kids to a variety of factoids. They increase cultural capital.
  10. Reading often provides cautionary tales or give perspective on issues.
  11. Avid readers are more likely to vote.
  12. Reading allows people to make empathetic connections and increases sensitivity.
  13. Kids who read have stronger vocabularies.
  14. Employers say they need more employees with the reading and writing skills that can be obtained from pleasure reading.
  15. Avid readers are more likely to have financially rewarding jobs. Those who don’t read at all are much more likely to be jobless.

As you can see, reading is tremendously important (and that’s just scratching the surface). And the best way to encourage reading is to keep producing books that people WANT to read. So despite the naysayers, I’m incredibly grateful to get to work in this industry and to do the research I do. I really am lucky to be working with such talented writers, illustrators, editors, agents, ect. The work you guys do is important.

Because books. That’s why.

Query Critique 52

Dear [agent name here],

September 28th, 2013 is just a normal day for most people. And for Grace Kincaid, it would seem to be just that— normal. She has coffee, takes a shower, and goes to work as she usually does. But in the evening, she sits in her bedroom and cries for the first time in nearly a year. You see, September 28th, 2013 marks the 364th day since Grace’s husband died in Afghanistan. This is what the hook needs to talk about. It takes way too long to get to anything specific about the conflict of the story. Also, the “you see” part reads a little awkward to me. It’s also the day her life will change for the better. This last sentence is also sort of vague. I want to know what exactly happens that causes such a turn around.

There are bumps on the road to recovery, of course. Again, this sentence is sort of vague and doesn’t do much to develop the plot. Grace will discover that she’s infertile. Two of her sons will be murdered in a brutal school shooting. But when she finds the woman of her dreams, and her daughter (assigned male at birth) comes out as transgender, Grace will remember what’s really important in the world—her family, her friends, and her happiness. These are all interesting things, but I’d like to see them tied together. I also want to get more of a sense of stakes. She has all these things that happen to her, but how do they really affect her? What does she still stand to lose? Why do we need to continue worrying about her? The query is pretty short, so you have room to develop something.

DAY 364 is a completed novel of 75,000 words. It is aimed toward adult readers, and is entirely fictional. Unless otherwise specified, we tend to assume that it’s an adult book. I’d also maybe call it contemporary fiction.

Thank you very much for your time.


Road to Healing

Knowing When You’re Ready to Query

As a writer, I spend about half of my time feeling like everything I write is the bomb.com and the other half feeling like I’m an illiterate peon. I think this is pretty normal for writers. That said, this constantly shifting mentality makes it really hard to know whether your manuscript is ready to submit or not.

Are you trying to submit your manuscript early because you’re overconfident? Are you putting off submitting because you’re being to hard on yourself? How do you know when your manuscript is just right?

This is a hard question to answer, and I’ve certainly experienced both extremes. There are a couple things you can do to help decide if you’re ready. First, I can never stress enough the importance of critique partners and beta readers. First, they’ll help you whip your manuscript into shape so that it is ready to submit. Also, they have some distance from the manuscript and are more able to judge the quality.

I also suggest reading as much as possible. Published books, yes, but also unpublished works from your friends so that you can get a sense of what you’ll be competing against in the slush pile. Reading other people’s work helps you improve your own because you’ll notice different things when you’re reading for somebody else.

At the end of the day, though, you just have to trust your instinct. You’ll hit a point in revisions where you’re just tweaking and pushing words around without feeling like it’s really making a difference. You will probably be sick of your manuscript. You’ll know that you’ve done as much with it as you can, and now it’s time to push it out of the nest.

Once your manuscript is out of the proverbial nest, you can see how it’s doing. If you’re getting bites, then things are going well. If you’re not, then maybe pull the manuscript back for a bit and look over it again. Writing is all about trial and error.