Query Critique 60

Dear _________________:

Cay Duncan’s parents have dumped her at Brayberton Academy for Troubled Youth to help her “be happy.”  Whether or not she will survive the doctors’ version of happiness, however, has become her greatest fear. This hook sort of hints at some of the dark, really gripping stuff to come. I’d like to see the creepy elements introduced even stronger in the hook, though. I want the feeling that there’s something REALLY wrong at this facility from the beginning.

Instead of spending the end of her summer basking in the glow of hot Norwegian lifeguards, Cay’s parents have enrolled her at Brayberton, where the students are weird and the doctors are weirder. This sentence really only repeats information that we already have. Cay would love to be left alone, to work through her depression and suicide attempt on her own, but Dr. Bleu, the resident psychiatrist, takes pleasure in introducing her to innovative tortures like colorful mystery pills and awkward group therapy sessions.

Right from the start, Cay notices the students behaving strangely.  A quiet alcoholic laughs as she forces rum down her friend’s throat.  A timid boy, terrified of heights, throws himself off a roof, plummeting to his death.  Rather than battling their inner demons, students are embracing them, happily taking their darkest compulsions to the extreme. This is really interesting. Until now, the query sounds a lot like your typical YA that takes place in a mental facility. I’d like to see this darker element mentioned sooner, if at all possible. If you could find a way to work it into your hook, that would be dynamite. Even worse, Dr. Bleu observes the brutal attacks and deranged behavior with interest and, to Cay’s horror, with pride. 

Cay fears she will succumb to the same fate as the others if she doesn’t escape, but with no way to call home and Dr. Bleu watching her every move, it’s impossible to get out.  When the school goes into lockdown and chaos erupts, the life Cay once wanted to end becomes the one thing she must fight to keep.  

I am seeking representation for my 86,000 word young adult suspense novel, Happy.  My first novel, Voices of the Sea, debuted July 22, 2014 through WiDo Publishing.  As a high-school English teacher, I am able to connect with my audience on a daily basis, doing my best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds.  Thank you for your time and consideration. If you’ve haven’t read The Program, you need to. Your book sounds very similar, so it could potentially make a good comp title. Overall, a cool concept though.

Sincerely,

R.E. Habilitation

Query Critique 59

Dear [Agent Name],

I usually insert some kind of personalization here about why I chose the agent followed by My debut novel BIG MURDER ON CAMPUS is a 64,000 word YA mystery with series potential.

Sixteen-year-old Deanna Jameson is smart– like starting-college-two-years-early smart. After a miserable, friendless high school experience, all she wants is to put the past behind her and enjoy life as a university student: go to class, make a few friends, and maybe get her first boyfriend. That’s why when a friend is brutally murdered–and her body discovered on the college’s football field–Deanna’s hopes for a “normal” college life are crushed.

Over the next two months, two more friends are killed. The police have few leads, and fewer suspects. What they do have is a single connection among all three victims: Deanna. As the killer closes in on her, Deanna wonders if he’ll wear the face of her enemy, or her friend. There are some great stakes and tension in the query letter. It is really short, though, and I’d like to see some of the conflict fleshed out. In particular, I’d like to see a little more attention given to the details in this paragraph. The foundations for a great query have been laid. Now we just need to ramp up the intensity. Also, because Deanna is so smart I’d like to get the sense that she’s going to have to outsmart this killer.

I was born and raised in Arkansas where I live on a farm with my husband, our three children, a dog, six cows, and 90,000 chickens. I’m addicted to Mountain Dew and running obstacle course races. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

My Query Reading Process

Today I want to talk a little bit about what my process for working through the slush pile of queries is. The agency gets a lot of queries, and tackling the inbox can be a little daunting, but I’ve devised a system that works pretty well for me.

I normally go through a set of 20-30 queries at one time. I open each email in the order I receive them. If it’s an easy no (something we don’t rep or something really poorly written), I send an immediate rejection. If I think there’s even a little potential, I’ll mark the email as unread and come back to it later.

Then I go back and reread queries. Some I’ll send a rejection on the second go through. Some I’ll mark as unread again. If the queries have sample pages, I’ll look at those then. Repeat the process until the queries have sufficiently been whittled down. I make requests from whatever is left.

For a batch of 20-30 queries I request 0-2 partials. I maybe once asked for 3, but that’s pretty rare. Also, I requested more when I was newer. Then I get a new batch of queries and the process starts again!

Query Critique 58

Dear Ms. Nelson, 

Seventeen-year-old Isa Rousseau isn’t in love with her cousin Coral. She’s in love with Coral’s life. For some reason, this hook was a little confusing to me. I like the idea of it, but think it might be better if it were a little more specific.

While Isa barely breathes, suffocated by her dinky hometown, and that “textbook” overbearing Asian mom, Coral inhales life, traveling to exotic places; living the free spirited existence that Isa yearns for—that is, until Coral and her parents vanish while sailing on the Pacific Ocean.  It’s interesting to me that you say the way you say she’s a “textbook” overbearing mom. It’s like you’re using a trope, but you’re aware of it. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

Consumed by Coral’s death, Isa spends most of the year trying to cope; leaning on Brett, her gay best friend, instead of the girlfriends her mom encourages her to have. Because for Isa, having girlfriends holds a different meaning, one she’s certain her mom won’t ever accept. I think this is a really important idea, and I’d like to see it brought up sooner. This paragraph has a lot more conflict than the last paragraph, I think. So I’d like to see some of this conflict woven in more early on.

Then, one phone call changes everything. Miraculously, Coral is alive. In just a few days, Isa will have her back. But the Coral that arrives is broken, a shell of the girl she used to be—a stranger.

As Isa attempts to save Coral, all the while fumbling through her journey of sexual awakening, Coral’s story of survival on the deserted island will unfold; ultimately revealing that survival isn’t always just about life and death, but that sometimes surviving the demons inside can be the greatest challenge of all. 

SAVAGES is complete at 85,000 words. Written in dual points of view, this YA contemporary novel will appeal to readers of I’ll Give You the Sun, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in screenwriting from Boston University, and worked in children’s educational publishing in New York City for ten years.

A few lines about why I chose said agent.

Sometimes Less is More

See the original post at mseditors.com.

MS Editors

shorter

As an undergrad, I was a teaching assistant for a writing class designed for computer science majors. While some of the students were very good writers, many hated writing and really struggled with the class. Most of the assignments were short—one paragraph of ten typed lines—and we deducted points if the assignment was too long.

One student in particular complained when he lost points for writing something twice as long as the assignment required. He argued that he had done more than the required amount of work and should be rewarded. What he didn’t understand was that when it comes to writing, longer isn’t always better, and shorter is often harder.

It’s not hard to see where the longer-is-better mindset comes from. Most class assignments have minimum page requirements, not maximum page requirements. But some of the hardest writing you’ll ever do will be making something long shorter. You’ll need…

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Query Critique 57

Dear Fabulous Agent,

Tova’s ambitious husband, Andrew, is often gone for a month at a time on business, but this is the first time he’s left without a word. Frustrated, she meets Neil, a private investigator who tempts her with his all-knowing blue eyes, dangerously curly hair, and witty banter. I would be a little interested in being more specific about how she met him. Did she hire him to find her husband? Run into him at a bar? She thinks she’s safe, until he turns out to be her new neighbor. What do you mean by safe? Safe from his charms? Is he a physical threat to her?

Beyond attracted to Neil, he makes her question resuscitating her marriage or breaking her deeply held moral code and giving into a temptation she always assumed she could walk away from. The wording in this sentence is a bit awkward. But fighting her attraction to Neil only points to what is missing in her life—passion—and magnifies her loneliness and the sacrifices she’s made for her husband. The wording could be a little more condensed by saying something to the effect of “only points to the missing passion in her life.” Magnified loneliness seems a little redundant beyond missing passion.

When Andrew unexpectedly comes home during a party and embarrasses Tova, Neil sees her farce of a marriage. Tova’s frustration boils over into anger. She confronts Andrew, but he attacks her in a rage. Could you be a little more specific about how he attacks her? She’s rescued by Neil’s good friend and employee, yet Andrew’s secrets, and Tova’s life starts start to unravel under a threatening promise. Hang-up calls and a hit-and-run accident convince Neil something sinister is going on. Together, they must unravel the mystery behind the lies she’s believed throughout her marriage as their friendship—doused in sexual tension—heats up and Tova lands in the crosshairs.  I don’t think you need to say it’s doused in sexual tension. I think that’s been established. It sounds like there is some danger, which could be worked into the query to create more specific stakes than “caught in the cross-hairs.” Why should we be worried about Tova? What do we think Andrew will do to her if she can’t figure out what’s going on in time?

I’m seeking representation for my contemporary romance novel with a suspense edge. Given your information on Publishers Marketplace I thought you would enjoy GREED & JEALOUSY. It’s complete at 95,000 words.

I’ve been a retail store owner for the last 21 years and write technical handouts for my business on the mechanics of making jewelry.  I’m a member of RWA and Midwest Fiction Writers. I share a similar career with my main character and I’ve also been duped by a lover, but that’s a story for another time.

 Thank you for your time and consideration,

Two of Seven

Giveaway: Refilling Your Inkwell

I recently finished Kellie Sheridan’s new book on finding motivation and conquering writers’ block. I loved this book because it has real talk and real advice. Kellie is a pro at juggling all the things that distract from writing, and she really knows what she’s talking about!

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Also, I wanted to do a little something to thank my wonderful Twitter followers. You guys are fantastic. I always appreciate all the favorites, retweets, referrals, and chit chat. So I’m giving away one ebook copy of Refilling Your Inkwell: Getting Motivated, Finding Inspiration, and Conquering Your Writing Rut! Follow the link to Rafflecopter to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway