Query Critique 82

Ashlynn Weaver doesn’t know she’s a dream-walker, only that she can control her dreams So for this first sentence I would try focusing on the dream controlling aspect rather than throwing out this unknown term, especially since she doesn’t know what that is. Her waking life is another story—falling for her best friend who’s hung up on his ex, wondering if her missing mom is still alive, and worrying she’ll vanish next. Ash tries to hide her delusions, so similar to the ones her mom had before, but the monsters are getting harder to ignore. The monsters sort of came out of nowhere. Especially when a serpentine creature nearly drowns her in a pool.
When Ash finds a magic lamp and releases Rizian, a jinn made of fire, she’s ready to get fitted for a straight jacket. The jinn is interesting, and I almost wonder if it could be worked into the query sooner? Maybe even in the hook? But, surely hallucinations don’t introduce themselves, and who could resist three wishes on their eighteenth birthday? Rizian introduces Ash to a magical world she never knew existed, and she offers magic he’s equally unfamiliar with: friendship. Some good voice in these sentences. Together, they rescue Ash’s bewitched mom, but a fairy queen won’t let them return to the human world unless Ash agrees to unravel a twisted scheme that targets fairy children. The evidence points to witches and reveals secrets about Ash’s family that explain why she sees monsters—fairies—and why her dreams have turned deadly. Her emerging ability to dream-walk proves dangerous when an unplanned foray into her sister’s dream has effects on waking life.
After using two wishes with unexpected consequences, Ash is caught in a conflict between worlds and a romance with Rizian that’s literally too hot to handle. When it turns out her sister is the real target of the witches’ sinister plans, Ash must relinquish her last wish, one that could make an impossible love possible, unless she can dream up another way to save her. Great stakes!
WISHES OF FIRE is an 107,000 word young adult paranormal romance, with potential for a trilogy. Thank you for your time and consideration,
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Query Critique 81

Dear Miss Nelson,

When music lover and Massachusetts native Sarah McPhee transfers to the London offices of Sixteen Magazine, she expects the number of miles between herself and her old life to be enough to repair her crushed heart. I like these opening sentences.

It’s been a slow process getting over Ben, Sarah’s boyfriend of six years, who left her without an explanation but with an abundance of self-doubt.  Having always understood her life in terms of music – her childhood shaped by her father’s passion for sixties rock bands and her adolescence influenced by Madonna and her older brother’s knowledge of everything grunge – she finds this stretch of years to be eerily silent.  Determined to make her heart sing again, Sarah plants herself in a new city, where she immediately struggles with the ups and downs of starting over.

Tasked with saving the magazine from declining sales and subscriptions, energetic and curious Sarah quickly meets a range of new acquaintances, including her offbeat landlady, the always friendly Megan, and Megan’s charming but arrogant brother, Rob.  From getting lost (which she expected to happen) to being taught how to drive on the left side of the road (which she didn’t), Sarah learns, thanks to impromptu afternoon cocktails, an adventure through Hampstead Heath, and listening to old mix tapes, about getting over heartbreak, trusting her decisions and how to hear the music again.  Even in one of the most exciting cities in the world, happiness, she discovers, isn’t something that can be found – happiness must be made from within. So I normally don’t like queries that end with “and the character will learn x” it sort of works since this query has a quieter tone to this. Even still, I don’t think it would be bad to make the ending have stronger stakes. In other words, tell me what the character stands to lose. Overall, I think the query looks very good, though.

I studied abroad in London during college and fell in love with the city.  The balance of an almost stubborn persistence to maintain tradition and the desire to be one of the more modern cities in the world struck me as unique and fascinating.  As I can no longer “up and move” to Europe, I decided to write a story about a girl who does.

A Song for Sarah McPhee is a new adult novel complete at 86,000 words.  Put your title in all caps. Per your submission guidelines, please see below for _________.  Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

I’ve heard a lot of negativity about prologues. Overwhelmingly, the advice is not to use one. However in my opinion, there are times when a prologue not only works but is necessary to the story.

The last manuscript I wrote had a prologue. I’d written about a thousand drafts of the first chapter (which my writing group can verify). No matter what I did, though, I just couldn’t get the right balance of information and action. So I decided to write a prologue.

The prologue shows a scene that happened several months before the main part of the book, so it was disconnected enough that I didn’t want to just call it chapter one. But it established a lot of information that I otherwise would have had to include as flash back or backstory later on, which would have slowed down the pacing. Ultimately, it was a move that really worked for that book.

I would say that a flashback is useful any time you want to reveal important information that is slightly disconnected from the main part of the book. In my case, the time line was what was slightly disconnected between the prologue and chapter one. It could also be that your prologue is written from a different point of view than the first chapter, and that’s what disconnects it.

So those are reasons to use a prologue. However, the advice against prologues isn’t out there without reason. I have read a lot of bad prologues where I really wished the author would just get on to chapter one.

The main problem with prologues is that they’re often too vague to be of use to the reader. I think the writer is under the impression that they’re being mysterious when really they’re just being confusing. These type of prologues tend to read as though the author and the reader are sharing a secret, but only the author knows what the secret is, if that makes any sense.

In conclusion, I say use a prologue if it works for story. Just make sure you know why you’re using it and can justify it’s inclusion because it contains something important.

Query Critique 80

Dear [insert agent’s name here],
[This is where I’d personalize the query, citing why I’m choosing to query this particular agent and why we’d be a good fit.] I’m seeking representation for my young adult novel UNDER THE SURFACE, which stands finished at 58,000 words. The book is a work of contemporary magical realism that marries the introspective, contemporary teen drama of John Green’s PAPER TOWNS and the beautifully bizarre found in texts by Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. Normally I’d say stay away from Paper Towns since it’s a movie, but I think it works here since you’re also using the other comps. Also, put Paper Towns in italics to set it apart from your title.
Seventeen-year-old Lauren Williams, self-proclaimed rebel and professional mother-disappointer, needs an escape. Causing her sister’s disappearance? Not exactly what she was going for. I like this hook.
When Lauren first hears the legend of Lake Jambo, she’s intrigued. A forgotten town sunken beneath a lake, possibly still intact? This sentence structure with the question is a little repetitive, since you used it in the last sentence. Sign her up. Lauren gathers up her two best friends, hops on a boat (somewhat illegally), and sets out to find the Atlantis of Rick County. Good voice in this sentence. One problem: Roxie, Lauren’s eight-year-old sister, begs to come along. Too focused on the algae-covered church steeple the group stumbles upon, Lauren doesn’t notice Roxie’s vacant seat on the boat until it’s too late.
Traumatized by the grief of her sister’s disappearance, Lauren becomes obsessed with uncovering the secrets behind Roxie’s increasingly mysterious departure. The issue with century-old secret towns buried under lakes, though, is that they like being buried. Unwittingly, Lauren unleashes a seedy history so convoluted and malevolent it’s almost alive—and it’s doomed to repeat itself. With Roxie’s life hanging by a thread, Lauren must dive under the surface to save her sister… or live under the weight of her death.  If you could maybe give like a brief (one sentence) hint into the seedy history, being specific wouldn’t hurt. If it’s too hard to explain or would give too  much away, don’t worry about it.
I am an undergraduate at Marywood University finishing my degree in Comparative Literature and Languages. My writing is heavily influenced by my studies of Latin American writers, but luckily I don’t have the same taste for pestilence and destruction as they do. This is my first novel, and I’m proud to say that there is no reference to cholera whatsoever despite having spent many long hours with Márquez. Fun bio.
I hope you’ll be interested in learning more about UNDER THE SURFACE. Thank you so much for your time and consideration!

#MockPit 2

Hey guys! After the success of the first round of #MockPit, I’ve decided to host it again. This round will take place on Wednesday, November 18th and will run officially from noon to 7 pm EST. See below for more details.

What is #MockPit?

MockPit is a practice round for Twitter pitch contests like PitMad. I will be going through pitches and offering suggestions for improvements. If I favorite your pitch, I think it’s great just the way it is! I’ll also be giving away a handful of critiques, so there’s some extra incentive to participate.

How to enter:

  1. Follow me at @kyramnelson.
  2. Tweet your pitch using #MockPit. You do not need to @ me.
  3. Get feedback from me.
  4. Pay it forward! Favorite or comment on other people’s pitches. This can be a great way to support others and make new friends!

What are the rules?

  1. Only one pitch per manuscript. Limit three tweets per person.
  2. Official MockPit runs from 12:00 (noon) to 7:00 EST on Wednesday, November 18th. I will look at as many pitches as I possibly can. Last time I was able to respond to all the pitches. If the feed gets too crazy, I may not be able to this time. However, I still encourage you to participate. Even if I can’t get to your pitch, somebody else will probably see it and give you feedback. Also, last time we had some guest appearances from other editors and agency interns. I’m hoping to see some of them back this time around. At any rate, your odds are pretty good for getting feedback from somebody. Probably multiple somebodies.
  3. You must use the hashtag. Otherwise, I probably won’t see your pitch.
  4. Be patient. I will be reading a lot of tweets. I will get to as many as I can, but I will probably fall behind a little.
  5. Be kind. This is a subjective business. All comments are meant to be constructive.

Why am I doing this?

Mostly for kicks and giggles. I love pitch contests and I love helping writers. This seems like a good chance to do both.

Also, you may have noticed that Brenda Drake posted new rules for PitMad. These rules will help clean up the PitMad feed and encourage industry professionals to participate (which is good). The new rules will require authors to sharpen their pitches rather than throwing out as many possible and seeing what works. This is an opportunity to strengthen those pitches before the big day.

Any questions?

Query Critique 79

Dear [agent’s name],

[PERSONALISATION] As such, I thought you might enjoy my young adult novel, THE BACKSLIDERS.

Three years ago, Great Britain closed its borders and no-one has entered or left the country since. It’s now 2022 and eighteen year old Eve Mimieux wants one thing: to escape.

As the daughter of foreign born parents who are now banished from Britain’s shores, Eve is a precariat, the lowest class in New Britain. Eve survives on a pitiful wage she earns at the Military Police social club where she’s surrounded by the men who impose the rules she has come to hate. When a new Inquisitor appears and takes an interest in Eve, he gets dangerously close to learning her secret: Eve is a criminal.

Eve manages her hatred for the world she’s stuck in by gorging on the culture New Britain banned. With her twin brother, Jack, they form the Backsliders, who try to keep the books they love alive in the minds of readers. But the Backsliders clandestine existence could be about to come to an abrupt end when they encounter an Elite girl.

An Elite girl named Alice.

Alice Deering has a seemingly ideal existence, but hasn’t felt alive for a single moment of it. Smothered by her over-bearing mother and steered by The British Revival party’s strict morality laws, Alice is yet to make a single decision on her own. Alice hopes that entering the world of courtship will be everything her mother promises and more. When her first assignation is interrupted by an act of vandalism, she finds herself in the company of the criminals who are the focus of a citywide manhunt.

Overall, I would say this query is pretty strong. However, it is missing stakes. I don’t feel as much of a sense of danger as I think I should. Refer to my post on stakes for more information.

Told in a dual point of view, THE BACKSLIDERS is a 100,000 word YA speculative fiction novel. It is stand-alone with series potential and may appeal to readers of LEGEND by Marie Lu or Louise O’Neill’s ONLY EVER YOURS. Leave your title in all caps, but put comp titles in italics to set them apart. Also, this is more a problem with the industry than the query, but this sounds very typical dystopia, which is a hard sale right now. If you have non-dystopic elements, I would try to play those up. Try to categorize your genre as something other than speculative fiction, as that’s not very specific. And it sort of feels like you’re just trying to avoid calling it dystopia.

Thank you for your consideration.

Don’t go hating on other people’s books

Here is a new querying commandment which you should commit to memory: Thou shalt not dis other books in your query letter.

You may laugh, but I’ve received a lot of queries that say something to the effect of “You should rep my book because it’s so much better than all the other garbage being published today.”

Yikes. Just yikes.

First of all, I don’t think everything being published today is garbage. There are a lot of recently published books that I’ve loved. And who declared you the critic in charge of deciding what’s garbage and what isn’t anyway?

Furthermore, this sort of attitude suggests that you either don’t read enough or you are an unpleasant person who is too difficult to please (in other words, somebody I don’t want to work with).

I often see this book dissing show up with YA authors who say something to the effect of “Are you tired of vampire novels and ready for something new and actually good?” Okay, they usually don’t say “actually good” but it’s implied by the tone.

Again, this shows that you aren’t that familiar with the genre because there are tons of YA books that are not about vampires. And it’s been some years since anything with vampires was published. This is usually verified when I start reading the synopsis which is usually not original at all.

Besides, maybe the agent isn’t tired of vampire books. Or maybe they aren’t interested in any more vampire books but they may have a client who wrote a vampire book. As it turns out, insulting the work of an author’s client isn’t endearing. Ever.

This is a good rule not just for query but for your online correspondence in general. Of course, we all have our personal likes and dislikes. But trashing books on Goodreads or Twitter or wherever online won’t make you any friends. And this is a business where friends can make a lot of difference. Publishing is a small world.

So keep your unfavorable comments to yourself and close friends. And if you do have to say something negative about a book, be as polite as possible and acknowledge the personal bias involved in your comments.