Query critique 88

Chase Warner should be spending senior year at his elite Connecticut private school rejoicing the end is near. This hook sort of seems to focus on what should be normal. I think it would be stronger if you jumped right into the conflict and how not normal things are for Chase. But instead, he’s sneaking alcohol, dabbling in drugs, and watching his shoo-in acceptance to Yale, slip right out of his grasp. ‘Boys will be boys’ and ‘senoritis’ are expressions his counselors use to excuse his behavior. But they couldn’t be further from the truth. And Chase is fine with keeping the truth between just him and his sister. Not only does no one need to know he was raped by an alumnus, Chase is sure no one would believe him—or care. This is the main source of conflict, so I’d like to see it worked into the hook.

But when Chase (drunkenly) posts on an anonymous chatting app his secret, he finds solace in a strange soul: the headmaster’s super-senior son, Malakai. Malakai doesn’t ask questions, is comforting and most of all, a physical, as well as emotional, anchor for Chase. There are a lot of commas in this section, which make it a little hard to read. Consider using some em dashes. Something he didn’t know he needed until his rapist returns to school as an assistant football coach.

Chase knows if he goes to the school, they’ll crucify him and all his hard work at Harrington would be for nothing. I’d like a little hint at why he doesn’t think the school will believe him. Or why he hasn’t pursued other avenues to justice. Has he contacted law enforcement? If Chase wants justice, he’ll have to take the law into his own hands, no matter the personal, legal, or ethical ramifications that follow.

Chase’s favorite quote has always been, ‘When one goes on a journey of revenge, dig two graves’. But now, he wants to modify that. When one goes on a journey of revenge, bring one bullet. I kinda get what you’re trying to do here with establishing stakes and tying in the title. I don’t think you need to explain the title in the query, though. And I think you’d be a little better off just stating the stakes clearly. Overall, though, I think this is a great query with a lot of great potential.

THE BULLET PROVERB is a completed 75,000 YA novel that addresses male rape, vengeance, and the toxic ways people heal. It will appeal to fans of FAULT LINE and GOLDEN BOY.

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.

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!

Query Critique 74

Dear (Agent)

FALL TO PIECES is an 89,000-word dual perspective contemporary YA novel. If Jennifer Niven’s ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES met FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, this is the result. The wording here is a tiny bit awkward. I lived with undiagnosed depression as a teenager, and like Jacob, I hid it the best I could. Now, I want to tell our stories without the stigma associated with mental illness. I think I would just mention in the bio that you also lived with undiagnosed depression. I don’ think you need to include the last sentence. The publishing community is, on the whole, very sensitive to mental health issues and very aware of the need for literature that addresses these issues. I also might put this part after the synopsis, but that’s largely personal preference.

On the football field, sixteen-year-old Jacob Wilson is an all-star working his way toward a Division I scholarship. But at home, he’s working on an escape plan, counting the months until he’s free from the sting of his dad’s accusations and belt. So far he’s managed to keep the abuse a secret, even from his girlfriend Megan, but when he shatters his leg playing the game he loves, he watches his dreams of a scholarship and a way out of small town Colorado disintegrate. 

Straight-A student Megan Michaels realizes that Jacob is hiding a lifetime of scars behind his football hero persona when she discovers him chasing painkillers with whiskey to numb the pain of his injury. Blinded by visions of college and the future, Megan ignores the signs of Jacob’s addiction, but when Jacob nearly ODs, she finds the courage to speak out. Revealing his secrets might be the only way to prevent him from self-destructing. 

When Jacob’s dad announces that he has taken a new job in South Dakota, the only thread uniting Jacob’s crumbling world rips away. An errant kiss, another bottle of whiskey, and a bathroom brawl push Megan beyond her last second chance. With the moving truck ready and a 9mm pistol tucked in his jeans, Jacob only sees one way out. And it’s not in South Dakota. I love that last line! Overall, I think this is a very solid query letter. Good conflict, high stakes.

As a member of SCBWI, I’ve attended Midsouth regional conferences, and I’m a member of an active critique group with other accomplished writers. I am also a member of the Tennessee Press Association where I received the Edward J. Meeman Award for Public Service writing, first place for Best Personal Humor Column, and second place for Best Personal Column and Education Reporting.

Query Critique 62

For twenty-two-year-old Phoebe Lawrence, life has always resembled a project managed by her parents.

Although she’s been over parented, Phoebe is content with life that she has. Her world suddenly collapses when, due to huge debts, her parents can no longer afford her college fees, sell their fancy house and get divorced, not to mention her boyfriend leaves her without a word of explanation. This sentence has a lot of good conflict in it, but is worded very awkwardly. No more plans, fixed arrangements or busy schedules, and, most of all, the chance to take charge of her own life.

As a victim of overprotective parents, it’s hard for Phoebe to find herself in a new reality full of risks, confrontations and decision making. She’s lost and insecure. To pull herself together she takes part in the 100 Happy Days challenge – the social media experiment aimed at reaching long term happiness. For the next three months, each day Phoebe is supposed to take a picture of something that makes her content. Along the way she meets Chris, her neighbor and son of her employers in one person. The “in one person” bit is a bit awkward sounding. He’s the type of a guy whom she can’t stand – an emotionally flat, careless playboy. Initially, Phoebe gets irritated whenever Chris is around, and consistently blows him off. Nevertheless, the more time she spends with him, the more she’s made sure he’s more complex than she expected. This sentence also could be reworded to sound a little smoother. Chris is the total opposite of Phoebe, he emanates rebelliousness and courage, and has never abandoned himself to please anybody. With the help of Chris and the challenge, Phoebe comes to realize that the life which she used to have was like imprisonment. Yet, it’s hard for someone whose level of trust and confidence in the world are critical, to start taking risks and making steps towards a fulfilled, free life. Further complicating matters is the fact that Phoebe clearly has a crush on Chris, but at the same time is haunted by the feelings for her ex-boyfriend, whom she accidentally runs into one day. Phoebe’s terrified because she has to, as never before, make a lot of groundbreaking decisions that will have a bearing on her life. I think this would be stronger if it ended with a stronger sense of the stakes. What does Phoebe stand to lose? Also, this paragraph is way long. I’d split it up. Don’t underestimate the power of white space.

Complete at 150,000 words, 100 Happy Days is a New-Adult fiction novel set in New York. Fiction novel is redundant, as novels are by definition fictional. I would call it a New Adult contemporary novel.

Thank you,
2 Many Choices

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.


R.E. Habilitation

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.