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 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.

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.
Sincerely,
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. 

Sincerely,

Rising Author Star

Query Critique 39

Dear Ms. Agent:

Suji thought her abusive stepfather was bad, but life in the streets of New Delhi isn’t much better. Especially after she’s kidnapped by an Indian since you’ve already mentioned New Delhi, I’m not sure you need to specify Indian. cult who believes she’s the reincarnation of their goddess. Maybe include the name of the goddess. Now she’s expected to have a hunger for sharp swords and human throats, but worse, can’t keep her promise to rescue her sister. The bit about “hunger for sharp swords and human throats” is a little confusing for me.

After her escape leads to a near death experience that trashes her memories, Suji wakes in Hong Kong. With no idea how she’s gotten there, her confused mind soon finds a surrogate sister to rescue. When the young woman is murdered, Suji discovers an affinity for sharp objects, a knack for death, Maybe killing, this makes it sound like she has a knack for dying. and a burning desire to stop the prostitution gang responsible.

As the body count increases, Because Suji is killing people, or because others are killing to get to her? she’s hounded by visions of diabolical figures chasing her to a watery grave. When ritual sacrifices make the local headlines, Suji decides she can no longer tell reality from fantasy, and seals the horrors of her past deep within her mind—along with her burgeoning childhood memories.

Free of her nightmares, Suji journeys to America, where she will manipulate the CIA to destroy the gang. The “will” in this sentence is making the tense do funny things… But to avenge a sister she no longer remembers, Suji has become what she never wanted to be: Kali, goddess of death, bringer of change.

Sometimes destiny is just meant to be. I’d like to see a closer that has stakes attached.

BLACK RAIN is a 100,000-word suspense novel set during Hong Kong’s monsoon season. I’d like some indication of the age range. Is it YA? Adult? How old is Suji? Also, is it the first in a series, or a stand alone? Good overall sense of conflict, though.

Story Guru

Query Critique 38

Coby married a man who ought to be dead—and he’s starting to regret saying ‘I do.’ This is a good hook. It did sort of set up expectations for something speculative fiction, but that may just be my reader’s bias because I gravitate towards spec fic.

The night Coby pulled Jimmy, half-dead at seventeen, out of a seedy back-alley, everyone told him not to get attached. They said Jimmy was going to break his heart. But he told them he could handle Jimmy. After all, fate brought them together when Jimmy needed a friend the most. And for the last ten years, despite all of the hell Jimmy’s gone through, Coby’s never given up. My one complaint with this is that I feel like it uses Jimmy’s name a lot. Obviously you have to avoid pronoun confusion. But it’s like when you say a word a bunch of times and it loses meaning. Or maybe that’s just me.

Coby made a promise to Jimmy when they got married: he’d stand by him, give him a family, and never leave him.  But when Jimmy has an atomic meltdown at work, gets admitted to the psych ward, and loses his job, Coby, the man who swore he had no breaking point, breaks.

When Jimmy is released from psych, a vicious cycle begins: Jimmy refuses to stay on his meds and starts falling back into drugs.  Coby isn’t sure anymore if his obligation is strong enough to make things work.  But with Jimmy off his meds and back-peddling into addiction, Coby is about to admit that everyone was right.

RESCUE ME is LGBT, dual POV, Commercial Fiction, complete at 82,000 words with series potential. I don’t know that you really need to specify commercial fiction or LGBT (though you can). I’d maybe say adult contemporary instead. As far as the dual POV, there’s nothing in the synopsis to suggest that it’s told from the POV of anyone besides Coby because the query essentially tells everything from Coby’s point of view. My short story ‘Anguish’ was published in Winter’s Regret by Elephant Bookshelf Press in 2014.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Breaking Point

Query Critique 35

Dear ______________,

Missy Foxx found one thing more frightening than being bullied.So, having this in past tense feels weird. The query is usually in present tense, even if the novel is past tense. Love. Missy spent the better part of four years being terrorized and pranked during high school. Getting called Miss Piggy on a daily basis by the popular crowd is enough to bring her self-esteem down.This sentence shows what the last sentence told. Both sentences basically give the reader the same information, but the second sentence does it a lot more effectively. I read a lot of queries that begin by saying that the main character is bullied, and it gets easy to tune out. But being called Miss Piggy is vivid and demands the reader’s attention. On that note, I think you should work that into your hook. To me, it’s much more powerful than the sort of vague bit you have about love. She leaves the small town of Kennesaw, TN after graduation determined to change things.“Things” seems a little vague. She’s off to change her life? Her future? Missy is off to college to pursue her dream of being an actress.

While getting passed up for acting roles due to her weight she encounters the attractive personal trainer L.C. He starts to fall for her but the years of insecurities and being teased because of her weight she, at first, rebuffs his advances.This transition seems a little abrupt. Possibly because you say “at first” she rebuffs his advances. That sort of implies that then she starts to fall for him, but we don’t fully get there before we’re suddenly in NYC. Missy uproots to New York City to start her acting career and leaves L.C. devastated. After many struggles and only landing small roles, with the help of fast talking playboy agent, Quinlan Porter, Missy achieves her goal and becomes a successful actress.

When her mother suddenly passes away, Missy finds herself back in the town where all her problems started and now she’s a celebrity. It is there she reconnects with her old flame L.C. Now leading completely different lives she is torn between choosing her second shot at love and her lifelong dream. It needs to be more clear why she has to choose between the two. Why can’t she date the hottie and be an actress at the same time?

INTRODUCING MISSY FOXX is a diversity friendly I would just say diverse. new adult manuscript complete at 65,000 words.New adult is an age range, not a genre. I would specify that it’s contemporary. Also, some comparative titles would be great.

I have included the first ______________ pages for your review.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Very sincerely,

Limelight