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 31

Dear Ms. Nelson:

Eleven-year-old Olivia Boogieman’s family makes her classmates thinks she eats PB&J (pancreas, brain, and jugular) sandwiches for lunch.  Why shouldn’t they, at first I thought this they was talking about the family considering her mother is a curse-flinging mummy and her father a hairy, scary, howl-at-the-moon werewolf.

Even worse is living in the shadow of her trouble-making, shape-shifter brother, and having a skeletal little sister that Olivia’s dog sees only as a chew treat. Olivia wishes for nothing more than a normal life, however, ordinary families don’t have pet dragons in their back yards.    This may just be me, but I get a little bored with characters who just want to be normal. Especially since there is other conflict, I would focus on that.

A meddling social worker places Olivia in a foster home, and for once, Olivia knows life with a family just like her– normal.  When horrible, vengeful things happen to girls that pick on her, Olivia discovers she is not as normal as she thinks.  She’s a witch.  This seems like the inciting incident, and if it is, we should get to it faster.

Olivia sneaks out of her foster home to prove her parents snatched her away from her birth mother.  What reason does she have to suspect that they did this? She fights off sentry garden gnomes who protect the entrance to the land of her birth, filled with ogres, trolls, and one mean, nasty little fairy. I say choose either mean or nasty (though nasty is a little stronger). The two are close enough in meaning and having both makes it feel a little clunky.

When Olivia finds her birth mother, she understands her parents stole her for a good reason– her safety.  Olivia’s birth mother wants to destroy any reminder of the child she never wanted.  Using her new powers, Olivia must defeat the evil witch if she ever wants to reunite with the family that loves her.

OLIVIA BOOGIEMAN is a middle grade magical realism novel complete at 40,000 words.  To me, this doesn’t sound like magical realism so much as straight up urban fantasy.


Not Nasty Fairy

I think this query has some good elements. However, I think it needs to find the core conflict and focus on that more. So get to the inciting incident and main conflict sooner and then stay focused on that.


Query Critique 5

Three critiques in one day! Don’t get used to it. I’m usually too busy for that.

Purple comments!


Dear Ms. Nelson,

Walt Disney’s Snow White meets John Cusack’s Better Off Dead in POISON APPLES, a 55,000 word young adult novel with magical realism. Make sure to italicize comparative titles. I’d maybe say a contemporary magical realism novel, just to clarify since historical fiction can also have magical realism.

Bianca Snow’s life is over. I think you could find a better hook. This, too me, sounds a little dramatic and teen angsty. The fact that animals follow her around is unique, so I would find a way to work that into the hook. Her boyfriend, Lance, dumped her after one too many run-ins with the animals that follow her everywhere, and now he’s dating the hottest member of the Eastern Alexandria High School dance team.  Comma’s added under the assumption that Lance is her only boyfriend. Snow’s persistent parade of woodland creatures is a huge scandal at school- and in her father’s congressional campaign- and her evil stepmother volunteered all Snow’s newly found “free time” to babysit the seven kids of a politically powerful family. Consider breaking up this sentence. It’s a little long.

But just when Snow thinks she’s ready to end it all, I’m not entirely sure what “end it all” means. Is she planning to take her life (would NOT fit the tone of the novel)? Quit her babysitting job? Run away from home? she meets Will, a cello-playing senior who doesn’t mind her odd way with the natural world.  When the school talent show is announced, Snow realizes a good performance could redeem her reputation, and her relationship with Lance; with Will’s help, she might even win.  But singing her way back into Lance’s arms requires pretending she’s already in Will’s. And using Will to get to Lance might mean losing her real prince.

I am a member of SCBWI with an extremely average singing voice.  I think that’s a nice short bio. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Super-duper Terrific Doer of All Awesomely Fantastic Things.


The query feels short, but it covers all the essentials. So short is actually good in this case.

I will say, I see a lot of fairy tale retellings. In particular, I see Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty done all the time. I haven’t seen one quite like this, though. Which is good. Just don’t be surprised if some agents read “Snow White retelling” and groan. It is possible to get a story like this published, even though these retellings have been done a lot.

I talk about this a little bit in this post on timing.