Query Critique 26

Dear Ms. Nelson,

For seventeen-year-old Cas Leung, bossing around sea monsters five thousand times her size is just the family business. I like this hook. Cuts right to the chase of what’s interesting about her. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission, slaughters her favorite Reckoner, and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water. I’d like a little more explanation of what a Reckoner is. Otherwise, this paragraph seems solid.

There’s no time to mourn it. It being the Reckoner death, right? Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on the ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Cas has fought pirates her entire life, and she’s not about to stop. But when she starts to fall for one – the captain’s prickly, swaggering apprentice girl – she begins to see the complexities of the NeoPacific in a different light. As she grapples with her old values and her new perspective, Cas must decide whether taking vengeance against her captors is worth becoming even more monstrous than the Reckoner pup she’s raising.

Complete at 63,000 words, THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US is a young adult science fiction novel with LGBT+ romance elements.  It’s the monsters of Pacific Rim and the myth of Persephone Hmm… I’m trying to think where the Persephone myth would fit in based on what I’ve read. on the seas of the future. While the story stands alone, it also has series potential. My short fiction has been published by HarperTeen as part of the online bonus content for the Defy the Dark anthology.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!


Once and the Future Sea Queen

Overall, this one is looking pretty good! The setting, conflict, and stakes have all been really well established.


Query Critique 22


After arriving on Mars with no memory of her life on Earth, a young girl must uncover the mysteries of her past while attending an institution training the red planet’s next generation of leaders.

When she arrives at the Academy, her file only contains her name — Aurora — and she is one of many students learning how to survive on the strange, lifeless planet.  She develops friendships, competes on the gymnastics team, and…

…there’s a boy…

Over time, life seems to find normalcy. I’d condense these two lines in with the second paragraph so that the letter follows more standard formatting. I also don’t think the part about the boy needs to be that set apart, since the romance doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be the focus.

Until students begin to have strange, seemingly unrelated injuries.  The Administration claims these injuries are “accidents,” but Aurora and her friends are convinced that someone is attacking students.  To uncover the truth, she must dive deeper into the society developing on Mars.  She soon finds that the shadows lurking beneath its surface are intertwined with the mysteries of her past, and that her arrival on this planet may hold the key to its future. I’d elaborate a little on the elements in this last sentence. Be specific.

I am looking for an agent who believes — like I do — that young adult audiences are feeling fatigue with dystopian novels, and that an original concept can engage readers with adventure, mystery, and suspense without relying on a totalitarian setting.  I don’t love this part. Because 1) I think it’s better to focus on what the novel is rather than what it isn’t. 2) To me it shows a little ignorance about what is on the market. A lot of successful YA books recently have been genres other than Dystopia (The Fault in Our Stars, Throne of Glass, Code Name Verity, Dangerous…. To name a few). In fact, right now the NYT Best Sellers list for YA is ruled by contemporary.

At my day job in the nonprofit healthcare industry, I’ve excelled in organized and disciplined technical writing.  However, I am left with a yearning to flex the left-side of my brain, which I do by crafting stories about the adventures of a young girl on Mars.  I thought it was the right-side that was creative? When not writing, I also enjoy chasing around my beautifully opinionated, two-year-old daughter.

ADVENT MARS: THE ACADEMY is a young adult, science fiction mystery, complete at approximately 110,000 words.  If successfully published, it would be a debut novel. Just say this is your first novel. Don’t say “if published.” Be confident!

I have included the [required sample] below.  Thank you for your consideration.

Mister Martian

Query Critique 17

Dear Agent:

Six months. That’s how long sixteen-year-old Lesha Clement figures she has left to live if she remains on Earth. Her once-green planet has withered so fast it’s as brown as the color of her skin. Save a couple words by just saying “As brown as her skin.” I think it sounds a little less awkward too. She dreams of growing old in an unpolluted world and escaping the clutches of Riley, her possessive Relocation Instructor. With Operation Abandon Earth in full swing, Lesha flees to Eris, a colonized planet halfway across the galaxy. The ship veers off course and crashes in a wasteland, stranding her with seventeen survivors, including Riley. With no chance of rescue, they head toward a distant mountain range, hoping to find shelter or locate the colony.

The government was dead wrong when they labeled Eris safe. If lack of food and water doesn’t kill them, flesh-eating snakes just might. Don’t all snakes eat flesh of some sort? Maybe man-eating snakes? Fellow survivor, Malik Romero, fights the snakes off and vows to get the group to safety, or die trying. His smoldering eyes pull Lesha in as much as his savior complex pushes her away. His over-protective attitude clashes with Riley’s obsession. So when you say Riley is possessive/ has an obsession, is that Lesha? I’m a little confused why Riley is not supposed to be a likable character. Also, is Riley male or female? Too bad for them. Who is “them” supposed to be here? Having lived through famine and riots back home, Lesha can take care of herself. She’s come too far to assuage any guy’s ego. Again, when we talk about “a guy” who are we talking about?

After someone goes missing, Lesha immediately suspects Riley. Finding the teen’s mutilated corpse in a desert shrine proves his so Riley is male. innocence but reveals something’s stalking them. Something predatory. Something deadly. Something else. If they have any hope of reaching safety alive, Lesha must put aside her feelings and work with Riley and Malik. Or risk being picked off one by one until they’re morbid decorations in some sick psycho’s shrine. This paragraph is the best at setting up the stakes for the story.

Complete at 86,000 words, PHOENIX RISING is a young adult science fiction thriller, you call this a thriller but the middle paragraph seems to focus a lot on the romance aspect. The third paragraph is the only one that screams thriller to me. Consider playing that part up more. a mix of William Golding’sLord of the Flies and the film, Predator. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Focus is important. If the novel is being pitched as scifi, focus on the scifi rather than the romance. Which isn’t to say don’t mention the romance. Just don’t let the romance distract from the scifi elements.

Yet this does sound wonderfully creepy.