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 73

Dear Agent Name,

In an ancient Rome-like world, people who once had magical abilities – the Verasians – are enslaved, forced to fight each other. This sentence reads a bit clunky. Maybe there’s somewhere else to put the Rome-like world bit? On the other hand, if you leave that out, it sounds too much like Hunger Games. Their only chance of freedom is seventeen-year-old Aelia who defeated all odds: hiding in a forest, she guards the last Soultree left on Earth – and the growing magic inside it that could free them. But she can only hide for so long… Maybe this is the idea you need to start with. Also, I’m intrigued by this Soultree, and I want to know more about it. Do the people enslaving the Verasians know it’s there? So maybe consider starting with something like “Seventeen-year-old Aelia guards the Soultree, the only chance of freedom for…”

When Saro, the owner of a gladiator school, finally captures Aelia, taking her far away from her tree, it seems all hope is lost. What does protecting the tree entail? If she’s not there, will the tree die? Or does she need to be there to harness the power? Now a gladiator in Saro’s arena, Aelia must train and fight for survival. I’m kind of thinking that this Saro character doesn’t need to be mentioned in the query. It cuts down on the number of names the reader needs to remember, and it’s sufficient to say that she’s been captured and is now a gladiator. And she has to fight while chained together with Zenon, the star of the arena. Zenon dances on Aelia’s nerves – he pushes her to train, tests her limits, and has an irritating way of making her blush. Aelia doesn’t want to kill her people to save her skin, but if she dies, the Soultree dies with her. Why? I think this is something that should be tuched upon earlier. No magic will save her now, and the hope for all Verasians depends upon her swift blade. 

SUN AND IRON is a stand-alone YA Fantasy novel with series potential and is complete at 73,000 words. Spartacus meets Snow Like Ashes. Cool comp titles!

I. M. Verasian

Query Critique 72

Ginnifer’s past vanished at five when her parents died in a fire. I think some of the stuff later in the query would make a better hook. A lot of books feature dead parents. Now sixteen, all that remains is endless nightmares and visions which she hardly can recall the next day. Other than the fact that someone is ALWAYS trying to kill her in them! The exclamation point is a little distracting. Also, the wording here could be a little smoother. I’d also like to see some indication if why these dreams seem more like visions than dreams.

Her adopted gypsy-born consider using Romani instead of gypsy family only tells her that the dreams will fade with time, but everything changes when three new students show up at school. Ginnifer is drawn to them; especially the bad boy that most parents warn about. (It’s the eyes…definitely the eyes) This little aside sort of provides voice, but I find it a little distracting. Suddenly, a girl dies at the football game: the very same girl she had a vision of that morning. It was a memory…so now she’s not a total mental case. I fail to see how this makes her more normal. I would be freaking out!

But as more deaths take hold of the town, Ginnifer is determined to find her connection to them. She learns that she’s an Abnormal, a half-mortal with a masked rare gene. This is The Big Idea of the book. I’d like to see it featured more prominently and sooner. Exploring this idea is more important than knowing the back story of how she learned this. One whose life will always be surrounded by blood. Then the bombshell: the killer might actually be targeting her. 

As if being a junior in high school wasn’t hard enough. Not only is she in a twisted gypsy protection program from someone who wants her dead, but she is torn between the life she knows and the life she forgot. Ginnifer is hell bent to find an in between. She must make a choice: either seek out the killer and fight or stay hidden. Beef up the stakes by giving us more of a reason why she wants to stay hidden, because right now it doesn’t seem like a very compelling reason.

ABNORMALS is a 94,000-word YA urban fantasy. This book would appeal to fans of The Vampire Academy and The Mortal Instruments.

Query Critique 68

Pride of Divinians, the royal family stands above all. This sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Led by someone who can manipulate people and beasts alike, a coterie agrees that the royalty must go. Princess Raylene rides high on expectations. To her, the battlefield is more appealing than a courtroom. I’m a little confused by most of this paragraph. So there’s a rebellion led by a manipulator, and the Princess wants to join in? If that’s right, I want to know why she’s willing to betray her own family to join this rebellion.

The king takes a fatal fall. His shields call it an accident. Princess Raylene thinks otherwise. The empress is reluctant to pay heed to her words, and instead questions her sanity. She takes it upon herself to uncover the truth—no matter which tactic she may have to apply. She being Raylene or the empress? In a bid to keep the empire from falling, she takes over the duties of the critically injured king and the grieving queen. Is the queen different than the empress? All the while, she struggles with the scars of the past, and her feelings for her childhood friend. Scars of the past seems a little vague, and the crush on her friend seems irrelevant to the rest of the query.

An assassination attempt on the empress forces her to make a difficult choice—which sends her straight to prison. I’d like more information on what this difficult choice is. The castle is in jeopardy, with its protective wall gone, and an army of blood-thirsty monsters marching towards it. Why is the wall gone? Can you be more specific about what type of monsters? Raylene must find a way out else she’ll lose not just her place as the heir, but also the lives of her dear ones.

First in the Princess Divine YA fantasy series, UPRISING is complete at 81,000 words. If you’re pitching a series, it’s good to say how many books are in the series.

Thank you for your time and consideration!

Frost Blog Tour: An interview with E. Latimer


You feel a great sense of pride whenever one of your critique partners does something awesome. Which is why I’m stoked to be kicking off the blog tour for E. Latimer’s new book, Frost, which is being released tomorrow by Patchwork Press. I had a chance to interview Erin about the book.

Q: So Frost got its start on Wattpad. How did that influence your writing process?

A: My writing process is something that’s always shifting and changing as I try new things. My process for Frost was, well…if I had to choose one word, it was long. I mean really bloody long. The book on Wattpad was nearly 200k words, and I sort of wrote each chapter with a “Well, let’s try going to this place and doing this thing next” type of attitude, to see how the readers responded. It was ridiculously fun, but I hated myself later on when I started editing it.

Q: Let’s talk about the Norse mythology that inspired the story. What did you enjoy about the mythology and what was challenging about using it?

A: I laugh when people ask me this question, because I really didn’t stick to any of the specific myths. I just sort of grabbed what I wanted and used different parts. Names, places, species. Nothing was safe. My jotun are very different than the traditional frost giants of Norse mythology, who were kind of a bunch of jerks, to be honest. It’s interesting to see what I get yelled at for. Loki is one. I’ve made him a fire giant, and people are pretty sure he’s a frost giant and I’ve got that one all wrong. Thanks for that one, Marvel.

Q: Did you have a favorite character to write? (I know I had a favorite character to read. Can you guess who? 😉 )

A: Is it a certain mischievous fire jotun? I actually very much enjoyed writing about Leif and his “wolf pack” as they’re referred to. I really enjoy making the villains as repulsive as possible, so he was a fun one to write about.

Q: What was your revision process like? Did having the story posted on Wattpad affect the way you revised?

A: Um, yes. Most definitely. Mainly because the story was a complete mess. An absolute train wreck. Like I said, I just sort of wrote whatever popped up in my brain and it was four years ago, so my writing was quite different (that’s a nice way of saying indescribably BAD) so I ended up rewriting massive chunks of it. Revisions were a bit crazy.

Q: Would you encourage other writers to use Wattpad?

A: Absolutely. Frost wouldn’t exist without Wattpad. The readers are what kept me writing it, and they’re what motivated me to get through the painful slog of edits. The people on Wattpad are amazing, wonderful people.

Q: The cover is gorgeous. What was the design process like?

A: I really wasn’t very eloquent about what I wanted (I think I said ‘make it shiny’ and that was mainly it) and Jessica Allain just did the most unbelievable job on it.

Q: So what’s next for your writing career? What projects are you working on, and what can readers expect to see in the future?

A: At the moment, I’m doing more revisions on a different manuscript (that’s all I do now, revisions) and after that, I’ll be working on Frost 2 (which will have an amazingly clever name at some point, but it isn’t now).

Giveaway time!

Interested in winning an copy of Frost and other awesome swag? Follow the link below to a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Giveaway for E. Latimer’s Frost

You can also keep up with Erin on her website or on Twitter at @ELatimerWrites.

Query Critique 66

If being shy around girls were a serious disease, sixteen-year-old Jason Martyr would be on the terminal list.  It turns out girls are the least of his worries when a secret government agency abducts him, claiming he has a rare genetic ability to travel through time.  I like this opening! Fun spin on the “so and so was a normal teen until…” formula I see a lot. The agency threatens Jason’s family and friends to ensure his cooperation. Something about this sentence seems a little abrupt. I think it may be the wording more than the concept. Important information, though, obviously.

His mission is to go back in time to stop a ruthless secret society called the Masters of Infinity from altering history and taking control of the future.  Their next attack is a 1937 coup attempt aimed at deposing FDR and installing a fascist dictator in his place.  If the Masters succeed, the U.S. may never take part in World War II, setting off a catastrophic domino effect through the rest of the timeline. Good job establishing conflict!

All Jason wants is to return to his normal life and the quest for the perfect girl. Before that can happen he must survive martial arts training from the most dangerous fighter in the world, and then prevent the Masters’ henchmen from carrying out the coup. His enemies know he is coming, and have some lethal surprises in store for him. I don’t know if this is necessary. It’s a little to vague to have a real punch, and you’ve already established a lot of conflict in the letter. Jason will go home when he completes the mission – if he survives.  It’s good that you’re establishing stakes. I think it could have a little bang though. This last sentence isn’t terrible, but it feels a little weaker than the rest of the query. Overall, a very good summary though.

THE DESTINY MATRIX, a work of speculative fiction for the YA market, is complete at 82,000 words. I don’t particularly mind “speculative fiction” as a genre label, but I know some agents prefer something more specific.  It features action sequences similar to the television series Chuck, and light science fiction aspects similar to Roland Smith’s Cryptid Huntersseries.  It is a stand-alone novel with series potential. 

I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and MBA with emphasis in marketing, both from the University of Missouri. 

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Query Critique 64

Dear Agent:

I would like to present you with SUITS, a young adult novel complete at 72,000 words.

When Alice Gray gets busted stealing a bike, she’s sure it’s off to juvie this time, but minutes before her court hearing, a woman named Lindsay shows up to whisk her away in a car that costs more than Foster Mama Twelve’s house. Love the voice. I think “Foster Mama Twelve” is great.

Alice is off to the Headquarters of Special Agents where she’ll train alongside other recruits pursing careers in espionage. After fourteen different schools, Alice knows how to handle being the “new girl,” but this place has a whole new set of social parameters. There aren’t jocks, preps, and nerds here. Instead there are Suits, Grunts, Wizards, and Beakers, all who have developed very distinct opinions of the other divisions during their months of training.

But that’s not the only surprise the Lindsay has: Their parents were special agents too, killed by a terrorist organization that’s looking to snatch Alice up at the earliest opportunity. The reason: classified. So is Lindsay Alice’s sister? Make this a little more clear. Also, how much older than Alice is Lindsay? From the first paragraph, I got the impression she was quite a bit older.

Oh, and by the way, their parents were their parents. Turns out foster brother fifteen was wrong when he told Alice her whole family probably offed themselves to be rid of her. This paragraph is a little less clear than the others.

Lindsay uses every available resource to ensure Alice lands in her division—the staunch Suits—but Alice is drawn to the adrenalin-junkie Grunts. She’ll have to twist the rules and strain her new relationship with her sister if she wants to get in with the Grunts and avoid a life of serious robotery with the Suits. Forget the terrorists trying to hunt her down. If she’s stuck with the Suits every day, Alice will turn herself in. I like this closer. Overall, very good. Lots of good conflict and stakes. Also voice!

SUITS is the first in a planned series that brings the espionage of the TV show Alias together with the intense training ofDivergent’s Dauntless faction.

Like my protagonist Alice, I don’t like coffee, people with superiority complexes, or girls who can be described as “wispy.” Unlike Alice, I have my English degree from the University of Northwestern—St. Paul where I held position as editor of the school’s literary magazine.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


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