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 59

Dear [Agent Name],

I usually insert some kind of personalization here about why I chose the agent followed by My debut novel BIG MURDER ON CAMPUS is a 64,000 word YA mystery with series potential.

Sixteen-year-old Deanna Jameson is smart– like starting-college-two-years-early smart. After a miserable, friendless high school experience, all she wants is to put the past behind her and enjoy life as a university student: go to class, make a few friends, and maybe get her first boyfriend. That’s why when a friend is brutally murdered–and her body discovered on the college’s football field–Deanna’s hopes for a “normal” college life are crushed.

Over the next two months, two more friends are killed. The police have few leads, and fewer suspects. What they do have is a single connection among all three victims: Deanna. As the killer closes in on her, Deanna wonders if he’ll wear the face of her enemy, or her friend. There are some great stakes and tension in the query letter. It is really short, though, and I’d like to see some of the conflict fleshed out. In particular, I’d like to see a little more attention given to the details in this paragraph. The foundations for a great query have been laid. Now we just need to ramp up the intensity. Also, because Deanna is so smart I’d like to get the sense that she’s going to have to outsmart this killer.

I was born and raised in Arkansas where I live on a farm with my husband, our three children, a dog, six cows, and 90,000 chickens. I’m addicted to Mountain Dew and running obstacle course races. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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 55

Dear Wonderful Agent,
Seventeen-year-old Adelie Elliot used to have big plans for her life. She wanted to get into a great college, marry her high school sweetheart, and become a doctor of psychology. Now, she’ll be happy if she just wakes up in the morning.
Between the nightmares laden with death threats and being stalked by mysterious shadow people, Adelie is a mess with paranoia.I would like to see the shadow people woven into the hook. An odd encounter with the shadows leads her to the discovery of an alternate world within dreams. Or the idea of a dream world would make a catchy hook. A clan of Dream Seekers welcomes her, ready to guide her in her new abilities as they take down stray nightmares and combat the growing threat in the land: the fallen god Morpheus. His plot to regain full control proves deadly to all that get in his way. Basically everything in this paragraph is more interesting than what you have in your first paragraph hook.
If Adelie is unable to shake the hold Morpheus has over her mind, she will fall under his control forever –and forfeit her life in reality. This is good, as it gives the reader a sense of what the stakes are. I would like to see this idea of Morpheus having mind control powers being more thoroughly explored.
Some dreams are hard to wake up from –for Adelie, it might be just be impossible. Sounds like an interesting concept!
SLEEPLESS CONFINEMENT is an 86,500 word YA fantasy novel with series potential. It is comparable to THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS and INCEPTION with mythological flare. Italicize the comparative titles to set them apart from your title.
I am currently raising two, rambunctious preschoolers at home that keep my imagination in working order. Like my protagonist, I drink entirely too much coffee and always have a crazy dream to share upon waking.
My completed manuscript is available at your request. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
As per your guidelines, the first XX pages of the novel are included below for your review.
Dream Author

Query Critique 53

Vespertine sees all the world as stories, but not all stories have a happy ending. I almost like this as a hook. But it’s a little vague. To me, it also had sort of a speculative fiction vibe about it. 

Vespertine Clement is a young woman who lives with her uncle over his bookshop shortly after the gold rush in San Francisco, California. “Young woman” is a little vague. I’d like an exact age, which would help root it in YA. Mrs. Adler, her employer, tempts her with money, position, and independence to take on an almost impossible task: defend the innocence of a fallen woman accused of murder. This is the idea I would like to see brought up in the hook. Mrs. Adler has even arranged for the amiably corrupt Sergeant Cuinn of the police to guide her. I’m a little lost on why Mrs. Alder feels so strongly that Vespertine needs to do this. Why does she care so much? And why not ask somebody else?

Her uncle would prefer she settle into domesticity. The coroner doesn’t like her examining the corpse.  The victim’s family wants her to leave them alone. The accused woman isn’t talking. The victim’s priest, and the lynch mob he leads, definitely doesn’t want her meddling. But, she finds signs the victim was poisoned before his throat was slashed. With some odd glassware from the dye makers, a few simple chemicals, and a chemistry text from her uncle’s shop, she sets out to prove it. She calls together witnesses at the police station, assembles the apparatus, and utterly fails to find any arsenic in the victim’s blood.

Now she needs to find a new story, fast. The trial starts Tuesday, and the betting line in the gambling palaces of the Barbary Coast is three-to-one in favor of the city hanging a woman before Wednesday, noon. Complicating matters, the murder has attracted the interests of the worst villains the Golden Gate has to offer: bankers, slave owners, blackmailers, a would be rail baron,  politicians, and a woman living in a matched pair of mansions on top of a hill who claims to be a voodoo priestess. What we really need here is stakes. There’s a lot of conflict, but I want to know what happens if Vespertine fails. Sure, it’s bad that an innocent person would die, but I want to know what the main character stands to lose. Also, why are all the worst villains in the case so interested in this case? Why is everyone in the area so interested in what seems like it should be a pretty cut and dry case?

VESPERTINE AND THE RED HAIRED ROMANIAN is a historical thriller aimed at young adults, complete at 70,000 words. The novel is stand alone, but with series potential.

The novel is similar in tone to Phillip Pullman’s “The Ruby in the Smoke”. I’d put this with the last paragraph. It’s a little distracting on its own.

Thank You,

False Accusations

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.
Birds of a Feather

Query Critique 47

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Samuel Morgan is in serious trouble. Part of me likes this, but part of me feels like I want to just be told specifically why he is in serious trouble.

Not your average fourteen year old’s trouble, but more of the he-might-wind-up-dead-or-wish-he-was sort of trouble. It wasn’t so much the oversized Irishman whisking him away to a magical pocket of old Norway, or the fact that Shadow Casters were hot on their heels. Heck, it wasn’t even that his dorky parents turned out to be spellcasters. No, Sam has taken all of that pretty well. His problem is the Disgraced. I kind of feel like a lot of details are being thrown at me, and some of them are sort of vague. For instance, what is a Shadow Caster, and why should I be afraid of them? Also, why does this Irishman want to take him to maigical old Norway?

In his new life at the Viking stronghold turned spellcasters academy, everything was going surprisingly well; he’d even made some friends. But then they visited Australia. When Sam and Titus–the aforementioned Irishman–have a chilling encounter with the Disgraced everything changes. This is the second time that the Disgraced have been mentioned. And I still don’t know what they are. If they really are as important as I think they’re supposed to be, I need to know sooner what they are and why they’re important. Also, Australia seems kinda random. And really far away from Norway. Namely, Titus and Sam. Titus is quickly descending into despair. Worse still, Sam is changing. Every fear and failure he has known, true or imagined, threatens to swallow him up. He can’t let them be right. These sentences read as a little bit choppy.

Sam and his newfound friends must find a way to save Titus before it’s too late, but no one seems to know a thing about the ancient, parasitic evil. In truth, the hard part is getting someone to believe them. It’s hard for grownups to take you seriously when you’re chasing an old wives tale used to frighten children.  Every dead end they encounter sends Titus closer to enslavement. In a desperate measure, Sam procures some reliable information, if a bit unscrupulously. Ok, so he stole it, but this is important. Who does he steal it from? Are they the type of person we would feel sorry that he stole from? Unfortunately, the truth is hard to swallow, and things look dire for Titus. Now, Sam is forced to wonder what he is becoming. He has no choice: he must stop the Disgraced or lose Titus–and be lost himself. Clear stakes. Good. My overall comment is just that I need a better sense of world-building. In particular, I need a better understanding of how the Disgraced work.

THROUGH THE CASTER’S GATE is a young adult contemporary fantasy and is complete at 105,000 words. Diverse characters of varying cultures, ethnicities, and social classes will strike a chord with teens living in an increasingly diverse world. I think you can just say that it’s diverse. Agents already get why that’s important. This is my first novel. Although I do not possess any magical powers, I do have previous experience as a socially awkward teenager. I like this. Thankfully, I’m retired from that role. I am also a member of SCBWI.

My thanks for your time and attention. I have included the first ten pages per your guidelines for your consideration.  Synopsis and full manuscript are available upon your request.

Best Regards,

Ye Olde Norse