Query Critique 37

Dear Thoughts,

Chasing that creep was a terrible idea. This hook is a little vague for my taste. Mostly because you say “that creep” I don’t know who that creep is or why I should care about him, so the hook loses effectiveness. And following him into the sewers? Even worse. But seventeen-year-old Jennifer Pilgrim refused to let him steal her chess piece necklace, a gift from her deceased mother.

Then, mid-pursuit, the ground disappears under Jenny’s feet.

A terrifying tumble ends in an urbanized Wonderland—now coined Underland by its inhabitants. Talking animals, height-altering tarts, and the outlaw of the color blue. Just so you know, I chose blue font for this before reading this sentence.  Nothing makes sense and showing up with blue eyes and a blue dress? Jenny is in constant danger.

Desperate to escape the topsy-turvy world, Jenny turns to Cornelius Hatter, finder extraordinaire. What does that mean, he’s a finder? He reveals that the thief was actually a White Rabbit, the Red Queen’s bounty hunter. Terrified the Alice-look-alike will somehow retrieve the necklace, the Queen unleashes her guard to capture Jenny. Or more specifically, her head.

No way is that happening. Jenny formulates a plan: get her mom’s necklace and get home. That seems more like a goal than a plan.

Except Jenny’s strategy pushes her deeper into Underland. With their memories taken by the Red Queen, Underland’s inhabitants teeter between revolution and submission. Through the Oyster Rebellion’s intel, Jenny discovers that her necklace originally belonged to Alice.  The Oyster Rebellion seems like it’s just thrown in there, but I don’t really know what it is. And holds the key to returning everyone’s memories.

Jenny finds herself torn between a world—and a man—she has come to care for and the family and home she has always known. I’d consider putting this in parentheses. You’ve already used the em-dash in the letter. Also, the man seems sort of abrupt, because he hasn’t really been mentioned previously in the query.
Complete at 80,000 words, UNDERLAND is a YA steampunk/urban twist on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’d like to see some comparative YA titles.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

The Underlandiful

This query feels a little long to me. And I sort of like the three paragraph format. Just things to think about. 


Query Critique 36

Dear Kyra,

Starblood runs through Julana’s veins. This would be a better hook if I knew what starblood was.She’s managed to keep it a secret from everyone, except her guardians. If she doesn’t use its magic for their crimes, they steal her blood and use it anyway. Can you find a way to work this into the hook? Stealing blood is something that is immediately interesting, ergo, good hook. When Julana’s magic is exposed, she vows to use it one last time — to escape. Exposed to who? But escape sends her across the barrier to the Vendaran nation, a broken kingdom full of half-human, half-stars, more brutal magic, and her family’s dark secrets.

It’s no surprise the fabled nation exists, along with others like herself. For some reason the way this is worded made me think you were referring to Julana as a nation… But it’s harder for Julana to swallow that she’s heiress to its throne. She wants the love of her newly discovered family, not the responsibility of a nation. How did she discover these people are her family. Especially one that’s ruled by magic, and Nessa, the self-declared queen. Unlike Julana, Nessa has no qualms about using magic. She collects power by communing with dark spirits and uses it to control the people. And somewhere in her fortress she hides Julana’s mother, the rightful queen. Julana might not want the throne, but she wants her mother.

Julana fights the magic growing within her, and tempers the internal struggle by using it solely to heal. But Nessa has bottled some of Julana’s blood and can use it to enslave Julana alongside her mother. It will take more than healing spells to subvert Nessa. Where are healing spells coming from? Have they been mentioned before? Julana must choose to embrace the magic she despises or lose the mother she always wanted along with a nation desperate for freedom. The biggest thing this query suffers from is lack of world building. This is one of the hardest parts about writing fantasy pitches, because you can’t info dump. Still, we need a better idea of what the world is like and especially how the magic system works. The idea of blood being central to magic is unique, too. So you should play that up.

MAGIC DESPISED is a YA fantasy at 83,000 words with series potential. Any comparative titles? Below are the first five pages. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Red Magic

Query Critique 32

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Fighting to survive in a land with little opportunity, a flyer promising honest work abroad might be the only chance sixteen-year-old Carina Whitaker has to save her family. The pen shakes between Carina’s fingers as she signs the contract for the Uessay government’s Life Labor Program, securing a future for her loved ones by leaving them behind.

Carina wakes up with no memory of how she came to be chained atop a cement stage. She watches helplessly as an auctioneer tempts a frenzied crowd with details of her body, her innocence, creating a full scale bidding war. After a final shout of “Sold!,” Carina is taken to be beaten, broken and humiliated into realizing that her life is no longer her own. To me, this paragraph is more interesting than the last, just because I care more about what her predicament actually is than how she got there. I think you need an indication of how she ended up where she is, but maybe not a whole paragraph for it.

Consumed with plans to run away from his abusive family, Samiel Turner doesn’t want anything to do with the controversial slave trade that has the whole country talking. Is this country the USA? Somewhere else in the modern world? But when he walks into his room and discovers the half-naked, fully terrified Carina gift-wrapped on his bed, Sam will have to decide if he is willing to risk his own life to save hers.

THE DARK LUXURY is a complete 83,000 word, futuristic young adult novel that explores one of the most heinous crimes facing the modern world, human trafficking. The book is told in alternating first person points of view and is the initial installment in a planned series. When I first read this, I thought “futuristic isn’t a genre.” To me it sounds most like a dystopia, but I can understand the logic behind shying away from calling it a dystopia. Is it futuristic enough to call it science fiction? Also, I’d like to see some comparative titles. Neal Schusterman’s Unwind comes to mind.

I have published several short stories on fanfiction.net and have gathered a loyal young adult following of over 500 subscribers. A very early edition of the novel received more than a quarter of a million hits on the same website.

Thank you for your consideration.

Flash Forward

Query Critique 28

Dear Agent,

I have recently completed a Young Adult Thriller Manuscript, I don’t think thriller or manuscript should be capitalized. Definitely not manuscript. consisting of 65,000 words. I read your listing on [here] and [here]. My manuscript titled PROPHET’S GAMBIT, is a dark plot-driven thriller that borders on horror. Based on your interests, I think my manuscript might be what you’re looking for. I think this paragraph could be tightened up a little. “PROPHET’S Gambit is a Young Adult thriller complete at 65,000 words. Based on your interest in…” And I’d maybe move it to the end, since your hook is so grabbing.

17-yearold Daisy Fitzpatrick has doled out more death sentences than the Texas Prison system. And, it’s going to get her killed. Great hook.

Daisy’s a famous teenage psychic with a controlling, alcoholic, stage-parent of a mother. She’s not allowed a cellphone, computer, not even a TV. She has to sneak out just to see her best friend. Years of death threats have turned Daisy’s mother into a warden, sheltering her from the world outside, that is, when she’s not forcing her to do interviews. I feel like there are quite a few pronouns in these sentences. Daisy’s gift, seeing a person’s death in freaky detail, makes her a target.

For ten years Daisy has been a media spectacle. Her gifts are exploited by her mother. I’m a little confused. Her overprotective mom put her in the spotlight? Why would she do that? Little did either of them know that the spotlight would put both of their lives at risk. When a cryptic letter arrives and warns Daisy that a cult, The Order of God’s Temple have focused their efforts on her, her life is thrown into turmoil. Even Daisy isn’t sure she’ll make it through the month alive. I think the stakes need to be a little more established, and I think the best way to do that is by elaborating on how big of a threat this cult is.

Since I know you are actively seeking Young Adult, I am writing to ask if you would be interested in reading more of my material. I think it sounds a little smoother to just say “The completed manuscript is available upon request.”

Thank you for taking the time to read my query, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. This is a multiple submission.


Grave Business

Query Critique 27

Hi Ms. Nelson,

A message from an ex-classmate leads seventeen-year-old Sam Daley to question what everyone else had taken at face value—that his gifted, easygoing twin had hanged himself in his room one night.  I think I’d like the focus of the hook be more on the note. The note gives more of a mystery vibe, while the focus on the suicide makes it seem more like the story is about coping with his death.

The message was a single line—ask Zack about David’s death. I think I’d try to find a way to work this message into the hook. Before Sam can question the ex-classmate, the guy dies in a hit-and-run. Calling him the ex-classmate is getting a little clunky. It also raises a question as to why he’s not a classmate anymore, but I don’t feel like the answer to that is actually important to the story. Maybe just refer to him her as the guy who gave Sam the note. And Zack, super-rich party boy, insists he had nothing to do with the suicide. Determined to punch the truth out of Zack, Sam collars him in the school parking lot. But Zack’s girlfriend jumps in between, surprising Sam. Not because nerdy, introverted Mira Patel would have the guts to stand up to him, or even that Zack and she would be a couple, but because she was his brother’s best friend and study partner. This sentence is a little on the long side, and gets a bit hard to follow.

Though devastated by her friend’s suicide, I’d go ahead and use David’s name here, since we already know who he is. Mira has her own problems: unrealistic parental expectations and a sister who breaks every rule in their traditional Indian household. On top of that, she finds herself confronting her deceased friend’s twin brother, though he’s always made her nervous. Why does Sam make her nervous? I’d go ahead and use Sam’s name as well. But when her sister dies of a drug overdose, Sam offers her the support and empathy she needs.

As their grief draws them closer together, Mira helps Sam investigate his brother’s death. They discover clues linking the hit-and-run to her sister’s overdose and, ultimately, the suicide. Soon they’re in a race to expose a killer before he finishes them off, too.

My YA contemporary, MIRA, is complete at 56,000 words. I’d almost say this sounds more like mystery or thriller than contemporary. Also, I’m interested in why the title is MIRA, since it seems to be dual perspective.Thank you for your time and considerationI would like to see some comparative titles in this paragraph. “This book will appeal to fans of…”

The Missing Link

My main comment would be that I’d like a little more about the tone of the book. Is it really about finding the killer, or is it about coping with the deaths? Obviously, both are important to the story. But which is it really about?

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.


Organizing Your Agent Hunt

If you write YA, and I know a lot of you do, I highly recommend following the YA WordNerds channel on YouTube. They are an incredibly talented group of people with some great insights. They’re also super nice and friendly. One time they were nice enough to let me vlog for them.

Today I’m linking you to a video of their’s that I think is of particular interest. It’s all about researching and organizing your agent hunt.

I actually have my own spreadsheet, and I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have one place I can go to where I can compare all the different agents I’m considering. Because as it turns out there are a lot of agents out there. I’m particularly fond of having a spreadsheet column devoted to things I like about the agent and a column devoted to things I don’t like.

Like Meghan says, once you’ve been in the query trenches long enough, things get confusing and you’ll be happy to have some organization.