Query Workshop … critiques by Nicole Wolverton

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Welcome to the query workshop. From November 1 through November 19 several talented friends of mine will critique queries submitted to the workshop by some brave authors. Today we have Nicole Wolverton pulling out her ink pen and giving suggestions to her writers on how to tighten, sharpen, and shine their queries.

Here’s some more information about Nicole…

NicoleWolverton_highres_RTNicole Wolverton

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Nicole Wolverton is a writer of YA and adult horror and thrillers. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Heart Magazine, Penduline, and The Molotov Cocktail, among others. Nicole’s first novel, an adult thriller titled THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS, was released in March 2013 (Bitingduck Press). She is represented by Michelle Witte, Mansion Street Literary Management. Nicole is a member of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators and the Horror Writers Association. She lives in the Philadelphia area, where she writes nonprofit grants, serves as an editorial assistant with BLOOM Magazine, and trains for her first sprint triathlon.

And here is her first critique …

Dear Agent,

Hailey Perish, a lonely sixteen year old, spends most of her days in the school gymnasium skipping class or serving time in detention. Her nights are spent shadowing her mother in seedy bars. [The lead paragraph is sort-of a slow burn for me. You generally only have the first paragraph, maybe the second, to grab an agent’s attention, so you really want to GRAB them. The fact that Hailey’s lonely or skipping gym or getting detention isn’t that unusual for a teen. Shadowing her mother to seedy bars to keep her from gambling away the rent money is much more compelling.]

Her mother is a gambling addict, but Hailey is determined to keep a roof over their heads until she turns eighteen and can escape to find the dad who abandoned her when she was ten. Trying to prevent her mom from losing their rent is a full time job that doesn’t leave room for anything else, including friends. However, losing rent is the least of her problems when her mom bets Hailey as the ultimate wager and loses.

Mitch, a sex trafficker, wins Hailey in a bet, [This seems slightly redundant against the last sentence of the second paragraph. You could, potentially, lose most of the second paragraph/condense to up the pacing of your pitch]  she has no choice but to run for her life. Hailey’s too loyal to her mom to involve the police, but now she’s desperate to find her dad. With nowhere else to go, she and her childhood best friend Carson set out with two possible addresses, trying to stay one step ahead of Mitch. But while spending a week together in Carson’s civic [Civic should be title-capped—it’s a proper noun], Hailey and Carson can’t deny the attraction between them any longer. [In the second paragraph, you note that Hailey doesn’t have time for friends, yet here she has a best friend. That’s a pretty big contradiction that needs to be addressed].

As Mitch closes in, determined to claim what is his, Hailey must find a way to save herself without sacrificing the person who has helped her the most to the same fate.

Indebted [Is this the name of your novel, yes? Just like the titles of the novels you name below, yours should also be all capped] is a young adult thriller novel complete at 90,000 words similar to Trish Doller’s WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE and Katie McGarry’s DARE YOU TO.

[No bio paragraph? It’s important for many agents to get a sense of your professionalism. Even if you have no short story or other fiction credits to your name, there may be something else you can include.]

Thank you for your consideration,

[Overall, your book sounds interesting, but there are quite a few places where you can tighten up and work on making your pitch much punchier and tense. There are also a few things that stood out to me: why can’t Hailey look for her dad before she’s 18? Why were Hailey and Carson denying their attraction to each other? The stakes aren’t entirely clear re: what happens if Mitch catches Hailey—will he rape her? Sell her? Beat her? Kill her? Kill Carson? What happens if she doesn’t find her dad? What happens if she does? Is he somehow going to save her from a dangerous sex trafficker? Maybe you don’t need the specific answer to all these questions in your query, but clarifying the stakes would make this query more compelling.]

And here is her second critique…

Dear Agent Extraordinaire,

I chose to submit to you because of your obvious passion for the work that you do. Specifically, when reading interviews and your bio, your interest in young adult speculative fiction caught my eye. [Your first sentence is a bit of over-flattery—what agent doesn’t have passion for books? In most cases just letting the agent know you researched them and have a solid reason for querying them specifically (like your second sentence) is enough, and to do more might work against you in some cases. You might also move your sixth paragraph here—it makes sense, flow-wise, to introduce the reason you’re querying and then introduce your novel. I’ve seen many agents express gratitude on their sites and Twitter at knowing immediately whether the genre is something is in their interest area.]

When 17-year-old Eden Quinn isn’t chatting telepathically with her friends through her virtual reality halo, fighting with her mother over control of the technology in her room, or messing with her preppy younger brother, she’s probably sealed inside one of the Underground’s individual safety hatches, watching vids and waiting impatiently for another false alarm to pass. Intruders aren’t likely. Even if anything could survive Above, the Underground is well-protected.

Eden’s illusions of safety are shattered when she witnesses the abduction of her brother by men who look and act nothing like citizens of the Underground. With few leads, Eden turns to an unlikely source for help.

Kalon Fitch has never been one of Eden’s favorite people, which made it even more surprising when he requested her for a Link Trial, the Underground equivalent of an engagement. Eden has kept her distance from him, but now it appears that Kalon knows more about the strange men than he should, and Eden makes the decision to trust him for the chance to save her brother.

Though nothing is supposed to survive on the Surface [is the “Surface” different than “Above”? That’s a little confusing because of the capitalization] , that’s where Kalon leads Eden. In a world reclaimed by nature, Eden discovers that not only have people survived, but they have flourished in the technologically barren world Above. Welcomed into the small village of Heaven, Eden begins to question everything she has been taught in the Underground. She also realizes that there may be something far more sinister going on, both Underground and Above, than she could have imagined. Faced with this new reality, Eden must find her brother and figure out if Kalon is trying to help her, or if she will be the next to disappear.

ABOVE EDEN is a young adult spec fic/adventure novel, complete at 91,000 words. It can stand alone, but has series potential.

I have been writing for years, but the practical side of me earned a master’s degree and independent licensure in Marriage and Family Therapy. I currently live in Des Moines, Iowa, and work as a school therapist in an elementary school, where I still get to play and use my imagination on a daily basis.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[Interesting premise and some nice world building! I do have some questions, though, that might help beef up the query. What happened to the surface of the planet to make it reclaimed by nature? Who are the intruders and what do they want? You make it sound like they have to denizens of “Above,” but I don’t see how that can be since it’s unlikely that anyone survived unless they went to the “Underground.”]

Thank you Nicole for taking the time to participate in the query workshop! Everyone join us tomorrow for our next set of query critiques. Please feel free to drop questions in the comments.

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