Welcome to the June Query Workshop with some of our past and present PitchWars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected many wonderful writers to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query letter for one lucky writer. The writers are anonymous. Follow along all month to view the query critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.
Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …
Alexandra is a proud Colombian-American living in South Florida with her husband, son, and hairless pup. By day, she’s an English professor, and by night, she’s penning children’s fiction—from picture books to young adult novels. She’s a member of SCBWI and is represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary.
Alexandra’s query critique
This is cool concept, and there’s lots of promise for suspense and nail-biting moments. You’ve also got all the right components here. I hope my comments and suggestions are helpful!
Dear Query Workshop,
I’m seeking representation for FATAL FLAW, an 80,000-word suspense thriller. (I don’t think you need to say “suspense thriller.” A thriller is, by definition, suspenseful, right? Just “thriller” or “suspense novel” will work.) It will appeal to fans of the movie, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE and the book, THE BED I MADE by Lucie Whitehouse. [It’s best to start with the pitch—jump right in! You can easily add the book info after. If you have a specific connection, however, (e.g. you met the agent at a conference and they ask you to query them), definitely start with that. Also, you don’t need to say “I’m seeking representation.” They already know this because you’re querying them! J I will add this caveat: agents have their preferences, and some will prefer the title, genre, and word count right at the top. If that’s the case, then follow their preferences.]
A small college town in rural Colorado should be safe. [Good start. It intrigues me. I also expect, by this opening, that the college town will actually NOT be safe, so it makes me want to know why.] That’s what Kesari Chavez thought when she first arrived at Northeast Colorado University as a freshman. And for three years, it has been. [You can tighten these two sentences. Since it’s been safe for the last three years, we don’t need to know that she thought this when she arrived. You can shorten and combine, something like: And for the last three years, Northeast Colorado University has been. Also, give us a hint as to her character.] She expects nothing different for her senior year, other than some lingering curiosity over her being ditched at the altar six weeks ago. [Just lingering curiosity? Why? We need a better sense of Kesari for this to make sense.] Whether people get over it or not, that’s their damn problem. [This sentence doesn’t add to the story or character. It feels oddly out of place. It also seems like an attempt to give us a little of the character’s voice, but it’s in contrast to the rest of the query.] She’s determined to leave it in the past where it belongs and live life on her own terms for once. [This is good: this is what she wants.] Except everywhere she turns she’s sabotaged by past mistakes that keep altering her path. [What do you mean by this? How do these past mistakes “alter” her path? This is just a tad confusing.] Like finding out, she has to be tested for HIV when several students are infected with the deadly virus. [There’s information we have here that we don’t need. We don’t necessarily need to know she was dumped six weeks ago and that people can get over it or not and that she’s determined to move on. What we do need is a better sense of Kesari, her voice, and what she wants. We can know she was dumped in one short line as long as it leads to her want. For example, something like: After being ditched at the altar, she’s determined to leave that botched experience in the past and live on her own terms for once. Try to also be as specific as possible—but also as concise as possible.]
But that isn’t the worst thing.
Threatening gifts and unwanted contact by a person who is determined to stay anonymous spins Kesari’s safe world out of control, leaving her suspecting everyone, including her ex-fiancé and obsessed neighbor. [Avoid the passive voice; instead, use active voice. Also, this sentence is quite long. Break it up. For example, you could say something like: Kesari’s safe world shatters when she receives W, Y, Z (mention a specific gift instead of leaving it vague?) and unwanted contact (like? Specific would be better than vague here, too). I would go as far as to suggest breaking this up into two shorter sentences instead of the one longer one. Also, why does she suspect her ex-fiancé and obsessed neighbor? They’re just dropped in here, but without understanding the links, it’s confusing.] When her best friend, who is the one person keeping her from completely losing it, is injured in a car accident, Kesari does the only thing a girl can do on a college budget. [This is good. Just be careful with too many long sentences.] She hires an amateur P.I. to follow her while she delves into the lives of those around her. [She hires the P.I. to follow her, not the others around her? Why? I’m not following the logic here.] As the danger escalates at an alarming rate with more “accidents”, [This is rather vague. Consider including a more concrete example—or at least let us know the nature of these accidents. What do they seem to target? What seems to be their purpose? It doesn’t have to give away anything major, but right now, “an alarming rate with more accidents” is vague.] Kesari digs deeper and puts herself in the very position the stalker wants her: directly in the stalker’s path. [The repetition of “the stalker” doesn’t work here. Reword so we only have it once.]
I’m a member of Pike’s Peak Writers, Sisters in Crime, and the SinC Guppy chapter. In addition, I’m an intern for (redacted). Thank you for your time and consideration. [Good!]
I did wonder how the title comes into play? Is it one of Kesari’s flaws? I would love to see that come into play, even a hint of it, in the pitch. I don’t know if that would give away too much, or if it’s even possible, but it’s something to think about. Good luck!
I’m a YA author represented by the amazing Jamie Bodnar Drowley of Inklings Literary Agency for my YA Urban Fantasy novel entitled Judges. I’m a military spouse who married her best friend, has an incredibly awesome baby girl who loves to read even though she can’t talk yet, and has a spoiled english bulldog named Whiskey.
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Molly’s query critique
Anna Carsten knew what she’d be when she grew up. She also knew she didn’t have a choice. [Combine these two sentences to save words and tighten: example: Anna Carsten didn’t have a choice for what she’d be when she grew up.] With an elite tennis coach for a dad and a tennis academy for a backyard, she was every bit the star her last name demanded.
But [Cut] Anna played for more than her family’s reputation. When her Wimbledon champion mother committed suicide she made sure of that. And every time Anna won it eased her guilt for what her father had lost.[These two sentences are choppy. I’d combine them as well: example: After her Wimbledon champion mother committed suicide, Anna made sure every one of her wins eased her guilt for what her father lost.] [Also I’m curious about why she feels guilt over her mother’s suicide. That is an intriguing statement sense it sends the message that she feels responsible, as opposed to saying something about her father and her shared grief over the incident.]
But[cut] Since her father’s death two years ago, Anna’s can’t-miss game has sunk into a can’t-win slump. With her losing streak shaking confidence in her family’s prestigious academy,[This statement just scrapes the surface as to what is truly at stake for Anna. To make it concrete I would suggest either adding a line at the end of this paragraph, or simply placing it right here, about what it really means…for example, if the confidence of the prestigious academy is shaken, will Anna lose the academy and everything her father worked for? I know this is implied but concrete details are key in a short and sharp query] Anna’s pressured[This is intriguing! It makes me wonder who exactly is pressuring her and I’m interested to find out] into re-launching the Carsten brand with a new coach, a new strategy, and a sparkling new PR campaign.
Only that new coach is her father’s former protege, Declan Riordan. If his bitter falling out with her dad didn’t make her skeptical enough, the rumors of his match fixing certainly do. And she can’t help but cringe remembering her puppy dog crush, when Declan’s condescension made it clear he thought she’d be nowhere without her last name.[This is a good paragraph and it is obviously implied that the reason he is the new coach is because he is or was the best, but like I said above, you don’t want to leave the agent/editor guessing at anything. Intrigue is fine with the want to read more, but if you can make it concrete I would. A line simply stating there is no one better than him would do well here, I believe, only because the above makes it sound as if she’d never really work with him unless she had to. Because being associated with someone who was rumored to fix matches probably wouldn’t do well for the academy’s already crumbling reputation, but I could see how applicants would overlook that if they knew he was the absolute best there ever was. Her inability to deny him as a coach also makes me curious as to her standing with this academy with her parents both being deceased. Does she own it now? Is she running it? Does a board of higher ups run it and that is who is pressuring her for the new campaign. All of these questions don’t have to be answered, but sharpening the details to make her character’s standing a little clearer would be beneficial.]
Anna would love to know why Declan quit tennis five years ago – and why he’s back now. But learning what drove him away also reveals a different side to her father – and transforms the family history she thought she understood.[Nice :)]
The price of winning on the court collides with the sacrifices made off it, and with the US Open looming, Anna is torn between the man she didn’t think she could trust and the family loyalty she didn’t know she should doubt.Good line 🙂
Told from both Anna and Declan’s points of view[the entire query focuses on Anna’s POV, so I was surprised to read it is a dual POV book. Normally if it is dual, Declan would get his own paragraph or two stating what is at stake for him] Break is a women’s fiction[I’m assuming this is a New Adult novel] novel with strong romantic elements, complete at 90,000 words.
I think this is a really good start! The two main characters are introduced well and as a reader I’m intrigued by their predicament. I also like the tennis academy setting as I think sport stories have a mass appeal. I’m intrigued by Declan’s character as you’ve set that up well, though like I said above I’m surprised he has his own POV in the book and not in the query. You don’t need two queries with two POVs, but Declan needs his own voice, his own stake in this as well. This is a tough spot as you don’t want to go over on words too much, but I believe adding in his own paragraph or two (and to balance this you’d have to cut or combine one of Anna’s) would take the shock factor out of the dual POV statement at the end. Dual POV queries I’ve read in the past have always given both characters a voice and can be done in a condensed 300 word query.
I mentioned the questions above on where Anna’s character stands with the academy. Clearing that up would help increase the stakes for her as well and to me what is at stake for the character is one of the most important aspects to present in a query. It shows us the reason to care about them. If she is now the owner of the academy because of the passing of both parents, then losing the academy would fall completely on her shoulders. If she is simply waiting to take control until a predetermined time and there is a board running the academy, then losing it wouldn’t be entirely her fault, and the stakes wouldn’t be quite as high. Each situation has it’s consequences and risks, so either one is fine, but the fact that I’m not quite certain after reading the whole query means it could use a quick explanation. This doesn’t mean it needs an entire back story, clearing this detail up can happen in a few words…example: “Now running the academy, Anna’s can’t miss game has sunk into a can’t win slump, and the losing streak shakes confidence in her family’s prestigious name. If she can’t turn it around she’ll lose the company her father spent his life building.” Obviously you’d write it much better than me, but you see how adding in a few concrete explanations can wrap up any questions an agent/editor might be left with and that it can be done without using up a whole extra paragraph 🙂
I know all the above notes may seem like a lot but really all you have is a bit of sharpening to do and a quick pass at showing Declan’s side and the stakes more vividly. Other than that it is a short, well paced query! 🙂
Thank you, Alexandra & Molly, for your critiques. Interested in learning more about querying from those who’ve been there? Come back Saturday for our next two critiques by Pitch Wars mentors Samantha Joyce & Natasha Neagle.