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 …
Sarah is a young adult and picture book author. Her YA historical fantasy debut, FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP, will be released by Sky Pony in September 2016. She is represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency. Sarah lives in Richmond, VA with her husband and four rescued greyhounds, and when she’s not writing, she can often be found painting or antiquing.
Sarah’s query critique …
Coby married a drug addict and he regrets saying ‘I do’. Nice hook!
When they got married, Coby said he’d never leave Jimmy. This feels a bit repetitive with your hook. Coby stays through Jimmy’s nervous breakdown, I think you could combine the first part of this sentence with the previous one, ie: “After witnessing his husband’s nervous breakdown, Coby questions his vow to never leave Jimmy’s side.” but when he finds a hidden stash of drugs and the meds Jimmy promised he was taking, the bottom starts falling out. Coby believes he’s the only person who can keep Jimmy stable Why is that? This feels a bit telling since you don’t give us any context. Has he been the only person who’s kept Jimmy stable in the past?; if Jimmy’s doing drugs again, Coby has failed. For the first time in their relationship, Coby questions his efforts to save the marriage. I’m not sure you need this last sentence; it might be punchier to end with “Coby has failed,” and I don’t think this last sentence adds new information.
Tired of taking pills, Jimmy quits his psych meds cold turkey. He’s got a great job, good marriage, and he’s happier than he’s ever been–for the first week. The second week, he plasters on a smile, pretending he’s fine. Then, one misstep by his boss Where does he work? I want to know since you’re talking about a misstep by Jimmy’s boss being the thing that sends him into a downward spiral. It seems significant to the plot! sends Jimmy into a tailspin that lands him on the psych ward for two weeks of fights and a battle of wills. Be more specific here, too—fights and a battle of wills with himself? With his boss? With Coby? With the world?
To save his marriage, Jimmy has to stay clean and stay on his meds. Coby has to find the confidence that made him say ‘I do’ in the first place. If he gives up, he might as well stamp Jimmy’s one-way ticket back to the streets he pulled him from. Coby pulled Jimmy off the streets? This is interesting information that feels thrown in too late in the query! Consider moving it to much earlier, because I think it puts their relationship in a unique light. Neither one knows if they have the strength to save the marriage. I wouldn’t expect them to know if they have the strength to save their marriage, so this feels like stating the obvious a little, but maybe you meant to say that they both have to search for inner strength if they’re going to save their marriage.
RESCUE ME is dual POV, LGBT contemporary fiction complete at 84,000 words. Elephant Bookshelf Press published my short story ‘Anguish’ in the anthology ‘Winter’s Regret’ in 2014. This is relevant and great to mention; nice job with this paragraph overall! Thank you for your time and consideration.
I think Coby and Jimmy are both compelling characters! I’d be interested to read more about them and their romance. However, I have some concerns with the query overall.
First, while you do a good job of setting up each character’s inner journey and then the overall stakes of their marriage potentially crumbling, I felt like I never got a sense for the plot. Like, what actions are unfolding on the page as these characters try to find their inner strength and overcome their personal demons? What steps does Coby take to try to save the marriage? Likewise, what does Jimmy do? Does the novel take place over the span of the time that Jimmy’s in the psych ward, or does he come home? Do they go somewhere together to try to repair their relationship?
As you can see from all the questions above, I’m worried that your query gives too much information about the characters’ inner journeys and not enough about the actual plot!
Also, I’d like to know a little something (could just be one line) about Coby outside of the context that he’s Jimmy’s husband. What defines him as a character?
And then, as mentioned in the body of the query, I think bringing in the aspect that Coby rescued Jimmy off the streets would be really intriguing to mention up-front. You could explore that in the query a bit to give readers a better understanding of these two characters and their current predicament.
I hope that all makes sense, and again, you did a great job laying out each character’s personal battle and the ultimate stakes. Best of luck with this book; it sounds like a compelling read!
Kevin is a self-proclaimed dreamer and a kid at heart. When he’s not writing or reading, he is coaching soccer or helping with homework. He lives outside of Atlanta with his wife, two extraordinary boys, and dogs. He is also a co-founder of the Middle Grade Mafia blog.
Kevin’s recent release …
The Extraordinary Sam & the Adventurers’ Guild
Cover illustrated Dora Mitchell
In EXTRAORDINARY SAM, Sam Miller seems like an ordinary 12 year-old boy, but the discovery of a mysterious box from his missing grandfather changes his life forever. He soon finds himself in a strange world full of adventure and magic where he must battle pirates, giant spiders, and an evil tyrant. To survive, Sam must overcome his fears, solve the riddles, and most of all, be Extraordinary.
Kevin’s query critique …
Seventeen-year-old Lainey Styles is focused, driven, and a complete control freak. When she is attacked by a 200 year old ghost, Lainey is determined to find out why—especially when the hallucinations begin. ( :-))
Searching for answers, Lainey discovers that she is the last remaining descendant of an ancient line of witches called the Keepers. For hundreds of years, the Keepers were the guardians and protectors of the Grimoire, an all-powerful tome of magic.
In order to fulfill her destiny as athe Keeper, Lainey must track down a madman, known as The Master, and steal back the book. The trouble is The Master knows Lainey is the only one who can unlock the power of the Grimoire and he will stop at nothing to use Lainey’s power to enslave the Supernatural race and get rid of mankind once and for all.
KEEPER is a young adult paranormal novel complete at 82,000 words.
I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, a master’s in Education, and currently am a high school English teacher. Being a teacher gives me the opportunity to learn more about my target audience’s tastes in books.
My sincerest thanks in advance for your time and consideration.
The author’s story sounds gripping, but I found the original query to contain information that may be critical to the story, but not critical in trying to entice an agent or editor to read more. The suggested edits I made were to fine tune the message and draw the reader of the query in.
The first two paragraphs were trimmed and merged to make a stronger hook. I love the mention of the hallucinations!!
The next paragraph had me a bit confused. I wasn’t clear of what the Grimoire was (thought it was a sword or other type of weapon). I switched around some parts of the sentence to tighten up what I thought the author was trying to convey.
The original third paragraph was fine, but I felt it could use a little punch. I feel it reads stronger.
Fourth paragraph had information that didn’t need to be in the query, except for the last bit (which fit nicely in the revised third paragraph).
The part about the number of words and completed manuscript was originally combined with the short bio. The bio should be a stand-alone. Also, are you a member of a group like SCBWI? Are you part of a critique group? Not needed, but could be nice to work in.
Other things to remember:
Find out something about each publisher or agent that shows you did your homework and you feel your story fits with their tastes. Did you meet them at a conference?
Queries should give the reader a clear understanding of the main character, what the conflict is, and what’s at stake. If you are putting things in that don’t add to these points, it may be something that you don’t need.
The query letter is a tough thing to nail. What works for one, doesn’t work for others. Your query letter editing is never done until you land that agent/publisher. If you are getting a lot of rejections, go back in and revise the query.
Thank you, Sarah and Kevin, for your critiques. Interested in learning more about querying from those who’ve been there? Come back Tuesday for our next two critiques by Pitch Wars mentors Julie Dao and Mónica Bustamante Wagner.