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Query Workshop … critiques by Thomas Torre

Tuesday, 5 November 2013  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Woman laptop grass

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 Thomas Torre 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 Thomas…


Thomas Torre

Tom is an IT whiz by day (just think of one of those guys from Office Space), and a comic book artist, video game buff, and middle-grade writer by night. After a few stints as colorist in the comic book industry, he completed his first major middle grade novel, COPERNICUS NERDICUS, which combines his love for video games and robotic warfare. He’s represented by Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary and a contributor for Middle Grade Minded. Follow him on Twitter @CopernicusNerd or visit his blog here


And here is his first critique …


Dear Agent,

It stinks being a middle child, especially for Fin. (Of course it stinks 🙂 You can probably cut this first line out and jump right into something from the second paragraph as it’s a lot stronger and acts more like a hook! And that’s what agents need – they need to be reeled in.)His sleek otter body started showing stripes once he turned 12, and although he likes being ahead of everyone, having his body change before those of his friends makes him stand out. (Perhaps you can re-word it to read something like “The last thing twelve-year-old, Fin wanted was to be a Paradox — then go into the explanation of what a paradox is from your second paragraph.) I feel His parents make him take care of his baby sister, who refuses to hatch from her egg and shouts “Roop roop!” just to embarrass him. Meanwhile, his older sister is the coolest kid around and destined for fame. How’s he supposed to compete with that?

(While I know you’re trying to give a little bit of character back story with Fin and by talking about his family, his friends and growing up, the first paragraph should be more about the hook. You can possibly keep the little sister bit in there, since she is a main part of the stakes in this story. The paradox part in the second paragraph is where I was grabbed, so I really think you should start there.)

The fact that Fin has grown up with a medical condition doesn’t help – he’s a Paradox. He gets lost when he knows the way. He’s only right when he doesn’t know the answer. Sometimes his shadow points in the wrong direction. He’ll never be either cool or famous. Paradoxes never get what they want. It’s in their nature. Not cool at all. (You can add – “That is, until the Monkey King appears demanding the aid of one…)

(As I said before, the second paragraph works much better as a hook – then you can tie it in with the appearance of the Monkey King as I wrote in above).

It’s only when a devious figure called Monkey King shows up demanding a Paradox that Fin learns he could be valuable, even if he doesn’t understand why. Then the Monkey King kidnaps Fin’s little sister instead of him and he doesn’t know what to do. (I would possibly re-word this as: Fin finally believes that being a Paradox will serve a purpose, but he isn’t what the Monkey King had in mind. Instead his sister his snatched away from him and left in the clutches of the Monkey King.)

(Maybe add – It’s up to Fin now to push his status as a Paradox aside and save his sister. But- It’s hard to be a hero when wanting to be one could turn you into a sidekick or even a villain. Fin isn’t just his own worst enemy – he’s a problem for everyone who’s trying to help.  (I’m a little confused as to what this last line means – you may want to say what will cause him to be a side kick or villain. I’m assuming this is for the Monkey King?)

The Story of the Story of the Egg is a 46,000-word upper middle grade fantasy adventure that takes place in the Stacks and the Walled Garden of Story City, where all stories come from and where they meet their authors. The novel will appeal to fans of Tove Jansson’s Moomin novels and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

(Good! You’ve compared it to some other novels! Great for agents to get an idea as to what the market is. I’m a little worried about the word count at 46,000 for an “upper-middle grade” but I’m not one to judge. Word counts are subjective sometimes.)

In addition to prose, I sometimes write plays, one of which won an award at the 2009 Prague Fringe Festival. Without question, writing fiction is the best thing I have done with the skills I learned getting my degrees in Folklore (which yes, you can still get).  (You can probably cut out the last part, or at least merge the two sentences into one. Totally optional though as this is up to you how you want to portray your bio.)

As per your submission guidelines, I’m including the first three chapters as an attachment.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


(You’ve got a good voice in the query, and I can definitely see this as a middle grade adventure. You may just want to revisit this to really let the stakes stand out; explain the true purpose of the Monkey King to raise the stakes even higher. Fin is a paradox, and something that is obviously not accepted, but he has to use this status somehow to “save the day”. I can only guess this is an underdog story, so you really want to make it stand out as one!

I would also really suggest going through each of the query critiques being posted as it would be a great we to get a feel for how other queries work. You’ve got an interesting idea on your hand and I would hate to see it get lost! Good luck!)  


And here is his second critique…


Dear Ms./Mr. Agent,

After reading about you on XXXXXXXXXX, your Agency’s website, and following you on Twitter, I would like to offer my MG contemporary humorous novel, MIDDLE SCHOOL MAFIA, for your consideration.

 (Good start – shows personalization and research which is always a major plus. I would even go one step farther and add what made you consider them. Maybe an example of a book they currently represent that might fit the category.)

Twelve-year old Deech Rosselli and his family are placed into Witness Protection in a town run by a U.S. Marshall, seven hundred and thirty two miles away from home. (I would love to hear why he gets placed into witness protection – not sure if this plays a role in the book but I hope it does!) Deech gets a new name, new friends, and a whole new set of problems as the middle school is filled with mini mobsters, all imitating what they’ve seen their parents do over the years.  (Great way to reel me in. Definitely not something I’ve seen before, and it already seems like an environment that would be filled with major problems for your MC to encounter)

Deech makes friends quickly and finds himself thriving among forgers, bookmakers, hackers, enforcers, munitions experts, and even the random arsonist as the kids form families of their own during recess. (Hmm – this paragraph feels a bit forced. Maybe a bit more about what he does with his new classmates that leads him to discover what happens in the next paragraph with the principal. I would try to make it feel less like a list if that makes sense. It sounds cool, but I want to SEE cool! Show not tell.)

When the disenchanted principal, himself a former marshall, snitches on the whereabouts of the Rossellis, Deech and his new friends put together a plan that will trap the principal and capture the mob boss and the men that come looking for them. (I can imagine what would happen if they get caught, but I would even mention it. Are they going to be sent to the fishes? 🙂 Are they going to make the principal an offer he can’t refuse? Give me more. Raise the stakes through the roof)

A combination of the Sopranos meets Home Alone; MIDDLE SCHOOL MAFIA is 38,000 words of family comedy where the term family has a whole new meaning.

(Love the comparison – and the title is killer)

I am a member of SCBWI and two critique groups. I’m working on getting my Masters in English Literature with a concentration in Fantasy.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.


(When all is said and done, this is a pretty strong query. You’ve got a plot that would reel someone right in, and I can just imagine the cast of characters that are scattered throughout the novel. It’s definitely something that’s taking the “specialty school” genre to the next level. Not wizards, but MINI MOBSTERS? Ha – that’s awesome. I would love to bring out a bit more voice in the query, and maybe try to elaborate a tiny bit more in some areas that I pointed out above. It’s working so far, but I think a touch more would bring it to the next level.

Good job! Sounds like an awesome read.)







Filed: Misc, Workshops

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