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Query Workshop … critiques by Erica Chapman

Friday, 8 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 Erica Chapman 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 Erica…

erica3Erica Chapman

Erica is a young adult writer of dark contemporary/thrillers. She’s a founding YA Misfit, contributor for The Kindness Project blog, and  All The Write Notes. During the day she’s a social media manager who sells her soul for likes daily. She’s had stints as a literary intern and an  editor for a well-known publishing company. Follow Erica on Twitter (@ericamchapman) and check out her website.


And here is her first critique …


[Agent Personalization]

Anna is stuck in a rut the old “stayed at home after high school, working a dead-end job” kind of rut. To be fair, it’s a very comfortable rut that her dad approves of, and that she dug for herself. But still, it’s time for a change. I don’t think you need to spend a whole paragraph on her being in a rut, I would just say the first line, then add the part about her dad’s approval, then move on to Coy. And I would definitely add the part about the Shakespeare Festival Road Trip, that’s the hook that makes this unique.

Change comes in the form of Coy McLeod, isvisiting Anna’s small hometown from Chicago- a place that is much more exciting than Lydia, Oregon. How does she meet Coy? Is he a friend of the family? Coy is as spontaneous, passionate, and independent as and Anna is… not. I would almost rather see this up when you introduce Coy to us. Opposites really do attract.

When Coy gets the idea to take ainvites Anna on a Shakespeare Festival road trip, (why does he invite her? What are the circumstances?) Anna agrees to go along, hoping the spontaneity will help her to be more open open up to new things so she can climb out of her too-comfortable rut. Falling in love with Coy on the trip, however, just makes things more complicated. But what happens on the road trip? Do they act in plays? Travel with other Shakespearean actors? Where’s the conflict on the trip?Instead of having to tell her dad that she doesn’t want to study Business (his idea, not hers), she might also have to tell him that she doesn’t want to stay in Lydia for the rest of her life. She might want to move to someplace new… like Chicago. Why does her dad want her to stay in Lydia? Does he want her to work at his business? Is she his only daughter? What’s the conflict there?

As Anna sees it, she can’t make everybody happy. Especially if she can’t even decide what she wants for herself. Should she stay at home and finish college at her family’s alma mater? Or take a chance on Coy? Anna’s terrified of making the wrong choice. Why? What will happen if she chooses either? Luckily for her she’s got a semester left of her Associate’s degree to figure things out.

Oh, crap. I don’t get this?

LOVE AND THE BARD is a New Adult contemporary romance, complete at 90,000 words. It would appeal (My preference only, butI’m not a fan of someone telling agents what it would appeal to, that makes it sound like I’m telling them something that is fact.) to  I believe this will appeal to readers who enjoy contemporary Young Adult novels, such as those by Sarah Dessen, and are now looking for an older protagonist. I’m having trouble with this last line. I would revise this.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

You’ve got a cool hook with the Shakespearean road trip! I would totally dig something like that, but it gets a little lost in the middle. Also the reasons for Anna going on the trip are never told, and the circumstances of how she met Coy and why he invites her aren’t told either. So we don’t really see that connection between them. I would concentrate on the details of the romance and make sure to add the conflicts. From this query it sounds like Anna leaving her hometown is the only real conflict. Which is fine, but we need to know WHY that matters to Anna for us to care about it. What is she leaving behind, what does she stand to lose if she goes, if she doesn’t go? These are the questions that will spruce up the query.

Hope this helps ;o) Good Luck!

And here is her second critique…

Dear agent,

[Agent personalization]

A year ago, Michellette Mining shut down sixteen-year-old Paul Simpkins’s hometown, Empire, Nevada. I would add something about revenge here instead. That seems to be the main focus of this. Now he’s stuck in Reno, a shit-hole full of geezers who spend every second of their lives stuffing quarters in flashing slot machines. HA! I love this line so much. Paul only knows two people at his new high school. One ignores him, while the other spreads rumors to make sure he’ll never have any friends. Is this relevant to anything? They aren’t mentioned the rest of the query, I would cut it and concentrate on the revenge element and cover up.

Paul needs to get out isn’t the only one who wants to get back at Michellette. and he wants to get back at Michellette for destroying his life. He’s not the only one. He contacts four old friends, each with their own reasons to hate Michellette, and together they head back to Empire.

The town is empty and looted show me this, just one line on what the town looks like to Paul is there a place he loved to go that’s in shambles now?, and Paul’s ready to give up (on what?) when his friend Chief sets a fire that almost kills a security guard. Is this one of the four friends? Why does Chief do this? Is this the revenge plot? If so I would say that. In the aftermath, Paul learns a deadly secret about Michellette Mining that involves his father. that Michellette cheated Chief’s mother out of insurance money when Chief’s father died and that his own father was involved in the cover-up. You don’t want to give away too much, and a cover up is never mentioned, I would mention it sooner if it’s important. If Paul can convince his father to come clean about his secret, maybe they can right the wrong done to Chief’s family and strike a blow against Michellette. If not, Paul’s not sure how he’ll live with himself. This needs to be a stronger ending. Perhaps, if Paul doesn’t discover Michellete’s secret before [something] he stands to lose his father and everything he loves about the city… or something like that.

EMPIRE, NEVADA is a 63,000-word YA Contemporary novel that stands at 63,000 words. It is a combination that blends elements of the movie STAND BY ME with WINGER by Andrew Smith (always use the author name with comps), with an abandoned town replacing a dead body or a boarding school.

I’ve included the first few pages [make sure to check agents’ website for sub guidelines] in this email, per your submission guidelines.

Thank you for your time and your consideration. I would move this down here. It just reads better.


I think the revenge plot is a good one and the story sounds interesting it just needs to be focused a bit. I would concentrate on Paul and what his motivations are and what his goals and choices are. He wants revenge on the mining company that destroyed his hometown. That’s what his motivation is. So now you build around that. You could even skip the “a year ago…” line. I tried an example below to show you what I mean. I added his age because unless you say it’s YA up front it’s hard to tell how old Paul is. But feel free to add it anywhere or move up the line about high school.

“Seventeen-year-old Paul Simpkins wants revenge.

After a year of living in Reno, a town full of geezers who stuff coins in slot machines all day, he’s ready to take action and annihilate the mining company that destroyed his home town.”

You want to pack that punch at the beginning and really, revenge is what Paul wants, right? Then you can add in the other details.

Hope this helps ;o) Good luck!


Thank you Erica 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.


Filed: Misc, Workshops

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