Have questions about submitting to Pitch Wars or just want to know what it is? Start here!


Query Workshop … critiques by L.L. McKinney

Sunday, 10 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 L.L. McKinney 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 L.L. McKinney…


El is a freelance writer, a published poet, and a member of several writing associations. Fantasy is her first love, particularly urban fantasy. There’s nothing like imagining the impossible happening right here at home. Science fiction is a close second. Very close.She lives the single life in Kansas, surrounded by more nieces and nephews than she knows what to do with.


And here is her first critique …


Color Code! Purple = Additions, Red = Cuts, Green = My notes






Dear [AGENT],


[A writer friend recommended I research you after seeing your recent tweets on #MSWL day.]

Having read your #MSWL tweets, and a recent interview, I hope to tempt your appetite for smart, updated views on classics and magic with a fresh twist.

Thirteen-year-old Kerridon Matthews has never known any home except New Place, her great-uncle Theo’s magnificent Edwardian mansion.((As far as hooks go, this doesn’t make me sit up and pay attention. And, officially, the party doesn’t get started until he goes missing, so I’d start there.))

 With thirteen-year-old Kerridon Mathews’ Uncle Theo missing, presumed dead, she’s the only one who believes he’s still alive out there, somewhere. A belief strengthened when a strange visitor crashes his wake, demanding The Book.((Strange is such a generic term, what’s odd about them? Do they act weird, jumpy, anxious, paranoid? And the wake crashing is a good place to end. People crash weddings and parties, but wakes? I smell trouble. Awesome.))

 Uncle Theo’s library holds hundreds of books, there’s no telling which one the stranger is after. But when a series of cryptic messages begin to appear, seemingly left by Uncle Theo himself, Kerri suspects her vile Aunt Felicia is behind his disappearance. With the “help” of her wisecracking cousin, Kerridon sets out to explore the library’s mysteries and stumbles upon worlds of magic, a centuries-old family secret, and a treasure worth more than all the riches in a thousand storybooks. A treasure Aunt Felicia is willing to do anything to get her hands on. ((For these two paragraphs, I took the meat of what you mentioned and zeroed in on those details, while just moving some things around.))

 , a renowned (if eccentric) Shakespearean scholar, has been parent and teacher to the orphaned Kerridon as long as she can remember. But now Uncle Theo is missing, vanished into a bitter snowstorm in the dead of night. Kerridon’s Aunt Felicia is determined to get her hands on the fabled family fortune, and with half of Uncle Theo’s will missing, she just might succeed. But Kerridon knows Uncle Theo is still alive somewhere — and his incredible library holds the key to his disappearance. What is the meaning of the cryptic messages Uncle Theo has left? Who is the strange visitor that crashes his wake, and what is the Book they demand from Kerridon? What does all this have to do with Uncle Theo’s research into the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets? With the “help” of her wisecracking cousin Sam, Kerridon sets out to explore the library’s secrets before the trail goes cold— and stumbles upon worlds of magic, a centuries-old family secret, and a tale worthy of the Bard himself.

 The Tale of Kerridon Matthews((Don’t query a series, query a single book. Title is in all caps)) INHERITANCE is a ((Put the genre here. Even though the series spans the next five years, the first one sounds like an MG, magical realism.)) Young Adult Magic Realism with series potential is a five-book YA series spanning the next 4-5 years of Kerridon’s life, as she balances “real” life with the pull of the secret world revealed through New Place’s library — the world of the Muses, dark and light, and the mortals they inspire into immortality and madness. Her search for Uncle Theo — and the identities of her parents — leads Kerridon into espionage, enchantment, and danger as she follows the path of the Bard’s quill. Book One of The Tale of Kerridon Matthews, Inheritance’, complete at 79,000 words. ((If it turns out this is a MG book, 79k is really long.)) , launches the reader into the fast-paced world of New Place and its many mysteries.I hold a BFA in theatre studies, and worked as an actor and teacher of performing arts before turning to writing full-time. ((No need to list your (former) day job and degree unless they have to do with writing.)) I have included [EXCERPT] as per your submission guidelines; I would be pleased to send more at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.


((Include your contact information, email and phone number, and a blog/website/twitter if you have one))

 ((Too many details bog a query down. The point here is to leave the reader wanting more, not telling them everything that happens in the story. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to focus on a single—read main—plot point. Everything else can be included in the synopsis.

For formatting your query, it should be aligned left, not justified, and broken into short paragraphs. White space is your friend, huge chunks of writing are a deterrent. As someone once said, queries should focus on the HOOK, what pulls the reader in initially, the BOOK, the main plot, and the COOK, brief bit about you.))


And here is her second critique…


Dear ____,

Seventeen-year-old Tara has never believed in ghosts – until her dead cousin’s name appearsscrawls itself across her bedroom wall. ((Words simply appearing could be some random person writing it while she’s not there. This story sounds spookier than that.))

With her delusional aunt insisting her cousin NAME is alive back, Tara digs for clues related to the unsolved decade-old murdercold case ((Cold case literally says unsolved murder, and reads smoother)), and stumbles upon a missing diary. It details a murder plan where Tara was the intended target cousin had intended to kill her, but somehow NAME ended up drowned in the local streamdead instead.

Then a girl bearing an uncanny resemblance ((uncanny resemblance is a cliché phrase, try and find a different way to describe her. Avoid mirror/pitting image.)) to Tara’s her murderedlate cousin moves in next door and, oneby-one, people begin to die. When Tara’s life is threatened, she realizes her dead cousinNAME is back, more evil and twisted than before.But why did would she want to kill Tara to begin with, they’re supposed to be family. The answer is hidden in the past, in repressed memories that surface as Tara tries to piece together what happened so the killing can end. She’s the only one who can stop her cousin. Blood is thicker than water, after all.

To survive, she has to shift through her repressed memories and find out why her cousin wanted her dead in the first place. But that could mean unearthing secrets about herself and her family, secrets left buried for a reason. Survival could come at the cost of her sanity, and ultimately, her humanity.

TARNISHED, a YA Thriller, is complete at 58,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


((Don’t forget to include your contact information, phone, email, website/blog/twitter if you have it.))

Thank you L.L. McKinney 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

  • suja says:

    I’m the author of Q2. Thanks so much for taking the time and for your excellent suggestions. I appreciate it.

  • Myron says:

    Insightful critique. Gave me some excellent ideas to sharpen my own query. Thank you for this amazing post. Look on forward to more.

We're thrilled at the different ways those in our Pitch Wars community are giving back—and we encourage them to do so. However, please keep in mind that Pitch Wars is not affiliated with any of these various contests, promotions, etc., including those of our mentors and mentees. Promoting any such opportunities via our social media channels doesn't imply endorsement or affiliation. We encourage you to do your research before participating.

Pitch Wars takes a stand. ANTI-BULLYING. Click here to review our policy

Pitch Wars 2021

Blog Archives

Blog Categories

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.