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


Query Workshop … critiques by Suzanne van Rooyen

Monday, 11 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 Suzanne van Rooyen 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 Suzanne…


Suzanne van Rooyen

Suzanne is a freelance writer and author from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Suzanne is the author of the cyberpunk novel Dragon’s Teeth (Divertir), the YA science fiction novel Obscura Burning (Etopia), YA LGBT contemporary novel The Other Me (Harmony Ink, forthcoming) and YA science fiction novel I Heart Robot (Month9Books, 2015). Her short stories have been published by Golden Visions Magazine, Space and Time and Niteblade amongst others. Her non-fiction articles on travel, music and other topics can be found scattered throughout the Internet. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing you can find her teaching dance and music to middle schoolers or playing in the snow with her shiba inu. She is also the publicity manager for Entranced Publishing. You can follow her on Twitter (@Suzanne_Writer) and check out her website.

Check out OBSCURA BURNING by Suzanne van Rooyen …


OBSCURA BURNING is an Upper YA science fiction with LGBT themes published by Etopia Press. Read more about the inspiration behind this book here and here. Buy it on Amazon, OmniLit, The Book Depository or at Barnes&Noble.

And here is her first critique …

Dear Agent (Always address your query to a specific agent using first name and surname, or to Mr/Mrs/Ms So-&-So),

Since you represent historical fiction and young adult, I thought you might be interested in my YA historical novel, THE PIRATE’S DAUGHTER complete at 62,000 words. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy reading historical fiction that takes place in Tudor England ← this is a little bland. What about some comparative titles, or perhaps a little more detail like ‘…who enjoy reading about unrequited love/rebellious noblemen/ruthless pirates in Tudor England” – something that hints a little more at the tone of the story since you’ve already said it’s historical fiction.

The ruthless Red Lady has returned from where? to claim her daughter in order to train her to be a pirate ← this sentence seems to suggest the story is from the Mom’s POV. I suggest starting with Jenny straight away eg: Seventeen year old Jenny imagines a life of swashbuckling adventures when the infamous Red Lady pirate, her mother, comes to claim Jenny for a perilous life on the high seas. Seventeen year old Jenny imagines a life of swashbuckling adventures setting sail on the open seas, wind in her hair and pirate booty at her feet—that is, until her mother orders the burning and pillaging of the village which village? I’m not sure where they are, and the significance of the village doesn’t come across here. Is this Jenny’s own village? Did she lose friends upon her mother’s orders? How does Jenny feel?, leaving death and destruction behind.

Jenny runs away only to be captured and hauled onto the Red Lady ship to begin her training This leaves me a little confused. So the village is burned before Jenny’s mom comes to claim her? This time There were other times? her mother offers an incentive for Jenny to stay, the capture of a young girl she threatens to kill if Jenny does not cooperate with her ← gosh, that’s brutal. Why is her mother so desperate to have Jenny on board? Jenny pretends to go along and train with her mother in order to protect the child. Why not plot an escape instead? Is Jenny alone, is there a love interest, is this story focused on the friendship between the two girls? I don’t get a clear sense of what this story is about.

When her mother is taken prisoner by King Hal’s guards after the king sets a trap, Jenny has to make a decision ← is there any reason for Jenny to be on TeamMom in this situation?, either let her mother swing from the king’s noose or rescue her.

I don’t really get a clear idea of who Jenny is. I think this query needs a stronger voice. It also needs clearer stakes. What is at stake for Jenny if she let’s her mom hang? What does she risk losing?

THE PIRATE’S DAUGHTER is inspired by the true story of the Red Lady pirate who was active during the time of Henry VIII. (She was known for her beautiful singing voice which often served as a distraction while her pirate crew began their attack. Since you don’t mention this at all in the query, I’d leave it out. If this is important, then incorporate it into the query.)

I think there’s an interesting story here but the query doesn’t quite reflect that yet. To read more, I’d need a better idea of who the protagonist is and what’s at stake for her.

I am a published author, primarily through small presses and self-published on Kindle/Nook. I have a Master’s in English with an emphasis on Children’s Literature and creative writing for YA. I am active on social media. I am enclosing sample pages per your website guidelines. Please let me know if you’d like to see more pages.


And here is her second critique …

Dear Ms. Wonderful Agent, (Always address your query to a specific agent using first name and surname, or to Mr/Mrs/Ms So-&-So)

I am querying you because you represent Sarah Maas, who critiqued my first two chapters as part of a YA giveaway package earlier this year, and because I read you are looking for young adult science fiction that terrifies you into thinking about what could come in a few years (what about ‘what could happen in the near future’ rather). Good! This immediately makes a strong impression, shows you’ve done your homework and that you know what the agent is looking for. Therefore, I thought you might enjoy my 98,000 word YA science fiction novel, THE SHADOW OF A DREAM.

Before last night, <insert age, it helps to know whether this will be for younger or upper YA readers> Crissa Pierce had never dreamed. If she had, she’d no longer be alive. Because in this war, dreams are a death sentence. Wow, I’m hooked.

The Gaia and Aether nations have been battling for decades over a powerful compound (you don’t mention this compound again – is it really that important?), borne from the depths of space, which will help the winning side claim ultimate victory. Crissa is a fierce and loyal Gaia who lives in a city deep beneath the former Blue Ridge Mountains. The Aether, ensconced in a gleaming metropolis floating in the sky, have found a way to infiltrate the Gaia’s dreams and control their waking thoughts and actions. The Gaia hadbeen protected from such infiltration…until now. Great paragraph – gives me the setting and hints just enough at world-building. Perhaps consider voice a little more – is this how Crissa would describe things? If not, try to put it into her words.

Crissa has a choice after the dream?: live under the control of the Aether and risk killing her family and the boy she loves, or fulfill the government mandate to protect her people by taking her life high stakes! Great!I think the stakes will become clearer if you start the paragraph with this sentence → When the Gaia leaders discover she dreamed, her enemies won’t be the only ones trying to kill her.

As the best Aether Dream Traverser, young ?? be specific, would Crissa see him as ‘young’ ? and intelligent Tristan Blake is assigned the task of taking over Crissa’s mind. Haunted by the death of his family, he needs her to carry out his personal crusade against the Gaia. So it has nothing to do with that compound you mentioned?

When the two meet in her dreams and stop fighting long enough to actually talk to each other, they realize their beliefs about the war and each other are startlingly different from the truth wait, how do they know what the truth is if they both have such radically different views? Or do they discover that what they’ve been told is true is in fact fallacious? And after Crissa’s betrayal what is her betrayal – the dream, or talking to Tristan? is discovered, Tristan must make a choice: let the Gaia torture and execute her, or betray his nation to save the enemy he’s fallen for. Awesome stakes!

Told from dual perspectives, THE SHADOW OF A DREAM is a stand-alone novel with series potential. Fans of the psychological warfare depicted in the movie INCEPTION and of star-crossed romance will be drawn into Crissa and Tristan’s nightmare. Good!

This query is one or two tweaks away from being perfect!

I am a law student at the University of Georgia and on theGeorgia Law ReviewEditorial board. I am a winner of the GRAMMY Foundation’s Entertainment Law Initiative Legal Writing Competition and have published articles in theEntertainment and Sports Lawyer Journaland the Georgia Employment Law Letter.

Per your submission guidelines, below please find the first 10 pages and a synopsis of the manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Warm regards,

Thank you Suzanne 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

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.