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Day Eight of the June Query Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … Kara Seal & Shana Silver

Friday, 12 June 2015  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

B workshop2

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 …


Author photoKKara Seal


Kara is a middle grade writer represented by Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary. She’s a lover of all things creepy and fantastical and a member of RMFW and SCBWI.




Kara’s query critique …

Query #16:

Dear Agent,

Most people would kill to see the future.

Not sixteen-year-old Kai, who dreamed her mom died a week before it happened. Two years later, she feels partly responsible, partly regretful – and partly petrified of having another deadly premonition. So far, this query is very intriguing and presents an interesting premise and great story questions!

Her detective father has no time for soothsayers, so half-Navajo Kai is on her own, lost in strange surges of clairvoyance – and then her dad’s girlfriend is murdered. So does she see the murder before it happens as with her mother? If not, then what IS she seeing in the clairvoyant surges? This is a good place to raise the stakes! Desperate to earn her father’s respect and to understand her second sight, she tracks flickers of the crime scene to the Navajo Reservation, where she stumbles into the shackles of the accused. And then…? This really leaves me hanging about where the story goes.

THE SECRET I is Nancy Drew meets Thunderheart: a 50,000 word YA paranormal. Hmm…not sure I’d use an adult thriller movie as a comp; would be more effective if you found a YA comp title that’s more recent (within the last five years). Comparing books to movies, and especially a movie intended for adults with a book intended for teens is a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Overall the voice and setup of this query is very good. I think you can strengthen it by ratcheting up the tension; Kai is getting clairvoyant images, and even saw her mother’s death before it happened, but then it gets a little vague. Did she also see her dad’s girlfriend’s murder before it happened? Or is not until after the murder she sees images of the crime? And while you shouldn’t give the ending away in a query, you sort of leave us hanging; she runs into the villain, but then what? Does she fight to escape? Does he try to kill her too? Give us just a taste of the danger Kai is in! And my last piece of advice is to find a recent YA novel to use as a comp title. If you can’t find one, that’s ok, but it’s better to not use a comp than use one that doesn’t really convey anything…comp titles are meant to demonstrate your knowledge of the market and how your books fits in, so using a movie doesn’t really work. Good luck with this novel and happy writing!


rachel_shane-Alice_in_wonderland_highShana Silver

Shana Silver: Website | Twitter | Instagram

Rachel Shane: Website | Twitter

Shana Silver is a YA writer repped by Jim McCarthy of DGLM. She is also the alter-ego of Rachel Shane, author of ALICE IN WONDERLAND HIGH, a contemporary retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which is available now from Merit Press. She studied Creative Writing at Syracuse University and now works in digital publishing in New York City. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, young daughter, and a basement full of books.


Her recent book release …




Will this Mad Tea Party put Alice in hot water?

Alice is rebellion-ready, eager to save the world and come into her own. Led into a secret society of young eco-vigilantes at school, she feels like she’s in wonderland, until one of the cool kids tries to frame Alice for all the illegal pranks they’ve pulled. Can Alice find out the gang’s secret before she ends up in jail?

Buy it now! Amazon

Add it to Goodreads





Shana’s query critique …

Query #17:

Thanks for participating in the query critique! I think your premise sounds interesting, I’m very intrigued with the mystery of how Willow landed in Ireland instead of New Mexico, and the loss of memory of her time in Ireland sounds like an interesting twist. That said, I think your query is a little confusing to the point where I’m not sure what the plot is. My biggest suggestion is to start with what Willow wants and what’s standing in her way of getting it. From there you can work in details about the mystery and how that keeps preventing her from reaching her goal. For example, knowing why she was traveling to New Mexico in the first place might be a good starting point. Also, I’m not sure what happens in Ireland aside from the romance, which comes out of nowhere. When she lands, is she trying to get back home? Or is she just embarking on a random adventure with a cute guy? Either one is fine, we just need to know how her goal shifts. As you’ll see below, I had to guess that her ultimate goal was getting home (or really, I think maybe it should be getting to New Mexico?) and that Liam helps her achieve that goal. I’m not sure if that’s correct.

I also found the transition to Dylan to be a little jarring considering there was no mention of a boyfriend until that moment. My guess is that she has forgotten Dylan in Ireland? If so, I would establish that as another mystery. If you want her to choose between the two men (which I’m not sure is actually the case), then we need to see reasons why both must be worthy of being picked. And yes, even in the query you can show that with small details that go along way to show character. I gave some examples below. 

I hope this helps!

While 16 year old add hyphens between sixteen-year-old Willow Ryan is attempting her first solo cross country flight she unexplainably finds herself almost 5,000 miles away in less than an hour after making an emergency landing that will end up changing the course of her life. This sentence is a bit of a mouthful run on. Then below the first two sentences seem to repeat this same info. I think you can punch it up by reordering, condensing, and starting with character: Sixteen-year-old Willow Ryan packs up her [favorite item], boards a plane from Texas to New Mexico to [reason for going on trip. Alternatively, maybe she is leaving something behind?]. But after less than an hour in the air, an emergency landing dumps her five thousand miles away. Across the Atlantic Ocean. In Ireland. Except that isn’t possible…

She takes off from Texas, en route to New Mexico. After making her landing, she unexplainably finds herself at an airport near the west coast of Ireland, even though she realizes that it simply can’t be possible. She has somehow crossed the Atlantic in just over an hour.  See above for previous sentences. New paragraph here: It is there that she meets the strikingly gorgeous Liam Tyl. I suggest also giving a unique character trait about him other than his looks. Something like: There she meets the strikingly gorgeous Liam Tyl who [curses like a sailor but holds doors like a gentleman]. Obviously that’s made up but pick something that is uniquely Liam. They are instantly drawn to one another. They embark on a love affair that challenges Willow’s very thinking. The previous two sentences could be pumped up and combined. Since I’m not sure what they actually do in Ireland—what do they want, what’s the main source of conflict–I also suggest trying to reveal plot with them. Example: He sweeps her up in an all consuming love affair that challenges Willow’s very thinking as they [embark on a foot trek over the green hills to get to the nearest airport].If there’s any sort of external conflict, like maybe they get pick pocketed and she loses all her cash or something, I would use an additional sentence to show it. Once she is back home, I found this transition a little jarring since we last hear of a love affair but we don’t know why she actually leaves. So I would tie this into a reason for her leaving. she has no memory of her time with Liam so she continues to live life as if he doesn’t exist, Think this can be punched up a bit. Maybe something like: But as soon as Willow steps on the plane home, all memories of Liam vanish from her mind. moving forward in a relationship with her boyfriend, Dylan Brandt. I’m a little confused. If she was dating Dylan all along, then why did she have an affair with Liam? If I am interpreting correctly, then I think you need to mention Dylan earlier and let that be a natural source of conflict. Like she has a boyfriend back home but her attraction to Liam escalates until they both give in. She goes home to break up with Dylan in person. Something like that… He offers a life that is real and she sees no reason not to accept, but for the nagging feeling that something or someone is telling her not to choose that life. The choice she faces could be the most difficult of her life. I’m a little confused on what her choice actually is. To be with Dylan or not? Or is she choosing between the boys? If it’s the latter, I would clarify.

Quantum is a finished –,— word
standalone novel intended for young adult readers with series potential.

This is my first full length novel. 
Cut the first sentence, no need to say it’s your first full length novel. I have written a few short stories, Also cut this since none are published. and I have also been published in 1998-1999 in El Paso Inc, a weekly newspaper. Most recently, in January 2015, I won a creative writing contest. Rewrite: My writing has been published in El Paso Inc, a weekly newspaper. In January 2015, I won the [Name The Contest] creative writing  contest. I would leave off the 1998 date because it is a long time ago and make sure to name the actual contest. 

I have plans on making Quantum a three or four book series but it can also be a stand-alone novel.
Cut this and put it with the word count sentence. I demonstrated there.

I appreciate your time to the extent that you cannot imagine
I think they could probably imagine, so I would just be simple: I appreciate your time and consideration.

Thank you, Kara and Shana, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!


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