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 …
Samantha has wanted to be an author since she picked up her first book and realized authors get to create new worlds with just a pen and paper (or laptop, if you will). She loves to write about romance because, as someone who married her high school sweetheart, she absolutely believes in true love. She also loves making people laugh and feels love and laughter go hand in hand. If she can make someone both swoon and giggle with her words, she considers that a success. When not writing or at her day job, Samantha can be found either singing and dancing on stage in local musicals, or at home watching geeky television shows with her husband and their pet rabbit.
Samantha is represented by Kathleen Rushall from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC. Her debut, FLIRTING WITH FAME, will be published by Pocket Star/Simon & Schuster in 2016. Add it to your Goodreads list below:
Samantha’s query critique
Nasia has grown up in a family burdened by prophetic visions and cursed with never being believed (Never being believed by her family or her peers? Is she not believed because of her visions?). All she wants is to be normal, not follow the path of all the women in her family. She does not want to be the next high priestess or an oracle. (The last two sentences say very similar things. Are you able to combine them together?) But someone decides to ruin what normalcy Nasia has created for herself by stealing her family’s grimoire. An ancient text that holds the secrets to destroying the gods. (This isn’t really a fully sentence on its own. Perhaps link it to the grimoire.)
I feel like there is more to this. How does the stolen grimoire affect Nasia’s life? Is it her responsibility to get it back? I think you can expand this section a bit to give us more of an insight into what Nasia’s “normal life” is and how it is affected when the grimoire is stolen. “Someone” is a bit vague. Is there any more detail you can give us about who stole it and why?
Apollo knew he should have destroyed the Troian Grimoire when he saw it in Cassandra’s possession. (I’m assuming by this the story is dual POV? Just checking.) Instead, he gave her the gift of prophecy in exchange for the grimoire. She scorned his attentions to remain faithful to the Great Goddess. Apollo cursed her in retaliation. During the Trojan War, he had another chance to destroy the book, but it and Cassandra disappeared when the Greeks invaded the city of Troy.
This feels a bit like backstory. Is there a way you can weave some of these details more into the present story and connect it with Nasia’s plight to find her family’s grimoire?
Taken aback by Nasia’s resemblance to Cassandra, Apollo agrees to help Nasia find the grimoire to keep their world from being eradicated, but fears he could lose his heart to her in the process. Does Nasia seek out Apollo to help her find the grimoire? I’m not sure how their stories connect. What makes him fall for her? Is it just that she looks like Cassandra or is there something more there? The last line is a bit of a cliché, and I think you have a chance to amp up your stakes a bit. If Apollo falls in love with her, what could happen? Does that mean they can’t seek out the book together? What does Nasia have to lose if she doesn’t find her family’s grimoire? What could happen to her if she falls for Apollo? Is that a forbidden thing?
The Troian Grimoire, approximately 60,000 when complete, paranormal, romantic suspense.
THE TROIAN GRIMOIRE is a paranormal romance, complete at 60,000 words. (You want your title to be in all CAPS, and your ms should be complete and polished when you query. I’d also whittle down your genres here to two out of the three. You don’t indicate this is YA, so I’m assuming it’s adult? This might make your word count a little low.)
(Insert your writing bio here, if you have one.)
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Overall, I find your story intriguing and want to know more. I love the idea of a stolen grimoire that could eradicate the world of the Greek Gods. Very cool! I think I’m just lacking a bit of a connection to Nasia and Apollo. I want to know a bit more about who they are and why they would fall for each other. Then I need the stakes to be highlighted as to why them being together could be the end of Apollo’s world.
I’m also curious if this takes place in our present world or a fantasy world, or a bit of both. I think you have a good start here. A little bit more clarity and voice will bring it to where you need it. I hope this helps. Good luck with your querying journey!
Natasha writes diverse YA about characters with more guts than her. She considers herself a diehard fictional character shipper and has way too much fun shopping for makeup and shoes. She is a firm believer that the best way to hear music is live, and can always be found on Twitter, especially if Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead is on. Natasha lives in Northern Virginia with her superhero husband, two crazy-smart kids, and their demon-possessed cats and beagle. She is represented by Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Inc.
Natasha’s query critique
Dear Pitchwars Mentor:
Just why did God place an angel in Eden to guard the east gate? To keep man out or to guide man back in? Starting your query with a question is risky. I’ve read they don’t find it intriguing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Many agents and editors don’t consider it to be enough to hook them and then you’ve wasted your ‘first impression,’ so to speak. I would be cautious to start a query with one question, but I definitely wouldn’t start it with two. Use your first paragraph to introduction the reader to the world, the main character (who they are and what they want), and inciting incident. Convey the voice of your main character so we aren’t left guessing. Adding voice is always a good idea.
Consider cutting the above; I realize you’re trying to intrigue with questions, but agents aren’t always interested in answering them; they just move on to the next. I’d start below. It’s always more interesting to start with a character in a query.
In GAN EDEN, 17-yo Sam Darash in Gihon County, USA, is searching for his father, Matt, who has been missing for the past five years. This first sentence offers up too much information. We have the title, the MC, the location, and the father and already I feel confused because it comes across as more of an info dump than information we have to know. You can eliminate much of this by deleting the title and saving that for the last paragraph, where you provide your book stats. Is it necessary we know Dad’s name? It doesn’t seem like it as I read. A clue from Matt’s journal leads Sam to the discovery of his lineage and into Eden, where he discovers a fortitude that helps him reunite his family and the family of his girlfriend Sky. You give us another sentence and another name, this time belonging to his girlfriend. We don’t see any more mention of Sky in the query so it feels more like extra information that you can eliminate. Careful with word repetition, too. Discovery and discovers in the same sentence feels redundant. Maybe take the information here and make it your hook. Maybe something like: While seventeen-year-old Sam Darash searches the country for his missing father, he stumbles across the family secret hidden in his dad’s journals—their lineage can grant them access into Eden. Now, you have a hook that allows you to jump into the second name you should mention—Davis Jachin, which sets us up for the major plot.
Upon his return to the outside world, Sam is kidnapped by Davis Jachin, a ruthless businessman, and learns of a drifting ‘Curtain’ in space that will envelop the Earth in a matter of days. <<This seems to be a pretty big deal/turning point for your MS. To me, it reads more as sci-fi and not fantasy unless you can provide an explanation here as to where this Curtain came from. Use this paragraph to tell us the main plot. This is the meat of the book. After the inciting incident, what are the major plot points? Introduce your secondary character (Jachin). Be sure you don’t introduce too many characters in your query. Also, remember to portray your character as active in the query. Learning, believing and discovering aren’t as exciting as, say, jumping off a cliff to catch a thief. The Curtain, Jachin believes, is the cause of the increasingly horrific global mayhem over the past decade. Jachin needs Sam because of Sam’s genetic lineage to continue the human race and Jachin’s desire to rule the Earth once the Curtain has lifted. What global mayhem? Giving specifics here could really amp up your tension. If we know what Jachin stands to lose, we’ll root more for him to win.
Sam must find a way to escape Jachin and his modern version of the Ark <<Okay, this is the first we’re hearing of an Ark. Mention it when you mention Jachin in the previous paragraph. Help us connect it back to the religious plot you’ve established, but be sure you give us HIGH STAKES. Here is where the character must make a decision. What are the stakes of that decision? High stakes are a must, otherwise the power delivered in P1 & P2 will fizzle with P3. If the stakes aren’t high enough, the agent/editor might think the ending is weak. before the Curtain falls. It’s up to Sam to decide who will be saved <<why does he have this power? Is it because of his Eden lineage? You mention angels in the first paragraph and drop them. Is Sam some sort of angel? Let us know what to expect, since Angels don’t seem to be a huge part of the main plot and who will be left behind as he races to beat the Curtain and lead a band of refugees to safety in Eden. <<What happened to dad? He’s mentioned in the beginning and never brought up again when you mention the Curtain. The story feels disjoined here, because one minute he’s searching for dad and the next, he’s fighting Jachin. Use paragraph two to make this connection stronger and to tie up your loose ends with dad being MIA.
GAN EDEN is a standalone YA Fantasy novel/cut complete at 88,478/88,000 (always round) words with series potential (only add this if it’s true, obviously). Go ahead and add a comp title here if you have one – some advise against it, while others say do it. I’m one of the do it crowd because you’ll need them when you go on submission.
I am a recovering journalist with degrees from the University of Missouri – Columbia and the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. My articles have appeared in publications from Baltimore to Honolulu.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Phone number (with area code)
Website — IF you don’t have one, seriously consider getting one now. They are free. Get a head start and build a platform.
Thank you, Samantha and Natasha, for your critiques. Interested in learning more about querying from those who’ve been there? Come back Sunday for our next two critiques by Pitch Wars mentors Natasha Raulerson and JC Davis.