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 …
KT Hanna has a love for words so extreme, a single word can spark entire worlds Born in Australia, she met her husband in a computer game, moved to the U.S.A. and went into culture shock. Bonus? Not as many creatures specifically out to kill you.
Her debut releases on August 4th, 2015.
When she’s not writing, she freelance edits for Chimera Editing, interns for a NYC Agency, and chases her daughter, husband, corgi, and cat. No, she doesn’t sleep. She is entirely powered by the number 2, caffeine, and beef jerky.
Note: Still searching for her Tardis
Katie’s upcoming release…
When Sai’s newly awoken psionic powers accidentally destroy her apartment complex, she’s thrown into an intensive training program. Her only options are pass or die.
Surviving means proving her continued existence isn’t a mistake–a task her new mentor, Bastian, takes personally. Her abilities place her in the GNW Enforcer division, and partners her with Domino 12, who is eerily human for an alien-parasite psionic hybrid.
After eliminating an Exiled scientist, she discovers someone is manipulating everything. With each mission more perilous, Sai must figure out who to trust before her next assignment becomes her last.
K.T.’s query critique
I am seeking representation for my SciFi novel BLUESHIFT, complete at 94,000 words, in which a brain-injured teacher travels back in time to prevent a despot in the past from becoming a technological god in the future. I always err on leaving this at the end to try and hook the agent with the query first, however, some agents want it first, so I’d say customize accordingly.
Three hundred years ago, the Cataclysm tore a rift in the fabric of space-time. Leander Forest, a physics teacher in the 1920s, has been inside that breach. His time in the void left him unable to perceive time and space, but it also afforded him the power to “blueshift” – to bend the fabric of universe. Getting to the market in under two minutes without his motorcart is his favorite trick. But I would cut this, Basically – it’s all backstory and worldbuilding. We don’t need this, it’s not interesting to us at this point. Give us something else to pull us in, snag our attentions and don’t let it go. Also, none of this gives me any reason to really care about the main character. Why should what happens to him matter? Why is this his story and why does his story stand out against the thousands of other hopeful stories out there?
This is a far better place to begin it:
Leander Forest has just made the biggest mistake of his life. A physics professor with the ability to “blueshift”, he bends the fabric of the universe and ends up stranded right before the Cataclysm that tore a rip in the fabric of space-time three hundred years ago. In a nightmare version of the history he learned in school, reanimated corpses walk the streets, powered by crude batteries.
Zealots predict the coming of the god Rakanar, imprisoning non-believers, they hunt Leander, striking him with a lethal plague that affects only those who don’t worship their deity. If he doesn’t find where and when in space-time Rakanar is hiding, Leander’s entire world will be erased from the continuum. If he doesn’t discover Rakanar’s whereabouts–and whenabouts—Leander’s entire world will be erased from everywhen. I feel this is a very weak stake. Is there anything else that’s at stake? Isn’t his world already sort of lost if the history he exists in is a nightmare version of what he was taught in school? This bit is confusing and I want something to pull me in stronger, to make me care and want to know what happens.
This diversity-friendly novel with LGBT and POC main characters might find an audience among fans of Ursula K LeGuin’s Lathe of Heaven, and Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, or anyone who enjoys stories about mind-technology crossovers, and the nature of reality. I have a BA in English, and am in love with the funky side of physics. My paid publishing credits include a story in “The Tiny Book Of Tiny Stories 2010” published by HitRECord, (“Tiny Stories” was later picked up by HarperCollins,) and two short stories in “Little Red Riding Hood: REDUX”, a feminist retelling of the fairy tale, also published by HitRECord. My work has been featured on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Emmy-winning television series “HitRECord On TV,” establishing a bit of a following. You can find me on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/JulesKDevito I have several short stories published through HitRECord, including one that was featured on Joseph Gordon Levitt’s “HitRECord on TV”.
As per your guidelines, I’ve [followed your query guidelines.] You don’t need to include this. If you’ve queried them, you should have followed their guidelines. They already know them, so you don’t need to repeat them.
[Here’s why we might be a good fit / I saw your post on such-and-such / I was referred to you by…] Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you. Use one line of personalization.
I’d suggest something along the lines of (personalized to your actual experiences of course):
I’ve followed your industry blog for years, and enjoy your interaction on twitter, and believe you might like my [insert book information here]
I would suggest putting social media contacts in your signature.
Overall – this sounds like a really interesting concept, but there doesn’t seem to be enough in there. I don’t really care about Leander at all. There’s nothing tying me to his character, and I want to care about the character.
I also don’t quite understand the stakes and I want to. Another thing that I was a little confused by, even though I loved this line: In a nightmare version of the history he learned in school, reanimated corpses walk the streets, powered by crude batteries.
Do you mean a) He was originally lied to about the history, and this is the real version.
Or B) that he has fallen through time back to an altered version of the history that his world was founded on
Remember: An agent wants it to fit what they represent, which you’re fine with as long as you’ve done your research. They also need a solid sense of what the story is about, who the character is, and what’s at stake. Then comes marketability. If you can make that second point enticing – the story/character/stakes – then you’re half way there.
With some tweaks, and minimization of the author info to include the absolute most important things about your credits, I believe this query will be far stronger. Good luck!
L. L. McKinney, AKA Elle, is a freelance writer, a published poet, and a core member of Novel Clique. She’s also the creator and host of the bi-annual Pitch Slam contest via her blog. Elle lives the single life in Kansas surrounded by more nieces and nephews than she knows what to do with. Aside doing the Favorite Aunt thing, she spends her weekends watching Saturday morning cartoons, defending her crown as the Mario Kart queen, and waging war against the enemies of Azeroth. For the Horde! When she’s pretending to be a grownup, she plays the part of freelance writer, published poet, and an active member of the writing community via social media outlets (which is a fancy way of saying she’s addicted to Twitter). She’s spent time in the slush by serving as a reader for agents and participating as a judge in various online writing contests. She also enjoys long walks on the beach, piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain.
Leatrice’s query critique
Dear Awesome Agent,
Having snored through
all her imperial lessons, seventeen-year-old princess Hesperia wouldn’t really doesn’t know care why the Ostian people loathe the seers and the magicians. (This opening line doesn’t hook me. Not knowing why the people loath Seers or Magicians is not important at this point unless Hesperia is one or the other.) Neither does she care to learn, not when she’d rather spend time in the imperial gardens, her one and only sanctuary. (The gardens don’t come up again, their importance as her sanctuary has no affect on the plot and shouldn’t be mentioned in the query.) Until the day she stumbles upon the king’s body in a bed of night flowers, slain by magic. (Was the king killed by magic? Or whatever the Seers wield? If so, say that. It’s the hook at the end of the paragraph. If not, mentioning either group does not really have a point. Also, are night flowers something special? Do we have to know they are night flowers and not just flowers?)
With her father entombed in jade, her mother ill from grief, and her brother called away to tend to an impending war, Hesperia sacrifices her freedom to fill the empty throne. As queen, she vows to uncover the truth behind her father’s assassination
the death as one last gift to her honest father. But when the healers insist on calling the King’s passing a verdict of the gods, Hesperia realizes that the power of a crown may not be enough. (What does verdict of the gods mean? And the power of her crown may not be enough to do what?
Consulting a seer (What exactly is a seer?) would result in death by a thousand cuts, (She would be executed? Isn’t she the queen?) yet Hesperia risks paying the price to secure an investigation and trial. (How does the Seer help her achieve this goal?) The court, however manipulates the trial, framing enemies of the Ost (The what?) as the king’s killer—enemies such as the seers and magicians. (Why is this a bad thing? Other than the real murderer won’t be caught.) Hesperia must stay one step ahead of the schemes or watch the trial spiral into a tangle of prejudice and propaganda. (This means the story’s main stakes lies in catching the murderer, which is hinted at in the previous sentence. Is that the case?) She must protect her own secrets (too vague), craft her lies carefully, or lose her life. That is, if the truth behind her father’s death doesn’t destroy her first. (This is the only point where finding out the truth might be a bad thing. This needs to woven in previously to counter her desperation to find out who killed her father to be as affective as possible. But be mindful that the whole “you can’t handle the truth” trope is a little cliche.)
Also, at this point, the overall stakes read as she needs to find out the truth, that’s the big issue here. And maybe avoid dying, if it comes up. I feel like the heart of the story might lie somewhere in that she needs to find out the truth OR avoid dying. This way, she can only achieve one goal. Otherwise, she has nothing to lose, and all she really risks is the trial being a sham. Also, what else becomes of the rest of her family? Is there any risk to them?
At 96k, HESPERIA is inspired by the social issues raised in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and the palace intrigue in THE WINNER’S CRIME.
It is set in a world that is a cross between ancient Rome and China.
My family is Chinese and I’ve grown up knowing the great epics and popular legends of the culture. This had helped me craft the China-influenced setting as accurately as possible. When I am not writing, I am studying Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Thank you for your time and consideration!
Thank you, KT and Leatrice, for your critiques. Interested in learning more about querying from those who’ve been there? Come back Friday for our next two critiques by Pitch Wars mentors Alexandra Alessandri & Molly Lee.