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 …
Kara lives in Upstate New York with her husband, three kids, three dogs, and three cats. When she’s not busy writing romance novels that leave readers swooning, she’s spending time with her family or attending one of her many writers groups. An active member of The Romance Writers of America and the CNY Writers Haven, Kara is also Managing Editor for Anaiah Press’ Surge and Romance Imprints. She absolutely loves to hear from her fans and fellow authors, so feel free to drop her a line anytime!
Kara’s latest release with co-author Jody Holford …
Add it to Goodreads
He’s fighting to forget his past while she struggles to remember hers…
Doctor Josh Parker lives with guilt about his wife’s death every day.
He believes himself incapable of ever loving again, but when a mysterious woman arrives in the Emergency Room, brutally beaten and left for dead, he starts to feel something he hasn’t felt in far too long: hope.
Alessandra Matthews has no memory of the events that led to her being hospitalized. Worse, she has no idea who hurt her or why. Although she’s uncertain of who she is, she is fully aware of one thing—she’s falling for her doctor.
Sometimes, what you don’t know can kill you…
As Josh and Alessa work to solve the mystery surrounding her past, she soon realizes just how much danger she’s really in, but Josh refuses to let her face the darkness of her memories alone. With each of them struggling to put their pasts behind them, theirs is a DANGEROUS LOVE.
Be sure to visit the Mending Hearts Series page on Facebook for up-to-date news, exclusive teasers, and flash giveaways!
Kara’s query critique …
BENEATH THE SKIN, complete at 93,500 words, (This is good, gives us the important identifying information up front, however, I would suggest moving this to after the pitch. You have a very short window to hook an agent / editor’s attention. Dive right into the good stuff.) is a three part contemporary novel set in Manchester, UK and it tells the story of a crucial period for four professional couples connected by friendship, living comfortable, even superficial lives. (This is telling. Show us what your story is about with strong, active sentences.) Yet each person has their private fears,
weaknesses, and demons, (This is a tad vague. Can you be more specific?) from David’s professional failings that lead him to embezzle from the law partnership run by his friend and mentor Charlie, to Sophie’s developing alcoholism. (Oh! This is good! Now I’m becoming engaged and invested in what this story is truly about and the characters themselves.) Beginning and ending the novel is complex Antonia, who cuts herself and who has a terrifying, deeply buried secret from her childhood. (Again, this is really good. You’re giving us a sense of the characters and what they struggle with.)
Their stories are told in present tense sections, overlapping and building in intensity, with the pace quickening through the narrative to a shocking conclusion. (This is telling and vague. I suggest cutting it.) I have written the type of novel I like to read. An intriguing and intelligent page turner with compelling, human and flawed characters and a good sense of place, which keeps the reader gripped to the end. A story with a strong voice which looks beneath what we see from people’s faces. (I’d suggest cutting this too, as none of it really tells me anything about your book. Ultimately your query and sample pages should SHOW me this.) A story with a dark edge, mystery and surprising plot twists, BENEATH THE SKIN is complete at 93,500 words. (ß Suggested rewrite to move the identifying info to after the pitch.) An insight to human frailty and how the child shapes the adult we become. An unravelling of secrets and traumas which stay in the reader’s mind long after the story is finished. (Again, this is telling me what your book is about. SHOW me.)
The genre is a mix of commercial and literary, one which would appeal to both sexes. (This is good! You have your genre and audience figured out and can articulate that to the agent/editor.)
My short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses, and a novel, A Slight Diversion, were published by ACHUKA books in 2012. Over sixty of my short stories and poems have been published in literary publications. By profession I am a lawyer, and Beneath The Skin draws upon that background. I am currently submitting another novel (Worm Roses) as well as finishing other novels and a novella.
After reading this, I walk away with the following knowledge: This book is about 4 characters who are all connected in various ways. However, I only get mention of three of those characters. Who
is the fourth? They’re each struggling with personal issues, but how do those issues affect their friendships? I have no idea what the stakes are, which is so extremely important in a query. Conflict drives plot. So what’s the conflict (both internally and externally) that moves this story and these characters forward? My best piece of advice would be to have one or two sentences about each of the four characters and their personal struggles followed by a couple of sentences that ties all of them together, ending with that shocking conclusion you mentioned. I don’t suggest giving away
the ending, but be a tad more specific about it.
Overall, I think you’ve got the bones of what can be a strong query, and it’s certainly a book I’d pick up to read. I would suggest focusing more on each of the characters, their personal conflicts, and how those conflicts affect them as a group as opposed to focusing on how the story is told and how it will engage readers and make them feel. It sounds like there’s a lot of raw emotion in this book. Let that emotion show through in your query as well J
Marty Mayberry writes anything from young adult sci-fi to adult historical fantasy. When she’s not dreaming up ways to mess with her character’s lives, she works as an RN/Clinical Documentation Specialist. She has a BA in International Affairs in German and an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. She lives in New England with her husband and grown children, as well as three neurotic cats and a geriatric chocolate lab. Give her a long walk on a powdery beach, an ancient ruin to explore, or a good book, and her life’s complete.
Her young adult sci-fi thriller was recently named a Finalist for the YARWA Rosemary Award.
She’s represented by Jessica Watterson of the Sandra Dijkstra Agency.
Marty’s query critique …
First, I think you’ve got an excellent, solid query already. You’ll definitely generate interest with it. Let me see if I can suggest anything to make it better. Keep in mind, these are my opinions only. Take what you want, throw out the rest.
Sixteen-year-old Starr witnesses the murder of her best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. He was unarmed. (Love this beginning. I’m sold! However, I wonder if the word “murder” gives away some of your plot, since it implies guilt. Shooting might work better.)
Two weeks later, Khalil’s face is on news stations around the world, and Starr is thrown into a straight up (straight-up) media frenzy, christened with a new identity—the Witness. (You could tighten this sentence: Khalil’s death makes national news, christening Starr with a new identity–the Witness.) No, scratch that. The Sixteen-Year-Old Black Female Witness. The codes of the streets (tighten with: Street codes no longer . . . ) no longer apply, and Starr snitches to detectives about what went down that night. But the cops say there’s no cause for arrest, and protesters and rioters hit Garden Heights (Consider cutting the city name; it’s not necessary for the query; this could be: hit the City) in Khalil’s name. Within days, Starr’s neighborhood is a war zone, with tanks rolling by as frequently as low riders. <love the image you create here!
The rumors that Khalil was a drug dealer and had a gun in the car are getting louder though. (How about tightening this & adding a little voice – Rumors on the street say K was a drug dealer & carried a gun.) And when Starr’s prep-school classmates make stupid comments, her mouth writes checks her fists have to cash. But the truth about Khalil is way more complicated than she realized. (This last sentence about her prep-school doesn’t move the query forward. Since the school doesn’t come up again in the query, you save the words and cut.)
Now everybody and their momma wants to know what really happened that night, and Starr is the only one with answers. (this has great voice, but the second half essentially repeats that she’s the witness. It’s not giving us new information.) Since the cops won’t listen, she does a nationally-televised interview that gets (that results in death threats . . .) the death threats pouring in. The neighborhood drug lord warns her to be quiet—or he’ll make her quiet. Talking isn’t an option anymore. (You could easily cut the Talking . . . sentence, since it repeats. And, whoa, but the drug lord jumps in here. I think this is significant; more important than the fists line above. Consider bringing this in earlier and developing it, because this is her reason not to talk to the DA below.)
But the DA calls. A Grand Jury wants to know what happened. What Starr does or doesn’t say could change her neighborhood. Even worse, it could end her life. (Fabulous stakes!)
STARRY NIGHT is a Young Adult Contemporary novel complete at 70,000 words. Recently (comma) I’ve seen several agents say they’re searching for works about people of color and/or by people of color. Starr happens to be a person of color, and I’m a person of color. I hold a BFA in Creative Writing.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Did I say yet that I love your premise? All the best with it! Marty
Thank you, Kara and Marty, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!
Also, there’s still time to sign up on the Rafflecopter for the July First Page Workshop with our Pitch Wars past and present mentors. Go to this post here to sign up.