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Day Fourteen of the June Query Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … Stacey Graham & Jami Nord

Thursday, 18 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 …


staceygraham225Stacey Graham

Stacey the author of four books and a rag-tag collection of short stories. You may currently find her scaring the pants off of readers with her latest book, Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls, and Other Creepy Collectibles. She intends on returning the pants at a later date.

Please visit her website at staceyigraham.com, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Stacey’s query critique …

Query #28:

Dear Awesome Agent,

Sixteen-year-old Vi has always dreaded dreads the violent mania that inevitably destroys everyone those whose twin has died. Just But when she finds a way to escape the city and the grasp of the temple where she was abandoned, her freedom is ripped away. Vi is sold to a cruel man whose collection of oddities is completed by the addition of one of the diminished Diminished.

Disgusted with the brutality to which she and the other servants are subjected to, Vi embroils herself in an underground rebellion. But when When she discovers that her twin may not be dead after all, she must decide between staying to aid the rebels and or escaping to find the twin she’s spent her whole life missing.

THE DIMINISHED is a dual narrative YA Fantasy with series potential, complete at 83,000 words. It will appeal to readers of THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING by Erika Johansen and Kat Zhang’s WHAT’S LEFT OF ME.

After completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee, I graduated from the University of Memphis in 2012 with a MFA in Creative Writing. I am a member of SCBWI. When I’m not writing, I work with dressage horses and do research (on what?) at a small university.


Great opening, author! I like the hook and the urgency of Vi making a decision to find her twin or stay with what she already knows needs her help. I also like short and punchy queries under 250 words so the brevity grabbed me as well.

Some things I’d like to see included would be:

  • Why did you choose this agent?
    • Have you read anything by one of their clients? Are your reading tastes similar?
  • Do you have a platform or other writing credits? If you don’t, don’t fret but keep building your blog or social media presence while you query. If you’re submitting to anthologies or magazines, keep it going while querying, now isn’t the time to sit back and wait.
  • Practice reading your query out loud and to friends and family. You’ll see how the sentence structure flows and if you can tighten it up.


  • Always do your homework before you query. Make sure of the spelling of the agent’s name, gender, and what he or she represents before sending.
  • Expect to wait but be ready when you get the call. Have questions written down to ask about the agent’s long game when it comes to your career.
  • Remember that rejection doesn’t have to suck. Take any personal comments about the manuscript to heart and see what works—and what doesn’t. If you’re continually being shut down, go back and find what’s missing. You’ll have a stronger manuscript to send out the next time.


JamijpgJami Nord

Website | Twitter

Jami Nord has interned for Entangled, Bree Ogden, and a big NYC agency, handling extensive amounts of slush, evaluating manuscripts, and a myriad of other tasks with aplomb. Along with her dayjob, she also freelance edits as part of Chimera Editing. In her rare spare time, you’ll likely find her reading for pleasure or relaxing in her patio garden, waiting for the hot peppers to ripen, or geeking out about KT Hanna’s upcoming debut and the sequels.


Jami’s query critique …

Query #29:

  In a world where the government trades power and influence for the ruthless efficiency of Godord Corporation’s methods in maintaining order, information is leveraged currency. This is wordy, confusing,  and doesn’t really hook me. I would skip this entire paragraph and give us the character and reason to care first. Even more valuable are Key Holders, people whose blood can open rifts to time and dimensions. They are infinite sources of information.

As a Key Holder, “specialty” rReal estate agent Taffi Adams can’t afford Godord Corporation, or GC, entanglements. Finding a good lair already poses enough challenges in a down real estate market. Taffi is  the key to the lair, With a magical key in her blood, she’s able to match even the most disagreeable of  super-villains with his dream criminal compound. When an explosion at a property she is showing
kills her buyer, Taffi finds herself unable to avoid
under GC’s dangerous scrutiny.

To shift GC’s suspicions away from her, and make sure she wasn’t really the intended victim, sheShe  as to find whoever was responsible for the explosion without revealing her Key Holder abilities. to move GC’s suspicions away from her and confirm she wasn’t the intended victim, all while keeping her identity as a Key Holder confidential. Snooping around Manuvering the criminal underworld for information (Why would she need to when she has unlimited information in her Key Holder powers?)is a challenge with GC security glued to her behind. Taffi decides the only safe way to investigate without GC interference is to open a time rift and return to the day before the explosion. There, sShe finds the  henchman who set the explosion and violates the first rule of time travel – don’t alter the future. Taffi knows she only has a short amount of time left before she’ll have to pay for her violation (Who makes her pay? The universe? GC? This feels very vague to me. How does this interact with the threat of the GC and whoever set the bomb in the first place?) . It will take all her skills and underworld connections to set the past right and protect her future. (I think there’s a really interesting concept in here, but this query is  raising a lot of world building questions for me. I love urban fantasy and paranormal romances, but I don’t get a sense here of what Taffi is like or really up against. There’s not enough here to build a proper sense of stakes from. I’d really suggest going to the bones here, and really carefully looking at how they piece together. So for example, and I’m totally making up details to give you a sense of how it would work:

Taffi Adams is fantastic at her job. Finding the perfect lairs for would-be world dominating villains and plot-foiling superheroes is challenging, but she has a secret weapon of her own. Hidden in her blood is the power of generations of Key Holders, containing infinite knowledge and the ability to travel through  time and dimensions. She’s lived her life beneath the radar, hiding from the Goddard Corporation, who would use her powers for their own ends.

When an explosion rips apart a nearly perfect lair and her client is killed, she’s thrust into their spotlight.  Whoever set the bomb can evade her powers, which can only mean one thing: Another Key  Holder is responsible. She travels back in time to try to catch them, only to find a GC henchman planting the bomb. Without thinking of the consequences, Taffi disarms it, breaking the first rule of time travel. The entire History of Key Holders come screaming for her blood. It will take all of her underworld connections and a plan even an evil genius would find convoluted to right the past and protect any chance she has at a future.

Again, change details that don’t fit your actual story, but notice: Active words, more focus on Taffi and the challenges she faces, with specific elements chosen. The biggest key with UF right now is to both make it feel relatable while making it sound unique. They have to be able to see how it fits into the genre, and yet think it sounds fresh enough that they want to read it. If you have ANY questions at all, or want to run a revised version by me, feel free to shout!)                                                                                            

Key to the Lair is a completed 102,000 urban fantasy similar in genre and tone to Jim Butcher’s  Dresden Files series and Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series.  It is the first book in what I would hope to become a series.

I am a 2015 Golden Heart® finalist in the paranormal romance category (With this novel or a different one? If this one, say “This novel is a 2015 Golden Heart …” instead, as it conveys there being significant possibilities for it. I checked the RWA site and didn’t see it listed, though. It may be better to be up front about it being for another MS, then, as agents DO research these things (along with social  media/internet presences) before requesting, and if they expect it to be for this one and check it, they’re going to probably be leery of even requesting it.). While unpublished in fiction, I have published numerous articles in legal magazines and journals.

Thank you in advance for your considered response.(Not all agents respond, and considered response could come across as if you’re implying their responses aren’t always considered. I always suggest keeping this line as simple as possible. Thank you, or thank you for your time. It’s basically an invisible courtesy that way, and it doesn’t get in the way of them hitting reply to say, “Sure, send me some chapters!)

 Thank you, Stacey and Jami, for your critiques. Our team’s entries for The Writer’s Voice will go live tomorrow and the agent round is Tuesday, June 23. Critiques for the query workshop will resume on Wednesday, June 24, so come back for all the fun.

Filed: Workshops

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