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Day Nine of the June Query Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … Tabitha Martin & Jennifer Blackwood

Saturday, 13 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 …





Tabitha Martin

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Tabitha’s query critique …

Query #18:

Dear agent,

The Fear; a people’s superstitious believe in an evil spirit,

The Agony; the secrets and feuds of their holy leaders,

The Blasphemy; a youngling, whose ways only attract evil, I’m sure all of this is super important to your novel, but it feels really info dumpy. You want the first sentence of your
query to jump off the paper and grab the agent

His name (who’s name? I’m sure you’re talking about your MC, but we don’tknow that) is Misoo a twelve-year-old Muth and the only Muth living in Shee’kodo valley of Naka land (what is a Muth and why is it important to that they only live in ths particular area?). Misoo is convinced he is a mismatch with his homeland. For Nakalites, (I thought he was a Muth or is that different from a Nakalite) his people who live by superstition, something Misoo believes as just a way of squashing fun have tagged his talent, the Whisinga – an ability to produce varying degrees of sound trapped in bubbles- a curse. There is a lot happening in his sentence. Try and condense this – make it JUST about Misoo thinking his talent is a curse, leave out the people, the superstition, the name of the talent, it only matters that he HAS a talent. Worse still, his mother the chief priestess whose power has protected him since infancy suddenly decides to rip it off by sending him along with other younglings to Kwalwa Academy. Condense – the chief priestess who protected him sends him to this academy. An institution where nothing but myths, taboos and caution against the evil spirit Dis is the  focus and where he ends up being an open source for ridicule and bullying. Cut this, it’s wordy and doesn’t add anything to your query.

Life however takes a different turn in school when in a fit of rage for his impishness the headmistress reveals a dark secret about him being the descendant of the tribe who had used the Whisinga to resurrect Dis and the leaders got them exterminated (condense – at school Misoo learns that he is the descendant of a tribe who resurrected an evil spirit). As the only survivor whom the chief priestess had rescued for reasons she never divulged people are afraid his blasphemous antics and the Whisinga will resurrect the Evil spirit Dis again. Misoo is in no doubt this is just another wicked Dis excuse for Nakalites to annihilate his kind. Cut – you could really cut this entire paragraph except for the reveal of Misoo being the descendant of this tribe –
THAT is interesting, the rest of this paragraph weighs that down and takes away from your big reveal.

During detention, he accidentally stumbles upon a map concealing Naka’s (there are too many people/spirits/tribes being mentioned, at this point I can’t remember who Naka is) treasures. He sees this as a perfect opportunity to freedom. I would cut the first two sentences of this paragraph. They don’t mystery and intrigue to your story. Breaking away from school, he embarks on the journey only to discover shockingly, Muth survivors including his parents who are also the leaders of the Muth clan (condense – Misoo breaks away from school and discovers Muth survivors). However, his joy deflates, as his father they (the Muth) uses Misoo to bait in the chief priestess into a death trap, killing her and bringing Naka at war (you don’t need to include every detail of the story – him finding out that he isn’t the priestess’ son and his real parents are out there will be a pleasant surprise to the agent – leave some mystery left in the story). Though devastated, Misoo is now convinced his newly met kin is evil and now caught between two sharp edges, which side of battle to be on (make this climactic – not sure who to trust, Misoo is now caught between two sharp edges). Even though Misoo witnessed his father commit the murder, a highly regarded spirit calls him and tells him Dis is behind everything. A perfect excuse to save all that matters but time is running, people are dying and yet Dis-believing is proofing a hard task for Misoo. (your query should end with the stakes, and here you don’t have any stakes – you’ve told me that this is a hard task for Misoo. But what is he going TO DO? Does he have to save the day? Does he turn into a coward? Does he overpower all the Muth and the evil spirit or does the evil spirit win? Tell me what the stakes are for Misoo).

At 55000 words TREASURE HUNTERS, THE DEVILS WORKSHOP is my first novel and the first in a series of Young Adult Fantasy adventure trilogy. This is MG, not YA. With a 12-year-old main character, and a word count of 55k, you are definitely in the land of MG here. You’ll want to rephrase the “first in a series” to “has series potential.” Also it seems like you’re working two titles. Since you mention that this is a first in a series, I assume that “Treasure Hunters” is what the series is called, but because an agent is just going to be reading and signing you with the first book, don’t name the series yet. You need a solid, stand-alone title for your book.  I am happy to provide more if you think Treasure Hunters is a good fit for you. You don’t need this. If an agent wants more, they will ask. They assume you’re willing to give more just by querying them.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I have pasted the first 250 words below per the contest guidelines.

Overall thoughts: First of all, don’t be alarmed by all notes I put in here. You have a really unique concept here! The three definitions at the beginning of the query are intriguing, but you should cut them, because they’re more informational and don’t tell me about the stakes. This query really reads more like a synopsis. The meat of your query is nearly 350 words, and a query should not be more than 250(ish). Anywhere between 200-250 for the meat of your query is sufficient. You also tell me everything that’s happening in the book. A good way to see if your query is hitting the stakes right is to read the jacket cover of a book. It leaves with you with mystery, wondering what the main character is going to do and how he’s going to do it.

I love that your main character is a part of this magical group of people, and that he has a power. Use that to the advantage of your query and focus more on it. Misoo’s journey and trials are what I want to know about in the query, but his story is getting lost in the details of where he lives and what race his people are and where he goes to school and other characters. Pick the MOST important aspect of your story and work your query around that. The stakes need to be high, the beginning needs to hook me, and the end needs to make me begging to read the story, but I already feel like I already know the whole story with the information you’ve given me. Tell me less so the mystery is more abundant.

Good luck and thanks for letting me read!


Jen Blackwood author photo

Jennifer Blackwood

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Jennifer Blackwood is an English teacher and contemporary romance author. She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, and poorly behaved black lab puppy. She is the author of Unethical and Foolproof—college romances with a medical twist.




Jennifer’s recent book release …


Buy it now!

Barnes and Noble

A summer of seduction…

Jules Carmichael needs to get her life together. Pronto. School’s been hell, there was that tiny stint in rehab, and worst of all, she’s lost her cushy summer job. The only available work is at Office Jax, home of horrid 90s music and the biggest jerk on this side of the galaxy…

Recovering from a brutal break-up and taking a hiatus from college, Ryan DeShane has just discovered the “6 Ultimate Steps to the Perfect Summer Fling.” It’s a brilliant distraction, and Jules is a tantalizing target. But the “steps” work a little too well, because he and Jules are definitely, uh, flinging. And it’s only a matter of time before Ryan’s foolproof plan starts to seriously unravel…


Jennifer’s query critique …

Query #19:


Dear Amazing Agent,

Being invisible is good for three things: bank vaults, men’s locker rooms
(hahaha), and saving the world.

For Ami and her partner, Luke, being able to become
redundant and weak wording. invisiblity is an essential part of their job. Their unknown why unknown? Also, this is a weak word, pick something stronger—anonymous would be more fitting. employer assigns them to make weak verb choice. Pick a stronger one. “coincidences” happen, from reuniting long lost lovers to toppling empires. But their next job goes way beyond what they’re comfortable with their comfort zone—stopping a bio-terrorism attack on in San Francisco. Breaking into illegal  laboratories and Federal buildings to figure out who’s behind the outbreak makes bank vaults seem easy pick a stronger word choice.

I’m a little confused by the first paragraph. Are they secret agents? Just do-gooders? Why are they assigned this important task when there might be someone more qualified? You need to explain this to clue in reader why they are the only ones fit for the job.

It doesn’t help that Ami is too in love with Luke to even enjoy the locker rooms. She might finally have a chance to push their relationship past the friend-zone if it wasn’t for angry FBI agents chasing them down hilly streets and invading their homes in the middle of the night. This paragraph seems a little out of place. Why would she need to go into a locker room for a bio-terrorism attack? Even though the locker room joke was funny at the beginning, it doesn’t quite fit here. I’d take out. I think it’d be a nicer transition if you said something along the lines of “As Ami and Luke dig deeper into the investigation—and maybe their growing feelings for each other, it takes a turn for the worse when FBI agents invade their homes and stalk them in
the streets. (obviously you can reword more elegantly than I can).

Also, question that agents might have with this—why are FBI chasing them? Are Ami and Luke the bad guys? Give us a reason why FBI is interested in them.

With the clock ticking down to the planned Independence Day attack
how do they know this attack is planned? Explain., Ami and Luke must prevent the pathogen’s release, escape the FBI pursuers, and handle their feelings weak wording. Use stronger word choice. for each other. If they fail to deactivate the bomb, thousands of innocent lives will be lost (or something more elegant, but you get what I’m saying). With thousands of lives hanging in the balance, they’re going to need more than a coincidence to pull it all off.

I’d end with an If/then statement like the one I suggested. Needs to be clear stakes at the end.

This is a good start, but I think you need to give the reader some more information—always tougher with Paranormal! Biggest thing is explaining why they are the specific people who need to stop this attack, how the romance plays a factor, and the stakes if they lose.

Complete at 80,000 words, [TITLE] is a
 new adult paranormal with crossover and series potential. [Publishing history.]

Thank you for your time and consideration!

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

Filed: Workshops

  • Laura says:

    Brenda, you do a lot to help aspiring writers, but this series on the queries is so amazing. I love seeing the mind of the reader at work. Thank you and to all the agents, writers and editors willing to do this.

  • Thanks so much for this awesome series, and for the feedback!!

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