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 …
Kate Karyus Quinn is a chapstick addict with a love for live theater and a BFA from Niagara University to prove it. After growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY, Kate left her hometown for Southern California and film school, where she earned an MFA in Film and Television Production from Chapman University. After finishing her degree, she moved with her husband to Knoxville, Tennessee. However, she recently made the move back home, with her husband and two children in tow. She promised them wonderful people, amazing food, and weather that would… build character. Kate is first and foremost an avid reader and unapologetic booknerd. Although, she mostly reads YA and romance, she often samples different genres in her constant search for the next great read. Kate is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
Kate’s recent releases …
Add ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE to Goodreads or purchase it with the links below.
Add (DON’T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME to Goodreads or purchase it with the links below.
Add it to Goodreads
Kate’s query critique …
Daphne Walters grew up as an adorable prop on her parent’s reality show. Her job was simple, be the cute kid in the background while her mother shined front and center. And for camera shy Daphne, the background has always been where she’s felt most comfortable. Now sixteen, with her father gone and ratings down, everyone seems to think the key to reviving the show is for Daphne to become a sexy, sassy, walking soundbite. But her first attempt at doing so ends in the show getting canceled. To make matters worse Daphne’s mom reveals that their home is owned by the network that just fired them. If they can’t come up with the cash to buy the house they’ll be evicted. While her mom is ready to pack up and start over, walking away from the last place her family was whole feels unimaginable to Daphne.
**Insert one sentence pitch or intro here.**
Camera shy 16-year-old Daphne Walters grew up on a reality TV show (specific name of show might be nice here, give sense of voice/humor) that featured her entire family. When the show is cancelled, because Daphne did XYZ (this is one place it might help to be more specific) her family is also evicted from their home which is owned by the network.
Desperate to stay in her childhood home, Daphne negotiates a spot for her
mom family, on a new show, The First Families of Philadelphia (Philly’s answer to the Real Housewives). If the Walters are prominently featured on the highest rated episode of the season, they’ll earn a bonus large enough to save the family home. And it doesn’t hurt that being on this new show means interacting with Daphne’s own favorite family to watch, the infamous and beautiful Ravens.
Daphne’s mom knows how to work a camera, but with four families fighting for screen time
and Daphne constantly stuck in fangirl, mode outshining the competition isn’t as easy as she thought it would be. Things get even more complicated, when for “authenticity” home-schooled Daphne is enrolled in real life high school with the other kids on the show. A genuine high school experience is something she’s always secretly wanted, but navigating that drama filled world for the first time with cameras is not the experience she was looking for.
When the camera’s start focusing on the kids instead of their parents it becomes clear that it’s down to Daphne to get the bonus. Insert something brief here about new experiences at school, etc. If she doesn’t she can kiss her new friends, her new school and her home goodbye.
REALITY IS OVERRATED is a 6x,xxx word YA Contemporary novel.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.
So I cut this waaaay down because it was reading more like a synopsis than a query. You really want to keep it shorter – so only introduce the main characters, the main conflict, and what’s at stake.
It would also be nice to start the query with a one sentence pitch that sort of sums the whole story up. For example: “Daphne hates the bright lights, lack of privacy, and altered version of reality that came along with having grown up on TV, but in order to hold onto everything she loves, she’ll have to not only embrace it, but figure out how to become a star of the reality TV world.” Alternately, you could instead do a sort of comparison for your pitch as in: “REALITY IS OVERRATED is a 60,000 word YA contemporary novel that is best described as Real Housewives meets [insert comparable relatively recent successful YA novel].” Whichever one you go with, both of these would be best utilized at the top of the query (right after ‘dear agent’ where I marked with the asterisks) and from there you’d go into the main part above.
Finally, don’t forget to tack on a short bio. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Do you have a degree in English? Have you watched every incarnation of the Real Housewives? Are you a member of SCBWI (or a comparable organization)? That’s really all you need. “I’m a member of my local SCBWI chapter, have yet to find a reality TV show I don’t love, and this is my first novel.” That’s it – just a one sentence paragraph.
Kate Karyus Quinn is the YA author of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE (HarperTeen 2013), (DON’T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME (HarperTeen 2014), and the upcoming DOWN WITH THE SHINE (HarperTeen April 26th, 2016).
A Texas transplant to the Pacific Northwest, JC Nelson lives with a family and a flock of chickens near rainy Seattle.
J.C.’s recent book release …
Marissa is due for a little happily ever after. After all, she did kill the evil Fairy Godmother, end a war, and snag a sweet promotion within the Fairy Godfather’s magical-problem-solving Agency. But between maintaining a relationship with someone whose amorous advances can cause third-degree burns, dealing with a killer-poodle infestation, and helping her best friend, Princess Ari, learn to wield spells more powerful than curing a hangover, she’s not getting as much peace and quiet as she hoped.
When an enemy from her past appears to exact a terrible revenge, Marissa’s life goes from hectic to hell on earth. With Grimm inexplicably gone and Ari trapped by a sleeping spell, Marissa decides to fight fire with hellfire—and accidentally begins a countdown to the apocalypse.
With the end of days extremely nigh, Marissa will have to master royal politics, demonic law, and biblical plagues in a hurry—because even the end of the world can’t keep the Agency from opening for business…
Add it to GoodReads
Other books in the Grimm Agency Series:
J.C.’s query critique …
First, the query, with a few line by line comments:
Anatomy of a Query
Ok, so reading these comments you might be thinking “JC hates my query, hates me, and probably harbors a lingering hatred for all of mankind.” For the record, I do not hate you or your query. We’ll leave mankind for another discussion, and focus on your query. One of the key things about constructing a great query is answering the W’s:
Who is the main character?
What are they up against?
What is at stake?
There are as many different ways to construct a great query as there are ways to make potato soup, but your goal is always the same: Get the agent/editor to move off of your letter and into the sample pages.
If I take apart your query, I think I see the answers here:
Who is the main character? Erissa
What is she up against? Povon Lumos (but we might not need his name!)
What is at stake? Her world.
Character wise, we have Erissa, Radha, Dante, and Povon Lumos, which is a lot of characters. I’m going to humbly suggest keeping the focus on Erissa. So, we want a query that keeps the focus on Erissa while delivering the other information. Your query also contains a number of contextual terms without the context (mekan, mekanos, Gesweglin) which we may or may not need.
Query Dynamics, Applied
Ok, what comes next is dangerous, I’m going to show how I would arrange your facts into a query, but keep in mind, I may not have a complete picture of the novel. You’ll need
to adjust, re-arrange or throw out as it makes sense, because, in the end, it is your book:
Dear Agent Fancy-Pants,
After reading that you are seeking thrilling stories in the vein of pirates versus ninjas, I’d like to present my adult high fantasy novel, Dream Songs, a standalone novel with series potential, complete at 88 thousand words.
Erissa’s spent her life watching and waiting for an invasion that she prays will never come, but when her daughter brings home Dante, a half-dead soldier with mekan arms grafted to his body, she knows the time has come.
Acid rain is killing Dante’s people, corroding their mekan limbs and organs. They’ll stop at nothing to escape, and their leader has already found a new home: Erissa’s world.
To stop an army of mekan warriors, Errissa must bind together a shaky coalition, including the ancient Mekanos Erissa blames for her husband’s death. If she fails, the mekan army will flood her world, destroying all she has sworn to protect.
ME. (Not ME, YOU)
This may or may not be an accurate representation of your novel – you would know, and know how to arrange things to reflect the story. No query is perfect until it’s been honed, so don’t be afraid to dive in and tweak every word to give you the maximum effect!
Thank you, Kate and J.C., for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!