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Day Thirteen of the June Query Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … Kelly Siskind & Katie Bucklein

Wednesday, 17 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 …


Pic 1Kelly Siskind

Website | Facebook | Twitter

A small-town girl at heart, Kelly moved from the city to open a cheese shop with her husband in Northern Ontario. When she’s not neck deep in cheese or out hiking, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head. She laughs at her own jokes and has been known to eat her feelings—Gummy Bears heal all. She’s also an incurable romantic, devouring romance novels into the wee hours of the morning.

Her debut novel, CHASING CRAZY, will be published in February 2016, and here’s the summary …

Pininfarina Gabri’s rise to shame began the moment her father branded her with those five syllables. Fast forward to the Public Speaking Incident that defined her high school career, and she’s ready for a change. On a plane to New Zealand, she reinvents herself as Nina, non-disaster magnet. That lasts until she trips over a boot in the aisle—the one belonging to the hot guy she can’t stop picturing in a one-man Magic Mike show. But to flirt with him would mean conquering her androphobia—fear of men—acquired on the night she may or may not have lost her virginity. The jury’s still out after that disaster.

If one more person looks at Sam with those damn sympathy eyes, he’s gonna go postal. Hoping to rediscover the carefree guy he was before the crash that burned his legs and killed his mother, Sam escapes to New Zealand. A change of scenery and random hookups are the plan. But there’s this clumsy girl who looks at him with hungry eyes, making him feel like a legend. Not like a disfigured guy whose girlfriend dumped him.

When Nina and Sam find themselves traveling together, Sam makes it his mission to conquer her fears. All but her androphobia. With the way his father sank into depression following his mom’s death, no way is he getting in deep with a girl. Crazy chemistry or not. Plus, if she sees his scarred legs and rejects him, it could make the downward spiral he hit after the accident look like a kiddie ride.

2015 Golden Heart® Finalist


Kelly’s query critique …

Query #26:

At twenty-two Jenna Sander’s has everything going for her. She just graduated and has her first nursing job. She has a best friend, a wonderful loving family, but, most importantly, she knows who she is.

At least she thought she did. The above is nice and clean and sets up your MC’s conflict, but I think you can amp up the volume. This is your hook. Pull your reader into your world. I’d focus instead on the baptismal record. A stronger intro with more stakes, like: Jenna Sander’s hands haven’t changed. Her eyes and nose and mouth still look the same. *Then insert a bold line about how learning her father isn’t the man she thought he was changes everything. Show the emotion of it instead of telling about who she is. Or shrink all of that down into one punchy line about identity, so your reader gets a feel for the stakes of your novel, quick and concise. If you don’t make those changes, something I’d keep in mind is, I wouldn’t normally group knowing who I am as  ‘having everything going for me.’ It’s a bit vague and not something someone would normally list if they had to write down the best things about their lives.

When her mom dies and leaves Jenna a box of items, including a baptismal record with the wrong man’s name written on it under “father,” it throws everything Jenna thought she knew about her family into question. Love this. It quickly summarizes your MCs struggles. She tries to talk to her dad about it, but he’s already distanced himself from everyone but his new wife, who tells Jenna the baptismal record is correct. (I crossed that bit out because I don’t need to know who confirms this info.) I’d like more detail here—less about the new wife and more specifics about Jenna’s relationship with her dad so we see that he doesn’t love her (show the distance instead of telling me about it) as per your statement in the below paragraph. Throw in specific instances so I become emotionally invested in your character and understand the relationship she has with her father. After ‘new wife,’ you can say something like: Our monthly phone calls have been reduced to stilted conversation and blah blah blah—you get where I’m going with this. It doesn’t have to be the call, but something so I can see how distant they are and why she wouldn’t get any answers from him or feel comfortable pushing him for more information.  Jenna’s dad isn’t her biological father. This is restating what has already been revealed. Not necessary.

Jenna sets off on a quest to find the guy who fits the name, why her mom lied, and to find out if not knowing where you came from changes who you are. This is great. It’s a strong statement and paints the themes of your MS clearly. Along the way she meets Aiden, a patient and kind doctor she works with, who gives Jenna a chance at love. After learning the truth about where she comes from (*this is the second time in the paragraph you’ve used ‘knowing where you come from.’ Try to find another way to say this) and why two fathers couldn’t love her, Jenna will have to decide if  she can love herself enough to let anyone else love her. Good stakes. I have a solid understanding of where your plot is headed, but you’ve left me with enough questions about your MC’s journey and personal discoveries to want to keep reading. Good job! I still, however, think this last sentence needs some work. You’ve used the word ‘love’ three times, and again at the end of the previous sentence. Vary your language.

PULLING THE THREADS is *more meat here please! Add category and genre. complete at 51,000 words. If you can add comp titles after this line, it’s always beneficial. Let agents know where you see your work fitting on a shelf and why it stands apart. Also, I’m concerned about word count. This is longer than a novella, but not long enough for a full-length novel. Based on your MC’s  age, I’m guessing this is NA or A, which would mean you’d want your count hovering around the 70-80k mark. Something to consider. I am an active member of SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.  (Just a little addition to finish this baby off!)



meKatie Bucklein

Blog | Twitter | Goodreads

Katie Bucklein is a college student majoring in History and Cartography and writes Young Adult epic fantasy novels. When she’s not studying or writing, she can generally be found making a fool of herself, because life is awkward, and she knows that better than many. She currently lives in small town Idaho, but she’s sure that won’t be for long. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen of Stonesong Literary Agency.



Katie’s query critique …

Query #27:

Dear Ms. :

Because you represent speculative fiction with real emotional resonance (You often hear to personalize queries, and with good reason, but this is a very vague opener. While the agent may very well rep speculative fiction, there are better ways to say this. Perhaps list a book repped by the agent instead, something along the lines of “As you represent THIS BOOK by SO AND SO, and launch right into the last half of this sentence), I hope my novel THE WAXLING will be a good fit for your list (I would instead say “will interest you”).

Blake Wilkes has never had a home he could keep. His family has flit between posh hotels, rented mansions, and stolen yachts, searching for the right Singer Compound (You have a great first line, but by the time I hit Singer Compound, you’ve lost me. What is a Singer Compound? Why is it so important? Always good to introduce a little bit of backstory/world-building so we aren’t left floundering) and the living wax golem the Singer’s worship and create (Why do they worship it? What is its importance to the character and their world?). One Waxling every  sixteen years. That’s a heck of a lot of work for one wish (This is the first I’m hearing about a wish. Is the wish associated with the Singer Compound and the living wax golem?). And a heck of an expense to find her (To find the Waxling? If so, I would definitely give us more information on what a Waxling is and what its importance is to Blake. So far, I’m not seeing a connection between Blake and the Waxling—is he a hunter of them? Is that why he’s traveled so much?).

Money has never been a problem for the Wilkes. Not since their granddad stole a Waxling’s living seed heart and burned it while making a wish for money unending (Oh, VERY interesting! If I were you, I would move this paragraph up, so it’s the opener before “Blake Wilkes has never had a home he could keep.” It’s a great way to introduce the world, spurn some interest and questions, and give me an idea of what Waxlings do/how they pertain to Blake).

However, no amount of wealth can stop death. Stall it, sure. But not forever. Blake’s mother is dying of cancer and the only way to save her is if Blake steals the heart of the living Waxling. (So let me see if I get this right: The plot of the story is that Blake needs to steal a Waxling’s heart to save his mother. Great. Sounds awesome. Bur right now, the query reads as an almost-introduction to the world of the Waxlings, but I feel like you’re just barely beginning to scrape the surface. I want to really know about Blake, how he relates to the Waxlings, and much, much more about the plot. When I was writing my query letters, I would look at inside flap summaries of books that could be comp titles of my manuscript. I would figure out how they  introduced the characters and the world in a way that flowed into the plot, giving me a good idea of both the characters I would be reading about and the plot I would be investing my time in. I would definitely suggest you do this so we get a solid idea of who Blake is, what the Waxlings are, and why the two of them are important to the overall plot.)

Problem is, the Waxling steals his heart first. (Great ending!)

The Waxling (Make this upper caps, so THE WAXLING), a YA Contemporary Fantasy novel complete at 73,000 words, is a love story told through multiple points of view: the thief (The Waxling thief? So, Blake?), the protectors (Of the Waxlings?), and the girl made of wax (As I had questions above, I would eliminate the words following the colon and leave it at “…through multiple points of view.”). It will appeal to YA readers who enjoy the magical characters of Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, and the dangers of falling in love in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys.

My first published novel, Funny Tragic Crazy Magic has sold more than 15,000 digital copies. My second novel, Alchemy (Cowritten with Melanie Crouse and Sabrina West) made Amazon’s Top 100 Hot New Releases, and was rated # 42 in Indie Authorland’s Top One Hundred Self-Published Books Worth Reading.

Thank you for your time and consideration (GREAT bio and conclusion!).


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

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