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 …
Stacey Trombley lives in Ohio with her husband and the sweetest Rottweiler you’ll ever meet. She thinks people are fascinating and any chance she has, she’s off doing or learning something new. She went on her first mission trip to Haiti at age twelve and is still dying to go back. Her “places to travel” list is almost as long as her “books to read” list.
Keep a look out for her debut novel NAKED, coming July 7th 2015
Stacey’s upcoming NAKED releasing July 7, 2015 …
I could never fit in to the life my parents demanded. By the time I was thirteen, it was too much so I ran away to New York City and found a nightmare that lasted three years. A nightmare that began and ended with a pimp named Luis. Now I am Dirty Anna. Broken, like everything inside me has gone bad.
Except that for the first time, I have a chance to start over. Not just with my parents but at school. Still, the rumors follow me everywhere. Down the hall. In classes. And the only hope I can see is in the wide, brightly lit smile of Jackson, the boy next door. So I lie to him. I lie to protect him from my past. I lie so that I don’t have to be The Girl Who Went Bad.
The only problem is that someone in my school knows about New York.
Someone knows who I really am.
Stacey’s query critique …
Dear [Agent’s name],
Seventeen-year-old Sophia de Paula sings like a rainforest bird, but her most marriageable quality is her Peetanguara descent. The so-called Easterner nobility wed red wives [Try saying that 10 times fast “wed red wives, wed red wives, wed red wives…” Might trip some people up.] to recruit native laborers for the sugarcane fields, and Sophia’s fair, noble cousin needs her in order to claim the family barony [ I’m not really fully following the politics here, how does her cousin play into it and what does she need? I think for a query you’re better off simplifying this,
you could even combine the beginning bits into a much more succinct explanation. Something like “ ________ wants to marry her so he/his family can recruit her people as laborers for the sugarcane fields but she would rather…” the cousin adds a layer of complicated you don’t need for a query. The simpler the better!] But she would rather drown like her brother than marry someone who keeps trying to take her by force. [Good line! Shows her strength and hints at her past in a very subtle way.]
When her native grandmother entreats her to awaken Ig, the Water Goddess, and save the rainforest tribes from the conquering Easterners, Sophia leaps at the chance to flee her controlling Easterner relatives. <Again, should be simplified. Just stick with some variation of “to save her people from the conquering Easterners, Sophia sets off to awaken the Water Goddess, Ig.” Again, her grandmother is another character that muddies the query.] No one has seen Ig for fifty years, since the blond invaders arrived from across the sea. [Also like this
line, it has more voice than you’ve shown so far.] But,
disappointingly, [this is telling, we can tell it’s disappointing without you telling us] the Goddess Sophia awakens turns out to be more interested in Easterner fashion than the devastation of the rainforest and the tribes. [This seems like it could go into funny territory which is something you could totally milk if you wanted to add another sentence about the quirky water goddess. Quirk, voice, humor, tone, style, emotion, imagery. Those are things that make a query stand out]
Apart from bestowing water-controlling powers on Sophia, Ig’s advice is to seek another deity, a powerful Goddess no one knew existed, and ask her to bring peace to the land once and forever. [Personally, I think you’d be better off just saying that Ig sends her on a quest and not mentioning the other goddess. It’s not a change that’s 100% needed but I’d like it because it simplifies even more, leaving your query nice and succinct and to the point and we don’t need to know about this second goddess to follow the main conflict] Ig’s quest will send Sophia deep into the rainforest the Easterners keep burning, and if she doesn’t succeed, marriage to her cousin will be the least of her worries. If she fails, Sophia’s tribe will perish at the hands of the conquerors who married into her family.
SHROUDED GODDESS is a 71,000 word YA fantasy set in a world that mirrors South America during the Portuguese colonization of the sixteenth century [very cool! Though I do find myself questioning the name Sophia as a native South American name]. With Avatar waterbending in the rainforest, SHROUDED GODDESS will appeal to fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series. [the way this sentence is structured it sounds like you’re saying that because of the waterbending it will appeal to fans of the Grisha series. I’d just say “it will appeal to fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series and Avatar: The Last Air bender. (Specify The Last Airbender so it’s clear you don’t mean the alien movie. Or even, since it’s a YA, consider using Korra instead)
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Overall, I think you’ve got a very interesting premise and awesome setting. In order to stand out in the crowded slush pile, play up on the things that makes this story unique. Specifically, the rainforest, show us a little more of that setting! And definitely a little more of that voice. Anything you can add from that list I wrote: Quirk, voice, humor, tone, style, emotion, imagery, will only help you stand out even more.
Her brand spankin’ new reader group
Brighton spent nearly a decade as a professional photographer before deciding to take her storytelling in a different direction and reconnect with her first love: writing. When she’s not pounding away at the keyboard, she’s probably either reading or shopping—maybe even both at once. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children, and, yes, she considers forty degrees to be hoodie weather. Her home is the setting for frequent dance parties, Lego battles, and more laughter than she thought possible.Her debut novel, Caged in Winter, is available now from Berkley/Penguin. She is represented by Mandy Hubbard of D4EO Literary Agency.
Brighton’s recent release …
Jason’s been living (and loving) the rich playboy lifestyle for five years, but now his parents are pressuring him to get involved in the family business. The last thing he wants is another obligation, but when his best friend moves out of state and asks Jason to look after his sister, he can’t just say no.
Tessa had to grow up way too soon. After dealing with the aftermath of her parents’ deaths, then becoming a teenage mom, she knows the meaning of responsibility. Which is why, at twenty-two, she’s looking for so much more than a party boy. She’s looking for someone who can stand by her and her daughter…forever.
A relationship between them is doomed from the start, but who says they can’t have a little fun? But as Jason gets closer to Tessa—and her daughter—fun starts to turn into something else… Something Jason’s not sure he’s ready for.
Buy it now!
Add it to Goodreads
Brighton’s query critique …
A troubled [how is she troubled? Try to find a more description adjective to shed more light on your MC] young woman makes it her mission to punish the people who ripped her childhood to shreds. [Love the second half!]
For twenty–year–old Asha Shah, the offer of a summer fellowship in London is the perfect cover for exacting revenge against Annex, the organization responsible for destroying her family. They wanted her because of the spirit animal marking her back, but Asha evaded them as a teenager and has since vowed that no more spirited [can I assume this is the term for people with the animal mark? Maybe changing it to: …since vowed that no one else bearing the mark…] will be hurt by them.
but failed to capture her when she was a teenager and Asha vows that no more “spirited” will be hurt by them. Unfortunately, the dragon inside her refuses to remain hidden and garners the attention of her enigmatic shadow Dev Archer [is this the name of other packs, as the rest of the sentence eludes? Or a single person?], packs of other “spirited” people either wanting to recruit her into their gangs or kill her because they sense the stronger animal in their midst, and both Annex and their counterpart Riven [this entire sentence lost me. I’ve read it four times, and I still can’t make sense of it. Pare down to only the most important details and keep your sentences short and punchy so they’re not so windy.]. While revenge is foremost on Asha’s mind, meeting a young girl who might be her long lost sister inside the walls of Annex could undo all of her plans.
Riven is a [soon to be complete] [do not, under any circumstances, query this until it’s complete and has been run through beta readers and edits. Don’t waste your chance with an agent because you weren’t ready!} New Adult Urban Fantasy with romantic elements that draws on my own hardships of growing up amongst racism and finding
onemyself despite all the cultural expectations thrown my way. Rather than making this story blatantly about my Indian American life, I wanted my kick butt heroine (like those in The Otherworld, Stray, and Allie Beckstrom series) to play out a revenge theme (like that from The Count of Monte Cristo) in her own style. [To use these as comp titles, make them the focus. Make sure the query letter is about the book, not you.] Riven is part of an outlined four-book series, though this title has the ability to standalone. Though Riven can be a standalone, three more novels have been outlined.
I have a BA in English which has nothing to do with my job in IT
, and I usually squeeze in writing time when the kids are finally in bed. [Use this space to mention any writing accreditations you have, and if you have none, simply say you’re a working writer living in XXX.]
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Thank you, Stacey and Brighton, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!