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Day Twenty-one of the June Query Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … Julie Dao & Mónica Bustamante Wagner

Tuesday, 30 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 …


julie_dao_photoJulie C. Dao

Blog | Twitter | Facebook

Julie is a native New Englander who once studied to become a doctor – until she realized the only surgery she should be doing is revising her manuscripts. Though she is anything but a musical prodigy, she likes to write about them and relive her days as an orchestra geek. When she’s not working on her books, she enjoys reading, going for long runs, and beating everyone at Pictionary. She is represented by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency.



Julie’s query critique …

Dear (Agent name):

In her search for a story idea [Cut everything before this and begin here with “On”] on her first day as a newspaper reporter, Frannie Field Mouse encounters something quite suspicious [Add “that may just be perfect for her first story” and cut everything after the comma], and thinks her discovery is perfect for her first story. She’s convinced she has solved a mystery, but in her haste to get the story written, she finds herself in big trouble. [This is vague – what sort of big trouble? What are the stakes? Give a short, snappy explanation that makes the agent want to find out how Frannie gets herself out of this trouble.]

I am pleased to present my picture book submission, [watch out for extra spaces] Frannie and the Splendid Spice Cake Mystery. It is an 863-word book for children between the ages of four and eight [I don’t think you need to specify the age group if you’ve already said that it is a picture book]. I have just discovered that it is similar to award-winning author Robin Newman’s first book of a new series, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake: A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery, just recently released. Frannie, however, is a newspaper reporter looking for the perfect story for her first published article, and she has a very tight deadline to meet. There is no plan to make my book the first of a series, and it is most appropriate for younger children. Longer, unfamiliar words (i.e. typewriter, deadline, etc.) are intentional so that they may inspire questions by the young listener or reader. [This is a lot of unnecessary information. Queries should be short, snappy, intriguing. All you really need here is the title, the genre, the audience, and your comp titles. This could be accomplished with two short sentences: “I am pleased to present my submission, Frannie and the Splendid Spice Cake Mystery. It is an 863-word picture book that may appeal to readers of Robin Newman’s The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake: A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery.” That’s it. That’s all you need. No in-depth comparisons to other works or defending your choice of long words needed.]

With 14 years of experience as a creative advertising copy writer, I feel both knowledgeable and comfortable in writing for children, because the writing approach for each is quite similar. The message is appropriate for the audience and compelling enough to meet the audience’s expectations. My advertising writing included copy of every type, from print to broadcast media. Now I write children’s books, pursuing something I have always wanted to do. [I don’t think this is necessary, either. You could simply say that you have 14 years of experience as a creative advertising copywriter and that you are a member of SCBWI and West Virginia Writers, Inc. If you have taken the time to complete a children’s book and submit to an agent, it goes without saying that you are pursuing something you want to do.]

I am a member of SCBWI and West Virginia Writers, Inc., and this is a multiple submission. [Again, watch for the extra spaces. You also do not need to mention that this is a multiple submission. Agents expect that you are querying others at the same time.] I hope to hear from you soon and I thank you for considering Frannie and the Splendid Spice Cake Mystery.

Remember that a query letter is meant to entice the agent to read the book. Keep it short, simple, and direct, and avoid unnecessary information. Agents have very little time and many, many queries to read, and you need to catch their attention in the few seconds during which they glance over your letter. The majority of the query should be about your book, with only a few lines about yourself. From your letter, I don’t know anything about the story except that Frannie is a reporter and has found a mystery that may land her in trouble. Give us more information. Why should we care about Frannie? What will make us root for her? What is this mystery and what kind of trouble is it going to land her in? My advice is to look up examples of successful queries and see how they give enough information to entice without giving the whole thing away. Good luck!


monica.jpegMónica Bustamante Wagner

Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

Mónica was born in a Peruvian city by a snow-capped volcano. Growing up, books were her constant companion as she traveled with her family to places like India (where she became a vegetarian), Thailand (where she *almost* met Leonardo di Caprio), France (where she pretended to learn French), and countless other places that inspired her to write. Now, Mónica lives in Chile with her husband, three boys, eleven hens, and stray dog.

Check out her NA debut series FROSH, coming from The Studio/Paper Lantern Lit, Oct 20, 2015:

During welcome week at Hillson University, the FROSH will hit the fan.

Type-A aspiring journalist Ellie plans to take freshman year by storm. But hell-bent on breaking a huge on-campus scandal, she risks becoming one herself—and getting the mysterious, heart-melting QB in serious trouble.

Grant, star quarterback and charismatic chick-magnet, is hiding a life-altering secret. The last thing he needs is an overeager (absolutely adorable) journalist asking questions. He’s got a reputation to protect.

High-society legacy student Devon is ready to catch the football hottie of her dreams. If the tabloids feature her with the “it” boy on her arm, her tainted past will be buried—or so she thinks.

Charlie, pre-med, is done being the sweet and funny geek that girls like Devon ignore. But if he tries to impress her with a new edgy, spontaneous attitude, will his heart end up in the emergency room?

FROSH intertwines the stories of Ellie, Grant, Devon, and Charlie in Mónica B. Wagner’s sexy NA debut series, about falling in love and falling apart.

Add FROSH on Goodreads!


Mónica’s query critique …

Hi! Thanks so much for letting me read your query. I thought the part about watching a clone live your life—and destroy it!—was intriguing. I think this would be stronger if you fleshed it out more. Your pitch (the meat of the query) is 159 words. And I say you still have some room to expand. A 200-word pitch is still a good length, so you could explain a few more things. I also like the stakes here—if he doesn’t stop his clone, his life will be utterly ruined. That was nice. More comments below:

Jeremiah Adams knows exactly how he’ll kill himself. But this isn’t suicide — it’s murder. And, if he gets away with it, it just might be the perfect crime. [At first, this paragraph intrigued me, and I wanted to know why would it be a perfect crime and why it was “killing himself,” but it wasn’t suicide. I was thinking maybe he’d try to kill himself to prove a point, like a movie I once saw when an innocent guy was trying to get a death penalty sentence to prove his theory that innocent people could get that conviction, too. But then, in your query the reason turned out to be cloning, and so I felt the opening was a little gimmicky, because he’s not technically killing “himself.” He’s just killing someone that looks like him. So I would suggest to start with something else that doesn’t have the potential to let agents down. Maybe just start with the paragraph below.]

Half way [Halfway is just one word, not two] into a highly illegal human cloning experiment, Jeremiah can’t take another minute watching his clone destroy his life bit by miserable bit. After six months, his wife has left him, his career is in jeopardy, and now his teenage son may be dabbling in drugs [I like all the conflict here. But I wonder what does the teenage son doing drugs have to do with his evil clone? Also, I’d like the introduction of the fact that they gave him the money in the beginning of the paragraph to understand from the get-go why he’s doing the experiment. And also, while I was reading for the first time, I was thinking why doesn’t he just give the money back? It didn’t make sense to me—until I read the last paragraph where you say he’s imprisoned. So I think it would be a good idea to flip some things in the query to ground the reader in the beginning. You don’t want an agent feeling confused about these things and stop reading altogether without knowing that the explanations are coming! Also, why doesn’t his wife know about the experiment? Did he agree to be imprisoned (in exchange for the money) and knew that his clone would be out there? Is there a way you could weave in a little of these things in the query?]. Even his dog doesn’t like him anymore [This is a nice detail, but since you weren’t clear at the beginning, with the “killing himself” part, I didn’t know if the dog doesn’t like him (maybe because he reminds him of the twin?) or the dog doesn’t like his evil twin. Also, if he’s imprisoned, how does he even know his dog doesn’t like him? How does he know his son is doing drugs?]. This isn’t worth the $10 million they’re giving him. He wants his life back.

But first he’ll need to escape the high-tech laboratory he’s imprisoned in and outsmart some very powerful people who’ve broken some very serious laws. [I would try not to repeat the word “very.” But apart from that I like that you’re sowing us a lot of conflict here, too.] Then, of course, there’s the matter of insurance. He’ll need proof he’s been cloned if he hopes to slip back into his own life unscathed. He’s got to gain the upper hand. Or, at least, a couple of fingers.

My first novel, [If you don’t say that you’ve published anything before, the agents will assume this is your first novel—try to keep it short and sweet] Two TWO [Titles in queries are written in capital letters, without underlining them] is a science fiction story, completed at about [we know it’s approximately] 50,000 words., that examines human cloning from a different angle – what happens to a person when he’s made to watch his life played out by an exact replica? [All this last bit sounded repetitive—you just showed us this in the pitch above and now you’re telling us about it. Let the pitch do its work] In the case of Jeremiah Adams, it leads to a firm desire to change. But that’s not a bad thing, because, if he wants to get his life back, he can’t do it as the same timid man they cloned. [All this part that I highlighted… I like that you hint at a character arc. I think every query should hint character arcs and sometimes we don’t see that in queries. But as it is now, it’s a little tell-y, since it isn’t in the pitch—as in the part of the query that shows what is happening in the character’s voice. Everything after the pitch is the author’s voice, so that’s why it sounds tell-y, if that makes sense.]

Although firmly rooted in science fiction, I believe this story’s underlying themes — the nature of personal identity and the prospect of reinventing one’s life — would appeal to a much wider audience. [A larger audience than what? That last part is vague. I am not sure if this paragraph adds too much. I would cut it, and as I said before, let the pitch do its work, and show what’s important there. Keep this last part short and sweet, considering the deluge of queries agents get in a single day.]

Thanks again for letting me read! Good luck with TWO! =)

Thank you, Julie and Mónica, for your critiques!

Come back Wednesday for July’s First Page Workshop with Pitch Wars mentors.


Filed: Workshops

  • Jane says:

    Thank you so much for the careful reading of my query letter (nothing like being the absolute LAST one!) – it was well worth the wait. I understood all of your comments completely and they made perfect sense to me. It is so great t have a fresh and experienced set of eyes here. I will take your comments and suggestions to heart and rework this. I like the idea of starting with the second paragraph, even though I liked that hook when I wrote it… but it made sense the way you said it. One question, does it matter a great deal if I don’t add much of a bio in a query? I’ve been a journalist and freelance editor, but lack of publishing and all that makes me timid about the bio. In your mind, is this important? I appreciate the time you took, and your book looks like something I will enjoy, so Ill keep my eyes out for it.

    • Haha! Yeah, we both were dead last. 🙂 Still, it was fun, wasn’t it? And no. If your pitch and concept and first pages are good, it REALLY doesn’t matter that your bio is short, or even if you don’t add any bio! You can totally keep it short and sweet. And thanks–re: my book. 🙂

  • Jane says:

    And thank you, too, Brenda for this contest. Reading all of these critiques (and because mine was last, you can bet I read them ALL) was a valuable experience for me. I learned something from each critique. Great service you’re doing here!

  • Dear Julie,
    I was so excited to see my query show up this morning! I have carefully read your comments, which make all kinds of sense and I am most appreciative. As an aspiring writer, I am continually looking for resources to get me going on this new journey. That can sometimes get quite confusing. How fortunate I am to have had you critique my very first query! Your comments will be put to good use as I proceed. Many thanks for your help!

    And many thanks to you, Brenda, for all you do to give writers such wonderful opportunities to learn and connect with others. The critiques have been extremely helpful.

We're thrilled at the different ways those in our Pitch Wars community are giving back—and we encourage them to do so. However, please keep in mind that Pitch Wars is not affiliated with any of these various contests, promotions, etc., including those of our mentors and mentees. Promoting any such opportunities via our social media channels doesn't imply endorsement or affiliation. We encourage you to do your research before participating.

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