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Query & 1st Page Workshop with Chimera Editing Services … Day 4

Tuesday, 20 January 2015  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

 Query & 1st page workshop

15 critiques for ’15!

My wonderful critique partners have started a new freelance editing business and agreed to sponsor my January workshop. Jami Nord and K.T. Hanna have helped me spruce up my manuscripts and now they’re helping fifteen lucky and brave writers with theirs. The winners have already been picked. In the next few days, stop by and read Jami’s and Katie’s critiques and learn from their advice. Today we have our next two critiques up. We aren’t mentioning names or titles. It’s up to the writers if they want to reveal themselves.

If you’re interested in hiring Chimera Editing Services, go visit the website to learn more about their reasonably priced services …


Chimera Editing Services



Critique by K.T. Hanna



Dear Agent,

Seventeen-year-old Lacey’s heart has always been frosty, but teaming up with fiery rivals to save her family’s homeland might be the only solution when the territory’s clans are threatened by a slew of murders.
[This is a lengthy sentence that needs to be read multiple times to get the full meaning. It truly feels like most of it needs to be at the end. You’re listing stakes immediately before we understand anything about Lacey or her family]

Lacey is a Lycov: heir to the political dynasty that’s ruled Blackwood for decades – and the only dynasty that has magic. Her father’s sudden death leaves her heading [ awkward phrasing – I take it you mean to be the head of the family] Blackwood sooner than planned, but court politics are in Lacey’s repertoire. She’s raring to whittle her sharp words into diplomatic tools until her biggest opponents, the Arduins, decide to sashay [needlessly frivolous word choice. I’m assuming they don’t literally dance back into their circle] back into the narrow circle of Blackwood’s elite.

[This whole second paragraph is awkwardly phrased with odd word choices.

Alternate example:
Lacy, heir to the political dynasty of Blackwood, is a Lycov. Her father’s sudden death leaves her at the head of the only magic family, plunging her into the world of diplomacy and court politics she was raised to conquer.

But when the Arduins return to the narrow circle of Blackwood’s elite, full of accusations about Lacy’s family misusing their magic, she realizes there is no room for the arcane in politics.]

When the Arduins accuse Lacey’s family of using their icy magic to manipulate the public, Lacey realizes there’s no room for magic in politics. Dissent over the Lycovs’ ability is growing, so preserving her father’s lie that the family gift skipped her generation seems like a good plan. After all, One magical slip-up could cost her her new position [Would it work to say: One magical slip-up could ruin her career]. But when two Arduins are murdered and Lacey is nearly attacked by a secret group [Secret group? What secret group? Do they have a name? Sounds very vague. Give specifics – ALWAYS specifics in a query], she discovers her rivals’ political games aren’t her only threat.

Something [Again with the vague. Is it history? Future? Magic? Black Magic? Entice me – Something isn’t enticing, it’s generic] holds Blackwood’s powerful families together. If Lacey doesn’t uncover the mystery behind the murders, she’ll have much more at stake than the end of her bloodline. the fall of Blackwood will be her legacy, destroying everything her family has built. Teaming up with the Arduins might save her – if it doesn’t kill her first.

[Give it to us straight and without unnecessary embellishments. If Lacy doesn’t uncover the mystery the fall of Blackwood will be her legacy. Make it pack a punch, don’t shroud it in words we don’t need to get to the point]

INTERLACED is an 85,000 word YA Fantasy novel with series potential, set in an alternate world. It will appeal to fans of the elemental magic in Richelle Mead’s VAMPIRE ACADEMY and the gothic setting in Sarah Rees Brennan’s LYNBURN LEGACY series.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


First Page:

“I’ve made an executive decision,” I tell Bray as the cast-iron gate clanks shut behind us, releasing a deep thud that reverberates along the rocks littering the sides of the barrier. “Those gargoyles have got to go. Seriously, who designed those? They’re hideous.”

[I wouldn’t recommend starting out like this. I have no feel for this character and the first thing she does is speak. Give the reader something to grab onto before she opens her mouth. You can start with dialogue, but it needs to be worked right. Instead I’d suggest a slightly different approach. EG:

The gargoyles loom down at me, lips curved in macabre semblance of a grin, mocking me. The cast-iron gate clanks shut behind us, releasing a deep thud that reverberates along the rocks littering the sides of the barrier.

“I’ve made an executive decision,” I tell Bray. “Those gargoyles have to go. They’re hideous. Who came up with that design?”]

“I can’t wait until you talk to the Council like that.” Bray grins and shakes his head. I smile back, but the thumping of my heart overpowers the light staccato of my high-heeled boots as we stride through the grounds, marking off each second of total freedom I have left. [This is lengthy and awkwardly phrased. But my heart thumps so loud it overpowers the] Not that I’m complaining, exactly, but [Why is that phrase there? It doesn’t further the plot.] This is going to be a lot. Even for me.

“You know you don’t have to do this, right, Lace?” Bray’s breath comes out in a funnel [Funnel? Or do you mean cloud?] of silvery vapor, disappearing into the hundreds of feet of [Superfluous – you say it’s towering, so we don’t need the added hundreds of feet. Make every word count, try not to be repetitive.] black stone towering above us. The six sharp turrets look like they might pierce my heart if I make one false move. [Too wordy]

“No, I don’t know that.” The wind picks up considerably, but my skin feels no change in temperature. [Very wordy. The chill on the wind doesn’t penetrate my skin. Something that says the same in less words] “But if you want to be living live in a box while the Council argues about who should take over now, feel free to try and talk me out of it. We didn’t come back here for no reason.” [Alternately – we came back here for a reason. Less words, same meaning]

Something [does the pupil shift, the pupil widen/narrow? Be a little more specific. Somethings are so generic] in Bray’s eyes shifts at that last sentence. The reason we’re here. I swallow back the lump forming in my throat as we near the estate’s arched entrance. We see this view twice a year – once in June, once in January, like now – but this time, the only family member that Bray’s going to have around is me.

[This last paragraph is also wordy. Perhaps something like:

Bray looks away from me and I swallow the lump forming in my throat as we near the estate’s arched entrance. We usually only see this twice a year – June and January. But this time the only family we have is each other.

The query is a little confusing and doesn’t hit the specifics I needed to garner interest. Try not to be vague. Tell them almost everything and be clear about the stakes.

This first page is clunky. There’s so many multi-word descriptions that it’s easy to stumble over the words. Less is more, it makes the writing stronger. I also wouldn’t recommend starting with dialogue, the voice is obfuscated by the wordiness.

Once the prose is tightened and polished, I look forward to seeing Lacey’s voice emerge strongly. ]




Critique by Jami Nord



Dear (Agent),

(Personalization goes here)

Mara flees town with a duffel full of twenties bundled fifty to a stack. She’s done the math. The stash she stumbled upon under the floorboards of the hole she and her mom called home is just shy of a quarter million, it’s either blood money or drug money — her mother’s overdose points to the latter — and, while it’s her ticket out of the trailer park, it probably isn’t hers to take. This kind of cash has strings attached, and Mara would do almost anything to avoid getting caught up in them the way her mother must have done. (I really like the flow in this paragraph. There’s a good mix of sentence lengths, and your voice comes through well.)

Terrified that the owner of her windfall is hunting her down, Mara trades her RV in the sticks for an apartment in Vancouver. Determined to turn her love of reading into a decent life, she opens a Christian bookstore. Although she has no faith to speak of, she’s betting that the criminal who might be after her isn’t exactly spiritual. 

(Good specifics!)

Finn, the pastor who runs the street ministry next door, is determined to feed Mara’s body, mind and soul, but he’s too sweet for Mara’s taste. If Mara knew how to pray, she’d have asked ask for Tony, the smoking hot restauranteur restaurateur across the road. She’d rip his clothes off and eat him for dinner. (This paragraph gets to be a bit character overload. I would split this into two paragraphs here.) When her mom’s ex-boyfriend shows up and starts asking questions, Finn offers to pray for her. Tony reveals his connections to one of Vancouver’s drug kings, a favor just a call away. Finn’s words won’t defend her against bullets, but if she takes Tony’s help, she’s back to the life she left behind, and could end up just like her mom.

BITTER WORD SWEET, a New Adult Contemporary Romance, is complete at 72,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
(EXCELLENT query. Great use of specific words to make it feel developed and specific to your story. You may want to include a short, 2-3 line paragraph about yourself. But as a whole? This sounds like something that, as long as the agents rep NA Romances, should get a lot of requests!)

First Page:

One measly glass. Not even. A thimble full of wine. Mara sighed. (This is very staccato.) Fatigue plagued every muscle in her body, but tonight she needed more than two meager swallows to make it through. It was time to venture out.

She put the bottle back in the door of the ancient refrigerator that came with her apartment and rummaged through the tiny freezer at the top, shifting containers until she put her hands on a battered box of chicken nuggets. Reaching in, she pulled out a twenty dollar bill, considered, and took another just in case.

Mara rearranged the freezer’s contents to hide the box, grabbed her keys and her phone, and methodically checked every window to make sure it was locked. She wasn’t going far, but caution never hurt.

Mara (She) clumped down the stairs to the shop below. She dodged(, dodging) towers of unpacked boxes and a mess of used bubble wrap on her way through the long, narrow room. Hopefully, a good dinner would sustain her through the night’s work. A break. She needed a break. Closing and locking the shop door behind her, Mara shivered in the chill evening air.

She had just enough energy left to jet across the road when there was a gap in the traffic.

The tables at Tony’s were full. Every last one. Although she would have preferred the anonymity of one of the booths in the back of the place, Mara pulled herself—aching feet, stiff shoulders and all—up onto a tall stool at the bar. She resisted the impulse to lay her head down on its varnished cedar surface and focused instead on the menu.

“What can I get you?” A deep voice resonated from the other end of the bar.

Mara gazed far enough up to see a rough hand reach for a towel conveniently tucked into the waist of worn denim jeans. Her eyes followed the path of a perfectly defined vein along the bartender’s muscular forearm as he walked toward her, wiping down the bar as he moved.

“Um. Water? Wine? What’s good here?”

He laughed. “Water and wine, hey? Would you like some loaves and fishes to go with that?”

“I’m not really a fan of fish.” Mara’s face crinkled.

“Not into loaves and fishes, huh? Thought that was your thing.”

“My thing?” (I love this whole exchange. But watch that when there’s witty repartee, it doesn’t turn into “talking heads”. Incorporate the rest of their surroundings into it as well.)

I may live in Vancouver now, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever learn to love fish.

“Isn’t that one of the stories you’ll be peddling once you get up and running?” he asked.

She finally looked directly at him. His smirk was unsettling.

“I’m not much of a story teller,” she said.

“Story peddler,” he said. “I’ve noticed you. Could I interest you in some pizza instead?”

His eyes held her gaze. There was power there. An inner strength she wasn’t used to in a man. Something more than hunger anchored her to the bar.
She shifted her weight slightly on the stool, feeling off-balance, and wondered what to do with her hands. (As a whole, lovely beginning. Even if I hadn’t read the query, I’d wonder why she’s hiding money in her freezer, why she’s so tired/sore, and why he’s making Christianity jokes at her when she seems oblivious to it all. I think you’ll get a lot of requests, if you target the right agents with this. You may want to make sure it doesn’t come across as too preachy, though. The overlap between the NA market and the Christian Fiction market is almost nonexistent, at least as far as we’ve seen. Admittedly, neither of us at Chimera are into Inspirational/Christian Fiction, and so we’re judging it more from the NA/Romance market angle.)


Thank you, Jami and K.T.! Everyone else, make sure to stop by Wednesday for the next two critiques.

Filed: Workshops

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