Tag Archives: Writing advice

Query Letter Critique (YA Contemporary)

Original Query:

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music.

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour, Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true.

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling.

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses.

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The Critique:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens (the name isn’t necessary right here) takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music. (This doesn’t really add anything or propel your query forward.)

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour (how?), Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true. (How? Don’t be vague here, this will help the reader understand the stakes. Is there a potential record deal? A label coming to their show?)

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling. (Wait…how is Jonathan here? In the previous paragraph you said she had to sacrifice a summer with him. I’m missing the connection to how she’d have to sacrifice, if he can tour with them.)

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses. (But why would one bad show destroy her confidence, when technically, the battle of the bands was bad if she tried fainting? What is the catalyst that makes it SUCH a bad show that she’s retracing? I think strengthening that a teeny, tiny bit more will make a big difference.)

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS. (Perfect closing!)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The aftermath:

Let me start by saying I really like your voice…but…I’m not fully grasping what the actual stakes are here. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like a good story and I totally get that she’s trying to find out who she is and become a confident, strong, girl..but what happens if she fails? What major choices does she have to make and how will that affect the people around her? I think beefing up some actual conflicts will help build the tension in the query. That’s really what’s missing.

In one way, there’s almost too much going on and the focus gets lost in the series of events that are listed. (Interesting as they are.) For example: We know there’s a battle of the bands and Charlie’s trying to sabotage it, and there’s something going on with Jonathan…then she’s on tour, and magically loving the rockstar lifestyle and partying and fighting and Jonathan is suddenly here and she’s making a move on him, then a bad gig happens and she falls apart. But those aren’t stakes, they’re kind of like a powerpoint presentation of mini conflicts.

What is the main focus of your story? What is the HUGE thing laying on the line? See if there’s a way for you to pick the BIG conflict and pull that out.

If there’s something at that bad gig that’s life-changing for everyone in the band – go into that! Tell us why that’s so important and why it’s so devastating when/if she screws it up. Is there an A&R person there, ready to sign them if the show goes well? Is there a music journalist that could write a review that’s a career changer/destroyer? 

What makes that the crucial turning point in your manuscript? I can already picture conflict for daysssssssss there. THAT is the conflict that needs to shine in your query. My god, my god, my god if Charlie messes ____ up it’s not only the dreams she’s come to desire, but all of her bandmates hopes that could be crushed FORVER. AND she could lose ________ as well. The tension and stakes are building simply by bringing your focus into a bull’s eye. 

Mini conflicts and subplots are great in books, we just need more core stuff in the blurb. Try leaving some of the smaller subplots (and list of events) out, get into the bad show part sooner, and show us what’s at stake.

Thank you so much for braving the query critique and for sharing your work on my blog! I really hope my notes are helpful and my goodness, this sounds like a fun read. Keep up the amazing work!!! :)

 

Query Critique (Non-fiction)

The Original Query:

Address

Address

Address

To Whom This May Concern,

GO BLOG YOURSELF!

What better way to showcase concrete research on blogging as a legit form of writing for students then to place it next to blog entries from the researcher, and teacher, herself?

My book, GO BLOG YOURSELF, would include entries from two of my blogs (a teaching blog and private blog, started in the spring of 2002) intermingled with chapters that include blogging research I’ve conducted over the years. Due to the recent nature of blogs this book would fill a much needed void of concrete research connected with blogs for academics, as well as attract recreational readers of blog and bloggers alike.

Through the process of becoming an Associate Professor (in North Dakota!), I’ve kept up with several blogs, and I’ve co-published an article* on blogging with Dr. X and Y, both professors at _____. In addition, I’ve taught using blogs (class blogs, too) since the spring of 2002 at NDSU and, currently, at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, ND (a hour south of Fargo). Within the last few years, I’ve also given presentations on how blogging has worked in my classrooms.

I believe GO BLOG YOURSELF would be suitable for the ___ Corporation. Enclosed, you’ll find a Table of Contents and a sample chapter of GO BLOG YOURSELF. A SASE is included for your reply. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

*That article can be found here: (Redacted)

The Critique:

Address

Address

Address

To Whom This May Concern, Dear Ms. Agent, (Make sure you’re researching agents and personalizing your query letter. This is someone who’s going to (possibly) be your business partner, so include their name. I’m sure that you aren’t sending out letters “To Whom This May Concern” but for the purpose of the critiques, I have to point that out.)

GO BLOG YOURSELF! What better way to showcase concrete research on blogging as a legit form of writing for students then to place it next to blog entries from the researcher, and teacher, herself? (As an opening, this isn’t working for a couple of reasons. The first being it almost comes across as an “As Seen On TV” infomercial (sorry!). Yes, you want a sales pitch, but it doesn’t have to be over-the-top. Query letters, whether they are for fiction or non-fiction, should start with your hook. And in order to have a successful hook, you want to remove the question element altogether. STATE what this book is about and why it’s unique and why readers are going to pick it up. Here’s what I mean…let’s say you’re at a dinner party and your friend asks you what your book is about. You probably wouldn’t answer them with a question, you’d explain it in a sentence or two.)

My book, GO BLOG YOURSELF, would include entries from two of my blogs (a teaching blog and private blog, started in the spring of 2002) intermingled with chapters that include blogging research I’ve conducted over the years. Due to the recent nature (maybe insert what recent nature of blogs here, because leaving it so open-ended could mean anything. Are you talking about the recent downfall of blogs? The relevance of blogs? How blogs have changed/evolved? Don’t be afraid to spell it out – it’ll only take a word or two to clarify what you mean) of blogs this book would fill a much needed void of concrete research connected with blogs for academics (how?), as well as attract recreational readers of blogs and bloggers alike. (If it’s research about blogs for academics, why would it attract recreational blog readers?)

Through the process of becoming an Associate Professor (in North Dakota!) (Why is this here? It doesn’t add to your query, save the space for more pertinent information relating to your platform and what exactly your book is about. By this point, I’m still not sure who your target market is (Students? Teachers? Readers? Bloggers?) and what exactly your book is going to cover), I’ve kept up with several blogs (you’ve followed several blogs, or you personally keep several blogs? And if it’s blogs you just read, that’s not really telling the agent about your proposal. If this is the research part, how reliable are the sources?), and I’ve co-published an article* (This is one of those parts where you want to tell the agent your credits. Where was this published? National, local, print, academic journal, e-format? Don’t be vague with your credentials.) on blogging with Dr. X and Y, both professors at _____. In addition, I’ve taught using blogs (class blogs, too) since the spring of 2002 at NDSU and, currently, at the North Dakota State College of Science. in Wahpeton, ND(a hour south of Fargo) (Again, this is unnecessary, tell the agent more about why this book? Why you?) Within the last few years, I’ve also given presentations (How many? To whom?) on how blogging has worked in my classrooms. (How has blogging worked in your classrooms?)

I believe GO BLOG YOURSELF would be suitable for the ___ Corporation (Just one place? I thought from your opening it would appeal to students and bloggers and blog readers, too?). Enclosed, you’ll find a Table of Contents and a sample chapter of GO BLOG YOURSELF. (Make sure you’re researching agent guidelines; find out if the agent you are querying prefers JUST a query letter first. You can say “sample chapters are available upon request” if they don’t ask for material upfront.) A SASE is included for your reply. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Your Name

*That article can be found here: (Redacted)

Okay, so here’s the thing: platform is an essential part of non-fiction. Yes, you mention you’ve got two blogs and have co-published an article, but the agent isn’t hearing about the numbers. Do you promote your blogs on social media? How many followers/subscribers/friends/fans do you have on twitter/blog(s)/facebook, etc. You’ve given presentations, that’s good! How many, and how many do you do a year? Are there opportunities for you to sell your books at these presentations? Are they local, national, etc.? This is your place to SHINE, talk yourself up.

Credentials and platform mixed with a great/unique idea are the basis of what you want to come across in this proposal. I can’t give a more in-depth critique like I can for fiction,  but I can give you a few questions to keep in mind while you’re crafting your next draft.

After reading this several times I’m still not entirely sure what your book is about. Yeah, it’s about blogging and blogging relating to academics (I think), but what exactly are you teaching the reader? How to make money at blogging? How to quit your job and blog full-time? How to grow readership? How to integrate blogs in the classroom?

You mention that it will not only appeal to students, but to bloggers (and readers of blogs) as well. Again, I still don’t know why, because I don’t know much about the book.

I think your title is catchy, and you’ve got a good voice – you just need to hone it into a streamlined pitch that’s CLEAR. You’re the expert on the subject, make sure you “show” your expertise.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my agent, basically you want to answer three questions:

Why you?

Why this book?

Why now?

The questions don’t have to be answered in that order, but they do need to be answered. Find a way to let your voice shine through authentically (without being forced  or over-the-top), and you’ll have a killer proposal. 

Here are some helpful links for non-fiction query letters that you can use as reference guides: (the people who wrote these have stellar advice and are much more in-the-know regarding successful non-fiction proposals.)

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/02/how-to-write-nonfiction-book-proposal.html

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/03/nonfiction-query-sample.html

http://writenonfictionnow.com/how-to-write-a-query-letter-for-a-nonfiction-book/

http://kidlit.com/2011/07/11/how-to-write-a-non-fiction-query-letter/

MOST importantly: Thank you to this brave author for sharing their query with everyone. You are ten kinds of awesome, I mean it. Critiques are NEVER easy, but I *know* you are going to come up with a kick-butt pitch that’s going to land you some amazing requests. Good luck with this!

Query Critique

Original Query:

Dear (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it.

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain on the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world, they have no choice but to work together, despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And when his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories.

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The Critique:

Dear Ms. (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it. (How old is he? We find out it’s YA at the end, but you want to ground the reader (agent) in what kind of book you’ve written up-front. That can be fixed easily by adding: Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old…etc. Also! You can tighten this and make it more present by moving a few words around. Ex: Seventeen-year-old small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.)

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. (This can also be condensed a bit for more impact. It’s a wordy way of continuing to talk about Tristan’s hanging when the reader should be thrust into the action/conflict faster. So far we’ve read a lot about the stuff that happens BEFORE the action. Since most of the conflict occurs after this, flesh that out more.) Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain (this is unnecessary) On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world (since they were sucked through a portal, the “foreign world” part is assumed. You can cut this extra info so you have more wordage to add to the conflict and obstacles) they have no choice but to work together (by saying “they are forced to work together” it conveys the same message and chops extraneous words), despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And When his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories. (Who steals her memories? The henchman or the evil god? It’s a little unclear. A fast way to fix that is like this: When a henchman fails to capture the girl, he steals her memories instead. Or better yet, do we need to know the henchman steals her memories? It might be best to remove that element completely to avoid character soup.)

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god(dess) of Earth. (What conflict does that pose for the evil god? We need a little something here about why the evil god wants her and what the consequence will be if he succeeds. What are the stakes or choices? Will capturing her soul destroy their world?)

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy. (Good ending. One minor tweak; I would say that it’s a stand alone with series potential.)

Thank you for your time and consideration. (Perfect!)

Your Name

Phone Number

Email

Other Contact Info/Website/Etc.

A couple of nitpick-y things: Be aware of using too many words that end in “ly”, there are quite a few that are “telling” instead of showing. I.e. Tightly, accidentally, desperately, suddenly, reluctantly, etc. It’s okay to use some – just know that for a short blurb they start to stand out when they aren’t necessary.

The Aftermath:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.

Just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky, smashing the gallows and freeing him. While attempting escape in the midst of the chaos, he’s accidentally sucked into another dimension.

On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped, they are forced to work together despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. When his plan of capturing the girl fails, he steals her memories instead. Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the goddess of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It’s a stand alone with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Your Name

Okay…so with this condensed version, you now have extra word space to flesh out the conflict and choices the characters face once they are in the other world MORE. Don’t be afraid to lay the stakes out there for the agent. 

Thanks so much for sharing your query and for letting me dig my little fingers in. Your book sounds like a really fun read, and the query has a great voice!

The Girl with the Green Pen

I know I said I’d post a query critique each Wednesday, but this week I’m bumping it out to Friday (sorry!) to share some news with you. One of my dear friends (and the person I often refer to as “Critique Goddess”) is launching a new website for writers, and I cannot say enough about how awesome her editing skills are. I rarely endorse things here, but if any of my writing pals are looking for a trustworthy editor with a proven track record, then Taryn (in my humble opinion) is the best.

Here are just a few of the things she’s doing: Taryn’s interning with an awesome agency, agented, a personal assistant to the lovely Genn Albin (debut author of CREWEL) and she’s also a college student. What. A. Slacker. ;)

I send her each of my manuscripts and am always blown away by the notes I get back. Seriously, Taryn knows her stuff. Okay, enough gushing!

Without further adieu, here’s a little bit about Taryn–aka Critique Goddess–in her own words.

Here’s my mission statement:

My mission is to guide writers through the daunting task of revision. From idea development to editorial feedback to general publishing advice, I love working with stories and those who create them. As a nationally ranked swimer, I know the value of time, so I believe in quick responses from the first email to the last.

I am not just another freelance editor. Beyond providing an experienced and thorough critique, my secondary goal is to establish a relationship with my clients. I want to support you throughout the stressful submission process and celebrate with you upon any and all good news. Writers may put pen to paper alone, but it is through a community that the book gets finished, polished, and submitted.

Why The Girl with the Green Pen? Why green?

Most edits are made with a red pen. If someone critiques your manuscript, s/he will most likely cover it with red ink, right? Not so much here. I make all my notes in green because I like to reflect the idea of moving forward. Green means go, it means new life. These are ways to think of your revisions, and this is how I like to think of the editing process.

But why are you leaving Teen Eyes?

I founded Teen Eyes in August 2011 to critique your YA manuscript from the perspective of a YA. Since then, I’ve expanded my interest in editing. Plus I’ll be 20 soon, so the “teen” part won’t work much longer. I still love Teen Eyes, but I wanted to do something bigger.

Here’s the link for Taryn’s site: Click here!

Query Critique

The Original Query:

THE LOST STORY, completed at 80,000 words, is the tragic and triumphant story of Danielle (Dani) Caldwell, an American girl who meets a Cuban boy and falls in love, only to find their world-views divided over the Cuban Revolution.

The story opens in 1980.  Dani’s walking through the streets of Manhattan when she sees a man laying in a puddle on Wall Street, looking half dead, while passersby walk over him on their morning commute.  It’s enough to overcome her; to beckon her to the side of a man she doesn’t know.  She steps onto a metal bench, and as if it were her pulpit, pleads with the onlookers in defense of the broken man.

Some people say a radical is born in an instant, like a crime of passion, but for Danielle, her transformation begins when her mother gives her the gift of travel as a graduation present.  The year is 1958.  It’s the summer before the Cuban Revolution, Eisenhower is in office and there’s still a daily flight to Havana, Cuba.  Each year, a deluge of high rollers, high society and socialites descend on the Forbidden City; known for its legal gambling, glamourous nightclubs and white, sandy beaches. None of which Dani has any interest in experiencing, until she meets Jose Medeiro, a progressive, intelligent store owner who’s smitten with her.

In the heat of the Danze de Amore, under the moonlit skies of the Malecon, Jose breaks down Dani’s walls of reserve and steals her heart.  But when the American mob threatens the future of his family’s storefronts, Jose aligns himself with Fidel Castro, and the two young lover’s stars cross as their worlds collide.

Author Bio:

Name Withheld is a wife, mother and writer.  She has written mostly non-fiction for television, newspapers and websites.  She writes a monthly column for ____.com, focusing on lack of sleep, how potty training can save your marriage and other self-deprecating and humorous tales from the home.  She holds a master’s degree in converged journalism.

Thanks again,

Name Withheld

Contact information

The Query Critique:

Dear Ms. Agent’s Last Name,

THE LOST STORY, (what genre is it? i.e. THE LOST STORY is a YA Historical complete at… Maybe even give the agent an idea of which readers it will appeal to.) completed at 80,000 words. is the tragic and triumphant story of Danielle (Dani) Caldwell, an American girl who meets a Cuban boy and falls in love, only to find their world-views divided over the Cuban Revolution. (This is unnecessary “telling.” Your query letter should “show” the agent what your story is about. I’d totally cut this part out. Also, just as a personal preference, I’d put this down toward the bottom and open with your blurb, unless an agent states they like a more personalized greeting upfront.)

The story opens in 1980.  Dani’s walking through the streets of Manhattan when she sees a man laying in a puddle on Wall Street, looking half dead, while passersby walk over him on their morning commute.  It’s enough to overcome her; to beckon her to the side of a man she doesn’t know.  She steps onto a metal bench, and as if it were her pulpit, pleads with the onlookers in defense of the broken man. (I’m going to pause right here. So far this is a GOOD synopsis, but it’s not really a query. You want your query letter to read like the back of a book blurb.) 

What is your hook? Your hook needs to sum up the main conflict of your novel in a way that makes the reader (agent) want to read more…NOW. 

Example: Main Character has everything a sixteen-year-old could want…except for  _____.  (What is the main driving force of your novel? What does your MC want more than anything? What is the major conflict?)

To really show the agent what kind of novel you’ve written, adding a few extra details will immediately let them know what genre your book is. 

Ex: Jane Doe has everything a sixteen-year-old astronaut warrior wants…except for an alien annihilating spaceship.

Now the reader (agent) is grounded in this being some sort of science fiction or fantasy AND we know there’s a major conflict. An astronaut warrior without a spacecraft is quite an issue; how oh how will the MC go about securing themselves a spacecraft and kick some alien invasion butt? We can also assume it’s a YA book based on the MC’s age.

IF your hook is an “American girl and Cuban boy fall in love during the Cuban Revolution,” you’re going to need to flesh it out a bit more. Highlight the stakes and don’t be afraid to really let your conflict shine. Then build from there in the following sentences/paragraphs. SHOW the reader (agent) this amazing world you’ve built. (I.e. Is Dani a mobster’s daughter? If she is, and her family is threatening Jose, then that spells out MAJOR conflict.) 

Here are some helpful hints/questions to keep in mind while working on your blurb:

What is your hook?

What does your MC want?

What’s preventing your MC from getting what he/she wants?

What choice(s) does your MC face?

What happens if he/she doesn’t succeed?

If you can answer those questions your blurb will be in good shape. Moving along…

Some people say a radical is born in an instant, like a crime of passion, but for (insert her age here) Danielle, her transformation begins when her mother gives her the gift of travel as a graduation present.  (Okay. So I really like this paragraph. I’m thinking you can use this as your opening blurb and flesh this part out a bit more.) The year is 1958. It’s the summer before the Cuban Revolution, Eisenhower is in office and there’s still a daily flight to Havana, Cuba.  Each year, a deluge of high rollers, high society and socialites (using both “high-society” and “socialites” is redundant, eliminate one of those) descend on the Forbidden City; (a comma would work better here) known for its legal gambling, glamourous nightclubs and white, sandy beaches. None of which Dani has any interest in experiencing (why? I want MORE of her personality to shine through), until she meets Jose Medeiro, a progressive, intelligent store owner who’s smitten with her. (Is Jose her age? Is he a mysterious older guy? It’s unclear.)

In the heat of the Danze de Amore, under the moonlit skies of the Malecon, Jose breaks down Dani’s walls of reserve (how?) and steals her heart.  But when the American mob threatens the future of his family’s storefronts (why do the American’s threaten him?), Jose aligns himself with Fidel Castro, and the two young lover’s lovers’ stars cross as their worlds collide. (Is she a mobster’s daughter? If she’s not, I don’t really understand the tie-in with the mafia and how it challenges Dani and Jose. It kinda comes out of left field. How are their worlds colliding? Give the reader a hint more here. What happens next? What do they have to choose? End with the choice your MC will have to make. Does she have to choose her family or her love? And what are the consequences of her choices? You’ve got great bones in this section of your query letter, you just need to add more to flesh out the conflict.)

THE LOST STORY is a YA Historical Romance and is complete at 80,000 words.

Name Withheld is a wife, mother and writer.  She has I have written mostly non-fiction for television, newspapers and websites. (You might want to include which television shows/episodes, newspapers, etc. That way an agent knows if it’s national or local and the size of readership.) She writes I also write a monthly column for _____.com, focusing on lack of sleep, how potty training can save your marriage and other self-deprecating and humorous tales from the home.  She I holds a master’s degree in converged journalism. (Since this is a query letter, writing your bio in first person works well.)

Thanks again,

Name Withheld

Contact information

Okay! So I think with a few more tweaks (and fleshing out some of the details) this will really work. Here’s some of it without all my notes so you have a better idea of what it’ll look like. Take what you’ve got here and build up by applying those questions I mentioned earlier:

The query aftermath: 

Dear Ms. Agent,

Some people say a radical is born in an instant, like a crime of passion, but for Danielle, her transformation begins when her mother gives her the gift of travel as a graduation present.  The year is 1958.  It’s the summer before the Cuban Revolution, Eisenhower is in office and there’s still a daily flight to Havana, Cuba.

Each year, a deluge of high rollers, high society and socialites descend on the Forbidden City; known for its legal gambling, glamourous nightclubs and white, sandy beaches. None of which Dani has any interest in experiencing, until she meets Jose Medeiro, a progressive, intelligent store owner who’s smitten with her.

In the heat of the Danze de Amore, under the moonlit skies of the Malecon, Jose breaks down Dani’s walls of reserve and steals her heart.  But when the American mob threatens the future of his family’s storefronts, Jose aligns himself with Fidel Castro, and the two young lovers’ stars cross as their worlds collide.

THE LOST STORY is a YA Historical Romance and is complete at 80,000 words.

Author Bio:

Name Withheld is a wife, mother and writer.  She has written mostly non-fiction for television, newspapers and websites.  She writes a monthly column for ____.com, focusing on lack of sleep, how potty training can save your marriage and other self-deprecating and humorous tales from the home.  She holds a master’s degree in converged journalism.

Thanks again,

Name Withheld

Contact information

Thanks so much to the author of this (AWESOME sounding) novel for sharing your query letter with me. I hope this crit helps–keep up the amazing work!!!

I’ll be posting a new query letter critique each Wednesday from now through December. (With the exception of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.) 

If you’d like me to mark up your query letter (or first page) please send your work to Kerri.writes@gmail.com

Query Letter OR First Page Critiques…

Hey blog friends! LONG time no speak – color me embarrassed. Did I mention you look super cute today? AND CAN YOU BELIEVE IT’S November?! (HAPPY NaNoWriMo!)

As you know I was working on SECRET project, then I was editing SECRET project, then I started critiquing and beta’ing for a few of my friends/agent sisters, AND then there was a little hurricane that plowed through our area (Speaking of…if you’d like to donate please text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 contribution, every little bit helps!) needless to say, shiz got crazy here.

So…I was thinking of ways to make it up to you, my dear interwebs friends. SINCE it’s November and my wee little heart is getting filled with TONS of early holiday cheer, it’s the perfect time to help my writing friends out.

How?

I’m going to critique YOUR work. And, since I’m all about giving choices and options, you can either send me your query letter OR your first 250 words. (In the body of an email.)

Please note! By emailing me your first page OR query letter you are automatically giving me permission to post it on the blog.

Sound good?

If you’re nodding then let’s high-five right this second. Okay. SO…if you’d like me to mark up your query letter (or first page) please send your work to Kerri.writes@gmail.com

Please put “Query Crit” in the subject line. I will send you a confirmation once I receive your email. If you haven’t heard back from me within one day – I most likely didn’t get your email. Reach out to me here and I’ll contact you.

*While I’ll be posting your query letter (or first page) on the blog, all posts will remain anonymous (meaning I won’t be including your actual name or contact information on the blog).

I think that about covers everything, but if you’ve got any questions don’t hesitate to shoot me a comment here or contact me on twitter @KerriManiscalco or you can ask me on tumblr here. And if you know writer-ly types who are looking for an extra pair of eyes on their query letters, send them this link.

HAPPY EARLY HOLIDAYS, FRIENDS!!!!

Special Post: Ask an agent ANYthing and Harper is open to unagented submissions!

A couple of amazing things I had to share with my fellow writing friends…

If you’ve ever wanted an opportunity to ask a literary agent ANY question regarding publishing – now’s your chance! My agent (Barbara Poelle) is doing a monthly column for Writers Digest where she’ll be answering questions from YOU.

No writing/publishing question is off limits. (Unless you’re especially pervy. Then shame on you, Pervy McPervy Pants.)

If you’re uncomfortable with using your real name, Sleepless in Seattle’s are welcome. Or, you know…the more writerly version of that.

If you have something you’d like answered honestly, with good humor and spot on industry info, then direct your questions to:

writersdigest [at] fwmedia [dot] com with “Funny You Should Ask” in the subject line.

I can vouch 1,000% for how awesome Barbara is.

Here’s part of the announcement from Writers Digest itself:

Have you ever wished you could get advice on your writing life, your pursuit of publication, and everything in between, from an expert source would tell it to you straight, with good humor and grace?

So have we! That’s why we’re excited to announce WD’s new advice column, “Funny You Should Ask,” in which popular literary agent Barbara Poelle—known for her knack for spotting debut talent at Irene Goodman Literary Agency as well as for her approachable, refreshingly honest and sometimes irreverent style of instructing writers—will begin tackling your toughest problems and offering up her best advice for writers in the pages of Writer’s Digest magazine.

For the full article and extra details CLICK HERE.

On to the second bit of writerly awesome! Harper Voyager is going to be open to unagented submissions for the first time in a decade!!! The window to submit your work is only going to be from October 1st-14th.

(That’s starting THIS Monday, kids.)

For submission guidelines check out the link HERE.

 

Lastly, I finally joined tumblr last week. And guys, I’m kinda addicted. If you’re there and want to hang out and share things or ask me questions about writing, or publishing, or kittens, or of I’m team X,Y or Z…here’s where you can find me: http://kerrimaniscalco.tumblr.com/

 

Friends hate me writing my book.

Friends hate me writing my book.

First of all, hi blog friends. *waves* It’s September, my how the summer FLEW by. I’m still in the writing cave, but something came to my attention last night that had my little hackles all raised and scary-like. And when I get mad, it’s NOT a pretty sight. There’s red-hot fury, then there’s stringy drool and panting and A LOT of obscene gestures as I transform into the HULK. Here’s why. Someone came across my blog by searching:

“Friends hate me writing my book.”

Let me clarify, that the search term and subsequent finding of MY blog didn’t make me bare my teeth and go all crazy-eyed. No friends, it’s the sadness of knowing there are people out there who would actively shoot down their friends dreams. Writing a book is hard. Sharing your words, your art, your freaking bloody little heart on your sleeve for everyone to pee on, is soul sucking scary hard.

Having people in your corner is so important when all those little doubt devils rear their ugly heads. If you’re the person that’s been beaten down, I want you to take a deep breath, because I’m about to tell you something important.

You are amazing. 

Don’t you ever forget that. Having a dream, then having the strength to put the time (and effort) into writing and rewriting your book until you bleed vowels and eat consonants is no easy task. If your friends go as far as HATING the very thing you’re passionate about, well, I can only say that they’re truly not worth giving up what sparks your soul for.

Keep writing your book. Keep your chin up. And when all else fails, write those naysayers into your project and kill them off slowly, and painfully. Bleed your frustrations into your pages, your art will thank you.

Hold your head high, put those blinders on, because if you ask me (which, I’m aware that no one did) those friends are sounding mighty jealous that you’ve found something you love doing. Write your book. Do your thing. And know, that one day after you’ve edited the heck out of that manuscript, I’ll be waiting in line to get my grubby little paws on it. To hell with anyone who tries to crush your dreams.

Write on.

*steps off box, ends rant*

5 things you can do to immediately improve your writing.

READ! 

No, seriously. Put your laptop away and open up a book. Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre (and beyond) and devour the words on the page. Reading is one of the most important things a writer can do to help with their craft. Go on, I dare you to stop working and read at least 2,000 words. You’ll be amazed by how much your brain picks up on while going over already published pages.

Do things you enjoy that DON’T involve writing.

Go for a drive, go to the movies, hangout with your friends, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE and go sit in a bookstore. Is there a park nearby? Then go there. Surround yourself with people and random interactions, then sit back and absorb all the details around you. (Not in a creepy way, of course.) Make sure you bring a journal just in case something brilliant comes your way. You never know what passing piece of conversation will inspire you.

Talk to other people in creative fields.

How can this help to improve your writing? Simple. Talking to people in creative fields, whether they’re making music, art, acting, or writing, you’ll start to feel more confident in your work. You realize that if you’re feeling blocked creatively that these are feelings EVERYONE goes through. Sometimes talking to someone about their creative process helps you to understand your own as well. Plus, it’s just nice to commiserate with other people who get the ups and downs of the creative life.

Write a short story.

Now I’m just talking crazy, right? Sort of…but hear me out. Short storying writing is HARD. Like I’d prefer to write ten novels in ten months rather than write one short story. Why? Because they are SUPER hard. That being said, they’re also really great learning tools for every writer out there. If you can come up with a story arc, plot, well developed characters AND have all the important points that make for a really great novel in 5,000 words or less – then you’ll start writing much tighter prose. While writing short stories you realize how important each individual word is. I dare you to write a 1,500 word short story today.

Listen to your favorite song.

Why is this something that will help your writing? It’s all about layers. Think about the emotions you feel while listening to your favorite song, or artist. Do you remember the first time you heard it, or who you were with, the kinds of feelings you had at the time? When I feel stuck on expressing emotions in my characters, I pick out music I think they’d listen to and immerse myself in the emotions I experience while listening to it. Normally I can’t write with sound on in the background, but I always take music breaks when I need to recharge that part of my writing. And it’s just nice to take a break from working working working to hear a great song every now and then. :)

25 First Sentences

If you’re a writer, you know how difficult it is to nail that elusive (and all-powerful) first line. Writing an entire book is often more enjoyable (and possibly easier) than coming up with that griping, you’ve GOT to read on sentence. Here are 25 first sentences from pretty amazing books that you can mull over this weekend. Recognize any of them? How does your first sentence compare? Does it set the tone of your novel?

First Sentence:

1. “So you want to know all about me.”

2. “He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.”

3. “My mother used to tell me about the ocean.”

4. Daddy said, “Let mommy go first.”

5. “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”

6. “The ornate script on the board twisted in the candlelight, making the letters and numbers dance in my head.”

7. “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”

8. “I wait. They keep us in the dark for so long that we lose sense of our eyelids.”

9. “There is one mirror in my house.”

10. “Janie Hannagan’s math book slips from her fingers.”

11. “Enders gave me the creeps.”

12. “I smile at myself, at the foolishness of my imagination.”

13. “I’ve been locked up for 264 days.”

14. “It is my first morning of high school.”

15. “The first time I died, I didn’t see God.”

16. “I used to be someone.”

17. “Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom.”

18. “A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.”

19. “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.”

20. “It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.”

21. “Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.”

22. “They called the world beyond the walls of the Pod “the Death Shop.””

23. “I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.”

24. ““Where are you?” Aunt Hannah demanded as soon as Alex thumbed talk.”

25. “The screw through Cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.”

Authors and titles:

1. Ellen Hopkins CRANK

2. James Dashner THE MAZE RUNNER

3. Carrie Ryan THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH

4. Beth Revis ACROSS THE UNIVERSE

5. Suzanne Collins THE HUNGER GAMES

6. Michelle Hodkin THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER

7. Scott Westerfeld  UGLIES

8. Lauren DeStefano WITHER

9. Veronica Roth DIVERGENT

10. Lisa McMann WAKE

11. Lissa Price STARTERS

12. Ally Condie MATCHED

13. Tahereh Mafi SHATTER ME

14. Laurie Halse Anderson SPEAK

15. Megan Miranda FRACTURE

16. Mary E. Pearson THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX

17. Rae Carson THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS

18. Aldous Huxley BRAVE NEW WORLD

19. Jack Kerouac ON THE ROAD

20. Lauren Oliver DELIRIUM

21. Homer THE ILIAD

22. Veronica Rossi UNDER THE NEVER SKY

23. Orson Scott Card ENDER’S GAME

24. Ilsa J. Bick ASHES

25. Marissa Meyer CINDER