Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Pass Or Pages Entry 3

It's feedback reveal time for Pass or Pages, the query contest run at here Operation Awesome. We hope you'll find tips to benefit your own work and query letters. Copious thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. We give obeisance to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying, the surest path to failure is to not try. Bravo to those entered.



I am seeking representation for a[LC1] Like Birds Under the City Sky, a 52,000 word [WA1], contemporary [WA2] young adult novel, which blends elements of literary fiction [WA3]  with cyberpunk thriller and appeals to readers who enjoy Valiant, Wire Walker, and Agents of Shield.

Fearing Micah’s [LO1] fanatic mother will convince him homosexulity[LC2] is a sin, Charlie, an 18-year-old hacker, declines his acceptance to MIT.[LC3][LO2] Hoping to financially support Micah and himself, Charlie takes a research and development job he was offered by government contractor who served in the air-force with his father. Micah plans to move in with Charlie as soon as he can get away from his mother, but once Charlie leaves, Micah doesn’t hear from him. Fearing Charlie never loved him, Micah begins to fall for his mother’s doctrine.[LC4][WA4][LO3]

Instead of developing technology for a government contractor, Charlie finds himself cut off from the outside world, using his inventions [WA5] to kill. He tries to resist “The Boss,” but is tortured until he complies. Eventually, he manages to escape and find Micah. [LO4]

Together, the two boys head for New York City, where they hide among the millions of people already living there [WA6]. Finally away from his parent’s influence, Micah is free to make his own decisions about what his faith is and who he loves [WA7] while Charlie attempts to virtually scrub his identity from electronic records. They need to take stop Charlie’s former employer from hunting them, but as homeless teens with no supportive family, they have very few resources to work with.[LO5]


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: This is quite a low word count for a book that includes sci-fi and thriller elements
[WA2]: I feel like this should be called “speculative” or “realistic sci-fi”. Contemporary always gives me entirely realistic vibes 
[WA3]: Maybe “contemporary romance” instead of “literary fition”?
[WA4]: Because you’re trying to introduce two protagonists and plotlines at once, this paragraph feels very muddled. Instead, I’d use one paragraph for Charlie only, and one for Micah only.
[WA5]: Wait, is he an inventor? Or a hacker? These stand out in my mind as two different things, so I’m stuggling to ground myself in what kind of work Charlie would be doing.
[WA6]: The second half of this sentence feels unnecessary
[WA7]: But by going to NYC, Micah already made the latter choice, didn’t he? 

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: Whoops!
[LC2]: Spelling error.
[LC3]: This sentence is confusing. Is Micah’s mother convincing Micah or Charlie? And why would someone’s mother’s ability to convince someone homosexuality is a sin be a factor into declining an acceptance at MIT?
[LC4]: I’ll admit, I continued reading the query to make more sense of it, but I couldn’t. Who is telling this story? Micah or Charlie? I would stop here.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: Friend? Boyfriend?
[LO2]: I’m not sure I get how these are connected ideas. Also, this motivation feels a bit vague and arbitrary. He doesn’t really know this will be a problem but is willing to make a major life decision based on his assumption, it seems.
[LO3]: Given his concern for Micah, why wouldn’t Charlie take him along?
[LO4]: This feels like such a different story and genre than what you presented above, and it’s treated in such a glancing way. You might reorganize all of this and give the more dramatic aspects more breathing room on the page.
[LO5]: From my perspective, it feels as though this is the real purpose of the story—their efforts to stop Charlie’s employee from doing something awful, beyond just hunting them. Might develop this aspect more fully and consolidate the relationship ones.

First 250 words:

The decaying burgers and broken glass are putrid briars keeping me from the dumpster’s treasure. The stench makes me want to puke, but defeat is an old enemy to whom I refuse to yield.[LC1][LO1]

Months on the street have left my clothing tattered. I’m bleeding from a dozen scratches, but I can’t think about bacteria. I just have to keep digging and filling my totes with items Charlie and I can use, eat or sell.

It isn’t an ideal way to survive, and certainly not a sanitary one, but it it’s better than letting my parents make me be someone I’m not. It’s better than seeing Charlie in government custody.[LO2] It’s a life where I’m accepted, even if it is by people I would have avoided in my old life.

A flash of neon catches my eye. I edge closer to it, gingerly moving fast-food wrappings until I can reach the fabric. I pull, discovering a heavy sweatshirt covered in blue and green triangles. I have no need for such an item now, but it will be a blessing if Charlie and I are still hiding in the city when winter freezes the North East.[LO3]

I place the sweatshirt in my bag along with a mug that promised coffee was the source of all happiness, a TV remote and a hair dryer. I doubt the last two items function, but Charlie will deconstruct them and use them for parts. He always seems to need more wires, circuits and plastic. [WA1][LO4]


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: Is the story told in a now/then fashion? If it’s told chronologically and this is the beginning, then the query feels entirely like back story. The pitch should be centered in the story’s “now”.

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: While utilizing the senses to capture a reader’s attention and hook them into the story is generally a good thing (when not overdone), shocking the reader with vomit lines at the very beginning can be a huge turn-off. I would stop here.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: Voice feels a bit stiff to pull me into the piece. Might you reframe it more fully around what Micah wants instead of what’s standing in his way? Something specific and unexpected? That might coax us into the story more effectively.
[LO2]: Isn’t he eighteen?
[LO3]: I’m afraid this all feels a bit remote and objective. I want to FEEL more of Micah’s character emerging on the page. Would love more emotion and intent from him.
[LO4]: I wonder if you might try reworking this so that Micah and Charlie are in the scene, working together to find something of specific importance to them? I’d love to experience their relationship and rapport right away, and I think the scene would be livelier if rendered with more dialogue, observable action, and tension, rather than just exposition, which feels a bit low-key.


Whitley: PASS 
Laura: PASS
Lorin: PASS 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

May Pass Or Pages Entry 2

It's feedback reveal time for Pass or Pages, the query contest run at here Operation Awesome. We hope you'll find tips to benefit your own work and query letters. Copious thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. We give obeisance to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying, the surest path to failure is to not try. Bravo to those entered.



I recently completed writing and editing my book[LC1][WA1], Every Move I Have Made, which is a 57,000-word Young Adult contemporary novel.

17-year-old Hayley is counting down the days to when she can escape;[LC2][LO1] escape from her parents and the life she feels sure she will inherit from them. Her father’s simmering anger at the impotence of his world [WA2] threatens daily to boil over, while her mother has retreated into herself, never leaving the house. In Hayley’s home, darkness always lurks just below the surface.[LO2]

Hayley has a plan, though, and is determined not to let anyone stop her, and her courage is fueled by the kindness of her two best friends, although not even they know all her secrets. But when the most popular boy in school suddenly turns his attentions to her, she finds herself questioning exactly what it is she wants, until she learns that danger can be found everywhere, not only at home, and even within the boy you love.[LO3] Soon, she needs to make a decision on just how far she will go to ensure that nobody stands in her way. [WA3][LO4]


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]I don’t think this is the best way to start. It’s expected that the book has been written and edited before submitting. Use this first sentence to hook the reader.
[WA2]“…at the impotence of his world” I’m not sure what this means. And I really want to. Knowing what his world is would give me an instant understanding of what Hayley’s world is as well. Based on this query, Hayley could just as easily be an heiress to a dot-com billionnaire as she could the daughter of impoverished alcoholics. I have no grounding.
[WA3]: This paragraph is quite vague. Other than the relationship with the popular boy, I have literally no idea what kind of plot we’re looking at. What kind of plan are we talking about here? Running away? Going to college across the county? Killing someone?

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: It’s generally a good idea to not say something along these lines. Saying so suggests you finished it last night without any critiques or feedback from others.
[LC2]: There’s no need for the semi-colon. The sentence could have continued without the repetition of “escape” and the semi-colon. The use of a semi-colon is impressive when used correctly, appropriately, and necessarily. I would stop reading here.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: Could you give us something more to root us here? Something of setting or dad’s occupation or a sense of what Hayley wants to escape TO, rather than just what she wishes to leave behind?
[LO2]: From what you describe here, darkness seems very much on the surface. Also, the above feels a bit abstract; it feels as though it floats about the more tangible aspects of the story. Can you drill down a bit, per my comment above?
[LO3]: Lots of run-on sentences here.
[LO4]: I’m afraid that this last paragraph doesn’t give us much in the way of specific story elements. Time, place, goal, stakes, a sense of what Hayley loves, what she’s good at, with what she struggles. Clearly, I don’t recommend stuffing all of that into the synopsis, but we need a stronger, specific sense of the story’s elements. This feels like a too-generic/abstract sense of things. It doesn’t really tell us much, I’m afraid.

First 250 words

When the phone rings in the middle of the night, you know it's not good news.[LO1] No one's calling to say you've won the lottery. Or you've got into that [LC1]Ivy-League college. Calls in the middle of the night mean only one thing.

So when I hear a phone ring and my eyes flash open to find darkness, when I hear footsteps in the hallway and my bedroom door opening, and when I see the outline of my mother appear in my doorway, [WA1] I know what it means.

“Halina, wake up.”

I push myself into a sitting position. My breathing is shallow, as if I’ve been running.

“Some woman was on the phone looking for her son,” my mother says. “She says you know him. Says it’s your boyfriend.”[LO2]

“Jesse?” My voice breaks on the second syllable.

Her figure in the darkness shifts, and her voice is flat. “Woke your father up.”

I fumble in the dark for my phone, saying with a dry mouth, “I don’t know where Jesse is.”

My hand finds the phone and I switch it on. The screen lights up my room but doesn’t reach my mother who hasn’t even crossed the threshold. I look towards her squat shape nearly filling the doorframe.

“We were at the quarry,” I say. “All of us. The boys were swimming. Jesse’s at the quarry.”

“He’s not. His mother says his clothes are still there. But he’s not. And Halina, it’s four in morning. No one’s at the quarry.” [WA2][LO3]


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: Too many “when” statements in this paragraph. I know the intent is to build suspense, but it’s unsuccessful and wordy. I’d revise to something like “When I see my mother in the doorway, the house phone pressed to her ear, I know …”
[WA2]: This feels like an entirely different story than the one pitched above. I never would have guessed they were the same book.

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: Grammar. I’m also not a fan of the use of second person, even if used briefly in a manuscript. I would stop reading here.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: This might be stronger if we had a sense that Hayley knows this to be true from past experience. Build up a few questions in the reader’s mind. Otherwise, it feels a bit too adult and generalizing to really grab me as a reader.
[LO2]: Would the mother try to reach out to Hayley via cell phone before trying their house? Doesn’t feel quite credible to me that she’d call people she doesn’t know before trying to get in touch with Hayley directly, if it’s an option.
[LO3]: I appreciate the bit of mystery at the end of this passage and the friction between Hayley and her mother, but this scene feels a bit too familiar and well-trod to spark my interest as strongly as it might.
Might you start at the quarry or somewhere else? Might you give the reader a stronger sense of some conflict between Hayley and Jesse? Can the same moment unfold in more unexpected circumstances or a more unexpected setting?   


Whitley: PASS 
Laura: PASS
Lorin: PASS

Monday, May 29, 2017

May Pass Or Pages Entry 1

It's feedback reveal time for Pass or Pages, the query contest run at here Operation Awesome. We hope you'll find tips to benefit your own work and query letters. Copious thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. We give obeisance to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying, the surest path to failure is to not try. Bravo to those entered.



I believe you will be interested in my YA contemporary novel, LOVING THE DAMNED. This novel is complete at 80,000 words and has a modern-day spin on The Scarlet Letter.

When incoming Sophomore[LC1][LO1], Pearl Hildebrant’s, brother shoots four students and then kills himself, Pearl, [LC2]is left to face the guilt, rejection, and grief of the tragedy. Now, surrounded by the victim’s families and friends and consumed by her own loneliness, Pearl must choose to face her brother’s homicidal choice. [WA1][LO2] Confront his metaphorical ghost and the victims he left grieving, or be destroyed in the wake of his actions?[LO3]

Andrew and Jennifer, two victims of the shooting, return to school after a summer of bitter loss. Pearl becomes the target of their anger, but as their hatred begins to tear apart their personal lives, they [WA2] feel hopelessly lost.[LO4]

It all comes to a head when the three peers enroll in Miss Stacie’s English class. Here, the lesson plan is unique. Miss Stacie’s goal is for her students to do more than read stories, she hopes they will learn to rewrite their own. [WA3][LO5]

If you would like to consider LOVING THE DAMNED, I’d be happy to forward the partial or complete manuscript to you.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: I’m not sure what this means. Is the other option to just ignore? Or are you saying she has to decide how to face his choice? Also, “choose ... choice” is really awkward wording.
[WA2]: Is the “they” in the later part of this sentence still just Andrew and Jennifer, or Pearl as well?
[WA3]: I understand the reasoning for including this, but Ms. Stacie and her class are the vehicle of the plot, not the motivating factor. The query letter needs to be about the protagonist, which sounds to me to be Pearl. This means she needs to be the active character in the pitch. Right now, she is the indirect object of the 2nd paragraph, and is entirely absent from the third.

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: First flag. There is no need to capitalize someone’s grade level.
[LC2]: At this point I would stop reading. A more concise way to present the story and cast would be to lose the extraneous information (grade level, last name, etc) and get to the snappy hook.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: Might be less awkward to use her age rather than year in school.
[LO2]: Redundant. Also, “homicidal choice” feels awkward to me and somehow diminishes the power of what he did. Perhaps because it backs away from the tragedy in using technical feeling language. Maybe something more along the lines of, "Pearl is forced to face her brother’s tragic actions (or deeds).”
[LO3]: I’m not sure that feels like much of a choice. Generally, we’re always going to choose the option that’s NOT being destroyed. Also, it feels like we could use something more concrete and dramatic here, a specific, observable end toward which she’s driving. Some tangible goal that serves as the narrative thrust of the novel.
[LO4]: I’d recommend sticking with the perspective of one character—your central protagonist—throughout. This doesn’t really tell us much, and it puts Pearl in passive/victim mode without suggesting her resolve to take charge of her life in some way.
[LO5]: Nice. Could give us something more suggestive of a powerful climax, an important choice Pearl will have to make (on a concrete rather than emotional level), or something big at stake in the personal or public worlds of the story. Needs a little more “oomph” here at the end.

First 250 words:

I sat cross-legged under my school desk. My long body stiff under the short, cramped, enclosure of my metal desk[LC1]. I stared impatiently at the clock; it’s[LC2] hand ticking an agonizingly slow pace across its blank face. I watched an hour pass by while having a mandatory school lockdown. [WA1] As hard as ninth grade Pre-calculus was, counting the ancient wads of gum stuck just inches above my head, while being uncomfortably hunched on the rough, dirty carpet was far worse. [WA2][LO1]

“Pearl!” A hoarse whisper from my best friend Audrey interrupted my thoughts. She was folded up under the desk next to mine, looking worried. “What’s going on?”[WA3] she mouthed. I shrugged my slender shoulders feeling a sudden pit empty my stomach. Could something bad really have happened? [WA4][LO2]

A crackling sound spat from the intercom as our principal’s voice filled the room, [WA5] “Students,” there was a pause[LO3] and something that sounded like a faint sob. Is Mrs. Lancastar crying? “Please gather your things and make your way to the front doors. Your parents will be waiting.” Another deafening silence suffocated the empty space in the room as we all listened intently, “There’s been a shooting at Clairmont High. If you believe in God, send him a prayer.”

My mind froze, I felt like I was going to be sick. I glanced at Audrey’s shaking shoulders and her hands over her face and I knew her thoughts without her saying them. Both her sister and my brother attended Clairmont High School.[LO4]


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: Filtering.
[WA2]: It’s hard to connect to Pearl in this page. She’s so annoyed about having to be on the carpet, when they don’t currently know what’s going on. For all they know, the shooter could be in the middle school.
[WA3]: If it’s been an hour, why is Audrey just now asking this?
[WA4]: Why causes this sudden shift in Pearl’s demeanor/attitude? Is it just Audrey suddenly being concerned? Was no one concerned or scared before?
[WA5]: It’s a bit too convenient for me that the principal immediate comes on the PA to answer Audrey’s question

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: This is not a complete sentence. As this could be a writing style or voice technique, I would continue reading just in case.
[LC2]: “It’s” means “it is” or “it has.” “Its” is possessive. I would stop reading here.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: This feels a bit low energy for what would presumably be a compelling/anxiety-inducing circumstance. Would recommend digging deeper into the anxiety and intrigue, bringing us closer to Pearl’s point of view, so we’re feeling and experiencing this moment rather than having it simply narrated to us.
[LO2]: From a POV perspective, it feels clunky for her to make mention of her “long body” or “slender shoulders.” These phrases come across as information you’d like the reader to have rather than as a natural part of Pearl’s thought process in the moment. She’d not likely think about her body here.
[LO3]: A “pause” doesn’t really tell us much of anything. What’s happening in that moment. E.g., “Students…” For a moment only her quick breath filled the air, followed by a faint sob.”
[LO4]: Compelling circumstances, but before I’d ask for more, I’d want to:
1. Feel more of the character’s emotional state;
2. Would want the level of expression to be sharpened;
3. And I’d also ask the writer to consider starting the story after the brother’s act of violence has already occurred, so that you could a) build a little early tension/mystery around what, precisely, happened, and b) dig more fully into Pearl’s character, outlook, and desires here. Thanks for braving the contest!


Whitley: PASS 
Laura: PASS
Lorin: PASS