Query Critique Winner

Monday, January 23, 2017

Congrats to Suzanne, who was lucky #8 this month!  Here is her original query:

Dear Carrie,

ONCE UPON A WITNESS is an upper middle grade of 60,000 words. This fairytale mashup is ELLA ENCHANTED meets SHREK, in which an enterprising ex-princess discovers that the Organization of Fairy Godmothers is using the Island of Witness Protection to dispose of anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of a happily ever after.

When Princess Esme finds herself unjustly banished to the Island of Witness Protection by her manipulative Fairy Godmother, she’d do anything to return home. But her trouble is only getting started. While digging into the Island’s secrets, she learns that her frenemy has taken over her kingdom and imprisoned her friends, and that her Fairy Godmother has no plans to bring Esme back. Unfortunately, getting off the Island without her Fairy Godmother’s help seems impossible. The Maphea (Magicians Against Princesses Happily Ever After) guards the secret, and Esme’s only allies are the reportedly evil creatures a nice princess wouldn’t claim as friends. As her misfortunes grow—she’s chased by wraiths through a dungeon, her pocket dragon tries to kill her frog prince friend, and she unwittingly unleashes the magic of a deadly basilisk mirror—Esme wonders if her Fairy Godmother could be right. What if she doesn’t deserve a happily ever after?

In addition to writing middle grades, I work as a content editor for Red Adept Publishing. I also write romantic suspense under the pseudonym Lily Black. My debut, Storm of Attraction, will release from RAP in February of 2017. My MG novel NinChicks took third place overall in the SCBWI Carolinas 2013 fiction writing contest, and first among middle grades. I was previously represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh and Otis, but have amicably parted ways with her.  ONCE UPON A WITNESS is a new project and has not been subbed. However, it was requested by Jill Davis of HarperCollins after our meeting at a SCBWI conference a few months ago, and she is reading it now.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you,Suzanne


And here is my critique!


Dear Carrie,

ONCE UPON A WITNESS is an upper middle grade of 60,000 words. This fairytale fairy tale mashup is ELLA ENCHANTED meets SHREK [This is just a knee-jerk reaction, but something that uses SHREK as a comp title seems like it would be more lower MG to me.], in which an enterprising ex-princess discovers that the Organization of Fairy Godmothers is using the Island of Witness Protection to dispose of anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of a happily ever after. discovers that she doesn't need to be royalty to totally rule! [Because I don't know enough about the story at this point to know what you're talking about, this is more confusing than compelling.  I suggest altering this to intrigue readers with the heart of the story, but not necessarily involve such specific details, such as what I added in, which of course, is just an example!.]

When Princess Esme finds herself unjustly banished to the Island of Witness Protection by her manipulative Fairy Godmother, she’d do anything to return home. [Explain a little more here.  What is the Island of Witness Protection and how does her Fairy Godmother manipulate her into getting sent there?  Does she set her up in some way?  And does Esme originally think her FG is doing it for her own good?]  But her trouble is only getting started. But it looks like going home may no longer be an option.  While digging into the Island’s secrets investigating the secrets of the island in attempt to leave, she learns that her frenemy has taken over her kingdom and imprisoned her friends, and that her Fairy Godmother has no plans to bring Esme back. [Does her FG not plan to bring her back to protect her from danger or because she is in league with the frenemy?] Unfortunately, getting off the Iisland without her Fairy Godmother’s help seems impossible. The Maphea (Magicians Against Princesses Happily Ever After) guards the secret [The secret to what?  To getting off the island?], and Esme’s only allies are the reportedly evil creatures a nice princess wouldn’t claim as friends [I understand what you're trying to say here, but it reads a little awkwardly.  Reword.]. As her misfortunes grow—she’s chased by wraiths through a dungeon, her pocket dragon tries to kill her frog prince friend, and she unwittingly unleashes the magic of a deadly basilisk mirror—Esme wonders if her Fairy Godmother could be right. What if she doesn’t deserve a happily ever after? [WHEN does her FG say this??  This is the cliffhanger at the end of the story's blurb and it's the first time we're hearing of it.  Definitely invest some space at the start of the query to give us more background on Esme as a princess and her relationship with her FG.]

In addition to writing middle grades, I work as a content editor for Red Adept Publishing. I also write romantic suspense under the pseudonym Lily Black. My debut, Storm of Attraction, will release from RAP in February of 2017. [Because this is a VERY different genre, I suggest cutting.]  My MG novel NinChicks took third place overall in the SCBWI Carolinas 2013 fiction writing contest, and first among middle grades. I was previously represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh and Otis, but have amicably parted ways with her.  ONCE UPON A WITNESS is a new project and has not been subbed. However, it was requested by Jill Davis of HarperCollins after our meeting at a SCBWI conference a few months ago, and she is reading it now.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you,Suzanne


Good start with this, Suzanne!  I think you have the structure set up well, but this needs a bit more meat on its bones before it's ready to go out.  You'll see the areas I suggest need more fleshing out: mostly the beginning and certain sections throughout that need clarification.  I hope this is helpful!  

Everyone else, if you have any comments or questions, chime in below!

4 comments:

  1. A very good critique Carrie. I agree that there were parts that read awkward and needed rewording. Suzanne has a very good start on her query and I'm sure with more practice and advice will polish it to agent ready perfection. All the best!

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  2. Here's my buck and a half--hope it helps in some way.

    -While I kind of like the log line or whatever you call it in the opening, I think that would work better with a little tweaking and moving down to the closing paragraph.

    -The middle paragraph: first thing, I would banish "But her trouble is only getting started"--it's too cliche, I guess I'd say. A couple of things I think need more explaining: why does Esme start investigating the island? Is she a naturally curious person who can't help herself or does something happen that causes her to start digging? Second, who is the 'frenemy', and is there betrayal here, i.e., Esme discovers her best friend is really not, or did they always have that sort of relationship? I think a little more explanation would help a lot here. Good start, Suzanne, and good luck!

    And now the questin for Carrie--Is it better to leave information such as "I was formerly represented by" or "this novel was read by" out of the query, or be so up front about it? I would think it would save everyone time and effort to be up front about it. Does knowing a manuscript has been out on submission make you more likely to pass but say, "What else ya got?"

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    1. I definitely like having that information upfront. Knowing something has been out on submission doesn't automatically make it unappealing to me--that depends on how long it was out. If it went out to 10 editors, that's not a big deal, but if it's been around the block, there most likely isn't much I can do to sell it.

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  3. I found the query to have problems relating to my own query. It can be hard to write the query from an outside view point and I think an overhaul on what it is exactly you want someone to know about the story needs to be focused on. The ending I actually really liked.

    This part here; "As her misfortunes grow—she’s chased by wraiths through a dungeon, her pocket dragon tries to kill her frog prince friend, and she unwittingly unleashes the magic of a deadly basilisk.

    The main problem I think is too much info is being dumped to get a sense for the bigger picture.

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