Thursday, June 1, 2017

Pitch Wars Early Bird Mentor Critique 19 - QUERY - YA/NA Contemporary

When I read a query, or query blurb of a story, I'm looking for five major elements communicated crisply, quickly, and clearly:

Who is the book about, where are they (and when, if applicable)? What does the protagonist want? What's the conflict, and who or what is the antagonistic force? And for your final hook, what specific obstacle will potentially stop the protagonist from achieving their goal? And what's at stake if they fail?

If a query can outline that in under 250 words, it's a winner.  So let's take a look at this query and see how it stacks up:

Dear [Mr/Mrs. Agent],

All eighteen-year-old aspiring chef Josie Fulton wants is out. Out of her house with her overbearing mother and joke of a stepfather. Out of her small town, where no one appreciates her one-of-a-kind recipes. And, if she’s being honest with herself, out of Arkansas altogether, where the only thing that ever happens is the University of Arkansas Razorbacks losing another football game.

Great opening that lets us into your character’s major motivation. I’m hoping to see conflict and stakes in the next paragraph.

Her dream is almost a reality when she’s accepted to the Blue Ribbon Classe de Patisserie e Chefeasure culinary school in Paris. But a pricey school 4,500 miles away is a hard sell to her former sorority president mother, who is convinced Josie needs a social education as much as an academic one. Josie is forced to sign a deal with the devil - if she can survive her freshman year at Ozark University and pledge a sorority, her mother will pay for her culinary school tuition.

Interesting premise. I’ll be honest, though, as written, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice?

At first, Greek life is everything Josie thought it would be - lame parties full of shallow, stupid people. But the more time she spends with her energetic Big Sis and James, a Kappa Beta with an uneven smile and surprisingly good taste in food and music, the more she finds herself feeling at home wearing her letters. She even begins to consider choosing a culinary school closer to home. But when Josie learns the truth of who is really pulling the strings in her Greek relationships, she must decide what’s worth fighting for - her dreams or her newfound friends.

I know, because I write books, that you’ve probably got a really great, layered character and high emotional stakes in this story. However, the early promise of emotion in your first paragraph dilutes with each paragraph as it goes.

To create a sense of real drama, I think you need two things:
1.       Cut some of the multiple things she’d like to change in the first paragraph and give us some insight into why she’s the last person who’d want to be in a sorority (is she a tomboy? Does she hate her mother? Is she fighting against the stereotype of good looks means no brains – something that invests us in her not entering the vapid world of a sorority).

      2.       Rather than the vague “who’s really pulling the strings in her Greek relationships”, be more specific. Does she think the guy she likes is essentially being bribed to stick close to her? Or is there some other element to the story we aren’t aware of that puts her at a disadvantage? Basically, create an impending sense of loss—and be specific about what’s at stake if her fears are founded.

With those elements in place, this query will be stellar because your writing’s succinct and you have all the right progression.

PITCH PERFECT meets GREEK, PLEDGED, a young adult contemporary is complete at 70,000 words.

Just a niggle: I thought the name of the second comp was “GREEK, PLEDGED” and had to reread a couple times. Try “PITCH PERFECT meets GREEK in PLEDGED, a young adult . . . .”

My bigger concern is that that this isn’t the query for a YA. It an NA book, unless you’ve misrepresented it. Set in college and dealing with that world takes it out of YA by all the advice I’ve been given.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Best regards,
Amy Oliver


A very well-written query and a clear and concise blurb. What you’re missing isn’t talent, but stakes.

If you can make the reader feel concern for Josie—and wonder how bad this is all going to be, your query will be immensely successful.

Seriously, while I’ve given a couple big notes, in truth this is very well done and you should be proud of it. But I think you’ll have more success pitching it as NA, and if you can sharpen the sense of sacrifice and conflict.

Those changes won’t need more than 3-4 sentences to make this really pop, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s very, very close to being perfect.

Good luck!

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