Welcome to the first day of our 3-day-long Query Critique Week (say that five times fast)! We received a ton of queries, and even though we wish we could have chosen more, we were only able to pick 9 of them to critique. Let’s get started!
Query 3: Collide
Dear Authors with Let The Words Flow blog;
Drama Club President Madison Manning isn’t the type of girl to lose control. She’s calm, collected and mature—at least for a seventeen year old. What happens when you look in the mirror and realize you’re only living for your career, and a life outside the stage doesn’t exist? Aching for something more, Madison becomes involved with Lucas Valentino. At first, he is exactly what she’s always wanted—sexy, mysterious, and wild. Madison soon finds herself surrounded by a life of drugs and violence, while Lucas’s lust for her quickly turns into obsession. His physical outbursts and psychological abuse trap her in an inescapable hell. Madison knows there’s only one way out, but that would put her and the ones she loves in mortal danger.
COLLIDE is an edgy young adult novel, and takes place in present day Gainesville, Florida, where the tension is high, and nobody minds their own business. COLLIDE is the first novel in what I anticipate to be a 4 book series.
I have published an article in The Parade, a widely circulated publication and my previous writing experience has been in playwriting and producing. Thank you for taking the time to review my query for Collide. My 80,000-word manuscript is available for consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Angela Francis Hettinger
[Contact Information Redacted]
I really liked the opening line, and half of the second sentence (the “at least for a seventeen year-old” struck me as condescending). The third sentence, however, got a bit murky with the verbiage, and threw off the rhythm. However, after that, the query descends into a huge paragraph crammed with action that doesn’t really resonate with me (because SO much is happening).
I would start a new paragraph with “Aching,” and use a sentence to segue into WHY Madison would get involved with someone who is into drugs and violence…Right now, it just feels random, and though this is heavy material, it feels like it’s just thrown in there to generate tension. Slow it down a bit.
I would also avoid calling your work “edgy”—let us/readers/agents decide that for themselves. And is Gainesville like that in REALITY, or just in your book? It’s confusing when you say “present day.” Your final paragraph also needs a bit of editing in terms of punctuation and proper italicizing (the magazine you mention isn’t underlined/italicized, and you didn’t italicize the title of your book).
I think overall you have a good concept, but the feeling I get is that you know your work so well you’re having a hard time communicating the story properly to someone outside your own thought process (don’t worry, it happens to all of us). I really liked the first sentence, but I felt the second sentence, especially because it was a rhetorical question, really threw off the rhythm. What would cause Madison to feel like her life off the stage doesn’t exist? Particularly for a 17-year-old in high school, who surely must realize there is more to life than being on stage. In high school. Do you see where I’m going with this? Is there a family issue or something that’s making her feel sad like that? If so, be sure to mention it.
I think your transition from Lucas being what Madison has always wanted and the sentence about drugs needs a little work. He’s what she always wanted, BUT soon she finds herself surrounded by drugs? I feel like we need a ‘but’ in there, or a ‘however’.
What kind of mortal danger would her family be put in, and why? What would happen? These are plot details an agent would want to know.
I agree with Sarah about calling your own work ‘edgy’; it’s obvious that the novel is edgy from the drugs and sex, etc., no need to hammer the point. The bit about Gainsville doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the novel, unless you left something significant out of the rest of the query. The description of Gainsville reminds me of Gossip Girl, or Pretty Little Liars, but that kind of theme isn’t present in the rest of the query. If the book isn’t focusing on a community of bitchy, snobby people, I would take the mention of Gainsville out entirely. But if their society and surroundings are like that and play a significant part in the plot, I would mention it earlier.
I think this query has a lot of potential! Best of luck querying!
As a reader, this type of story is right up my alley. I think your idea is great, but doesn’t translate into your query very well. As you yourself said, the story is edgy, but I didn’t really get that feeling while reading your letter. I can’t understand Madison’s motivation to go looking for someone like Lucas, or why getting out of said relationship would put those around her in danger. As Savannah pointed out, I think we need a little more explanation there. Also, from the information you’ve given us, I can’t figure out how this would lead into a series, so maybe give an indication as to how that might work. As is, this appears as though it is very much a standalone novel.
As the others have mentioned, the Gainesville reference really threw me. I’ve been to Florida a total of one time, so my knowledge of the state, or this particular city, is incredibly limited. And obviously you’re allowed to have some creative liberty with things, but if the story is set in present day Gainesville, is that really how the people/city operates? Savannah suggested you remove the Gainesville reference entirely, and I have to agree. Unless it’s vital to understanding the story, you don’t really need it.
Good luck querying this project! I’d definitely be interested in reading it.
I wouldn’t refer to a high schooler as having nothing more than her career. She doesn’t have a career yet. Also, I’d like to know why she was so devoted to the stage that she closed off everything else and if something triggered her attempts to find something more. Like the others have said, more of a transition from sexy and wild to drugs and violence is needed. I think a fuller transition would also help give the query more of an edgy tone, which doesn’t quite come across despite the subject matter. You should probably also mention that Lucas has threatened Madison’s family, or that she assumes it from his behavior as I’m not sure how they’re in mortal danger. I’m also wondering how this is the first of four books? Good concept, good luck querying!
Hi Angela! I enjoy what’s often referred to as “edgy” YA, so there are aspects of your story that definitely draw me in. (As an aside, I think you could probably get away with the label “edgy” if you put it in quotes, since then you come across as placing it in a sub-genre instead of making a personal judgment about the material.) I like your premise, and I think it could have broad appeal, but I think the edginess needs to come through in the tone of your query. It’s difficult for me to put my finger on it, because you tell us a lot about the dramatic elements of the story, but I just don’t feel the tension. I would recommend working on the overall tone to create a sense of danger. Maybe use shorter, more clipped sentences? Try specific examples of the types of drugs, violence and abuse? Experiment, maybe read samples of tension-filled writing, and revise until you feel the fear and danger you describe actually radiating through the query itself.
Best of luck with Collide!
Queries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blog
Query Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog
How to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blog
Query Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back together
AgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letter
A Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America