Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Disgruntled Idol

I've figured out something about myself:

I'm a harsh critic. Vicious. Simon Cowell-ish.

My comments on other people's writing hurt, because I tell them the truth, rather than giving them a bland and insincere "It's great." Only a few people actually get praise from me on their manuscripts.

"Why?" you might ask.

Well, if I don't tell them the truth, they'll waste their time querying agents with a manuscript that's not ready. I know how that feels; I've done it myself.

So, today I'm offering a free ego-mauling. Post your "query letter" book description to this thread before 7am EST Friday.

But don't put in any personal info like your mailing address, because there may be tin-foil-hat-wearing nut-jobs reading this right now. And I might not even be related to some of them.

I'll post brutally honest critiques of the the queries right here in the comments section (limited to the first 10 responders, if it comes to that).
The bad news is: I have high standards.
The good news is: If you meet these high standards, you know that you're really good. And if you don't, I'll tell you why not, so you can fix it.

I'll pick someone from the pack, based on the query, and offer that person a critique of their first 10 pages. Look for the announcement of the winner in Friday's post.

So, it's a cruel world, and I'm offering to make it personal. Anyone up for the mauling?


Disgruntled Bear said...

Dear Ms. Bear:

Sixteen-year-old Maddie Dunn doesn't know how Del and his two friends died. She just knows that she killed them.

Maddie ends up at Ganzfield, because lethal telepaths just can't stay in the New Jersey suburbs. Ganzfield is a training facility full of people like her; they're called G-positives. It's not exactly a nurturing place; the top clique uses mind-control to humiliate the low-status geeks, and Maddie doesn't know yet where she fits in the pecking order.

Trevor is the only telekinetic, but the fact that he can move things without touching them isn't what draws Maddie to him. He slays the personal demons that haunt her dreams, and the two of them connect as energy on a magical level. When someone kidnaps him, she'll do whatever it takes to get him back.

I attended Yale and Rutgers Universities, earning three psychology degrees. I drew on this background to create a realistic scenario for G-positives and for the effects of their abilities.

MINDER is a YA fantasy with strong elements of violence and sensuality. It is complete at 70,000 words. Please let me know if you want to see more.


Disgruntled Bear said...

Brilliant! Masterful! I must read this--
Oh wait, that's mine.

jhorsfall said...

A young museum director’s encounter with an unusual woman offers the chance to reclaim his mortgaged honesty.

Jack Stillman’s private landscape admits no visitors until the day he spies Katharine Calhoun in the Goodwin Art Museum. Something in her surrender to a painting intrigues the new director; something in her aspect releases a circumspect man.

The woman in the small black coat responds as if she knows him. Offered his public face, she looks to the solitary man beneath. In a startling exchange, the two share a quietly explosive dialogue that suggests the chance for a deep and permanent bond. But the conversation also brings an unexpected cost, as Katharine glimpses more than the director intends. No one knows Jack Stillman, whose life is a series of concealed truths—and who intends to keep it that way.

Yet despite his best intent, his relationship with Katharine builds to a rare art form: a love dependent on mutual honesty. Slowly Jack begins to own the missing pieces of his past, reclaiming the earlier self he had lost. But when a brutal work of art explodes the riddle of his life, jeopardizing himself and the museum, Jack’s bond with Katharine could bring his ruin or allow him to reclaim his most authentic self.

Complete at 120,000 words, A Pattern for Your Love examines the struggle of a life in profound redefinition: the quest for real identity, the demands of loyalty, and the daunting task of speaking truth to those we love.

Disgruntled Bear said...


Let me say how brave you are, posting here.

The good news:
Your letter gives a strong sense of the relationship between Jack and Kate. I'm intrigued.

The "however:"
It's on the long side and a bit wordy.

I'd take out the word "young" in the first sentence. But I love the phrase "mortgaged honesty."

I'd cut "something in her aspect releases a circumspect man" from the sentence in the second paragraph.

I'm on the fence about the "woman in the small black coat" part. What she's wearing usually isn't part of a query pitch, but there's something compelling about the phrase for me.

I suggest removing the phrase "In a startling exchange," and use the word "exchange" instead of "dialogue" in the remaining portion of the sentence. The rest of that paragraph seems to get to the heart of things.

In the fourth paragraph, I'd cut the starting word "Yet" and the "Slowly" from the second sentence. The rest of it really works well. I'd request pages just to find out what "brutal work of art" is.

In the full query, you'd also add your relevant publishing history and bio bits.

Based on this:
I know you can write. I imagine that a large portion of the first part of the book is heavy on interaction between the two, and light on action/plot stuff. If there's more going on in the first half, I'd try to bring that out in the query. And I suspect that the book tells a beautiful love story, and your characters are probably compelling and complex.

All in all, a very solid query.

I hope this feedback helps. It's not like I've gotten my book published yet, though, so take it with a grain of salt.

Brenda said...

College freshman Chloe Shepherd knows that guys like Dylan Hughes don’t fall for girls like her. Not in real life anyway. So, when he seems equally smitten, Chloe is ecstatic, enthralled – and incredibly unprepared for the girl in the corridor.

Cool but insistent, she grills Chloe about her first date with Dylan, finishing with a terse, “Don’t like him too much. The last girl who did ended up dead.”

The words ring in Chloe’s head in the long weeks that follow. Are they a sinister promise or some kind of warning? She can’t ask Dylan; he doesn’t speak to her now. They sit next to each other in class, but he barely even looks at her.

Until the day he does, finally ready to confess his feelings and his secret. Dylan and his family belong to the powerful Rayhm clan of witches. Ancient legends and old rivalries exert an unyielding control over the clan and over Dylan’s life. By the time Chloe understands what that means, she and Dylan are on a collision course that will change their futures – and the future of the Rayhm – forever.

The Rayhm Maker is a YA fantasy, complete at 100,000words. Thank you for your consideration.

Disgruntled Bear said...


Strong opening: I have a real sense of the set-up. I'd cut "Not in real life, anyway." It's only necessary if Chloe has an active daydream/fantasy life in the book.

"Cool but insistent" is unnecessary. I'm looking at this second paragraph again and wondering if it's possible to cut it down to the warning.

In the third paragraph, I'd rephrase the "Are they a sinister..." sentence. "Are they a warning or a sinister promise?" and "He barely glances at her when they sit next to each other in class." These are minor tighten-ups.

OK, I start having problems around "Until the day he does." I feel like you need something else here. What's changed? If it's simply that Dylan finally figures out that he wants to be with Chloe, I'd combine the 3rd and 4th paragraphs and say something like, "Weeks pass before Dylan stops avoiding her and tells her that..."

I'd also cut the phrase "By the time Chloe understands what that means" from the last sentence of paragraph 4. Perhaps something like "And now" would work here. Or does something else happen that sets them on this course?

Based on this:
I'm interested in the plot. I look at the word count and get a little nervous, because most YA is shorter than this (although Jo Rowling has ensured it's not a deal-breaker). I suspect that you have a solid manuscript that will need tightening. There may be some question whether a novel with an 18-year-old, college-attending MC is considered YA or "New Adult;" the difference seems to be fuzzy.

I hope this helps!

Brenda said...

Thanks so much for your comments! I find this whole query thing much harder than anything else and feel like I've been working on this (albeit with varying levels of success) for ages! I'm editing/tightening at the same time and have cut 40K words in the past month after realizing that much of that was me getting to know my characters. It's getting there, though...slowly but surely! Thanks again and look forward to seeing you more around Litopia and keeping up with your blog! -- Brenda

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