Jun 26, 2012

Critique My Query

Hello guys! So Daisy over at Fresh as a Daisy is hosting an awesome pitch contest this Friday with her agent Tricia Lawrence, and from today up until midnight on Thursday anyone who feels like they need their query critiqued will be able to have it critiqued. If you feel like you need your query critiqued before the contest you should hop on over to Daisy's blog.

I've decided to participate. I have an inkling that my query for Never a Happy Ending could be better. I'm looking forward to your feedback. 


Dear Ms. Agent,


Sixteen-year-old junk food enthusiast Amelia Taylor thought the worst thing that could ever happen to her was falling hard for two boys, but she was wrong. The day her father never came home was the worst day of her life.

People don’t usually go missing in the small town of Riverdale, Louisiana, where everyone knows your first and last name. Yet, no one has seen him since the day he left for work. At first, Amelia blames her momma for her father leaving them. He always said that she was the stubbornest woman he ever met.

Amelia soon realizes that even though her momma may be stubborn, neglectful, and cruel, she’s all she’s got now. Left to pick up the pieces and take care of her sick momma whose bad smoking habit has finally taken its toll on her, Amelia is forced to grow up quicker than she intended to. If it weren’t for her friends, her boyfriend, and sweet Tommy Baker, her childhood sweetheart, Amelia doesn’t know how she’d make it through this.

More than anything Amelia’s afraid that she might lose her momma to her illness, because of shame she won’t take any hospital care. Her only hope for redemption is by finding out what really happened to her father the day he left for work and never came home, and by getting her momma to see someone before it’s too late. Or she might lose everyone and everything she’s ever loved.

NEVER A HAPPY ENDING, my contemporary young adult novel, is complete at 43,000 words. 

Thanks to everyone who critiqued my query. I've since revised again. I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts.

Updated Query

People don’t usually go missing in the small town of Riverdale, Louisiana, where everyone knows your first and last name. Yet, no one has seen sixteen-year-old Amelia Taylor’s father since the morning he left for work and never came home.

Amelia suspects that her momma had everything to do with it. Her father always said that she was the stubbornest woman he ever met. But as minutes turn into hours and hours into days without a word from him, Amelia begins to realize her momma’s all she’s got now.

Amelia’s forced to take care of her momma on her own. But behind the mask of perfection her momma wears for friends and neighbors lies a woman who’s abusive, pitiless, and secretly blames Amelia for her failing health and wrinkled skin, instead of the three packs of cigarettes she smokes every day. If it weren't for Amelia's friends, her boyfriend, and her childhood sweetheart, Tommy Baker, the boy she's still madly in love with, she doesn't know how she’d make it through this.

More than anything, Amelia’s afraid she might lose her momma, too, as her ill health worsens, and she refuses to see a doctor. Amelia knows that if she doesn’t get her momma to see someone, she just might lose everyone and everything she’s ever loved because with every passing second the thought of seeing her father alive again begins to seem impossible.

17 comments:

  1. I love that this is set in small town Louisiana~ a great setting! And as a fellow junk food enthusiast (at least I was at age 16...I've cut down a little), I can already relate to Amelia :)

    Just a couple of things (no need to change anything~ these are just items that caught my eye!):

    At first I wondered if there wasn't a hint of sinister mystery in the father's disappearance because you mentioned that people "don't go missing" in her town, but then I settled into the fact that he had left them due to relationship issues with the momma. But then at the end you say that Amelia needs to be "finding out what really happened to her father the day he left for work and never came home," and I found myself wondering if you were hinting that something bad had happened to him OR if she just meant that she needed closure. If it's the former, you can definitely use that to rachet up the tension in the query. You already have beautiful tension with the mother nearly dying.

    The way it's written, I feel like the biggest plot arc is her relationship with her momma, and trying to keep that piece of her family intact...is that right? And then secondary plots would be her love interest/friendships and coming to terms with her dad's disappearance.

    I think it's the dad that's got me curious--I just want to know if he left them, or if something awful happened to him. BUT, that means I'm intrigued! Being intrigued and curious is a good thing :)

    Overall, this sounds like it's full of voice and heart~ best of luck!

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    1. Thanks for the critique, Jess. Another writer actually mentioned the same things you mentioned concerning the disappearance of Amelia's father, but I couldn't quite figure out how to make it more clear.

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  2. Hi Tracey! Thank you for being so brave and being the first one to link up! I think you have a really great, natural voice. I love how you use the word 'momma' instead of mom or mother. It gives a nice Southern feel. I took the paragraphs and rearranged a few things below. I cut out a fair amount, which could give you more room for details in those last two paragraphs. I’d love to know more about the love triangle, and how her father's disappearance is connected to her getting momma to a doctor. Thanks again, Tracey! Here we go:

    People don’t usually go missing in the small town of Riverdale, Louisiana, where everyone knows your first and last name. But no one has seen sixteen-year-old Amelia Taylor’s dad since the day he left for work. At first, Amelia blames her momma for her father leaving them. He always said that she was the stubbornest woman he ever met.

    Even though her momma may be stubborn, neglectful, and cruel, she’s all Amelia’s got now. Her momma’s (two-pack-a-day) habit has finally taken its toll, and Amelia is forced to grow up and pick up the pieces. If it weren’t for her friends, her boyfriend, and her childhood sweetheart Tommy Baker, Amelia doesn’t know how she’d make it through.

    When her momma refuses to go to the hospital, Amelia’s afraid she’ll lose both her parents forever. Her only hope for redemption is by finding out what really happened to her father the day he never came home, and by getting her momma to see someone before it’s too late.

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    1. Thanks a bunch, Laurie. I really like your suggestions. I have a lot to consider once I start revising my query.

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  3. I agree with the two above. The love triangle seems to not be the most important thing, so I'd leave it out. I think Laurie's rewrite seems more focused and has more impact.
    In fact, I'd cut the line 'If it weren't for. . .' as well. I'd rather see more of the struggles she's going through and what the main conflict is.
    As you know, I love your writing and I think you have an amazing voice! Best of luck with the contest!

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    1. Thanks for the critique, Rachel. The main reason why I mentioned the love triangle is because the novel begins with Amelia talking about her feelings for these two guys.

      The query didn't originally begin that way, but after I received a critique from another writer who wondered why the first 250 focused more on Amelia's relationship problems than Amelia's relationship with her parents I decided to change it.

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    2. The revisions look good! One thing, I think you need to add something along the lines of 'and never came home' at the end of 'morning he left for work.' Otherwise it looks good!
      I like the mention of the friends and the two boys better this way too. I was confused in the old one why it was a love triangle when it says one is a sweetheart and one is a friend. But she's still in love with him . . . Now I get it. :) This sounds so good.

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  4. I agree with most of what has already been said. I literally had the exact same idea as Laurie about changing those first two paragraphs. I think the key here is remembering your main objectives. You need to present the central conflict, the stakes, and a good idea of your protagonist. Little details like 'junk food enthusiast' are really good, but it's much better to weave these into your query - the conflict and stakes should be the main focus. After all, plot is what drives novels, right?

    Also, I'm a little worried about your word count. 43,000 is very short for YA. Usually it should be around 60,000-80,000. There are always exceptions to the rules obviously, but I just thought I'd mention it since nobody else has.

    Well done for posting your query. It's fantastic that you're taking that step, and putting your ideas into the world for all to critique can be scary, so really well done for making it this far; I know I'm not there yet! I really hope this helps, Tracey, and very good luck to you!

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    1. Thanks for the critique, Fiona. I tried to increase the word count during revisions, but still fell short.

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  5. Wow! You've got some great critiques here! Don't know how much more I can add.

    First, I agree with Laurie that the voice is GREAT. Is this the same Amelia you interviewed yesterday? If it is, I CAN'T wait to read your first 250 - she's got an amazing voice (which means you do, too!).

    I also agree with Laurie that your second paragraph should be your first. That's where the hook is, for me. It kind of cuts to the most interesting thing in your query faster, and the catalyst - Dad's gone. Now what? I'd really consider implementing that.

    I don't mind the bit about the love triangle, but I think leading with it might be misleading. This story seems to be about a girl who's trying to hold on to her family. If the love triangle boosts or hinders her in some way, by all means, mention it. But I'd try to weave it in, not lead with it.

    I'm totally with Jess about filling in some more details about Amelia's father. Did he just walk away, or is it something sinister? Whichever it is, maybe give us more hints without actually spelling out what's happened. Because I am definitely intrigued by his disappearance, whatever the reason!

    I also want to know more about Momma. How is she neglectful and cruel? To what extent? Can you give an example or be a little more specific - Even though Momma would rather watch TV than talk to Amelia... or, Even though Momma only talks to Amelia when she's yelling... etc.

    And why is she too ashamed to go to the hospital? Is it because she knows she shouldn't be smoking or something else? I'd play around with paragraphs three and four and see if there's a way to keep the tension and loneliness but draw out some details.

    There are a few kinks, but I think you've nailed one of the most important things - you've left me intrigued. I want to know more about Amelia and her family. I want to know where her Dad is and if she can save her Momma. I'm already rooting for her to figure it out!

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  6. Hi Tracey,

    Your book sounds so interesting! Good premise. I want to know what happened with her dad and what's going on with her momma.

    I agree that you don't need the first paragraph, unless you really feel strongly about the two boys thing (although maybe you could mention that in another paragraph. I like the "nobody goes missing" line as the first sentence.


    When you wrote: "More than anything Amelia’s afraid that she might lose her momma to her illness, because of shame she won’t take any hospital care." the 'because of shame' sounds off to me. Maybe: More than anything Amelia's afraid she might lose her momma to her illness, since she's too ashamed to go to the hospital?? I don't know.

    I'm excited to read the 250.

    Lisa

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  7. Hi,

    Your revised query is almost there and I agree with everybody in saying this has great voice and an intriguing premise.


    People don’t usually go missing in the small town of Riverdale, Louisiana, where everyone knows your first and last name. Yet, no one has seen sixteen-year-old Amelia Taylor’s father since the morning he left for work.

    Amelia suspects that her momma had everything to do with it. But as minutes turn into hours and hours into days without a word from him, Amelia begins to realize her momma’s all she’s got now. (Increases the tension)

    Amelia’s forced to take care of her momma on her own. But she soon realises, behind the mask of perfection her momma wears for friends and neighbours, lies a woman who’s abusive and pitiless and blames Amelia for her failing health and wrinkled skin, instead of the daily three packs of cigarettes she smokes every day. Her mind is a mess when she realises she is in love with both her boyfriend and her childhood sweetheart.
    More than anything, Amelia’s afraid she might lose her momma, too, as her ill health worsens, and she refuses to receive medical care. Amelia knows that if she doesn’t get her momma to see a doctor, she just might lose everyone and everything she’s ever loved because with each passing second the thought of ever seeing her father alive again begins to seem impossible.

    The strikethroughs and the comments won't show up here but if you compare it with your query you'll see the changes I suggested.

    Hope this helps.
    Good Luck!

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  8. Wow! So there isn't really much more to add! I will say your voice jumps off the page. I love the feel you put, making me feel right at home in the south. That love triangle really moves the story into an interesting direction. I also like "nobody goes missing" line. Great voice there and adds intrigue.
    Talynn

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  9. I'm late to the party and so everything that needs to be covered has been! But you've hooked me with your story and I'd totally read on! GOOD LUCK!!!

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  10. Everything has been covered. Your revised query is wonderful. The only part that makes me pause is the final sentence because of the 'ever' running through it. The voice and and plot in this is great. Good luck.

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  11. Hey Tracey I took a minute to look at your blog today! I like it. I see that at the end of the week i am suppose to interview you for the Buccaneer Blogfest and just wondered if i could do it earlier. I'm heading to Oregon on Thursday to register my son for college and will be off the computer for the weekend. Let me know if that works. :) Connie

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  12. Hey Tracey.
    Popped by for the buccaneer but got to enjoy your query instead. Sounds awesome :) New follower

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