Friday, 21 March 2014

Agent Insider on Queries...

AVAILABLE FROM 21st March until 28th March!

Okay, so I'm going to offer a NO HOLDS BARRED query offer here.  This is NOT for the faint of heart, so if you're a delicate flower, I would sincerely ask you to sit this one out.  However, if you are gutsy, have a metal-spine, and don't mind some seriously honest on...

There are lots of pitch workshops, lots of query critiques, and lots of advice on the Internet for aspiring writers on how to hook an agent or editor.  I've partaken in plenty of these too, and they are super useful.  However, sometimes it's good to know simply - does my query work or not?  Would you pass on it or give it a shot?

DISCLAIMER:  I am but ONE person with ONE opinion.  This is a subjective business.  I have worked with two agencies, primarily working through the inbox and incoming submissions, but also working on full manuscripts and edits.  I partake in contests such as Pitch Madness and Pitch Wars as a host or co-host, and I am used to seeing plenty of things come through the slush pile.  But again, I am A SUBJECTIVE OPINION.

So what does all that have to do with you?

Simple.  You post your query and first 250 words.  I will give you a straight up - yes, I'd pass it to the agent.  No, I wouldn't.  Or a "Let me think this over, as it's almost there but I don't quite want to reject yet".  Those last ones are the ones that take me the longest to reply to, btw.  I will even tell you why or why not I'd pass or take the sub further.

Please, please remember this is totally subjective and from an agent intern (not an agent), but I do have a pretty good vibe of what the agents look for.  Also, I will reiterate - only go ahead if you can handle 100% honest.

Alright then - see you in the comments!!


  1. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    Something far more sinister than nightmares follows sixteen-year-old Sierra Callahan to White Falls, Ohio.

    Riley Walker’s summer plans didn’t include falling for the new girl, especially one with all the baggage this one brought with her.

    When Sierra’s stalker disappears his parents suspect her and vow to destroy those responsible.

    Sierra is determined to regain control of her life – even if that means breaking the law. Riley is desperate to protect her and to keep her safe he’ll break a few of his own.

    FRACTURED SPIRIT is an 85,000 word YA romantic suspense available upon request.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.


    Kaylee Knight

    From my hiding place, at the back of the church, I watched as people dressed in their Sunday best, filtered in. Soon the only seats left were those reserved for immediate family. There were so many flowers that someone had cleared a path to the altar.

    Two hundred people speaking in hushed tones filled the air with a steady hum. When it suddenly got quiet, I looked to my left and found Father Andrew standing only a few feet away. It was time. I got in line next to my mom. She took my hand and squeezed. I tried to smile but it came out like a grimace. With my free hand I brushed, at my new dress, for imaginary lint so no one could see my hands tremble. On cue we walked down the center aisle, me with my head slightly bent so as not to make eye contact with anyone.

    At the front of the church, we slid into the pew and waited. Despite, my best efforts I could not avoid looking at the rectangular box that held what was left of my dad. Over the next hour, I tried to take comfort from the many kind words and prayers but it was no use.

    My mom, sat to my left. Her eyes glued to the coffin while her hands destroyed one tissue after another. I looked to my right and pretended not to see the tears in my cousin, Justin’s eyes.

    1. This is an "almost" for me. The query feels overly mysterious (kind of like a movie voice over), so I'd suggest editing it to segue it together more smoothly. Also, I can't decide if this is a single or dual POV book. I think single, but that second sentence throws me off. Clarify the pitch and it'll be much stronger.

      Writing - Much better than your query led me to believe it would be. Concrete, nice word usage "hiding" "could not avoid" "destroyed" "It was time" "pretended".

      Overall - writing is good enough for more of a read, but with a shaky query it wouldn't have jumped out for me and would be on my "wait" list.

  2. I would love a critique on my query. Just to make want the query and the exerpt pasted into your comments? or do you want me to email it to you?

    1. I'm looking for it pasted on the blog. Looking forward to it! :-)

  3. Dear Fiona McLaren

    I have submitted my query and first 250 words for your perusal and look forward for your comments thanks for the oppurtunity.


    Seventeen-year-old Misty Hunter hates falling asleep. Everyone in the underworld believes that she is the crowned Messiah, predestined to redeem the condemned souls. Discovering that she is on their commander’s most wanted lists doesn’t help either.
    When Misty meets Juan, the new hunk in her community, all she wants is to fall in love and live an average teenage life, but her relationship is soon threatened by the inheritance of a mischievous demon whose only mission is to transport her into the grasp of his cohorts.
    Amidst crazy tales of shadow riders, dark princes and mystical ancestors, Misty unwillingly unearths the hidden secrets of the underworld that could release her community from the control of an evil ruler.
    I HAD A DREAM, is a Young Adult Urban Fantasy of 99,350 words. It is a story of romance, mystery and a lot of adventure, based in a parallel world. Per your submission guidelines, I have pasted the first five pages of my manuscript below.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Yours Sincerely
    Denese Young-Williams

    Excerpt: The air in the cave was tense with the anticipation of the heist, creatures and critters alike stood silent and motionless as their commander pace the hard floor with swift scraping motions. The greatly anticipated day had finally arrived. The troops had been trained and were prepared for the effortless battle that was ahead.

    Diego smiles his satisfaction; he knew the humans would be no match for him. The sound of someone approaching breaks his rumination.

    ‘What is it?’ Diego’s nostrils flare at the interruption.

    ‘Something is happening, your Highness.’ The queen drops to her knees in front of him.


    ‘Master, someone has blocked the portal.’

    ‘Impossible,’ Diego’s voice bellows like thunder through the expanse of the dark cave. Impatiently, he swerves his hand through the air. Nothing appears. Again he repeats the brisk movements, still nothing.
    ‘How could this be?’ He whispers angrily, stroking his clean shaven head, ‘who could have done this?’

    ‘I do not know.’ The answer was barely audible.

    ‘But you will find out, no one can deter my plans.’


    Diego turns in the direction of the queen who was now making an attempt to get of her knees.

    ‘Find her,’ he orders, ‘now!’

    Without waiting for a second command the queen scrambles out of the frosty room.

    Diego turns towards the direction of the now invisible portal, lifting his head into the air he lets out a bellow from deep within the depths of his being.

    Somewhere in New Jersey his roar mingles with the distinctive cry of a newborn girl.

    1. Okay, this is hard, but it would be a no. However, the reasons are really easy to change this to a yes. Let me explain why...

      Query - simply put,predestined MCs are a very tough sell. Not that they can't sell, but it is tough. That aside, the query needs to be tightened. You actually had me sold (despite the predestined issue) until the last part of the pitch "Amidst crazy tales of shadow riders, dark princes and mystical ancestors.." felt unspecific to me.

      Writing - this was good. I really liked it. And then I realized it was a prologue. Prologues don't do well (they can usually ALWAYS go). If you lose the prologue and tighten the end of your pitch, this would go on my "waiting to decide list" (which is not a bad place to be!).

  4. Dear Agent,

    Spending time with a dead guy, being interrogated by the cops and getting stitched up by a cute ER doc wasn’t exactly the evening plans private investigator Kimberly Murphy envisioned. Especially the getting caught standing over a dead body, again, part. Only this time it wasn’t her fault. Just once she’d like it if homicide detective Grant Tompkins didn’t assume she was guilty.

    To clear her slightly tarnished name, Kim goes after the clever killer while avoiding a certain hot homicide detective determined to put her in handcuffs – and not the pink, fuzzy kind – not that she’d mind. Too bad Kim’s efforts lead to dead ends and even more dead bodies. Kim will need all her skills and a bit of luck to outwit a killer who’d like to put an end to Kim’s meddling permanently.

    DEATH BY HIGH HEELS, a 75,000 word mystery available upon request.

    Thank you for your time.

    Violet Ingram

    Cops hate it when you vomit all over their crime scene – a mistake I had no desire to repeat. Then again, the fact that I’d just trampled all over this scene was probably a whole new mistake I should have avoided. I stared at the corpse and fought the urge to hurl. If only I hadn’t answered the door, I’d be eating dinner instead of standing in my neighbor’s apartment looking at a dead guy.

    Said dead guy was just sitting there in the chair. You would think he was asleep – if not for all the blood and guts spilled onto his lap. I tore my eyes from him and asked the question I most wanted the answer to.

    “What the heck did you hit him with?”

    Lindsay dropped the strand of blonde hair she’d been twirling and glanced down at the floor. “My shoe.”


    “I’ve already told you. Twice. I hit him with my shoe.”

    “Damn it, Lindsay, you can’t kill someone with a shoe!”

    “Hello, they’re Via Spiga.”

    “Ugh.” I glared.

    There was no way in hell she had done this kind of damage with a shoe. If she had, women would soon be saying goodbye to their much-beloved accessory. Men-even NRA members- would insist on an instant ban of the deadly yet sexy weapon.

    I set my hands on my hips. “Any idea how he got this giant hole in his stomach?”

    “What? No, I hit him and ran.” Lindsay’s face paled and she leaned against the doorframe.

    1. A huge, big YES YES YES! I love this. Voice and a super tight query. I love this. All this needs is the right agent. But it'd be passed on by me for sure. Well played!

    2. When I say "passed on by me" I mean "passed onto the agent" :-)

  5. Dear Ms McLaren,

    Sisters Madie and Allie fight over more than just clothes and boyfriends. Conceived as twins, with one huge difference, Allie didn’t survive. Madie has everything, friends, popularity, a fancy new car and most of all...a body. Allie enviously lives vicariously through her twin watching, waiting...wanting. That is until one day Allie discovers a way that she can live her sister’s life. Souls of the Chimera is a young adult paranormal novel about 77000 words in length.

    At sixteen Madie is used to her twin sister’s ghost hanging around. Allie is interfering and often annoying, but Madie is fiercely loyal...and forgiving of her sister’s antics. The sisters have a bond like no other. They even share a body now and then. Life is as normal as it can be under the circumstances...until Allie, naively makes a deal with an evil demon named Allegra. Madie has her soul forcefully ripped from her body leaving her to fend for herself in a strange world full of demons and spirits that prey on the weak. Madie joins forces with an unlikely ally Demetri, a demon with his own agenda. Together they must race against an impossible deadline, and evil forces to save the twin’s souls from a fate worse than death.

    This story is a true testament to how far sisters will go to protect each other, even when they sometimes hate each other. Souls of the Chimera is the ultimate showcase of sibling rivalry and the true principle that family comes first, no matter the cost.

    Thank you for considering my submission. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Cynthia Stacey


    My hands won’t stop shaking and now my eyes look like racoons. I sigh in frustration throwing the offending mascara at the wall. “Crap,” I look at Allie who is smirking at me from my bed. “Seriously, can you not find somewhere else to be, rather than bothering me?”


    My hands ball into fists at my side and without thinking; I pick up my lipstick and throw it at her aiming for the center of her forehead. It hits the wall behind her. She doesn’t even blink.

    “Nice,” her grin disappears replaced with a dirty look. “You know you can’t hit me.”

    “Oh but it is so satisfying to try.” I ignore her and go back to attempting to get ready. My mascara is nowhere to be found. I grind my teeth in an attempt to calm down.

    “Why are you so nervous?” Allie whispers behind my ear causing me to jump. I didn’t notice her stealth move behind me.

    “Shit Allie, you know I hate when you do that.” I’m freaking out. Cameron will be here any minute and I’m not ready.

    “Relax,” she shrugs like it’s no big deal.

    “Seriously?” I look at her in exasperation. “You and I both know how much of a big deal this is.”

    “It’s just a party.”

    OMG, I can’t believe she said that. “It is my sweet 16 party and as we both know, it is a miracle I even have a date...let alone a super cute, hot date.

    1. This is on my "wait" list. I love the twin and sister angle. I would love to see more of that come through my inbox. Really. The query is professional and strong. Demons can be a little overdone, so this is why I'm dithering query wise. As for the writing - again, strong and clean. I like the "teen" feel it has. However, I think the snark while good is also hard to sell at the moment. By all means, keep the snark, but have a line or two in there that helps soften your reader to one of the sisters. As it stands, I didn't connect fully to one of the sisters straight away. It's an almost. I'd ask another intern to look over this actually.

    2. Thanks very much for the feedback, it is appreciated immensely. Madie does come across as a bit snarky in this excerpt but not usually. I will review again.

  6. Dear Ms McLaren,

    Avery Mann’s biggest worry before his eleventh birthday is avoiding atomic wedgies from Max "The Wild Thing" Lovell. However, his fear of overstretched underwear vanishes when he becomes an unsuspecting pawn in a supernatural chess match between wise-guy magi, scheming witches, fiendish monsters, and storybook villains come to life. Getting dragged into an inter-dimensional conspiracy to re-shape the world into a twisted fantasyland throws a flying monkey wrench into his summer plans, which did not include magically bonding himself to a murderous raven or making fishy deals with Long John Silver. Worse yet, Avery's only chance to get out of this tangled web is to free the Wicked Witch of the East from Dante's Inferno. And if he fails, his family will wake up to a different world, his newfound friends will be killed or imprisoned, and he'll never finish reading his Ultimate Spider-Man collection.

    THE UNBELIEVEABLE MISADVENTURES OF AVERY MANN is a 69,000 word long middle-grade contemporary fantasy book.

    I am an award-winning writer in the role-playing game industry and an active member of the SCBWI. I also have a master’s degree in Library and Information Science with a focus on children services and literature.

    This is a simultaneous submission. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Joseph Miller


    The walled garden in Kensington Park wasn't as impenetrable as Superman’s Fortress of Solitude or high-tech as the Batcave, but it made the perfect hideout. It was a place where I could read comics, practice magic tricks, and avoid trouble, especially my arch-enemy Max “The Wild Thing” Lovell.

    Not to mention it was quiet here, too.

    Chip! Chip! Chip!


    Three baby chipmunks poked their heads out of a rose bush.

    “Again?” I tossed them the last few peanuts from my lunch bag.

    They dashed out, stuffed their chubby cheeks, and raced back home. Not even a thanks. Oh well, what could I say? I was always a sucker for animals.

    A breeze blew through the gazebo, bringing with it the scent of white and purple roses. I breathed in. Mmmm. The garden smelled so much better than the bushes behind Ms. Crabtree’s compost heap—which had made a great hiding spot last year, but required nose-plugs and deodorant sprays.

    I glanced at my watch. It was almost noon on the first full day of summer vacation and nobody had bothered me here. Not my six older brothers. Not Max. Not—


    A piece of paper flew into my face.

    “Gah!” I yanked the thing off me, ready to rip it into subatomic particles, but then the word, “Magic” caught my eye. A thrill fluttered up from the bottom of my stomach to the back of my neck as I shoved the flapping flyer against the ground.

    1. This almost gets a yes, but rests in my maybe pile. The query is a little overblown for me, and a lot gets lost in details and sub plots. I can tell it's going to be a lot of fun, but if I have to read your query twice it makes me wonder at your ability for concision.

      The writing - strong, full of voice, and a lovely way to connect the reader to the MC by having sympathy with animals. There's a lot of skill in the writing, so it'd be on my "wait" list and probably would get through to the agent after I unscrambled your query. ;-)

    2. Fiona,

      Thanks... I'll have to think about how to deflate the query and focus on the main plot so that it's not a stumbling block for agents. Glad you liked the writing and connected with Avery. ;)

      Best Wishes,

  7. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    On the day 10-year-old Sara Lew’s dad marries Charlotte “Potty Lottie” Stepp, Sara goes from being a favored only child to the only girl in a house full of unruly, red-headed “Stepp” brothers. And when her dad and the new step-monster leave the kids alone to go on their honeymoon, things get particularly bad for Sara. She escapes to the forbidden BookHouse on Sour Grapes Lane, where she meets Randalf the Lizard. He invites her into the spooky house and shows her a magical library full of books with titles she almost recognizes. Randalf tells her she can slip into any book she wants, but she’ll want to choose carefully. The right story can help her with almost any problem.

    Sara’s a little hesitant, at first. She doesn’t see how books like “Hairy Pauper” or “Lord of the Onion Rings” can help her get rid of some unwanted house guests. But, on a particularly bad day with the boys, she flees to the BookHouse and falls into the story of “Alex in Danderland”. Unfortunately she didn’t pick this story and having tea with the Bad Hatter hasn’t given Sara any ideas about how to get back at her new stepbrothers. But, if she listens to what the Cheshire Cat-erpillar has to say, maybe the Queen of Parts can help. Of course, rumors in Danderland warn that dealing for parts with the Queen always comes with a price.

    Sara decides to take her chances. If she can get the right “part” she needs to help her survive life with the Stepps, it might all be worth it. Of course, all the parts in the world won’t matter if she can’t find her way out of one particular storybook.

    My MG/Contemporary Fantasy novel, SARA AND THE STEPPS, is complete at 40,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


    Donea Lee Weaver

    Sara pressed her fingers gingerly against the back screen door and tried to open it as quietly as possible. As she slunk through the smallest opening she could fit through, she raised her eyes to the sky. The sun hovered just above the fields to the east of her house. It was still early and, as far as she could tell, she was the only one awake. Gripping her roller blades in her left hand, it was the last part of her body outside before she turned and closed the screen door behind her with a soft ‘clink’.

    She sat down on the porch to put her blades on. As she started lacing them up, she glared up at the sun and the blue, blue sky. She stuck her tongue out at the fat robins tweeting away in their trees. A tawny cat strolled by, minding its own business, and Sara hissed at it. The poor thing jumped about a mile high and scurried away once it landed on solid ground again. Sara blew out a big, long puff of air and shook her head.
    It was her Dad’s wedding day today. And Sara had wished for thunder and bucket-loads of rain.

    She wobbled up onto her feet and glided over to the garage to fetch her purple street-hockey stick, helmet and safety pads. Sara strapped on her gear and knocked the end of her stick against both her blades. She was in the mood for a serious game today.

    1. Oh gosh, you are making this very hard indeed. I want to say a HUGE big yes to this...BUT...I'm not quite there yet. You have an awesome premise and wonderful skill in writing, but your query reads more like a short synopsis than a pitch. You need to trim it back. As for the writing - again, you have wonderful writing, but by having Sara hiss at the cat and stick her tongue out at the robins, it made me dislike her. I get that she's in a horrible mood, but show a little softness amidst the bad mood, and you'll truly hook the reader.

      I would end up passing this to my agent, but I'd have been SO much more enthusiastic with a little character softening in the opening. If that was done, I'd even ignore the fact your query rambles. I really love this, but it needs some tweaking!

    2. Thank you, Fiona! I really appreciate the feedback. As I was pasting my query in and comparing length to the others here, I KNEW it was too long. I can fix that. :) I also have an idea of how I can soften Sara's character. You're absolutely right, of course - she can still be a spit-fire without so much spit. Thanks, again!

  8. Dear Fiona,

    Below please find my query letter and first 250 words- I look forward to your feedback. Thanks in advance!

    Sandra Feist

    When Emily plunged into the wreckage of a car accident to apply her physician’s training to save a life, a part of her yearned for oblivion that would eradicate the emotional wounds of her husband’s cruelty. Emily’s controlling marriage to her former supervisor had become a daily barrage of belittling comments, punctuated by moments of violence. Instead of finding escape through death, she saves Adam, whose wry humor and palpable sadness provide her with the inspiration to walk away from the repetitive cycles of her life.

    As Adam heals under Emily’s care at Mayo Clinic, the pair finds solace in their mutual darkness. Emily is intrigued by Adam’s straight-edge, vegan ethic and the stories of his career as a musician, in spite of his claiming to have never achieved success. Emily discovers companionship and healing in the music that Adam introduces her to. She falls in love with him, while also finding catharsis through the punk band Cryptix – not realizing that the man and the music are one and the same.

    When Adam finds out that his casual girlfriend, bass player Ruby, is pregnant, he must choose between the intense connection he feels with Emily, and his desire to do right by the unborn child. His own history of neglect by a single mother tortures him. In addition, Adam’s lifelong friendship and artistic collaboration with Vic, his guitar player, hangs in the balance as Adam’s relationship with Emily pulls him in dueling directions.

    Emily must break free of the psychological cages of her life and choose between the known – a successful career set within a bleak, loveless marriage – and the unknown with Adam.

    I am a lifelong fan of punk and rock music, and live in Minnesota where this novel takes place. I was previously signed by ___ on a horror/romance project, which lapsed when I had children. ___ is happy to provide a reference upon request.

    THE DROWNING SONG is a complete work of Women's Fiction at 88,000 words.


    The long tunnel of the past decade receded behind Emily’s car as she drove aimlessly, her destination anywhere but home to Sam. The autumn evening was somber and still as she pulled up to an intersection on the outskirts of town. As she came to a stop, debating her destination, she realized that she wasn’t alone.

    A convertible waited at the light to cross her path. Emily’s gaze locked in on the driver, his dark hair catching the brisk early autumn breeze. She had just an instant to note the way his head tilted against the seat, eyes on the sky, his features a mask of pain, before an SUV plowed into him at full speed.

    The sound of tearing metal ripped through the air, followed by a crescendo of exploding glass as the car’s frame gave way under the intensity of the collision. Emily’s breath escaped her lungs in a painful gasp. She watched, frozen, as the convertible flipped into the air, propelled mercilessly into the mighty oak tree. The moveable object gave way, the car crashing up against the sturdy trunk, a fragile wave exploding against an ancient rock. The car landed upside down, the remaining windows shattering outward into the night.

    Emily remained immobile as the SUV settled upside down at the center of the intersection and glittering shards of glass settled on the concrete. The smoldering guts of both cars spread across the road. Then she was moving, yanking the steering wheel to the right to pull over to the curb.

    1. At first glance, I thought your query looked a little long, however upon reading it felt just right, so I wouldn't change this. Personally, I'm a fan of darker stories and one of the agents I work with does too, so this checked boxes on a personal level. The query is clean, clear and strong, and gives a very good account of your book. Obviously, the agent referral works too.

      As for the writing - Again, starting in a car scene would have initially put me off (reference Donald Maas' book Writing The Breakout Novel, which talks about tea scenes - scenes that lack conflict). However, you also turned this on its head too, that made me sit up and pay attention to a reader who obviously knows their craft.

      The only thing that made me pause was that the voice felt a little generic. I couldn't quite connect with the character in the way that I would have wanted to, given that it had a reported feel. That said, the technical writing is sound, the query good, and the premise intriguing.

      I'd have this on my "wait" list. I'd run it by another intern and pass it on to my agent. However, I would like to see a little more use of emotional filters in the opening in order to bring me closer to your character and to pull me into the scene more fully.

    2. Thank you so much for your feedback! I have struggled with the opening scene, which initially began AFTER my MC had just been hit by her husband after a fight. The emotional resonance worked, but the paragraphs of exposition/internal thoughts felt like a weak intro to the story. I'll consider ways to create a more immediate connection with the MC. Thanks so much for your feedback!

  9. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    Thanks to a botched spell, sixteen-year-old Jane Fisher holds the key to her kingdom. Her locket controls a young wizard whose mysterious heritage could tip the scales of power between Gael’s Magical and Mundane communities, in whichever direction the necklace’s owner chooses. Madame Viola Grandosia, the High Sorceress to the Emperor of Gael wants to be that owner. But she can’t, not while Jane’s alive. So she tricks her into performing the deadly ritual of painting the stars. Except, her ritual doesn’t kill Jane. Instead, it steals a piece of her each time she performs it, creating living, breathing stars that take the shape of glimmering nymphs.

    Jane won’t surrender her locket willingly, not if it means someone could control this wizard. She feels an intense draw toward him, and not just because the locket flutters at her throat whenever he’s near. She wants to protect the piece of him trapped inside it, or better yet, put him back together, but the only way to free him from the locket is to first find and reclaim the missing pieces of herself.

    There’s just one problem. Her stars are fading, returning to the cold and lonely of the night sky. And once they do, Jane’s voice, vision, and memories will be lost forever. She’ll never be whole again, and neither will the wizard. So with his help, she races across Gael to save her stars before it’s too late. But she’s not the only one hunting them. Madame Grandosia still thirsts for the locket, and she’ll stop at nothing until it’s hers.

    WHERE ALL THE MISSING PIECES GO is a YA Fantasy complete at 78,000 words that will appeal to teens who enjoyed the whimsy of Alethea Kontis’ Enchanted, the quiet determination of Neryn in Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell series, or the vibrant world building of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.

    The first page is pasted below, and the full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Christine L. Arnold

    Waiting in front of Lord and Lady Crocket’s dining room, I could only think of one possible explanation for why I’d been summoned. They were kicking me out.

    Mrs. Cowl had her hands clasped behind her back as she stood beside me staring at the doors. Sunlight flickered down through the glass ceiling, casting a rainbow across her gray-streaked bun. She didn’t have to be here, waiting with me. I knew she had a million other head-housekeeper-duties she could be doing instead. So she probably knew.

    I tilted my head back, wincing at the sunlight refracting across the roof. I’d lived here my whole life. This was my home.

    The footman appeared from behind the door and held it open for me. “Her Ladyship will see you now.”

    After one last glance at Mrs. Cowl, I stepped inside and squinted. Of all the airy rooms of the solarium, this had always been my favorite. Arching stained-glass windows lined the outside wall, their sun-warmed scenes drenching the parquet. Combined with the glass ceiling, it sometimes felt like I was standing inside a kaleidoscope.

    They were all at the table. Lord Crocket was reading the paper, Lady Crocket was swirling a biscotti in her coffee. Only Sari and Stella looked up as I approached.

    “The city’s petition to ban Magicals was denied,” Lord Crocket said, shaking out his paper and turning the page.

    Lady Crocket hummed. “Well I suppose that’s what happens when your Emperor is married to one.”

    “Apparently, Her Imperial Majesty has decided to host some sort of peace rally instead. Here. In Picadell.”

    1. This goes on my YES! pile. I love this. Strong query, strong writing and a fab hook. Definitely would get passed over to the agent. I actually really like your title, but I instantly thought of another while reading your query (this is a good thing as it means I got invested very quickly in your plot). I read the phrase "painting the stars" and thought that might be a good alternative. Saying that, your existing title is also very good.

      A great example of a solid query and writing to match!

    2. Oh wow, thank you so much! And I do like your title suggestion. So funny that after all these times writing that phrase, I actually never thought to use it as a title! Thanks so much for the feedback. I guess this means it's ready to start trying out for real :-)

  10. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    Lily Wilson was convinced she was going somewhere south when she passed on, and she didn’t think it was going to be half as nice as Tampa.
    Lily along with her twin sister, Lola, spent their days training service dogs for their clients. It was just a bad coincidence that Lily’s latest client, a grumpy, rude, vulgar man was murdered. Lily was almost positive it had nothing to do with her drinking two glasses of wine before bed and mentioning him in her prayers.

    When Lily realizes she’s the prime and only suspect, she unknowingly puts herself and those closest to her in the path of a desperate killer. Lilly will have to protect her loved ones, stop a killer, and clear her spotless record before Detective Sorrentino locks her up.

    DOGGEDLY DEVOTED – A Service Dog Mystery is a 75,000 word cozy mystery available upon request.

    Thank you for your time.


    Holly D

    I had the uneasy feeling that I was headed south upon my passing. It had me wondering if there was such a thing as SPF one billion. In hindsight that third glass of Cabernet Sauvignon before bed might not have been such a good idea. This morning I woke with a Mount Everest sized headache. According to my sister I went to bed asking God for a favor and muttering something about my client, Anthony Goldman.

    I was mortified to admit that I really, truly disliked him. Hence the reason for my growing concern regarding where I might be spending eternity. As I looked down at him, sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood, I was almost positive this wasn’t the type of assistance I’d been asking for.

    With Bear, the service dog I’d trained for Mr. Goldman glued to my side growling, I attempted to answer the 911 operator’s questions as best I could. My name, phone number, and the address of where the emergency was occurring were easy enough. After that the questions got a little trickier. The nice lady on the other end of the phone promised me that help was on its way. Sadly it would arrive much too late for Mr. Goldman.

    Sirens and flashing lights announced the promised help had arrived. A blonde woman in a police uniform was the first to enter. She was followed by two men in paramedic uniforms. I thanked the operator and hung up.

    1. I like your concept here, but overall it'd have to be a no for me. Despite the good concept (I like your premise a lot, btw), there were a couple of issues.

      Query - for the most part the query is strong, but the opening line made me think she had already died and this was going to be a "what happens when you're dead" book, before I realized it wasn't. Other than that, I thought your query worked pretty well.

      Writing - There was an inconsistency between your query and your opening pages. In the query you say she had two glasses of wine before bed. In the pages, you say three. Make sure your details are consistent so that an agent knows you are a conscientious writer. Secondly, I think you could delve into this and make it an active scene, as opposed to just narrative. That way, you'll pull the reader into your scene. With plain narrative, it distances your reader.

      Overall - you have a good, strong idea here, but I'd have said no based on the reasons above. It's nothing you can't fix up though!

  11. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    Random music appears out of thin air when 16-year-old Leila is upset. Her best friend Dane channels nightmares and hears what other people aren’t saying. It’s all brand new and pretty freaking weird. Before they can make sense of it, Dane’s mother is kidnapped in an attack they barely escape themselves. Now they’re being hunted and don’t know why. To survive, they must figure out what connects them, their families, and their talents to the bad guys. Peeling back the sheltered surface of their lives, they discover they’re part of a history of murder and radical science. They’re also pawns in a bitter feud that spans many years and two continents - and just reignited.

    Leila and Dane flee from a snowy Minnesota farmhouse to Peru’s ancient ruins, where they think they'll find Dane's mother. They have only 48 hours to rescue her, or the next piece of the kidnappers' plot will unfold, killing them and hundreds more. But they can’t do anything until they escape from a prehistoric aqueduct – and trigger Leila’s most powerful talent.

    EXQUISITE SENSES, a YA Speculative Thriller, is complete at 80,000 words. It’s got the science-y extra sensory talents of V. E. Schwab’s adult thriller VICIOUS and the CW channel’s TOMORROW PEOPLE, with a dual POV and a tiny bit of Peruvian mysticism.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Heather Murphy Capps

    I closed my locker door, maybe a little harder than necessary. I was abysmally late for class, and really, all I wanted was just to go home. Then, because life apparently didn’t suck enough yet, the worst mistake of my life slithered up behind me.

    Acid humiliation bloomed in my stomach and lashed my cheeks with its ugly heat. I silently pleaded with him. I can’t. I can’t face you yet.

    The hall was empty – I had nowhere to hide.


    I turned. And in that brief, miserable sigh of a moment, the song came roaring back. Shocking, loud, filling all the space between us, and coming out of nowhere. The same song that blasted me when I was crying in the shower this morning. The one about fire and burning and tears.

    Antonio stared at the PA speakers and then into my locker. The notes pulsed with rage; the tiled floor vibrated under my feet, sending shockwaves of rhythm and keening fury up my spine. I recoiled violently.

    “Where’s that coming from? You got your speakers in here now?” He shouted above the din.

    I exhaled like I’d been punched, and the song cut off abruptly, leaving behind an uneasy quiet.

    Antonio, wild eyed, looked around my head, down the hall toward the open gym door, then finally back at me. I remained silent, my gaze deliberately expressionless. No way I’d let him see I was wigged out by the music too.

    1. I like the music twist. It's an intriguing concept. However, your query feels vague and too mysterious. There needs to be more concrete detail in order for me to really be hooked. I do like the setting of Peru though. However, I think you need to give a touch more detail to your query in order to stop it feeling generic.

      Writing - for me, the woe is me character is hard to connect to. There are a lot of books out there that have depressed characters at the start and those are hard for the reader to care about unless they have something to root for. You need to give the reader something to care about for the character before they hit that really low moment, IMO.

      This would, unfortunately, have been a no for me.

    2. Thank you so much for this - I appreciate it. I've really struggled with this query - just can't get the blasted thing to work. Maybe this is the nudge I need to clean it up.
      Connecting to the character has also been a struggle. Not sure how to give something about her to root for? Would it be to bring out another of her characteristics before the scene that brings out the upset/music thing?
      Again - thank you for your time and this incredibly valuable help.

  12. Dear Fiona,

    I’m writing to seek representation for my debut novel, BLOOD REIGN, a YA Fantasy of 78,000 words. This novel is an ALICE IN WONDERLAND retelling set in a medieval world. This is a standalone book with a series potential.

    Seventeen-year-old Alice never considered herself the suicidal type. Until she was cornered between her mother's killers and a five-hundred-foot drop. Rather than facing the killers' dark plans for her, Alice jumps.

    Instead of dying, Alice wakes up on a violent battlefield where men in metal armour are killing off peasants. Terrified, Alice flees from the battle but only to meet an old seer who believes Alice will save this world from the evil queen’s reign and her royal army.

    To protect herself from men preying on women, Alice disguises herself as a man and sets out on a journey to find a witch who can bring her back to her world. Aided by a gorgeous runaway slave and a physician, Alice must wade through the ongoing war between the monarch and rebels to find the witch--even if it means killing people to get home.

    I’m a recent accounting graduate and this is my debut novel.

    The world plunged into darkness, save for the target in front of me. I stalked my opponent, eyeing him from behind my mask. My ragged breathing was amplified inside this prison suit, drowning the outside noise. The suit was supposed to protect me, yet it served to protect him from me.

    Strike him. Make him bleed.

    I ignored the dark thoughts inside my head as I lunged forward, stabbing the blade toward his heart. The hall exploded with cheers as blood-rush sang wildly in my ears. Adrenaline slithered through my veins, echoing the sweet, sharp metallic twangs of clashing swords.

    “15-8! Southampton college- champion of regional games!” the speakers blared into the screaming crowd. And just like that, it was over.

    My jaw ticked with irritation. It was too quick. I should’ve stalled a bit more rather than lunging toward him like a homicidal maniac.

    I clenched my fist on the sabre, curbing myself from giving in to the roaring hunger. My opponent grabbed his mask and yanked it off. Sweat streamed down his face, his skin flushed.

    "Good game! Man, you're one tough badass." He saluted me with his sabre.
    "Duh, our captain's the best!" My classmate Leona flanked my side immediately, jumping with excitement, knowing she won the bet. I pulled my mask off, my blond hair escaped from the hairband and tumbled down my back in long waves. My opponent gaped at me.
    "You're a girl?" he spluttered.
    I raised my eyebrow at his remark.

    1. This is an almost for me, but I don't think it would quite get through to my agent. The query is good, but I'd like to know why her mother is killed and how your character finds herself in this situation. It jumps too readily into the action and a little bit more detail would help hook me more.

      As for the writing, I *love* the ending of this excerpt but the start of it felt forced, as if it was about throwing the reader into the "fake" action just to get a hook. I think you could tone that down a bit.

      The good news is that these are easy fixes! Almost there, but not quite.

    2. Thanks, Fiona! I actually received the same feedback from other person so I might need to take a step back and re-consider my opening scene.People complained my opening scene in the original draft was slow hece why I tried to change it. I need to find the perfect balance. Will re-write and post it when I'm done.
      Thank you for steering me to a right direction :)

    3. I made some changes. Can you tell me if I'm getting there or am I still lost?

      I’ve been fighting with a sabre since I was eight. It was the only way to feel alive; to feel the blood running in my veins. I stalked my prey, eyeing him from behind my mask. My ragged breathing was amplified inside this prison suit, drowning the outside noise. The suit was supposed to protect me, yet it served to protect him from me.

      Strike him. Make him bleed.

      Ignoring the demon whispering inside my head, I lunged forward stabbing the blade toward his heart. The hall exploded with cheers as blood-rush sang wildly in my ears. Adrenaline slithered through my veins, echoing the sweet, sharp metallic twangs of clashing swords.

      “15-8! Southampton college- champion of regional games!” the speakers blared into the screaming crowd. And just like that, it was over.

      I pulled back, my jaw ticked with irritation. It was too quick. I should’ve stalled a bit more rather than lunging toward him like a homicidal maniac.

      I clenched my fist on the sabre, curbing myself from giving in to the roaring hunger. My opponent grabbed his mask and yanked it off. Sweat streamed down his face, his skin flushed.
      "Good game! Man, you're one tough badass." He saluted me with his sabre.

      "Duh, our captain's the best!" My classmate Leona flanked my side immediately, jumping with excitement, knowing she won the bet. I pulled my mask off, my blond hair escaped from the hairband and tumbled down my back in long waves. My opponent gaped at me.

      "You're a girl?" he spluttered.

    4. Yup, this does the trick! Nice job and now I want to read more!

    5. *sheepish* I also revised it again. Trying to find the perfect opening. I'm not sure which one is best:

      I’ve been fighting with a sabre since I was eight. It was the only way to feel alive; to feel the blood running in my veins. I stalked my prey, eyeing him from behind my mask. My ragged breathing was amplified inside this white prison suit, drowning the outside noise. The suit was supposed to protect me, yet it served to protect him from me.

      Strike him. Make him bleed.

      Ignoring the demon whispering inside my head, I lunged forward stabbing the blade toward his heart. And just like that, it was over. My opponent grabbed his mask and yanked it off. Sweat streamed down his face, his skin flushed.

      “How did you do that? I couldn’t even land one point on you.” He shook his head.

      “Do you really think you can beat our captain, new boy?” Jem smirked as he flanked me with my towel in his hand.

      I pulled my mask off, my blond hair escaped from the hairband and tumbled down my back in long waves. The noises in the sports hall immediately flooded into my ears and cold air kissed my flushed skin. I grabbed the towel and wiped my face, before slinging it around my neck. New boy gaped at me.

      “You’re a girl?” he spluttered.

      I raised my eyebrow at his remark. Ah, newcomer. I guess he didn’t know. The boys around me laughed, enjoying the newcomer’s confusion.

      “I happen to be.” I shrugged.
      “Man, I thought you were a dude! You’re tall and has no boob--I mean, you’re quite muscular,” he amended hastily.

    6. Personally, I prefer the one before this. But remember, opinions are always subjective. :-)

  13. Dear Fiona McLaren,

    I'm submitting to you because you are a perfect fit for a critique!

    Fourteen-year-old Elliot receives a serious wound by a creature in the woods, his soul is trapped with magic used by the guilt-ridden beast…allowing the young boy to live. Now, he is caged within the monster, riding along witnessing everything it does. Thanks, but no thanks. He yearns to talk to his best friend, Haimee “Hammer” Abbitt, hoping she can help him escape. But he doesn’t know how to approach her without scaring her. Despite existing within another living being, he feels completely alone.

    Elliot discovers he can turn invisible and control his new body while the beast sleeps. He sets out to communicate with Hammer via notebook. At first, she thinks he’s a ghost and accepts him back into her life. But the fiend discovers their companionship and threatens to hurt Hammer if she doesn’t go away. Elliot thinks the enraged beast is the worst of his problems, until Hammer’s father commits her to an asylum for believing in monsters. Elliot must face his biggest fear and befriend the evil creature to save her, or he may never see Hammer again and be stuck inside the beast for eternity.

    Complete at 54,000 words, BEAST is a YA fairytale retelling with series potential. I studied literature at John A Logan College and live in Southern Illinois where the story takes place. Per submission guidelines, I have included the first 250 words following my query. I thank you for your valuable time and consideration.

    P. D. Pabst

    Death waited to seize the careless, I’d heard Mom say a thousand times because my dad had died from falling off a roof after dancing and singing to show off for her. I was a baby and don’t remember anything. But thanks to my dear old Pop, Mom kept me imprisoned in my own home…most days anyway. “Don’t ride your bike fast. It’ll tip over and your skull will bust open on a rock,” she’d said, as if she kept boulders in our yard. “Don’t stand on that table. Don’t sing with food in your mouth. Don’t run. Don’t jump. Don’t walk. Don’t climb. Don’t, don’t, don’t,” she’d said all my life because everything had dire consequences…in Mom’s mind.

    School should’ve been an escape for me, but she often used lame excuses and popped in to check on me. I had become the school’s joke. But at least Joey had outgrown stuffing me into lockers. In high school, he resorted to calling me names and embarrassing me in front of everyone, often threatening to fight me. But he was always sniffing up some girls butt after school, so I’d escape.

    Saturdays were the best because Mom slept until about noon from working double shifts for extra cash on Fridays.

    My legs slid out the opening of my window, to avoid the squeaky floorboards in front of Mom’s door. My feet hit the dewy grass when the loose window frame squealed shut. I froze. Waited. No sound came from the warden’s room. Phew! I exhaled and sprinted toward Arrowhead Lake.

    1. This is quite a close "almost" for me, but it would have sadly become a no. Your query is good and intriguing (I love the concept and the quirky nature of your story) but the punctuation in your opening sentence is incorrect and this warns agents that you might be careless in your ms, so I'd polish that up. Also, I don't quite understand why the beast is guilt ridden. You might want to clarify that, as at the moment all I can see is an angry beast.

      As for the writing - you have such a unique premise with the character of the mum. This really caught my eye. However, the reported feel of the narrative turned me off. I'd love to see these things with the mum come out in an active scene. Show your MC dealing with this situation in the active and it'll get the reader to really root for him.

    2. This was a quick (and 3rd) rewrite of the opening per another slushies feedback (not what I subbed to Pitchmadness). I'll clean up the opening and make it active instead of narrative. Thanks so much! You are the best-est-est!

  14. Query:

    Dear Agent,

    Coree is a normal girl, attending college near her family then everything changes. Madness sweeps the Earth and she is taken up by the alien Imani for a short life of drugs, experiments, and pain. While the Imani learn about her, she learns about them. She discovers their genetic code and the knowledge of how to use it against them, but before she can, they toss her off their ship onto the mountainside.

    Miraculously, she survives and wakes with new elemental magic, strange tattoos and no memory of how she got there. Coree stumbles upon Fost, the Imani’s ancient enemy and her reluctant host. But the Imani don’t like unforeseen outcomes. Coree needs to die along with anyone sheltering her.

    To save the people she has grown to love, Coree must master her new powers and above all, she needs to remember…

    REMEMBER is complete at 68,000 words. It is a Young Adult Science Fiction with Romantic elements, think MOMENTO meets LOST IN SPACE. This is my first novel.

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

    First 250:

    White eyes stared at me through amber glass, Imani eyes. Xade tapped on the surface and the barrier retracted, freeing me from my pallet. He smiled. “Coree…”

    I scrambled up and stood at attention before him. Fear slid through me. Personal attention was never good. What does he want?

    “Follow.” For an evil bastard, his voice had a commanding quality that was hard to resist. Xade turned and entered the hallway, certain of my compliance.

    I scurried to catch up, smoothing my uniform. We exited the passageway onto the open deck of a translucent airship.

    Stunned, I gazed around the landscape. I’d only ever been in the labs. The ship hovered near a mountainside, the peaks so close I saw animals scurrying in the bushes. The vessel floated in the wind and a faint breeze blew my collar up to brush my face. Daylight beat down on the deck, which pulsed with scattered red lights. My face tilted toward the sun.

    With a loud clatter, Xade tossed a blade to the floor in front of me.

    I jumped at the noise and turned to look at him, body tense.

    "You think you can kill us?" He curled his lip in contempt and laughed in that empty way, so common to his race, no real mirth in the sound.

    His words registered and I froze. He knew, somehow, he knew. I crouched and grabbed the knife, waiting for the catch. There was no way he armed me for a fair fight.

    1. This one would be a no for me. The query made me think this was going to start with a girl at college and then show the resulting aftermath of an invasion, but then when I got to the story, it jumped straight into a spaceship. That means you need to alter your query to reflect how your book begins, as your projected inciting incident in the query isn't the same one within the book itself. Also, the query also left me wondering about where her family is, why she's fighting for a new love and not all the people she had in her life before - are they dead, trapped, what?

      As for the writing - some nice writing in here and some good voice in places. I'd have like to have seen the world descriptions a little more fleshed out, as it felt a little generic. In sci-fi you can afford to be a little more liberal with your world building. I'd assumed by the query that this was all new to her, but the writing feels as though she'd been there a while.

      Too many contradicting elements between query and pages for me. Sorry!

    2. Thanks for the feedback. I have been struggling with the query and hopefully can make more clear.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Dear Agent

    Hunt. Survive. Outlive them. Whatever the cost may be.

    Born within the confines of The Nest, 17-year-old Nika has only heard rumors of the world outside. A world ravaged decades ago by a mysterious cure, first created to grant mankind their ultimate wish - immortality. A cure that made people stronger, faster and smarter - capable of living incredibly long lives. Until their brains started to shut down. Until as they started feeding on others.

    Now feeders rule the earth and what’s left of the human race hide out behind their Wall, where they lead a bleak impression of the lives they once had. But as breaches against The Wall gets more serious, Nika is forced to leave behind the only home she has ever known, to travel to the Core where she will be enlisted in an army of nightfighters. Soldiers trained for the sole purpose of scavenging through the world outside.

    In the face of politics, lies and deceit, Nika must fight to stay true to her beliefs and most importantly, her sense of humanity. For in this world, survival is no longer about enduring. It’s about being prepared to take the most ruthless action in order to stay alive.
    Another Day is a blend of Ann Aguirre’s Enclave and Veronica Roth’s Divergent and although it is the first part of a trilogy, it stands alone.

    First 250:

    I swing my leg onto a branch and stare out at the world as I always do when I'm bored. It is beautiful from this angle, pure and green and radiant. I can see the blush of flowers, the eternal plains filled with rice plantations, the tiled roofs of numerous shacks; a number larger than I can count.
    From this angle, the earth seems peaceful and content. It doesn't look like a place that is dangerous. It doesn't look like a place with the feeders.
    They say that once upon a time the world didn't have any feeders. That before, the entire world spread out for miles and miles in every direction, that there were buildings that towered over us; made from materials I have only seen in dreams. There were vehicles that moved through the air, the sky, and the oceans. There was a time the Earth was safe.
    Too bad it all changed.
    I remember that faraway look in mother’s eyes every time she talked about the world before The Cure spread. You could buy whatever you wanted, she would say wistfully, as long as you had a currency called money. You didn't have to wait for the end of the month to collect coupons for soap or toothpaste. You could buy whatever you wanted, in whatever quantity!
    But then The Cure came, she would say, and I can still remember the way her face would grow smaller like it was physically shrivelling away. When a mysterious scientist developed a cure that only made people worse. A cure that poisoned their mind. A cure that made them hungry.
    ‘And they were never the same again, were they mommy?’ I would ask, just to watch in fascination as her face grew sober, her wrinkles more pronounced.

    1. This is a really hard one. Basically, there has been an overflow of zombie books lately, and this one doesn't have a fresh enough twist in order to stand out in the market. That is such a shame to say, as you otherwise have a strong query. It's simply the premise that doesn't hold up for me.

      You're a strong writer, but I would recommend that you don't start with so much back story. Back story should be peppered into a story like fine seasoning, as opposed to being all lumped in at the start. If you can start at an active scene and work in the back story as you go, this would work much better.

      There's something about your writing I really like, but the hard genre without a unique enough twist and the back story in the writing would turn this into a no for me.

    2. Wow, thanks that was really incredibly helpful! I've been sending this out but not getting a lot of interest, and now I guess I know why! I guess its back to the drawing board for me. But thanks so much for the critique.

  17. Dear Ms. McLaren

    Sixteen-year-old Adam Shelley doesn’t believe in demons—until the night one dangles his guts from the oaks like Spanish moss.

    He survives. But his humanity pays the price.

    When his mama, a disgraced alchemist, uses a Philosopher’s Stone to save him, Adam’s transformed into a white-haired Immortal with mismatched eyes and fangs. Fangs! He’s gonna stand out like a gaping sore on the face of his tiny Georgia shrimping town. Even worse, his resurrection lands him on the hot seat of the Immortal Council—the powers-that-be of the spirit world. While the Philosopher’s Stone grants humans eternal life, it’s kryptonite to their kind. They grant Adam one-thousand days to surrender the stone to them or suffer eternal confinement in Hell.

    Not a problem … except the stone and Adam’s mama have both been missing since Adam’s rebirth. Hated in the spirit world and shunned on earth, he just wants to play basketball and make-out with his girlfriend like a normal teenager. Instead, Adam must find the stone and his mama to save his soul. If he gets the chance to stick it to the demon who ripped out his guts, that’s an added bonus.

    THE BOOK OF ADAM: DESCENT is a YA contemporary fantasy novel, complete at 110,000 words. The coming-of-age story of Smallville meets a mystical southern saga like Beautiful Creatures.

    Thank you for your time and consideration,

    Ashley Hearn

    Mom propped the porch doors open, coaxing a warm, Georgia marsh breeze into the kitchen, but the floor still smelled like cat piss.

    “Mama!” I scowled as I watched her, crouched on her hands and knees. She slopped a rag into a basin filled with water and concentrated oils—the source of the stench. “Why you gotta do that while I’m trying to eat?”

    “It has to be done before sunrise.” She chased a loose strand of dark hair into her ponytail. “For protection.”

    I crammed a buttered biscuit down my throat. By ‘protection,’ she meant ‘to strengthen the creaky old house’s barrier against evil spirits’—a load of crap that reeked worse than the floor scrub. I was sixteen-years-old, for cryin’ out loud. Too old to believe the stories had a morsel of truth to them, but part of the territory in living with my conjure-woman nana, a Saltwater Geechee old as the oak in the front yard.

    Nana sat across the breakfast table from me, two red flannel squares unfurled before her. Nathan hovered over her shawl-covered shoulders so close, her headscarf rippled as his breath caught the ribbons. Typical Nate. Always the gullible one.

    She wasn’t my nana by blood, but Mom, my younger brother, Nathan, and I had lived with her for ten years. Mom handled the bookkeeping for the curio shop they ran out of the kitchen-converted-store behind the house. Votive candles, packaged spells, essential oils, and floor washes. Roots were her specialty.

    1. Almost. I read your query twice, just to get it straight in my head. I think you could trim out a couple of the voice-y sentences. The majority of the query sounds straight forward and the voice-y sentences jar. Some voice in a query works, others don't. This is one that doesn't work, IMO. Other than that, I get a clear idea of your concept. It's an interesting one.

      As for the writing - I'm undecided, and this is why I'm wavering. There is a unique slant to your writing that appeals to me, but it feels a little overblown, as if too much is forced into each sentence. I'd have kept this as an almost, but if my inbox was super full it'd be in danger of becoming a no if something better in the same genre came in.

    2. Thank you so much Fiona. I'm glad the concept interests you—and that it was clear! Clearly conveying the premise via query felt like trying to fit into a pair of Spanx.

      I'm in the throws of editing right now, so your advise is gold. I only just decided to re-write in first person. It's fun, and definitely the right move for the piece, but my brain still wants to write in third sometimes.



  18. Dear Fiona McLaren,

    The week Becca Sanchez discovers Uncle Don is a total whack-job begins with a moving van and ends in handcuffs. First, her creepy history teacher moves in next door. And then her uncle tries to stake him. That’s right, stake. As in vampire.

    But when a student goes missing, Becca starts to wonder if maybe crazy Uncle Don isn’t so crazy after all. She investigates and finds a freezer full of blood bags in the teacher’s basement. She and her uncle team up to stop him.

    Everything is going to plan … until she discovers proof her teacher isn’t a vampire after all. Because that’s ridiculous. This is real life, and vampires aren’t real. Now Becca has to save her teacher from a stake to the chest and her uncle from sixty to life.

    Dracula meets Don Quixote, AT STAKE is a stand-alone YA novel of 60,000 words.

    I have no previous publishing credits. Yet. I attend several conferences and workshops each year, as well as a weekly critique circle. My first novel was a finalist in the 2012 James River Writers Best Unpublished Novel Contest.

    Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to working with you.

    -Shawn Snider

    FIRST 250

    “Whoa, do you see that?” Rebecca Sanchez pointed at the overgrown estate at the end of the lane. “Someone’s moving into the haunted house.”

    “You’re kidding,” Drew said.

    “No, really. There’s a moving van in the driveway.”


    The automatic garage door started rattling up behind her. Her uncle ducked beneath the still-rising door and rolled his motorcycle out onto the driveway. It was army green and looked like a World War II relic. He’d rebuilt the engine himself. A battered old helmet hung on the handlebars. He’d had to duct tape the visor into place.

    Inside the garage was a rumpled bed, an overflowing laundry basket, and a bookshelf. He’d been living there for a few weeks. Until he got his feet under him, Mom had insisted to Dad. Rebecca didn’t mind. He was cool. That bookshelf was full of awesome books: Vampire Academy. The Morganville Vampires. Dracula. Even some Ann Rice and Laurel K Hamilton, novels Mom frowned at. And he’d let her borrow any of them she wanted.

    “Hey, Uncle Don!” she said.

    “Hey, Becca.” The smile he forced was a stiff, pitiful little thing.

    He swung his leg over the seat and stomped his combat boot on the kickstart. The engine coughed once, and died.

    “Where are you off to?” she asked.

    “Nowhere in particular. Just out for a ride.” He fiddled with something down around the engine and tried to start it again.

    She waited for the noise to fade. “Can I come?”

    1. Oh this caught my eye. I love the twist in your query that this isn't a vampire novel. From the query, I'm assuming a satire feel to the book, so hopefully that was what you were aiming for!

      As for the excerpt - good writing but could be stronger. The sentences feel a little choppy so I'd like to see these ironed out. I like the inciting incident of someone moving into the strange house played up a little more. Just a touch longer on the focus of that would deepen the hook.

      This would be on my "wait" list. I like it, and I'd be hoping this is a satire. I would like the writing to be a bit more smooth though, so I'd spend time considering this one.

  19. War is coming. And there is no right side.
    In the kingdom of Alikid, diggers are hunted by royals – the ruthless, beautiful rulers of the land who are born with the ability to kill. Tierra and her boyfriend Tank are part of a rebel movement that grows underneath, in a myriad of hidden caves and carved tunnels. After years of hostility, a ruthless decision is made by the rebels, a plan set into motion. But when Tierra saves a royal being hunted from his own people, there is no going back.
    Skyler is stubborn, condescending and an elite warrior, belonging to the highest echelons of power. As she learns more about his life, Tierra must admit that the world is not as black and white as it seems. To discover the truth and stop a war, she may have to do what no digger has ever done before. She may have to trust the royal.
    Element is a high fantasy YA novel, complete at 80,000 words and will appeal to readers who enjoy world building like that of 'The Last Airbender'.

    First 250:

    I watch her from afar as she is so beautiful that my chest hurts. Beautiful and ruthless and cold.
    She walks with a proud stance, unafraid, the train of her red cape dragging on behind her. Her hair is black as a raven, her skin unflawed, her lips shaped like a perfect heart, curled into a smile. I would have found her beautiful even if she wasn't trying to kill me.
    “Come out little diggers.” She calls, her voice sweeping over me in a way that makes the hair at the back of my neck stand. “Don’t you want to play?”
    I shoot a quick glance at Chet, partially hidden under the shrubbery and bite my lip to keep it from quivering. If anyone here is going to give us away, it’s boisterous, clumsy Chet, curled into a ball as though that is enough to keep him safe. His eyes meet mine as they are as terrified as they are blue.
    I sense the distinct rustling of trees and a moment later flamers emerge into my line of sight. I count 6 of flamers in all – the royal guards, carrying carved metal spears that throw fire – the kind I would kill to have. Like they really need it. Like they need anything more than the weapon they carry through their very blood.
    “I know you’re out there.” She calls, and her voice is growing colder now, angrier. She doesn't like the fact that she hasn't caught any of us yet. “Maybe if you come out now, I’ll choose to be merciful.”
    Mercy from a royal. I shudder involuntarily.

    1. This is a very strong maybe for me. You have a solid query letter, solid writing, and the unusual quirk about the royals being born with the ability to kill is intriguing. This is very high fantasy so perfect for your target market - it is evident that you know your genre well!

      The only reason this is a high maybe and not a definite yes is because the quirk about the royals being able to kill isn't a strong enough hook in the query to pull me in. Could you spend a sentence elaborating on this quirk? Show how important it is to the plot. This is your unique feature, the one that pulls it out and stands your work separate from all the other high fantasy in the slush pile. Without doing this, it becomes a very good high fantasy but lacks that extra little WOW that would make me vie to request it. Play up your unique angle some more and you'd have me as a straight yes.

    2. I've been feeling like the query was missing something but was unable to figure out what that was! Now I can go back and polish my ms. Thanks so much for the incredible critique, it really helps!

  20. Fiona,
    Thank you so much for the critique!


    Thirteen-year-old Andy Collins’s genius plan to get Sarah Watson to notice him has hit a massive speed bump.

    After following Sarah to a mysterious environmental school, Andy wonders what he’s gotten himself into. He can deal with gross food, rhino rampages, and the smarmy, capri-wearing, arm-flapping school president. Even with his epic homesickness, Andy’s still willing to do anything to get close to Sarah.

    But when the final project is announced, Andy’s pretty sure he should draw the line at changing into a wild animal.

    Then a saboteur claims the transformation program is dangerous. Threatening messages appear and two students vanish. Andy’s ready to take the next ferry out of crazytown, but Sarah wants his help. He must decide: do the easy thing and leave, or stay and trade in his skin for a fine coat of fur.

    THE TRANSFORMATION PROJECT is an upper middle grade fantasy novel complete at 54,000 words.

    {Bio inserted here}

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Carmen Erickson

    FIRST 250:

    Had I known that joining the eco team was going to mean I’d leave my human life behind and turn into an endangered animal, I would’ve kissed Sarah Watson first. Because obviously I wouldn’t be able to do that once I was a lion.

    My best friend, Bennett Henley, had his doubts about the eco team. He groaned and slumped against his locker. “Andy, they meet every Tuesday morning before school.” Wrinkles formed on the bridge of his nose and his eyebrows flattened. “Do you really want to get up that early just to learn about plants and stuff?”

    “It’s all part of my master plan to be near Sarah,” I reminded him.

    I’d been crushing on her since second grade, but I’d never done anything about it. Now I had a strategy. By doing the things Sarah was interested in, I could get closer to her. Worst case scenario…we’d hang out by default. What could possibly go wrong?

    “Fine.” Bennett pushed his locker shut, and the sound echoed throughout the nearly empty halls of Croswell Middle School. “If you really want to join, then I’ll do it too.”

    Deep down, I knew he was mostly offering to help me get closer to Sarah. But Bennett was also super driven. He’d already joined about ten sports/clubs—something about it looking good on college applications—even though we were only in seventh grade. Personally, I didn’t normally believe in extracurricular activities. They took time away from Xbox.

    1. This is another tough one. I like the writing, but it feels more YA to me than upper MG. Some of the words used are more in keeping with a YA novel than an MG one. I also think your opening paragraph is better without the last line. There's a small lack of confidence in the writing that would turn me off from requesting.

      As for the query - while you give a good indication of the choices the character has to make, it doesn't come across strongly enough that the MC would choose the harder option. I also can't see why adults wouldn't be involved in solving the missing students problem. I know that sounds annoying, but a good MG or YA novel needs to explore the option of why adults can't solve this issue, and with missing students I am wondering why this is.

      I'm sorry, but this would have been a no from me.

  21. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    11-year-old Jackson Solis lost both his legs when he and his bicycle tangled with a fast-moving SUV. His dad, a high-ranking Army colonel, convinced him to be a test case for new, state-of-the-art, experimental bionic legs. They’re faster and stronger than his old legs, but he hates them. Hates them! Because now he’s a freak-boy, different from everyone else, not even able to play football at recess because if he did, he’d outrun everyone. Basically, he’s useless. The only fun moment he’s had in the last 6 months was deciding to name his legs “Steve” and “Austin”, after the star of an old TV show about a bionic man.

    Then Jackson accidentally discovers something that could destroy his dad’s career - and life as he knows it. Someone’s sabotaging the Army’s new, top-secret, helicopter spy technology. If the tech is destroyed, his dad will be disgraced and maybe they would even have to move to a new Army post. He’d lose his best friend and everything he has left that’s normal, which he just couldn’t deal with. So, Jackson decides to investigate. He’s sure he can find out who’s behind the trouble – and when he does, he wants to catch him. After all, no one else can chase a bad guy faster than the kid with bionic legs, right? Maybe he’s not so useless after all.

    STEVE AND AUSTIN, an MG Speculative Adventure, is complete at 40,000 words. Its fast-paced narrative will appeal to fans of Tony Abbot’s THE COPERNICUS LEGACY series and anyone who’s seen reruns of The Six Million Dollar Man.

    This is my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    First 250:

    Back when I was in second grade, my class went to see Slim Goodbody. You know, the guy with the stage show about being healthy, where he wears that shirt that shows all his internal organs? I thought it was pretty cool. Apparently, my parents also saw his show when they were young, which means he’s ancient.

    Anyway, he said this one thing that I can’t get out of my head now. He said, “If you hurt yourself, you can’t just go to Buddy’s Body Shop to replace all your parts.”

    Shows you how much he knows. Because that’s exactly what my parents were talking about right now, while they thought I was still sleeping. In the last few days, it’s all they EVER talked about.

    “But what if his body rejects them?” My mother was asking the doctor more new questions. She always has a list of questions, no matter what’s happening. She can’t help it; she’s a journalist. She says it’s like breathing; she has to ask things. “He’s only 11 years old. Isn’t he too young for something this experimental?”

    “We don’t believe he will reject them, Mrs. Solis,” answered the doctor patiently. “We will grow a skin graft from stem cells. The process is extremely successful at reducing the chance of rejection.

    Gross. They were talking about growing skin. But, also, kind of cool. For a minute, I forgot they were talking about my skin and wondered whether I could watch them do it.

    1. This is a yes from me, though with caution. I loved the first half of your query - a kid overcoming a huge disability - check! However, the rest of the query seemed to get a little out of control for my liking. I couldn't quite see how an 11 year old kid would find out about army spy helicopters, even on accident. That stuff is pretty well guarded It just didn't ring true to me. However, his choice to investigate is very cool. Very modern Nancy Drew. So, I'd be looking very hard at the ms to see how you engineer this accidental finding out of the spy stuff. It better be good!

      Writing wise - very age appropriate, clean and strong. It's enough to get me involved in the story.

      So, again, this is a yes from me, but I'd have an eagle eye on the ms.

    2. Oh, yay! Thank you! And really good to know the red flag about the "accidental discovery"
      I think it's clearer and more believable in the ms, but knowing your reservations gives me some good ideas for tweaking the query to make it clear that the scenario isplausible.
      Thank you.

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Random music appears out of thin air when 16-year-old Leila is upset. Her best friend Dane channels nightmares and hears what other people aren’t saying. It’s all brand new and pretty freaking weird. Before they can make sense of it, Dane’s mother is kidnapped in an attack they barely escape themselves. Now they’re being hunted and don’t know why. To survive, they must figure out what connects them, their families, and their talents to the bad guys. When they peel back the sheltered surface of their lives, they discover a legacy of murder and radical science, plus a violent, continent-hopping feud between the bad guys and their families.

    Leila and Dane flee from a snowy Minnesota farmhouse to Peru’s ancient ruins, where they think they'll find Dane's mother. At stake? Primarily, all of their lives. Also, the chance to finally understand themselves, the science that made them different, and the reason it spawned a murderous vendetta that now entangles them too. But they can’t do anything until they escape from a prehistoric aqueduct – and trigger Leila’s most powerful talent.

    EXQUISITE SENSES, a YA Speculative Thriller, is complete at 80,000 words. It’s got the science-driven extra sensory talents of V. E. Schwab’s adult thriller VICIOUS and the CW channel’s TOMORROW PEOPLE, with a dual POV and a tiny bit of Peruvian mysticism.

    This is my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Heather Murphy Capps

    REVISED 250:
    I closed my locker door, maybe a little harder than necessary. I was reminding myself that I could deal with being embarrassed. The whole thing totally sucked, but wasn’t an actual heartbreak. My pep talk helped - for about a minute - until the worst mistake of my life slithered up behind me.

    Acid humiliation bloomed in my stomach and lashed my cheeks with its ugly heat. Not yet, I told him silently. I can’t face you yet.

    The hall was empty – I had nowhere to hide.


    I turned. And in that brief, resigned sigh of a moment, the song came roaring back. Loud, filling all the space between us, and - coming out of nowhere.

    The same song that blasted me when I was crying in the shower this morning. The one about fire and burning and tears.

    Antonio stared at the PA speakers and then into my locker. The notes pulsed with rage; the tiled floor vibrated under my feet, sending shockwaves of rhythm and keening fury up my spine. I recoiled violently.

    “Where’s that coming from? You got your speakers in here now?” He shouted above the din.

    I exhaled like I’d been punched, and the song cut off abruptly, leaving behind an uneasy quiet.

    Antonio, wild eyed, looked around my head, down the hall toward the open gym door, then finally back at me. I remained silent, my gaze deliberately expressionless. No way I’d let him see I was wigged out by the music too.

    1. Okay, you're on my "maybe" list now. I'd run this by another intern to get secondary feedback. Your query is much stronger. I understand more clearly your connection between the music and the "bad guys" and I get a clearer sense of what's going on. I'd still like clarification as to who these "bad guys" are. Unless it is absolutely necessary that the agent can't know as it's the crux of the story, I think you can add a little more in about this. The bad guys at the moment feel generic and thus not scary. I would like to see this ramped up a bit.

      Much stronger on the character in the writing. I don't mind characters being overwhelmed or sad, but there needs to be that pull of inner strength that we can see develop through the book. You have that now, so I'd be happy to read more.

    2. *Happy Dance* Great. I feel so much better now! Working on clarifying "bad guys". Thank you for this so so so valuable time you've spent. Much appreciated.

  24. Thank you so much for this opportunity!

    Dear Ms. McLaren,

    While the hero is off saving the world, what is the helpful best friend doing?

    Cya of Arnos has always been average, but has worked hard her whole life to be as perfect as her childhood friend Senic. Living in a Mercenary nation is hard on both girls and during their Graduation assignment that will take them through neighboring countries, they decide to part ways to further each of their dreams.

    Cya, in her quest to become a force to be reckoned with, journeys through the world, optimistic and eager to prove herself. Through her travels, Cya realizes that despite their idyllic appearance, each country has their own flaws and, soon, her innocence is a thing of the past. Cya also crosses paths with Senic and is always able to help her friend in the nick of time, though she has realized that these moments will never be reciprocated.

    Amidst her journeys and chance encounters, Cya is forced to confront a dark secret of her own nation and is torn between her best friend and her home.

    CYA NIGHT is a complete New Adult to Adult fantasy of 160,000 words and is available upon request.

    Thank you for your time,
    Lori Tobara

    Cya Night:

    In another ten minutes, we were going to be late and instead of getting my final essays straight and giving my tunic another look over, I found myself climbing over a mountain of books in the furthest corner of the library. I could just hear Steward Rwo asking me where Senic was hiding.

    Despite being shorter than most of the other warriors, I constantly displayed an appalling lack of balance, more noticeable than ever as I slipped on a particularly tall tower of tomes. The books cascaded down in a landslide of literature revealing a tan arm poking out.

    I grabbed the nearest book to me off the ground: the heavy anthology about the mercenary group that split leading to the founding of Arnos. My arms strained as I threw it as hard as I could towards the center of the uneven mound. A dull thunk echoed through the quiet corner followed by the sound of the collapsing of the book cave. I cringed. I hadn’t meant for that to happen.

    As the books settled, I heard a belated, soft grunt. Then, like a body rising from the grave, a tall girl rose out of the books and scrolls, bleary-eyed and grouchy. I picked up another book quickly, just in case of a charging attack.

    “What?” the girl said frowning, rubbing the sleep from her face. Her long, dark-brown hair was stuck up at odd angles having rested on an assortment of literature. She blinked slowly and her startling hazel eyes tried to focus on her assailant. The image before me made me think of some sleeping goddess waiting to kill whoever dared to disturb her slumber.

    1. I'm afraid this is going to have to be a no from me. Your query starts with a rhetorical question, which is always dangerous territory to be in with a query. Agents don't like that very much. Also, there is a lack of conflict for the majority of your query, until the very last sentences, where a "dark secret" is revealed. I think you need to go back and start your query afresh. What are your conflict, stakes, and choices to be made? Conflict, conflict, conflict is the heart of any story. Also, I am slightly concerned that the length of your book is a touch too long.

      As for the writing - this is better. I like your style, it's smooth, unobtrusive and easy to read. However, it didn't quite grab me as much as I would have liked. There's too much word count devoted to climbing the books. Selective trimming will help with this, I think.

    2. Thank you so much for your reply! This is my first shot at a query and I'm very thankful for the great feedback. I will be sure to take all your notes to my next draft!

  25. Thank you so much for the opportunity to get feedback! It’s a gift and I so appreciate it!


    Each year twelve-year old Darcy Hutton creates a soundtrack full of her favorite Taylor Swift songs that remind her of the year. It’s her version of a memory book. And this year is no different except after Carter’s rejection, the mean girl’s antics, and Darcy’s realization she may be a mean girl too, her yearly soundtrack takes on an entirely new tune. With a little help from the songs off her newest soundtrack, Darcy must decide if the mean girls are worth confronting, if Carter’s friendship is worth the secrecy, and if being a mean girl is the only way to survive the seventh grade.

    My Life to the Tune of Taylor Swift is a 45,000-word contemporary middle-grade novel. It is a girl power book and uses Taylor Swift’s popular songs to drive the story.

    Thank you for considering my submission. The full manuscript is available upon your request.

    Best Regards,

    Andrea C.

    It was Career Day, a couple years back, when everyone in school learned about my obsession with Taylor Swift. Five different dads had just gotten up in front of the class to explain how unique their jobs were, but the funny thing was, they all involved corporate buildings, Excel spreadsheets, and “too much time away from home.” I zoned out and started doodling hearts around “Mr. M’s” name after the first dad started speaking because his job sounded exactly like my dad’s. Boring!

    After all the dad's stopped speaking about their “one-of-a-kind jobs,” the teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I didn’t even hesitate or raise my hand. I just popped off and said, “Taylor Swift.”

    I heard a few giggles around the room, and one kid even yelled, “She said what, not who. Duh, Darcy.” But my teacher, Ms. Elliott, my favorite by the way, smiled kindly and said, “You want to be a singer?”

    “Nope,” I replied and contemplated rolling my eyes at the absurdity. I couldn’t even sing the warm-up tune the music teacher made us do without my voice cracking.

    “Beautiful!” Alexis Corning yelled, which I instantly knew was a crack at my fro hair and oily skin. She could be so mean. Of course, she was right, Taylor Swift is beautiful, and I would have given anything for her height or her hair. Both would have made my life immeasurably better, but that’s not why I wanted to be like her.

    1. This hurts me to put this as a no. You have a solid query and solid writing, but the pop culture reference will date this book quickly, so I would have shied away from it. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with this query or the writing. It doesn't wow me, but it is strong and the idea of a music soundtrack used as a memory book is pretty neat.

      If there's an agent who will take the risk of this book dating but hitting on the pop culture reference of today, then they would probably take it. But for me, I think the agents might be reluctant, only for that reason.

  26. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    Thank you so much for doing this!

    Twelve-year-old Elaina Garcia knows three things for certain: her best friend Kenny’s outrageous recipes smell like stinky socks, Los Angeles is a crumby place to live, and her abuela thinks liquefied veggies will solve everything.

    However, what Elaina doesn’t know is what could hurt her the most. When spiders whisper warnings to her and Kenny’s dead dog pops up out of thin air, Elaina thinks she might just be losing it. And not in the fun, I-can-claim-insanity-and-miss-school sort of way.

    Elaina realizes something sinister is at work. Something only she and Kenny can see. Just as the alternate world produces beasts so terrible even her crabby old math teacher would be afraid, L.A. and all the people in it begin to disappear. Now Elaina and Kenny must stop whatever evil force is at work before everything and everyone they’ve ever loved vanishes. Yet as L.A. turns to dust and the path leads them into a treacherous new land, Elaina wonders who will actually save them.

    WORLD OF END is a middle grade fantasy novel complete at 55,000 words. Thank you so much for doing this!


    Kathleen Nelson

    Along the loneliest road, in the darkest apartment, Elaina Garcia flopped over in her bed. A draft from the cracked molding lining the window lifted one edge of the blanket covering her bare feet. She shivered.

    In the moonlight, a shadow spread a foot in length then re-sized as a furry spider crept across the carpet, following in the path of mud left by Elaina’s tennis shoes. It stopped, swaying back and forth, then continued on its way to the other side of the room. Another of its kind stared down at Elaina’s sleeping form from its position on the ceiling before lowering itself inch by inch on a silvery thread to land softly on Elaina’s chest. It stared at the empty picture frames above her bed.

    Like its brother before, it swayed back and forth before tiptoeing on eight sticky legs towards her face. It stopped at a hole in the quilt, pausing a second before jumping across the fabric. Only the keenest of ears could hear the whisper escape its mouth. The mouse burrowing through Elaina’s backpack for peanut butter and jelly sandwich crumbs stopped and its pink nose twitched once. Then it squeaked as it burrowed deeper into the front pocket of the backpack.

    Elaina hadn’t eaten lunch that day, so the only items the mouse found were a spiral notebook and a pencil with bite marks etched deep in the wood near the eraser.

    1. Hmm, I'm divided on this one. Let's start with your query first. You start very specific (good) and it draws me in. Then it starts to get vague. Terrible beasts. Alternate world. It doesn't explain to me how and why only your MC sees this. Also, when she wonders who will save them, it makes me wonder too (and not in a good way). It's different if your MC is in a position where SHE has to save them, but right now it reads more "oh no, bad stuff happens and MC waits for someone to save them". I'm sure that's not how it goes in the book, but you should think about clarifying that in your query.

      Okay, now the writing is intriguing and the opening very engaging. But be careful - you have a habit of cramming too many descriptions or actions into each sentence and it reads awkwardly.

      Overall, I'd love to say yes to this, but it would become a very painful no. I really wanted to say yes though. With some work, this would make it through.

  27. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    Fourteen year old Lanalyn Starling’s troubles begin when a deep-space shuttle crashes into her classroom during her first day at Kungorum Academy.

    Lanalyn is a Weaver, a galactic citizen with psionic talents. These abilities help her to notice a dark shadow slip away from the crash. As no other Weaver seems to notice this, she tries to pass it off as her imagination. That is until she spots the creature again, using its ethereal nature to invade the minds and bodies of people around it. The ghost-like intruder quickly realizes Lanalyn can see it and when it can not control her as well, it uses its puppets against her. Lanalyn becomes the target of mental and physical attacks aimed at driving her insane. But when her friends fall victim to this spectral creature, Lanalyn displays extraordinary powers beyond the abilities of any normal Weaver in order to save them.

    Now they must find out what this enemy really is and what it’s after at Kungorum. If they don’t, an ancient imprisoned race could be let loose on the universe.

    STARLING is the first of a YA Sci-Fi series and is complete at 55,000 words. This is my first novel and is a multiple submission. Thank you for your help with this.

    J M Weibel

    “I can see a hyper-gate opening from here!” exclaimed an excited teenaged girl staring wide eyed like a child out one of the large bay windows. The great ring of Hyper-Gate 3 filled her view port as its internal ring started to glow a bright green. Suddenly the gate warped space within it, turning the void on itself in a twisting vortex. The wormhole flashed as it stabilized, revealing the bright rainbow of color that was the heart of hyperspace.

    “It’s beautiful,” she said quietly as she watched a cruiser launch out of hyperspace and come to a sudden crawl before the gate. The large ship drifted away as the wormhole snapped back into nothing behind it.

    “Did you know Starport Durra was built as a hub for most of the Bowen Imperial Union and its allies during the war because of those three gates here?”

    “Yes dear, we know all about it,” responded the smiling holographic image of an elderly man from the girl’s

    “If you don’t hurry, you’re going to miss your ship. I don’t know what I would do if something were to happen to you while you were stranded there,” an elderly woman appeared on the comm next to the man. “I’m worried enough as it is with you going to such a place.”

    The young girl smiled and rolled her eyes as she turned to continue through the starport’s brightly lit and clean corridors. To observers, there was nothing distinctive or remarkable about her.

    1. This would have been a maybe that slid into a no. The query is intriguing. I like the use of psychic powers and in a sci-fi it works well. Your premise about her saving her friends gives a good emotional tug. However, when you say the creature uses its puppets against her, I think you need to be a lot more specific. Being specific is so important in a query.

      As for the writing - I'm 50/50 on this. There's nice ideas in the writing but the sentences seem a little cluttered in places, and characters telling each other things they already know is not generally a good way to work in information.

      This could be spruced up and would grab attention. Sci-fi is not the easiest sell right now, so you have to be 100% on your game to get in.

    2. Tremendous help! Thank you. I've already made changes on your suggestions.

  28. Dear [Agent],

    Sixteen-year-old Sara is convinced that her life is completely under control. Her grades aren’t perfect (she’s failing three classes), and her friends aren’t the best influence (she’s caught up in the gritty world of Speedway). But her grandmother always said that it’s important to keep up appearances and Sara’s façade is well in place. It’s almost as good as her mother who hides her crippling OCD.

    But while her exterior is immaculate, Sara is falling apart. She spends the majority of her time cleaning the house to ensure her mother doesn’t spiral out of control. Between that, failing her classes, a part-time job, and her chaotic relationship with Speedway racer, Logan, Sara is beginning to think that anxiety runs in the family.

    Sara wasn’t raised to ask for help, but she needs to decide who she trusts before it all falls apart. It’s no longer just her grades on the line, but her first love, her health and most importantly, her mother.

    Chemicals Collide is a 75,000 word, young adult novel that delves into the world of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It tells the tale of a girl learning to stand on her own two feet with the help of those who want to build her up, not tear her down.


    Getting ready was exhausting.

    An acidic stench filled the air and I struggled not to gag as I scoured the bottom of the shower. My wet hair dangled in the suds as I leaned forward as far as possible without actually entering the stall. The bathroom was already immaculate but if I left without removing the watermarks, my mother would panic and spend the rest of the afternoon doing a job I could do in five minutes.

    My phone buzzed to life on the counter and I reached out to grab it. “Hello?”

    “You’re late, Sara.”

    I closed my eyes and cursed under my breath. “The ice-cream store… I’m sorry Tahina, I completely forgot.”

    “I can see that. So lay it on me, what’s your excuse?”

    “Um…” I glanced around the bathroom. How could I even begin to explain that I was wrapped in a towel, up to my elbows in suds, and not even close to being ready?

    “Actually,” Tahina interrupted. “I don’t even want to know. You can make it up to me by coming to the Speedway tonight.”

    My mouth dropped. “What? No. Tahina, I hate the Speedway.”

    “You’ve never even been,” she reminded me.

    “I know, but…” All that dirt, all that dust, my mother would have a fit.

    “But nothing,” Tahina interrupted. “I’ll pick you up in an hour, and you better be ready; you’ve blown me off twice this week.”


    I didn’t get the chance to complain because a dial tone was already beeping in my ear.

    1. Oh yes, I like this. There are a lot of issue based contemporary books around just now, but this is really solid and I would have definitely have passed it over to the agent. Your query is specific, clear and well written. Your writing is strong. It's a good solid entry. Nicely done!

      If I was being ultra picky, I'd want the end of the query about "who she trusts" to be a touch more specific. Other than that, I like this a lot. All you need to do is nail an agent looking for contemporary issue based books just now.

  29. Dear Ms. McLaren,

    Lady Madeleine Rothschild, the only daughter of the Earl of Eversley, has beautiful dreams to paint her own life story. A vivacious and talented artist, she feels trapped by her duty to marry in order to save the title of her father’s crumbling estate. Fleeing the clutches of her abusive fiancé and an uncertain future, Madeleine seeks refuge at an artists’ colony on the secluded island of St. Austere. She will stop at nothing to get there. Once she arrives at Penzance Harbor to set sail, a tempestuous summer storm is brewing, one which could endanger her very life should she venture out.

    Henry Carlyon, a daring and handsome rogue yachtsman, is precisely the danger Madeleine is searching for, and the only man reckless enough for the job. He is enchanted by her fiery desire, and fights his attraction to her in spite of the pain haunting him from the past. He agrees to sail her to St. Austere through the storm against his better judgment. As the tempest rages on, their vessel veers off course, and they find themselves shipwrecked on an uncharted island off the coast of England.

    Stranded with only the remnants of their boat and an abandoned fishing cottage for shelter, Madeleine and Henry realize that the blossoming attraction between them is undeniable. Together they fight the windswept island in summer, the elements of nature, wicked treasure smugglers, and their own unbridled desires in order to survive. Will the isle of dreams spark their passion, or will the truth destroy everything they cherish in their hearts?

    ISLE OF DREAMS is a sweeping historical romance novel of approximately 85,000 words. This romantic adventure is a beguiling combination of Downton Abbey meets On the Island.

    Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.


    Amanda Marie


    Penzance, Cornwall
    Summer, 1920

    The sparkling, salt-tinged breeze kissed Madeleine Rothschild’s face as she bustled down the red brick promenade. Her heartbeat fluttered with each step towards Penzance harbor. She knew she had to work swiftly in order for her plan to work.

    In the distance, storm clouds sailed across the shadowy horizon, painting the sky a smoky blue-grey. The turquoise surf rolled and crashed upon the sea wall, each wave sending a cascade of shivering mist over her petite body.

    As she approached the harbor, Madeleine could see dozens of men tying up their hardy seasoned vessels with thick ropes, their boats nodding along with each roaring wave. She refused to believe it was too late. She refused to believe her last chance was gone.

    Her blue eyes lingered for one final moment on the line of stately homes and buildings along the coast, a collage of rooftops and church steeples against the storm-raked sky. Penzance provided her a temporary haven, but this was her best chance to escape. Madeleine desperately needed to set sail to the island of St. Austere as soon as possible, lest she suffer a binding fate. She wasn’t about to let it happen.

    Gripping her suitcase tighter, she continued on the path. Once at the docks, she approached an elderly man with a head of gray hair stuffed under a tweed cap.

    “Excuse me, sir. I’m in need of a charter to St. Austere. I was wondering if I might appeal to your good nature to take me,” she said with a bright smile.

    “Sorry, miss,” he said, shaking his head at the distant clouds growing heavier with rain. “Storm’s a-brewing. It wouldn’t be safe.”

    1. Oh yes please! I like this a lot. You have very strong writing and you build up a good intrigue and air of foreboding.

      The only advice I would give is to set your time period more clearly in your query. Also, I'd like this line clarified a little better "pain haunting him from the past". What pain? I'm assuming it's related to the "truth" they need to overcome. Being more specific would help solidify the stakes and conflict of your novel.

    2. Thank you for the tips, Fiona! I'll be sure to tweak this before I send it out for real. I'm so pleased you liked it. :-)

  30. Hi Fiona
    I took your suggestions into account and revised my query to make it clearer. I hope its not too much trouble, but I would love to know if I'm on the right track.

    War is coming. And there is no right side.
    In the divided kingdom of Alikid, everyone knows their place. There are the royals – cold, ruthless rulers of the land born with the ability to call upon lightening. The flamers, tasked with protecting the royals and blessed with the power to manipulate fire. The seers can predict the tides and at the bottom of the social pyramid are the earth-dwellers, derogatorily called diggers and hunted by royals as recreational sport.

    Tierra and her boyfriend Tank are part of a rebel movement that grows underneath, in a myriad of hidden caves and carved tunnels. After years of hostility, a ruthless decision is made by the rebels, a plan set into motion. But when Tierra saves a royal being hunted from his own people, there is no going back.

    Skyler is stubborn, condescending and an elite warrior, belonging to the highest echelons of power. As she learns more about his life, Tierra must admit that the world is not as black and white as it seems. To discover the truth and stop a war, she may have to do what no digger has ever done before. She may have to trust the royal.

    Thanks again for all the help.

    1. Yes!! I love the tweaks you've made to this story. It does a much better job of grabbing my eye!

  31. Thank you for the opportunity! I've been struggling with my query so I'd love your thoughts.

    Dear Agent,

    17-year-old Akira Tanaka isn’t your typical Russian girl. Sure, she does ballet, but only to hone her Japanese sword-fighting skills, and she wouldn’t be caught dead in stilettos or a mini-skirt. Between her Russian grandparents and Japanese-American father, Akira has been raised on a combination of cultures that leaves her feeling out of place even in her hometown of St. Petersburg. With her sights set on an upcoming kenjutsu tournament and university in Japan, Akira is blindsided by the mysterious Dmitri, who not only wants to be a part of her future, but knows entirely too much about her past.

    Meanwhile, a series of violent murders has left several major Russian cities on edge, and there are strange links to a story Akira’s grandfather told her when she was still a child: the story of Koschei the Deathless. Up until now, she never believed her grandfather’s ridiculous claim that Koschei had spared his life in exchange for Akira’s soul, any more than she believes in the big bad wolf. But the strange, insect-like sound her grandfather once described is eerily similar to the one Akira hears every time another victim is killed. And the more time she spends with Dmitri, the more she starts to wonder if there isn’t something evil lurking behind his ice blue eyes.

    As the murderer closes in on the people surrounding Akira, she finds herself on the verge of losing everything—and everyone—she’s ever cared about. Now it’s up to Akira to stop the killer, but this time it will take more than a deal with the devil to save the people she loves.

    NEEDLE’S EYE, a multicultural YA urban fantasy, is complete at 70,000 words and will appeal to fans of Christina Farley’s Gilded. I have written and edited professionally for multiple publications including Leatherneck Magazine, the Costco Connection, and the Veteran’s Administration blog. For the past year and a half, I have lived and worked in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where my husband is serving as a diplomat. I hold a Master’s degree from the University of London and blog about my experiences abroad at

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    All best,
    Mara Rae

    When I was very small, my grandfather told me stories of Koschei the Deathless.

    Even as a child, I knew he was trying to frighten me. They were the kinds of tales villagers told children to keep them from wandering alone into the woods, the Russian equivalent of Little Red Riding Hood. But just as there was nothing scary about a wolf wearing a bonnet and bifocals, there was nothing remotely frightening about my grandfather, so I paid little attention to his stories.

    “Solavushka,” he would begin—I had earned the nickname “little nightingale” as an infant, when I kept everyone up at night with my “singing” — “the thing you must know about Koschei the Deathless is that he will not appear as a wicked old man with a long white beard, the way the storybooks say. He will not take you to his castle to make you his bride, Akira.”

    I would nod as I examined my grandfather’s long, wiry eyebrow hairs, wondering why my grandmother didn’t trim them.

    “Akira, are you listening?”

    “Yes, Dedushka. I will make sure to stay away from Koschei.”

    “You are not listening, child,” my grandfather would grumble, standing abruptly so I tumbled onto the floor. “How many times do I have to tell you?” And he would storm off into the kitchen for some of my grandmother’s walnut oreshki.

    “I met him when I was a young man,” he told me once, not long before he died. “He had taken the form of a small girl, just a year or two younger than you are now.”

  32. Yes, yes and then more yeses! I adore this! What a wonderful piece of writing and one of the best queries I've seen in a while. All you need is the right agent looking for this. My only comment would be to clarify why Akira is the only one able to stop the killer. Yes, it's all connected to her, but why don't the adults take charge here? Clarify that, and you're golden!

    1. Oh wow thank you! I feel so much better about the query now! I really appreciate your help :)

  33. Thanks for the opportunity and feedback!


    Dear Ms. McLaren,

    The warrior. It's a title 18-year-old Kali Ling earned bringing men to their knees -- inside video games. Literally. In 2054, the virtual reality craze sweeps this elite girl gamer into a whirlwind of fame, fake smiles, and nonstop partying in L.A.'s hottest clubs.

    Until her teammate Nathan O.D.'s.

    When he's erased from the Major League Gaming database, Kali discovers the industry whitewashed the truth behind his demise, fearing a ratings drop. Determined to honor her friend, she trades fame for fighting in his memory in the MLG's championship tournament. But her usual confidence self-deletes when the tournament pits her team against their undefeated rivals. Seriously, Mario with a super star is less invincible than these jerks.

    Moreover, Kali's only support comes from the team's latest recruit: an arrogant asshole who she'd punch in the larynx if he wasn't the first man capable of standing up to her -- both in and out of the virtual arenas. Worst of all, the harder she pushes for Nathan's justice, the more the gaming league threatens to erase her from its ranks just the same. But with her fallen teammate's honor in her hands and the equal treatment of all gamers on the line, Kali will stand against an industry that cares more about its popularity than its athletes, even if it means game over. Permanently.

    VIRTUAL REBEL is a 92,000 word new adult science-fiction novel. It should appeal to fans of heroine-centric sci-fi authors such as Neal Stephenson and Madeleine L'Engle.

    First 250:

    This wasn't the first time I'd died. Sure as hell wouldn't be the last either. But while most eighteen-year-old girls studied, gossiped, and swooned over boys, there was no other way I'd rather spend my Saturday night.

    Crouched high on the tower's parapet, I overlooked a sea of wheat fields. Streams of golden sunlight broke through the clouds like skylights from the heavens. Everything blended together in shades of beige as if the landscape had been whitewashed through a sepia lens. The scent of lavender and the taste wheatgrass wove together in the air, drifting alongside the breeze that brushed through my hair. I took a deep breath and smiled at the irony, as thick as the mountain air filling my lungs. Lavender. Wheat fields. Tranquility.

    Peace, in a place anything but peaceful.

    Movement caught my eye, down and right. A zigzag carved its way through the ten-foot tall stocks, heading straight for the tower. My smile pulled wider. Maybe this sucker had the balls to take on Kali Ling.

    The warrior.

    I stilled inside. Even breaths. No fear. At the field's edge, the stocks trembled violently. The air filled with the rainstick rustling of brush and dry grass. Yes. Someone would emerge. I gripped the sword sheathed across my back and waited, muscles tight, mouth watering. Come on. Give me something. A brute. Six -- no -- seven feet tall, wielding a mace. Or an axe.

    Give me anything.

    A rabbit scurried out from the field. Nothing followed.

    1. This is a really cool concept, and your query certainly did it's job of pulling me in. For some reason, it reads more YA than NA to me, but that's not too much of an issue, as I think the book will showcase the genre more clearly.

      Your opening is strong, however there is a little too much description for my taste, so I'd like to see that filtered in gradually as opposed to put in all in one paragraph. Other than that, you build up a very good sense of world, character, suspense and mystery.

      This would be a yes from me!

    2. Thanks so much for the feedback! I'll work on filtering my description. You're awesome for doing this!

  34. Hi Fiona - Thanks so much for doing this for all of us! Way cool.

    Dear Ms. McLaren,

    Seventeen-year-old Adria barely graduates from university, a letdown next to her accomplished older siblings. Scrubbing tables in her parents’ tavern isn’t her ideal career choice, but she could have it worse.

    The night of her graduation, it gets worse.

    First Adria overhears the family secret: her sister is a Prophesied, a pawn of the gods meant to solve their earthly problems. Then, days later, Adria's former professor Lord Malaric arrives at the city gates, leading an army in search of the Fivestones—god-forged stones of power. He's convinced Adria's family heirloom is one of them, and corners her during the ensuing battle. When Adria refuses to hand over the heirloom, Malaric reveals that he's killed her sister to eliminate any Prophesied opposition to his magical manhunt.

    Heartsick and furious, Adria manages to escape the city with the young prince of the realm. With one of the Fivestones at her command, she’s left with little choice. If she doesn’t want Malaric to continue burning his way through the kingdom, the capital, and her family, she’ll have to take over her sister’s role in the faulty prophecy.

    Stone and Spark is a YA fantasy novel complete at 76,000 words.

    [quick bio]

    250 Words

    My family beamed at me as I looked up, stunned, from the small box in my hands.

    I’d expected the sword, currently sitting in shreds of its own gift wrap, gleaming and deadly in the low kitchen firelight. Adella got hers at her own laureation two years ago, and Ambrose five years past.

    I didn’t expect the stone.

    It was blue-green and eight-pointed, nestled in wood shavings in a plain wooden box. A twisting rune was burned black into the center. Smooth and clouded like sea glass, the stone was heavy for its size, just shorter across than my thumb. And until moments ago, it was my mother’s.

    “Mama,“ I started, eyes prickling.

    “Hush.” She still smiled, a gift in itself. Papa, taller by a foot and grayer by five years, put an arm around her shoulders. She said, “You’ve borrowed it often enough. It may as well be yours.”

    It brought me luck, I always thought. Most of the time. Some of the time. “Go on then, Adria,” said Adella, lifting her mug of cider to me. “Try it on.”

    It was fitted with a new leather cord, wrapped at two of the eight points, long enough to tuck beneath my shirt—exactly how I preferred it. I couldn’t stop a sniffle, and brushed at my eyes. “Gods, sorry. This is wonderful.”

    “Oh, please.” Mama stepped forward, amused and embarrassed at my emotion, and gently took the box. “You’ll muss your rouge.”

    “As if she cares,” Adella muttered.

    “Shush, you.” Ambrose swatted her arm.

    1. This is on my maybe list. I like your premise. A twist on a the Fated One is good. I like that your character chooses to fill this position due to circumstance and isn't simply forced into it.

      However, for me the writing is almost there but not quite. It feels like the descriptions are put in specifically to describe and not as a natural part of the narrative. Also, it feels a touch slow. I like the concept, the writing is okay, so I'd have to think this one over.

    2. Thank you so much, Fiona! All great to know.

  35. Dear Fiona McLaren,

    Seventeen year old, Annika Fitzpatrick gets an email during her high school graduation that confirms her greatest nightmare has come true; her father wants to spend more time with her.

    It’s not enough that she and her stepfather are still grieving from the loss of her mother just four years ago; it now looks like she’s going to spend her summer working at BioDad’s music venue in New York City, that he named after her. How embarrassing. But if Annika wants help paying for college, she’ll spend her summer at Annika’s Attic whether she likes it or not.

    To avoid being ostracized by her outrageously hip co-workers for being the boss’s daughter, a plan is formed to go by Annie, her childhood nickname, in an attempt to start the summer with a clean slate. Remaining anonymous becomes even more important when Annika meets the gorgeous Theo, a fixture at the venue with his sibling’s rock band that is on the verge of making it big.

    As Annika spends the summer getting to know her once absent father, the city of New York, and friends who truly accept her, she discovers that the way she’s been dealing with her mother’s death has been holding her back from living a life she hasn’t been brave enough to dream of.
    Get to Know You, my 81,000 word contemporary YA novel, explores the sometimes complicated relationship between fathers and daughters and the idea that families come in many different forms. This novel will appeal to fans of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, and the movie Pitch Perfect, though my manuscript deals with sexy rock bands instead of acapella groups.
    I am a member of SCBWI and this is my first novel.
    Thank you for your consideration.

    Just one more verse, than we repeat the chorus, then I’m out of here.
    It’s hotter than it normally is in the mountains of North Carolina for June. And graduation gowns, as it turns out, don’t breathe very well. Which is kind of surprising since most graduation ceremonies take place in the late spring and outdoors. You’d think someone would have come up with a way by now to modify these polyester sweatboxes so they’d have a little more airflow. I guess no one’s thought about adding a bit of breathable mesh to provide some ventilation to our nation’s young graduates.
    Thankfully, Claire Casswell is almost done with her solo. From what I can tell from my not-so prestigious position (third row-back left corner) of senior chorus, she’s really giving it her all. Though I don’t think she’s getting quite the emotional response she was hoping for from the audience. The old guy in the grey suit is having trouble keeping his eyes open. When she’s done mangling the final note of her final solo in the final performance of the year, she steps back and takes her place next to the rest of the Cable Knit Cavalry, Lindsay and Emma. The three girls share smug looks and I can barely hide my eye roll. I cannot wait to be out of here.
    Just the chorus now and we’re home free.