Monday, September 26, 2016

September Pass Or Pages Entry #1

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.



THIS IS HOW WE FALL APART is a 94,000-word young adult fantasy novel told in four points of view. It is a standalone with series potential that would appeal to readers of Jennifer A. Nielson's THE FALSE PRINCE and Rachel Neumeier's THE FLOATING ISLANDS.[RN1][SN1][KA1]

When Nytes first appeared twenty years ago, gifted with supernatural powers, inhuman strength[KA2], and the ability to breathe freely in the toxic wasteland Outside[SN2][KA3] the domed cities, they were labeled as demons. Now, the only way to survive[SN3] is to pretend to be normal. But not all Nytes are content to continue hiding.[RN2]

Seventeen-year-old Lai Cathwell is good at keeping secrets. Being a mind reader and having to feign insanity to escape military service has only improved her ability to deceive others.[KA4] And as a supernaturally gifted Nyte, this skill is essential to survival.[RN3] But when the rebel Nytes' latest attack on the city ends in multiple deaths, Lai is asked[SN4] to return to the military[SN5] in order to fight with a new team of Nytes. Wanting to bridge the gap between Nytes and normal humans by taking down the ungifted-hating rebels, she reluctantly agrees, but the team is hardly what she imagined.[RN4][KA5] She butts heads with Al, a short-tempered fighter lying about her identity for the sake of revenge; Jay, a self-conscious perfectionist obsessed with being accepted; and Erik, an amnesiac hell-bent on finding his memories and his place in the world.[SN6] And if this team can't learn to work together, the entire city will be plunged into war.[RN5]

Together, these four unlikely soldiers will have to come to terms with their pasts and each other before they have any hope of stopping an all-out civil war. But trust isn't a currency that's easy to earn or spend[RN6], and the more these teammates learn about each other, the less reason they have to invest. No one can be trusted—especially among themselves.

Renee's Notes:
[RN1] This is a solid paragraph. I personally prefer it at the end of query, but it’s not really that important.
[RN2] This paragraph, though interesting world building, doesn’t add to the immediacy of your character’s journey. And you mention most of the important points (supernatural skills, living in secret, etc.) in your next paragraph anyway.
[RN3] The only necessary piece from your first paragraph is that Nytes are feared as demons and shunned. All you would have to do is add that in one of these sentences.
[RN4]I don’t get a real sense of what is at stake for Lai. No idea of what’s driving her. To me, that’s essential for a good query.
[RN5]These supporting characters are super interesting! I feel like I know more about them than I do about Lai.
[RN6]I like this turn of phrase.

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1] This is a classic example of a great opening to a query. Some agents prefer for this type of info to go at the bottom of the query, but some like it at the top. Since you are establishing that there are 4 POV characters, I like it at the top. Well done.
[SN2]So I'm assuming that this is capitalized because it is a proper noun, but they way you are using it in this sentence it isn't and that threw me. In general, you want to avoid using as many proper nouns as you can in a query, so I would suggest changing this to lower case.
[SN3] Sounds like they are actually really good at surviving. I suggest being more specific. What happens to the ones who aren't hiding. Are they killed? Sent to prison? Forced into experiments? Consider: The only way to avoid capture and certain death is to pretend to be normal. This is a stronger sentence that tells us what exactly they are hiding from.
[SN4]By whom? And why would she do it? You say to bridge the gap between these rebels and humans, but if the humans are killing Nytes, and she is one, why would she want to help them.
Keep in mind these aren't all questions that you have to answer in your query, but right now there is some world building confusion that is making it hard for me to understand and care about the journey your character is about to take.  
[SN5]So this is where I'm a little confused. In the first paragraph you establish that they only way for a Nyte to survive is to pretend they aren't one. But this makes it sound like the government has established a special wing of the military just for Nytes. So not everyone is pretending?
[SN6]  This is really well done

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]I would suggest moving this to the end. While it's not necessarily a problem to have it up front, it is often a stronger choice to lead with something that will hook me into your manuscript. Housekeeping details tend to engage my "skim" instinct.
[KA2]It seems like inhuman strength would qualify under the supernatural powers heading
[KA3]Capital letters on Significant Nouns feels a bit cliche nowadays 
[KA4]I had to retrace my steps a couple of times on this sentence, which isn't good. Make it more clear and more gripping, with a less awkward rhythm.
[KA5]More awkward phrasing, and I'm not very drawn in by the motivation here. I'd like to feel a more specific connection to what Lai wants out of this and out of life, beyond just a general peace. Or why that peace is so personal and specific for her, if it is.

First 250:

Somehow, sneaking back into the asylum is always harder than sneaking out of it.

Normally I wouldn't worry, but I've never come back this late before. Past the reflective cover of the overhead dome, the sky is already a weak gray, steadily infecting the clouds with a light shade of orange-pink. It feels like the whole sector is watching as I pick my way through the trees surrounding the mental hospital.

I absently run a hand through my hair, tangling the long, neat strands into bedhead[SN1] as I debate how to get in. The barred windows are a no-go. I can usually sneak in through the head doctor's office, but he's probably at his desk by now. Which leaves the main entrance.

From the shadows of the trees, I scan the front doors, but no one seems to be around. I can't hear anyone's thoughts, either, which is a good sign.[SN2]

Despite the fact that no one's in the nearby vicinity[KA1], I tread carefully, footsteps soundless from a lifetime of sneaking around. I pause by the doors, back pressed against the wall, listening again for anyone's thoughts. The receptionist is absent, but that's hardly a surprise. She's always disappearing to take care of odd jobs. There's a doctor off one of the hallways, but he seems to be heading in the opposite direction.

Okay. All clear. I slip inside and make for the hall that'll lead to my floor.

Renee's Notes:
I’m not in love with this opening. I would definitely keep reading, but after a really strong query (especially after some tweaks) these opening paragraphs weren’t quite as compelling. I would like to see the first 5 chapters, please!

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1] nice detail
[SN2] Well done weaving this into the world instead of stopping the story to tell us she can hear other people's thoughts.
Good strong first page.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]Try not to repeat information I've just read.
So nothing has grabbed me in this opening. It's fine, there's not really a specific thing I would say is bad, but it's just kind of boring and the descriptions and voice so far are a little generic. I'd keep reading, but I'd be skimming a bit until I found a bit that finally grabbed me. Or I became too bored, whichever came first. However, I would like to see more of this. After you revise the query letter, please send it and the first 50 pages of the manuscript to me.

Renee Nyen: PAGES!
Sarah Negovetich: PASS
Kurestin Armada: PAGES!

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