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.
Entry #5: DEAR MR. PRESIDENT
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT is a middle-grade epistolary[CG1] novel[CG2] completed at 34,000[CG3] words. It will appeal to readers of Dear Mr. Henshaw and The Naked Mole Rat Letters.[RP1]
When the Dunlap family receives a letter of condolences from the President of the United States—for the war the president started in which eleven-year-old Spencer’s father died—Spencer writes him back to tell him he is the worst president in history. To Spencer’s surprise, the president[CG4] replies and an unlikely friendship is born.[CG5]
While Spencer and the president correspond with each other via letters and emails, the Speaker of the House initiates impeachment proceedings against the president for enacting a raid on an orphanage hiding [CG6]the enemy dictator: the same mission in which Spencer’s father died. Spencer stumbles across letters sent by his father before embarking on the raid. In the letters, Spencer’s father admits he ordered the attack, not the president. Now Spencer must choose whether to share the letters that could exonerate the[CG7] president or keep them secret to preserve his father’s reputation.[RP2]
[RP1] Nice comps
[RP2] There’s a LOT of plot introduced in this paragraph. It’s so tough to know what to include in a query, and how to pace it. I might include the detail about the president being in trouble in the last paragraph, and focus this one on Spencer finding evidence that his father had a hand in the mission. Something to suggest the serious nature of the story (or more like the big scope) before the end of the query. But I would keep reading.
[CG1] I like that you open with a context-giving paragraph. I would also include a one-line pitch of your novel in this paragraph. Something about the President as pen pal
[CG2] I had an editor tell me recently that she thought epistolary novels were overdone. I would research this potentially flooded market and make it a priority to show how your book is not a tired concept and can succeed.
[CG3] Feels low but I would overlook this normal red flag bc of its epistolary nature, which lends to a lower word count. But something to consider.
[CG4] Cool concept.
[CG5] I would add one line about the nature of this friendship – does the President joke with him, tell him personal secrets, etc? Part of the hook of this book, I think, so important to include.
[CG7] Sounds like a good core conflict that has high stakes
Dear President Shepherd:
I hate you. You're a terrible president. If it weren't for you, my dad would be home and alive. Why did you start the stupid war in the first place?[CG1]
What if I sent your dad somewhere and he died. How would you feel? Probably rotten, just like I do now. Mom cries all the time and stopped going to work after the Marines came to the house to tell her dad died. My grandma and grandpa are here to take care of me since Mom is too sad to do it.
Grandpa said he voted for you, but that was a mistake. He won’t ever vote for you again. He thinks your war is stupid, but he didn’t say stupid. I can’t repeat the word he said without getting my mouth washed out with soap.
Mom stopped eating. All she does is cry and wears Dads old t-shirts.[RP1] Do you think your stupid letter telling us you were sorry would make anything different? It didn’t. Your letter can’t bring back Dad and that’s the only thing that would make us feel better.
The funeral is on Saturday. All my family will be there along with some Marines that served with Dad. Grandpa said if Mom is too sad to grab the flag from the Marines than I should take it, look the soldier in the eyes, give him a firm handshake, and thank him. That is what I’ll do.[CG2]
[RP1] If the whole book will be told in Spencer’s letters, I would want a sense right away that you’ll be able to tell a fleshed-out narrative in that format. Everything in this sample is essentially summary and exposition, and so I would worry about the voice going forward. For instance, these two details could be expanded into paragraphs, a whole memory of Spencer’s mother—I would need to see something like that to convince me to read on, so if such a moment exists in this letter, I would suggest moving it up.
[CG1] This is almost too simple here. I wish it was a bit more nuanced to make it more compelling.
[CG2] A cool concept and interesting plot line, but I think the writing feels a bit too straightforward to me. Being an epistolary novel, the book has structural limitations, so you have to be really thoughtful with language so you can use what you have to give clues about the character’s personality and emotions, things that are left unsaid like events or reactions. I think this reads a little too “on the nose” for me.
Rebecca Podos: PASS
Clelia Gore: PASS