Thursday, October 28, 2021

Dear O'Abby: How does ghostwriting work?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm curious about ghostwriting.  I know books like the Nancy Drew series and other long-running series are often ghostwritten once they've become popular, and that ghostwriters often finish books for popular authors who die, or even keep writing new books under their name.  But who makes the decision to ghostwrite these books?  The publisher?  The author?  

Hoping you can let me know...  I recently discovered that Ann M. Martin only wrote the first 30 or so Babysitters Club books and the rest were written by a guy!  It's like my whole childhood is something I didn't think it was.

All the best,


Dear Babmboozled,

This is a good question. I remember being just as perplexed when Virginia Andrews kept pumping out new books for years and years after her death.  Surely no writer leaves behind that many unfinished manuscripts!

There are actually several scenarios in which ghostwriters may be used.  In The Babysitters Club example you gave above, the initiator of the series, Ann M. Martin, wrote 35 books in the series.  I don't know why she decided not to write any more of them - perhaps she got bored of the characters or had other ideas she wanted to pursue.  But whatever the reason, the series was so popular the publisher didn't want it to end, so they hired ghostwriters to continue writing the series, most notably the guy you mentioned, Peter Lerangis.

What you may not know, is Ann M. Martin was a writer for hire herself when the series began.  The original idea came from an editor at a publishing company who had seen the runaway success of another novel about babysitting and decided there was a market for this kind of book.  This is the same model that was used for the Nancy Drew books - Caroline Keene whose name is on the cover of all these books is not a real person.  These books were ghostwritten from the start with a number of writers behind the Keene name.

Ghostwriters may be hired by an author or by a publisher depending on the circumstance.  An author may discover writing a book isn't as easy as they thought it would be or realise early on that they can't actually write and ask a ghostwriter to take over.  Sometimes the ghostwriter will get a credit on the cover as 'author writing with ghostwriter', but often the ghostwriter remains invisible.  A publisher may hire a ghostwriter to complete a series from a popular author who dies midway through the next book.  Should that book sell well, the ghostwriter may be kept on to churn out more of these books.  In this scenario, the ghostwriter's name will rarely be on the cover or anywhere near the book.

Book packagers hire ghostwriters to do the hard work of writing a book.  They come up with a commercial premise, an outline of the book to be written, and audition authors to write the book.  If it's a one-off title and not part of a series, it's more likely that an author might get their name on the cover of one of these books, but the story will not be their own.  I've actually auditioned for book packagers a couple of times, and it's a very odd experience to try and write someone else's story without losing your own writing voice.

The upside of ghostwriting is that generally you get paid pretty well for doing the work.  The downside is that you rarely get to keep the copyright and therefore it's a one-off payment without any share in the book's royalties.  Which is a bummer if you write a bestseller.  Of course there are always exceptions to this, but generally ghostwriting is a contracted piece of work you forfeit any rights to once you hand it over to the person who commissioned it.

I hope that answers your question.  It actually raises one for me around who decides if an author's name can continue to be used after that author dies.  Perhaps that's something to consider when writing a will - even if you aren't on the best-seller list yet.

X O'Abby

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

#giveaway Spotlight on New Book Debut Author Lori Snyder

Operation Awesome Spotlight #20Questions in #2021 of #NewBook Debut Author posted by @JLenniDorner of @OpAwesome6

The Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori Snyder

1- Where did the idea for Writers Happiness Micro-Grants come from?

The arts, to me, are one of the most important parts of being human and one of the best ways to create courage, kindness, and ferocity of the heart. I want to live in a world where all creative artists are fully supported in every way so they can create whatever kind of art they feel drawn to create, and since I'm a writer and understand that life, I Iaunched the Writers Happiness Movement in early 2020 as a way to help build this world. Down the road there will large-scale grants for writers, but I had to start small! The $25 microgrants aren't going to change anyone's life, but I hope they might remind a writer that what they do matters and to keep going. It's really meant to cheer a writer on. If you'd like to nominate a writer you know for a Writers Happiness Movement microgrant, you can do that on the website!

2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?

So much of what we as writers have to do looks like "time off" to the rest of the world—& our culture doesn't really like people taking time off. Do it anyway. It is vital to your creative process.

3- What most motivates you to read a new book?

Certainly the usual (recommendations from friends, flap copy, first pages), but I also read the blurbs that are printed in the book. I tend to look for books with a sense of hope in them, and I can often tell from the words used in blurbs whether that's the case.

4- Do you take part in NaNoWriMo? (If so) Do you have a Municipal Liaison you'd like to thank? (If not) Why not? (

I love NaNoWriMo! That said, I don't really ever do it. I've only done it once, and even then I set my own rules for myself rather than doing it the way you're supposed to. I think I spend so much of my life creating communities that I don't tend to have the energy to fully join other ones, so I jump in and out of them at my own pace.

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book in an autumn setting?

I think It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is the epitome of autumn.
#NewBook #DebutAuthor #2021Books #giveaway Spotlight on New Book Debut Author Lori Snyder

6- What should writers know about yoga?

That yoga, if it's something you like, can really bring you closer to the truest, most real part of you, the part that all art comes from. The physical benefits of strength and flexibility are fabulous side effects, but not the main goal. Also, that "yoga" isn't one thing—there are countless styles and lineages that can be in direct opposition to each other—and within all those different kinds, each teacher brings their own take on it. If you want to try yoga but don't like the first class you take, keep trying! Also, yoga is something I love but it isn't the only path, so don't worry if it isn't for you. There are plenty of other methods and tools to become more of who you are.

7- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?

And yes! Huge shout outs to: Jason June, author of JAY'S GAY AGENDA and more @HeyJasonJune
Dawn Quigley, author of the JO JO MAKOONS series and more @DawnEQuigley
Megan Rosenbloom, author of DARK ARCHIVES: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin @LibraryatNight
I love Megan, and thought I'd throw in a good Halloween book!

8- When did you first know you wanted to publish a book someday?

When I was in my late 20s, around 1996. Yes, it took that long.

9- Are you a Plotter, Pantser, or Plantser, and how did you adopt that style?

Plantser. I have a weird writing style which everyone tells you is a terrible way to write a book, in that I start from some big theme and then write out, oh, between 20K and 100K of notes trying to figure out character and plot. I end up with almost an entire book of stream-of-consciousness notes from which I collect something vaguely outline-esque, and then I start writing. Soon I get stuck again, and I go back to notes and a sort-of outline. KIDS. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

10- What does your basic writing schedule look like, and how often do you write?

It really varies depending on deadlines and what else is going on work-wise for me. I freelance and teach yoga and run the Writers Happiness Movement in addition to writing, and so none of my days ever look the same. I've gone for huge stretches where there's no time for my own writing, to writing every day, all day for months to meet my deadline.

11- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!

Author name: Chris Baron @baronchrisbaron
Title: The Magical Imperfect
Love because: I adore this mg book in verse for so many reasons, but a few of them are that it's a beautifully written story about grief, love, and magic with a main character who is a boy and who is allowed to be gentle and kind and thoughtful. I also love that the fact that the main character and his family are Jewish, and the (possible) magic in the book is informed by Jewish mythology, and that the Jewishness is simply woven through the story as a fundamental part of who these characters are but without being the main reason for the story. That's just starting to happen more and more with Jewish characters, and I'm so grateful for it.

12- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?

Awe. Delight. A sense of agency over their own lives and choices. A recognition of fear as an important part of us that serves a role. Joy. Wonder.

13- What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?

I hope my book reminds kids that they get to choose who they are and who they grow to become: not society, not the labels we put on them, not even, honestly, their parents or family. I hope it reminds them that there is magic everywhere, hidden and obvious. I hope it lets them tap into their own sincerity and not get lost in easy cynicism. I hope it makes them laugh with joy and feel like they belong. I hope it offers happiness and goofiness and refuge and a reminder that the world can glow with possibility.

14- What is your favorite creative non-writing activity to do?

Oh, so many! For now, I'll say rollerblading. I'm a Venice beach girl through and through, and strapping on my skates, putting on tunes, and skate-dancing down the bike path is just the best!
#NewBook #DebutAuthor #2021Books #giveaway Spotlight on New Book Debut Author Lori Snyder

15- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? #WeNeedDiverseBooks

My book is my love letter to Venice, CA, and reflects the diversity of that magical place. The main character, Maddy, doesn't have parents. I happen to know on good authority that she is brown-skinned and Jewish, but that doesn't play into the story. As she makes her way into her chosen family of the magical Il Circo delle Strade, the people around her—both main characters and background-y—are of all the many different ethnicities and background and ages that I see every day in Venice.

16- What method do you feel is the best way to get book reviews?

Get an amazing artist like Petur Antonnson to do your cover?? Also, I tell my friends and mailing list how helpful it is for an author, and ask them to leave a review anyplace it's easy for them if they feel so inclined.

17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I always only wanted to be traditionally published. Part of this is that I started writing for real in 1998, and back then traditional publishing was the only thing that was taken seriously. But even now, when you write for the 9-12 age group, I think traditional publishing is the best way to reach teachers, educators, librarians, parents, and kids. Plus, I really wanted to be in book stores and have that kind of a career.

18- What's the biggest writing goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

As of this last week: my husband and I were talking about The Circus at the End of the Sea, and he said, "Wouldn't it be cool if Cirque du Soliel did a show based on your book?" ...and I gasped and nearly fell over. I love love love LOVE Cirque du Soliel, and if I say so myself, The Circus at the End of the Sea is practically a Cirque show already. So that's my new goal.

19- Would you please ask our audience a question to answer in the comments?

Anyone have an in with Cirque du Soleil? :-)
Ok, for reals: What place in the world, real or in fiction, is one of the great loves of your life?
(But seriously, also: if you have an in with Cirque, can you tell me?)

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

This book is my love letter to Venice, Ca; to found families; to magic; to delight; and to the sea. Also to octopusus, the nighttime, and all the wild, feral beauty in the world. Here's the blurb from HarperCollins:

A vibrant and enchanting debut novel about a lonely girl who discovers a magical circus, perfect for fans of Kelly Barnhill and Rebecca Stead!

Maddy Adriana knows that magic is real. All her life, her heart has pulled her towards things too perfect to be ordinary. One day, that tug leads her to a magical street circus, hidden in plain sight among the canals and boardwalks of Venice Beach.

For the first time in Maddy’s life, she finally feels like she belongs. But the circus is in grave danger. Maddy will need to confront the frightening side of magic, as well as her own deepest fears, if she’s to have any hope of saving the place she dreams of calling home.

This unforgettable debut shows readers the magic of following your heart and finding where you belong.


There's a plethora of kid and educator activities—including bitmoji rooms, teacher's guides, and audio me reading a chapter from The Circus at the End of the Sea that's been engineered with sound effects and an amazing musical soundtrack by a friend who's a TV editor—on my author website,


Also, I'm the founder of the Writers Happiness Movement, which offers free happiness tools for writers including free online retreats and yoga, microgrants, and more, with a long-term goal of also building retirement homes, co-living spaces, and residencies for writers that are completely funded by the Writers Happiness Movement. You can check it out at


I'm not on the socials too much—I find they tend to take away from my happiness rather than add to it—but when I am, you can find me at @LoriRSnyder (twitter) and @lorisnyder28 (instagram).


Please answer the question in the comments. There are TWO copies of the book up for grabs, so that means TWO winners!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori Snyder

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

6 days...until NaNo Begins

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts in 6 days. Then the goal of writing 1,667 words a day for 30 days will begin.

I finally decided what I will work on this year, which is my 13th NaNo. I am a fan of Reverse NaNo, which is a different word goal from the 1,667 a day to have a larger word count goal for the first two weeks. This method works for me because when I begin to struggle in week 2, I have a word count cushion when I get stuck. 

But this year I decided to tackle one of my long term NaNo goals, writing a double NaNo. This year my goal is to write 100,000 words in 30 days. 

What? Why now?

Mostly because I need to work on a nonfiction work about my day job, and I still want to work on my usual type of NaNo project, a fantasy, sci-fi, or literary novel. This year will be a fantasy novel.

So I will work on my nonfiction project and and then work on the novel.

How is your plan for NaNo going? What will you work on in November? What are your goals this year?


Monday, October 25, 2021

Halloween for Writers

Attending a Halloween gathering?  Here are literary costumes for writers.  Have fun!

At a loss for what to do this weekend?  Here are some creepy crawly short reads

Includes Poe, Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, other authors known for causing shivers.  Missing is Harlan Ellison.  I think the short story I HAVE NO MOUTH AND I MUST SCREAM is one of the creepiest stories I've ever read.  Do you have a "favorite" creepy story?

Friday, October 22, 2021

October 2021 Pass or Pages Entry #5


It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Kaitlyn Johnson, Hilary Harwell, Michelle Hauck, Beth Marshea, Carlisle Webber, Cortney Radocaj, for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!

Entry 5: Purecell

Genre: Fantasy


For six hours a day, wielding a new list of names each morning, she[KJ1][CR1][BM1][CW1] convinces strangers to buy things[CW2]. As the top telemarketer at Kogane Services, Inc, she makes a living by knowing everything about others while staying invisible[KJ2][MH1].

One day, after a violent encounter with an old client[CW3], she wakes up locked in her apartment with nothing but a map and a strange[BM2] list of names. With no other[BM3] way out but a massive hole in her bathroom[CR2], she soon finds herself thrown into Purecell, an alternate world where humans no longer age, people must request identity/memory changes every few decades to ward off boredom or insanity, and a select few (lucky or not) possess Skill Stones—special body parts that grant unique powers from mind reading to self-duplication—which they use to battle for power and prestige as “Burners.[MH2][CW4]

To Faye’s horror, everyone in Purecell knows her—just[BM4] as one of the most brutal Burners[CR3] in history[MH3]. Wanted for crimes she escaped nearly two hundred years earlier which she has no recollection of, she soon finds herself chained to a chair with three options: Burn, Be Burned[CW5], or Confess. Until her executioner offers her a job in exchange for the list of names[CW6]. With an unexpected ally[CW7], Faye must now navigate this dangerous new world where everyone wants her dead to find the truth behind the strange list of names and who she really[KJ3] is.

PURCELL is a 130,000 word[KJ4] YA[MH4] fantasy[CW8] with a narrative style in the vein of Haruki Murakami and a fantasy world that cues popular Japanese animations like My Hero Academia and Jujutsu Kaisen[CR4].

Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ1] Who is she? What is her name?
[KJ2] Start off with the telemarketer angle instead of list of names. That way, we don't begin confused. Ex: As the top telemarketer at Kogane Services, Inc., Faye makes a living knowing everything about others while staying invisible. 
[KJ3] Perhaps condense this to something like "To Faye's horror, everyone knows her here—as one of the most brutal Burners in history. Wanted for crimes she allegedly escaped nearly two hundred years earlier, she's left with three options: Burn, Be Burned, or Confess. But when the strange list of names opens the door to escape, Faye must navigate the dangerous new world where everyone wants her dead to uncover who she really is, who is on her list, and how she can get back home. 
[KJ4] This word count is too high for a YA Fantasy debut. Often, we're seeing editors ask for no more than 110k.

Hilary's comments: None

Michelle's comments:
[MH1] Very nice bit of character insight!
[MH2] I’d like to know more about what being a “Burner” is about. Maybe shorten the first and s
[CS3] econd sentence to make more room for that. 
[MH3] Nice twist!
[MH4] That’s on the long side for YA fantasy. 

Beth's comments:
[BM1] She doesn't have a name?
[BM2] Delete
[BM3] Delete
[BM4] Delete

Carlisle's comments:
[CW1] Name the main character as soon as you introduce her.
[CW2] What kinds of things?  
[CW3] A client of the company? Or someone she convinced to buy something? 
[CW4] Is Burner a position they get after gaining power and prestige, or do their skills as Burners get them that?
[CW5] What does this mean? What are the consequences of being burned?
[CW6] What names are expected to be on the list? 
[CW7] Who is it?
[CW8] This is far too long for a YA novel. Even though fantasy can be a little longer because you need more time and space to set up the world, for YA you want to stay around 90K or shorter. Also, since the main character already has a career in our world, this doesn’t sound YA, something backed up by your comparison to Murakami. YA is written and published for people ages 12-18, and the protagonists are usually 15-18 years old.

Cortney's comments:
[CR1] Who is “she”? I’m guessing there might be an opening paragraph before this one that was cut for the purposes of this contest where the MC’s name is given, but if there isn’t, I’d highly suggest putting that name here to ground us.
[CR2] This confuses me—are the doors locked? Did her apartment cave in? I feel like we missed a major piece of plot tension and conflict here (and thus a huge piece of motivation for the MC).
[CR3] I’m not sure what this term means, and it doesn’t really seem to be explained at all after this point in the query, either. I’d either give a brief, few word explanation after this so we understand what Burners are (are they criminals? Crime bosses? Something else?), or use a term that most are going to understand.
[CR4] I think on the whole this premise has potential, but I have a few issues with the way it’s laid out. There’s simultaneously too much detail and not enough—I’m not getting enough of Faye’s internal conflict/motivation, especially in the first half to set up the rest of the query, but then there are terms that are too specific for a query since there isn’t space to explain them (Burners, Burn, Confess, etc.). There needs to be a little more internal information, and fewer specific terms. Additionally, I was really thrown when I reached the end of this query and realized this is YA—nothing about this query reads as YA, especially since you start off with her working as a telemarketer. The word count is also way too high for YA, even YA fantasy. This absolutely reads as adult.

First 250 Words

My name is Faye Kirasaki, age 23, average chest[KJ5] size[BM5] and long black hair[CR5][CW9]. I’ve been told I’m perfectly normal. And I tell people I’m perfectly appropriate for this kind of work[CW10]. I sell things. Magazine subscriptions, daily salad delivery plans, special CD boxsets, a year’s worth of something you’d never think you’d needed until I told you about how it could change your life. There’s always a reason - that’s the slogan at Kogane Services Inc. Everything from fashion to toy guns, and all under 50,000 yen. I spend over six hours a day on the phone, talking to strangers I’ll never meet.

Each morning starts off with lists of raw information: names, jobs, interests, education, birth dates, hometowns. I go online and search for photos of people with the same names so I can put a face to a list of facts, first by full name, and if that comes up empty, then just by first name and occupation. I’ll keep the photo on the screen as I talk to the person on the phone so that I can imagine their facial expressions with the changes in the tone of their voice or diction. I make up anecdotes and backstories. I’ve learned so much about these strangers, weaving story upon story, that sometimes they come into my dreams, drained of color, and demand to see my face and hear my story. I’ve had tea with the same actress from Tokyo with Nanako Matsushima’s face, in three separate dreams[CR6][BM6][MH4][CW11].

Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ5] Why is her chest size necessary? I'm not sure listing her attributes and how "normal" she is opens this story the strongest way. Perhaps start instead with the Kogane slogan, and then bring in Faye's connection to that instead of listing those details. I'd love to see her actually in the motion of her days instead of being told how her mornings start.

Hilary's comments: I was dying to know who ‘she’ is in the opening of your query pitch. I’d definitely suggest introducing your protagonist sooner and more formally, and I also wanted to feel more of a connection to her in both the query and the pages.
Michelle's comments:
[MH3] Maybe more generic “men like this to go to hell” Since she might not ever see this particular man again. 
[MH4] I’m not sure I’m sold on the narrative voice, but I do like how you work little clues to her personality into the narrative. I will pass on this as I didn’t connect to the narrative voice. 

Beth's comments:
[BM5] No
[BM6] This isn’t the right story for me. I don’t love these kind of dystopian world stories that center around fighting, etc… But, I also think the sample has a bit too much of an infodump as introduction. Try to find a place in your story to that will help your reader engage with your character so that they’ll want to stick around to see what happens next. I’d also strongly advise staying away from physical descriptions unless there is a salient point to be made or it is relevant to the scene. 

Carlisle's comments:
[CW9] Why is chest size something that the narrator feels defines her? Without explanation, it feels like unnecessary sexualization.
[CW10] Here, “this” is a pronoun with no antecedent.” I think this sentence would make a lot more sense after the reader learns what the work is.  
[CW11] I think this passage would be more powerful if we saw the main character taking action, rather than telling the reader what she does. What if this scene were an actual interaction with a potential customer? That would give Faye the opportunity to act and narrate her thoughts in real time.

Cortney's comments:
[CR5] A couple things here: first, if your protagonist is 23, it’s definitely not YA, which reaffirms the feeling I got from reading the query. This book is adult, and you definitely need to start pitching it that way, or you’re going to have agents rejecting on the basis that it doesn’t feel YA since that’s what they’re thinking it is. Second, this opening sentence is going to turn off agents in a heartbeat, especially with the focus on Faye’s chest size (why is that, of all the physical details that we could get, the one that gets included here?); I don’t really care what your characters looks like or her age. I care about what being in her head is like, what her emotions and thought processes and her life is like. You’ll have a much, much stronger opening if you start in the middle of a scene (NOT, mind you, a super action packed one or the inciting incident, but one that allows us to get a sense of Faye’s life and circumstances).
[CR6] The same issue with the first sentence pervaded throughout the rest of these two paragraphs—it’s difficult for a lot of readers to get into a story when we’re immediately dropped into a bunch of info dumping. I’m not getting a sense of who Faye is as a person, what her actual POV is like and where she’s at during THIS current moment; I’m getting a rundown of her job description. I feel like this would work a lot better if we were actively in a scene with Faye, rather than getting a list of information about Faye and her job. 


Results:  [If you receive a "Pages!", click on the agent's name here or at the top of this post for submission instructions.]

Kaitlyn: Pass
Hilary: Pass
Michelle: Pass
Beth: Pass
Carlisle: Pass
Cortney: Pass


Thursday, October 21, 2021

October 2021 Pass or Pages Entry #4


It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Kaitlyn Johnson, Hilary Harwell, Michelle Hauck, Beth Marshea, Carlisle Webber, Cortney Radocaj, for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!

Entry 4: The Journey We Share

Genre: Contemporary


Dear X,

I feel you’d be a great fit for my 74,000-word contemporary YA manuscript, THE JOURNEY WE SHARE. The novel alternates timelines[KJ1] between three major characters[CR1][MH1][CW1].

Every day is a battle for fifteen-year-olds Steven and Mpholo.

Steven wishes his life was normal at his New England boarding school, that he could simply go to class and get a date; but his friend recently died, he gets panic attacks, and is tempted[BM1] to cope with drugs.

Meanwhile, Mpholo struggles to raise his younger siblings in stigma-rich[CR2] Uganda after their parents die from AIDS. He dreams of the day he will have money and friends, but inescapable unemployment and exclusion from his community means he may not see his dream come to fruition.

On the surface, the two teenagers have almost nothing in common; however, their lives link when Mpholo and Steven’s friends introduce them to a memoir by Mira[CW2], a fifteen-year-old in India who struggles to complete her education while dealing with an abusive father. When her father announces plans to marry her off, she devises a plan to escape, finish her education, and write a memoir[CR3][CW3].

As Steven and Mpholo read Mira’s book, they find themselves moved to reach their dreams. But when Steven’s roommate suspects his drug usage and Mpholo is kicked out of his village[MH2], they’re forced to make crucial decisions – to get clean or get caught; to return to the village or move away, respectively[KJ2][CR4][BM2][CW4].

THE JOURNEY WE SHARE illustrates how fears and dreams are universal and the ways they connect us are more meaningful than they appear. It will appeal to readers of WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Aisha Saeed and THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE by Patrick Ness[CW5].

Thank you for your consideration.


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ1] Does it alternate timelines or points of view? Timelines would make me think this isn't technically contemporary. From the other info, I can see the timeline of the memoir may be past but the boys are both contemporary. Due to this, I would say POVs not timelines.
[KJ2] My worry here is that we don't truly see the boys' storylines come together at all. They forever remain apart. While i think this may be the intent behind your stated themes, it's hard to know (without reading the full) that there will be enough union of situation for it to make sense for the side-by-side of the boys.

Hilary's comments: None

Michelle's comments:
[MH1] I’m glad you share this information. 
[MH2] Loving this query so far but why he got kicked out is unclear. Maybe a hint of that above in the paragraph about him.

Beth's comments:
[BM1] This is too passive. Does he turn to drugs to cope or doesn’t he? If he doesn’t, why bring it up in the query?
[BM2] This sounds like a book of parallel story lines which is generally a red flag for me. It is incredibly difficult to get a reader to engage equally with two different stories equally which leaves them generally feeling like they wish it was one or the other. I think both sound engaging, but it makes me very hesitant. 

Carlisle's comments:
[CW1] Delete this last sentence. 
[CW2] If Steven is in NE and Mpholo is in Uganda, who do they meet? How do they have mutual friends? 
[CW3] Didn’t she already write the memoir, though? That’s what it sounds like in the previous sentence, because how else could the boys be introduced to it? 
[CW4] Do they ever meet in person? Other than reading the same book, I’m not sure how their lives are linked.
[CW5] I would delete this.

Cortney's comments:
[CR1] The rest of the query only focuses on two characters—where does the third come in? I’d just cut this sentence entirely; the fact that there’s two very different POVs set up in the query tells me that it’s not a single POV story, and saying that there’s a third major character without bringing them into the query at all is a little confusing.
[CR2] I’m not sure what “stigma-rich” means—stigma against what? From whom?
[CR3] Is the third major character Mira? If so, I’d still say cut the line I mentioned above; I’m getting the sense that Mira’s story is more of a backdrop to Steven and Mpholo’s, as theirs seem to be the what the book is going to revolve around. 
[CR4] I’m a little concerned about how everything connects with this book; I’m not seeing any space where Steven and Mpholo are ever in contact with one another, and thus their storylines look to be completely separate. There’s the thread of both boys reading the memoir, but I’m not seeing anything indicating this matters to their two stories converging together. There are books that do this, yes, where two storylines never truly affect the other, but I personally am not really a fan of them; if there are multiple POVs, I need them to deal with one another somehow, to matter to an overall plot arc why we’re getting some information from one perspective, and other information from another.

First 250 Words

“Arre[KJ3]…move out of the way! Why are you just standing there?” the man screamed as he pushed a cart overflowing with coconuts around a young girl[CW6].

“Sorry, sir. Sorry.” Mira moved to the side of the dirt road, her cheeks burning, though the sun was not out yet.

“Stupid girl – standing in the street like that,” the man yelled as he forged onwards, “people have work to do. Unlike you.”

Mira gave a weak smile and nodded, but she threw daggers at him with her eyes. As she continued down the side of the road, she consoled herself with the thought that one of these days she would tell the man to go[MH3] to hell. But not today.

The[CW7] daily walk to work reminded Mira of her broken dreams. At the corner, she passed the school she used to attend. In a couple of hours, other girls her age would sit on wooden benches diligently taking notes about algebra or literature, while she would slave away for hours listening to a barrage of insults from her father in the kitchen[CW8]. She missed her literature classes in particular, reading and discussing Hesse or Rushdie; and she longed for the elation she experienced when her teachers gave her an ‘A’ on a paper. Thinking of the past and what was, Mira’s chest tightened[CR5][BM3][MH4].

Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ3] I don't believe this is the strongest way to open the book. We start with random dialogue and don't know the setting, the POV, or why this is important. I was surprised to start with Mira rather than one of the boys, since the later inclusion of Mira helps them both in coping with situations. I had thought the boys would be main POVs and Mira's would peek in here and there as a more memoir voice, tying in the moments the boys find themselves in similar experiences or problems. This acting out as a present day feel for Mira's timeline strikes me as odd.

Hilary's comments: There are a lot of interesting components to the pitch, but they didn’t quite come together for me in a way that made me feel confident the story itself would hold together. I also like to be settled in a bit more to the characters/setting before the action and dialog kicks off.
Michelle's comments:
[MH3] Maybe more generic “men like this to go to hell” Since she might not ever see this particular man again. 
[MH4] I like that there is a balance of action and backstory/introspection here. Darker issue stories are a tough fit for me, but I would request pages on this one!

Beth's comments:
[BM3] The query is all about the two boys, but the book starts with Mira? I would consider adding the fictional memoir in later and starting with one of the protagonists. The selection provided doesn’t read like a memoir, so is there a part of the manuscript you’re submitting that actually covers Mira’s point of view or is it just excerpts from her book. In the query, make sure you’re clear about what we should be expecting when we receive the first pages. 

Carlisle's comments:
[CW6] Beginning a book with dialogue is very difficult because the reader doesn’t yet know who any of the characters are or why they’re saying the things they are. I suggest establishing the scene first, then starting the dialogue. 
[CW7] This is a more appropriate place for the book to start, with the introduction of the main character and a look at her life.
[CW8] Is her work in a restaurant or hotel? If so, elaborate, because it’s too easy to assume she’s being kept at home because she can hear her father in the kitchen.  

Cortney's comments:
[CR4] This feels a little odd, to open in Mira’s perspective when Steven and Mpholo’s were the ones so heavily focused on in the query. It confirms my thought that she might have been the third POV, but hers is definitely not what the story seems to be “about”, or where the focus will be, so it feels a little jarring to open with her and not one of the boys.


Results:  [If you receive a "Pages!", click on the agent's name here or at the top of this post for submission instructions.]

Kaitlyn: Pass
Hilary: Pass
Michelle: Pages!
Beth: Pass
Carlisle: Pass
Cortney: Pass


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

October 2021 Pass or Pages Entry #3

It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Kaitlyn Johnson, Hilary Harwell, Michelle Hauck, Beth Marshea, Carlisle Webber, Cortney Radocaj, for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!

Entry 3: Vida Futura

Genre: Speculative Fiction


If you had the option to live again after dying, would you[BM1][CW1]? What if you couldn’t pick your name, your job, or even the memories you could keep[KJ1][CR1]? In Vida Futura, everyone has a second chance, but never a choice[MH1][CW2].

The story follows[KJ2][CW3] Miss Shenhao, a young woman who wakes up in an unfamiliar house, unsure of what country or even what year it is. She is told by her new Life Counselor that she died a month earlier in a train accident but has been deemed Fit and selected for Life Reassignment in Vida Futura[CR2][BM2].

Unable to prove[KJ3] otherwise[CR3][BM3], she begins her new life with a new job and new friends who have all found themselves in the same situation, each with their own gruesome death story. Unlike her peers, however, she secretly suffers from what the Counselors in Vida Futura call PEM (persistent expired memories), a defect where the memories of one’s previous life have not been fully wiped out and can lead to permanent termination if discovered[CW3].

After her boss, a fellow PEM sufferer, disappears, she soon finds herself navigating the unseen side of her small town in search of answers and a possible escape[BM4], leading her to a fox mask-wearing man who “collects and sells stories,”[BM5] a shop owner who promises her a ticket out if she can offer something irreplaceable, a waitress obsessed with memory-eating monsters that no one has ever seen, and the “happiness researchers” who say they can cure her PEM[KJ4][CR4][MH2]. As she draws closer to the truth of what Vida Futura is and why she has been brought here, she begins to question: in a world where memories can be erased, how do you know what is real and what isn't[CW4]?

VIDA FUTURA is a 120,000 word[CW5] book[KJ5] of speculative fiction that would find its primary audience among Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell fans—readers who love to get lost in everyday worlds that have been twisted by the surreal.[CW6]

Thank you for your consideration[CR5].


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ1] Avoid rhetorical questions in queries. Instead, start of strong with your third line here: In Vida Futura, everyone has a second chance—but never a choice.
[KJ2] Start right with your character, not an intro. ex: When Miss Shenhao wakes in an unfamiliar house, she meets her Life Counselor—the one tasked with informing her that she died a month earlier in a train accident. However, she has been deemed Fit and selected for Life Reassignment in Vida Futura.
[KJ3] To prove what otherwise? That she's not dead?
[KJ4] Giving a list of "happenings" doesn't quite help us understand the plot itself. We need to know how her boss' disappearance puts her on the trail of something and what she must do about whatever it is she learns/finds. What is her ultimate goal or what is she uncovering? It's a bit too vague. 
[KJ5] This feels like it should be called an adult sci fi.

Hilary's comments: None

Michelle's comments:
[MH1] Consider cutting the questions and just going straight to this sentence. It’s a great sentence!
[MH2] Rather than a list of characters focus on what Miss Shenhao does to struggle against her situation and how her situation gets worse. Before the stakes share what is her character arc and how does she need to change over her journey? What choice must she make?

Beth's comments:
[BM1] Not an issue at large with this premise. But something you wouldn’t know about me… I am terrified of anything involving eternal life. The greatest gift of life, in my opinion is the sweet oblivion of death (don’t worry, its not depressing to me). So, my immediate answer to this question is “No.” and it stops be from engaging in the next lines.
[BM2] Is this something that happens secretly, or is this something the society knows about. I want that information in the query. 
[BM3] Unable to prove what? Does she think she didn’t die? Is that part of the plot we should know about? This could use a little clarification. 
[BM4] I’m unclear about why she wants to escape. What are the stakes?
[BM5] Book dealer? 

Carlisle's comments:
[CW1] I always recommend against rhetorical questions of any kind in a query letter. My immediate internal response to this question is no. Because of this, I would immediately pass on this query because clearly, the world it builds is not for me.
[CW2] Move this sentence to the end of the second paragraph. Even for speculative fiction, I feel it’s best to open by introducing the main character rather than the world. People are always more interesting than settings. Also, what does "never a choice" mean?
[CW3] This is a good explanation of the world and the main character’s stakes.
[CW4] Two things aren’t working for me here: 1. The stakes aren’t high enough for the main character. What decision will she be forced to make that will change her life? 2. Ending on a rhetorical question doesn’t work either. The agent can’t know the answer because we haven’t read the book, so it’s hard for us to get invested. For a closing in a query, try a form of an If/then statement: “If [character] can/can’t accomplish X, then [consequence] will happen.” 
[CW5] This is too long for a debut, even for speculative fiction. I recommend that it be no longer than 100K, maybe 110K.
[CW6] Delete this.

Cortney's comments:
[CR1] Opening a query with rhetorical questions is risky, as it tends not to be received well; I feel like this would be a lot stronger with just the next sentence in this first paragraph.
[CR2] What is this? Is it virtual reality? Or is it a physical place? This can severely alter what I anticipate the tone of the book being, and potential tension/conflicts that would make sense within the query. I can see from later in the query there’s something up with what Vida Futura actually is, so this answer here doesn’t have to be the “real” answer—just what people THINK it is, what people are told it is (or at least what Shenhao is told it is). 
[CR3] Prove what otherwise? That she died? That she’s “Fit” for this second life? Why would she want to prove either of those things wrong?
[CR4] This list of things doesn’t quite work; from a structural standpoint, it’s difficult to see the overarching thread connecting all of these, and what Shenhao’s driving motivation is. It makes me worry about the story’s arc—this feels less like each encounter leads into the next and are intertwined with one another, and more like “this happened, then this happened” without one event bearing any weight on another.
[CR5] I think there’s potential in this premise, but there are definitely a few pieces of internal motivation missing throughout this query; we need to have a little bit of detail about Shenhao’s feelings and drivers, because right now we have very little (if any) indication of why any of these events matter to her. Obviously someone with the same issues as you disappearing is a problem—but was she happy to be in Vida Futura before? What’s stopping her from dropping everything and pretending she’s fine and just going along with it, when it feels like this is not a safe place to ask questions or prod for answers?

First 250 Words

I died on July 22nd, 2016.

My mother cried and cried, and then she just stopped talking altogether.

My father spent two hours searching forum posts on how to arrange an international corpse transport and last-minute funerals in New York. He then spent the next five hours marathoning through NHK videos about Japan from robot restaurants to the train suicide rates.

My brother had a beer in a bar he’d never been to. There, he went through our intermittent text messages throughout the years and then deleted my contact information from his phone.

They each coped in their own way, as always[BM6][CW7].

The alpaca plush doll I’d given my mom my senior year of college sat on my old piano in the living room like a reminder that I had once been there playing for them, that I hadn’t been forgotten[CR6].

I woke up on August 22nd, 2016[MH3].

But[BM7] it wasn’t in my bed in Queens. Or huddled in my futon in a cramped apartment in Tokyo. I was in a small, single room cabin, sitting at a square oak table. There was a window facing an endless green field like the one from Sound of Music. In the distance were snow-peaked mountains and the computer blue of a massive lake[CW8].

This was Vida Futura. Or at least that’s what it said on the welcome pamphlet on the table. In a cream-colored envelope was a ‘REASSIGNMENT CARD’ with an awful photo of me I didn’t remember taking[KJ6][CR7][BM8][MH4].


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ6] I do like these pages. You've got a very interesting, subdued voice that works well for the "waking with no memory" aspect of your story. It's good you don't immediately start with the waking up, so your opening draws us in. Well done. Unfortunately, I’m not currently looking for Sci Fi on my list.

Hilary's comments: The opening line of your query is intriguing, as is the premise here. I’m a little concerned about the wordcount, which is a bit high, but I’d like to see the first five chapters and a complete synopsis (1-2 pgs) as a word doc attachment, please, with Query: Pass or Pages in the subject field. Thanks!
Michelle's comments:
[MH3] The family sounds interesting. But it is unclear how she knows how her family reacted, but I’m more interested in how she reacted to her death. A little more focus on the MC.
[MH4] I will pass on this entry as the character voice didn’t hook me. 

Beth's comments:
[BM6] Delete.
[BM7] Delete. 
[BM8] This one isn’t for me, but it has potential. Work on really clarifying what the situation is and what the stakes are for her. Why doesn’t she want to awake in this small town? What happens if she can’t get out.

Carlisle's comments:
[CW7] This makes it sound like they’ve experienced lots of death. Is that the case? If so, elaborate.
[CW8] Who is the narrator? I feel like if we got to know them a little bit more, we as readers would be more invested in how they navigate their post-wakeup world. While I appreciate the fact that the inciting event happens on page 1, the person to whom the event happens is even more important.

Cortney's comments:
[CR6] How does Shinhao know all of this? It feels like she’s observing her family, but how?
[CR7] This opening is a lot more retrospective than I prefer books to be. I like being dropped into their immediate perspective, with details such as all of these being woven in later—so for me, I’m not hooked. But there are books that work like this; someone else might like it just fine. There’s potential in the overall concept, but unfortunately I’m not intrigued enough to want to read further.

Results:  [If you receive a "Pages!", click on the agent's name here or at the top of this post for submission instructions.]

Kaitlyn: Pass
Hilary: Pages!
Michelle: Pass
Beth: Pass
Carlisle: Pass
Cortney: Pass


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

October 2021 Pass or Pages Entry #2


It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Kaitlyn Johnson, Hilary Harwell, Michelle Hauck, Beth Marshea, Carlisle Webber, Cortney Radocaj, for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!

Entry 2: Dance of Ice and Steel

Genre: Fantasy



Seventeen-year-old[BM1] Sophia Altus is resolute: she must find her mother’s murderer and kill them. No one harms her family and lives[KJ1][CR1].

Sophia is an Elementale with control[MH1] over ice[CW1]. Her extensive training to defend the mortal world against hellbeasts[CR2] means she’s well-versed in the art of killing anyway[CM2][CW2]. In fact, it might be the thing she’s best at. Except she couldn’t even dispatch that godforsaken creature before it tore through her mother. The designated Stupidest Thing on Earth[CR3][CW3] shouldn’t have been able to get into the palace in the first place, much less kill the Queen[CR4]. Which means there’s an Elementale involved and oh[CW4] would Sophia like to get her hands on them[KJ2][BM3][CW5].

She only plans to ask two things when she does: why, and how would you like to die[CR5]?

Except when she finds him, she almost wishes she hadn’t[CR6]. Because finding him means learning that her mother’s death was just a means to an end. That end is her - the last key in his seriously deranged plan to destroy the mortal world[CW6]. Finding him means discovering that some monstrous part of her is intertwined with him[BM4].

Sophia must decide between surrendering herself to his plan and setting the end of the world in motion or refusing and signing the death warrant on everyone she loves – both her old family and the new one she’s found along the way[KJ3][CR7][BM5][MH2][CW7].

DANCE OF ICE AND STEEL[BM6] (95,000 words) is a fantasy[KJ4] novel for fans of Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education and Margaret Rogerson’s Sorcery of Thorns who will enjoy similar fantasy elements and a strong female protagonist[CW8].

I am currently pursuing a degree in creative writing in New York. This will be my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ1]This feels like a very sudden, jarring decision before we know anything about who she is/what her life is like/what the world is like. Perhaps start first with how she is an Elementale well-versed in the art of killing, a skill she intends to utilize to the fullest extent once she locates her mother's killer.
[KJ2] This is feeding the reader too much. We want to start with who she is, opening situation, and then the conflict that gives her a goal and what stands in her way. I feel this would be stronger starting with her being an Elementale, intent on killing her mother's murderer, only to discover betrayal from her own people and what she must now do about it.
[KJ3] This is still too vague. It feels like the author is attempting not to "spoil" things but we need more concrete details to understand what she's a part of and why she has to make this decision.
[KJ4] Be sure to state it is YA.

Hilary's comments: None

Michelle's comments:
[MH1] With fantasy there’s a lot of competition. You really need to focus on what is unique about your story. I don’t see a lot of elementals involved with ice specifically. Maybe showcase more detail on the ice aspect. That sounds full of potential!
[MH2] I feel the details aren’t specific enough on the stakes and also so on this opponent she’s facing. A name and more about him might help. Also why he needs Sophia to destroy the mortal world isn’t clear. There’s not really a mention of her new family until the last line, and I’m unsure of a character arc for Sophia. How does she change? That’s a lot to get in a query, but maybe hints of her arc.

Beth's comments:
[BM1] I’m immediately assuming this is YA Fantasy with a seventeen-year-old protagonist. Make sure you label your genre to reflect that.
[BM2] Delete this word
[BM3] Try to simplify the highlights of the story rather than recreate it. The gist is that Sophia failed to protect her mother from a murder plot and now she’s seeking revenge, the mechanics of how that happened are less important. Right now this is a little too confusing. 
[BM4] Again, this could be simplified. She learns that killing her mother was only a means to get to her. 
[BM5] I don’t believe in these stakes. If his plan is ultimately to destroy the world, wouldn’t her family die anyway and I didn’t realize that she’d found any new family.
[BM6] I know fantasy titles have a tendency to get a little repetitive, but offhand the formula of “X of Y and Z” is way overdone. 

Carlisle's comments:
[CW1] Since you are setting up a world with your own terms and rules, you should explain what those are as soon as you mention them. The agent has no way of knowing what they mean otherwise, or how your main character’s world works.
[CW2] Delete "anyway".
[CW3] Is this an official label?
[CW4] Delete "oh".
[CW5] Words like “oh” and “anyway” make the book feel much less serious than a murder plot is. 
[CW6] What does this mean?
[CW7] I am not clear on how the end of the world wouldn’t mean her own death as well.
[CW8] Italics and delete.

Cortney's comments:
[CR1] This sentence can be cut—it’s not adding anything. The resolution to find her mother’s murderer and kill them herself is enough to tell us she’d feel this way.
[CR2] Why has she been trained? My assumption is there’s another world aside from the mortal one—are we talking another planet? Another dimension? Or do they live in the same physical space and you’re using “world” more metaphorically? Why would Elementales care to protect mortals?
[CR3] This phrase is confusing—are you referring to the hellbeast?
[CR4] So Sophia is a princess? Up until this point I’d figured Sophia was a cog in the machine, a soldier—not intimately involved with royalty. It changes the scope of this project, and this layer of political tension isn’t touched on at all anywhere else.
[CR5] This needs to be cut; same as above, it’s not adding anything new to the pitch.
[CR6] This is a solid turn for the query; good choice!
[CR7] This all is a little too vague—one of the rare instances where I feel like the internal motivations and conflicts are solid while the external/plot isn’t (often, it’s the opposite, or neither is present). And especially for SFF, you have to have a balance of both; I have way more questions about what’s going on here than I should, and I’m left more frustrated than intrigued at the end of this query. I don’t have a solid grasp of the actual stakes here—why is she the key to the antagonist’s plans? Why does choosing not to help him endanger her friends/family? Why does he want to destroy the world in the first place? Based solely on this query, I have a hard time making sense of what the actual plot conflict and external motivations are, and it’s vague enough that I’d have a hard time picturing how to sell this and make it stand out from other fantasies.

First 250 Words

Sophia danced among the clang of swords and the glint of daggers, cornsilk-blonde hair[BM7] flying around her like a pale halo. She was holding a baselard sword in each hand, the silver of the short blade flashing as she whirled and parried a strike with one sword, the other slashing up[CW9].

“Ow!” she[KJ5] heard a yell and drew back to see Samantha rubbing her arm ruefully, glaring at Sophia. “That hurt,” she said, accusing accused [BM8].

Sophia sighed, letting her swords drop and looked at her friend. “It’s a training blade, Sam. And you’re wearing a combat suit.” It was partly true. Samantha only wore the combat top, the traditional Elementale gear out of sorts with her plain leggings[MH3][CW10].

They were in one of the Ice Palace’s training rooms, a place that was quickly becoming Sophia’s second home. It smelled the way it always did[BM9]: a little musty, the air mixed with the metallic scent of weapons and the salty[KJ6] tinge of sweat. The walls were clear, made of glass and ice. Beyond, Sophia could make out the entire skyline of Velçare, capital city of the Ice Kingdom. And beyond that, Asteri.

The Elementale world, consisting of seven kingdoms representing the elements[CW11], was as familiar to Sophia as the back of her hand (not that she spent too much time staring at the back of her hand)[CW12]. She was an Ice Elementale, born and raised in the Ice Palace. Her mother was the Ice Queen, Bayleigh Altus[KJ7][CR8][BM10][MH4][CW13].


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ5] Falling into passive voice. She is lost in the sounds of sparring, immersed in a skill that demands focus. Then a shout rings out and her partner glares at her accusingly, rubbing her arm.
[KJ6] Telling language. Instead of saying "it smelled of this" get more internal with the character. Have us experience the smells/sensations through her, not in a distant way.
[KJ7] Careful here. It's feeling like we're falling into an info dump instead of focusing on the current scene.

Hilary's comments: Overall here the query lacked the kind of clarity I look for when reviewing projects. I had a hard time sussing out the central plot of the story and felt things jumped around a little too much. You have great comp titles, but ultimately I didn’t fall in love with the writing.
Michelle's comments:
[MH3] I do see a lot of openings that involve sparring as a way to start with action but avoid a deadly encounter. It is smart to avoid deadly action scenes as an opener when the reader hasn’t had time to care about the characters yet. However, this scene needs more of a hook.
[MH4] The last two paragraphs have too much backstory too soon. We don’t really need to know these details about the world yet. Not during their sparring match. I do think that is great information to bring in a little later. I pass on this entry as I’m not really hooked at this point.  

Beth's comments:
[BM7] Perhaps other agents feel differently, but this turns me off immediately. It’s a clichĂ©. 
[BM8] Make this change.
[BM9] Why is it important to call out that it always smelled this way?
[BM10] Epic Fantasy, in my opinion is one of the hardest genres to really do well. It’s difficult to world build in a way that is not an info dump, but still provides the reader with the information they need. I think this one needs more polish and perhaps a bit more focus on the core of the story.

Carlisle's comments:
[CW9] I notice in this opening that almost every noun has an adjective. This makes the writing feel very labored and slow. Where else can some of these descriptors go? 
[CW10] What is Elementale gear and why doesn’t it fit with the leggings? More explanation is needed here.
[CW11] What elements are these?
[CS12] Asides like this make it feel like the narrative is stepping in and explaining things to the reader, instead of letting the reader into the world organically.  
[CW13] Taking a step back to explain how the world works takes the reader’s eyes off the main character. It may be better to wait on this until after the reader knows Sophia a little better.  

Cortney's comments:
[CR8]The voice here is solid, but there are a couple things that are putting me off. First, opening with a training/sparring scene in fantasy is very, very common; it’s not lessening the feeling I had after reading the query, of not being shown what’s unique about this book among the rest of the fantasy market. Second, this last paragraph or so is very information dumpy; this is information that can be woven throughout the first chapter, even the first couple chapters. As is, it feels very tacked on and out of place. This is a pass for me, unfortunately; I think with some revisions the query could sit a lot more solidly and uniquely, and same for the pages, but as is I’m having a hard time grabbing onto something that intrigues me.

Results:  [If you receive a "Pages!", click on the agent's name here or at the top of this post for submission instructions.]

Kaitlyn: Pass
Hilary: Pass
Michelle: Pass
Beth: Pass
Carlisle: Pass
Cortney: Pass


Monday, October 18, 2021

October 2021 Pass or Pages Entry #1

It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Kaitlyn Johnson, Hilary Harwell, Michelle Hauck, Beth Marshea, Carlisle Webber, Cortney Radocaj, for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!

Entry 1: Brainy in Burberry

Genre: Contemporary


Since you’re seeking young adult fiction from diverse voices[CR1], I hope you’ll consider my 70,000-word #ownvoices YA[KJ1] contemporary novel, BRAINY IN BURBERRY[BM1] set in present-day New Delhi[CW1].

In this mashup of Devil Wears Prada meets Legally Blonde[BM2][MH1], a teen wannabe model must conquer the tough world of engineering to prove that beauty with brains is no myth[CR2].

Sharmila Sen, aka Mili, dreams of storming the runways as a fashion supermodel, until her businessman-father signs her up for engineering college. Mili, under threat of disinheritance, pursues her modeling dreams in secret. In college, she befriends the nerds, suffers the pathetic lessons doled out by her teachers[CW2], and meets the potential love of her life.

The modeling life trips her up – juggling stilettoes and textbooks is no cakewalk[CW3]. When Mili fails the first semester exams, her parents unleash their fury, and her former “friends” take to taunting[CW4] her for her dumbness[BM3]. Mili takes stock[CW5], and sets her target high – she plans to ace all her exams, and fulfill her modeling ambitions, as the proverbial cherry on top[CW6]. If she doesn’t succeed, she’ll lose that one thing most precious to her – her self-respect[KJ2][CR3][BM4][MH2][CW7].


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ1] This may come across as more Crossover rather than YA, since it's focusing on first year of college. This would depend on editor/placement in market. 
[KJ2] While it feels very interesting here (love the kind of reverse Legally Blonde feel), the stakes leave me uncertain what she risks aside from letting herself down. If she DOES pass all the tests and succeed in modeling, does she plan to reveal her true passion to her family? Does she have a deal that if she does well, they'll let her model? Trying to see the final goal/outcome here.

Hilary's comments: None

Michelle's comments:
[MH1] Love these comps and I don’t mind movie comps, but do try to have a recent book comp as well. And I wish New Adult had become a category as books like these are stuck between YA and adult.  
[MH2] This query is very clear and coherent. Though I’d kind of like to see the stakes involve figuring out where she really belongs. This seems like she is pursuing her studies more from pressure than because it’s what she wants. Is that something that is changing and she does come to enjoy student life and engineering.

Beth's comments:
[BM1] Cute title! 
[BM2] Can’t go wrong with this paring!
[BM3] I think there’s a better word choice to be had here.
[BM4] I would keep reading, but this premise seems a little tough to me. She’s asking herself to be the best at two full time careers concurrently. I’m not sure that’s aspirational as much as a recipe for a nervous breakdown.

Carlisle's comments:
[CW1] Delete the second paragraph and add it here. 
[CW2] Such as? If she’s in engineering school, aren’t her lessons going to be STEM related? How are those pathetic?
[CW3] Rather than generalize, could you describe one incident where modeling gets in the way of school? 
[CW4] Are these the nerds of the previous paragraph? If not, who are they?
[CW5] I’m not sure what you mean by this. 
[CW6] Delete this
[CW7] I like that you state what she has to lose, but I don’t feel like the stakes are high enough. Even with low self-respect, she can still live a good life and come back from it. Is there something she feels she could lose and not come back from?

Cortney's comments:
[CR1] I’d highly suggest either removing this or personalizing more when you send to individual agents (what specifically about your book do you think they’ll like? Themes? Tone? Specific tropes they’re looking for? Etc.). If you do already and it’s just this way for the contest then great! But wanted to mention it just in case. 
[CR2] This is slightly confusing where it’s placed—we don’t have any context at this point in the query for why modeling and engineering are crossing, so my very first thought is why would a model have to conquer the engineering field? Why does that matter? (Not that a model can’t be/do both, but they’re generally two fields that don’t cross, and the connection between the two isn’t going to be made by most who read this sentence.) I think the comps are fine (though would also suggest having a recent, i.e. within the last 5 years, contemporary YA title as well if you’re going to use two huge older movies), but the preface to the actual query isn’t necessary and doesn’t really add to it.
[CR3] The bones of the query are there, enough to make me feel that there’s likely a decent arc and solid stakes; it feels a little stilted and not quite as impactful as it could be, though. It feels as though there are a few pieces missing, namely the internal conflict Mili is facing. It’s implied, but it’s not talked about or defined—I’m assuming Mili has had struggles with schools and the “dumb” comments from friends cut deep, that she has conflicting feelings about doing what her dad wants versus what she wants (or does she? Does she not care what her family thinks and just doesn’t want to be disinherited?), that her dad doesn’t think modeling is a legitimate career and thinks engineering is the only way for Mili to have a financially stable life. But these are my assumptions and not necessarily the reality of her feelings/situation. We need a little more definition here, and especially with the last line. What tension and conflict is she feeling after she fails her first exams? “Tak[ing] stock and set[ting] her target high” doesn’t give us insight into what Mili is experiencing internally, and I think fleshing this out a bit with those details will strengthen this a lot.

First 250 Words

As dawn broke on a hot July morning[CR4], the denizens of Chittranjan Park were stirring awake, groping for their iPhones and flinging the sheets off their sweaty bodies[BM5].

But[MH3] in my house, tucked away in a corner of K-block, my family and I had brushed our teeth, scrubbed our bodies with Pears soap, and swooped into our seats at the breakfast table[CR5][BM6].

I had just grabbed a slice of bread when my father cleared his throat. “I have made a decision[CW8].”

I groaned. Baba lorded over a thousand employees at the company he ran, so why did he have to poke his nose into our lives at home too[BM7]? I toyed with the idea of derailing his train of thought, but resolved against it[CW9].

Baba continued: “Mili will study engineering at DICE.”

A crushing silence fell upon the table. My knife stopped mid-yolk. Ma set her fork down. My elder brother Saurav, probably sensing the sudden absence of chatter, looked up from his phone[KJ3].

“You’re right, Dad[KJ4]!” He bobbed his head up and down as if he’d just been thinking the exact same thing.

I rounded upon him. “Do you even know what he’s talking about? Because I don’t!”

Ma wiped down her rosebud lips with a napkin. “I think your father is referring to the Delhi Institute of Computer Engineering,” she said, enunciating each word as if the rest of us were either stupid or deaf.

“There you go!” Saurav leaned back and resumed playing games on his iPhone[KJ5][CR6][BM8][MH4][CW10].


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ3] We don't get any of her internal reaction to this. It's a list of outer reactions from her and others, but I'd love to get under her skin.
[KJ4] Right about what? Confused why this is an answer to the declaration. 
[KJ5] I wonder if perhaps the opening would be stronger with her preparing herself to finally tell them she wants to pursue modeling. That is time. But then her dad drops the bombshell before she can. This can give us a bit more lead up while we get to know her and her intentions before this declaration is made. I'd be happy to look at the first 20 pages. I liked the concept.

Hilary's comments: I thought the pitch here was solid and loved the comp titles, but I wasn’t as drawn in by the voice as I’d hoped to be. I also think this would probably sit more squarely in the adult market, since the protagonist is primarily college age.
Michelle's comments:
[MH3] I’d probably cut “But” as I don’t feel like this is a huge contrast to how everyone else wakes up. 
[MH4] I like this short slice and get a hint this story might have a lot of personality! I would have liked a little more about Mili but I’m sure with this short sample it’s difficult to flesh out a characters fully. I would request pages! It sounds like the sort of fun contemporary story I’m looking for. 

Beth's comments:
[BM5] Language here is slightly over wrought for commercial fiction, but I’m not putting it down just yet.  
[BM6] I find this comparison odd because by my estimation, you’re saying the family is maybe a half hour earlier than the rest of town which doesn’t seem like quite enough to create a strong point.
[BM7] This statement feels a bit off to me. At this point she doesn’t know what he’s about to say and neither does the reader. His decision might have to do with work, or with something else outside the home, or be something personal to him that isn’t about her life at all. 
[BM8] I think this one needs just a little more work. The author has a great sense of cadence and a nice hook for the story, but needs to work on the set up and making sure that the reader has all the information they need to have the desired reaction. With a bit more polishing I would take a look at this story, but not just yet.

Carlisle's comments:
[CW8] This opening isn’t quite working for me. Descriptions of weather and places are something agents see every day, and they don’t stand out. I think it would have more impact on the reader to get to know why this particular character is the narrator, what makes her story worth telling, and why her father making a decision would have an important impact on her life.  
[CW9 This would have more impact if we saw her jump into the conversation and actively try to change the subject.
[CW10] While the reader can and should see these reactions from her family, I think it’s more important that you show the reader what Mili is feeling after this announcement.

Cortney's comments:
[CR4] Opening with the weather/time of day is risky and one I’d consider changing; it’s used very often and is something a lot of authors fall back on when they don’t know what else to start with. 
[CR5] Reversing what everyone else is doing helps offset the very opening issue I mentioned; good choice. I’d still suggesting rethinking the opening sentence though, again because of how overused it is.
[CR6] This starting point is WAY too late in the story; we have no chance to get a feel for who Mili is, what her family (and especially dad) is like, what this moment means to her. This is the inciting incident, the thing that sets the rest of the story into motion, and there needs to be set up for this before it happens. Jumping directly into this pivotal moment is jarring, and it’s not impactful at all since we don’t have anything to compare it to. This is a pass for me; the query was a little shaky but had enough there to assure me there was likely a decent structure, but the pages told me otherwise. I now worry the structure that I’d thought was potentially there is not, and the rest of the book might not be structured and paced in a way that works well.

Results:  [If you receive a "Pages!", click on the agent's name here or at the top of this post for submission instructions.]

Kaitlyn: Pages!
Hilary: Pass
Michelle: Pages!
Beth: Pass
Carlisle: Pass
Cortney: Pass