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

Query

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

 

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