My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.
Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.
Seventeen-year-old Rose Asters never intended to become best friends with an Angel – it just kind of happened. Hmm... unfortunately I know that even a few years ago "angel" was a bad word in queries. Most of the paranormal being plots are played out. If you really want this to jump you're going to have to come up with a much stronger hook.
Angels protect the oblivious population from what? and Rose watches her best friend balance saving lives and finishing school. She’s grateful that Jake has trusted her with the knowledge of his world. How did they meet? We need more than "it just kind of happened."
Until a psychotic Angel murders her father. The product of a jilted affair what does this mean? the angel is a the product of a jilted affair? She is the product? Her father was the product?, his killer is now after Rose and her loved ones. Why? Rose must now decide – leave Jake for a life of safety or to search for her father’s killer. Why would she have to leave Jake? Why are her only options leaving him or searching? Jake insists she can’t have both but Rose Asters never plays by the rules.
This query is vague. We've got danger for a reason we don't understand, a paranormal friend for a reason we don't know, and a search for a killer where we don't really know the stakes. Like I said earlier, angels aren't blazing new paths in YA right now - you'll have to make it clear that your book is different from everything else out there - and right now this query doesn't do that.
Rule one: don’t remember the day your father was murdered. This morning, I break the rule. In the shower, my false sense of security is slipping down the drain with my apple shampoo.
Rule two: live in the moment. I remember him as I walk to my bus stop, wet hair soaking through my jacket. The rumble of traffic grows louder than my music and the combination of both sounds creates a new song in my ears. A city song. The chug of a bus catches my attention.
Rule three: don’t overthink it. I look up to see the bus pulled up in front of me isn’t my school bus. What does this have to do with overthinking?
Rule four: go to school. If I go to school, I am doing what I need to do to keep the peace with Mum at home. It’ll keep Jake happy and, most importantly, it’ll keep me out of trouble. This is what they expect. Stability, routine. I stick my hand out, signalling for the bus driver to open the doors. I don’t know where it goes.
Rule five: Rose Asters never plays by the rules.
Having a scene break this early in the book (we're not even off page one) makes it seem like the whole narrative is going to be disjointed as well.
There are four other people on the bus – I count them as I walk on. A young mother sits near the front, nursing a baby in her arms, staring distantly out the window. She’s hunched over the child, protecting it from some life I’ll never know of.
A boy my age sits on the back seat, music blaring through his headphones. He wears a stony expression on his lips and his DC cap is backwards, How can she see what's on his cap if he's sitting in the back and the cap is backwards? covering a head of wild blonde hair. I wonder why he’s not at school. Is he running away from something like I am?
Finally, in the disabled section, an old woman sits gripping her walking frame with shaking, frail hands. Her jaw moves at an unsteady pace and her glassy eyes stare straight ahead. Two paras above the mother is staring out the window. Avoid echoes. I hate that she’ll have to stumble off the bus alone, with no one to steady her.
I’ve been on this watch your tenses bus for over thirty minutes before I decide to get off. I clutch my scarf tighter around my neck as I smile a brief thank you to the bus driver before stepping off the bus. I’m ready to escape the day and break my routine. I’m ready for anything. But didn't she just do that? She didn't get on her school bus. She got on a city bus.
Then Jake McKenzie grabs me by my shoulder.
I highlighted each use of bus - eight on the first page. Watch out for those echoes.