Query Critiques from Fresh as a Daisy

Daisy at Fresh as a Daisy (http://www.daisycarter.com) is prepping writers for a pitch contest with agent Tricia Lawrence.

As preparation, we’re encouraged to post our query letters here for critique. Here’s mine:

Dear Supreme Amazing Agent,

(Say why I chose this agent.)  I hope you may be interested in my Contemporary Young Adult novel OUTSIDE IN (52,000 words).

Super-brain Alexis likes everything exactly so. Perfect prep school grades.  School supplies arranged eight inches apart at exact angles. Timed phone calls with her mother. Scheduled hook-ups with her boyfriend Ben on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. As long as her longstanding self-destructive streak is hidden, all is well.

When Alexis receives a B on an essay and then endures an excruciating break-up with her boyfriend, her once orderly life starts to spin out of control. And now the precise angles lay on her leg in parallel lines, each cut an inch apart, one for each day since Ben broke up with her. She bangs her head, burns herself—anything to self-soothe and assert some control.

After her friend Miranda accidentally glimpses her scars, Alexis feels even more trapped. Now she must survive weekly therapy sessions with a counselor, forced disclosure to her parents, and worst of all: dismissal from school if she doesn’t get better. It’s up to Alexis to pull herself out of the mire—if she even wants to.

As an educator and a teacher consultant for the National Writing Project, I know how much the stories of others can speak to teenagers trying to make sense of their own lives. Although there have been other novels about cutting (for example, Patricia McCormick’s Cut and Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars), OUTSIDE IN examines the correlation between perfectionism and self-harm, a survival mechanism for intense pressure.

I am a member of SCBWI and belong to several critique groups. I am also working on two other YA projects.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Lisa R.

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20 responses to “Query Critiques from Fresh as a Daisy

  1. Hi, Lisa! Thanks so much for posting your query. I’m so glad people are taking advantage of this “hop.”

    First, I am so into your story. I haven’t read a story about cutting before, and this one sounds extraordinary. I don’t know if I’ve ever realized the correlation between cutting and perfectionism before, though it makes so much sense I don’t know how I didn’t. I would read this in a heartbeat!

    I really don’t know that I have a single critique. There’s a bit of clinical-ness to the query, but I feel like that’s a choice you made in voice. And it works very well since this is a story about a perfectionist. I wish I had something constructive to offer, but in reality, I just want to read this!

    Best of luck in the pitch contest!

    • Thanks so much, Daisy! And thanks for holding the contest.
      Hmmm, interesting comment about the clinical-ness thing for voice – I have to think about that!
      Let me know if you do want to read more! 😉

  2. I have to agree with Daisy, this query is spot on!

    I think the only critique I can make (and I’m nit picking here) is the last line of the first paragraph “As long as her longstanding self-destructive streak is hidden, all is well.” Maybe instead of self-destructive (which makes me think drinking/drugs) something more along the lines of mutilation. Something to tie into the cutting, because I didn’t get that reference at first.

    But this is an excellent query, and good luck!

  3. Ouch! This is a deep and dark subject. But it is quite engaging and even though the part with the angles used as cuts grosses me out, it is a crisp clean query which does the trick.

    My only note is if you can give us a glimpse of any hope of the MC getting out of her state, it will make her dilemma stand out. As it stands, even though I want the MC to get out of it, I can’t see her making the effort from her PoV.

    Hope this helps!

    • Thanks for your comments! You’re right, I don’t really leave any room for hope there at the end. I’m torn, though, because I want to stop it without giving it all away…
      Thanks again!

  4. Hi Lisa,

    First of all, thanks so much for your help on my query. I really appreciate it.

    This is a very well written query. The first paragraph tells so much in so little. Great job. Personally, I would shortet the one sentence in paragraph one about her boyfriend. Maybe just say, “Scheduled hook-ups with her boyfriend Ben.” Nothing else. It keeps that sentence matching the other short ones.

    This is a nit picky comment, but the phrase “accidentally glimpses” pulled me out. It sounded funny to me. I might stick with just “accidentally sees.”

    Last of all, the last sentence was confusing. It might be just me, but I had to read it a couple of times. Here’s a thought: It’s up to Alexis to pull herself out of the mire—that is if she even wants to.

    Go with what you feel best. As you can tell, my stuff is small becasue overall you’ve got a lot of great things.

    Best,
    Lois

  5. Hi Lisa,
    I love that first line. It has the perfect blend of voice and attention-grabbing. I agree with many of the other comment; I think you have a really strong query without any changes. I like Lois’s suggestion about the hook-up sentence, and I even think you could take out the whole last sentence in that paragraph and still have it flow really well. Best of luck to you!

  6. Hi Lisa! I think your query sounds pretty succinct. I know this is an important subject. You’ve already received some great suggestions and I don’t have anything to add, except good luck!! 🙂

  7. I’m sold on the story! Some might think it’s dark, but I think it’s a vital subject, and one that can be hard to write well. But from you’re query, I’d say you’ve nailed it. The precise, carefully metered tone is PERFECT for a perfectionist mc, no pun intended. Reading it just makes me wince with understanding of how hard the journey is going to be for Alexis, but it also makes me want to stand in line to take the journey with her! GOOD LUCK!!!

  8. I have never read a book about this subject and I think, if (*when*) this nakes it to publication, it will do great! The only thing I would change, if even that, would be to add a little “hope” that she she is not left in this condition forever.

  9. Hi, Lisa! I think your query starts out really strong. I agree that the last sentence in the first paragraph could be cut to tighten it even further, but even with it, it still good. In the second paragraph, second sentence when you slip into a passive voice, I think maybe using a more active voice to describe the cutting might be more effective – just an idea. I still think it’s good, but maybe something like “she cuts precise parallel lines, slicing into her flesh exactly one inch apart” could make it even more powerful. The beginning of the third paragraph feels a little shaky to me. I like some of the other suggestions raised. This is definitely better than an earlier version I’ve read and I still would love to read the book!

  10. I’d like to start with saying that I’m very glad you included ‘banding her head’ under self harm. Very rarely to I hear people including beating under self harm even if it’s prevalent. I agree that the voice seems very detached, but I think it works. It didn’t detract from how gripping the query was. Good luck!

    • I definitely think head-banging doesn’t get much attention. I think it functions a lot like cutting – transferring your emotions onto your body to make it physical pain instead.

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