Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Critque My Query - Fresh as a Daisy

There's a critque swap going on over at Fresh as a Daisy in preparation for an upcoming agent pitch contest with Tricia Lawrence from ELMA.

I'm posting my query for those of you participating. If you do a critique, please leave your blog link cause I'll be popping over to critique yours!

Dear Amazing Agent Who is Going to Love My Book, (Okay, that part isn't real.)

I am looking for an agent to represent CATCHING KATIL, a middle-grade (tween) mystery set in the 1980s in a rural, Colorado town. It has a word count of 34,000. 

Using skills learned from watching television detective Magnum P.I., 12-year-old Jenny launches her own investigation into the murder of her neighbor's cat. Surprisingly, her quirky spy tactics work and she uncovers a gang of criminals who live on her brand new paper route. Before Jenny can tell the local sheriff of her discovery, the ring leader kidnaps her and threatens to take her to California with him. To escape, Jenny must overcome her crippling fear of blood;  make peace with her best-friend-turned-enemy; and become a yodeling, ninja-kicking newspaper girl.

One thing about CATCHING KATIL that I think will catch the attention of both junior high students and their parents, is the usage of 80s language and culture—much of which is coming back into popularity. As far as comparables go, CATCHING KATIL is similar to the SAMMY KEYES series by Wendelin Van Draanen. 
I have a bachelor's degree in journalism and have worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer for twenty years. During that time, I edited several books for New York Times best-selling author Dr. Neil Solomon, and I published a self-help book on stress management with Leatherwood Press in Sandy, Utah.

Currently, I’m a member of SCBWI, the League of Utah Writers, and Writers Cubed. I’m also a co-founder and producer of the Teen Author Boot Camp hosted at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. This is a writing conference designed for aspiring teen authors. We have featured several published YA authors, including Kiersten White (PARANORMALCY) and Brandon Mull  (FABLEHAVEN) as our keynote speakers. In 2012 our attendance at the conference was 250 teens.

I look forward to hearing back from you.


Lois Brown


  1. Your credentials are incredible! I'm thinking that last paragraph should be slimmed down and combined into one credentials blurb. Your writing background is almost as long as the pitch for the book; it just feels a little unbalanced. My personal suggestion is to leave off after Teen Author Boot Camp hosted... and take those last 3 sentences out (even though it's super cool about which authors you've worked with!)

    You already have a comparative title for your story so mentioning YA authors later feels a little distracting.

    Feel free to take what you will from my comment. It sounds like you have a great background to prepare you for publishing a novel.

    1. Thanks so much for your insight. I'm going to go do a little trimming on the end part. :)

  2. Hi Lois! I'm a sucker for all things 80's, so you've captured my interest from the start! I think you've done a great job of narrowing the story down in your summary, and I'd love to see more middle grade and ya mystery on the market. The sentence that stuck out the most to me was actually the opening one. You might rework it with something like: I am looking for an agent for my 34,000 word middle-grade mystery Catching Katil, set in rural Colorado in 1984. Thanks for participating in this!

  3. Hi, Lois! Thanks for posting!

    I LOVE your premise - 80's, mystery, and set somewhere I know little about? Yep, I want to read this!

    I think, though, that your query is lop-sided. In general, the first 2 or 3 paragraphs should focus on the story. The last should be credentials (boy, are yours impressive!). I would trim as much as I could and combine into one paragraph. Definitely leave in that you're published, though! I agree with Stephsco that in the last paragraph, you could lose everything after Orem, Utah. I've never heard of Teen Author Boot Camp, but I know what it is based on its name. You don't have to tell me. And while the stats are incredible, probably don't need those, either. That you're published and co-founded a conference get lost in all the other details, and you want those to stand out, for sure!

    I'd use the extra space to flesh out the story more. What did the gang of criminals do? Why is the ring leader threatening to take her to California? Are they all going? Who will be missing Jenny? Her parents, her best friend, her boyfriend?

    Also, you say "Surprisingly, her quirky spy tactics work." Why surprisingly, and why quirky? Is Jenny quirky?

    As you can see, I think everything you've set up is GREAT. I just want to know MORE. Fill in some holes so we get an idea of who Jenny and the criminals are.

    I love that you've done research and know where your book fits in the market. And that last line - "To escape, Jenny must overcome her crippling fear of blood; make peace with her best-friend-turned-enemy; and become a yodeling, ninja-kicking newspaper girl" - is full of FUN! You've set this book up to fun and full of mystery - I love it!

    1. Thanks Daisy. I know you run the blog and all, but do you have query you'd like looked at? I couldn't see one.

    2. You're so sweet! I don't have a query right now. Tricia is about to send my current ms out to editors. In the meantime, I'm working on something new, but I'm still drafting.

      Can't wait to see you in the contest Friday!

  4. Hi Lois!

    Well you've definitely caught my attention with Magnum P.I., I so wanted to marry Tom Selleck back in the day! I so want to read this now!

    Anyway, I have to agree with Stephsco and Daisy, while your credentials are AMAZING they definitely overwhelm your query.

    A few questions: What are her "quirky spy tactics?" and is her "best-friend-turned-enemy" part of the "gang of criminals?" I also thought that Daisy's questions are good, and I feel like if you iron these out it will be an AWESOME query!

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  6. Hi Lois!

    Your story sounds really interesting. I always liked the girl-centered mystery novels. I love that it starts with Magnum P.I. and catching a cat killer to moving on to much higher stakes.

    I do agree about the amount of space given to the story vs. the amount of space for the credentials, and making the story part more extensive.

    Good luck!

    1. Sounds like this distracted most everyone. I'll definitely trim it down. Thanks for the input!

  7. Hi Lois,

    I like your premise and your credentials are awesome.

    That said, the story does need a bit of fleshing out. It needs a hook for starters.You have the MC's problems listed out nicely and you tell us what she has to do in order to solve her problems.

    But do mention why she has to do what she has to do. e.g- Why must she make peace with her best-friend/enemy?
    Highlighting a dilemma is as important as introducing a intriguing MC.

    I hope this helps. You have a great story.

    Good luck!

  8. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I did not sign up for the query critique, so I don't have one posted. I just found your blog from that host blog.

  9. Hi Lois!

    Ok, you had me at Magnum PI. lol I have the theme song as my ring tone. Magnum freak here! Anyway, your story sounds too cute! I agree with everyone that your main focus should be on the story itself, as that's what's most important. But you know that already. ;)

    Good luck with this!!

  10. Tom Selleck? Oh, yeah! Who didn't love him? I had a scrapbook full of pictures of him.

    Your credential make me jealous, for sure. Maybe, though, you could include more of the story in the query and combine the most important credentials into the final paragraph?

  11. If I were in middle school, I'd read this (I might still when it gets published; please don't judge me). The only thing that threw me when reading this was how he threatens to kidnap her makes it very, very creepy without expanding on that. Is it a middle aged creep? Another tween? I don't know if I read to much mystery, but that's a red flag of horrible things to come to me. Also, detective Magnum, P.I. sounds a bit repetitive (and is sort of funny since he hated the abbreviation, but that's an aside). That said, this still sounds amazing and makes me want to read it. The query has a good balance of fun MG adventure and mystery.
    Good luck!

  12. I agree with many of the other comments about making the focus of the query more on telling Jenny's story.


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I'm a mom and author, among other things. I enjoy writing middle grade and young adult books.