Thursday, May 21, 2015

Query Critique: YA Thriller


Thank you so much for offering to critique queries on your blog. I don't mind brutal honesty a bit. I understand that you will receive many query letters and that mine might not get picked. 

Best regards,


"I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog."

Dear Ms. Agent,
When [I think it would be helpful to include her age here so we know right off the top it's YA] Sasha’s [could you just say Sasha and Raj's so we can tighten?] jewel-thief father dies before completing the greatest heist of his career, she and her brother, Raj, they vow to steal a  the priceless sapphire for him in his memory. Her father had meticulously planned the heist to every detail. As long as they stick to his notes, nothing should go wrong . . . but of course everything does.  I think it's obvious everything is going to go wrong, but keep us hanging on that a little. It builds suspense and I'll want that in the book too.
Sasha and Raj discover the safe open and the sapphire already gone. Even worse, the owner’s teenage daughter lies unconscious in a pool of blood. Moments later the police arrive, and Raj believes he and Sasha have been set-up. They manage to escape, but not before being spotted by guests at a party next door. When the theft hits the news, Sasha learns her father’s darkest secret.
He stole more than jewels. He stole Sasha as well. And here's where you lose me. Suddenly this feels like two different books. I was super intrigued by two kids who were completing their dad's jewel heist. I pictured a YA Italian Job in my head. And then all of a sudden it becomes a story about an abducted child which interests me as well, but doesn't feel like it's necessarily the same book.
The girl accused of the crime, Avery, is a sister Sasha can’t remember. The newspapers tell a startling tale of Avery’s past: her identical twin was abducted from a playground in London. Since the party guests are certain they saw Avery flee the apartment building on the night in question, Sasha must unravel the tangled knots of their father’s past to win her sister’s freedom. If she can find the link between the missing jewel and whoever set them up, then perhaps she can find the sapphire and clear her sister’s name. And, most important of all, reunite with the twin she hasn’t seen in fourteen years. You start to lose me here too. Why would Sasha suddenly care about Avery? And why is Avery accused? Suddenly your query has me asking a lot of questions about the book and to me it feels like the book itself isn't working. I'm not saying that both aspects can't be in the book, I'm just saying that to me it doesn't feel like they're working. They don't feel cohesive.
My YA Thriller VANISHED is complete at 78,000 words. I envision this title as the first in a two-book series. I am working on the second book now.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to hear Ally Carter, author of the HEIST SOCIETY books, speak at a local library on her book tour. She mentioned that most of her readers are Middle School students. I believe VANISHED will appeal to readers who devoured Ms. Carter’s books in Middle School and are looking for something geared to a slightly older audience.  I'm not sure you need this. It's sort of interesting so it can't hurt, but most agents/editors will know who the YA audience is and will hope you know it too.
In your interview with Kirkus Review you mentioned an interest in YA novels about siblings. I hope you will enjoy meeting Sasha and Raj. Below is the first ten pages of VANISHED. This is good. Show that you've done your research. Obviously you can't do this for every agent you query, but it does help when you can.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
[phone number redacted]


Shimmin Beg said...

I'm not quite sure where you got lost here, but let me chip in. This is not meant to be critical, just another reader's perspective.

It's clear to me that Avery is accused because Sasha was seen by party guests and they're identical. It seems natural to me that Sasha cares about her new-found twin, especially as it's tied up with mysteries about her own past - this seems more or less how real-life people respond to such cases.

It sounds like this is a mystery where Sasha/Avery's past, the sapphie and their father are all tied up together, but with the primary focus on Sasha understanding herself.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Lurker here.

It is wonderfully generous of Jessica to offer query critiques. There is so much to learn from her agent eyes.

I've found the courage to add my thoughts.

I love the first paragraph, the set up. I'm intrigued.

What distracts me is Sasha "learns her father's darkest secrets."

It makes me think Sasha has to clear up emotional bagage redarging her father. That this is more important than the rest; finding the gem, reuniting with tiwn.

I'm also wondering if them being set up is more important than the rest.

"is a sister Sasha can’t remember" = twin.

Have you thought about beginning with Sasha seeing the newspapers and after the heist...

AJ Blythe said...

I like the premise for the story. It did leave me wondering though, what happens to her brother? In the beginning I thought the story was going to be about a brother and sister solving a mystery. But once Sasha discovers she's a missing twin the brother seems to vanish from the story.