Query #3 August 2014


Below is the third public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. This will happen once a month (as long as I get a response). I choose one query per month. If your query is not selected one month, it will be in the drawing for the next month. Please do not resubmit unless you’ve made significant edits. To enter, see the rules here. If you want a guaranteed critique (plus line edit) of your query or synopsis, private ones cost $35 each.

Dear Lara Willard,

Just a note, when I received this query, half was double-spaced Times New Roman, and half was in single-spaced Arial. Make sure to paste without formatting when querying agents, so that the entire query appears the same.

I am submitting for your consideration BOOK TITLE, a 78,000-word YA Fantasy that will appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore’s GracelingGRACELING and Tamora Pierce’s Song of The LionessSONG OF THE LIONESS series.

Titles need to be in all-caps. Also, you need to mention up here that it is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, and what makes it different from the original. P.S. Did you know that [your title] is the name of an Anime? 

Seventeen-year-old Alice never considered herself the suicidal type. Good hook That is until she finds herself trapped between the men who killed her mother,[no comma] and a five-hundred500-foot drop. Rather than face the killers’ dark plans for her, Alice jumps. Of course the killers have dark plans for her. This is unnecessary. But instead of death, Alice wakes up in a blood-soaked battlefield, where men in armour are slaughtering peasants. This is awkward grammatically. Change it to “instead of dying” or “Expecting death” or “Surprised to be alive”… Terrified, she flees and encounters a seer who believes she is destined to save this unfamiliar world from the evil queen,[no comma] and the tyranny of her army.

You have three sentences in a row that start with similar constructions:
“Instead of death, Alice…”
“Terrified, she…”
“Disguised as a man, Alice…”

If you fix the first one, they will all begin with participial phrases. Having one is fine. Two is pushing it, and three is too much. Three right in a row tells me you haven’t read this aloud, because while I read it (even in my head), I keep accelerating, then stopping, accelerating, stopping, and so forth. Participial phrases are less important than the main clause, but when they are set apart at the beginning of the sentence, the reader is forced to look at them. Participial phrases are like bridesmaids. They aren’t as important as the bride, the main clause. Bridesmaids need to be discreet. If they are jumping up and down and pointing at the bride, screaming (“Look at my friend the bride! Isn’t she important?”), we aren’t looking at the bride, we’re getting distracted by the bridesmaid. You can fix this my changing the first sentence to “Alice thought she’d die. Instead, she wakes up…” and the third sentence to “Alice disguises herself as a man to…[why is she disguising herself as a man?]”

Disguised as a man, [see above] Not only must Alice must survive the war between the queen and rebels, and she also has to evade the flesh-eating monsters stalking Wonderland. This is the first time you mention Wonderland. This is why you need to say it’s a retelling at the beginning, otherwise this transition will be lost. You don’t want the agent reading along and then all of a sudden going, “Oh, so this IS a retelling of Alice in Wonderland,” in the last sentence. Her growing lust for vengeance makes her determined this is passive. Say “determines her” to find her way home. As Wonderland falls into chaos, Alice discovers slaying monsters might have its price–being hailed as a hero–or becoming a monster herself. You had me up until this point, but this is where you lose me. Not my interest, just my understanding. I had to reread it because I didn’t understand how being hailed as a hero could be a “price” for slaying monsters. It sounds like the opposite to me—it sounds like a reward. Simplify. And I’m guessing that her lust for vengeance starts to grow after she starts slaying monsters. If so, combine the sentences and put them in the right order: “As Wonderland falls into chaos, Alice discovers that slaying monsters has its rewards, but it also has a price. When her lust for vengeance grows, she’s determined to find her way home before she becomes a monster herself.”

I’m an accounting graduate who won several writing competitions in the past. You should list these. Otherwise it doesn’t sound legitimate. I’m also a book blogger on young adult fiction. Include your blog under your signature.

As per your submission guidelines, xx pages are pasted  below. [find/replace double spaces]

Thank you for your time and consideration.



This looks like a great story! The problem is, it’s been told before.However, if you state at the top that it’s a retelling, you should also in a couple of words describe how it’s different. “YOUR TITLE replaces the silliness of ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and ages it for more mature YA readers”—something like that. It’s your story, you’ll figure it out.

Your query pitch suggests the emotional stakes and theme. Part one: she runs away from monsters. Part two: but then she learns to fight them. Part three: she may become one herself. I’d focus on that as your difference. For ALICE IN WONDERLAND, the strength is in its nonsense. What makes your novel better in its own way? Yours seems to have the armature of theme, and the inner conflict of a reluctant hero.

If you want to revise and resubmit, I’ll take another look at it.

Do let me (and the other readers) know if you get requests for partials or fulls so we can rejoice with you!

Readers, please share any additional feedback you have, but note that comments are moderated, and if you don’t have anything constructive to say, or if you’re playing the troll, your comment will be deleted.

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