Thursday, September 29, 2016

PitchWars Critique - RISE OF THE OMEN SUN

I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many ones with so much potential. 

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Demitria Lunetta and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query cirtiques on our blogs. Demitria will be hosting critiques on her blog on Tuesdays, while mine will be here on Thursdays. Our decision to do this via our blogs, rather than a private email, is so that (hopefully!) everyone can learn a little bit from this feedback. 

And for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here 

Dear Agent,

Sixteen-year-old Sam has grown up in a world where crushed world.  Wwar, disease, and natural disasters have left humankind weak and Earth ripe for the taking – so the Biede have taken it all. If Sam keeps her head down and doesn’t draw attention to herself, she’s convinced she can survive life in alien-occupied America. But the Biede know she’s the only surviving daughter of charismatic freedom fighter Samuel Pierce. And now that they’ve killed him, they want her dead too. They want her dead just bc she's his daughter? This motivation feels a little weak. Can't she have some secret that her father found that could bring down the Biede once and for all? Pursued by alien trackers, Sam flees her desert homestead and heads to Chicago, the last of the free human cities. It’s there that rumors of a human rebellion are beginning to surface and Sam believes they may be the only ones able, and willing, to save her life. 

Once in Chicago, Sam crosses paths with seventeen-year-old Tsy. While Sam struggles to uphold the legacy of a father she never knew, Tsy seeks to unravel the knots of his own mysterious past. When Biede soldiers begin gathering outside the city, the resistance believes they’ve come for war, while Sam fears they’ve found her out. But the Biede’s intentions are far more sinister than any of them can imagine I think it would be stronger to be more specific here - what exactly are the Biede going to do? What is at stake? and it could be Tsy, and the strange deaths that haunt him, which may hold all the answers. Sam is your main character, so I think you need to bring it back to her. What does she need to do? What is at stake for her?

Complete at 60,000 words, RISE OF THE OMEN SUN is a YA science-fiction novel told from the points of view of the two main characters, Sam and Tsy.  I believe it will appeal to fans of Rick Yancey's THE 5th WAVE and Patrick Ness's THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO. Good comps.

This is my first novel and has series potential.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Where's the bio? Even just a one sentence one with basic information is nice.

Best Regards,


Sometimes it feels like dirt makes up the entirety of my life. I can’t seem to get away from it. Dried mud crusts on our dugout bricks and piles up in little mounds around the base of my home. Dust travels on the wind on gets stuck in everything; it nestles into my hair, the cracks in my dry lips, the creases of my eyes, and under my fingernails. I track dirt home every evening after spending another back-breaking day hauling water from the pump to our small plot of land where, each year, I manage to coax a few rows of corn to life. I like the voice here and I think this is a good beginning. My only problem is that I've read lots and lots of YA books with a terrible dystopian or post apocalyptic near-future of this type and I even though the writing is good, I'm not sure if this is original or different enough from those other books.  

It’s not the dirt that’s the problem, though. It’s the lack of water. Standing at the top of our dugout steps I squint at the dark sky in hopes of seeing at least one tiny little rain cloud. Nothing. It’s been fourteen months, three days, and six hours since we’ve seen any moisture fall from the sky. I’ve been counting.

Swinging the bow and arrows into a more comfortable position on my back, I blow on my hands and take a look around. A small, fenced off area is our garden. A few meters away from it is our rusted pump. I hate the old thing because I’m constantly cleaning out the sand and grit it dredges up from below. Seventy percent dirt and grime and thirty percent water, Mags always says. She also likes to remind me that at least it’s still working after over a decade.

The last bit of our homestead is the little wooden shack built up against the side of our dugout. That’s where our four chickens roost at night. I can hear them clucking and cooing, rustling their feathers and waking up from their chicken-dreams.

“I’ll feed you when I get back.” I whisper the promise, then set off at a brisk pace towards the west.

The soil crunches under my boots and I keep an eye out for snakes crossing the path. That’s all I need — to get bitten out here. As I walk, I try to dispel the dream which hangs onto me like a bad stink. It’s not the first time I’ve had the dream, but no matter how many times it happens, I don’t get used to it. I always wake up feeling sad for reasons I can’t understand.

Two miles to the west of our dugout is a watering hole. It’s a small puddle compared to what it was before, but I think some sort of underwater spring feeds it because it never goes dry. If I go early enough and park myself upwind, I’m sometimes lucky enough to find a jack-rabbit running around.

Again, overall the writing here is good. However, I'm not sure you want to spend your entire first page basically giving us the same information (things suck, lots of dirt/not enough water) in several different ways. Maybe consider trimming some of this to bring in action or other characters sooner.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

PitchWars Critique - RALPHIE 2.0

I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many ones with so much potential. 

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Demitria Lunetta and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query cirtiques on our blogs. Demitria will be hosting critiques on her blog on Tuesdays, while mine will be here on Thursdays. Our decision to do this via our blogs, rather than a private email, is so that (hopefully!) everyone can learn a little bit from this feedback. 

And for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here 

Dear ,

I am excited to offer you the opportunity to represent my recently completed novel Ralphie 2.0, the first of seven planned books in The Wall of Tears series set in modern day Los Angeles. The work is a 178,000 word urban-fantasy that deals with the pitfalls of modern society in a unique and fresh way. This situation-driven story prompts the best and the worst in everyday people. Fun and offbeat, the book combines memorable characters, horrific incidents, comedy and tragedy, wit and stupidity, and structure to chaos. Okay, so we have a few things here - I've highlighted them - that concern me. First of all, when you say your book was recently completed it makes me thing that you finished writing it and then without any time to edit or have critique partners look at it, went straight to querying it. This is NOT the impression you want to give. Also "first of seven" makes me worry that this book will not stand alone. It's better to say the book has "series potential". Your word count got highlighted because WOAH that is A LOT of words. Actually it is way too many. This alone will make agents stop reading. If possible you need to get this down in the 100K range. Finally, just like with the writing in your novel where you want to show, not tell, the same goes for your query. Telling me your novel is "unique and fresh" is telling. Show me - with the description that it's unique and fresh. And yes, I did X out the last two sentences. Those again are more telling than showing and are just too vague to really draw me into the story. Think of the copy on the back of a book. You want to know what the story is about, who the characters are - these are the things that make us pick up a book. One last last thing. You should also mention that this is a young adult novel.

Sixteen-year-old Ralphie is slovenly and monosyllabic and he would prefer to spend his time engrossed in the innovative new video game comma The Wall of Tears  comma rather than see to any of his familial or social duties but when a single catastrophic incident changes him physically, his true spirit is tested as he is set on an arduous road to possible redemption. Always be specific whenever possible. WHAT is the single catastrophic incident? HOW is he changed physically? 

When the game world and the real world clash on an open battle field, each realm vies for validity and Ralphie finds himself smack dab in the middle of an unfolding nightmare. Despite the litany of more qualified applicants in his native Los Angeles, it would seem that fate has chosen Ralphie Clayton to play a key role in shaping the destiny of his world. Magic, mystery, chance and survival becomes the order of the day as the Clayton family use every resource at their disposal to try to get to the bottom of a mystery that could destroy not just our world, but another as well. Again, I want specifics. Ralphie is chosen to do what exactly? How does he shape the destiny of his world? What must he overcome? What is at stake if he fails?

I am an aspiring writer who studied film and psychology in college and draw heavily on those aspects of my life to create not only believable characters, but truly heartfelt moments that will keep the pages turning. I have written several unpublished and self published short stories. Show don't tell.

Lastly, I would just like to thank you so much for your time; I know it is extremely valuable. This completed manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for your consideration,

Chapter 1: Introducing, In This Corner, Sir Ralphie Clayton of Bel Air! (Applause)

            A creeping redness spread out across Ralphie Clayton’s enormous slack-jawed jowls as he watches Vorand’s decapitated body crash violently onto the shimmering floor. The sixteen-year-old sat forward on an old broken down leather couch, bathed in the pale blue light of his television screen and wheezing to a shallow rhythm. The all too familiar spurt of red gore splashed onto the screen, dissolving into a patronizing line of slanted text as the visage of his character faded into a milky black background.

You have failed! You are not the Chosen One!
Reload? Yes: X; No: O

“What the crap was that!?” Ralphie whined at his TV as he clumsily heaved the gaming console’s wireless controller across the room.
            “How the heck am I supposed to fight something I can’t even see?”
Complaining to no one is about as productive as complaining can ever be; not. Ralphie let out a defeated sigh as he worked his designer eyeglasses through his pudgy temples and tossed the thick plastic frames onto the adjacent couch cushion. The boy rubbed the bridge of his nose and tried to wrangle his temper back under control.
Ralphie pushed his glasses back into place with artificial cheese covered fingers and whipped wiped his nose on the bright red arm hair that obscured most of the back of his forearm. He stared at the game controller that lay a mere five feet from the couch. He had a momentary debate with himself about retrieving the device but settled instead on grabbing the spare controller from its charging station on the nearby end table.
He smashed a greasy thumb into the “X” button and the taunting message disappeared, replaced with a growing progress bar. The console hummed to life as it began to reload the level data. Ralphie, being a veteran role playing game player, had taken the liberty of quick saving right before he had faced off with the Master Vampire Clodrode.
“Vorand has been saved. Vorand has left the creepy dungeon filled with vampires.” Ralphie chuckled with a snort as he shoved a handful of cheese puffs into his mouth and choked as the artificial dust peppered the back of his throat.
Ralphie Clayton kicked his feet up onto the dilapidated coffee table. His foot sends several nearly empty cans of cola rolling off and into an old cardboard box filled with stuff Ralphie kept meaning to throw out. The high school junior leaned forward slightly and scoffed as the cola leaked out onto the golf trophy from last year, several straight ‘A’ report cards and a bottle of astringent that his mother had bought him. Ralphie narrowed his eyes at a framed picture of himself. He was surrounded by the golf team, wearing a grin from ear to ear and weighing a good eighty pounds less than he does now. He looked down at his belly and frowned.  

Your verbs switch a few times from past to present - make sure to watch that. While you do a great job of painting us a picture of Robbie, you go a bit overboard. You have a ton of description of Ralphie from his wheezing to his age to his year at school - a lot of it is telling us the same thing in different ways - which is that Ralphie is kind of a greasy slob. Maybe try choosing just one and cutting the rest. I'd also like to be more inside Ralphie's head - I feel like I am watching him at a far distance instead of experiencing his world with him. For example instead of a "A creeping redness crept across Ralphie..." you could have, "Ralphie could feel his  face growing warmer..." The latter allows us into what Ralphie is feeling.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

PitchWars Critique - WHAT EYES MAY SEE

I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many ones with so much potential. 

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Demitria Lunetta and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query cirtiques on our blogs. Demitria will be hosting critiques on her blog on Tuesdays, while mine will be here on Thursdays. Our decision to do this via our blogs, rather than a private email, is so that (hopefully!) everyone can learn a little bit from this feedback. 

And for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here 

Dear Mentor,

THE HOST meets THE TRUMAN SHOW in this high-concept, speculative YA romance titled WHAT EYES MAY SEE I love these comp titles and this is a great way to start a query.

Anya is an orphan in near-future America, where parentless minors are non-citizens, cast into the street, and any disappearances rarely questioned. This is a great character and world building intro. The biggest critique I have is that it makes this sound like a dystopian story which is a hard sell right now.

Rhem is one of a small group of elite celebrities with their own television channel. For his entire life, Hollywood producers have fed lines to Rhem and his mother, utilizing their influence to persuade Americans to accept the ever-growing disparity of wealth and resources in the ruling political class. 

On the same night Anya flees a police officer who catches her out after curfew, Rhem’s mother dies during a broadcast. Only Rhem knows she was poisoned and the crime made to look like an illness, because of her opposition to the secret program using orphans as puppet-spies called “Shields”. Through the implantation of a chip that turns them into remote-controlled human beings, orphans become surveillance units to uncover potential rebellion.

If anyone discovers that his mother told Rhem about the Shields, he’ll be killed too. Threats to someone's life is definitely high stakes, which I like to see.

In the wake of her death, Rhem flees the ever-present cameras, right into the path of Anya. The unlikely pair discover they share a common goal: To tell America about the purpose of the Shield program and stop the exploitation of orphans. To achieve this, they need a live broadcast that can't be edited. So Rhem pitches a new concept for his show, with a live finale, and convinces the producers to recruit orphan girls to compete for his heart—starting with Anya. Okay, so far it seems like most of this query is set-up for what will be the meat of the novel. I wonder if the above paragraphs and details can be condensed a bit. 

As the season progresses and the show’s popularity reaches a fever-pitch, Rhem and Anya are drawn ever-closer by their shared secret and the electric thrill of each other’s touch. Each intends to be the one who will tell the world the truth at the conclusion of the show—and thus protect the other from the inevitable assassination that would follow. Or couldn't they try and think of a way so that neither of them will get assassinated? Right now this reads as the main tension being them arguing over which one gets to tell the truth and then die... which doesn't feel grabby enough to me.

But Anya and Rhem possess popular influence like no orphan ever has. Influence the programmers plan to exploit. Those men and women will stop at nothing to implant Anya who, in the hands of a Shield programmer, could lure Rhem to the labs, thus adding two popular celebrities to their ranks, and ensuring the only truth ever told, is the truth they want America to hear. I think you could probably just cut this final paragraph. It doesn't tell us something that Anya or Rhem want or are trying to do. 

WHAT EYES MAY SEE is the first in a two-book series told in dual POV, and complete at 94,000 words. As a twice-published author (both books with Alloy Entertainment), I’m very open to editorial feedback and eager for a professional eye to help me refine this ambitious story. Perfect bio paragraph!

I appreciate your time and hope you’ll seriously consider working with me!



    The girl’s hair spreads out like a fan on the shiny metal of the table, fingerlike strands

twisting on her neck as if they are the noose squeezing off her air. Her breath comes in shrieking

gasps, stifled by the grotesque angle of her neck, twisting, bending back. Too far back.

The writing here immediately strikes me as being polished. However, it feels maybe a little
overly polished perhaps. The first sentence alone has two different metaphors (her hair like a fan
and then also like a noose on her neck) that gives me too much imagery to deal with. I would
pick one. I would also maybe start with the weird/bad angle of her neck, which seems more like the first thing
someone would notice.

     “Help her!” I scream.

     The doctor’s movements are quick, efficient, his coat fluttering behind him like ruffled

wings. Yet she convulses. The gurney rattles, dances on the slick floor. The nurse, Brigit, says

something I cannot hear over my own pulse thrumming in my ears. He shakes his head.

I wish I had a bit more specific detail about what exactly the doctor is doing here. Is he operating?
Giving her a shot? Checking vital signs? It isn't clear.

      The girl’s eyes fly wide—pupils so large I cannot see the colored circles. Her body arches

until I can see the doctor’s white coat between the table and her spine. Brigit throws her weight

over the girl’s chest, but it is too late. Her strangled cry cuts off with the sound of a snapped

branch that echoes through the room. 

     Everything goes still.

     Drub, drub, drub. I am horrified by the sound of my own vibrant living. Love this.

“Anya, you have to go.” Brigit leaps into motion again, yanking the bag out of my

weakened grip, and rushing to the locked cupboard at the side of the room. 
I feel like this might be a good place to slow the pacing a bit. Tell us where Anya is and why she has to
go now. Just give us a bit more to place us in the world, because right now it's tough to get a good feel for it.

     A shudder wracks me from head to toe.

     I did not know it could end like that. I thought I helped the girls I brought here. I thought

I helped the Doctor figure out how he will save me when my time comes. Again this would have more
weight and be a bit more powerful if we had just a bit more info about what exactly just happened.

     I swallow the bile rising in my throat.

     “Anya, go.” Brigit’s voice breaks as she shoves the lumpy bag into my chest, forcing me

back a step. I come up hard against the wall. “Now!”

     Help me, Father Wind.

     Blindly, almost dropping the bag, I stumble across the floor, open the door, am through,

out from under the green glare of their fluorescent lights and into the near-dark of twilight, made

darker because this door opens to a stairwell below street level.

So overall, I am really impressed by the writing here, there's some great imagery and I can feel the emotions from the main character, which draws me into the story. I do however, wish the pacing could slow just a bit. It's always exciting to start a story right in the middle of some dramatic action, but if we don't get a sense of the world and what's at stake for the main character then it's hard to be fully invested in what might happen next. Overall though, this is a polished first page and query with tons of potential.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I've Got A Blank Space Baby (and i'll write your name)

Nice to meet you, where you been?
I could show you incredible things.


(For those who don't know what #PitchWars is - here's the deal: The brilliant amazing possibly super-powered Brenda Drake organizes this awesome contest that connects aspiring writers with mentors (like me!) and then we work together scrubbing and shining the aspiring author's manuscript until it is so stinking sparkly that agents will fight for the right to call it their own. For more info and to be part of the contest YOU MUST go to Brenda Drake's blog. Sound good?)

So this year marks my third go round as a PW mentor... which wow. It's really such an honor to be a part of this amazing contest. 

And adding to that excitement is that this year I am co-mentoring with Demitria Lunetta! Not only is Demitria an amazing author (see: IN THE AFTER, IN THE END, and upcoming BAD BLOOD) and a wonderful friend, but she is a fabulous critique partner as well. If you are a believer in the two heads are better than one theory, well you're in luck because Demitria and I will be working in tandem to make your manuscript shine. (And if you're wondering what kind of manuscripts Demitria will be looking for and how she likes to critique make sure to visit her blog as well!)

And like last year I (along with Demitria) will once again be mentoring... 

Yep YOUNG ADULT!!! Yay!!

So what is going to make me sit up and pay attention to YOUR young adult manuscript?

Magic, madness, heaven, sin

Saw you there and I thought

Oh my God, look at that face

You look like my next mistake

Well... Strong often unlikeable protagonists, complicated antagonists, kick-ass girls, romance, depth and darkness, fun, having my heart ripped out, laugh-out-loud moments, mystery, thrills, paranormal elements, realistic elements, cute puppies, and weirdness.

Your book does not need to have all of those elements. Actually, it definitely shouldn't because my head would explode and I don't think that's something any of us want to see happen. BUT the one thing I MUST have is strong writing. That doesn't mean it has to be literary or lyrical or bursting at the seams with similes (oh please definitely NOT that last one), but it needs to have that certain something that's a mixture of craft and voice and your own personal secret sauce that just makes every page sing.

So basically I am open to everything and I never really know what exactly will grab me. I am definitely NOT turned off by language, sex, or violence - in fact, when it's a necessary part of the story, I believe it's important to include these elements. But your character does not have to drop f-bombs for me to love them.

If you want a good idea of what I like to read check out my Goodreads. I try to keep this updated every few months with what I've recently read. 

So that's what I'm looking for. But this is about more than me falling in love, you need to find a mentor that fits into what you need as well. To that end, let me tell you a bit about myself (besides the fact that I'm a big Taylor Swift fan which you may have already figured out) and my critique style.

Ain't it funny, rumors fly

And I know you heard about me

So hey, let's be friends

I'm dying to see how this one ends

You could say I have a strong arts backgrounds. Or you could say I have two college degrees of questionable worth. I prefer the former. Anyway, from undergrad I have a BFA in theatre and then, after several years of graduate school, I gained an MFA in film and television production.

I am represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary. My own books are: ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE (HarperTeen 2013),  (DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME (HarperTeen 2014) and the recently released DOWN WITH THE SHINE (yep HarperTeen again). 

Psst... I'm also currently running a Goodreads giveaway for DOWN WITH THE SHINE which you can enter here. Or you could buy the ebook which is currently only $4.99!  

And here are a few places you can find me online:

Twitter: @katekaryusquinn (I'll be tweeting with the #PitchWars hashtag, so make sure you're following me!)

So what kind of feedback can you expect from me? 

You can tell me when it's over
If the high was worth the pain

...Actually let me start with what you won't get from me. 

I am not big on correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other things of that nature. That's not to say that these things are not important - they are. I am just not the person to make those elements shine.

I don't expect you to write like me. Or to write your story the way that I'd write it. Instead, I want to help you write the story in your voice and style, and tell it the way you need it to be told. I will, however, occasionally throw different ideas out. In my screenwriting classes ages and ages ago (see that MFA does come in handy!) my one teacher used to call the process of throwing different ideas out spitballing. Sometimes you use the spitballed idea, but mostly it just helps get your own ideas flowing.

I will never tell you that your story sucks. Or you suck. That doesn't mean I'll only have positive things to say, because ooohhhh trust me I will point out what is not working for me. But I also always make a point of talking about the things that are working oh so very well. Personally, I find the odd "YAY!!" "HEE HEE HEE!" or "LOVE LOVE LOVE!" comments can make an otherwise tough critique go down a lot easier.

Finally, do not expect only a line or two of notes for feedback. As you may have guessed from this blog post, I can be a little long winded at times. And yes, sometimes I do go on and on and on and... Okay, I'll stop now. The point is, I tend it give pretty long critiques with lots and lots and lots of thoughts.  

You can also check out the critiques I did on Brenda's blog (here and here) to get an idea of how I work. I also did a bunch of critiques on my blog last year for folks who submitted to me but were not chosen and you can look through my archives over there to the right ---> for September and October of 2015.

Okay, we're almost done here, but in case some of you are reading this and wondering, "Okay but what if I submit my work to you and don't get picked as your mentee, cause that sort of sucks." 

Well yes, it does suck (although hey if you want to be in this business handling rejection is unfortunately a huge part of it). BUT you might get chosen as someone else's mentee (which is why you get several picks) and that would be awesome! However, some people won't get picked and so Demitria and I had a discussion about what we can do for those writers. Cause let's face it - everyone can benefit from a little extra feedback. So we put our heads together and decided to offer a query and first page critiques which will be posted publicly our own blogs to those who submit to us but are not chosen as mentees. If you're interested in that offer we'll email you once the mentees are announced and let you know how to collect on that offer. (Pssstt... I also offer paid critique services which is another option if you are not chosen for PitchWars. I try to keep my prices low to make it a manageable expense. You can find more about all that here.)

Okay, that's almost it from me except for one more thing...

Brenda Drake puts A LOT like A LOT A LOT of time - her own personal she could be writing time - into making Pitch Wars happen. It is not a small endeavor. Most contests of this scope ask for money just to enter, but PitchWars is free. FREE!! I love free stuff as much - or more (probably more) - than anyone, but here's the thing, if you could spare $3, $5, $10, or even $20 dollars to keep PitchWars going - not just this year but for many years to come - that would be wonderful. AND here's where it gets even better - anyone who donates $20 or more gets a pretty sweet bonus - you'll be able to claim two additional mentor applications. Yeah, that's gonna make refining your list of mentors a whole lot easier, right? For more details on this and how it all works please go to Brenda's blog.  

OOOOOOHHH WAIT. There is actually one last last thing. If you are participating in the Blog Hop Scavenger Hunt and wanting to know where my letter is... well, it ain't here. Instead you'll have to visit my co-mentor Demitria's blog and read about her likes and interests to find it. 

Any questions? Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter cause...

I've got a blank space baby,


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