Wednesday, July 29, 2009

12 Query Contest

All Whitney wants from life at eighteen is to belong to a normal family. It's a simple request really. A family where she can feel safe and not have to wonder why her mother is trying to sell her virginity to the highest bidder.

Looking back on her decision to move to Penn State, she realizes what a brilliant idea it was to move 2000 miles away. Brilliant because it would be a new start for her and because her mother was deathly afraid of flying.

Whitney is enjoying her first semester on campus. She has a job at the local deli and is trying to learn how to fit in, despite her southern drawl. Who knew ice tea could be unsweetened? And the weather isn't dripping with humidity- clearly a bonus to picking a university above the Mason/Dixon line.

But one night before Thanksgiving break changes everything.

As her mangled body lies on the cold floor of the frat room, Whitney looks around and wonders why the attack has stopped. Suddenly, she is cradled ever so gently in the arms of an unlikely hero, Wes Deluca. She spends the next few days in the care of Wes and his family. His family has grown to love her and treats her like the daughter they never had.

Wes has a secret that he can't continue to hide. He loves Whitney, unconditionally. Although he can't confess his love now, while she is a breakable bubble, he wants to soon. He decides to wait until winter break to show how much he loves her. He's thought about this night a hundred times, but he's still not certain how Whitney will react.

In the snowy night standing in the middle of a lit gazebo, Whitney Davis finds herself in a place she never thought existed; a place where she is loved, free of conditions.

Thank you for your time and consideration. My novel, Love: Free of Conditions, is 80,000 words and is complete. Please see the first 250 words below:


"Whitney, just two more applications for today and you can return to your writing class." Mrs. Long assured me as she pushed a stack of papers towards me. I looked up at the clock in the office. Two thirty in the afternoon. It was Monday, and as usual, I spent my afternoons in Mrs. Long's office.
I sighed as I looked at the name of the university on the application in front of me.

"Notre Dame, Really Mrs. Long. Don't you think that's a stretch?" I complained and rolled my eyes.
"You're only requirement was that it was far away from Mississippi. Preferably on the east coast and above the Mason Dixon line." She teased.

"Yes, but I don't think they'll give me a full ride, no matter how good my grades are." I retorted.
"We are running out of time, it won't hurt to apply."

I started writing my name on the application, "Fine, but I'm not holding my breath on this one."

I was two months from graduating high school in Clinton, Ms. A town not known for much other than being south of Jackson. I had a good friend in the high school counselor, Mrs. Long. She was much more than a friend, somewhat of a sereget mother, a guardian angel of sorts.

"Alright, we received a partial scholarship from the University of Chicago, but that's not going to work now, is it?" Mrs. Long threw the envelope in the trash.


  1. I think you need to give a bit of the setting. A mother selling a daughter's virginity does not suggest America, but Penn State does. The hint of 2000 miles doesn't clarify that enough for me. Where does Whitney start out? What makes her so unusual that her mother is doing this? Is she foreign, or is her mother just a horrible person (or both)?

    The tone shifts after Thanksgiving break. I wonder: how much of this story is about her escaping home, and how much is about her recovering (from rape? attempted murder?)?

    If this is a story about a girl escaping an oppressive home, I'm hooked. If it is a story about a girl recovering and a boy who loves her...I'm not. Just personal interest. But since I can't tell from this query which of the two plots this story is (or is it equally both?), I'm not hooked.

  2. While I liked the idea I kept wondering if her mother somehow went after her. I also wondered about the reason why a mother would sell her virginity - so I could say I was hooked.

    When I read the sample I stumbled over "sereget". Did you mean "surrogate"? If there are mistakes in the sample an agent would probably stop reading even if they liked the story idea.

  3. I'm not hooked. I stopped reading in the third paragraph. Although the bit about the mother interested me, I found the query a bit too wordy for me. If you went through and tightened up the writing, I would have kept reading.

  4. Query -

    Wait.... at eighteen, don't teenagers want to get away from their families?!

    The other thing is I'm not sure about the virginity thing without immediate context. Were she 8-12 years old and trying to get away from her 'mother', the selling the virginity and need for a normal family would make more immediate sense.

    I'm sorry... not completely hooked here.

  5. I was a little mystified right from the start about the "selling her virginity to the highest bidder." I'll admit it's intriguing, but then you don't follow it up with any context or really at all for the rest of the query.

    Then it seems there is some sort of assault, but I'm not sure what Wes is doing there and how his family gets was all a bit confusing. Maybe a clearer idea of what precipitates the incident, how Wes was involved in the first place, why he wants to help her and what about this victim on the frat house floor draws him in, and how his family is involved would help.

    I think the query needs a little more revision, but the premise sounds interesting. Keep at it!

  6. Hooked. Selling her virginity threw me somewhat, but I'd keep reading to see what that meant.

  7. This query lost me very quickly. No paragraph flows logically on from the last. First you introduce the desire for a normal, non-virginity-selling family. Then that plot is promptly dropped and there’s some stuff about moving to somewhere. Then we’re learning about campus life. Then her body is mangled on the floor, while Whitney is looking around pondering.

    By this point, I’m too confused to even try to sort out whether Whitney is dead and an astral projection, whether she’s just feeling pretty good for someone mangled on the floor, where the virginity went, what her family are up to or how all of this ties together.

    Not hooked, I'm afraid.

  8. I wouldn't concern yourself with the comment above re: 18 year olds not wanting to get away.

    The query needs some focus. I thought it was starting as a tongue and cheek, then it turns violent and brooding.

    Not hooked.

  9. Sorry, but this query didn't hook me. It seemed to be all over the place, and the tone was very uneven. Overall though I didn't get a sense of what the main conflict of the story was.

  10. I think the premise has promise, but the writing in the query is a bit ordinary. What makes this different than the tons of other stories about lost/confused/in love teens out there? Comments about her job at the deli and the weather don't grab my attention, which is the main job of a query.
    Sorry, didn't grab me.

  11. The query reads more like a synopsis to me, and I don't see the hook. Plus, I'm a little confused--is this YA, or is it romance?

    I'm interested enough to read on. The snippet, however, is missing something for me. The first block of text is too long. I'd split it up between "stack of papers towards me" and "I looked up." Also, I'd be careful with using words like "teased" and "retorted," because it tends to indicate that you're telling us how your characters are saying something, rather than just showing us through their actions. Another section where you tell rather than show is the part about Mrs. Long being a friend/mother figure/guardian angel. Instead of telling us that, show us in how she interacts with Whitney and in the familiarity of their relationship.

    Just my 2 cents, whatever its worth :)

    And as a little side: is "sereget" an acceptable spelling for "surrogate"?

  12. Although I think your first paragraph is powerful, I agree that the query reads too much like a synopsis. Several questions arise. I assume she leaves her home and goes 2,000 miles away to escape from her mother. Does her mother never try to get to her or apply pressure for her to come home?

    Suddenly we're dealing with the boyfriend's secret, which he isn't willing to tell her just yet. And then she finds herself in a place where she finally feels loved. I know you can't -- and shouldn't -- give all the details in the query, but there were too many leaps and gaps.

    In the first 250-words, she is with her mentor and friend and "sereget" (surrogate?) mother. There is no mention that Whitney's mother wants to sell Whitney's virginity. Since Mrs. Long is such a trusted friend, couldn't Whitney confide in her? It would make a great place to let your reader in on what the stakes are for Whitney.

    Right now, the query letter doesn't reflect what is in the in your first 250 words -- or even hint at it.

  13. Sorry, but not hooked. For one, the query is a bit long and too vague on the important details (one night before thanksgiving?--What night? Why the attack has stopped?--What attack? Who did it?). It definitely needs to be condensed and clearer as to what happens to Whitney and what her stakes are.

    Also, I'm wondering if this is written in alternating POVs. I see that the first 250 words are in first person, so I'm thinking that it's probably all from Whitney's eyes. In such case, cut the paragraphs from Wes's POV from the query, since it's being told by Whitney.

  14. Wow, I'm hooked. I absolutely loved this.

  15. I too am wondering why Whitney's mother is trying to sell her virginity to the highest bidder. Does she mean her mother is trying to marry her off? Or is her mother literally trying to pimp her?

    It struck me after reading the whole query that you might not need the first two paragraphs. The story seems to be about her being attacked, and recovering with the aid of Wes. So we can start with her enjoying her first semester. This was my favourite paragraph of the query because I liked the voice.

    I didn't take to the sample because there were quite a few grammatical errors. eg. in the second paragraph, "Really" shouldn't have a capital because it's not the start of a sentence. "You're" should be "Your". etc, so I think it needs some polishing before it's completely ready for an agent.

  16. "A family where she can feel safe and not have to wonder why her mother is trying to sell her virginity to the highest bidder."

    What? I'm pretty sure this is illegal.

    I read on. I was very confused by your transition to her being attacked. Then I was confused about Wes. I thought he was her age at first. Then I thought he was old enough to be her father b/c of the sentence "His family has grown to love her and treats her like the daughter they never had." Maybe I would have followed better if you wrote "his parents" because the next para says he loves Whitney, so now I'm assuming they are the same age.

    I was too thrown off to read the sample page. Sorry, not hooked.

  17. The first paragraph doesn't grab me until the very end. Until then, I was thinking I'd read several novels just like this.

    The next bit is a little rambly; can it be trimmed and focused?

    After that, when we get to the mangled body, I'm really confused. Who attacked her? Why? And where did Wes come from?

    I'm missing the stakes and conflict in this. You started out strong with the mom wanting to sell her virginity, but then we went to college and had a random attack where a nice boy saves her and wants to love her forever. (The focus also switches to him.)

    So I'm not hooked. I'm looking for the stakes and conflict. All that's at the beginning, and there's nothing at the end. What's this story building up to?