Thursday, August 7, 2014

Become an Agent #1

Title: Fathers and Fender Guitars
Genre: YA contemporary
Word Count: 72,000


Laney Nickles is in trouble.

Her quiet life in Cleveland is disrupted when her father's former band receives an unexpected nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Nickles family has been leading a normal life for the past five years, keeping the dad’s past life as an anarchist punk rocker hidden. But now, the band, Union Juliet, is back into the spotlight and Laney's family life is in the tabloids.

The more media coverage the band receives, the more lies Laney tells to keep her social life away from it. She's terrified her respectable friends will find out her big secret--she was left behind by her groupie mother. It's harder to keep things quiet when anarchist graffiti keeps showing up on her high school walls, and across the whole city. Worse still, Laney finds herself attracted to Logan, who's the biggest Union Juliet fan in Cleveland. If anyone’s going to figure out what she’s been hiding, it would be him. She struggles to maintain her lies, while growing closer to him.

Laney realizes she's not the only one keeping secrets. Thanks to the increased media attention, it becomes clear that her dad's hiding something about Laney's mom. Her mother might just have been the reason the band broke up. Laney will have to discover if the truth is worth tearing apart her family and losing her friends
Fathers and Fender Guitars is a YA contemporary novel, complete at 72,000 words.


I’d been waiting in the doorway of Rusty’s Dive Bar long enough for Greg the bouncer to tell me about his five cats, his tattoos, and offer dating advice. “If he ain’t on time, you can’t trust him with a dime.”

“I’ll remember that.” I wouldn’t, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “He’ll be here soon.” Stupid learners permit. If only I could pick my perpetually late boyfriend up myself. Familiar chords blasted out of the bar’s speaker system, filling the too-muggy September air. I winced. A million bands, and the DJ had to pick them to play?

Greg asked, “Not a Union Juliet fan?”

“I don’t like punk rock.” My curt tone made me feel guilty. Bouncers had it rough enough with drunk idiots.

“Back in the day, Union J played the truth.”

The hiss of a spray paint can alerted us to a teen tagging the abandoned building next to us. I asked, “Should you say something?”

Greg waved away my concern. “Nah, he ain’t hurting no one.”

The tagger, inspired by the song, scrawled six letters. IAO, FAA; Union Juliet’s logo. As the tagger circled the A, creating the anarchy symbol, someone shouted my name—or rather the name I’d been using for the last eight months.

“Elaine Nickels!”

Bouncer Greg elbowed me. “He’s here!”

“That’s not my boyfriend,”

Then, Logan Hernandez ambled out of the bar; wearing the same stupid jacket and heavy boots he did in school. Before he could speak again, I bolted

Title: Fathers and Fender Guitars
Genre: YA contemporary
Word Count: 72,000


All fifteen year old Laney Nickels wants is fifteen minutes of normal.

As a red-headed, full figured introvert, she already struggles to blend into her suburban Cleveland high school, where the coolest kids are on the Young Republicans board. She bites back feminist remarks and puts up with cheesy pop music -- anything so that her classmates won't find out that she’s the daughter of an anarchist punk guitarist and an unknown, presumed dead groupie. They’d be horrified right down to their boat shoe wearing feet. Plus, somewhere in the internet floats a meme of five year old Laney, proudly declaring she wants to be a roadie when she grows up. If that ever surfaced, she might as well quit school entirely.

When Union Juliet, her father's former band, is nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and excited fans begin tagging everything they can—even her school walls—with the band’s logo, Laney is desperate to stay out of the spotlight.

To cope, Laney creates a fake identity , weaving lies and half-truths together. She’ll do anything, even if it means giving up her beloved guitar, lying to her family, and avoiding the cute Union Juliet fanboy at her school to remain unknown.

Then a gossip column sheds new light on the one thing Laney would give up normalcy for: her mother’s identity. Her mother might have been the reason Union Juliet crumbled. If that's true, Laney will face more than just an internet meme in angry backlash from fans. Laney’s pursuit of the story may destroy her reputation at school, ruin her budding relationship with the cute fanboy and tear apart her family. Normalcy just might be impossible for her.

First 250

I’d been waiting in the doorway of Rusty’s Dive Bar long enough for Greg the bouncer to tell me about his five cats, his tattoos, and offer dating advice. “If he ain’t on time, you can’t trust him with a dime.”

“I’ll remember that.” I wouldn’t, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “He’ll be here soon.” Stupid learners permit keeping me from picking up my perpetually late boyfriend. The Joan Jett song playing inside the bar ended, and after a few seconds of silence, familiar chords blasted out of the bar’s speaker system, filling the too-muggy September air. I winced. A million bands, and the DJ had to pick them?

Greg asked, “Not a Union Juliet fan?”

“I don’t like punk rock.” My curt tone made me feel guilty. Bouncers had it rough enough with drunk idiots.

“Shame, back in the day, Union J played the truth.”

The music wrapped around us, and I fought the urge to bob my head to its familiar, driving beat. Instead, I pointed to a kid across the street, who’d been working on graffiti for ten minutes now. “Should you say something?”

Greg waved away my concern. “Nah, he ain’t hurting no one.”

The tagger, perhaps inspired by the song, scrawled six letters. IAO, FAA. Union Juliet’s logo. As the tagger circled the A, creating the anarchy symbol, someone shouted my name—or rather the name I’d been using for the last eight months.

“Elaine Nickels!”

Bouncer Greg elbowed me, “He’s here.”


  1. Query:
    Note: In para-1 you’ve got KEEPING THE DAD’S PAST… that “the” seems not right, her dad’s or their dad’s (though I don’t get a sense that there is a sibling)

    Overall, I think the query is quite well written, however, my issue is with what’s at stake. I’m trying to figure out why it’s such a big deal that her father was once in a band and even that her mother walked out on Laney?

    1st 250:
    I always try to keep in mind that I’m from Australia and something that sounds odd to my ear my not to a USA ear, so if I say something that you know I’m mistaken in, please feel free to ignore.
    That said, overall I think you did a pretty good job but I also think it could be stronger. I stopped at the hissing sound of the spray-painter because I was sure I’d read prior that the music was loud (so I went back to re-read). Even with the building being next door, I think it would be difficult to hear the hiss of a spray-can over loud music. It’s great visually, but, even if it’s possible, remember that in order to suspend disbelief the reader must trust the writer.
    If you’re married to using the HISSING comment (& it is good!) maybe change the music thing to it drying down, or the tagger running past first attracting her attention… or something so that the reader accepts the focus on the tagger is possible.
    Also, the conversation with the bouncer sounded a little unnatural to my ear – however, this is where it could be a cultura thing 
    Overall it’s pretty good but I’d say NO because the query letter just didn’t give me strong enough stakes.

    NO - #7

  2. Query- "keeping the dad’s past life" stopped me. It sounded awkward. Other than that I really liked the query. You do a good job of letting us know the stakes and it makes me want to read the first 250.
    250- Your first 250 is good. I was confused at first because I thought a bad was actually playing in the bar, but when I re-read I noticed a DJ was playing the music but "picked them to play" sounded awkward to me, but it might just be a personal thing. I might have given your entry a yes but there were two other entries I liked just a bit better. This would have been my #3 tho.
    So no.

  3. the opening line of your query is too bland. Every mc is in trouble. why is this mc in trouble? what makes this book different from every other book? Then the query goes into Dad's good news. I'm not seeing how the mc is involved with that. Why is that a bad thing? I'd be proud of my dad for the hall of fame thing. I guess I'm still left with what's the big deal if people find out her mom was a groupie who abandoned her? unfortunately, parents abandoning their kids happens a lot. At that age, none of us in school held it against the kid. Maybe in middle school that would be a big deal. Not sure.

    Later in the query we find out how the mc sees this and what she thinks about it. I'd like to see that perspective come up way sooner. Less details about dad and more about why the mc doesn't want anyone to know who she really is.

    As for the writing, watch those exclamation marks. when the guy nudges her, that seems like an up-close thing. would he really be exclaiming "He's here!" right next to her?

    I see she doesn't like the music and from the query I know why, but I don't have a reason to feel for her yet. This just isn't pulling me in yet.

    No. (#11)

  4. That first line is a no-go for me! Take a bit of the info from the body of your letter and use it at the beginning. You're first line is your hook, put as much story as possible in it, but keep the reader guessing. Overall, the query was good, with the exception of that first line.

    A few things about the first 250: You can break up that second paragraph a bit. The line, "the hiss of a spray paint can" sounds better if you just leave out the words "spray paint". We read on to find out the boy is tagging, so obviously we know it was spray paint. I think it flows better when chopping those two words out. Also, I'm not sure your MC should know that the tagger was "inspired by the song". She can assume he was inspired, but that line reads like she knew for a fact he tagged those letters because of the music he heard.

    I absolutely love the line "someone shouted my name--or rather the name I'd been using for the last eight months." Makes me curious. Curious minds continue reading!

    Best of luck with your story and the dreaded query process!!

    No. (non-contestant)

  5. The query was kind of bland. Why doesn't she want her friends to know? The hook didn't really interest me. Troubled is not really the best to use as its a little cliche.
    I liked the first 250 though.
    Sadly no (#4)

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  7. I think your query is strong overall—but I do feel like you need to make it clearer WHY they're hiding her father's old life. Is it just that the band was super popular? Or they got on the wrong side of politics/the law or something? I also think losing the first line of the query will make it stronger.

    I really like your first 250. Sets the scene, and her convo with the bouncer is quirky and interesting.

    A YES (non-contestant)

  8. I was SUPER into your query and really excited- until I got to the part where the MC's biggest secret is that her mother left her. Why is that her problem? It didn't have anything to do with her, and these days, it's not that surprising to have a family where one parent or the other leaves. Also, I feel like her friends may have noticed that her mother doesn't live with them. So, I would rework the stakes - let me see what's really important. Why is it so bad for people to know her father was part of Union Juliet? Is the band wanted for murder? (Obviously not that, but - there should be a reason).

    The first 250 are super confusing to me. If the band is still playing, why is she using a false name? And how would they hide her dad's past if it's also his present (i.e., the band is still together)? Also, there are a lot of typos. It could really benefit from another editing pass.

    For those reasons, I'd have to say no. Too bad, because I love the premise.

  9. I'm really sorry, but I'm going to have to say no... I think there needs to be more about the stakes: why is it so important to keep her dad's past or being abandoned by her mother from her friends? I would think that the anarchist punk rock band and having a child with a groupie would speak more about the dad's character than her own.


  10. This was my runner up. If I could have chosen four, this would have been a yes. I love, love the concept. The 250 are really solid. My only concern is the query. The stakes and conflict could be a little cleaner. I have no idea why anarchy symbols are that big of a deal for the MC. I also think you could inflict more voice into the query.

    If the query could have the same energy as the 250, you'd have something really special. That said, I would love to read it and wish you the best of luck.

  11. I loved this.
    I agree, however, with some of the other comments about the stakes -- we need to feel more about why Mom's mysterious disappearance is a crucible for the story. And why would they try to keep Dad's past life as a famous rocker secret? Many would love that about a dad. Those details might help ratchet up the energy of the query.
    The first 250 are fantastic.
    Good Luck!!
    Audience Member @HeatherMC66

  12. I’m going to have to say no.

    Part of it is—and this may make me seem mean and particular—your grammar. You misused commas throughout the query, put an em dash where you needed a colon, chose a semicolon over a comma in the last paragraph of your 250 words, and then some. I know it seems really, really petty to point out, but grammar is one of those things you need to get right, especially the simple stuff.

    I say this because you don’t want to give an agent reason to question your writing ability. Grammatical errors can be a symptom of a greater problem. They could make an agent think you’re inattentive. Or, worse, constantly misplaced punctuation could lead her to think that you have greater technical issues in your writing that she doesn’t have adequate interest or time to invest in fixing.

    That said, I like the idea behind the story. The concept seems really interesting. I’m curious, for instance, why Laney thinks she has to be in hiding, and what significance her mother plays in it all. However (and this is the main reason I’d pass) your query isn’t connecting the dots very effectively. I don’t get why it matters that she’s attracted to Logan. So he likes the band. Big deal. I also don’t get why the family’s in hiding, which seems to be crucial to your plot. It’s impossible to understand your stakes without seeing how one event leads to another.

    I’m bummed that it’s a no for me. :( I did like Laney’s voice quite a bit. I think if you clean up your query and become more mindful of your grammar, this could definitely catch an agent’s attention.

    (After all that grumbling about grammar, watch me make some silly typo somewhere up there. :P )

    - Audience Member @mostlytaylor

    (Feel free to drop me a note on the old tweeter if you have any questions about anything I said. :) )

  13. I'm voting NO on this one. The 250 is solid and I enjoyed reading it, but the premise sounds too close to the Hannah Montana TV show. So, sorry, it's a

    NO (from an audience member)

  14. Yes. I think the premise is great, and the writing is solid, so I'd be interested in seeing more. I do also have some suggestions for how to make it even better:

    * I don't think the first line adds anything. Novel protags are all in trouble, right? I'd find a new starting line.

    * I wasn't sure why Laney would care so much about hiding that her mom ran out on her. It weakened the stakes a bit for me, since I didn't have a good grip on why she felt it was so urgent to keep it a secret. If you can make us really feel why it would be horrible for her if this got out, that'll greatly increase the dramatic tension in the query.

    * Generally speaking, anything that would drive up the stakes would be great. Maybe give us more of an idea of the problems the media attention is causing Laney? Or go into more detail on what's up with her mom? Let us know what Laney has to lose so we really care how this goes down.

    * Finally, a minor point: this is YA, and I was really surprised to see teens meeting at a bar. Maybe the laws vary by state and this is a regional thing you should ignore (?), but where I live you have to be 21 to get into a bar.

    Good job and good luck!


  15. I thought the query opened with a nice hook but wanted a bit more information. Though we find out the connection in the first 250, as I read the query it wasn't clear how the anarchist graffiti links to her dad's past anarchist punk rock band. I think including the band logo information will make it clearer. As for the stakes, this may just be me, but I don't get why her mom running out on her is a secret she feels the need to keep. I thought the first 250 read smoothly -- my one niggle was I thought it more likely she and the bouncer would see the tagger rather than hear the hiss of the spray paint. Though I felt the stakes were low, I enjoyed the writing. This is a YES for me (#9).

  16. The opening line honestly spurred a sort of "that's the point" mental moment for me. If the character wasn't somehow in trouble, there would be no story. There are instances in the query where word choices interrupt the flow of the prose: "keeping the dad’s past life" should be keeping her dad's past life? And "the band, Union Juliet, is back into the spotlight" should be "the band, Union Juliet, is back in the spotlight. In the first 250, while the voice is present, I'm not sure what's going on. She's waiting on someone to pick her up, but says she wishes she could pick up someone herself, insinuating she's waiting on someone else to pick up the first someone? Who's her boyfriend. I think I get what's being said, but I had to go over everything again to get it. The disjointedness carried from the query to the first page and while I would continued to read on to see if it dissipates, with just what's been presented it'd have to be no. But, in this instance, the no is only because I don't have more to go on, so it's technically a maybe, but for the contest, if it's not a yes it has to be a no. I hope that makes sense.

  17. Query:

    I like your query. It's well written, but I'm not sure what the conflict really is. Why does it matter what her parents past is? It does mention the mom may have been the reason band breaking up, but why is that a reason to hide her past? I'm just not sure the stakes are high enough. What does she really stand to lose? My next comment comes from the fact that I read slush for a literary agent and you can take it or leave it. I only know her preferences. Don't make your query too long. Try to cut out anything unnecessary. I fin starting with a twitter pitch party type pitch helps with cutting out anything unnecessary and fill out the query from there, however that is simply my opinion.


    I like the 250. It's very vivid. I love the punk rocker aspect. I didn't understand the mc meeting at a bar at 15 or the bouncer being okay with that fact since she is under age. Of course it could be family run or something that isn't being stated in the 250. Also, with the loud music I'm unsure how she heard the hiss of the spray paint. Perhaps seeing a color shooting out would be a better option? Again this is only my opinion. The conversation with the bounce was fun, but felt a little unrealistic to me. Perhaos because it's so friendly and he's a bouncer at a bar. As always, take what you like and disregard the rest.


    1. Ignore my typos. I'm typing on my phone, sorry.

  18. This is a YES from me.

    I like that we're introduced to the scene in such a relatable way (holy crap, waiting for a boyfriend next to the bouncer! and he's talking about his cats!). Already I feel for her, so you've established a bond very quickly. And I feel like I know her, or maybe I was friends with her in highschool.

    And I love that she hates her dad's band.

    I did get a little confused with the guy coming out and yelling her name. I understood what you were trying to do, but I didn't get all the pieces in the first run through. Maybe a little more reading to catch stuff like that.

    Again: Yes. (great voice). #20

  19. I think you have made the query stronger. I like it. The hook finally peaks my interest. This is a yes for me now :)

  20. Revision crit -

    I think you did a great job making the stakes clearer in the query! Fantastic!

    The only remaining suggestion I have for the query is that the last line is a bit weak compared to the rest of it. See if you can find one that leaves the stakes hanging rather than drawing an overly pat conclusion.

    Still a Yes, but now a much stronger one! Great work!


  21. Omg...this is so good now!

    I love that you changed your first line in the query. I easily followed your query, learned about your MC, and knew what the stakes were.

    Your 250 reads so much easier now. Just removing a few things made your story flow tons better!

    Best of luck!!

  22. The world in the revised query is much clearer as is Laney's place in it. Only suggestions I have are teensy ones -- hyphenate 'five-year-old Laney' and suggest not breaking the following clause, but keeping it together: 'She'll do anything to remain unknown, even (to remain unknown). Another 'yes' from me. (#9)

  23. The revised version is a lot better. The query hooks me and I get a sense of voice. Yes

    EndlessD (#6)