Sunday, March 22, 2015

Become an Agent 2015 Post #14

Genre: YA contemporary fiction/Thriller
Word count: 53K


Seventeen-year old Rachel Dorsett’s sister has gone missing. Poof. Into thin air. No one’s seen Leah since March 1st, about two weeks ago, when she attended a prayer meeting at a small and radical church on the edge of Baylor University’s campus. And while everyone else seems content to sit at home after the police’s leads run dry, Rachel feels she should at least look around town herself.

Place number one on her list: that weird church.

There, Rachel meets a guy who’s willing to help her look for the day, but he has a reason for wanting to help her that’s startlingly different from the simple “good deed” he claims. He’s far more involved in Leah’s disappearance than it would appear, and it might be too late by the time Rachel realizes who she’s not only dealing with, but falling for.

PHILIPPI is a YA thriller, complete at 53K.

I teach writing and literature at Baylor University. This work is partially inspired from my experience of having a colleague go missing at the beginning of the school year.

First 250:

No one knows whether my sister’s alive or dead. Whichever it is, it’s giving me a serious ulcer, really messing with my stomach.

It’s weird when someone goes missing; there’s just no ending. It’s like an explosion in outer space—the astronaut is catapulted and there’s no way back. Moving out and out and out. Like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. That’s how I feel. Reaching and reaching, trying to find something to hold onto, but moving slowly past it anyway even as I scramble and scrape at the useless air.

It would wear down anyone’s stomach lining.

The last time anyone saw Leah was on March 1st. She showed up at a church—one of those small weird ones Texas is famous for. Then she disappeared.

March 1st. What was I doing? Due to the zero information listed on my phone’s day-planner app, I have no idea. I’m guessing I went to school, practiced for All-State Choir, did homework, ate dinner, did a little more homework, and then went to bed. Snug and safe. It was a normal day. It could have been any other day . . . for me. For Leah? Who knows? Maybe she drove to New York City or drowned herself in Lake Waco. Maybe some psycho killer dude—

I stop myself.

I’ve considered many ways Leah could have died, been tortured and then died, been raped, tortured and then died, etc., etc., etc. This is not a good habit to get into—imagining your slightly older “Irish Twin” beaten, raped, strangled, burned, mutilated.

Genre: YA contemporary fiction/Thriller
Word count: 56K


Rachel Dorsett’s older sister has gone missing.

No one’s seen college freshman Leah Dorsett for almost two weeks. After a difficult breakup with her boyfriend, she allegedly attended a prayer meeting at a small and radical church near Baylor University’s campus. Then she vanished. With every passing day, police leads are drying up. Rachel can’t stay at home a second more watching her father post online calls for help or her mother embroidering “Leah” items. Sick of waiting for a miracle, Rachel starts hunting for answers.

#1 on her list of places to investigate: the church Leah went to.

There, Rachel meets Tim, a college-age guy who offers to help look for her sister. Normally, she’d be wary, but he comes highly recommended by the pastor. Tim is a leader in the church and even runs one of their Life Groups. What’s more, he seems perfectly poised to help. He’s grieving his brother who died in a car accident exactly one year ago. Aiding Rachel in her search, he says, will help take his mind off his sorrow. But he has another reason for offering assistance. He’s far more involved in Leah’s disappearance than it would appear, and it might be too late by the time Rachel realizes who she’s dealing with. If she’s not careful, Rachel might end up with a broken heart, just like her sister. And if she’s not careful, she too might go missing.

PHILIPPI is a YA contemporary fiction complete at 56K.

First 250:

No one knows whether my sister’s alive or dead. Whichever it is, it’s giving me a serious ulcer.

I close the refrigerator door harder than I meant to. No way I’m eating.

It’s unbelievably disconcerting when someone goes missing; there’s just no ending. No conclusion. It’s like an explosion in outer space—the astronaut is catapulted and there’s no way back. Moving out and out and out. Reaching and stretching and trying to gain traction, but not being able to. That’s how I feel.

The last time Leah was seen was on March 1st. She showed up at a church—one of those small radical ones Texas is famous for. Then she disappeared.

What was I doing that day? I have no idea, honestly. It was just a day. I’m guessing I went to school, practiced for All-State Choir, did homework, ate dinner, did a little more homework, and then went to bed. Snug and safe. It was a normal day. It could have been any other day . . . for me. For Leah? Who knows? Maybe she drove to New York City. Maybe she hit her head and got amnesia, or somehow fell in Lake Waco and drowned. Maybe some psycho killer dude drugged her and then—

I stop myself.

I’ve considered many ways Leah could have died, been tortured and then died, been raped, tortured and then died, etc., etc., etc. This is not a good habit to get into—imagining your slightly older “Irish Twin” beaten, raped, strangled, burned, mutilated. From experience I can say, it only makes a person heave up whatever’s hanging out in the parts of the body reserved for digestion.

Or maybe that’s just me.

My dad sits at the table. His computer’s open. He’s hunched over a small, portable radio, greedily listening to an NPR story.


  1. No.

    I have a couple of reasons for my response.While I love the premise of this thriller, the query seems very short. I could use a little bit more meat in the paragraph about the guy at the church. A few more details about him and hints about what he might know about Leah's disappearance would really help.

    Also, in both the query and the 250, you use the word "weird" three times. That may be intentional, but only getting to read this much, I wondered why you used that same word.

    Good luck! As I said, the premise is freaky, and I love that! I think if you beef up the query it will help a lot.

  2. This is a yes for me.

    I think the 3rd paragraph of the query needs some reworking -- perhaps a few more details like how/when Rachel realizes the good Samaritan was involved in Leah's disappearance. I also suggest revising this line: '...for (the) a day' for greater clarity.

    The opening 250 grabbed me and kept me and I wanted to continue reading when the excerpt finished. I liked how the second paragraph explores how when someone goes missing, there's no end. I liked the details about being Irish twins, the horrors she tries not to imagine, but does anyway, as well as the physical effects on the MC. I thought there was a good mix of what happened and insights into the MC's state of mind.

    I may be wrong here, but the word count seems a bit shy for the genre.

  3. Thanks for the note about the "weirds!" I already cut one from the first 250 because of you. <3

  4. Thanks, Peggy for your note about "the" day. I'll change that now. :)

  5. Yes!

    I was really drawn in by the query. The language and the premise all sound intriguing. I think that the "Poof. Into thin air" part could be deleted because it takes away from the gritty tone. But other than that, I really enjoyed this query.

    I also enjoyed the tone of the first 250 words. Maybe it's because I've just come off a Gillian Flynn stint, but I'm really interested in thrillers, especially those involving female characters. I liked the imagery and the allusions, and it makes me want to learn more about your MC.

    Good luck!

  6. Yes, absolutely.

    I love the premise, and the voice in the first 250. The query letter is a bit too short, and you probably should flesh it out a bit, but I want to keep reading, anyway. Voice and premise for the win. YES, I would read this RIGHT NOW.

  7. No.

    Bystander here. I went through all 20 entries, made my yes, no, and maybe pile. This started out in the maybe pile. Because I had only two spots left for maybe's, I had to do some cutting, and this one didn't make it.

    The query hinted at things and the 250 had voice, but I felt like you were skirting around something big or interesting. I wanted to go deeper into the story, to reveal that something super-extra special that stood out, but it never happened. What makes this thriller about a missing sister different than other thrillers about missing sisters? This was a tough one to cut, but it didn't grab me, so it was a no.

    The one thing is that I'd cut your last paragraph of the query. It's extraneous information that an agent doesn't need. After you get sign with someone, you can tell them how you were inspired to write the book. It takes up space in a query letter and isn't needed.

  8. This is an on-the-fence, but I'm giving it a yes, from me.

    The premise is really intriguing, and it has hints of a cult or crazy church group that has me interested and want to keep reading.

    For the query: I'd cut "Poof. Into thin air." It really drew me out of the moment and didn't seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the query. I'd skip saying "March 1st" since the "two weeks" is really the important part and the exact date isn't essential. I'd love to see a little more meat in the third paragraph--more on what happens, more on the guy, and more specific stakes. For the fourth and five paragraphs, I'd just combine them. I do have some concern over the word count. It's on the low side for YA.

    For the 250: I go with either "really messing with my stomach" or "It would wear down anyone’s stomach lining." I don't think you need both. I'd also cut the Sandra Bullock reference. It works here, but I think it's an unnecessary. When you say, "March 1st. What was I doing?" I'd almost want this to read something like, "And what was I doing that day?" Only because you said "March 1st" in the paragraph above. For the very last paragraph, I'd like to see the MC trying to reassure herself that her sister might be fine, rather than going through different ways she might have died, especially since this was done in the paragraph above.

    As you can tell, these are all little nit-picky things, but I think they would make your strong work a bit stronger. Great job!

  9. #17
    You are getting one of my yes votes!
    This pulled me in right away. I love your query. I would change one thing in regards to "the guy". Her sister is missing. Isn't she a bit freaked out about strangers at the weird church? I imagine her being a bit cautious. So, why does she trust this guy to help?

    The 250:
    Cut the Sandra Bullock reference because it will date the book and YA readers might not get that a few years from now.
    Choose one place to put in March 1st...but other than that, I wouldn't reference the date over and over. And I would cut the line about the phone day-planner app. It just got a bit clunky for me there. I'd just say, "I have no idea what I was doing that day."
    You have a really good thing going here!

  10. This is a YES from me---but solely because of the 250. Seriously. You really need to work on this Query to make sure the agents read the 250. Your query is very short and sparse on details, specifically when she meets the dude at the church. First, you mention he's just helping for a day, so when you later say she's falling for him, I'm like, "In a day?" I imagine it turns into more than a day that he's helping. Also, I think you should include a little more about who he is, why he might be a threat, etc. That part is just so vague and could really use some punch. It's hard for me to offer more specifics because I don't have anything to work with! But please go back and look at that paragraph and what you could do to add some more details and raise the stakes/make them clearer. I think it will really help. Good luck!

  11. Yes from me. Your query is tight and you give just enough details about the mysterious stranger to pique my interest. I love your first 250 too. The way you write her thoughts flows naturally. My only concern is that you pick up the pace after the 250 and start to get into some action. There's only so long we can sit inside someone's head.

    I agree with Peggy about the word count too. It does seem a little short, but that is something that can be fixed easily enough. It's not so short as to kill my desire to read more.

  12. Hi! #20 here.

    This one was really really close for me, but I have to lean NO and my reasoning is going to prove just how subjective this business is. The query is a little sparse, yes, but it made me want to flip to the pages, like, right away! So it succeeded. I get a great sense of the premise and that's why OMG it's killing me I only have one more yes to give! Ugh.

    It was the 250 that swayed this toward the no, and for me the 250 hold more weight (See what I mean about subjective!). I love the details you're bringing in, but it's all backstory and telling. Where is the MC right now? What is she doing? Is she in the church investigating or standing in her bedroom talking to herself? It won't take much, just a few details to hint that the MC isn't just dictating. She could be sitting in the pew wondering if this is where her sister disappeared...looking at a stained glass window and thinking of many possibilities. You definitely have knowledge of the campus, bring me there. Make your MC active. I want to know she's doing something. If you make that change, this would be a definite yes for me. With that being said, the editor I work for at Entangled is big on cult stories, thrillers, and bad boys. With a few tweaks, I would love to see this in the submissions pile :)

    1. Thanks for your response, Ashley. In the next few lines the MC becomes VERY active. She's in the kitchen with her father who's listening to a report on NPR about stolen explosives. I started where I did for a reason. As you might have guessed from that previous comment, explosions become key later in the plot (Spoiler Alert!) so I wanted to get an image that worked for the MC's feelings at the time that might tie into what happens later.
      But thanks for your thoughts. I'll consider revamping it. Entangled is reviewing a (different) book for me right now. ;) --yeah, about a cult. Maybe they'll end up being the perfect pub for me.


  13. I'm a visitor. This was one of my yes choices. Some of the things I'd comment on have already been addressed. I didn't find that your query was too short; in fact, too many here read like a synopsis. I don't think you need "for the day" because it is confusing as it reads and not really needed for clarity. You made me curious to read more. Three comments on your 250: love the second paragraph!; day-planner app doesn't sound like any teen speak I hear daily--either nothing or calendar; sentence starting "Maybe she drove to..." sounded cold and flippant, probably not what you want here. I think just a tweak to show depth of emotion would be helpful. Your writing skills are evident! Good luck!

  14. No.

    The Query. What I’m struggling with here is tonal dissonance. The “Poof. Into thin air.” at the beginning, for instance, feels too light and the query would be stronger without it. You’ve also made the main character sound quite flippant, but her sister is missing and possible dead by horrible means. Rachel needs to earn that tone through backstory or experience, otherwise she’ll risk alienating readers. I’m not saying it’s impossible to acerbic and grieving, just that it’s a hard sell if you introduce that tone from the get-go. If you want to have it in the query, explain why Rachel has that tone. Was her relationship with her sister complicated? How?

    I’d also clean up the paragraph about meeting the guy at the church. It’s clunky right now and doesn’t really give any sense of the real stakes involved, which may be what some of the other commenters were reacting to as well.

    Finally, I wouldn’t mention your link to a real case, at least not in the query. It may come off as exploitative to some people.

    The first 250. I’d drop the first two-sentence paragraph entirely. The cold drop into the space metaphor is great and you go on to reveal all the same information more organically as the story proceeds. I like the “What was I doing?” paragraph; it feels real. We all ask ourselves those kinds of questions. What follows, though, is very scary and I expect Rachel to have a much more visceral, i.e. physical, response to those very disturbing possibilities.

    I think with a stronger query this could really go places.


  15. No
    I agree that the query needs clarification on the paragraph with the stranger boy and his involvement. Its very unclear about why she wants him involved, or why he is agreeing to be in involved at all.
    I would also be careful about how you describe the church, a lot of people go to churches other people think are "weird", and it would be a mistake to insult a persons beliefs in either the query or the book without good reason. Maybe the answer is to focus on why it was strange for the sister to be there at all, or what might have attracted her to it.

    I don't love the mention of Gravity in the 250, its a lovely image, but it doesn't help the story along.

    The writing is good, and the story is interesting, your personal connection should definitely make it feel more real, although I agree that mentioning it in the query is unnecessary.

    Tobias Eaton (4)

  16. Yes

    I love this premise - the church aspect has a creepy and weird vibe that sets it apart from other "gone missing" stories. I like the voice of the narrator - it seems very real and natural. I could clearly envision a teen girl going through something similar fixating like she is.

    Some thoughts for revision - I agree with other crits that the "poof into thin air" lines feels a little out of place. Strikes me as more MG than YA. I'd like to see the query delve more into the weird church aspect, since I assume this is what will set it apart from other "gone missing" books on the market. But still, I was hooked by it.

    I was also confused in the 250 - these are teen girls, correct? How wouldn't the narrator know what she was doing the day her sister went missing - I assume the girls live together and the missing sister would have been noticed by nighttime, correct?

    None of these points would have stopped me from reading on - but just in case an actual agent might not, I wanted to point them out :)

  17. Hi, I'm #19. :)


    I appreciate how concise your query, but I think it does need fleshing out, as others have mentioned. It won't take much at all. For instance, the sentence with '...everyone was content...' could be expanded. Who is everyone? Her parents? Her friends? The cops themselves? That's one area where specifics may read with more punch than a generalization.

    Another area that could do with some expansion is 'the guy', like others have mentioned. He seems integral to the plot, so I wouldn't mind seeing some specifics there as well.

    Honestly, I don't have much else to say about the query. I thought it was well-thought out, clear and it made me want to read the 250.


    I like the voice coming through. Her inner monologue is smooth and has a nice rhythm to it. I am missing some sort of scene setting or physical action, even if it's something simple or mundane. All she is in the first 250 is a talking head, which doesn't draw me into her perspective as well as it could, which I badly wanted to happen. It honestly could be a sentence or two. She's washing dishes. Watching/not really watching TV. It helps place her in my mind and set it up for whatever is coming next.

    For me, this was a yes, although I do think there are edits that you can make to craft an even stronger query and 250. Good luck!

  18. Hi this is #5 - I'm going to say no, I would not request more pages.

    I think your query is quite effective, despite its brevity. However, I would like to see a more suspenseful and foreboding tone. I'd switch up "has gone missing" to "is missing." The "Poof.. into thin air" also feels too light-hearted. The last sentence lacks drama and doesn't convey any conflict or stakes for Rachel to do this. It's about as dramatic as saying someone lost their keys and Rachel's going to look around for them.

    But I really love your second paragraph! That's the tone you should strive for throughout! It's got both a familiar, engaging YA feel but also feels foreboding.

    In the third paragraph, I think the sentences get a little long. Shorter, more direct sentences will amp up the suspense and provide a sense of dread over this guy and what Rachel's getting herself into.

    In the 250, I get a great sense of Rachel and how this is affecting her. All of the things that are in the 250 are good and I'm interested in reading - but it would be great if it was in the context of *something*. Like, she's waiting at the police station for someone to come out with no information AGAIN and she's thinking and feeling and wondering these things. I need some setting, I guess I'm saying. :) Plus, putting her in the context of something happening will keep this novel moving right along and I think that's important for a thriller.

    This was a hard no for me, I was very interested in the premise right away. I think that with some tweaks it's really going to be great! Good luck!

  19. Hello! Revision critique from #16 :D

    I think I missed this one first time around. I can tell you straight away that the improvement between your first version and the revised version is awesome. The voice of the 250 is great and the query is much more solid. However, this is a somewhat subjective no from me. I feel like the fanatical religious thing (especially fanatical pseudo-Christian thing) is overdone in the thriller market (although I'd love to see more YA thrillers). But otherwise, the revised version is much more polished. Just not for me :D Hope that helps!! :D

  20. Hi! Revision critique from #8:

    I really liked the entry before the revision, and I still like it. I see improvements, though, especially in the query. However, the query now reads much slower. Which is okay! And good, if that's the tone of the novel. The first query seemed a lot more 'thriller' and if that's the type of story you have, maybe incorporate more of the first query (with its shorter sentences and less description) into the revised one.

    I kind of liked the Sandra Bullock Gravity quote but that's cuz I watched the movie. It'll work for people like me and won't work for people who haven't watched it.

    I'd vote yes on this, but a hesitant yes. I *kind* of like the first query better, cuz of the thriller feel of it, but that's highly subjective, I think. I think it was a good idea to describe the guy more. Maybe just not this much more.

  21. Hi! Something happened to my response! I'll try it again!

    #15 here! Overall you have made some fantastic improvements here! I like what you did with the 250 a lot. Great work on that. It reads very well. I also like what you have done with the QL. More details about Tim have helped me a lot as the reader. The one thing I would change would be the last line to sort of add to the "creepy" factor. Maybe something like, " If she’s not careful, not only will Rachel might end up with a broken heart like her sister, but she too might be among the missing."

    While this is still a "no" from me, I can tell there is a lot of promise with this entry. Good luck!

  22. This is sooo close for me. I just <3 the premise so much. A few query suggestions:

    Personally like the first paragraph of the original version better. It reads more fluidly to me. I like the details you brought into the last paragraph, but I feel there are a few places you could streamline it. I might go for something like:

    “There, Rachel meets Tim, a college-age guy who offers to help look for her sister. Normally, she’d be wary, but he is a leader in the church and even runs one of their Life Groups. What’s more, he’s grieving the loss of his brother who died in a car accident one year ago. Aiding Rachel in her search, he says, will help take his mind off his sorrow, but it may not be the only reason.

    Tim is far more involved in Leah’s disappearance than it appears, and by the time Rachel realizes who she’s dealing with, it might be too late. If she’s not careful, Rachel will end up with more than a broken heart—she will go missing just like her sister.”

    I also like the way you pared down the 250. The voice is still there, but you eliminated the redundancies. The only thing is it still feels a bit didactic. I would add the detail about Dad into the fridge-bit to ground the reader. It also breaks up the monologue. By no means do you have to listen to me at all. Your story :D But I might phrase it as something like:

    No one knows whether my sister’s alive or dead and the unknown is giving me a serious ulcer.

    I slam the fridge harder than I mean to, rattling old family photos magneted to the side. Dad sits up, his computer open, but he doesn’t peel his eyes away from the portable radio blasting an NPR story. (And then some detail to bridge Dad’s actions to the rest of her internal this something he’s always done, therefore the normalcy is concerning. Or is this something he’s only started doing since the disappearance?)

    Good luck with this! I’m sure it will find a home soon.


  23. Revision Yes, for the plot and voice. Thank you so much for your notes and vote on mine, it meant a lot. The line that resonates the most in the opening is the one about no one seeing Rachel's sister for two weeks. I like the rhythm in your first draft of Poof! Into thin air, but I can see how it could downplay the seriousness of the story. Good change. I like the emphasis on the church that you have in both drafts, but not sure about tacking on the list point #1 because there's not room in the query (most likely) to explore even bigger list reveals. Top of list? Or just the emphasis on the church alone? You upped the stakes in the second draft--Love the ending. Might be giving too many hints away about Tom. Keep him creepy, but don't give away everything. Some of the telling in the 250 Pages didn't work for me (the "unbelievably disconcerting" sentence), but then you followed it up with these great images/emotions of what it's like to have someone missing. Focus a little more on the action of this scene and the intensity of what's happened through the actions/reactions of the characters, and maybe not as much inner dialogue so clumped together. Not saying all of it and not saying to delete it, but maybe to use parts of it elsewhere because it's powerful stuff. You bring much more seriousness and emotion to the second draft. (#10)

  24. Notes on the revision from #1: This is still a yes from me. The query has a great hook, but I would steer away from using '#1' in the query -- either spell it out or write 'First'. Suggest reordering the following for a bit more clarity: '(Aiding Rachel in her search) He says, aiding Rachel in her search will help...' For me, the closing of the query lost some of it's oomph. The two 'If she's not careful' lines brought down the tension, rather than ratcheting it up. I think it's because the 'broken heart' threat comes across as minor when compared to going missing like her sister.

    In the first 250, 'unbelievable disconcerting' felt too detached. I wanted something more gut-level. Perhaps trim and go straight to: '(It's unbelievably disconcerting) When someone goes missing(;) there's just no end(ing).' ? I also didn't think you needed 'slightly older' with "Irish Twin". That said, your story line sounds gripping and I want to read the rest!