Query Critique/Workshop: ETHÆREA (YA Fantasy)



Critiquer: Heather Webb



Seventeen year-old Asa Huntington will do anything to wake her dad from his coma and save his life.  She thought “anything” would start with getting into Harvard and landing a prestigious botany internship. The problem is, it’s hard to see how getting into Harvard with a botany scholarship will save her Dad’s life. They don’t seem like a logical cause-effect relationship. You need to let us know sooner than the second paragraph that she hopes to study life-saving plant properties or something along those lines. So just tweak the second sentence.  But when she loses her way, This is too vague. It reads as if she just gets lost on the road to Harvard. I’d rework this piece. she finds herself in Ethærea, a world where dogwoods bark, snapdragons bite, and forty-foot sunflowers are giving her a sunburn.  When she encounters the captivating Soren and his ragtag rebel camp, she realizes that “anything” is going to be even harder than she thought.

While the plants here may hold a key to her father’s illness, this won’t be a simple grab-and-dash. The ruling faction controls the roads, the food supply, and the bridges to Earth. And the penalty for trying to use a bridge is fatal. If Soren and his fellow rebels can overthrow the rulers , Asa will be home free. But Soren is holding back something that may affect his fledgling revolution. Something Asa suspects involves her.

As badly as she wants to return home, Asa needs Ethærea. And Ethærea may just need her, too. I’d rephrase this. We know she needs to be in Ethaerea for the plants, but this reads as if Ethaerea is a person, not a world.

ETHÆREA is a YA fantasy novel complete at 89,000 words. The spirited teen voice and fantastical setting will appeal to fans of Kiersten White’s PARANORMALCY and Brandon Mull’s FABLEHAVEN.

I am a member of SCBWI, American Night Writer’s Association, and the Golden Key International Honour Society.  Your degree and/or university is of no importance unless it’s writing-related. Your associations are great, however. I’d leave it that way.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is a pretty strong query! There are only a few minor things to tweak for the sake of clarity and I’d say this bad boy is ready to roll. Bravo!


If you have any thoughts or questions, the comments are open, but please keep it constructive. No douchebaggery allowed.

3 thoughts on “Query Critique/Workshop: ETHÆREA (YA Fantasy)

  1. Life-and-death stakes? Portals to magical worlds? Rebels and revolution? This query has it going ON.

    To add to Heather’s already spot-on comments, I’d encourage you to be even more specific with your details and also more direct. I submit for your consideration some aggressive meddling with your first paragraph.

    Most people wouldn’t consider getting into Harvard with a prestigious botany internship a life-and-death situation, but for seventeen year-old Asa Huntington it’s the only way she can save her father’s life. Struck by some specific and horrible disease that baffles modern medicine, Asa’s future looks increasingly grim. But when she stumbles through some specific portal on a dark and dreary night, she finds herself in Ethærea, a world where plants are as dangerous as they are magical, and war rages between two specific factions.

    I would do something similar for the second paragraph – make sure it’s clear why this war puts the plants Asa needs in jeopardy, and also make it clear why she can help the country.

    My point is, you can dial up the tension of your query simply by putting it into more direct conversation with the big picture problems Asa will face in either world. Draw that theme of her determination and focus on plants throughout because that will unify your query in way that makes it ten time stronger.

    The pieces are all there. Now, it’s just about arranging them in a way that invites the reader in rather than asking them to hunt for the path.

    Good luck!

    1. Oh, blarg. Correction!

      Struck by some specific and horrible disease that baffles modern medicine, Asa’s future looks increasingly grim.

      Should read:

      Struck by some specific and horrible disease that baffles modern medicine, Asa’s father has x months to live and Asa’s future looks increasingly grim.

      Or something like that. You get the point, I think.

  2. Heather and Natalie, thank you so much for the wicked awesome feedback! It’s so neat to see how much the query has come to life with your suggestions. I can’t wait to revise the heck out of this sucker. THANK YOU!

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