Query Critique/Workshop: AVERAGE SIMON (Upper MG)



Critiquer: Marieke Nijkamp


Twelve-year-old Simon Hall is about to discover that he’s extraordinary. Too bad extraordinary is the last thing he wants to be. All he wants is to keep his head down and fit in. And if he could walk home from school, just once, without bullies dogging him the whole way–well, that would just be frosting. [Love this last sentence! I am pretty sure you can condense this paragraph to one sentence. “If twelve-year-old Simon Hall could walk home from school, just once, without bullies dogging him the whole way–well, that would just be frosting.” Or even, ideally, merge it with the start of the next paragraph, to streamline it a bit more!]

When tragedy turns Simon’s life upside down [be specific. What happens?] and he moves to a new town, he’s determined to transform himself from a bullied “freak-boy” to an average kid. Is it any surprise that his bizarre powers pick that moment to show up and ruin all his plans? [no rhetorical questions. Definitely not when the answer is so obvious 😉 Consider: “Of course, right at that moment his bizarre powers…” However, this implies the bizarre powers are known to him, instead of something new. Does he know? and immediately ask yourself: does the reader know? Can the reader know? If that’s not the case, and it’s so integral to the plot, explain.] After roughly three minutes, [Cute, but not necessary.] Simon realizes that [telling, just start the sentence here –>] reinventing himself will be impossible [can you make this more voicey?] if stuff blows up every time he claps his hands. So, he does the only thing he can. He ignores them [who or what is them? The way you’ve structured this, it doesn’t refer to anything] and hopes they go away.

But the more he ignores his powers, the more unpredictable they become. [Can you make this more specific? Maybe give an example to illustrate?] If he’s ever going to fit in, he needs to figure out how to get them under control. Fast. That’s where Ana comes in. [Okay, I’d cut the rest of this paragraph and describe Ana a) without Simon “telling” it (Simon thinks, Simon says, Simon considers, etc) and b) without a mysterious reason Simon can’t quite crasp, because that comes across as a bit lazy. “Stuff happens.”] Simon thinks she’s kind of weird and tries to push her away, but Ana insists that they are meant to be friends. For some reason he can’t quite grasp, he knows she’s right.  She also happens to be the one person who can  help him manage his unmanageable powers.

With the prodding of his precocious new friend, Simon starts on the path of learning to master his special abilities for the sole purpose of never using them. [LOVE] That is, until a dangerous stranger shows up and threatens everything he holds dear. If Simon can’t successfully embrace who he is, his life and the lives of everyone he loves will be cut tragically short.  It’s time for Simon to step up and accept: when you’re extraordinary, being average just isn’t an option. [Also, very strong. Great last paragraph! Again, if you can be more specific, please do, but this is pretty ace already!]

Average Simon is a 60K word, upper MG novel that will appeal to fans of the Daniel Corrigan series by Matthew Cody, as well as fans of Barry Lyga’s Archvillian. I am a member of SCBWI. Average Simon is my first novel.

I love the idea you have here, but the query as a whole feels a bit long and too general. Especially because there are many books about bullies and bizarre powers, as a reader I want to know two things, specifically: a) what sets this story apart from the books already out there? b) why should I care?
Now I know the second question can sound pretty harsh, but think of it this way: you’re inviting the reader to go on a journey with Simon. A journey of some 300 pages. Now I don’t know about you, but when I spend so much time with someone, I want to like them. As such, I want to know who Simon is and why I should invest in him. You give me great hints of that (Simon wanting to be as normal as possible, the wanting to reinvent himself, the “that would be frosting!”) but I’m still not quite clear who *he* is. Be more specific about the tragedy (because that will give us an idea of what *happens* to Simon) but also ask yourself: what does he want and *why* does he want it? No more bullying, sure, but who does he want to be if he’s not bullied anymore?
The funny thing is, when you’ve answered that question, you’re a long way toward answering the first question too. Because in my experience, in the vast majority of cases, the characters set the story apart 😉 But I also think you need to be more specific. Focus on the most important storyline (bullied boy wants to use [traumatic event and resulting move] to reinvent himself as average kid. too bad freaky powers show up) and add as much voice to it as you can. Is Simon the type of kid who accidentally blows up his locker or his school bag, or does he accidentally blow up his game collection? His rare mint comic? The tyres of the old bike his dad fixed? Is Ana the girl with the freckles on her nose or the girl who can outrun any of the boys? Why does Simon think she’s weird, and how does that make him feel about being friends with her?
Of course you need to be (very) aware of balancing the details you give, because you don’t want to overwhelm the reader. But you do want to give your story personality. 🙂 You have a great idea here already, I’m sure you can make it shine!


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

One thought on “Query Critique/Workshop: AVERAGE SIMON (Upper MG)

  1. Thank you so much for the time you put into this critique. You have given me some really wonderful insight, and I think I can make this query pop with a some more love and attention.

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