Query Critique/Workshop: KEEP YOUR EYES ON ME (YA Contemporary)



Critiquer: Krista Van Dolzer


I am seeking representation for KEEP YOUR EYES ON ME, a XX,XXXX word YA Contemporary novel written as a dual narrative. I have selected you specifically because [INSERT REASON HERE]. Not sure why you didn’t include the actual word count, but it should have a hyphen: “a 65,000-word YA Contemporary novel.”

Seven months ago, eighteen-year-old Roland Cruze was involved in a car accident that left a twelve-year-old boy dead. “Was involved” is less specific than it could be. How exactly was he involved? I suspect he was driving the car, in which case you could say something like “Seven months ago, eighteen-year-old Roland Cruze hit and killed a young boy.” That’s still kind of rough, but I think a blunt, straightforward statement would make more of an impact here. Now Roland is determined to make things right, lingering on Folton Road Bridge, the most popular suicide spot in the city. If he can just save one person, maybe he’ll feel whole again.  After several failed attempts, his family intervenes by enrolling him in therapy and encouraging him to volunteer at a suicide hotline center instead. Still, it never feels like enough. If only he could find the one he’s meant to save, then maybe he could step away from his own ledge. I think you could streamline this paragraph, say the same thing in fewer words. Also, some of the wording confused me. What are the failed attempts? At first, I thought you meant he failed to keep several people from committing suicide, but then the last line made me wonder if he’s the one attempting suicide…

For seventeen-year-old Candace Callihan, life is about living in the shadows, not on the bridges. I’d cut “not on the bridges.” I get that you’re trying to connect back to the first paragraph, but this connection feels like a stretch. She can never seem to get out from under her famous mother’s judgmental stare. But when she’s forced to keep an ugly secret for her mother, it makes her question everything she’s ever believed in. I’d rewrite this sentence. What’s the ugly secret she’s keeping for her mother? Here again, I think you can be more specific. Also, “it makes her question everything she’s ever believed in” is a bit cliche.  There is no other choice though but to hold onto it when spilling it will tear her family apart. I don’t think you need this sentence; it’s kind of redundant. If you define the secret better, this will be implied, anyway.

When Candace and Roland end up at the same party one summer night, they enter into an unconventional card game that forces them to reveal things ranging from embarrassing facts to their darkest feelings. Why “forces”? They still have a choice, right? Throughout the summer, they repeatedly reconnect at the same house and soon realize each other’s defining downfall: Candace is screaming to find her voice but never makes a sound and Roland is broken but doesn’t want to let anyone fix it. Why do they keep reconnecting at this house? Is the house really that significant? Confronting each other just might be the thing that saves them both – or that pushes them over the edge.

KEEP YOUR EYES ON ME is a story about hitting rock-bottom and what it takes to uncover your own voice and earn redemption on the way back up. You don’t need to tell us what your story’s about, since you’ve already shown us in the preceding paragraphs. I’d cut this or, better yet, relocate the word count and genre to this paragraph: “KEEP YOUR EYES ON ME is a 65,000-word YA Contemporary novel written as a dual narrative.” It will appeal to readers of SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Katja Millay and PUSHING THE LIMITS by Katie McGarry.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Per your submission guidelines, I have included XXXX for your review. I would be happy to send a partial or a full manuscript upon your request. I’d cut everything but “Thank you for your time and consideration.” Agents know what their submission guidelines are, and they’ll be able to scroll down for themselves and see if you’ve followed them. Similarly, they assume you’d be happy to send them a partial or full, so it goes without saying. Queries are business letters, but they’re a very specific kind of business letter, and you can dispense with a lot of the formalities that you include in other kinds.

On the whole, I think you’ve done a good job of setting up your characters’ respective predicaments, but right now, that’s all you’ve done. I’m not getting a strong sense of how the actual story unfolds. I want to hear more about specific plot points and how they relate to one another–that is, how each plot point causes the next one. You don’t have to include every plot point, of course, but if you can connect some of the dots in a believable way that clearly shows how the conflict escalates, your query’s going to garner many requests. Good luck!


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

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