Fresh as a Daisy Critique My Query Challenge

So no sooner do I open my big mouth and say how shiny my query is than I turn around and get a chance to prove it (or not). Daisy Carter is giving writers a chance to have their queries critiqued, all in preparation for a pitch contest with her very own agent, Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. The window is closing fast, so stop by her blog by midnight tonight if you are interested.

Here is my query open for all to critique:

Dear Fabulous Agent of My Dreams:

(I enjoyed meeting you/I chose submit to you paragraph goes here…)


Second born. Second place. Sara has been competing with her sister for attention all her life. Being perfect and never breaking the rules hasn’t made a difference. Frustrated, Sara sneaks out to attend the school dance. When she stumbles home drunk and tries to climb in through her sister’s window, she can’t believe what she’s seeing until it’s too late. Reality is forever altered. She runs away.

Lured back by her mother whom Sara hopes she can trust, she finds herself drugged and admitted to Whispering Sands Treatment Center as an out-of-control alcoholic runaway. Sara knows better; her parents are hiding her away to keep a secret that is not her own. She can hardly admit it to herself, so why tell someone else? She does tell the staff that she’s not crazy, but that’s like a convicted felon claiming she’s innocent.

Surrounded by the psychologically unbalanced and assigned a suicidal roomie who wants to rip everybody’s face off, Sara must find a way out. Hope comes from the baddest bitch on the unit. She tells Sara how to work the system, how to break the rules and pretend to be a sociopath on the road to recovery – she just wants a few favors in return. Her only refuge is with Matt, a boy who’s just as lost as she is. The stolen moments she finds with him after hours, in hidden spaces, might save the dwindling grip she has on her sanity.

INSTITUTIONALIZED; I’M NOT CRAZY is a young adult novel complete at 86,000 words. I have worked in the mental health field directly with adolescents in psychiatric facilities similar to the one described in my book. This manuscript won first place in the YA category in the 2012 Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. annual contest. I am also an active member of the Oklahoma SCBWI. Thank you for taking the time to consider my book. I look forward to hearing from you.


Valerie Lawson

12 thoughts on “Fresh as a Daisy Critique My Query Challenge

  1. Hi, Valerie! Thank you so much for hopping on to Critique My Query! I’m sorry I’m so late commenting – I had a crazy day!

    I think your premise is incredible. I LOVE “institution” stories, though I’ve only read a handful. This sounds well thought out and insanely interesting (pun not intended, but I snorted coke on my keyboard).

    I think this query is right on point. My initial read through had me thinking the first paragraph was too much backstory. There’s a lot to get to the catalyst. But by the end, I realized you’d given me that set up to show that Sara is NOT, in fact, crazy. So I don’t mind it now.

    I wish I knew the name of the baddest bitch on the unit. Especially since there’s more than one sentence about her. I know it’s best not to overcrowd your query with names, but I don’t think one more would hurt, in passing (Hope comes from X, the baddest bitch on the unit).

    Other than that, I have nothing but praises. Your credentials are excellent and well-stated. Your expertise on the subject leaves me believing I would be in good hand while reading, and your award leaves me knowing this is well-written. I would read this in a heartbeat! I hope you’ll be submitting tomorrow in the contest!

    Best of luck!

  2. I’ve read your first 250 words on KT Crowley’s blog, right? You do jump right into the action. I like your opening paragraph. Maybe cut out that reality is forever altered. It’s sort of generic and not unique to your book. There’s so much else in that paragraph that highlights your plot well that I don’t think it’s needed. Of course stuff is altered; that’s how things go. I’m assuming her sister is dead in the room and they blame the murder on a sociopathic, drunken rampage sense she must pretend to be a recovering sociopath? What’s at stake here? Keeping her sanity? Proving she shouldn’t be there? Right now I like the concept, but I have no feeling as to what she wants in life. That said, it’s still wonderful and clearly well plotted out. Based on your first 250, I know why you have those credentials.

    Good luck!

    1. ooh! good thoughts.i think that would be helpful. i’d love to give away what she sees but i can’t quite do that. terrifying guess, though.

  3. Thank you, Valerie, for commenting on my query letter. I appreciate the input!
    Your premise really does sound good and I can’t think of much that would make it better. The only confusing part I read was looking in the bedroom window and what she saw. What could that be? Can I read your story? Hehe:)
    I’m sure you will do well tomorrow!

  4. Hi,

    Very nice premise and your hook is great.

    You have to disclose something about the secret otherwise it leaves the agent and us thinking whether reading it is worth it. You can also cut the last line of the 2nd para.

    Also, don’t introduce characters till the last line. Makes the other characters seem lame and gives us no time to connect to Matt. As of now, I feel Matt can actually be done away with in the query. The dilemma needs to be highlighted as well.

    How does she get out of her predicament and how can she prove she is sane? I think the secret has something to do with that. Bring it out!

    Hope this helps

  5. Hi! I agree with most of what Daisy said. You have an interesting premise, and I really like the rhythm of your writing. I felt a little torn about the line, “Reality is forever altered.” It leaves some mystery, but it also leave a lot to the imagination. You might even skip straight into that next paragraph. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!

    1. you’re very welcome. thanks so much for your comments here. that line seems to be one up for debate. after awhile it’s so hard to tell the difference in my own head. i’m glad i did this because other voices help me see it differently again.

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