Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Agent's Inbox #13

Dear Agent,

An undercover operative for the clandestine group known as the Institute, seventeen-year-old Kat's job is to befriend volatile teenagers in order to ascertain their risk to society.

Her latest assignment is Audrey Foreman, a girl who sees monsters. A girl the Institute deems violent, high risk. Kat must gather enough evidence to justify Audrey's arrest before any actual crime is committed, but there's just one problem: Audrey isn't dangerous and the Institute doesn't care.

So when Kat finds traces of a mission that imploded two years ago in the same town, she suspects she's actually there to tie up loose ends. Working to uncover Audrey's connection to the old case, Kat begins to doubt the Institute's infallibility--especially when she examines the private jobs it sometimes accepts. But this is no time to have a moral crisis: the agent involved in the original case is still undercover at the local high school and eager to report back on Kat's changing priorities. He can't leave, not until Audrey has been silenced, and if Kat doesn't help then she could lose her job, her friends, even her life. Especially if Audrey's monsters turn out to be real.

THE TURNOVER is young adult mystery complete at 80,000 words. 

Thank you for your time and consideration,



It starts like any other case: I get a file. Audrey Foreman. By the time I finish reading, it's midday. There’s a note on the last page: See Cas.

I phone the office.

“Cas?” I say. “Why not Robin?”

“He’s busy. Cas is doing this one.”

“But, Robin’s my handler.”

The phone goes dead, but I don't move. 

“Hey, ” says Bee, coming into the room with her sketchpad. “What's up?”

“I have to see Cas.”

“Cas?” She looks at me, and together we revel in the weirdness. I take my cardigan off the back of the chair and go. Plait my hair in the elevator.

Cas is in her study with the door open, so I just walk on in.

“Kat,” she says, without looking up. “Darling. Take a seat.”

You’d expect us to be cutting edge, here at the institute, but the offices are very nineties. A tiny cactus sits on the desk. There’s a rip in my chair, and I pluck at it while I wait. If she doesn't mention Robin, neither will I. But I want to. I've trained and worked with Robin for my entire seventeen years, so why am I sitting in her office?

“Read everything?”


“Give me a summary.”

“Audrey Foreman.” I say. “She’s seventeen, lives in a place named Corrbee. It’s a tourist trap. She works weekends in a gift shop, summers in a funfair. She doesn’t have any friends: That’s our first worry. She’s bullied, talks about it online in a 'worrying' manner: We start surveillance. Months pass, she gets worse. Blogs about seeing monsters, like, real monsters. So now we send in the SWAT team.”


Pen-Up Girl said...

Oohh! I like this one! I would love to read more. From an agent perspective, the writing is tight, the query is good. This is such a fresh idea and the voice is great. If you are looking for a CP, let me know! Good luck!

MVB said...

Hi SA,
This is a nice tight query. I would like to know what Kat's cover is. Is she a schoolgirl, in college, working? Perhaps also an indication of what kind of monsters Audrey sees might be helpful. Are they aliens, werewolves, zombies? A clandestine Institute that sometimes accepts private jobs sounds a dubious place for a 17 yo to work undercover. Was Kat a volatile teenager herself?
I really like your first page, which shows that Kat has been brought up in the Institute. The writing is concise and direct. The only slight quibble I have is that I think Kat sounds very adult (possibly because of the cardigan and the plait) for a 17 yo. But, I'm still intrigued and would like to read more. Great job.

Mike M said...

Your query is very good. It could be slightly better. Remove he word 'so' from the start of the third paragraph.

In your words, I'm not really with the voice. It kind of wavers. I would ask for more pages, but I would be really watching that dichotomy going forward. If it resolves quickly, great.

TJ said...

Really intriguing premise - very different from anything else I've read in the YA genre. I thought your first 250 words flowed well and I would keep reading if I had this in front of me.

One point that might need clarification:
"If Kat doesn't help then she could lose her job..." -- I assume you mean, if she doesn't help the undercover agent, as opposed to helping Audrey?

Laura Moe said...

Interesting and originL. But what is the institute?
Your query is very straightforward, and the sample leads me right in.

SA said...

Thank you so much! This is great feedback.

@pen-up-girl: Thanks! I'd love to work together-- how shall I contact you?

@MVB: Thank you! Those are some great thoughts about the query-- I'll work on inserting some more information about Kat, thank you. I'm glad you like the first page-- I see what you mean about the cardigan, haha, I'll change that.

@Mike M: Thanks! It's great to have your input. You mention the voice wavering-- what exactly did you mean by that? I'll take another read at my first chapters with your comments in mind.

@TJ: Thanks so much! And yeah, I totally see what you mean with that line-- I'll clarify that.

@Laura Moe: Thanks! I was having trouble trying to define the Institute/concept while keeping the query moving forward, so it's good to know what the reader actually wants to see. I'll find a way to work a better definition into the query.

Heather Ezell said...

Though I'm interested, I had to reread the first sentence of your query a few times to get a handle on it. I *think* this is because there are so many elements I wasn't anticipating and that feel kind of vague at this point--undercover operative, clandestine group, Institute, volatile teenagers as risks to society.

I think, because I'm someone who is drawn to characters first, it would have been helpful to me to open strong and smoothly by either focusing in on Audrey and Kat. Or just perhaps not as much foreign world building in the hook.

I'm really intrigued by Kat's situation--why a seventeen-year-old is working for this institute, how she got there, what she wants, etc. But I didn't get a good feel for her voice or emotion in the opening pages.

Also compelled by Audrey and the monsters she sees. Would keep reading despite my set backs if only to understand this a bit more, because I really am intrigued.

My biggest note is to maybe try and infuse emotion and motivation into the query and opening. Such a compelling premise but I'm not yet in the Kate's head and heart!

Secret Agent said...

That is a big first sentence. It would read better if you trimmed it. Or removed some of the larger words.

I love that Kat believes the Institute to be infallible, but finds out otherwise as the story progresses. Would you mention the love of her job or her pride in working for the Institute? That would make the Institute’s betrayal carry more punch in the query. (I’m sure this is in your manuscript, but I’d love to see it reflected here.)

Other than that, this is a really great query. It gives me almost the entire plot, but not the resolution, sets up the main players, and gives me a feel for Kat's personality. Well done.


I really appreciate the minimalist style of your writing. I feel like it speaks to Kat’s character. No nonsense, no frills, just business.

Though I’m surprised you don’t really spell out what the Institute does, I’m ok with it. In fact, I kind of like it. This tells me that Kat’s vision of the Institute is what’s most important, not their party-line. It creates interest to see how that story line progresses.