Summer Crit Blog Hop

The wonderful (I just met her but now we’re besties) Carissa Taylor is hosting a summer critique blog hop where bloggers can sign up and get/give feedback on various query materials to get them ready for agents!

Here’s the query, feel free to be as brutal and honest as you’d like!

Eighteen-year-old Emma Poland is a theater school reject. Acting is her life, but her auditions couldn’t even land her a spot at one of her safety schools. The future careens toward her, empty and terrifying, and Emma cocoons herself in the fantasy TV drama, Phantasm. She slaves over her popular fan site,, and fantasizes about the show’s lead character, legendary ghost-hunter Pierce Stratford.

Then, she wins a walk-on role. Cue epic fangirl sigh. This Universe has given her a sign: she’s starring in her own romantic comedy and she’s finally coming out of her black moment. She’ll jet off to Vancouver for four days and wow Pierce Stratford (along with the director, cast, and crew). Variety headlines will buzz and every casting director will want her. Future = fixed.

Only, Emma’s heartfelt acting is met with a tepid reception and her attempts to catch Pierce’s eye quickly turn catastrophic. Maybe she’s further back in her own story than she thought. With her time on set running out, Emma will have to force her life to fit the romcom mold or she’ll spend the rest of her days in her childhood bedroom with only a Phantasm box set to keep her warm.

THE COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE OF EMMA POLAND is a YA contemporary romance, complete at 72,600 words.It’s Nurse Betty meets Mindy Kaling and would hopefully be enjoyed by anyone who watches (read: obsesses over) the TV show Supernatural.

I’ve had short stories and poetry published in various venues, including four poems in the YA literary magazine YARN, and my short story, “The Aviary,” in the YA anthology from Leap Books, BEWARE THE LITTLE WHITE RABBIT.

Thanks for your help, can’t wait to go through the blog hop and read others’ work! 🙂

Share My Wisdom:


  1. Alisyn Busico says:

    Hi Crystal 🙂

    As a theatre school reject myself, I can totally relate to this. Everything is so much easier inside your head.

    Just a thought, but maybe while she “Slaves over” her fansite, you can add a phrase about the contest and how many times she’s entered. The win came a bit out of left field.

    Also, I didn’t really feel the line “Maybe she’s further back in her story than she thought.” I think I get what you’re saying, but maybe you could word it differently?

    I like the voice you have in your query. Very fitting for a wound up theater geek 🙂 I’d love to see your first 250!

  2. Chris Owens says:

    Hi Crystal,

    I think your query is well written, and I like your concept. On a side note, there was a very scary movie that came out in the late 1970s titled Phantasm – I saw the name in the first paragraph and got a flashback.

    Before going any further, I need to tell you that I am not a romance reader, so this next part may be off base. I’m not getting a feeling of much at stake here for your MC other than not being with Pierce Stratford. But, not knowing the romance field, maybe that’s all the stakes that matter here.

    Also when you say “Emma will have to force her life to fit the romcom mold,” I’m not sure exactly what that means. If an agent that handles romance would know this without additional clarification, then don’t worry about it.

    I like the setup for your story as well.

    Good luck!

    • Crystal says:

      Thanks for the notes, Chris! 🙂 I’ve never heard of that movie (probably because I don’t watch much horror because I’m a HUGE fraidy cat, haha).

  3. Jennifer Pickrell says:

    Hey! Your story sounds fun. And I think your query has all the right elements, but there are a few things you could tighten up or remove:

    I like the opening, but this part feels a bit vague: “The future careens toward her, empty and terrifying.”

    I’m assuming she didn’t get into any schools, acting or otherwise? Maybe make a mention of how her 4-year plan of school-romance-big-break or whatever she was striving for is suddenly gone. By being more specific about what she’d been planning, I think that’ll show off her personality a little more and up the stakes once she gets the chance to get those dreams back.

    In the 2nd paragraph, this line could probably go: “she’s starring in her own romantic comedy and she’s finally coming out of her black moment.”

    I initially thought Phantasm was the rom-com, so the first half of line is potentially confusing; the second half is already understood by the reader. If you remove it, the paragraph still has a great flow.

    In the third paragraph, I had some questions with this line: “Maybe she’s further back in her own story than she thought.”

    You mention “Nurse Betty” later on as a comparison, which makes me think Emma is a little out there. If so, play that up more in the opening paragraph, along with her obsession for the show and Pierce.

    And in this line “Emma will have to force her life to fit the romcom mold,” not sure why she’d have to force her life into something? The end of the closing line, though is GOLD. Love it!

    And the rest of the query is great, too, with the comparisons (I get a good sense of your book) and your publishing history.

    Gah, I’m rambly, sorry about that! Hopefully my ramble was somewhat helpful 🙂 Let me know if you have any questions or if you need someone to take a look at revisions.

  4. Ellen Mulholland says:

    Hi Crystal,
    Now I see the connections with our stories. I love this premise! (of course). Voice = awesome!

    I would, however, have to agree with everything Chris says. I thought your query was well done – until the last paragraph when it got all vague-y.

    I would have thought that what’s at stake is not being trapped in her childhood bedroom but not making it. Isn’t that what you allude to at the start? “Acting is her life.”

    I would pull that out and insert it in that last paragraph. Show us how this romcom win could destroy her.

    I will come back to see what you come up with.

    I hope this makes it to a publisher because it sounds like a lot of fun!

  5. Laura Rueckert says:

    Hi Crystal,

    I love the idea of the Supernatural -err- Phantasm fangirl. Nice premise, and it sounds like a fun read!

    I’m not going to list them again, but I agree with the questions Jennifer had on some of the specific sentences. I especially think changing the line about fitting the romcom mold would be good. That seems like something I would hope doesn’t happen actually – pressing herself into someone else’s version of happy. I’d rather see her make her own version of happy.

    Best of luck with this!

  6. Lola says:

    FUN!! I really like this story. It’s got the makings of a fantastic character. I love those if-there-a-ewill-there’s-a-way hopeless believer, reality-has-to-match-my-dreams types.

    I think you can write a more powerful first line. Maybe something along the lines of, Acting is eighteen-year-old Emma Poland life, but her college auditions can’t even land her a spot in one of her safety schools. I wanted to know she was applying to colleges to understand the concept of being a theatre school reject. And I think the fact that acting is her life is the most important thing here. At first I didn’t know what a safety school was until I put together that she was auditioning for colleges.

    future careening toward her feels awkward. I like the feel of the future moving into her, but her careening into an empty and terrifying future somehow feels more powerful, maybe beeches she is doing it and I want to feel with her, not the future. I don’t know. See what others say on this.

    I think she slaves over THE site, not HER site.


    Maybe she’s further back in her own story than she thought. I think you can wrote a more powerful line here. You could even get super voice, like Crap! She can’t let this happen. This is not how the story goes…. something like that, something that captures her determinism, because it seems that is the endearing quality to her.

  7. Diana says:

    This is very relatable story. I love it!

    The voice is great. Query starts a little slow for me, but you do a good job of setting the story and revealing the stakes.

    Query is great as is, but I would recommend tightening the first paragraph a bit so we can get to the meat of the story sooner. You had me at “Then she wins a walk-on role…”

  8. Carissa says:

    Whoa-mygosh this sounds SUPER FUN. I absolutely love this! The voice is amazing (so hard to do in a query) and the premise = awesome!

    I tried to read through the others’ comments so hopefully I won’t be redundant here. I agree with Jennifer on the couple specific sentences that were a little confusing, and I do agree that the beginning could maybe be a bit punchier.

    In regards to the opener, I’m wondering if it might be better to narrow down that first paragraph to just a sentence or two. This maybe isn’t stellar, but what about something along the lines of:

    “When 18 year-old aspiring actress Emma Poland is rejected by all the theater schools she applied to, she soothes her wounds by binge-watching her favorite TV fantasy-drama (starring hottest-guy-ever Pierce Stratford) and building the most epic fansite to the show that the earth has ever seen.”

    It’s a little shorter, anyway 🙂

    Or maybe even trying to integrate most of the key info into into the second paragraph, so it reads something like:

    “Eighteen-year-old Emma Poland is a theater school reject. Her auditions couldn’t even land her a spot at one of her safety schools.

    But then her not-so-secret side project, a fan site for the fantasy TV show Phantasm gets noticed by the show’s execs, and wins her a walk-on role. Cue epic fangirl sigh. This is her chance to turn a three-second spot into a starring role. She’ll jet off to Van…”

    In the last paragraph, I wonder if there’s any way to give a tiny hint at what “catastrophic” things happen when she attempts to catch Pierce’s eye, without being to spoilery. It seems like a nice place to put some specifics.

    Like some of the others mentioned, I’m a bit confused with the forcing her life “to fit the romcom mold” Again here, I think it would be great to incorporate some specifics, and I’d like to see a bit more of her agency in this.

    Love the title and the comps! One question is, would it be more like “Nurse Betty starring Mindy Kalig” ?

    Not sure if those help or not, but some ideas to throw in the mix!

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