Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 29, 2017

September Featured Agent – First Page Results

THAO LE has agreed to be September Featured agent and critique four first pages submitted. She is a literary agent at the Dijkstra Agency where she also handles the agency’s financials and select contracts.

She is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego with a double major in Econ-Management Science and Chinese Studies. While interning at the agency during college, she realized where her true love lies — books — and joined the agency full-time in the spring of 2011.

Thao is looking for: Young Adult, Middle Grade, Picture Books by author/illustrators, Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, and is selectively open to Romance.

In the Adult and YA Sci-fi/Fantasy realms, she enjoys stories rooted in mythology, fairytales, and legends with atmospheric settings and strong world building. Particularly stories that are inclusive and multicultural. She’s also a fan of magic realism.

In contemporary YA, she’s seeking witty, heartfelt writing with an authentic teen voice. Especially stories about family and friendships. Think Stephanie Perkins, Jenny Han, or Sarah Dessen.

In Middle Grade, she’s looking for fantastic adventures and clever protagonists the likes of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, and Soman Chainani’s School of Good and Evil.

In the picture book arena, she is only currently taking on author/illustrators, however she’s a fan of Jon Klassen, Kate Beaton, Cale Atkinson, and Liz Climo and would like to add projects in the same vein to her list.

In Romance, she’s drawn to heroes/heroines who turn stereotypes and tropes on their heads (such as heroines in typically male roles and sensitive heroes who aren’t necessarily alpha, but just as swoonworthy). She enjoys historical romance the likes of Julia Quinn, Courtney Milan, and Eloisa James, speculative romance similar to Gail Carrier’s Parasol Protectorate series, and contemporary romance that is as addictive as Sonali Dev’s Bollywood series.

In general, she loves beautiful literary writing with a commercial hook. She is most excited to add more writers of diversity (including, but not limited to, all ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental and physical health, and socioeconomic status) to her client list.
Check out her tumblr for more publishing related posts:

Submissions should be emailed to

Please check for full submission guidelines and policies.

Fiction: Please send a query letter, a 1-page synopsis, a brief bio (including a description of your publishing history), and the first 10-15 pages of your manuscript. Please send all items in the body of the email, not as an attachment.
Author/Illustrators with dummy: Please send a query letter, a brief bio (including a description of your publishing history), full manuscript text pasted below your query letter, full dummy (in pdf format as an attachment) that includes 1-2 color samples, and link to online portfolio.

Please note that Thao does NOT represent: non-fiction, adult literary fiction, adult general fiction, mystery/thriller/suspense, memoirs, poetry, religious/spiritual books, screenplays, or short stories.



Jeffrey Dean And The Destiny Matrix by Chris L. Owens – Middle Grade 

     I’ll lose my mind if I don’t get a grip on things.

     The dreams started a month ago and have gotten worse every night. I wouldn’t sweat it if they involved riding the bus in my underwear, taking a test I hadn’t studied for, or flying like a superhero. Only they’re not at all normal, and they’re cutting into my sleep schedule big time.

     It’s fifth-hour American History class, and amid whispered flirting, gum-snapping, and other important seventh grade stuff, I’m fighting hard to stay awake. Today’s topic is the Battle of Little Big Horn. Mr. Tepes lurks at the back of the room and explains the slaughter of the Seventh Cavalry. It’s the perfect opportunity for me to catch up on the Z’s I’ve missed out on.

     About ten minutes into the lesson, a gunshot jolts me awake. In a scene straight out of our textbook, Colonel George Custer stands near the Smart Board at the front of the room. He’s flanked by several of his men and under attack by Native American warriors. War cries blend with the tortured screams of the dying as the massacre nears its bloody end.

     The girl across the aisle from me doesn’t bat an eye as Mr. Tepes drones on. This is my nightmare and mine alone. The smell of gunpowder in the air nearly fools me into believing it’s all real, but my senses are lying to me. It’s exactly like the dreams I have at night, except it’s daytime and I’m wide awake. I clamp my eyes shut when I can’t take the carnage anymore.

     “Jeffrey Dean. Eyes front please.” Mr. Tepes snaps his fingers right in front of my face, ripping me out of the vision, hallucination, or whatever it is. “You’ve had trouble paying attention lately. I’m sending you to Nurse Walters.”


Jeffrey Dean and the Destiny Matrix

Titles are almost always my first impression of a book (as I believe they are for most readers). They can really set the tone for the story and I feel like this one is perfectly MG and gives a hint of fun sci-fi things to come. The opening does a good job in setting up the main character with a dilemma, in this case he’s having nightmares and it’s affecting him when he’s awake. It’s good to set up conflict right away, but a dream opening can often straddle the line of being cliché. This opening also keeps reminding the reader that this is a dream, which dilutes the feeling of urgency and danger because the reader knows none of this is real. So all the action in the dream ends up feeling passive. Dreams are tricky since they are so often used as a plot device to set up the story rather than be something that propels the plot forward. Consider how the dream scenes operate in the story. Are they there to provide information or are they actually adding intrigue to the storyline? Perhaps an interesting spin is to open without the reader or the protagonist being aware this is a dream. That may add some immediacy to the action.


Dream Keeper by Amber R. Duell – YA


Twelve thirty-two.

The clock on the dashboard glowed green, the colon blinking in a slow, torturous rhythm. I cursed my mother for telling me to stay out as long as I wanted. Saturday nights were usually reserved for hunkering down in a comfortable pair of pajamas and binge watching whatever television series looked interesting until I fell asleep. That was what really mattered—the sleeping—because that’s where he was.

“So.” Natalie jabbed a button on the dashboard. The radio cut off, silencing the rattling bass, and I tore my eyes away from the clock. “What do you want to do when I get back from California next week?”

“Whatever you want to do.”

Next week didn’t matter as much as the next five minutes did. I wrapped my arms around my stomach and willed the car to go faster. The only reason I was out tonight at all was because this was my last first day of summer vacation. By this time next year, I would be a high school graduate, a legal adult, and college would be a blink away. So, when my friends showed up to drag me to a house party four hours ago, I pulled on a pair of shorts and a tank top and hopped in Natalie’s car. A decision I’ve since regretted.

“Not helpful, Nora.” She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “This is our last summer together. We need to make plans. Epic plans.”


Dream Keeper

There’s some intrigue here about how much the protagonist would have rather stayed home and slept because that’s where a mysterious “he” was, rather than be out with her friends. My concern with this opening is that the reader is not let in on much about what is going on and this can cause confusion. For instance, the character Natalie is never actually introduced so we assume that this character is a friend, but the relationship with the protagonist is not clear. We also know that the protagonist doesn’t seem to care about going out, but not entirely sure why it would be better than spending time with her friends in her last summer before senior year. Most teens would want to be out with their friends. This vagueness makes the character’s motivations and desires feel muddy. In the end, the opening feel slow because the reader really doesn’t know much yet and there’s no major element to draw them in or make them want to know more about this girl and what’s going on with her.


Return to the Mountains by Laura Perdew – Middle Grade

An empty chicken coop is like a rodeo without mutton-busting. It just isn’t right. But that’s how I found it when I went back outside.
Every single bird I’d raised from egg-hood…gone. The gate was wide open.

Surely I’d at least shut it, despite my rush to get to the phone to talk to Lupita.

Oh boy.

If my older brother found out there’d been a coop-break because I hadn’t latched the gate properly, Tyler would spend the summer following me around the ranch, his shadow trampling on mine all day long, keeping tabs on whether I’d done my chores right or not. All summer it would be, “Kate do this and Kate do that.” And he would somehow convince Dad that I shouldn’t ever be allowed to have any fun with the rest of the seventh grade. There would be no movies. No sleepovers. No rodeo. No anything. I had to get the chickens back. For their sake. And mine.

But where would they have gone? They couldn’t have gone far. If I was a math genius like Tyler I could have determined the distance the average chicken could travel in a minute to calculate the search radius. But I wasn’t Tyler, and I didn’t even have any chickens left to use to figure out how fast they move.

So I started my search in the backyard. The dragon-like generator back there had been roaring away since a big storm blew through three days earlier and knocked out power. It made the air vibrate and the constant noise made me jittery. Apparently chickens didn’t like it either.
I looked across the ranch yard, my heart chugging along faster and faster like a tractor getting up to speed. Shifting into high gear, I hurried past the chicken-less coop toward the barns.


Return to the Mountains

Great start with a dilemma the protagonist has to solve (all of her chickens are gone!). I also like the colorful comparisons the main character makes about various objects and her surroundings (example: the dragon-like generator, and comparing the empty chicken coop to a rodeo without mutton-busting). This really helps shape the character in my mind because I can clearly see how she sees her world. One minor comment I have about this opening would be that some readers may not be familiar with some of the terms, such as “mutton-busting”. Consider adding a bit of context so that readers who have never been to a rodeo would understand what that means.


WHERE AM I NOW? by Amanda Davis – PB

I’m on the street!
Tired, hungry, nothing to eat.

I’m in a cage!
For many days, so afraid.

I’m on a farm!
With dogs like me, free from harm.

I’m flying high!
Up in a plane, my, oh my!

I’m in a truck!
For miles and miles, through the muck.

In foster care!
With food to eat and toys to share.

My forever home!
With a family and love, to call my own.


Where Am I Now?

Right away there’s a catchy motif happening in this picture book. The rhythm here is good. My concern however is that I’m unsure of what the story is about. The way the question and answers are structured don’t seem interconnected to form an overreaching narrative. They seem a bit disconnected from one another and each aren’t fully resolved within their own segment. A good picture book has a clear narrative arc, which is missing here. The arc could be about a character who is encountering a problem and his/her/their journey to overcome it for example. It should ultimately all come together. To me the text here feels like building blocks for individual stories, but not a cohesive one.


Thank you Thao for sharing your time and expertise with us. Everyone really appreciates it. Keep in touch.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for the critique, Thao. Thank you also, Kathy, for arranging these monthly opportunities!


  2. It’s amazing how much can be learned through these first-page critiques. Thank you for doing them, Kathy, and thank you, Thao, for your expertise!


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