Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 30, 2018

March Agent of the Month – Mike Hoogland – First Page Results

Agent Michael Hoogland at Dystal, Goderich, and Bourret is our featured agent for March. He will critique 4 fist pages from the ones submitted.

Michael Hoogland joined  God after completing a foreign rights internship at Sterling Lord Literistic. Before pursuing a career in publishing, Mike studied at Colgate University and graduated with a degree in political science and the intention to work in government. He interned with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but soon realized his interests and passions were better suited to a career in the publishing industry. After Colgate, Mike went on to gain a valuable education at the Columbia Publishing Course and discovered his passion for the agenting side of the business.

He is currently looking for thrillers (especially domestic), suspense, sci-fi/fantasy, upmarket women’s fiction, and children’s lit (YA, middle grade, and picture books), as well as a wide range of narrative nonfiction.


Princess Rotbee and the Dragon by Laurie Bayramian Middle Grade

Princess Rotbee rode away from Prince Truelove’s castle on her hog in a very foul mood. Prince Truelove had refused to marry her again. She’d roast him alive for it. But first, she needed a dragon willing to spare his breath.

Princess Rotbee turned Smorgy down a crooked, muddy path to Wymshire Cave, the home of Dinsmore Dragon. He was old, but still known to have adequate fire in his belly to roast a prince alive. Plus, he came cheap. Behind a green hill she came to a large set of boulders shaped like a gnome’s nose. She yodeled loudly until Dinsmore appeared, pushing aside a curtain of moss covering the cave entrance.

He was impressive for an old dragon, standing two men taller than her, gray-scaled, yellow-fanged with glittering, golden eyes. “I’ve brought you silver, Dinsmore dragon,” she said, waving the leather pouch under his large nostrils.

Dinsmore snorted smoke. “Who are you? Why have you disturbed my rest, you foul creature?”

“I am Princess Rotbee of Mosquito Swamp,” she said, flinging her knotted hair back from her face. “Prince Truelove has rejected me and I’d like you to roast him for ten silver pieces.”

Dinsmore inspected her from head to toe. She was the most revolting creature he’d ever seen. Her eyes were too close together, her nose more of a snout, her skin an olive green, her hands gnarled roots and she dressed in tarnished rags. “How dare he reject such beauty!” he said dryly. “I will blacken him to ash—for twenty pieces of silver.” Dinsmore exited his cave and stretched his cramped wings, sighing with pleasure. “And you must do everything I say, princess. Otherwise, we won’t get into his castle.”



Alarm bells started ringing for me immediately after the second sentence when we learn Princess Rotbee is a woman old enough to get married. This is a middle grade novel so that’s problematic, to say the least. The protagonist needs to be a kid. And your character’s age conflicts with the voice, which to its credit comes across as distinctly middle grade. It also helps if your hero isn’t planning a murder right out of the gate, particularly in a children’s book. Readers won’t exactly sympathize with the character, although such an opening does raise eyebrows. Perhaps it would be a good idea to make the reader empathize with Princess Rotbee first?

The rest of the page is jampacked with information. Maybe too much. I don’t know the word count of this story, but we’re quickly introduced to the other title character and learn that, in this world, dragons are apparently available for hire. The princess and the dragon have already started scheming, and I can’t help but wonder if the narrative is moving forward too quickly to properly flesh out your characters and build tension. Lastly I was thrown off when you suddenly shifted to the Dinsmore’s perspective without any sort of indicator. It’s typically a good idea to include some sort of section break, especially when you’re writing for a young audience.


Susan E. Harris          Amelia and the Airsailors     Middle Grade Fantasy

“Listen to this!” Amelia read from the western adventure, John and the Pony Express: “‘Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.’” She looked at her younger sister. “That would’ve been the perfect job. I’d have traveled and been paid for it!”

Muriel laughed. “You are young and wiry. But you are certainly not a fellow.”

“Well, I am an excellent rider.” Amelia’s eyes moved along the bookcases that lined the library walls. She smiled; this was, by far, her favorite room in her grandparent’s house. Here she daydreamed and read. Although it puzzled her—no, it annoyed her—why only the boys in the books could have exciting adventures and never the girls. “But it is 1909,” she continued. “We obviously don’t need the Pony express anymore.”

“Even if it did still exist, Grandmama would never allow you to join it,” said Muriel.

“If I were a boy she wouldn’t bat an eye. It’s just so unfair.” Amelia frowned. “And she’s getting worse and worse. Remember how cross she was at me for jumping the fence last week? She told me only boys jump fences. Young ladies use the gate.”

Oh, Grandmama! If she had her way, Amelia knew she and Muriel wouldn’t even go to school because “a girl will become less ladylike if she is over-educated.” Luckily, their parents were modern and insisted.

Of course, Amelia mused, if she’d been born a Quaker like Maria Mitchell there’d be no question of her doing many “unladylike” things. Her parents had said that girls should have an education and aspire to high goals. And look what Maria had done! She was the first female astronomer. She made the first American sighting of a comet. She was the first woman to become a professor at Vassar Female College.

Amelia longed to travel and to have firsts like Maria.



You do an excellent job of establishing Amelia’s character with this opening page. She is instantly likeable, and has an energetic, determined personality that many middle grade readers typically find engaging. Amelia’s feminist attitude is timely, too, so all of this is fantastic!

The dialogue could use work. There is a little too much exposition in Amelia’s and Muriel’s conversation and that’s never an effective way to convey background information. Even with the expositional dialogue, however, it would help if we had more information about the setting. Given context clues like Pony Express and Maria Mitchell, we know that Amelia’s world shares similarities to ours at the beginning of the 20th century. But how is it different? What are the rules of this world—where do the fantastical elements come into play?


Zechariah James Towner –  The Old City –  YA Fantasy

It was not yet dark enough for the stars to be out, but the Red Comet burned in the sky. It had first appeared three weeks prior, a crimson dot in the inky San Francisco night, not unlike the lights of an airplane: so tiny and insignificant that no one had noticed. But the following evening it had been larger and the evening after that it was larger still. Each night it grew until it was twice the size of the neighboring stars and twice as bright with a thin tail of red that glittered in its wake.

The public was alarmed. How had no one seen it coming? It looked like it was headed straight for them. But it was not. It would, astronomers assured them, pass closely by and be gone at the end of the month. And how had no one seen the Comet coming? The moon had hid its approach.

Still, questions remained.

Why, for example, was there no record of the Comet’s existence? This too was soon solved. A city historian reviewing the journal of an 18th century trapper found first mention of the Comet. It cropped up again, near a century later, in the letter of a Catholic Missionary to his family in Mexico. Soon accounts of the Comet were being found everywhere—Mark Twain had even written about it in a short poem titled “Beneath the Red Comet’s Glow,” though some critics disputed whether Twain had written the verse or borrowed it from someone else.

However, rather than simplify matters, these accounts only added to the confusion as they suggested no regular orbit for the Comet. It appeared multiple times in the stories of the Ohlone Tribe and journals of several explorers, but it might not be seen for fifty years after that. Skeptics were quick to argue that a comet that did not obey the laws of orbital mechanics was impossible.



The sudden arrival of an unexpected comet is definitely an intriguing way to open a novel and successfully grabs the reader’s attention. (However, one minor suggestion is that your second sentence feels like it’s a better opening line than the first.) My main concern with this first page is that you don’t introduce your protagonist, or any characters for that matter. There’s a lot of exposition about the comet and its history, but the reader isn’t given much context to put things in perspective beyond that. We learn that the comet surprised and scared the public, but is there a deeper significance? The last line starts to suggest the comet has an almost supernatural nature. These hints and questions are compelling in their own right, but when I start a new manuscript I’m hoping to identify, to some degree, with at least one character. Here there’s nothing to relate to.


FAUX REAL by Shelly Steig – Contemporary MG

It’d taken nearly the entire school year, but I’d finally bumped my way up to a new seat in the lunchroom. And this one was only two tables away from the popular one. Now I could study their every move. Any luck and next year, I’d be close enough to actually hear what they were saying. I patted stray curls back into my ponytail and smiled. Nothing could ruin my moment. Not a rubbery taco shell filled with mystery meat. Not even my best friend Owen Knight sitting mouth open, half his sandwich hanging out. It plopped on his tray. Owen said, “Um, Tru . . .  “

“Hm?” I asked. Two tables over, Brook-Lynn threw her head back and laughed. Her hair rippled like black satin ribbons. I tried a mini hair toss of my own, but my ponytail might as well have been a wire brush adhered to my head.

Owen continued in a squeaky voice, “Parental units incoming—”

I turned around. Mom, Dad, and my four-year-old brother, Robbie, sashayed into the jam-packed room. Mom wore a pink satin strapless gown, platinum-blonde wig, stick-on mole and bright red lipstick. She looked like Marilyn Monroe, an old-school Lady Gaga—minus the voice since she sounded more like a three-year-old with the wind knocked out of her.

Dad had on his bling-covered white jumpsuit with peacock feathers running down the legs. His chest toupee fluffed out from a deep V and the hair on his head had so much wax in it, it shone like hard plastic in the glaring fluorescent lights. My brother was decked out in an identical kid-size version of Dad’s outfit. One of his fake sideburns had come unglued and crept down his face like a caterpillar.

This was like the set-up for one of Dad’s favorite jokes: Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and mini-Elvis walk into a crowded middle school cafeteria.

But there was nothing funny about it.


FAUX REAL (Contemporary MG)

There’s a lot to like here. You give us a question to consider—why are the parents there?—which piques our interest. And you have a compelling enough voice to keep us engaged—good humor is always appreciated. I’d like to hear the end of that joke! The protagonist is immediately sympathetic—who can’t identify with wanting to fit in at school? Moreover, the voice is appropriate for middle grade, for the most part. However, I’d steer clear of words like “fluorescent” and oddly formal dialogue like Owen’s (unless it’s a character attribute). And maybe be a little more cognizant of your word choices and excessive wordiness. For example, “bumped” isn’t usually something you’d do to yourself.


  1. Wow, such great critiques, Mike! Learned a lot 😀 And YAY to everyone who put their work out there!

    Liked by 1 person

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