Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 25, 2020

September Agent of the Month Kelly Peterson: First Page Results

Below are the four first page critiques from our September Agent of the Month Kelly Peterson at Rees Literary Agency.

Kelly Peterson is a West Chester University graduate with a B.S.Ed in English and Literature. She worked as a Junior Literary Agent for two years before moving to Rees Literary Agency, continuing to champion her authors and the manuscripts she loves. Kelly seeks manuscripts in various genres within Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult age ranges. In Middle Grade, she loves fantasy, sci-fi, and contemporary that touches on tough issues for young readers. Her Young Adult preferences vary from contemporary to high fantasy, sci-fi (not the space kind) to paranormal (all the ghost stories, please!), and historical all the way back to rom-coms. Kelly is proud to continue to represent Adult manuscripts in romance, fantasy, and sci-fi. She is very interested in representing authors with marginalized own voices stories, witty and unique characters, pirates, witches, and dark fantasies.

Kelly is excited to be expanding her client list and finding new authors who have a strong story to tell. She only accepts queries through Query Manager at and requires a query, synopsis, and the first five pages of your work to submit. Follow her Twitter or her blog for more information on writing, the industry, and MSWL updates.

What I’m looking for:

Kelly is looking for voice driven fiction in the MG, YA, and Adult age ranges. She loves stories with strong world building, characters that are quirky and witty, and writers that have a natural understanding for relatable dialogue and pacing. Kelly is always seeking to promote #OwnVoices stories and authors who have a strong story to tell, including POC,  LGBTQIA+, and neurodiversity.

MG: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Contemporary, leaning towards heartwarming stories and adventures that showcase the tough issues that need to be read by young readers.

YA: Fantasy (all sub genres of fantasy accepted), Steampunk, Sci-Fi (futuristic, not space!), Paranormal (Ghosts, please!), Historical, Contemporary (all the rom-coms!), and any combination of the above with strong, female main characters.

Adult: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Contemporary Romance (Cowboys, anyone? Sexy and somewhat geeky entrepreneur? Sports? Yes?), Historical Romance, or any combination of the above.

Fiction: Action/Adventure, Children’s, Fantasy, Historical, Humor, LGBTQ, Middle Grade, Military, New Adult, Romance, Science Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Young Adult
Favorite sub-genres: #ownvoices, Adult, Contemporary Fantasy, Contemporary Romance, Contemporary YA, Diversity, High Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, LGBTQIA, MG, MG adventure, Paranormal, Steampunk, YA, YA Science Fiction

Not The Best Fit For:

Non-Fiction, Mystery/Crime, Children’s Picture Books, Emotional Turmoil (i.e. stories that revolve around depression, anxiety, rape, etc.), as I prefer my books to help me escape. Characters that have some of these traits but it doesn’t overwhelm the story are okay.



KEY: Titles are italicized, underlined, and bolded

BOLDED words refer to Kelly’s comments in RED 


The Devil’s Own: A Ghost Story (Paranormal Novel) by BJ Hicks 


Bridget caught their reflections in the mirror behind the bar and couldn’t look away: her sister, Addie, and Ryder Benson,. Hhis dark eyes focused on her sister’s flushed face like he wanted to drink the life out of her. When I read this, I had assumed Ryder was looking at HER, meaning, your main character. I separated the sentences here and defined it so that there’s no mistake; he’s looking at her sister. =)

She sighed. Her little sister had that effect on men.…. Beautiful, darling, irresistible Addie, tall and lean, with eyes like sapphires and a golden fall of hair halfway down her back. A cover girl in the making.

And, at twenty-one, as unsure of herself as a gawky kid at her first school dance. I’d love to understand why this is said a bit more. Can you describe why she’s awkward and gawky? What is she doing that causes the MC to say this? What does the MC see?

What the hell were they doing here? She couldn’t believe she’d let Addie drag her into a bar, let alone sit down for drinks and small talk with a couple of strangers. This line also makes me believe that they’re all sitting together and that the MC hadn’t caught the reflections of her sister and Ryder from afar, but that she’s sitting next to them instead. I’m getting some mixed signals here, as I’m a huge “picture the scene” reader. Can you narrow this down a bit and close in on the descriptions some to make sure we know where in this space the MC is and where her sister is?

Not that Ryder could really be considered a stranger now, she ruminated. What was that old proverb—if someone saved your life, they were destined to be part of it forever?

And not that Addie would have drowned today without Ryder’s intervention, either. I would have saved her, Bridget thought. Not necessary! The italics point out that she’s thinking. =) I would have saved her or died trying.

But she hadn’t had the chance. The moment a rogue wave had upended Addie’s kayak and she’d disappeared in the surf, Ryder was there—as if he’d just been waiting to play the hero.

And hero he had been.

Still, there was something about him….

He’s just too good looking, she told herself. Too muscled, too tanned, his face too chiseled, his smile too white….

She didn’t trust good-looking men—especially around Addie.

Was she just being her usual, over-protective, big-sister self?

Or had she fallen victim to the green-eyed monster yet again?

Rather than ask these questions, let it speak in her actions and dialogue. It takes a very, very self-aware person to ask themselves these questions, and usually our main characters don’t always have that self-awareness until they grow within their own arcs/manuscripts. =)


On the Cusp: A Millennium Era Mystery   –  Carolyn M Johnson     

Chapter one – In the Nick of Time

     The scent of a forest’s evergreen trees on a soft summer breeze suddenly wafted around, or actually seemed to engulf, Ev-Rick. Start with a bit of action and character, rather than surroundings. The setting can be filled in as you go, but you only have a few seconds to catch a reader’s attention, and you do that by pulling them into your character! What does this character want?

     Seconds later, someone suddenly whispered so close to Ev-Rick’s’ ear that he felt the breeze of a breath.

    “It’s over there…, somewhere…, new dude,” someone suddenly said. A bit tell-y and also repetitive as you say “suddenly” after the dialogue here. You can fully take out the description in this first sentence and just keep the dialogue, and it will have the same effect.

Ev-Rick shuddered, yet Old, proper language. Not needed! =)  not because he was cold, or scared; but maybe Repetitive wording, using “maybe” twice. he thought, with a strange maybe weird sort of feeling, it’s like a wisp of wind coming in from a just-opened window, and, somehow, beckoning….              

“It’s somewhere in the forest, in a place far back from the road, just beyond a fog mist that appears, sometimes,” the voice continued.

     “Do you want to go see it?!”

     “It may appear… just for you!”

We don’t know who this voice is or why it would appear as scary to Ev-Rick, so it doesn’t have the emotional appeal it needs to with your readers. There’s no draw here, because we don’t know your character yet. Why should we care that he’s scared? Why should we care someone is talking/whispering to him?

      “Why did he say that?!!!” Ev-Rick thought; wanting very much to know.

       He whirled quickly “whirled” has the connotation that it’s quick,” so you don’t need both!
around; grasping a box tautly to avoid dropping it; a box of his belongings he’d just gotten from the family car; still unpacking from the family’s move just Watch your use of “just”! =) yesterday to this place; his family’s new place.

His cherished guitar (passed through generations) nearly slipped off his shoulder, but he grasped A lot of “grasp”ing here, too! It’s used in the sentence before this one as well. Can you combine this sentence and the one before it? Also, how is he grasping a box to himself and grasping his guitar at the same time? it by its designer strap (a gift from an aunt), with quoted lines from John Denver’s “This Old Guitar,” the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour,” plus “Far away / In a land caught between… Where… Mysteries…” (Ed Grieg’s Opus 23 part 4 modernized rearranged retold). Is this the thought process for your character, or is this a citation? 

Hi, new neighbor. I’m Cory,” the stranger spoke in a normal voice, then grinned a lop-sided sort of smile. A bit confused here why the voice would be the neighbor? Why would he be saying those things? If he’s meant to be a creepy, on the fringe type of person, then the details surrounding him and the way you describe him and his actions should reflect that, too! Having a goofy, lop-sided grin doesn’t reflect the creepiness of what just happened! =)              


I’M COUNTING ON YOU – Patrick Thornton –  middle grade

Stan Kemper, my best friend since kindergarten, sits next to me on our front porch. The smell of freshly mowed grass is everywhere. Seventh grade is over and I should be summertime happy but . . . I’d start with your characters emotions here first, then open up with your scenery. Try this, “Seventh grade is over and I should be summertime happy. Sitting on my front porch next to my best friend with the smell of freshly mowed grass just isn’t enough to get my mind in vacation mode though. Not when today is….today.” Something of that sort? Start with the emotions and make us care about your character first. =)

After a lot of not talking Stan says, “Your dad’s going to be okay.” Then adds, “Your mom too.”

“How do you know?” The words come out angry. Stan looks down at his feet and I wish I hadn’t said that, not that way.

“Gee, Pickle . . .”

My name is Dilla but everybody calls me Dill. Stan sometimes calls me Pickle. You know, because of dill pickle. I know Stan is just trying to cheer me up. Not happening; Dad leaves today.

“Sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean . . .”

He looks over at me and smiles. “We’re cool.”

Stan’s the best friend a girl ever had. Can you elaborate for a second here so readers can get a feel for their friendship? =) I get to my feet. “I gotta go.”

Upstairs, Woah! Quick cut! When did she get there?! What happened to her friend? Why did we just cut to upstairs? I sit on the edge of my bed trying not to think about what life will be like tomorrow. The chart I made matching up the two time zones—here in Virginia and in Afghanistan where Dad will be—is on the wall. I’ll use it to know what time it is for Dad when I’m getting up in the morning or having dinner or whatever. My computer, the only one in the house, is on my desk under the chart. Wish I could turn my brain off, put the war—what could happen to Dad, what could happen to all of us—out of my head.

I stand up and rub a hand across my face. Staring at the sweat on my palm, I feel like crying, but I can’t do that. Not now. I rub my hand dry on the leg of my jeans and sit back down. Good! Love the sense of character I’m getting here! =) Starting to get a feel for her thought process and rhythm as a character, and this paragraph and the one before says so much about her emotions without TELLING us. Good job!


It Don’t Hardly Seem Right John” by Ann Rinaldi – Young Adult historical novel

I don’t know why my brothers and sisters asked me to tell the story. I’m not the writer in the family. My younger brother Richard is always scribbling notes in his diary. And if those federal men who came to take me and my brothers Will and John away that day in April 1965 knew Richard had that diary, they’d have taken it and him away with us. But they knew nothing of his diary and I didn’t snitch because I owed Richard. For the day he came down to the pond behind Mr. Boulware’s plantation and found me and Premie swimming half-naked.  He threatened to tell his Ma, my step-mother who would have kept me from seeing Permie for six months. And Pa would have had a change of mind about no child of his ever being hit.   Not needed in order to get the point across, and this adds more names to try to remember on the first page! It gets a bit confusing and round-about. Can we streamline this?

When I left the farm that day with John and Will, Richard hugged me and said, “Don’t worry, Julia, John, and Will, we’ll take care of you.” I’m a bit confused though, because Richard didn’t come with them? He wasn’t taken with them, right? So how is he going to take care of them? Can you be a bit more specific?

Nobody knows what happened at the Garrett farm that day, but our family. When I and my brothers were whiling away in that prison in Washington, we heard that Mr. Baker, the man who brought us to prison, went back to our home to examine the charred remains of Pa’s barn, after they burned it down to get John Wilkes Booth, who’d killed President Lincoln.

How did this family get tied up in this? Why would people burn down their barn specifically for this reason? Can you be a bit more specific?

We heard that people kept coming by Pa’s plantation, to speculate, to learn about us. And what they couldn’t learn they made up. Why would John wilkes Booth seemingly hiding in their barn, and the family getting arrested, lead to them getting food? I’m a bit confused. Can you clarify? All that news got to us in prison. And many people were decent enough to send us food, books, newspapers and news. Okay, this is a lot of information! I’d love to slow this down a lot and either relive this day with the characters/main character, or would like some more description and reasons why we should care about this family and characters. I can understand what’s happening a bit, but I re-read this about three times before I really got the gist of it and was able to sort through all of the names to try to identify everyone the main character is talking about. Can we narrow down the names on this first page and really zero in on what the main character’s drives and wants are? What is she trying to say? What’s the most important event/note on this page to push through to your readers?

Thank you Kelly for sharing your time and expertise with us. We can all learn a lot by reading your thoughts and maybe even see a little something in our own manuscripts by reading these. Please keep in touch. It was fun getting to know you.

Talk tomorrow,


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