Jun 1, 2014

QK Round 1: Make A Baby With Socks On vs Michigan Yankee

Entry Nickname: Make A Baby With Socks On
Title: You Can Still Make A Baby With Your Socks On
Word count: 60,000
Genre: Women's Fiction


After her divorce, Aida realizes that she makes truly terrible decisions. What’s even worse is that her therapist believes Aida’s nosy and hilarious eighty-year-old Italian grandmother might be the key to turning her life around. To prove her point, she challenges Aida to follow one piece of advice from each of the letters she receives from her grandmother.

You Can Still Make A Baby With Your Socks On, is an entertaining and touching story of a confused thirty-year-old who realizes her grandmother knows much more about life than just how to make meatballs and go to confession.

A novel that begins each chapter with a letter from Aida’s opinionated yet beloved grandmother. It documents Aida’s journey through a painful divorce, bad first dates, new found love, botched proposals, painful losses and the eventual death of her beloved pen pal after an emotional bout with dementia. Throughout it all, Aida faces the struggle of how to make her own decisions and what happens when you dare to disagree with the person you love the most.

You Can Still Make A Baby With Your Socks On is about experiencing life and love in all the places you were never smart enough to find without the help of a wise old Italian grandmother.

First 250 Words:

Dear Aida,

I hope you got the socks I sent you. When I first mailed them, they were in a regular-sized envelope with one of those return address labels from the Easter Seals. I always feel bad using those since I only donated $5 back in 1992, and since then they've sent me enough labels to cover the Great Wall of China. Of course, I would never actually use those labels on the Great Wall because I wouldn’t want that many people knowing where I live, but it doesn’t matter because two days later the envelope was returned.

How is the new apartment feeling? I know it will take a while to feel like home, but you will heal from this, Aida. You will.

I never liked him. I know you thought it was because he wasn’t Italian but that’s not true. I didn’t like him because he drank too much. It would be different if he was Italian and enjoyed a few glasses of wine at night, but he liked all that beer and I heard that beer is the drink that turns most people into alcoholics. I think that’s why you don’t see any Italian alcoholics.

You’re too young to be sad. Wear one of those bodysuits you used to wear in college, the one that snaps down in the crotch (it’s really amazing you never got an infection down there with how tight those things are). You’re beautiful. Go have some fun before your breasts start to droop.

Loving you always,


Entry Nickname: Michigan Yankee
Title: Not From Here
Word Count: 77K
Genre: Adult WF

New lawyer Anne McConnell has to walk away from sushi, easy availability of black suits, and everything else familiar when she is transferred from Detroit to Lynchburg, VA, the buckle of the Bible Belt and home of a celebrity televangelist's mega-church. As she adjusts, she develops a strong attraction to work colleague Jon Davis, despite the fact that he is a teetotaler with a degree from the local evangelical college. Anne's difficulty relating to her surroundings - and Jon - is exacerbated when her liberal socialite mother orders Anne to come home soon before her new neighbors turn Anne into one of "them."

Anne has spent her life in a comfortable cocoon of like-minded people. If she gives Jon and his hometown a chance, she can begin reversing her ingrained conceit and judgmental attitudes before they fossilize. To do that, she’ll have to learn to see the good in a place where people don’t drink or curse, and where they treat Jesus like a personal friend. Inspired by the character arc of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, the story addresses the vast cultural gulf between blue and red regions of the country through the developing bond between Anne and Jon.

First 250 words:

I would never fit in here. The sign on the store at the center of the strip mall read, “The Christian Store,” without even a trace of irony.

“Do you think they manufacture them there, or is that just the retail outlet?” I asked Elizabeth, reaching for a fun and clever tone but managing only sullen. My fingers gripped the steering wheel. The landscape, even the chain restaurant options, was so different from Detroit, and every other city I’d ever called home.

She looked up from the useless paper map they’d given us at the rental car counter, and rolled her eyes, grinning. “It’s for Bibles. They sell Bibles at stores like that. And maybe Christian music and things. Which you know perfectly well. Don’t be obnoxious, Anne.”

Thank God Elizabeth had come with me. I had to find housing in Lynchburg, Virginia, and I didn’t think I could handle it alone. We’d been friends for years and had once been to Washington, D.C. together. This place, however, seemed metaphorically a whole lot further from Washington than a mere four-hour drive south. In the ten minutes since we'd left the airport we’d seen two Chik-fil-As, a gas station advertising both live worms and homemade candy, and as many as four mobile home dealerships, advertising double- and triple-wide trailers in neon lettering. What on earth was a triple-wide mobile home? How could it be mobile?


  1. This space reserved for judge feedback and votes.

    1. Allusion AssassinJune 1, 2014 at 11:56 AM

      You need to review query guidelines at a query help site. Your query isn't standard. I love the premise, but the query got in my way.
      You need a hook. Queries should open with solid punch to the gut – gives us a flavor of what’s ahead, draws us in.
      The psychologist part doesn’t make sense. Why would the therapist recommend that? It’s awkward.
      Title & genre go at the beginning or end of the query. Don’t tell us the story is entertaining. Show that through your query words. The “A Novel” sentence is a fragment. I suggest you move that with the title.
      Next is a list-dump of actions that happen to MC. These feel generic at best and clichéd at worse. They tell me things about your book but don’t show me the story you are trying to tell.
      Choose a couple and give specifics. Weave them into a story in your query like in your novel. What’s the overall driving narrative – is it Aida putting her life together? If so, take us on that journey in the query. Is it granny on the decline or is that a subplot? I’m left not knowing what the plot is. That’s your query’s job.
      Every novel has twists and turns. The job of the query is to give the reader a glimpse into a coherent story arch that leaves them wanting to read the pages. Right now this doesn’t.
      Finally, there is no tension left here. You tell us in the query that granny bites it in the end. I don’t feel like I have a reason to read your book now. I get the feel of granny coming through, but I have no idea about who Aida is or why I should care about her. Give me a reason to root for your MC. You’ve described her as a loser with no redeeming qualities.
      That said, the letter from Granny is terrific. It has all the voice the query lacks & keeps me wanting to read. It gives us Aida’s backstory in an interesting and fun way. I felt Granny’s sympathy for Aida and was left wanting to know what happens next. So good job!
      To get an agent into those pages, you need some big help with that query. Let’s whip that in to shape to give your story a fighting chance.

      Points awarded for having a hook, but yours isn’t strong. I had to re-read the black suits part several times to get what you meant. Plus, it’s really long.
      Your hook leaves me at “so what”. What’s the struggle? Give us more – “Lawyer Anne never thought of herself as a privileged Yankee snob, but when her firm transfers her to bumkintown VA, she feels she’s been shipped to a foreign country. Compounding her identity crisis, is southern gentleman Jon…” Not that, but feel the difference?
      After your opening hook, put a paragraph break. Then go into the main query body. Lose the mom sentence. It’s not relevant.
      The next paragraph loses me. It should be told from Anne’s pov. Instead we get a 3rd person narrator with a heavy-handed agenda. Where did Anne’s struggle to adjust go? The list of things you give as Anne’s issues don’t seem bad. Why would someone have to work to “see the good in not drinking and cursing”?
      Finally, I don’t get the reference to Mr. Darcy at all. The issues in Pride and Prejudice is based on a real existing class system that has actual outside forces to overcome. That’s not the case here.
      As a new transplant to the south from the North, I agree wholeheartedly that there are big adjustments to be made. I don’t think you’ve captured them with this. These feel superficial. Look at your book. Is that the case or did you missed the real meat of Anne’s struggle when you wrote the query.
      Like Socks, your opening page was pretty strong. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because of Anne. It was because of Elizabeth. Your dialogue is great. Dialogue can often be challenging. You did a nice job with it.
      But it just wasn’t’ enough for me. I get that Anne is supposed to be clueless, that her journey is to enlightenment. You have a fine line to walk between that and still making Anne likeable. Maybe your story does that, but between the query and the opening page, I couldn’t feel that here.
      Because of that and my affection for feisty grandmas the victory goes to – Make A Baby With Socks On

    2. Make A Baby With Socks On: No, no, no – *never* editorialise in a query. SHOW us that your book is entertaining and touching, don’t tell us. Similarly the third para is clunky telling *about* the story, instead of just telling the story. This actually sounds like a really fun tale, and I want to read it, but you can definitely improve this query. Infuse more voice into it, tell us what one or two of her grandmother’s pithy observations are and what hilarity comes to pass when Aida tries to follow her advice, and it’ll come alive much better. And don’t give away the ending!

      Despite the query needing work, I had high hopes for this and YES. LOVE IT. First page is hilarious, I love her grandma already, and you nicely slide in the fact that she’s getting over a break-up. Would absolutely love to read more of this.

      Michigan Yankee: This is a pretty good query, outlining the plot and characters and dilemma well. I’d just try to get a bit more of Anne’s voice in there so it sounds less generalised and like you’re trying to prove a point, and comes alive more.

      The opening page is pretty good, but would come alive more with a bit of sensory description and maybe a brief line telling us what her friend looks like so we can picture her. I don’t know why the line ‘We’d been friends for years and had once been to Washington, D.C. together.’ is in there – what does Washington have to do with anything? If you’re trying to show how close friends they are, come up with a funny anecdote, not just a place name. The last bit about mobiles made me chuckle, and am also beginning to wonder if this is supposed to have a humorous tone throughout? If so, you need to get some humour into the query, because at the moment it’s very dry and didn’t make me think I’d be reading a funny book at all.

      Victory to Make A Baby With Socks On.

    3. Make a Baby With Socks On:

      Whoa. There are a few "non-standard" queries that have worked--you can Google for examples--but I think a format like this will have agents stopping before they even get to your sample. Go check out some examples of successful queries and try to write one in your MC's voice.

      However- I love the concept in your query. Grandparents are wonderful, so the 80-yerr-old Italian grandmother immediately had me connecting to this story and hoping your query would be followed up with some awesome writing.

      When you rewrite your query, be sure you focus on Aida's voice and perspective so I have a reason to want to follow her story. Also, I suggest holding off on telling us that her grandmother dies in the end. I feel that's a big spoiler, and is something you could instead hint at toward the end of the query.

      Oh, and your first page? Fantastic. I love Aida's grandmother already, And I really wish I could read more. Now you just need a query that does your story justice!

      Michigan Yankee:

      I think your query needs more of Anne's voice infused into it. As is, it reads a bit cold and synopsis-like. Especially the ending, where you give us a third-person narrator telling us what your story aims to accomplish.

      Also, I didn't understand the Pride & Prejudice reference. Where's the similarity? Overall, I think clearer, higher stakes are needed when you revisit your query. Consider what Anne stands to lose if she can't adjust to her new life in the South.

      Your opening page felt a bit flat to me. I saw hints of humor that you could potentially do more with, but I think I mainly felt disengaged because of a lack of descriptions and sensory details. I enjoyed Elizabeth's dialogue, and some of Anne's observations, but giving a bit more description about Elizabeth's appearence and your characters' surroundings will help ground readers in the scene.

      Based on the first page that left me wanting to read more...

      Victory to Make a Baby With Socks On!

    4. Wow! Talk about two totally different premises, but both with very compelling premises!

      Baby With Socks On: Your opening paragraph is perfection. You clearly set us up for what is to come. Unfortunately the following paragraphs lose the momentum you have built.

      A query needs to have three things: character, conflict & cost. Think about revising your query to show us these things instead of editorializing your story.

      Your First 250: While not the norm, your opening is by far one of my favorites! It is dripping with voice and clearly sets up what we can expect from the Grandma aspect of the story.

      Michigan Yankee: I have been in this spot exactly in my real life, moving from the west coast to what is considered the heart of the bible belt. And I suppose this is why I have so much trouble with this query.

      Instead of building the outline of a story, it feels like you are editorializing all the negative things about the south. I think this query could be much more powerful if you focused on the personal journey Anne makes rather than highlighting some perceived "negatives" about the south. I also wonder if it doesn't make your character feel very unsympathetic which could turn off both agents and readers.

      First 250: I think your dialogue is good here and it puts us right into the story. I'd like a little more internal thought instead of descriptions of Anne's surroundings. How is she feeling about being transferred? Is this a promotion/demotion? How is it turning her life upside down? This would create characterization right away and help the reader understand her inner turmoil regarding the move.

      Victory to: Baby with Socks On

      Cut the "entertaining and touching" - let the reader decide that for him/herself. The premise sounds really sweet - I'd love to have some details about the kind of advice that her grandmother gives, rather than just having you *tell* us that it's "hilarious" and "opinionated."

      Maybe it's my own personal bias as a Michigander (who has also lived in the South), but I can't buy into this premise. Moving from New York to the Bible Belt, maybe you'd have that kind of culture shock, but I don't see Detroit as being "a comfortable cocoon of like-minded people" - there are megachurches and Christian bookstores there as well, and though MI may have voted blue in the last presidential election, the governor and the majority of the House members are Republican, so I don't know that you can really call it a true "blue" state.
      As they say in Shark Tank: "And for that reason... I'm out."

      Victory to Make a Baby with Socks On

    6. ghostbuster_extraordinaireJune 4, 2014 at 11:25 AM

      Make a Baby With Socks On:

      Love the title. The premise is also good, but the query doesn't follow standard guidelines. We need to see the hook, stakes, and conflict.

      I like the idea of her grandmother's letter at the beginning of each chapter, but I don't really feel like I know Aida yet.

      Michigan Yankee:

      Naming Lynchburg, VA the "buckle of the bible belt' drew me out of the query. I'm from NC and Greenville, SC is what we recognize as the 'buckle,' so this definitely gave me pause. I know lots of places claim this title, but just be careful. Overall, I do like the religious/political undertones and would be curious to know where you're going with it. Be sure to include the conflict though...what's at stake?

      I enjoyed Anne's snark and whit. She's an interesting character, and I think I could easily connect with her.

      Victory to Michigan Yankee

    7. Girl with the Golden PenJune 4, 2014 at 2:13 PM


      Everyone has said it by now, but don't talk about what your book is or say what it starts with. Tell us a story. Look at the other queries in this contest and you'll see how they're formatted and there are a lot of good websites to look up how to properly write a query. I think even the parts that ARE conventional can use a little tightening up.

      The first 250- This is where you grabbed me. The note is hilarious and loaded with voice. Its a rare case of 'the query wasn't good but the writing is so I'd read more'. If the rest of the novel is this funny, I'd enjoy it.


      I don't really get the Pride and Prejudice connection but I do like this observation of religious differences between the south and the north. But that's a theme. What are the actual stakes for the character. She needs to have more conflict than just 'this is a weird Christian place'. I also wish I got a better picture of Jon. He seems like an after thought.

      The first 250- As a southerner, I don't exactly understand why she's so bewildered by the South. I get 'The Christian Store' but are Chick-fa-la's really that fascinating? We have Whataburger too. Whataburger is better than any other fast food burger place. Honestly, its just a fast food joint. Your MC comes off as a little dense. Some of it is funny and some is a little ridiculous. I do think you have a good voice though.

      I think that on the basis of the writing, I do enjoy MAKE A BABY WITH SOCKS ON. So victory to MAKE A BABY WITH SOCKS ON

    I really love this premise, but I feel like the query doesn't tell me enough about the story. It tells me about the themes, but not what happens. Instead of telling me that the story is entertaining and touching, show me entertaining, touching things that happen. I'd like to see more of the character's voice in the query instead of the authors. Also, I don't know if it was just a formatting error, but having it all in one paragraph is an automatic turn off for me - I see a wall of text and my eyes glaze over. I'd take that one sentence about some of the events that occur, expand it into a full, separate paragraph, and let us know what the stakes are - what happens if Aida doesn't follow her grandmother's advice? What if she fails her therapist's challenge?

    Your first 250 are engaging and entertaining. I love the grandmother's voice. The letter takes me back to my grandma, and that makes me smile. I'd definitely keep reading. Part of me wishes we got to meet the MC on the first page, since the query is all about her, but I see how this works within the framework of the story you've set up.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I've read this MS, and I adore it. So I'm highly biased. I actually considered not commenting at all, but don't want to ignore one half of the match-up.

    I might add a sentence in the second paragraph of the query before "inspired" that says what Anne has to lose: her sense of self? Her chance at love? And maybe move that sentence to it's own paragraph. And it could help to break the first sentence up into two - it runs a little long.

    Love the first 250. Since I've already helped edit it, I don't have any new feedback.

  3. Make a Baby with Sock on: What a fun and funny idea! Easily relatable, as well, because who doesn't have some older relative that makes these weird and questionable statements! (Well, maybe not as weird as Aida's grandma's.) I enjoyed it a lot. In your query, I would suggest you begin the third paragraph with "This novel" or something, because "A novel" doesn't really make sense with the way the rest of the sentence plays out. In the 250 (fun!) the last sentence of the first paragraph confused me, because I wasn't sure which envelope had been returned -- it almost sounded like she had sent one to the Great Wall. Congrats, and good luck!

    Michigan Yankee: I had a bit of a hard time with this query because it feels really judgmental toward the people down south, and also because it equates the Christians with the Red states. You want to make sure not to alienate potential readers with what might come across as criticism. A nit-pick in the query, at the end of the first paragraph it sounds like her mother is referring to her own neighbors, rather than Anne's. A quick fix. Good luck!

  4. Hi. Fellow Kombatant here.

    Make a Baby with Pants On: Have to agree about the query; it's not in the standard format I'm used to. But the letter in the first page is wonderfully entertaining. I'm wondering about your word count--perhaps a little low (I have the same problem with my novel, but because it's a cozy mystery, I might be able to get away with it).

    Michigan Yankee: I like the comparison to Darcy's character arc in your query. I liked the dialogue in the 250. I was a bit thrown by "...and rolled her eyes, grinning." That seems a little awkward. But maybe that's just me.

    Nice job to both of you.

  5. Not a judge, just a fellow Kombatant wanting to pipe in. No vote casting either - this one is a close call:

    Socks On:
    I affirm the query comments from above. Fix the format. I do like the first paragraph though and unlike one commenter above am ok with therapist's crazy advice.

    That said - I'm really worried that she'll have to follow Grandma's advice and wear a snap-at-the-crotch outfit. That doesn't sound so sage!

    Specifics re: the 1st 250: The "but it doesn’t matter because two days later the envelope was returned." lost me. What is this referring to? The millions of labels she didn't send or the socks? Neither answer makes sense.

    After reading this, I'm hoping every chapter begins with a letter and then goes into Aida's exploits/attempts to work with therapist and Grandma.

    Seems like a fun read.

    Michigan Yankee:
    In query…
    Don't understand how mother sentence really raises the stakes here.

    Also I wonder if "she can begin reversing her ingrained conceit and judgmental attitudes before they fossilize" is being a little too hard on Anne? Some of these conceits/judgments have likely formed for reasons (I hope). I'm also hoping this isn't just about Anne overcoming pre-conceived notions because the country Christians are simple but still kind, but that she's able to reconcile characteristics with which she still disagrees along with… whatever happy surprises she discovers. As in, it's a more complex picture than Anne previously thought and not just... Anne was wrong.

    I'm not yet seeing how the Darcy arc applies here. It doesn't seem to apply to Jon (unless I'm missing something), so I guess Anne is the Darcy character because she needs to get over her prejudices? I think you can drop the reference though.

    As for the 1st 250: I like! My one teensy comment is on the very first sentence. Eh. It's just not strong. Why not start with second sentence instead? So it reads something like, "The sign on the store at the center of the strip mall read, “The Christian Store,” without even a trace of irony. Oh God, how could I ever expect to fit in here."

    I'm very interested in where this goes - best of luck!

  6. Make A Baby With Socks On

    Query - The first paragraph does a great job of laying out the story. I feel like the next 3 just repeat what's in the first with a little more granularity. I would suggest nixing any line that refers to your novel and instead turn the query inside out and have it put the reader into the story. In the third paragraph, I was thrown by the use of the second person. However, despite all of this, I finished the query wanting to read your book, so well done on that count.

    250 - Fantastic. That is all.

    Actually - I'll tell you why. Voice voice voice. If you could get that into your query, this would be an unquestionable homerun. I'm cracking up at the grandma's commentary and advice. It's obvious this is going to be a fun ride. Can't wait to read this one. Good job!

    Michigan Yankee

    Query: OMG I love this so much. I can totally relate to your premise (I live fairly close to Lynchburg and yeah.) And Pride and Prejudice? Score. Your query has so much personality and the writing is very fluid. I want to read this right now.

    250 - If this were a book, I'd keep reading for sure. As it's the only thing we have for the contest, I think it is a little too much of the same. I love how it starts and was right with you on the nervous drive through unfamiliar territory. But then in your last paragraph, you gave us an info dump where I think you would have been better served to keep us in the present. I did crack up at "triple-wide mobile home" but by then I was kind of already drifting a little in my attention. Still wanting to read this for sure. My critique is more for the contest aspect of this, which as you know, is another animal altogether.

    Good luck to you both and I'm sure if things don't pan out here, you will both find an agent the traditional way. Great job both of you!

  7. Make A Baby With Socks On
    The first 250 was fantastic. I like Grandma. And I like the general concept of the book (and the title is great).

    The query, on the other hand, needs work IMO. Non-standard format is okay (because hey, some books need to blaze their own trail), but I don’t get the sense that this is one of them (at least, not based on what I’m reading here). What I would remove first is stuff like “entertaining and touching story.” That’s telling the reader/agent how they’re supposed to feel about the book, and people tend to prefer to make up their own minds. The rest of the query is also more… I don’t know, like a recap or something? Not even a synopsis. What it needs to do is hook the reader’s attention and entice them into reading the novel. If you were really daring, you might almost use Grandma to write the query letter, although that would definitely be non-standard. But it could potentially grab attention if done just right. Just one possibility. But if nothing else I would suggest looking at a bunch of queries that landed agents and see how they do it.

    Michigan Yankee
    This 250 also had me laughing. Nicely done. This is a great narrative voice and I would gladly read on. “Do you think they manufacture them there, or is that just the retail outlet?” is such a good line :D

    I like the basic premise laid out in the query, but I feel like it’s missing something. Although all the elements are there in essence, the whole thing is presented in a slightly ho-hum fashion. It doesn’t have to sound like the trailer for a blockbuster movie, but I think some of that voice from the 250 needs to find its way into the query, and I think the elements need to be presented in such a way that they really grab. If this move causes turmoil for Anne, both inner and outer, then that should stand out on the page. Right now we’re being told is causes her problems, but I’m not feeling it yet.

    Best wishes to both entries!

  8. I really enjoyed both of these.

    Make a Baby: I wish this grandmother would write letters to me! She is just plain fabulous, and this is a great opening. As everybody has said, your query could use some reorganizing. For what it's worth, I'd start with a line about her agreeing to follow her grandmother's advice, against her better judgment or something like that. I remember seeing this on a Twitter pitch contest and was really grabbed by how you phrased it there. Maybe use that as your intro sentence? Then build into how she came to this decision and how she hopes it'll change her life.

    Michigan Yankee. This premise is great, but I feel like it's being buried in a lot of language in the query. If you can try and write this a bit more from your character's POV without quite so much exposition, I think that would make it punchier. Your opening was great, very amusing, and I already feel for your MC who is clearly suffering from culture shock. One tiny suggestion: What about starting with the line "The sign on the store at the center of the strip mall read, “The Christian Store,” without even a trace of irony." That right there made me LOL. Anyway, just a thought.

    Good luck to both of you!