Jun 15, 2015

QK Round 2: Grandma Guardians v. Middle Grade Leverage

Entry Nickname: Grandma Guardians
Title: Wings, Wrinkles, and Wrappers
Word Count: 44K
Genre: Middle Grade paranormal


For Kate, it's been six months and twenty-three days since the sadness made her dad drive away and not come back. Seventeen days since she last spoke to her once-best friend Sophia. And an entire lifetime of eleven years without ever knitting a single hat. When Kate accidentally prays for help she ends up stuck with two old ladies who happen to be her long-dead grandmothers. They provide more caustic and silly commentary than actual assistance and Kate wants them gone. But getting back to heaven isn’t so simple. First, Kate must help them actually improve her life in some way.

From knitting to winning back a best friend with a chain of gum wrappers, Kate goes along with her grandmothers' "lessons” in hopes that they’ll hurry up and leave, until she realizes their stories could hold the key to bringing her dad home. But when the rescue plan backfires and only drives him further away, Kate has to learn her grandmothers’ biggest lesson of all: when to love and when to let go.

Told in epistolary format as a series of letters in a Father-Daughter notebook, Kate’s journey explores the binding nature of family stories and relationships through generations.

First 250:

Dear Dad,
Grandma Bev never gave up on Grandpa Henry and I’ll never give up on you. So, I knitted you this hat.
Love, Kate

6/15   Kate, It’s Wednesday. I’m sure you’ll be leaving another hat on my doorstep today. Hopefully you see the notebook. Just wanted to say thanks for the hats. All of them.

Dear Dad,

You missed my birthday last year. I know that’s not the best way to start a note but my next birthday’s in 33 days and it’s all I could think to say.

July 21st, remember?

I was sure last year when I turned eleven you would be at my party. You’d only been gone ten days and I guess I thought you were just taking a vacation. And if you were coming back soon, my birthday would have been the perfect day. It would have been like a surprise party, but not really a surprise because I knew all along you wouldn’t miss my birthday.

Mom made a shopping list that morning. “Air mattress, popcorn, pizza…anything else?”

It was a sleepover party with Sophia, just like always. And just like always, I knew you’d make my special, birthday tradition cake. So I said, “Strawberry ice cream and Kool Whip.”

Mom tapped her pen on the counter but didn’t write it down. “Why, Katydid?” She wouldn’t look up from that shopping list so I knew she was just pretending not to understand.

I played along anyway. “In case Dad forgets to go shopping.”


Entry Nickname: Middle Grade Leverage
Title: Team L.O.S.E.R.
Word count: 49K
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Contemporary


I am seeking representation for my upper middle grade contemporary novel complete at 49,000 words. When the world fails you, Team L.O.S.E.R. has your back.

Eighth grade president, Corbin Webster is used to hard work. But when he’s forced to accept the position as mentor to a team of outcast sixth grade delinquents, reality smacks him upside the head. It is one thing to be told to teach his team right from wrong. It’s quite another to discover that they’re a car thief, a pick-pocket, a hacker, and a girl who cosplays a different character each day and who refuses to answer to her real name.

To foster kindness and team spirit, Corbin has them find a student who needs their help. When they choose a boy whose lunch is stolen daily, Corbin stages an intervention. There they find that this bully has his own bully at home, and that his father controls his family by starving them. In order to get proof of  the real abuser’s criminal activities, and to put him away for good, Corbin must use the illegal skills that landed his group on Team Loser in the first place.

First 250:

The early morning light hit the small, old houses in my neighborhood until they glowed like pastel jewels. Gramp’s scrambled eggs were a perfect bright yellow so I scooped them from the pan, and onto his plate. “Come and eat before I throw it away,” I yelled.

“Corbin Webster, do I look like a track star to you?” His cane made crabby thunks on the worn linoleum but he had to duck his head to hide a smile. He might fool the salesmen at the front door, but I knew better. Gramps put the great in great-grandpa. If it wasn’t for him, I’d be in some random person’s foster home.

“I don’t need any eggs,” he said. “Coffee is fine.”

“You’ll eat them and like it.” I tried to sound stern instead of worried. “Besides, there’s plenty.” If I didn’t watch him, he’d starve himself to make sure I didn’t go hungry. “Mrs. Sanchez brought over a dozen this morning when she dropped off the suit. She said her chickens lay too many for her to eat.”

“That’s different.” He picked up his fork and shoveled some into his mouth. “It would be a crying shame for food to go to waste.” I finished my coffee and carried my plate to the sink. Two birds perched in the mimosa tree outside the kitchen window and sang like they were in the opening credits of a Disney movie.

Gramps whistled low. “Dang boy, you look sharp. Turn around.”


  1. Judges, please vote as a reply to this comment.


      I'm not certain that the phrase about 11 years without knitting a hat works for me. Is being able to knit a hat important to her? If so, why?

      The first 250 introduces the main character and hints at her conflict.

      I am a bit confused, though, about the first two entries and the hats (didn't you say in the query that she didn't knit?) It makes me feel like I'm missing something, because how is he responding to her if he's been gone a year? He lives close enough that she can leave stuff on his doorstep, but he won't see her on her birthday?



      I like the hook for your query. I want to know who Team L.O.S.E.R. is and what they can do. Quick clarification -- Corbin is the eighth grade CLASS president, right? Otherwise, great query. I like the changes you made.

      The first 250 definitely introduces the main character - I like Corbin already. I would definitely read on.

      Your opening line doesn't grab my attention like it should. It could be the opening of any book in any genre. And I'm a little curious about a middle school kid drinking coffee, but the narration passes over it like it's no big deal.

      Victory to... MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE!

    2. Another hard choice! You guys aren’t making it easy on us, are you?

      Grandma Guardians - The premise here sounds like a lot of fun! I love the idea of the angelic grandmas pestering the MC.

      Be careful not to come across as talking over your audience’s heads to the adults behind them. When you talk about things like the lessons your MC learns (or doesn’t) from her grandmothers, it may sound like the book is more for adults than kids. The voice also doesn’t necessarily come across as MG to me (especially in the query, but in the 250 also). Voice is super important in MG.

      I’d also spell out in the query how old your MC is—MG can cover a wide age range, and there’s a huge difference between the upper and lower ends. Having clues to age in the first 250 to orient your readers would also be good, and should be easy to add with the birthday reference.

      Finally, the epistolary format wasn’t working smoothly for me... her long letter (3rd entry) seems to be written more like standard book narration than a letter (I can’t imagine a kid writing an impassioned and bitter letter to their estranged dad about missing her birthday would bother to mention her mom tapping her pencil, for instance). Again, the MC’s voice wasn’t coming across as her own voice in the letter, but more as an adult narrator voice, which was strange with the letter format.

      The premise sounds like a lot of fun and the MC’s arc sounds great, though! Maybe immerse yourself in current epistolary/diary format MG for a while to soak up the voice and do a voice edit. Such a great idea! Good luck!

      Middle Grade Leverage - I love the premise here, too! I love the idea of taking the team of misfits and turning them into a kind of covert ops justice brigade, and the spread of characters sounds like an interesting team. Sounds like great fun!

      In the query, I’d move the first line about wordcount etc. to the end in a separate housekeeping paragraph, since it’s much duller than the following sentence as a first-line hook.

      The first page isn’t as strong as the query to me. He’s just cooking eggs for his grandpa... I have no dramatic tension, stakes, or conflict, and the voice isn’t so super hooky that it can overcome that lack.

      Some of the adjectives are kind of bland, too... “small,” “old,” “yellow,” etc, and I’m not sure “pastel jewels” works as a description (jewels aren’t pastel, almost by definition).

      If you can grab our attention in the first page with some of the fun you promise in the query, that will cement the positive impression the query forms, and keep us excited to read more.

      Good luck to both of you! This is another hard choice, but I am going to give the...


    3. Grandmas:

      I found the first paragraph of your query very confusing. It feels like you've sacrificed clarity for voice and I think you can totally have both. It might be worth adding a few more details about Kate's dad's departure and the ghost grandmas. I'm not a big fan of the format of your 250 but I know plenty of people who love letters, so that that as you will. I am confused as to how dad is writing back, which might become clear if it's more obvious in the query? The longer reply seems more like what I would expect from the rest of the book, but even if you vary the length and type of letters, the short ones are a little jarring to begin with.


      I'm not really a MG reader but this grabbed me right away. It reminded me a little bit of Big Hero 6, with the ragtag mismatched crew. I get a good sense of who your MC is in the query but I get it in spades in the 250. While I agree with some others that the opening line is a throwaway and the descriptors are a little boring, the set up of how he became a leader and why he's good at helping is unmistakable. I'm also a sucker for crotchety grandfathers.

      Victory to Leverage!

    4. Princess ButtercupJune 16, 2015 at 12:16 AM

      Grandma Guardians
      I loved the premise for this when I first read it in round one and was anxious to see it in round two. I do still love the premise, but unfortunately the opening to the query doesn’t get to what I think is the heart of what’s going on—that the ghosts of Kate’s grandmas have been sent to help her repair her relationship with her father. It seems that you’re trying to convey the uniqueness of her world here (I mean, learning to knit with ghost grandmas does conjure up a cute image) but I can’t help but wonder how central it is to the main story line? Or it is meant to raise story questions? If it doesn’t do either, I’d consider cutting it.

      I’m also concerned that the query letter addresses lessons and themes. I write MG, and this is something almost all MG agents warn against. Let the reader, even the reader of the query, decide what lessons and themes are presented in your MS instead of telling them.

      Also, in the last sentence of your query I can’t help but wonder what internal struggles the MC faces? I’m wondering this because it’s framed from the perspective of the grandmothers—the last lesson they have to teach. But what about the MC’s perspective? What choice or sacrifice will she be faced with? Show us her struggle from her point of view.

      The 250
      While I like letter/diary formats, I’m wondering how she’s getting the letters to him. Does he live in town and just refuse to see her? Even when he knows she’s leaving hats and letters on his doorstep? While that breaks my heart for her, I need more information. Your query letter would be the ideal place to orient me to these kinds of details.

      All of the letters read great except for the longest one dated 6/16. It feels like a half-hidden info dump instead of a twelve year old girl talking to her dad. It’s kind of like the moment Dorothy sees the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. If the reader senses the writer instead of the character, the illusion is gone.

      Middle Grade Leverage
      Overall this is a pretty solid query, but there’s no need to state you’re seeking representation. Query Shark addresses this at length on her blog if you’d like to read up on why. It also happens that you have a seriously fantastic hook, so eliminating that first sentence means your hook is the first thing the reader comes across. With a hook like that, I can’t imagine putting anything else in front of it.

      I might consider rewording the last line of your first paragraph as it doesn’t read a clearly as it could. Maybe, “It’s quite another to discover your team is made up of a car thief…etc.” or something similar. I think the rest of your second paragraph reads well.

      The 250
      I still love the premise and Grandpa—Grandpa’s voice reads very authentic to me—which makes me sad that Corbin’s voice doesn’t. If you’d like to use sentences like your opening line, you might want to switch to third person. I’m sure there are MG kids out there that would use that kind of description, but most wouldn’t.

      There’s also not a lot happening in the first 250 other than scrambling eggs and establishing that Corbin and Grandpa are quite poor. The lack of voice and action are definite concerns because MG is all about voice and action—even if it’s merely perceived action. We need story questions here too. Something to pull us to the next page. Where does Corbin get his new team assigned to him? Consider starting there, if you can. We desperately want to meet Team L.O.S.E.R.

      Voting on these two is very difficult. There are definite reasons to vote for each and I even briefly considered flipping a coin, but I promise I won’t. I want you to know I’ve gone back and forth several times, but in the end my concerns about Grandma Guardians has more to do with the query and less to do with the writing (except for that one letter I mentioned). When you're querying, the writing will always trump the query. For that reason:


    5. Grandma Guardians Query:

      It might be a good idea to get Kate’s age in the first query line, or some identifying attribute. While I like the phrasing of the eleven years w/o knitting, it struck me as a little odd that she is wistful for knitting. Why does she long to knit? The caustic and silly commentary is well-worded, but I wanted to see more of a MG voice. I’m wondering if you can show what is caustic and sill with an example. I'm intrigued by these long lost grandmothers since that's a wonderful relationship to explore.

      I also suggest aiming to replace words like goes and has with stronger verbs (if possible). “In hopes that” could be She hopes. Little tweaks to cut down wordiness will tighten the query overall. Since this is an epistolary novel, I think it would be great to note in that first paragraph how Kate writes letters to her father for consistency.

      First 250:

      I like epistolary novels and am always curious how they play out. My one point of confusion is dad’s comment about her leaving a hat on his doorstep. Is that a quaint way of saying a package is delivered? The phrasing makes it seem like she is actually going to his doorstep, but that doesn’t make sense with the story.

      Middle Grade Leverage Query:

      I really like this concept of a sort of misfit middle school justice league. The query is not quite hitting the right notes for me, and I realize at this point you’ve probably gotten a lot of feedback and the poor thing is likely overworked. Is the boy who is bullied the main conflict of the story, and the defining conflict that brings resolution to the story? I wondered about Corbin’s own story arc and his role with the delinquents; maybe it is as simple as adding a few lines about that at the end; otherwise ending on another character’s arc (the boy they are saving) feels a little incomplete. What does Corbin learn about Losers and himself, and what does he risk if he gives up on his own team? That’s the sort of thing I think is missing here.

      First 250:

      There’s a great dynamic between Corbin and Gramps. The reveal of an averted foster home is a clever way to show Corbin is parentless (or something happened to them preventing their ability to raise him). I was a little surprised Corbin is also drinking coffee since that seems more an adult drink, even if kids MG aged go to Starbucks. Maybe a comment on that would also shed some light on his character. It’s an interesting start to the story, though it did leave me with questions about Corbin’s age and maturity. Does he struggle with this advanced role of caretaker when he’s just a kid? Showing a glimpse of that struggle in kid-voice could be really endearing to readers.


    6. I was WAY too verbose. Sorry.

      PART the FIRST

      Grandma Guardians

      I love the quirkiness of this premise and the precise details you offer like the number of months and days and how Kate is clearly obsessed with time. The idea of her grandmothers' ghosts trying to help her but just getting in the way is really fun.

      While I really enjoy your query, I think it can be tightened up. I'm going to go through and highlight a few suggestions:
      "For eleven-year-old Kate, it's been six months and twenty-three days since her dad drove away and didn't come back." - The first sentence is a bit clunky as it stands. We don't need "the sadness made" it may be relevant in the context of the story but for the query all we need to know is that Kate's dad left and she misses him (which is implied by the fact she's counting the days).

      "Seventeen days since she spoke to her once-best friend, Sophia." Lose extra words like "last" that aren't necessary, in the previous sentence "last" is just filler and already implied. Also, note the added comma.

      "And an entire lifetime without knitting a single hat." The words "lifetime" and "eleven years" feel awkward mashed together. By moving Kate's age into the first sentence you can just use lifetime by itself in this sentence. Again, extraneous words like "ever" get the axe to speed things up a teeny bit and move us into the meat of the query. I'm also not sure what knitting hats has to do with anything. The first two sentences make perfect sense to me, this one - not so much.

      "When Kate prays for help, she ends up saddled with a pair of ghosts who happen to her grandmothers." I'm not sure how you accidentally pray. Praying is a fairly definite activity. Again, note the comma addition. There's nothing wrong with the word "stuck" but I think you can replace it with something a bit more evocative; here, I've chosen "saddled" rather than "stuck." They mean the same basic thing but have slightly different connotations. You can see that overall, I chosen to shorten this sentence quite a bit and while "long-dead" is evocative, it could also mean zombies. Using the word "ghosts" makes it readily apparent what sort of supernatural creature we're dealing with.

    7. PART the SECOND

      Grandma Guardians Query Cont.
      What help was Kate hoping for? What does she think she needs to solve her problems? How do the grannies measure up? How do they fall short? Those answers will give you some nice contrast sentences. For example, you could do something like "While it's fun learning all the dirt on her parents from when they were kids, the ghostly grans can't resist commenting on every aspect of Kate's life. When their caustic comments land Kate in detention, she decides to send the old ladies packing. But banishing her meddlesome relatives back to heaven isn't so simple. First the grans have to help improve Kate's life in some tangible way." What I'm trying to get at with this is a nice contrast - the good about having her grannies around (perhaps it's knitting tips) versus the bad (their chatter makes it hard to pay attention in class and leads to detention).

      Looking at paragraph two, how could the grandmothers help Kate bring her dad home? Offer some concrete details here. Things like "a chain of gum wrappers" intrigue me and that's a specific detail related to winning back Sophia. I'd like to see that same sort of detail related to the grand "get dad home" plan. What are the stakes in all of this for Kate? What tough decisions does she have to make? What bad thing will happen if chooses option A? What worse thing will happen if she chooses option B? Clarifying the stakes and adding in some details will really round out an already strong query.

      In paragraph three, "Father-Daughter" notebook throws up a HUGE question for me as I'm reading this query. In line one you tell us her dad left, if that's the case, then how can they be sharing a notebook and writing back and forth? The back and forth of the notes also implies a closer relationship with her father at the present time than the first two paragraph of your query seemed to layout.

      First 250
      Right away, with your first sentence, there's a contradiction to the query. In the query you say it's been a lifetime without knitting, but on page one, Kate's already completed a hat. Which, incidentally, is not normally a beginning knitting project. Scarves are easy, hates normally take a bit more practice.

      I'm curious about the date gap between entries, it's been four months. Is Kate dropping a hat by every Wednesday for four months and she just happened to leave this notebook on the first Wednesday as well, but her dad kept it and is only now giving it back? Epistolary form is tough. Without other means of conveying scene and setting, the reader can be adrift. For example, I have no idea where Kate lives. How far she lives from her dad. What his house looks like. What Kate looks like. What her dad looks like. Another major drawback is that, at least in the notes as they are know, there's a lot of passive sentence construction (which is logical in a letter, but can make a novel hard to get through). If the novel is entirely epistolary, you need to make sure the letters are doing double and triple duty. They need to set mood, scene and convey voice because those are still critical to keeping readers grounded in the story. Voice is the easiest to pull off, but the other two are just as important. For example, Kate's first letter could be about the notebook and maybe talk a bit about where her dad is living now and why she wants the notebook in the first place.

    8. PART the THIRD

      Middle Grade Leverage


      I'd suggest moving this first paragraph to the end of the query, start with your story and let it grab agents before you tell them the word count. Also, while the slogan is cute, it's not adding any pertinent details. Consider removing that line.

      "But when he's forced to mentor a team of…" Look for words that you can cut to really tighten up your query. For example, in the second sentence, rather than saying "forced to accept the position as mentor," which is rather a mouthful, you could say "forced to mentor" instead. That goes from seven words to three and reads more fluidly. Your first sentence is a perfect contrast sentence so the expectation is set that what follows is going to spin that sucker on its head. Instead the second sentence talks about reality smacking Corbin upside the head. That statement would be fine if the first sentence mentioned anything about Corbin's delusions of importance or something. One way to fix the discord between the first and second sentences, is to reword the second sentence slightly. For example" Eighth grade president, Corbin Webster is used to hard work. But when he's forced to mentor a team of outcast sixth grade delinquents, the job isn't just hard, it's impossible." See how the two are now closely related, one playing off the other? Incidentally, I love the specificity of "outcast sixth grade delinquents," fantastic word choice there.

      The rest of the paragraph is a bit clunky and could also do with some tightening up. Is there perhaps a better way to introduce the team members? Just taking a stab at it, but something like "How do you teach a car-thief, a pick-pocket, a hacker and a girl with serious identity issues how to play nice with others?" might read more smoothly and still conveys the same information as your original sentences.

      In the next paragraph, I'd suggest combining and simplifying the first two sentences. For example, something like "When Corbin notices a boy being bulled during lunch, he finds the perfect project to bring his team together and give them a real world lesson in right from wrong." Another suggestion would be to name the bully in your query. So far you've only introduced Corbin by name so it's not like we're drowning in character names and it'd make it easier to keep the sentences from getting complicated. You could do something like "But things aren't so straightforward when the team discovers the bully in question, Kevin, has his own bully at home. Kevin's father controls his family by starving them and it's up to Corbin and team Loser to get proof so they can save the day." Do you see how adding in the name cuts down on your word count and also gives the paragraph more of a focus? Again, play around with the wording a bit until you find something that you're happy with.

      One thing that I think is missing form your query are explicit stakes. What tough decision does Corbin and his team face? What bad thing will happen if they make choice A, what worse thing will happen if they make choice B? If you add that in I think you have a really strong query and a great premise.

      First 250

      Your first sentence, and first paragraph for that matter, are critical. These are your opening volley, your first, and too often last, chance to hook a reader and drag them into your world. Right now that first paragraph isn't doing much. Are the pastel houses critical to the story? If not, perhaps begin with a different detail. This is a normal day. It could be any day the way it reads right now. What makes today special? What makes this moment the one where this story HAS to start? Show us that contrast while giving a heavy dose of character voice. You have some lovely details here and I think with a bit of tightening up, and the right starting point, you'll have an excellent first page.

      Victory goes to - Grandma Guardians.

    9. Grandma:

      First, let me say that I love this idea. But I feel like the query could use some work. How does a person accidentally pray for help? If you don't want it to come across as overly religious, I'd recommend looking for another word for pray but "accidentally prays" doesn't sit right. "Oops! I just said ten Hail Mary's! How did that happen?" (Is this a huge deal? No. Did I get really distracted and stop reading your query to write all this when I saw it? Yes. And that's the real issue.) You're missing a comma after "actual assistance." Cut the last paragraph. Never waste query real estate talking about the themes in the book. You need three things: Hook, book, cook. That's it. And I'd like to see a little more about the stakes. I'm also not clear on how the letter format works if Dad up and left. Is he actually writing back? Or is poor Kate making up his replies (which is the saddest thing ever and you should tell me that to really tug on my heartstrings).

      The "meat" of your query (not counting that last paragraph) is only 177 words, so you have a lot of room to expand. If Kate fails, do her grandmothers stick around forever? Are they ghosts or did they return in real-life form? Are they raising her? Does Kate live alone? Is she in foster care? Is she living with her mother? I feel like there's a lot of additional information that would really help flesh out the query. You don't necessarily need to answer all of those questions, but tell me enough so I'm not wondering what's going on. Also, this is random, but you've got one smart quote and one straight quote around lessons. Just check your actual query to make sure it's consistent.

      Your query says Kate's never knitted a hat in her life, so when your first page opens with "I knitted you this hat," I'm confused. Then his response is more confusing, because she's clearly knitting lots of hats. Are these letters written later? Do the Grandma's appear in a flashback? If so, then you're not starting in the right place. Start with the CURRENT action that makes up the story. It sounds like the story starts with either Dad leaving or the Grandmother's appearing. So thats' what I expect to see on the first page.

      This is the same query that was posted in the first round - not even the incorrect comma after Eighth grade president was removed. The sentence at the top doesn't add anything to the meat of the query, which is what we're critiquing. I'm not going to repeat the comments I made before.

      My number one concern on the main page is that I don't feel like the minor tweaks that were made addressed most of the feedback given in Round 1. We collectively spent a lot of time on that feedback and a lot of good points were raised, but I don't see the changes. And that makes me wonder how open you really are to implementing feedback.

      This is a really tough decision for me. I've actually typed and deleted both names as the winners. And I went back to check how much the first entry implemented the feedback given, too, since that's my major sticking point. But at the end of the day, one query really does give me a better sense of the story. VICTORY TO MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE… barely.

  2. Grandmas - I like the idea of ghostly grandmas providing the mc with guidance and the idea that she doesn't realize how helpful they actually are at the outset. I was a bit confused how this story will be a back-and-forth between the mc and her dad if the dad's gone. If there's some sort of drop box they use, perhaps spell that out in the query? In the first 250, I thought the 6/16 entry didn't feel like a letter or journal entry. Perhaps if you ease the reader in, by slowly increasing the size/length of the entries, it would feel more natural?

    MG Leverage - I like this story idea, too -- the 'good' kid crossing the line with the 'bad' kids to right wrongs. In the query, I suggest cutting the 'I am seeking representation' line. You also might want to consider simplifying the final paragraph, e.g., '(There they find that) But the bully has his own...(and this) a father who controls...' In the opening 250, I found the first sentence a tad disorienting -- I felt like we were outside, then the next line we're inside. Perhaps add in a detail like 'Through the window, the early...' You do a good job making the mc immediately likeable, showing him cooking for his grandfather and how he's figured out what to say to get him to eat his share. Without you telling me he's smart, I see it.

  3. Grandma guardians query: This is a flat-out lovely idea, loads of fun for middle-grade readers. I laughed out loud at the idea that in her eleven years, she'd never knitted a hat. It gave the query a quirky tone that I'd love to see more of.

    First 250: I like how you've revised much better than the original entry. But I'm still confused, because it seems like her dad is answering her. Is he? If so, then why only the one time? As others have mentioned, that last entry does not seem like a journal entry, it feels like you have slipped into regular narration. And I'm not sure the voice reads like a kids anymore at that point.

    One issue: why would a boy whose lunch is stolen daily need an intervention? If it is the boy who is doing the stealing, that needs to be made much clearer, because right now it's tripping me up. Otherwise, it's clear, concise, and sounds like a whole lot of good fun, especially the band of losers he's stuck dealing with like the cosplay girl.

    First 250:
    Love this line: Gramps put the great in great-grandpa. That gives us a great feel for who this boy is, and the fact that Gramps might not eat so he won't go hungry tells us they are in dire straits, which gives us immediate sympathy for the MC.

    I'm not sure a young boy would ever use the phrase "pastel jewels" to describe anything. I'd love to see a bit more teen boy voice in here, though, in the way he explains things and describes things. Love Gramps crabby cane!


    Query: Quirky first paragraph, I like it. Helps us get a history for the character without being overbearing. I might almost give an example of their assistance than just say it. Like “after having her tie wings to the cow Kate decides she’s tired of her silly grandmothers…” I’m also not sure why her dad is gone and how she’s going to get him back. I thought he was just a deadbeat dad. I had no idea that he was in danger and needed to be rescued.

    First 250 words: I kind of like the letter format. It’s unique. That being said, it’s also a little confusing. It doesn’t sound like he ran away. It sounds more like he’s just gone all the time. Also a reader might be confused about whether they’re writing back and forth or if they’re journaling. I’m also not sure where the diary ends and where the narrative begins.


    Query: Maybe add in a few words about why he’s forced. I think you can do it in three or four. I like the diversity of characters, very interesting. I like the stakes too, it’s an everyday problem that many youths probably suffer through. Very middle-grade A-team. I might add in why they need to do this, and why they can’t just report him to the police.

    First 250 words: I lose a sense of who your character is. I’m picturing an adult more than an 8th grader. I will say, from the query I was expecting a 3rd person POV. You’ve got such great supporting characters that I want to see things through their viewpoints. I also feel like it’s kind of a slow start. Eggs, breakfast and coffee. I was thinking something like “It’s not always easy being an 8th grader” except, you know… better. Without the query, I just have no sense of his age, but I do get plenty of character which I like.

  5. Grandma Guardians
    Query: I like what you’re doing in the first paragraph in terms of the number of days since each incident occurred although I didn’t get the significance of the knitted hat. The last line of the first paragraph seems oddly worded: “First, Kate must help them actually improve her life in some way.” She must help them help her? There might be a stronger way of saying this… like “the grandmothers refuse to leave until they help her.”
    250: My interest was immediately piqued in the query when you said it was in epistolary format! Don’t see that too often. However, your 250 didn’t read as smoothly. While I love epistolary, these first entries seem so short I’m not getting enough info on character, setting etc. Then you have the long letter, which seemed odd after the two shorter ones. I’m not sure how to fix this--maybe omit the two shorter entries and just start with the longer entry? It might draw the reader in more quickly. Also, this might be a personal preference but when you format the dates 6/15, I sort of gloss over them. Might be more effective to write it out i.e. June 15th. This is a hugely ambitious idea. I hope to see you pull it off! Good luck!

    Middle Grade Leverage
    Query: I read through this very easily. I like the idea of the delinquent kids using their skills to help another less fortunate kid. Very colorful and fun cast of characters! It sounds like there will be a lot of fun and excitement in this story!

    250: This is a solid beginning although you could crank up the excitement a tad. Your query promises so much great stuff it seems kind of bland to start here. I didn’t like “small, old houses” as a description… I think you could use something stronger. The birds in the mimosa tree were nice. Also, the character seems too old for middle grade. First, he’s drinking coffee and cooking, and the voice seems more like a teenager’s voice. Not sure how the rest of your MS reads but maybe consider changing it to YA? Best of luck!

  6. GUARDIANS: I like epistolary formats a lot. I think it would help to give the year, as in 6/15/15 or June 15, 2015. I'd take out "in some way" in the sentence about improving one's life. I like Elizabeth's suggestion that the grandmas refuse to leave until Kate's life has turned around. I love the idea of bonding through knitting with grandmothers, living or dead - not something I have seen recently in MG.

    LEVERAGE: I would give a little more context to Corbin's history - something that describes why he's had to work hard. Take out the comma before "president." I like your opening 250 with the great-grandfather, but I do see the point that the query sets up a lot of action. In the query, I think you need to change the pronouns so that it is more clear that the kid who is STEALING the lunch is the kid who is being bullied at home. I like this premise, so keep plugging away.

  7. Grandmas: I loved your premise the first time I read and and love it now. Letters back and forth between father and daughter, her grandmothers as Guardian angels, it's all so lovely. I realize how hard t must be to convey the proper format in this medium. I can picture it in a book, though, and how cool it would be. Love it and good luck!

    Leverage: Great query, I think it lays everything out clearly. I love the voice in the 250, but am wondering if starting in another place might boost the tension a bit? The morning scene has been done a lot is all. But I love the voice. Good luck!

  8. Grandma Guardians: Query: The first sentence seems a little awkward. How about this: "It's been six months and twenty-three days since the sadness made Kate's dad drive away and not come back."? I'm not sure why not knitting a hat belongs on the same level of importance as losing her father and no longer speaking to her friend. The rest of the query is lovely. The premise is fantastic, and almost sounds like a good one for an adult novel too!

    First 250: I LOVE the back-and-forth letters - nothing conveys so much character than that! However, I do get confused near the end of the 250, where there's dialogue involved. Is Kate flashing back, or is she actually writing this in her letter? If she is writing like this, it feels a little less believable.

    Leverage: Query: Personally, when you have a tag line like your "Team L.O.S.E.R." one, putting it behind an explanation about seeking representation takes away some of its impact. That's just my opinion, of course. Also, there should be no comma after "Eighth grade president..." The rest of the query sets up a really intriguing story. I hope the abuser gets what's coming to him!

    First 250: I love Gramps! Not only have you drawn a great mental picture for me, you've made it 3D! Maybe the morning scene is a bit overdone, but the scene relates well to the mentions of food and lack of it in the query, and shows a good contrast that way. I would keep it as is. I hope that makes sense.

    Good luck to both entries!

  9. man there is so much good stuff here...both of these entries are solid!

    Grandma: I love that you identified the style in this query about the notebook; and I love this format. so unique!

    LOSER: your characters, esp gramps, jump off the page--well done! i'd ditch that first line of your query and get right to the good stuff though, which is your story synopsis.

    best wishes!

  10. Oh wow, I'd love to read both of these!

    Grandma Guardians: I love the first two sentences of your query but the third was a little confusing. Perhaps it just needs to be reworded to get your point across, which I believe you are trying to show that the MC never knitted a hat until after her father left. And the first hat she knits is for him. Am I right? Suggestion: "And an entire lifetime of eleven years before she ever learns to knit a single hat." I love the idea of these dead Grandma's being silly and teaching her things. I know a lot of people have commented about your 250, but I actually liked how you have it set up. Obviously, some letters will be longer than others, and some will provide more details than others. When I read it, I thought it sounded like an MG voice, so I wouldn't worry too much about that. Good luck with this entry—I think you have a great one!

    Middle Grade Leverage: Wow, your query is fantastic! And your 250 seems pretty solid. I love the idea of the grumpy grandpa and the boy who fixes him eggs and wears a suit to his class elections. Such a great premise!

    Good luck to you both!