Jun 2, 2017

QK Round 1: Feeling Fictional vs We Kinda Destroyed Paris

Title:  #letcharalive
Entry Nickname:  Feeling Fictional
Word count:  68K
Genre:  YA Contemporary Fantasy


Reed Santos is a straight-A high school junior whose biggest worry is getting elected Student Body President so she can demonstrate the all-important trait of leadership on her college application. The dream is to get into Stanford and become a biomedical engineer. The only problem is it’s not her dream; it’s her mother’s.

Reed’s real passion is reading books. In fact, the latest book in her favorite fantasy series has just been released and Reed and her best friend, Julia, can barely wait to get home to dive back into the world of Apatheia, a land where feelings are non-existent. Reed is lost in the story when Chara, a beloved character from the book, suddenly appears in the flesh and pleads for help. It turns out that Reed is her one true reader, the one that connects her to the larger world, and Chara has quite a favor to ask. She is going to die in the next book and wants Reed to save her life. Moved by Chara’s appeal, Reed agrees to take on the quest.

Reed and Julia must track down the famous author and convince her to change Chara’s fate. But things do not go well; authors generally don’t respond favorably to other people telling them what to write. So Reed must regroup and devise a new plan. It’s a plan outside her comfort zone that will risk public humiliation on a grand scale and put all her important relationships in jeopardy. In the process Reed learns that sometimes people (fictionalized or not) need to veer from the path someone else has imagined for them.

First 250:

Reed tried to ignore the fact that she couldn’t breathe. If she just focused on the index cards and recited the words in front of her maybe her pulse would slow down and she could finish her speech. Maybe she would stop imagining her heart was going to break through its cage of bone and flesh and throw itself onto the floor, flopping around like a dying fish.

Turning to look at her best friend Julia who was sitting on the bed, Reed dropped her index cards onto the floor and put a hand to her chest, as though that might calm the monster inside. She was still for a few seconds, listening, feeling. “I think…I’m having a…heart attack,” she announced between breaths. Then she fell backward onto the bed and focused on the plastic stars glued to her ceiling. “Can seventeen-year-olds…have…heart attacks?”

Julia jumped up and put a hand over her mouth while she studied Reed. “Omigod. Your face is really red. Here.” She stuffed a pillow behind Reed’s head and slid off her pink Converse knock-offs. Then she went into the bathroom and returned with a damp washcloth. She patted Reed’s face with it, getting her sleek black bangs wet in the process. “I’m getting your mom.”

Reed grabbed her arm. “No. Give me…a minute. I think I might actually be starting to feel a little bit better.”

“Maybe you’re having a panic attack or something. I’ve read about them on Dr. Google. Do you feel panicky?”


Entry Nickname: We Kinda Destroyed Paris
Word count: 72K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy (#ownvoices)


Bermudian expat Skyeler Anders wants two things for his seventeenth birthday: to get his bloody memories back, and for the nightmares to stop.

Instead, he comes face-to-face with the three teens who haunt his dreams. Keil’s the drifter from New York with mysterious ties to a genetics lab. Nicky’s the grieving hacker weighed down by too many secrets. Her cousin, Rachel, is a rising starlet plagued by premonitions. And it turns out Skyeler isn’t the only one of them having nightmares. But before they can figure out why, their elemental powers emerge—an advent the four barely survive.

The desperate need to learn what connects them takes the teens from the suburbs of Atlanta to the streets of Paris, where their magic draws the attention of a group of rogue mages hell-bent on unleashing an ancient and powerful force. Amid the search for answers, Skyeler’s boyfriend is kidnapped. Now, Skyeler must untangle the mysteries of his past, learn to control his magic, and trust the teens who've inhabited his nightmares—because it’s not just his boyfriend's life hanging in the balance, but the entire city of Paris.

First 250

"Now Entering Hell!”

That’s what needs to shine in brilliant reflective letters from the sign by the exit ramp. Not this, “Now Entering Douglasville” nonsense with a population estimate of thirty-two-thousand.

Thirty-two-thousand and one, now.

Then again, Douglasville, Georgia represents my own personal hell, one with a dizzying wash of green and grey, throat-coating cigarette smoke, and nauseating country music. I squint against the harsh light eeking down from the overcast clouds—I’m tired from the night spent in an airport and the early morning flight did little more than provide a power nap.

My driver’s a court official who, due to some asinine legal technicality, has to drive me to my new home. His nasal singing is enough to make me wish my forgotten parents had picked me up, or for headphones at the least. But both my sunglasses and headphones are broken. Some bloody git stepped on them during the flight from Bermuda. Given my lack of American money, replacing them will have to wait until I reach the court-determined destination—my father’s home. As far as days go, this one reeks of disaster.

Doubly so considering it’s my seventeenth birthday.

I roll down the back windows, desperate for some air not tainted by cigarette smoke. Sticky humidity assaults me. I put them up before we turn onto a street and follow the curve, before slowing to a stop in front of the two-story, red brick house where my life wait to be puzzled back together.

Not likely to happen now that Mum's dead.


  1. Judges, please leave your comments and votes as a reply to this comment. Thanks!


      QUERY - The query feels a little like a synopsis to me and the pacing feels a bit off. Portal, even reverse portal fantasy stories, are very popular, if not over done, so I'd like to see more about the "one true reader" concept.

      The last paragraph does still fee a little too much of a synopsis, especially combined with the other first paragraph. I feel like, without specific details, I kinda know the whole book and what's going to happen. Sure, you don't give me the ending (at least, i'm not 100% sure) but I feel I could guess the books ending. I'd work on taking out some of the vagueness, and adding more concrete things. WHY is this her mother's dream, why does she love reading so much? Why can't she do both? How does Julia play more into this (she feels kinda just thrown in there).

      The last sentence reads a little preachy for me, and I'd rather have stronger stakes, real concrete ones.

      TEXT - I think you did a VERY good job on showing Reed and who this girl is. She's like many of us, she has weaknesses (seems public speaking) fears, and she's a little over dramatic ("can 17 year olds have heart attacks?" for example). I think in the first 250 I'd like to see more of concrete setting. She's studying for a speech, practicing obviously, but what type of speech is it? Is this normal for her to be this nervous?

      Julia feels just a little like a stereotypical side character. I'd also be wary of things like "Omigod." Remember, your book will be published--at best--2-3 years from now. Use more language that's generic for things all people would say and pepper in colloquialisms sparingly when they really matter. Be careful about punctuation too. For Reed, you've used the ellipses 3 times already. Make sure that's not a crutch for pausing.


      QUERY - I think you have a lot in here, which isn't a good or a bad thing, just an observation.

      In the third paragraph I'm also confused if these teens are real or not. I think they are based on the second paragraph, but saying "inhabited his nightmares" makes me confused--are they real, are they real and out of his dreams now, only in his dreams? ETC. It confuses me. Also, this is the first time I learn about Skyeler having a boyfriend. It feels a little thrown in there. I understand, for pacing, you're trying to keep us very focused on the action and the adventure of the story, but grounding us and letting us know more about Skyeler would help a lot in giving us some reality.

      Also, why is Paris the focal point? I understand it, but more so "why are these 4 American (are they all Americans--or at least live in America) teens responsible for saving Paris? How did they GET there? I need more clarification in this query because without it, it feels a little like "and then this...and then that" without much information to help me. As said above, i have more questions than answers--which is a problem. It's teetering just a bit into chosen one(s) territory, and I don't think you want that, right?

      TEXT - The voice is strong here and I really like that about the text. I feel like you captured the voice of a teen who doesn't want to go somewhere and is annoyed with life, really well. I'm still a little confused, and feels a little Deus Ex Machina like, why he has a driver, and also that his mother is dead. Again, I'd be careful of using British slang if it's not consistent. The use of 'mum' is good, and 'bloody' and 'git', I just want to make sure it's consistent.

      I hope, and I'm guessing cuz it's the only 250 words, you'll explain why his mother is dead.

      JUDGING - I like both entries a lot. I think PARIS has more voice in the text but FICTIONAL has a stronger query off the bat. Knowing how agents read (or at least some of them)...




      I like the idea of a story where feelings are non-existent, but I would clarify whether you mean ALL feelings or just romantic feelings etc. I was little confused why Chara would care if she lived or died, if she truly had no feelings at all. I would expect her to be, well, apathetic about it either way. Is this a feeling breakthrough for Chara? What ramifications will this have on Apatheia?
      I’d also like more information on what about Reed’s plan is outside of her comfort zone. You haven’t set us up to know this. (For instance, if it requires her to give a public speech and her biggest fear is public speaking, we should know this in the query.) How are all her important relationships in jeopardy? Isn’t Julia helping her with this? Do you mean her mother? I would be more specific here.


      I was a little confused about what’s going on here. Rereading, I’m assuming she’s having a panic attack about giving a speech, but there’s not enough set up here, especially since this was not mentioned in the query. If she is worried about the speech to the point of having a panic attack, wouldn’t her closest friend already know this was an issue for her? Wouldn’t Reed herself be aware that it was a trigger for her? And if this has never happened to her before, I would expect her to be a lot more freaked out about it. Julia was also remarkably calm about her friend thinking she is having a heart attack!

      I loved the imagery of feeling like her heart is going to burst out and flop on the floor like a dying fish… But I need more information to truly be invested and worried for her.



      Great opening line, it definitely hooks the reader right away and has me wondering what he’s been through that would cause memory loss and nightmares.
      Good descriptions of the group, and the reveal that they have elemental powers, but then you go right into them wanting to know what connects them. This makes sense, but wouldn’t they also be extremely concerned about discovering the origin of the powers they suddenly find themselves with. I’m assuming that is also what you meant by “what connects them” but I would clarify that in the query.

      If Skyeler’s boyfriend is a driving force here, I would like to have him mentioned earlier in the query.

      I like the closing line, but one thing I really want to know is WHY PARIS? You definitely need to give us more info about the setting in the query, otherwise it seems totally random!


      “That’s what needs to shine...” I really like the sentiment here, but this line reads awkward to me. Try something more like “that’s what should have been written…”
      With such great descriptions happening here, I’d rather SEE/FEEL that he is tired, rather than having him simply say “I am tired.” It felt like phoning it in.
      I feel like the character’s voice really hits its stride in the next paragraph, and then it carries throughout, so I would try to weave that in more in your opening lines.
      “Forgotten parents” (plural) threw me because he says his mother is dead. Is he referring to his father and a stepparent?

      Something to keep in mind that driving in a car/moving to a new town is a very common trope in YA. I think your voice carries it enough that it wasn’t a total deal breaker, but do be sure you’re starting in the right spot.

      Victory to: The Bones of Paris!

    3. Professor McGonagallJune 3, 2017 at 8:10 PM

      FEELING FICTIONAL: A fun premise! QUERY: I feel a little like the query is like Apatheia – kind of lacking in feeling. The conflict and characters are there, but it feels like a recitation of what happens in the story rather than a growth of the plot and characters. Does that make sense? How could you get Reed’s feelings into the query rather than list the plot elements? FIRST 250: This is enjoyable and I like Reed’s voice. Great job! I think you need a comma after “Julia” in the first sentence of the 2nd paragraph.. Also, you have two sentences that start with “Then.” Can you change one of them? And in the 3rd paragraph you might want to say “Reed’s sleek black bangs” because for a second I thought Julia’s bangs were getting wet! ☺ Great job and good luck!

      WE KINDA DESTROYED PARIS. Interesting premise and smooth writing! QUERY: I like the first sentence a lot! Gives a great window into Skyeler’s mind and voice. The 2nd paragraph is a little confusing. I think it would help if you used “Keil is” and “Nicky is” rather than Keil’s and Nicky’s. Then, I’m not sure who “Her” is in “Her cousin.” Is that Nicky? My first thought was that Nicky was a guy so I couldn’t figure out who was Rachel’s cousin. Then the elemental powers were a huge surprise. Is there a way to hint at that earlier? In the 3rd paragraph I’m a little confused as to the kidnapping. Does Skyeler know that it is connected to his powers? This is unclear. FIRST 250: These are very strong. I enjoyed them a lot. Just a couple nitpicks. In the 5th paragraph I think again it would be clearer to spell out “Driver is” rather than Driver’s.” Then in the 7th paragraph I think it would be clearer to say “I put the windows back up” rather than just “them.” Make sense? Then, I’m assuming that “Best,
      Mr. Dakota Shain Byrd” was a mistake? Otherwise, what was that? Great stuff, and good luck!

      Congrats to both on getting into QK! Best wishes to both of you. Because of the feeling of connection to the character,


    4. Lumpy Space AuthorJune 4, 2017 at 1:47 PM

      You don’t need “things do not go well” – you’re telling right before you show
      Great writing :) I really identify with this character. She's spunky and cute in a realistic high-strung way. I like it.

      This is a great, dramatic query. My only issue is with "ancient and powerful force"...that's slightly cliché, though it's still an evocative image. If you can be slightly more specific - why your ancient and powerful force is different/unsettling/whatever, the query would pack more punch.

      His nasal singing is enough to make me wish my forgotten parents [I am not quite able to make sense of forgotten parents - how are they forgotten?]

      So, this book starts out with two YA clichés – moving to a new town, and a recently-dead parent. But I was definitely hooked by the fact that a court official has to drive him to his new house. That, along with the beautiful writing, would keep me reading.

      This is a tough call, y'all. We have such world-class entries this year, all the way around. And this matchup is a little unfair, because the entries are so different in tone, so you end up with a subjective imbalance. On one day, I'd want to read the lighter-hearted one; on another, the darker-sounding one.

      In the end, though, I'm just slightly more intrigued by one entry, for a couple of reasons. So, VICTORY TO PARIS.



      1st 250:


      Query: I feel that you need to insert more voice here. The voice in your excerpt is lovely and the query is missing out from this. Adding that in would add the extra oomph.

      1st 250: Loved the excerpt. You opened in the right place and put us in where the MC's head is.

      This was a tough one. I loved the excerpt for #LETCHARALIVE but the concept and the excerpt for BONES OF PARIS won me over.


    6. Apologies is advance for the short-ish comments--running out of time to judge!

      FEELING FICTIONAL: As a fangirl I like the concept, but I also worry that "true fan meets fictional character" is kind of an infamous trope (Google Becky Meadows...), and I can't really tell from this query if you've subverted the trope to make it new and... non-Mary-Sue-ish? If so, that's definitely something you should include.

      I think the first paragraph of the query is great, it sets up stakes right away... but then different stakes are introduced and I'm not quite sure what the connection is between going to college and saving Chara?

      The first 250 are interesting, but why is Reed panicking? Is she stressed about studying or something else?

      I think the query is pretty much perfect as is. The language is sharp, and it gives me the impression of an exciting, fast-paced book. I might also like to see exactly what the significance of Paris is, especially since it's there in the title.

      The voice in the opening is strong, and the setttis well-established early on. I'm a little confused as to how a court-appointed official in the US has authority over a citizen of Bermuda, but that doesn't need to be explained on the very first page... I'm just curious about these things and would love to see it explained eventually.

      Two YAs with strong hooks! Tough choice but...


    7. Title: #letcharalive
      Entry Nickname: Feeling Fictional

      Query feedback:
      Neat concept! I think you don’t need the first part (that her mom’s dream and her dream are different). Get right to the meat of what is happening RIGHT NOW in the story, which seems to be a book character jumping out of a book! That’s the cool stuff, the inciting incident, the “delighter” of the book. The sooner you get there in the query, the sooner an agent will perk up! (if you just start with paragraph 2, you will be great!)

      “Outside her comfort zone that will risk public humiliation” sounds exciting, but is still vague. Can we get some specifics? Also “things do not go well” -- get specific!

      I get that the last sentence ties your MC to the fictional MC, and that’s why you need paragraph 1, but I think there may be a way to keep that last sentence (because I like it!) while centering more on the meat of the idea.

      Great work here, either way!

      First 250 Feedback:
      I didn’t feel grounded enough in what was happening and where quickly enough. Is there a way to be more explicit about the fact that she is seemingly practicing a speech in her bedroom? (here are some questions you can ask yourself, that might help you to trigger what will make it more clear for the reader: What speech? Why is she practicing? Has she always freaked out when she tries to give speeches? What is particularly scary about the speech -- the content? Imagining saying it in front of a group? The fact that it is for a competition?)

      Without this, there aren’t any stakes in this opener for me, aside from her not being able to breathe properly--but she doesn’t seem to be in actual medical danger. Is she? If so, that could be stronger. (does she have a medical condition?)

      You did a really good job describing the consequences (her not being able to breathe) and also showing her friend being a super sweet friend… but if we don’t really understand what is happening, it is harder to empathize. Once that is cleared up, it is clear you are a fantastic writer with wonderful description and the ability to show character relationships quickly and easily. (Seriously great job establishing that)


      Entry Nickname: We Kinda Destroyed Paris

      Query Feedback
      I like this concept! Also sounds like an intriguing cast. I think that draws me in A LOT. the combo of the 2 is super duper.

      “Draws the attention” can get scarier / more threatening, don’t you think? Can you build that up?

      “Kidnapped” -- again, with what threat? Turn yourself in or your boyfriend dies? What is the ransom / risk ?

      “Amid the search for answers” -- again, be more specific here and show the danger

      You are super close. Just tighten / enhance that last paragraph.

      First 250 feedback:
      Very neat, moody start.

      Can you tie the “reeks of disaster” in with the cigarette smoke paragraph? The 17th birthday line might be a good ending place, so you could swap those 2 lines lower. I was confused because of “forgotten parents” and then we find out his mother is dead. Is parents referring to his father being remarried? Also “forgotten” confused me a bit. Does he have amnesia literally? If so, just really emphasize that some other way “none of this looks familiar” or “another thing I forgot” or something like that.

      “Eeking down” -- not sure this is right. I think it is “ekeing out” and not sure it works properly in this context

      I think you have something really special here! Def draws you in to the stmospheric setting :)

      Tough call, but…

      Victory to We Kinda Destroyed Paris!!

      Ooh, this sounds like so much dark fun!
      Query: I love the action and pacing of this query – it gives me the feeling that the book with be a fun ride. However I have a few questions. First, I’m unclear what you mean by this: “But before they can figure out why, their elemental powers emerge—an advent the four barely survive.” I’m guessing it’s sort of a magic that appears at a certain age, but I wanted more details/specifics. What are the powers? Why do they barely survive? Another question - does the boyfriend go with them to Paris (so there’s five teens traveling? Or do they meet on the journey?) I’d use his name and introduce him earlier maybe, especially if saving the boyfriend’s life is one of the main goals of the story. Finally, you mention getting his memories back in the first sentence, but I don’t see exactly how that ties into the story. Maybe that part is unnecessary for the query?

      250: I love the distinctness of Skyelar’s voice and the overall tone of the descriptive bits. A few small questions/thoughts: If I hadn’t read the query, I would have been confused by “forgotten parents” – it would take me out of the moment. I like that you tuck clues about his past into the action, but this maybe needs more explanation? Also, why is this town his personal hell? Has he been there before (and remembers it?) Or is it all new and just seems awful? Finally, maybe instead of saying “I’m tired” you could describe how he feels e.g. “my head was fuzzy from the sleepless night” or “I could barely keep my eyes open” (but come up with something better and more like the rest of the great prose in your writing.)

      I love the idea of fictional characters interacting with readers – especially the idea of the “one true reader”!
      Query: I’m not sure you should start the query, or spend so much time on, Reed’s need to be president or her mother’s dreams, since it doesn’t seem to be the main conflict for Reed (more of an obstacle in achieving her goal of saving Chara’s life.) I’d get right to the good stuff – the stuff that makes your story truly unique. I would also suggest that you flesh out this idea a bit: “It’s a plan outside her comfort zone that will risk public humiliation on a grand scale and put all her important relationships in jeopardy.” It feels vague and unspecific – I want to know a bit more about how the relationships are in jeopardy. What are the consequences of failure? Etc. Finally, I’d revise or cut the last sentence – I’ve heard lots of agents say they don’t want to be told what lesson the MC or a reader will learn. It’s might turn them off. I’d instead end with a cliffhanger and the stakes/consequences, so we’re left wanting to know what happens.

      250: First of all, this is an awesome sentence: “Maybe she would stop imagining her heart was going to break through its cage of bone and flesh and throw itself onto the floor, flopping around like a dying fish.” Fabulous imagery! I like the idea of her having a panic attack giving a speech, but I felt a little let down when I found out she was in her room with her friend and not on a stage or something more high stakes. It seems over dramatic, but maybe that’s Reed’s personality. Also, I’d reduce the number of ellipses – they slowed me down and I’m not sure you need them all to drive home the idea that she’s out of breath/freaking out.

      SO hard to decide. Victory to WE KINDA DESTROYED PARIS 


    This sounds like an interesting concept, but I agree that it also seems like one that is done a lot, so I'd like to hear more about what makes yours stand out. The "one true reader" thing interests me, I'd like to hear more about that in the query because that's probably the biggest thing that makes your book different than others of this genre. Just a small side note, I'd take out the phrase "things do not go well," and just go right into the fact that authors don't like to be told what to write. I'd also maybe like to hear a bit more about her deciding her own future. It sounds like that's probably the main internal struggle she's going to face, so just a little more detail there would be nice.

    I would really like to hear more about why this book world where feelings don't exist appeals to her so much. It sounds like there's some underlying issue there - does it have to do with her feelings about her mother pushing her, are romantic feelings involved, etc.

    First 250 pages: Solid writing. You do a really nice job of helping the reader to understand Reed in a very seamless way. I also agree about wanting more description of the setting. I assume they're in her bedroom, but just a little bit more might help here. Very nice!


    I agree that you have a lot of information crammed into your query, which is expected, but it almost made me have to go back a reread a little to make sure I caught everything. I think a tiny bit of clarification in the query on why they're in Paris might be able to clear up the confusion about why that city. I also think it might help to have a little bit of information in the query that connects to the first 250 words. You've got a lot of stuff there that stands out like "court-determined," and "legal technicality," but that seems kind of out of left field because nothing is mentioned in the query about a custody battle or the death of a parent.

    First 250 words: Nice voice. I agree that you should definitely make sure the heavy use of the British slang keeps up throughout the book if you're using so much of it in the query and the first pages. I also agree with the "moving to a new town" thing being an overused trope (at least from what I've heard), so you might consider starting the story at a different point.

    Overall, both very nicely written entries with great concepts. Good luck!

    My immediate impression is that this query reminds me of Rainbow Rowell's FANGIRL, which I loved because it had so much character depth! As I read the query, it sounds like it's kinda FANGIRL-y but so much more! Super interesting concept, and even though portals might be a hard sell, the idea of jumping into a book might be a lot of readers' hearts' desire! The query, though, does read like a synopsis, since it seems to give away the ending and seems to touch on all/most plot points. Also, I feel the first paragraph is almost like a totally different book than the following paragraphs, as it doesn't tie in to the stakes of the portal fantasy part. Consider tying in the first paragraph more clearly to the fantasy part. Also, in a query, I'd leave off anything that discusses theme or what you as the writer expect the reader to learn in the end. And just one thing on your 250 (which I thought was a strong section on character!): in your first paragraph, just to ground the reader right away, I suggest saying something short and simple about where Reed is at that moment, like "...on her bed" or "...in her bedroom." Or, just add a sentence at the end of the paragraph, something like, "Maybe she would actually survive this speech tomorrow." Or something. Because I was initially confused as to whether the big speech was happening at that moment.

    I think your query has a lot of information packed in, and, to me, it was confusing simply because there was so much story to take in at once. You have a bunch of characters to reveal, which is fine (and you do a great job of succinctly describing each one!), but it does kind-of take away from the focus of your protagonist. Also, the line "and it turns out Skyelar isn't the only one having nightmares" confused me; does that mean the 3 teens in his dreams are having nightmares, too, while they're a part of his nightmare? Also, I'm confused as to what Paris/Georgia/Bermuda represent as far as those particular choices -- and it was just another factor I found hard to follow in the query. As far as your 250, I enjoyed your vivid language that created voice right away!, which shows me you are capable of creative word choice - so I suggest finding another way to say, "I squint against the harsh light," which read as a cliche to me.

  4. #letcharalive

    Your query does a good job of setting up the story. I agree with other commenters in that Julia does not feel crucial to the story, so maybe leave her out of the query. I don’t think the last sentence of the query works. You typically need to show a decision that the protagonist faces and the clear stakes of that decision. Your sentence would work better as a tagline, not the closing of the query.

    In your first 250, I liked the voice overall, but I was a little disappointed that Reed was having such a severe reaction while just in her bedroom with her friend Julia. I had initially assumed she was on stage giving her speech to the entire school. It makes me think that Reed is melodramatic, which isn’t a trait I want to read about. The writing is good, just watch the ellipses. Maybe try using beats instead.

    The Bones of Paris

    In your query, I was confused by nightmares and the three teens that haunted them. If they end up on the same team, what were the nightmares about? Were these teens bad in his dreams? Also, I don’t feel like including the fact that they barely survived getting their powers propels the query forward, it just seems like an interesting detail best left for the actual story.

    The stakes are clearly shown with his boyfriend’s life in peril, but at the same time, I was surprised he even had one, since it was the first time the boyfriend was mentioned. Maybe include him when you are introducing Skyeler and what he wants.

    I loved the voice in your first 250. The sentence about his forgotten parents and headphones was a little unclear to me. What do you mean by forgotten parents? It was especially confusing since one of them is dead and the other he is going to live with. Other than the parent details, the rest was well written.

  5. Feeling Fictional

    Q: I really enjoyed your query! I feel like the student body set-up could be trimmed so it’s not misleading about the story we’re really chasing, and I would’ve loved to have more details about the “public humiliation on a grand scale.” But otherwise, great set up, LOVE the quest to save a fictional character.

    First 250: Really enjoyed the voice, but I would’ve liked to know more about what Reed was panicking over (I can kinda get it from the query, but would’ve liked it on the page as well.) Overall, I feel like I didn’t get far enough in the first 250, because I’d love to read more!

    We Kinda Destroyed Paris

    Q: Okay, I love your nickname. So much. Same with your query - From the characters, the setup, the stakes, amazing job overall. Love the stakes with the kidnapped boyfriend, and would absolutely read in a heartbeat.

    First 250: Really enjoyed the voice, although I felt like I got lost in some of the phrasing and descriptions. I’m also wary of a lot of complaining in openings, as starting with a “my life is over” beat can create difficulty with positive momentum, but that’s entirely subjective.

    Great job to both entries!

  6. #letcharalive

    Query: This query flows really well. I got a sense of Reed’s character almost immediately.
    Though, it starts to feel a little long partway through the second paragraph. If you could summarize the stakes from the third paragraph, I think the query would be the perfect length.

    First 250:
    In the second paragraph, it felt forced to have ellipses in both quotes—I don’t know if they’re needed in the “Can 17 year olds have heart attacks?”.

    Otherwise, I really loved this opening. I’m immediately drawn into Reed’s world and that’s all I need from the first page ☺

    The Bones of Paris:

    First, I love this title.

    Query: This was great, but my one confusion is the reference to Skeyler’s memories… this isn’t mentioned again in the query, so maybe leave it out?

    First 250:
    The first sentence in italics works for me, but the other two feel a bit much—could just be included in previous paragraphs without the italics. I think the reader would still understand the tone.

    Great description of Douglasville, Georgia, and the voice is really strong in this opening.

    The sign-off caught me off guard. Is all of the book written like letters? If so, make it clearer by having the beginning be something like Dear So and So or give an address or something to tell the reader it’s a letter.

  7. FEELING FICTIONAL: Great voice in the query, and I love the idea of “one true reader.” I lose you a little in the last paragraph of the query. The stakes don’t feel specific enough. Perhaps because the query reads like Reed is just doing what a fictional character says to do, but I don’t understand WHY that’s important. Is there some bigger reason why Chara needs to live? Maybe try adding that to the query!
    First 250 – I’m just confused why Reed would hyperventilate while alone with her best friend. I know you’ve got a better moment in your first scene to kick off the story!
    Good luck!

    PARIS: Very intrigued by the query. I can tell you have a great ensemble of characters here. Yes, I am unclear about some things, but I’m willing to find out when I read more.
    The first 250 – This opening didn’t live up to the query for me. The first thing you tell us about Skyeler in the query is missing memories and nightmares, so this ordinary drive to a new town doesn’t spark for me. It is stated the Skyeler waits to puzzle his life back together, but is there a way to show that in the opening scene? Great voice though!
    Good luck!

  8. Feeling Fictional: Query was very good. The premise is interesting and the stakes were clearly defined. I’m not sure what ‘one true reader’ is, does that mean she’s the chosen one? First 250: Liked the voice here, but at times it sounded a little younger than seventeen. I’m not sure we need to know, yet, what kind of shoes she wears. Good description of a panic attack. It would be even better if you kept to shorter sentences, especially at the beginning, to increase tension. Good job overall.

    We Kinda Destroyed Paris: Lots of characters in the query. I know they are important to the book, though, but I wonder if you can combine them to one sentence. I also wish I knew why his memories were gone. And the boyfriend came out of nowhere. A mention of him earlier in the query before he was kidnapped would alleviate some confusion. First 250: Ooh, I like Skyler. Great voice. I felt the tension about moving to place where he knows he’s be an outsider. Great description of setting with the overcast clouds and the sticky humidity. Well done.

  9. #letcharalive

    I love this concept!!

    I think I’m going to echo what some of the others have said: Because this is a popular concept/premise, you’re going to have to find a way to show the agent (and the reader) what the hook is – what makes it unique, or what that thing is that would make it stand apart from the other portal fantasies that are already out there.

    Fandom culture is really popular right now (I see agents tweeting #MSWL’s about it constantly), so I really thing the fandom aspect of it is what you need to capitalize on. There’s a lot of space in your query given over to who Reed’s parents want her to be, and their expectations, which is all valid but it’s also a family dynamic you see in a high number of contemporary YA. Which is fine, because it’s such a common reflection of real life, but since the goal of your query is to show the agent what’s unique about your story, I might touch on that briefly and then spend more time on the conflict/hook.

    I love what you were doing here – the fact that Reed’s friend oscillated between ‘uh I’m getting your mom’, and caring for her herself, felt very real to me. I will say that the narrative didn’t carry the same level of emotion that Reed was experiencing – it’s one thing to describe a panic attack, but it’s another to show that level of chaotic thinking and fear in the narration too. Mostly it’s an issue of sentence structure – lots of descriptive language, and a lot of commas, give the sentence-level writing a sense of peace or calm.


    Choppy sentences. Sweaty palms, and a heart threatening to crash through its cage of flesh and bone.

    “Can—teenagers—” Reed paused to swallow, a fool’s errand, “—have heart attacks?”

    The differences are purely structural, but it informs the reader in a way that merely descriptive language doesn’t.

    We Kinda Destroyed Paris:
    I agree with some of the others – the second paragraph needs some kind of indication that these characters are real, and they’re people he’s meeting in real life. Since I’ve read a lot of this story, I know that they appeared in Skyeler’s dreams first. But if I’m pretending like I’m reading for the first time, it wouldn’t be immediately clear to me that they aren’t figments of Skyeler’s imagination.

    This has grown so much from the last time I read it!!! It looks so good!
    My only nitpicky thing is that the ‘forgotten parents’ line is kind of confusing. I think it might work better to leave that off, and then show Skyeler attempting to interact with people he doesn’t remember (and knows he should).

    Great work, both of you!!!

  10. Feeling Fictional: In the query, the part about being outside her comfort zone didn’t work well for me. It’s pretty vague, and when you go on to talk about public humiliation that seems redundant. I know you don’t want to give it all away, but could you start with the regrouping and explain what she will need to do? In the first 250, the part with slid off her Converse knock-offs doesn’t flow for me. Could you just call them pink canvas no-names?

    Paris: The three kids Skyeler meets sound amazing. Teenagers already connected to genetics, hacking, and show biz. By comparison, the protag is just an expat. Does he have any awesome part of his life? When you say they have elemental powers, I imagined that one was air, one water, etc. Don’t know if that’s it. Can you say what power Skyeler gets? In the first 250, I didn’t understand the sentence that begins Then again. That’s usually meaning that you are changing your mind. But Skyeler seems to be on the same idea, that Douglasville is Hell. And why is it green and grey? Trees and concrete? If it’s overcast, how is the light harsh? And waits to be put back together.

    Good luck to you both.

  11. Feeling Fictional: This is a cute, fun, thrilling premise. I like how the lesson Reed learns from helping Chara translates into her own character growth. Stakes for Chara are clearly set up in a way that the reader cares about what happens in the query. Is there a way for you to do the same for Reed's stakes. Right now, the query puts all the attention on Chara's conflict, shifting the limelight and empathy to her.
    Some of that needs to be thrown Reed's way. I like that the first 250 starts with a scene between BFFs. I'm assuming Reed's panic attack has to do with all the pressure her mom places on her. If so, the scene does a good job introducing Reed's conflict immediately and making us connect with her,

    Paris: The query is a bit disjointed. The last paragraph about Skyeler needing to save his boyfriend feels like it is thrown in out of nowhere. Who is the boyfriend? Why is he important? For the first 250: I feel like a lot of YA stories start with the protagonist just getting off a plane and arriving somewhere. The fact that he's arriving at his dad's house because his mom has died makes it read doubly a bit cliched. Is there a way you can make your opening 250 stand apart from the crowd?

    My vote: Feeling Fictional