Jun 2, 2017

QK Round 1: Half-Orphan's Handbook vs Quaker Rain Forest

Title: Dead Parents Camp
Entry Nickname: The Half-Orphan's Handbook
Word count: 62K
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary


After her father’s suicide, Lila Cunningham writes a two-rule handbook to protect herself from experiencing any more pain. One: Love no one. Two: Avoid liars. Easy solution: barricade herself from all relationships – romantic, friendly, or otherwise. But then Mom forgets Lila’s sixteenth birthday and compensates for it by sending her and her brother Sammy to Camp Bonaventure, a former 9/11 grief camp reimagined for today’s kids who have lost parents. In other words, a place where self-isolation equals impossible.

Despite her reluctance, Lila agrees to stay for one week to alleviate a fraction of Mom’s anguish. Right away, well-meaning bunkmates haze Lila while she’s in the shower by swapping her towel with a camp-legacy leotard. Soaking wet and fuming with embarrassment, Lila meets Noah Kitteridge, the gorgeous “other new kid” at camp who proffers an immediate appreciation for Lila’s Workout Barbie garb.  And even though Lila’s sworn off these kinds of things, at the end of the week, she kisses Noah. Angry with herself for threatening her handbook’s number-one rule, Lila stalks away – only to come upon her little brother surrounded by a throng of campers. Lila mistakenly believes Sammy is being threatened, so she punches one of them. And gets caught. The camp director’s punishment comes in the form of a choice: go home and lose cash-strapped Mom’s deposit, or stay for all eight weeks and actually try to heal.

Resigned, Lila chooses the latter, forging real friendships with her bunkmates, who understand her grief more than most others can. Someplace between swimming and s’mores, Lila ditches the handbook by falling for Noah. For the first time since her dad died, Lila’s emotional baggage feels lighter. But then the morning after the most romantic night ever, Noah vanishes. Frantic, Lila searches for him – but what she finds destroys her. Noah’s not half-orphaned. His brother was a school shooter, and Noah’s attending the trial. These facts make Noah a liar. Now, Lila must decide between the lesser of two evils: forgiving a liar, or detaching from everyone all over again.

First 250:

My mother would have spent less money on my sixteenth birthday present if she had remembered the occasion in the first place. It wasn’t her fault, though. My birthday came and went on June 1st, when the air was hot and green-smelling, the sun was strong, and my father had been dead exactly one month.

Since Dad chose to check out of Hotel Life on a permanent basis, Mom had been preoccupied with the whole widowhood thing. So she flipped over her calendar page one day late. And cried.

Because she missed my birthday, that “mom guilt” she was always writing about for online magazines compelled her to call my school counselor Dr. Barbash (whom my entire family referred to as Call-Me-Connie). That was how I came home from school on June 2nd, dumped my bag on the counter, and discovered Call-Me-Connie blabbed to my mother about Camp Bonaventure.

And — with a pause for emphasis — my mother was going to spring for it for my belated birthday present.

“I’m not going,” I said, opening the kitchen cabinet.

The hope on her face fizzled. “Call-Me-Connie says it’s amazing, Lila.”

My familiar friend, Panic, stomped into my chest, settling her curvaceous hips into my sternum. “She also says Madonna is talentless. Plus, Call-Me-Connie has sweaty palms.” My mother would consider the Madonna statement blasphemy, and sweaty palms skeeve her out.

“Call-Me-Connie’s lack of musical taste — and unfortunate sweating malady — hardly affect her ability to judge what might help you.”

“This won’t.”


Title: Pura Vida
Entry Nickname: Quaker Rain Forest
Word count: 74K
Genre: YA Contemporary


Seventeen-year-old Samantha Waterman has just lost her father, the person in life she adored more than any other. Now her therapist Mom is dragging her and her brother across the continent to spend the summer in Costa Rica, where her father grew up, to help her “move on.”  Even worse, they’re living in a Quaker community in the rainforest with no telephones, no hot water, and no Internet. Sammy’s not sure about electricity but it’s not looking good.

At first Sammy doesn’t like Costa Rica. The ice-cold showers are way too refreshing and the nightly ritual of turning shoes upside-down to avoid scorpion infestation is downright alarming. But as she makes friends with a quirky pregnant twenty-something who wants to teach Samantha perfect Spanish, falls in love with a guy who lights up even the darkest corners of the rainforest, and discovers a secret library where she unearths her father’s old journals, she begins to feel like life might be worth living.

Despite her father’s death, maybe Sammy can find her own inner light in Costa Rica’s tangled rainforest.
First 250:

June 23

Hi Dad,

Bad news -- I’m sure you already know. (Since you’re dead, I assume you got the
memo.) Our flight was delayed. Mechanical reasons, which isn’t as reassuring as the airline thinks it is. Mom, Nathan, and I are stuck at the Farrier Hotel in Boston. It had the only room we could find on short notice but it does come with a Free Continental Breakfast. Hello, Corn Flakes and miniature glasses of orange juice.

The rooms are decorated with maroon Oriental style rugs and dark furniture. The mattresses are lumpy (just like Grandma’s sofa bed – remember that?) with quilted brown bedspreads. Not pretty brown. The kind of brown you’d find at the bottom of a dirty puddle.
But at least we have electricity.
I’ll be honest. I’m sure Costa Rica is a very cool place but I’m dreading this summer. It’s supposed to be a nature lover’s paradise (ziplines, toucans, rainbows!). Nathan will love it. I just wish I could have chosen whether or not I actually had to go. Although, I know you loved it there, which makes it a little more bearable...
Unfortunately, tomorrow’s regularly scheduled tour of the mountain village we’re moving to will clearly not take place, given our unfortunate delay. We’re jumping in all or nothing, right?
So, you want the truth?

Here it is in its raw glory: I don’t know what I’m doing with this journaling thing. I haven’t written in one since I was in sixth grade. Remember that diary Mom bought me?


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

    1. The Half-Orphan's Handbook:
      Comment that has nothing to do with my scoring: I had to double-check to make sure the title wasn't actually the nickname or vice versa. Strongly consider using your nickname as the title!

      So, the query: I honestly loved it. My only real concern is whether Lila's aversion to forgiving liars is going to be addressed in a way that makes it understandable to the reader. Is there a particular reason liars are especially awful to her? If so, maybe consider including that? But even without it, this query works for me.

      The opening blows me away as well... the wry humor inserted into what is, by all accounts, a downer of a scene really works here, and I'd be excited to read on!

      Quaker Rain Forest:
      From the very first sentence, I'm concerned about word choice. "the person in life she adored more than any other" could be shortened to "the person she adored most"? Did Samantha's father actually grow up in the Quaker community? If not, why is her family going there? Quakers and Costa Rica don't exactly go hand-in-hand for me (I have zero Quaker or Costa Rican heritage), so you might need to explain WHY her family is going to this electricity-less community specifically?

      The second paragraph is much better! Scorpion infection and older friends... I'm intrigued!

      But the query doesn't quite have that "Now, CHARACTER must do X or else Y!" vibe that helps to set up stakes in the last paragraph. What is Samantha's goal? Why might she not achieve it? If she doesn't achieve it, what consequences await?

      The first page is interesting! An epistolary format is definitely a unique approach. Is the whole book going to be like this, told as journal entries to her dad? It feels like a bit of a slow start, though. Is there a reason the story starts with the delay, and not with her arrival?

      One entry here really stuck out in terms of voice, stakes, and character.

      Victory to The Half-Orphan's Handbook!


      QUERY - This query, to start, is a little on the long end. I'd try and cut it back to less than 300 words if possible. This doesn't even include your bio + why you're querying the agent, which puts you close to 400 words. That's a lot.

      I love the first paragraph, but I think it can be condensed? I think the 350 words comes from just being a bit too wordy, and less words would help. The "But then Mom" sentence is a lot of words and kinda long.

      Paragraph 2 is where I see the biggest 'problem'. You're introducing a lot of names, and things that we don't need for a query. It reads more like a synopsis. the good news? Now you have one! you should cut this paragraph in half and use it to tell us A) more about the camp and B) more about Lila's feelings, time, etc. Use it as a bridge paragraph between paragraph 1 (which introduces us) and 3 (which gives us the stakes).

      I also want paragraph 3 to give me more of the feel of this book. This book is about liars, letting go, feelings, and moving on...along with finding out its okay to be hurt, and to admit that, yes? But you have to open up again. That's what you want for the reader to take away, I feel. Lila's stakes and choices focuses on being able to forgive and move on or not. Forgo and forget about spending so much time explaining the camp and the people, but show us why we should care about Noah and why we should care about Llia. Him leaving should hurt as much as it hurts her. Make us want to either be like "Forgive the boy, Lila!" or "leave him out to rot!". Polarized thoughts but make us feel.

      TEXT - I'm a fan of the voice here, but some awkward sentences threw me off. "Hotel Life" for example is a good way of describing Death, especially as a moody teen, but its a little bit of a tongue heavy sentence. Also, Panic as a friend was another good sentence, but a little twisty. If you're going to use a moody teen, which is fine, I'd make sure you don't confuse the reader--some sentences came off as being more comedic in feeling, and some were far less funny and more serious. The balance can be done well, but I'd make sure you don't mess that balance up.


      QUERY - This is a good query! I think the second paragraph could use a little more beefing up. The boy she falls in love with feels kinda thrown in there? I'd like to maybe know a little bit more, and you have some character count/space for it.

      I'd also like stronger stakes "maybe she can move on" feels like lackluster stakes. What happens if she doesn't ? currently, it seems that Samantha is getting a lot out of this! Costa Rica (even if she isn't keen on it), Spanish and a boy. And learning about her father. This feels all up-hill. Something bad happens, yes? Something happens to challenge her? I'd like to know what that is and understand that "okay, Sam will grow in this novel, not just grow cuz good things keep happening to her".

      TEXT - I dunno if its conveyed in your query, but you need to say this novel is written with journals. That was a JARRING shift, even if its just part of the narrative. If the narrative is all journals, I would def reflect that in the text of your query + the closing paragraph about the book.

      I do feel like we learned a lot about Samantha here, so I'm happy with that. It's a good start!

      JUDGEMENT - Both these stories have great ideas, and deal with death in a unique way. I think both of these books will really help kids who lost parents learn how to move on. Overall, I think one was more polished than the other & that the voice was stronger. Plus, I had a little clearer idea of the story, so it got the win for me.

      Victory goes to QUAKER RAIN FOREST



      This query is solid, but it runs a bit long for me. I like the opening, but I’m not clear why avoiding liars makes spot 2 on the list. Did her father lie to her? What is the reasoning here for her being so adamant about liars?

      The second paragraph reads more like a synopsis to me than a query. I think you can leave out some of the details here and tighten it up quite a bit. The choice of punishment confuses me, camps are expensive and if her mom is cash-strapped, how is she paying for two months?
      The “Someplace between swimming and s’mores,” line was definitely one of my favorites, and I like the twist of him not being a “half orphan.” I think you do a good job setting up the stakes here, I would just like to see you tighten up the preceding paragraph.

      First 250:

      I enjoyed the voice here, and the opening really drew me in! I also love the little touches like how they call her “Call-me-Connie.” I don’t have much to add, except to say the sweaty palms thing did not work for me. It seemed unnecessary (and a little mean.) If you’re not attached to it, I would consider finding a different trait to point out instead. (I think the Madonna one worked well though!)


      I really enjoyed this query! Everything was clicking for me. I especially liked the details about her life (turning shoes upside down, not having the internet etc.)

      The only thing is, while healing after her father’s death is a compelling journey, I’m not seeing a lot of stakes presented in the query. What does she want to accomplish and what is standing in her way? What’s at risk here?

      It seems like it has the potential to be such a vibrant story and setting, I’d love to see that come through a bit more in your query.


      I was not expecting a journal entry! I would definitely mention that in the query, especially if that’s going to be consistent throughout the book.

      I did enjoy the voice here, but this is a somewhat slow start. It does a good job of setting up your mc’s feelings about the trip and everything going on BUT with a journal entry, it’s a lot easier to fall into the habit of telling us what happened, rather than showing us or letting us feel it. I did see some of that happening here, which left me feeling a little detached from the story.

      Victory to: Dead Parents Camp!

    4. Lumpy Space AuthorJune 4, 2017 at 2:47 PM

      This query is looooooong. I’d take graze over some of the details in the middle, and DEFINITELY take out the spoiler at the end – what she finds out about Noah’s brother. Just say she discovers that Noah has made her break her other rule.

      Great beginning. I’m getting a great sense of the characters here. I really like them. I like how much they care about each other, and the humor even in the midst of grief.

      I really want to be in this world…but I know first-hand exactly how many mosquitos, ticks, snakes, and giganto spiders keep those scorpions company, so reading about it would be better than being there again ��

      This is an interesting way to begin this, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to pull readers into the story. It feels a little tell-y, and there are a lot of details- they’re well-written details, but perhaps too many for the beginning of the novel. I’d experiment with other beginnings.

      GAH! I could go either way on this. I just feel like one is a little more ready than the other.


    5. Professor McGonagallJune 4, 2017 at 8:51 PM

      THE HALF-ORPHAN’S HANDBOOK: What a great entry, and I love the real title. I really like the premise of this book and enjoyed your writing very much. Congrats! QUERY: This is really very strong, with good conflict and good explanation. Just a few nitpicks: In the first paragraph the sentence “But then Mom forgets Lila’s birthday” seemed a little weird to me, as if “Mom” is her actual name. Not sure how to fix it, but for what it’s worth... The first sentence of the third paragraph strikes me as two separate things. She’s resigned. And then she forges friendships. What would you think of making this two sentences? FIRST 250: Really good stuff here. I especially like it that the air was green-smelling. ☺ Not a lot to suggest except that in the second to last sentence it should be “affects” rather than “affect.” Other than that, I love Lila’s voice, love the Call-Me-Connie, and everything else. A really strong entry! Can’t wait to read it.

      QUAKER RAIN FOREST: A good premise that is worthwhile and will speak to teens who have lost someone! Good stuff. QUERY: The information is all here, but it feels a little stilted, like it is more of a recitation of events that happen. I’m wondering if it’s because in the second paragraph you mention that she begins to feel like life might be worth living. Was that a question before? The first paragraph is about not wanting to move to Costa Rica, but nothing is said about feeling like life isn’t worth living. Which is the conflict? I think this needs to be ironed out. I found the second sentence confusing – I thought at first her mom was her therapist, or is her mom A therapist, or what, exactly? (and Mom should be lower case). FIRST 250: Not quite sure about starting with a letter to her dad, unless it is a conceit that happens throughout the whole book, or the book is all written as a journal. No way to tell here. It feels a bit like explanation of the book rather than diving into the actual story. I would rather read about what is actually happening to Sammy and her family than read about her telling her dead father about it. Does that make sense? Congrats on the entry, and best wishes for success!

      Good work by both entries! Because I feel like it is a bit more polished,


      Query: I think you’ve done a great job of setting up Lila’s situation, conflicts, and giving us a good sense of the great voice in your 250. I feel like this query is bit too long though and would suggest paring it down. I think a lot of what’s in the second paragraph is more useful in a synopsis – and unnecessary in a query, mostly because we already know that summer camp sucks :) and you don’t want agents to put it down halfway thru thinking it’s just another summer camp story. I say get to the juiciest part, where Noah “betrays” her a little quicker – it’s what makes your story really unique.

      250: I love the writing and the voice here so much! Very funny and snappy and authentic. “Call-me-Connie” is my favorite! I would maybe suggest starting with “I’m not going” and weaving the previous paragraphs into the story later on. While I really enjoyed the writing in those first paragraphs, I want to be in the action right away. Then you can give us backstory as you go. Something to consider.

      Query: I like how you’ve worked the voice of the 250 so well into the query – it really feels like I’m getting a sense of the tone of the book right away. I also enjoy the way you’ve set up the trials of jungle life, but I think there’s a bit too much of that in the query – you have two sentences about how uncomfortable it is and I think it might serve you to spend more time on what happens in the book. You really give us a clear sense of Sammy’s emotional challenges, but if I were an agent I might want to know a bit more about what specifically happens in the story. Maybe extrapolate a bit on the romance or the secret library (which is very unique – that’s what I’m most interested in!)

      250: I like the epistolary format; it really helps me get a good sense of who Sammy is right of the bat. I want there to be a little more action at the start though – as someone else suggested, maybe starting the story when she arrives? Also, I was a little confused by this first sentence “Bad news -- I’m sure you already know. (Since you’re dead, I assume you got the memo.)” Does she mean he got the memo about the delay? Or got the memo that he’s dead? But otherwise I don’t have any specific suggestions to the writing here. Good work!


    7. Title: Dead Parents Camp
      Entry Nickname: The Half-Orphan's Handbook

      Query Feedback
      Compelling! Lots of great stuff in here.

      I think the query is a little long. Can you tighten it up? Paragraph 2 especially. I don’t think we need the whole itenerary change thing and her punching someone? But maybe that helps deepen her character. Something abotu that paragraph slows things down. Her making the friends, and then her learning that Noah lied are the key elements we want to get to as quickly as possible. The stuff in the middle of those 2 points slows it down some.

      LOVE the twist about Noah. Wow.

      First 250 Feedbacck
      I really like this opening from the first paragraph! Funny, smart.

      “That was how” can just be taken out and start with “I came home from school”


      Title: Pura Vida
      Entry Nickname: Quaker Rain Forest

      Query Feedback
      This sounds delightful! I think you need to establish stakes though. What is Sammy trying to accomplish and What happens if Sammy doesn’t do x? And what is standing between her and doing x?

      First 250 Feedback
      Seriously, great voice! Is the entire book in journal format? If not, might be best to not start with the journal and start with action. If so, nevermind!

      I wanted more “truth” at the end. Like “I miss you” or something a bit more emotional… I think you can really pack a punch there. She has a great voice and I expected a bigger reveal

      Tough to decide. Both have compelling elements. However the stakes are more clearly outlined in Half-Orphan.

      VICTORY to Half-Orphan

  2. The Half-Orphan's Handbook

    Query - I like both your premise and your damaged MC. The query is too long, though. Try to shoot for around 300 words total. Right now you're at 340, which, with proper formatting, greeting, bio, closing, and contact info, won't fit on a single page. I think you can ditch all the bunkmate stuff and the make-a-choice-to-stay-after-hitting-someone stuff, and focus on Lilah and Noah. Dad dies > she's forced to go to camp > she meets Noah > she falls for him > she finds out he's a liar.

    1st 250 - Good voice. 'Since Dad chose to check out of Hotel Life on a permanent basis' feels flippant and makes me dislike her, but then question myself. Am I being judgy? Maybe this is how she deals with grief. Let me keep reading to find out! I'm open to going on a prolonged personal deep-dive with a damaged character (my on MC takes you on one), but not all readers will be. Just something to think about.

    Quaker Rain Forest

    Query - I like the first paragraph. I feel for the MC being dragged by her therapist mom somewhere because mom 'knows' what will help. 'life might be worth living' at the end of the second paragraph kind of comes out of nowhere. You don’t say anything up to that point to tell me Samantha is so deep in a depression she’s questioning living.

    1st 250 - Good. Love the voice, especially the side monologue in parenthesis. I do that a lot myself (well, my MCs do – oh look, I just did it). I have heard from some folks they find it tiring, though. Something to ask your beta readers about, if you haven’t already. Also, I’ve heard from several agents they find opening with a journal entry cliché. See what the judges say, overall.

    Both of these entries are strong. Good luck to each of you!


  3. I don't know how many times I'm going to write this but here I go again: I'm so glad I'm not a judge.

    I don't think they could have chosen a better match-up.

    Dead Parents Camp

    Your query is really long, though I had no problem reading it from beginning to end and I wasn't bored one second, I suggest you try to shorten it. It read more like a synopsis than a query. The details were fun, but I think you could cut some of them.

    Your first page has a really sarcastic kind of voice (I don't know if you intended that) and it was funny, especially considering the topic.
    Just one tweak: I only realized in the 3rd last paragraph that Call-me-Connie was a woman. Perhaps mention that sooner.

    Pura Vida

    No internet? Your main character has all my sympathy.

    It feels kind of odd to give you the exact opposite advice as your opponent, but *shrugs* why not?

    Your query is pretty tight and polished, but I wish you could elaborate more about her time in Costa Rica. I would suggest you cut out the twenty-something teaching her Spanish and focus more on the boy, or the diaries.

    I love your opening page. I have a weakness for journals and a book written in journal form(I'm hoping yours is) is just begging to be read.

  4. Half-orphan:
    Query: It’s a little long. Trimming it down some would help make it easier to read. As it is, it’s too much summary and too little query.

    250: The first three paragraphs feel like a summary before the story starts and not like the story. If you start with “I’m not going” and then after the “this won’t” you can add in a tiny bit of info about the camp at the end.

    Quaker Rain Forest:
    Query: Maybe a little low on stakes. And if she does find happiness in the rain forest, does it matter if it was just for the summer? Aside from missing out on the comforts of home, is there anything else she’ll be missing? Like Magenta, I’m a little curious about Quakers + Costa Rica (I know 1 Quaker so I don’t have a huge base of info there either).

    250: Is the whole MS written in journal form? I feel like this needs a little more oomph to get going. Maybe some emotions about what she’s leaving behind or how much she misses dad or something. I haven’t read an MS based in Costa Rica, so that could be fun!

  5. Dead Parents Camp

    Q: Really enjoyed this! Would definitely want to read with the summer camp setting + 16 Candles-esque inciting incident! I’d love to have had more information on what caused Lila to fall for Noah vs just throwing out the rulebook.

    First 250: Super fun! Loving the voice, although it comes off a little cold toward her father – but that is understandable to a point considering the suicide. Call-Me-Connie took me a second to figure out, but now that it’s clicking, I can’t stop laughing. Very well done!

    Pura Vida

    Q: Love your voice in this query! You set the scene beautifully, but I’m having a hard time determining where the main conflict is. You have a clear overall theme of acceptance and moving on, but I’m worried without an overall goal, we could end up with a series of events that aren’t tied by anything other than the setting. Love the Costa Rica + Quakers set up!

    First 250: Super intrigued by the journal! Samantha sounds young and age appropriate – great job! I do worry that we start in a game of catch-up-to-where-I-am versus just hitting the ground running with her interacting with the new Costa Rican + Quaker world around her.

    Great job to both entries!

  6. Half-Orphan's Handbook
    Query: I really like this concept, but I'd say that your query, particularly your second paragraph has more synopsis-like telling than necessary for a query. For instance, I'd try to reduce the part about Lila kissing Noah and Lila punching a kid and getting an ultimatum down to two sentences.

    Good first page! The voice is there. The first sentence feels a little too packed, though. Like, we have to focus on the fact that her mom forgot her birthday and that she apparently bought her a really expensive compensatory gift, but we focus on the forgotten birthday for the first paragraph. So, maybe change it so the sentence only mentions forgetting the birthday, and then get to the really expensive present later. As well, the sentence about the doctor's name and introducing her nickname felt clunky. You could even introduce her as "my doctor, Call-Me-Connie" and readers will know it's a nickname.

    Quaker Rain Forest:
    Query: I really like this concept! It sounds like the kind of setting that allows for some great character reflection without all the modern life distractions, and I love the idea of Sammy learning about her heritage and her father's life. I'd say I just want more stakes in that third paragraph. What will Sammy lose if she doesn't fall in love with Costa Rica and learn more about her father?

    Interesting. Will this whole book be in letters? With that said, I'd say be careful to not allow the medium to get you to tell more than you should. Even with Sammy isn't super articulate, I might add a bit more nuance emotionally than having her admit her feelings off the bat. I'm almost wishing we could see Sammy's attitude toward the trip then get the journal where she spells it out, so we can get more characterization off the bat. But overall I'm still intrigued enough to keep reading!

  7. The Half-Orphan's Handbook

    I like the first and third paragraphs of this query, but the second paragraph feels like too much of a synopsis to me. As the query is pretty long, I think there's room to make some cuts in paragraph two.

    First 250:
    Great opening paragraph! I really like the way you can turn a phrase throughout the entire opening.

    Quaker Rain Forest

    -The final sentence of the 2nd paragraph is a bit wordy and confusing. In fact, at first it sounds like the pregnant woman is the one who falls in love and discovers a secret. Could you cut this up for clarity?
    -The stakes are a little unclear to me. What will happen if Sammy DOESN'T find her own inner light?

    First 250:
    I'm going back and forth here. Part of me wants to say that this opening has a lot of voice (which is true!) while another part of me wants to say that it's a little too descriptive for an opening. But I see why the description is there, as you've found a way to transition between thoughts very well. I don't have any specific feedback for you here, but I thought you should know my initial thoughts!

  8. Half-Orphan's Handbook:
    This is tackling a very meaningful and powerful situation for the main character, and I really like the dilemma she must face in the end of the query. I think this is setting up for a gripping story! But the query feels too long and I think would benefit from some trimming and snappier pacing. The end of the second paragraph feels like a false choice, too, or at least a strange punishment: Go away, or stay at the camp. Good voice in the first 250!

    Quaker Rain Forest:
    I'm intrigued by the Costa Rica setting (and, a Quaker settlement in the Costa Rica rainforest). I do think the second paragraph of the query can be expanded upon, though, especially the part about romance with a guy who can light up the rainforest, to really illustrate the unique aspects of your story and give readers a stronger flavor of what is to come and what sets your book apart from any other. Stakes could be stronger as well at the end--what does she stand to lose, if she doesn't make peace with her father's death during this rainforest trip?

  9. Half-Orphan
    Query: the query feels REALLLLLLY long and a bit info-dumpy. This reads more like a synopsis and takes away from the suspense too. I want to know less and be surprised when we get to the reveal of the guy being a brother of a school shooter, so it makes the stakes have more weight, more sucker-punch, ya know? That's entirely subjective though.

    250: I LOVE THE FIRST PARAGRAPH!!! After that though, it seems like her voice dims a little, through the bit of exposition that happens. I totally get that it's there since it's the opening, but watch that it doesn't expand in the rewrites/edits.

    Quaker Rainforest
    Query: So, my only issue is the line, about the "therapist mom." It reads awkward. Changing it to, "Now she and her brother..." yes, that makes it passive but it works.

    250: I WANT TO BE HER BEST FRIEND!!! Her voice carries all the way through and it utterly perfect with SASS!!!

    Remember, both y'all are winners no matter what happens!


    Query - I like the first paragraph, it definitely gets the reader into the plot of the novel. It feels like the second paragraph reads a little too much like a synopsis. I think you could get the main points across by cutting out some specific details like the hazing incident and what happens with her little brother. You could do the same in the third paragraph. Maybe cut some of the specifics like the most romantic night ever, and "that makes Noah a liar," and just generalize it to shorten things up.

    I am curious about how Noah managed to end up at that camp if he's not missing a parent. Does he have some special arrangement with the camp or something?

    Interesting concept that I think a lot of kids can relate to.

    First 250: Love the sarcasm in the voice, sounds very authentically teenager. I see what you're trying to do with the "Hotel Life," my friend Panic, and Call-me-Connie stuff, but it almost seems like you're doing it a little too hard at the beginning of the book. It didn't flow very well when I read it. Don't get me wrong, I think it's very creative and I really enjoy the style of your writing, but maybe hang on to some of that stuff for a bit further into the book after the reader knows your main character more, and so they don't get confused by all the aside types of comments and stop reading.

    Also, as a side note, I have to say that I agree with taking out the sweaty palms thing. I have sweaty palms...always have. I inherited it from my dad. And it always made me feel like crap, especially when in high school, when one of my friends would accidentally touch my hand or something and act all grossed out.


    Query - Thoughts as I'm reading:

    - How did her dad die?
    - How did she meet the pregnant twenty-something girl once she gets there? It sounds like she's going to play a large part in the story, so hearing more about her might be helpful.
    - Is the romance a large part of the plot? If so, you might elaborate on it a bit more.

    I feel like I have a general understanding of the MC's internal conflict, but I'd like more. It almost feels like your query is a little too short and you have room to add some more detail.

    First 250 - I really like your beginning. It gives me a great sense of what the MC is going through and how much she misses her dad. I love how you've captured the voice that she would typically use to speak with him even though he's dead in her writing. It definitely lets the reader know, right from the start, that the MC and her father were close.

    The only little thing that tripped me up was the last paragraph. It just seemed to drop off a little. Almost like it was an awkward place to stop, which it might be, since this is the first page and I know there's more to come. Very nice job. I loved it.

    Overall, two great entries, again. Good luck to you both!

  11. Dead Parents Camp: Solid query and first 250 pages. I do agree with the judge above who asks the question of why Noah lying is an unforgivable offense. I'd elaborate on that in the query to add to the tension.

    Rainforest: The query has all the components it is supposed to have (goals, motivation, conflict) but it reads a little bland. By contrast, the first 250 reads phenomenally. The diary entry format is loaded with voice and automatically pulls me in.

    Vote: Dead Parents Camp