Jun 2, 2017

QK Round 1: She's Better Than 4/20 vs This Selkie Can't Swim

Title: Romancing Death
Entry Nickname: She's better than 4/20
Word count: 79K
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance

Drunk and stoned, Asher Jacobs unknowingly meets an Angel of Death—Kali. He drives her to The Cliffs expecting to get lucky. Instead, she supernaturally dangles him over the edge, and delivers a message—if he doesn’t change his ways, he’ll die. Unnerved, yet still in denial, he resumes his usual routine. Sex, drugs, and alcohol aren’t his problems, they fix his problems. The fates, his divorced parents, or maybe God, are to blame for his crappy life, not himself. He clings to his habits, falling deeper into his addictions.

The thing Asher wants most—the thing he thinks he can’t have—is Grace King. Their childhood adventures led to romance, but his vices pushed her away. He longs to be with her again. Grace, a straight-laced preacher’s daughter, still loves Asher, but refuses to compromise her morals. Trapped in the cycle of his addictions, unable to see a way out, Asher spirals toward rock bottom. After a binge, and teetering on the edge of suicide, he heeds Kali’s warning, vowing to change and earn Grace back. He reaches out to Grace, and she’s willing to help him only if he’s honest about changing. She hopes beyond hope Asher succeeds, but knows the decision must be his.

The stakes are raised when the fates target Grace. She falls ill, pushing Asher away to spare him from watching her suffer. He loses hope, plunging head first off the wagon. Kali promises Asher, he can still help Grace if finds the strength to help himself. He has a new choice to make—give up and watch Grace die, or finally beat his addictions to save himself and the girl he loves.

First 250:

I had a date with Death once.

I took her out for pizza and a movie. Who knew Death liked comedies. I guess I should have known though. Up to that point, my life had been pretty freaking hilarious, in a Mid-Summer Night’s Dream sort of way, where the fates jerk you around just to laugh at you, which is probably what drew her to me.

My parents divorced me long before they divorced each other. Long nights at work, office parties, and too many happy hour “business meetings” let me know where I stood in their lives—in the way.

It’s no surprise Death wanted to meet me. Contrary to what most people thought, Death is female, at least mine was. Old movies, books, greeting cards at Halloween—though, some minds thought outside the box and gave Death a more feminine persona, most portrayed death as a cloaked-masculine figure with a big scythe and a quiet disposition.

When I met Death, she sat on the hood of my car outside my best friend Connor’s house, wearing jeans and a pink tank top, snapping her gum behind a Hollywood smile.

“Hey, Asher. How’s it goin’?”

Now, I never had trouble talking to girls. I wasn’t ashamed to admit I was okay looking, in a Patrick Dempsey, somewhere between Ronald Miller and Dr. McDreamy, kind of way. Most girls liked my dark hair-blue-eyed combo, six-foot frame, and broad shoulders. But, seeing her,  I admit—I felt more like dorky Ronnie than hottie Derek.


Entry Nickname: This Selkie Can't Swim
Word count: 70K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy


Everyone says her mother died in a car crash, but that doesn’t explain Emily’s childhood memory: watching her mother walk into the sea, never to return.

At sixteen, Emily is an extraordinarily fast varsity swimmer, until one day the chlorine burns like fire and she nearly drowns. Unable to swim again and hearing voices calling her into the ocean, Emily is reminded of her last memory of her mother. She uncovers a bundle of her mother’s old letters, from friends and family she never knew existed, all with the same return address: an island in Nova Scotia. When her father refuses to say anything about her mother, Emily resolves to go to Canada—alone.

But when Emily arrives she finds no welcome among her supposed family; they won't talk to her and want her to leave. Her only help comes from Fiona, a local whose friendship forms the intimacy Emily has always wanted. Fiona reveals the island's secret: they’re daughters of selkies, a species hiding from the human world. To protect themselves, selkies always leave their half-human children, expecting never to see them again. Emily must fight for her right to her selkie heritage, and to know the truth about whether her mother is really dead, or if she willingly abandoned her. When Emily's pursuit of the truth puts her new family in danger, she must choose between an ordinary human life cut off from Fiona, or a solution that will save the selkies and trap her as a seal forever.

First 250:

If Coach Gina says one more good word about me, I may scream. But it's inevitable. Coach thinks reading our top scores every week is motivating. I just want to crawl into a hole.

Every time she says my name, I expect this to be the time the team glares at me with jealousy.

"Emily Mulligan, first place, ahead by a full second."

Instead, the girls whoop and clap for me, because my points are their points, and we are winners. Cheers bounce around the pool and I catch David grinning at me from the other side, not paying attention as the boys' coach also reads. When his name is called the guys thump him on the back and chant, "Ecklestein! Ecklestein!"

We're a pair of winners, a matched set, the perfect couple.

So why don't I enjoy any of it?

I make myself smile for the other girls.

I jump in for warm-ups, the water swallowing me. I rush downward, the bottom twelve feet below me. When I slow, I open my eyes and gaze up through the jelly-like water to the lights above.

It starts as a prickle on my arms. Then I want to rub my eyes. They're gritty, like I haven't slept. Just as I'm thinking how weird that is, the pain kicks in. I gasp water.

The prickling sensation along my skin is getting worse, it's getting spiky, it's driving needles into me, setting my nerves alight.

I don't understand. I'm the best swimmer in the state and I'm drowning.


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

    1. She's Better Than 4/20:
      OK, full honesty? This query started out sounding preachy. The stoner's going to change his ways and be good like the Christian girl? I was immediately put off by it, and I think if you want to sell this to a general YA audience (and the agents who rep it), you need to focus a little more on the fact that Asher's lifestyle is going to lead to his death. Agents tend to be wary of queries for books that seem to "teach a lesson" (as are teens), and my first impression was that that's what you were going for.

      I also wonder if you need to go into so much detail about Kali dangling him over a cliff, etc, in the query?

      THAT SAID... the query gets better. Once we find out that Grace's life is at stake, things feel a bit more interesting. I'd try to tone down the "teaching a lesson" attitude of the opening (teenagers don't want to be taught lessons!), and maybe focus on the idea that Asher needs to give up something that comforts him in order to take care of himself AND Grace.

      The voice in the opening blew me away. Most of my suggestions here are small issues: "Who knew Death liked comedies?" should be a question with a question mark. Is Patrick Dempsey someone that teenagers in 2017 know (I am not a teenager either, so that's an honest question... but there may be a more recent star you could use)? But the first page really did grab me in a way the query didn't... get rid of the "this book teaches a lesson" feel and I'm intrigued!

      This Selkie Can't Swim:
      This query is powerful. I love the idea of a teenager fighting to own her heritage and to find out who she is, and I think this is especially potent in today's political environment. "When Emily's pursuit of the truth puts her new family in danger" is a bit vague... how are they in danger, and from whom? Answering this might up the stakes a little in this query.

      The first page... makes me wonder if swimming has changed since I was a competitive swimmer, or if the author hasn't done their research. When I was swimming, at least, times were everything. "First place, ahead by a full second" is nothing compared to the actual TIME. Unlike team sports, where it's the Lions vs. the Eagles (or whatever), swimming is sort of viewed on a global scale. Getting a AAAA time or a Top 16 time was a HUGE achievement when I was a teen... whether you beat the other people who happened to be at that rural YMCA wasn't really?

      The last line in this entry is powerful, but the description of the drowning leading up to it feels a little short and lacking. I don't really FEEL the character's panic, even though I know she's panicking?

      One entry with a weaker query and stronger pages. One entry with a stronger query and weaker pages. Queries are shorter and more easily revised than entire novels, so...

      Victory to She's Better than 4/20!



      I’m a little wary of stories that seem to be setting out to teach a lesson, which is the feel I get from the query. There’s also some religious imagery going on with the angel and the perfect preacher’s daughter, so I’m not quite sure what I’m getting into.

      I know I’m dating myself here, but to me this plot sounds somewhat reminiscent of an after-school special (with a paranormal/religious twist.) If you want this to appeal to a mass audience, I would consider making it sound less about learning a lesson and more about finding hope and persevering despite obstacles/shortcomings.

      Also, I’d like more information about what Grace is sick with. Is this a supernatural thing (you mention the fates) or a regular human thing (like cancer etc.) and how Asher beating his addictions would save Grace too.

      The opening paragraphs are great. I was especially drawn to the “my parents divorced me long before they divorced each other” line!

      The paragraph after that one doesn’t really work for me, it’s clunky. I don’t think you need to get into the old movies, books etc. stuff. You could just say, something roughly like “mine was female, a far cry from the cloaked masculine (etc) figure that people usually thought of.” It would flow much better.

      “When I met Death, she sat on the hood of my car outside my best friend Connor’s house, wearing jeans and a pink tank top, snapping her gum behind a Hollywood smile.” I LOVE this description.

      I understand the need to describe Asher, but I’m not sure if calling Derek Sheperd a “hottie” fits with his voice, especially since he describes himself as “okay looking” when he means attractive.
      And Asher seems to know A LOT about Greys Anatomy for a 17yo guy--not just Dempsey’s character’s name, but his nickname too! You also mention a character Patrick Dempsey played in the late 80’s. Most YA readers would not necessarily get that reference.

      Is there someone more modern you could compare him to? Your query doesn’t say this is historical so I’m assuming it’s not set in the 80’s. Remember, if Asher is 17 now, he was born in 2000. So most of his pop culture references are going to be from the late 2000s/early 2010’s etc. If you want to keep the Dempsey references, I would say like his friends moms (or something) call him a Dempsey or work it in some other way.



      Over all, this was a solid query, but I do have some questions that I think will help you to really make it pop.

      Is the memory of her mother walking in the sea repressed until the chlorine incident? If not, saying that she is reminded of the memory of her mother doesn’t make a lot of sense as that’s not something you are liable to forget otherwise.

      I like the idea of her getting to the truth and having to do it on her own, but I would like to know how she got to nova scotia, since she is only 16. Did she runaway? Does her dad know?

      I love the premise of her having to fight for her heritage. Her relationship with Fiona is a little muddy in the query, you say friendship but then it seems like more in your final sentence when you use being cut of from Fiona as part of the stakes. Is this just a very close friendship or are they falling for each other?

      I’d also love to know more about how she has put her new family in danger. That read vague to me.


      This page didn’t click for me as it stands. I don’t understand why she is upset about the scores being read, since her team is obviously happy for her. I know it says she expects them to glare with jealousy, but they seem genuinely proud, and like they haven’t acted resentful in the past. I need more to go on to either really FEEL her insecurity, or identify if she has a nemesis on the team.

      I also didn’t feel the urgency in the drowning scene. I like that you describe the sensation she’s feeling, and you say the panic kicks in… but I don’t feel the panic. If we’re in 1st person and that character is terrified, we want to feel the emotion behind it, not just the physical sensation.

      Victory to: Romancing Death!

    3. Professor McGonagallJune 3, 2017 at 7:22 PM

      ROMANCING DEATH: What a great premise! I really like this a lot, and really like to read about a teen guy in this situation. QUERY: There is lots of good info here, but I think you might be starting with the wrong part. I feel like we need to get to know Asher before we hear about Kali. If you could take the first part of paragraph two and move it to the first paragraph, and then put paragraph one in after “Asher spirals toward rock bottom” I think the query would be much stronger. Also, I think the first sentence would read much smoother if you said “Drunk and stoned, Asher Jacobs unknowingly meets Kali, an Angel of Death.” The third paragraph is very strong, and would be helped by changing the order of the first part of the query. FIRST 250: Love the first few sentences! Very catchy. I think there should be a question mark after “Who knew Death liked comedies?” Your writing is very strong, but the 4th paragraph confused me a bit. I think you’re trying to say that old movies, books, and greeting cards portray Death as male, but I’m not sure how the “—though” fits in. The idea is there. It just needs to be clearer. Another question – do teens know who Ronald Miller and McDreamy are? I don’t know who Ronald Miller is, but then, I’m not a teen... Another thing to check – should Fates be capitalized? Congrats on a great entry, and good luck!
      THE SELKIE CAN’T SWIM: QUERY: A strong query with lots of good information and a good feel. I’m wondering if you can divide the 2nd paragraph, as it seems to have two separate thoughts – the chlorine burns and she remembers her mother, and then uncovering the old letters. They don’t necessarily follow, so I think it would read better if they were separate paragraphs. The third paragraph is good, but I do feel like the “puts her new family in danger” is too vague. How could you get the real danger in the query? FIRST 250. Very, very strong. I don’t even have any nitpicks!

      I like both of these entries so much, I can’t believe I have to choose between them on the first round! Ugh. I can see you both having success. Best wishes!

      Because of the smoothness of the First 250,

      Victory to THE SELKIE CAN’T SWIM

    4. Lumpy Space AuthorJune 4, 2017 at 2:19 PM

      This is a fairly long query – I think you can condense it a little by leaving out some of the details, just concentrating on the he-has-to-get-clean-or-else narrative.

      ...Death a more feminine persona, most portrayed death [take out death and put "it"] as a cloaked-masculine figure...

      Most girls liked my dark hair-blue-eyed combo, six-foot frame, and broad shoulders. [In this voice and context, when you put this description of himself in the past tense, I think he’s already dead. It seems like a spoiler. I know the "rules" say differently, but this would actually be less convoluted and off-putting if you switched it (just the self-descriptions) to present tense. Put yourself in his head as the actual narrator, as if you were narrating something that had happened to you in the past, but you know, you're STILL a broad-shouldered hunk, right? So write it in that natural way.]

      At sixteen, Emily is an extraordinarily fast varsity swimmer, until one day the chlorine burns like fire and she nearly drowns. Unable to swim again and hearing voices calling her into the ocean, Emily is reminded of her last memory of her mother [these seem like three unconnected ideas. Do you mean she’s unable to swim in the pool again, or at all? You might reword: “She’ll never swim in a pool again, but she hears voices calling her into the ocean…voices that remind her of her mother.” Although the voices may not actually sound like her mother, so that may be a bad wording. I would, however, be sure to remove the “reminded of last memory” part. Being reminded of a memory sounds redundant.]

      This is good writing…I do worry the action starts too soon here, though. You might consider giving us more time to get acquainted with your character before the “pool incident”.

      Another hard call.

      In this case, I know I'm making my decision on my gut, and I don't know if it's the right decision, but it's such a strong gut-decision that I can't ignore it.

      As a person with a heavy history of addiction, 4/20 puts me off. A lot. I understand the author may have the same history, and that we do not all feel the same way about things. But...while I feel a person can definitely clean up "for" someone else (especially their kid), it's sort of icky to perpetuate that idea for a lot of reasons. For one, it could leave a lot of partners/family feeling like they're not "good enough" or "lovable enough" for the addict to clean up for.

      I'm also not a fan of the "rock bottom" analogy. I always thought I'd know when I was at rock bottom, but realized it always could get worse. Rock bottom is actually being dead, I think.

      There's other stuff that bugs me. Anyway, I know I'm going off on this, and I'm fully aware that I could be being REALLY unfair if the author is a recovering addict. I have been on the receiving end of this sort of narrative from plenty of other recovering addicts...but I'm just not a fan of this sort of narrative, regardless. I feel like it leaves a lot of people out in the cold, feeling ashamed.

      This is a heavy thing to say, but I'm gut-bound to say it.



      Query: I feel that the query is focusing on two different aspects/stories- Kali vs Bad boy/good girl romance with Grace. I almost feel like going with the latter with a hint of the former may be the way to go, emphasis wise.

      1st 250: Killer first line. I liked the excerpt.


      Query: Loved the query. It's tight and good to go.

      1st 250: I also liked the excerpt. It's strong and polished.


    6. SHE'S BETTER THAN 4/20
      I love the concept of death as a character – and a cute gum chewing girl to boot!
      Query: I think you lay everything out pretty well here, but feel like you could trim it down a little bit. Make sure that every word counts and brings something new to the query – I feel like you’re repeating aspects here and there, especially in regard to Asher’s addictions. They are an obstacle, but I’m personally more interested in what he wants and what he’s trying to do (e.g. save Grace’s life.) Also, if this is a romance, I would get to Grace sooner in the query and make it more about her than Kali. Great incorporation of voice here though – it definitely echos your 250 well.

      250: I like Asher a lot already! But, to be honest, I’d start the book with “When I met Death, she sat on the hood of my car outside my best friend Connor’s house, wearing jeans and a pink tank top, snapping her gum behind a Hollywood smile.” Then weave in the previous paragraphs later or in other ways. They’re very well written and funny, but I feel like I want to get to the action right out of the gate, and hear backstory as we go along. And wouldn’t that be a great first line for a book?! Also, I never watched Grey’s Anatomy so I didn’t get any of the Patrick Dempsey references – I’d agree with other judges that you could find a more contemporary reference or another way to describe Asher’s looks. Small detail. Great work!

      I adore Selkie tales and am looking forward to reading this book!

      Query: I think there’s a lot of good stuff here, but I have a few thoughts. I would suggest giving a bit more detail about what a selkie is – some agents may not know and it may put them off, especially when you say that she’ll be a seal forever – if you don’t know what a selkie is, I feel like that would be confusing and out of the blue. I would also suggest cutting back a bit of the detail about how she searches for the truth about her mother (letters, traveling, mean family, maybe you only need to mention the memory once, etc.) and give us more about the meaty/conflict-y stuff in the last paragraph. Be more specific about how/why Emily must fight for her heritage. Also, I’m a bit confused about her choices in the last sentence – what is threatening the Selkies? Why is Emily someone who can save them? And is Fiona a love interest? Or just a close important friend – either way, just be clear.

      250: I don’t have any suggestions – I think this is a fantastic start!

      Victory to THIS SELKIE CAN'T SWIM

    7. Title: Romancing Death
      Entry Nickname: She's better than 4/20

      Query feedback:
      I think your biggest challenge is getting us to like Asher in the query. What is there redeemable about him?

      Also, can you emphasize more of Grace’s agency so we know a bit more about what makes her unique? I like that she has morals, but what specifically about that makes her great (she volunteers a lot? She wants to be a doctor / save the world / save the environment? I am sure you know what that is for her).

      Make us like both of them as individuals first (or at least hint at what is redeemable about them) and then throw the spanner in the works. That way, we will leave the query really hoping to see what comes next!

      First 250 Feedback
      This is way more quirky/sarcastic in the voice (which I love!) than your query. Bring your query around to meet this. We want the 2 to match.

      Seriously, great voice! Love it from the first line!!!!

      When does this take place? I think Grey’s Anatomy is a bit of a dated reference for a current teenager, isn’t it? (Similarly an 80s movie… I am in my 30s and even I had to look up “Ronald Miller” - I think that may be too niche) Is there someone who would be more appropriate for a YA dude to reference? Maybe a CW show or a current superhero movie star example…

      Also I think the physical description he gives of himself is def not how a teenage guy would describe himself. It sounds like “author voice”. Let the reader get how he looks later, from someone else. There is way better use of the real estate on page one, and I know you can use it because what you have before that is AWESOME! So skip the physical description, and instead add in action so we can picture the MC through his actions.


      Title: IN HER OWN SKIN
      Entry Nickname: This Selkie Can't Swim

      Query Feedback.
      This is so good and so close. I think just the end of the last paragraph it gets kind of confusing. Maybe just the last sentence. Something about “new family” and “cut off from Fiona” -- Is Fiona like a sister or like a love interest? I think if that is established above, it will help the reader be fully invested and to understand the stakes. Who is the “new family”? The selkies? Maybe then “her Selkie family” so we know who it is!

      GREAT work. Really.

      First 250 Feedback
      This is such a superb opening.
      Only one tiny suggestion: There are a lot of sentences starting with “I” starting at “I make myself smile…” So you might want to rephrase some of those? Also ending with “me”... just some more variation there. You could talk more about the temperature of the water or something? (you probably have better ideas!)

      It is a tough call, as always.

      Victory to THIS SELKIE CAN’T SWIM!

  2. Hi there! Another Kombatant here — good luck to you both! Here are my thoughts.

    She's better than 4/20

    I'd love to have more voice in your query (especially when the first page really shows that kind of voice you can pack into your words!!!). And I do agree with Magenta, it comes off a little preachy. Another thing I'm hung up on is your closing line, "He has a new choice to make—give up and watch Grace die, or finally beat his addictions to save himself and the girl he loves." I'm having a hard time with these stakes. Like is death really preferable to saving himself and the girl he loves? Is there something Death is offering that makes that more appealing? Also, is Death in the habit of saving people whereas the Fates are in the habit of making chaos (IDK if the fates are personified in your story or not, but it sounds like a possibility). I'm not sure if that's something you address in your query or not (your call), but understanding the moving parts might help with the stakes.

    Your pages are lovely. Voice. Death personified. I get the feel of her already, and that's fantastic. I am going to echo Magenta again, though, because the references threw me a bit (actors and choice in comedy, but again, that could be a part of your character that we just don't get to see this early on). Overall, though, wonderful job.

    This Selkie Can't Swim

    Great query! You established a conflict that was easy to follow and left me wanting more. As a former competitive swimmer, anything to do with swimming (even if it's just an inciting event) makes me excited. I understand that you can't reveal everything in a query letter (it's a hard line, isn't it?), but I am curious what's so dangerous about her unearthing her roots? And why do the selkies leave? Do they have to return to the water after X amount of time or live permanently as humans (or some other fate)? Just some food for thought.

    For the pages, I again have to echo Magenta. I was a competitive swimmer for 15 ish years. Never did my coach use that lingo when discussing times. This particular fix is easy (do some research on times for swimmers in certain events at that age — i.e., current California record for 50m freestyle — and have the coach announce the actual time instead of the current lingo. Also, don't use the exact record or faster — swim times are hard to beat (unless your Ledecky), and records aren't shattered on a constant basis. Probably not something that happens in a practice setting. Again, though "scores" I'd probably switch with "times" and then maybe take it a step further and note that the performance was at the "meet" over the weekend (or something).

    The bigger concern here is how much swim lingo you have in the novel. If it's not a lot because she loses her ability to stomach chlorine relatively early on, then you're probably OK. Otherwise, I'd suggest a beta read from someone who was a swimmer, that way they can point out this stuff and up the credibility of your MC.

    Best of luck to you both! :)

  3. Romancing Death:
    Query: Mostly I like it, but you go from talking about Asher’s addictions to how much he wants Grace, but clearly he wants his addictions more. And the sentence that starts “Sex, drugs…” I think should get cut too. Maybe you could mention that once Asher was happy with Grace until his addictions got in the way.

    250: Great first line! But then I feel like the 3rd paragraph is another first line, or it doesn’t fit. Maybe if you just cut that and then going from the 2nd paragraph into “I guess it’s no surprise she wanted to meat me…”

    Query: Much better than it was on the forums!

    250: Confused as to why if they’re all so team oriented she thinks they’ll be mad and jealous? Otherwise good.


    Query: This is definitely different than what I was expecting for a paranormal romance, because the paranormal elements seem to exist outside an otherwise normal romance. It definitely lingers near the line of an unhealthy relationship with all Asher's self-destructive qualities, but I like that Grace holds her ground on the issue of him cleaning up. I also like that she's a straight-laced preacher's daughter, and that's presented as a positive for once. While the stakes and nature of the relationship between Asher and Grace is defined, the paranormal elements are not. I'm not sure why Kali is invested in their relationship, or who the "fates" are and why they target Grace. How does beating his addiction save her life?

    First 250: I think your opening line is great, and you have a very nice voice and flow. The Mid-Summer Night's Dream reference is a bit of a surprise. Asher doesn't seem like the type to read Shakespeare. I can't tell if this is a misplaced reference or if it's meant to convey hidden depths to what seems to be on the surface a vice-driven narcissist. Asher definitely comes across as unlikable and in need of serious change, but in a good way that speaks of a deep character arc.


    Query: Your first line provides an interesting setup and visual that I really like. The second paragraph is a bit confusing, as I'm not sure why the chlorine would suddenly burn, and why that would make her unable to swim again. Also, are minors allowed to travel to another country without an adult? The third paragraph works nicely though, setting up the conflict and stakes. Seems like Emily is faced with a lose-lose situation, which is great for tension!

    First 250: I like the voice here. It's subtle, but the contrast of accomplishment and humility works nicely. The descriptions at the end are great, and you end on the perfect note. Nicely done!

  5. She's better than 4/20

    Q: I was instantly sucked in by the Angel of Death, Kali, kicking Asher’s booty. So, honestly? I was expecting the romance to be between Asher and Kali since she’s the first counterpart introduced in the query. When we learn that the story is a push and pull between Asher and Grace struggling to deal with his addictions, and him needing to stay sober through her illness, I’m not sure what role Kali plays anymore – her warning seems to be the crutch point, but I’m not sure the warning or stakes she gave him is any different from a Red Ribbon Week pamphlet. I would have loved to see her play more of a role in the story, but if she doesn’t, maybe remove Kali from the query to avoid confusion. When it comes to the last line and the stakes, I’m not sure how Asher beating his addictions saves Grace from her illness . . . unless the illness is a consequence of his addictions. I might clarify how one affects the other.

    First 250: Love that you’re opening with the Kali encounter, same as in your query. One note – in the query, it seems like this is something we’ll see in real time, but in the opening, it’s coming across a little flashback-y.

    This Selkie Can't Swim

    Q: So this is really, really fun and new, and I had no idea what a selkie is. Had to google. I was thinking more along the lines of sire/mermaid cross, and close, but . . . not. I would definitely clarify what it is for the mythological noobs like me. Also, I would swap the “her” and “Emily” in the first line so we get to the MC’s name faster. Other than that, I love the adventure she sets out on, the setting, the conflict . . . though I’d have liked more information specific to the MS about the danger she puts her family in, especially if the consequences are her being trapped as a seal forever. Fantastic stakes, btw!

    First 250: Love that you literally dive right in! I would keep an eye on Emily’s fear and panic, and making sure those emotions are coming across just as fully as the physical sensations, which you did beautifully.

    Great job to both entries!

  6. She's Better than 4/20
    (also note: your nickname is hilarious)
    I think the query feels all over the place. The book seems to be focused on Asher trying to save his and Grace's lives, right? It seemed odd to me that Asher would be given unarguable truth that Death has visited him, yet he'd still ignore her warning? That seems odd, but I have the feeling it'd make more sense in the context of the book. Maybe start with talking about Asher needing to kick his habits to woo and eventually take care of Grace, and mention him recalling that he was told death may come for him, and the stakes up that way? It just feels like two separate stories -- one that's more supernatural with prophecies and Death and the other more a straightforward contemporary about addiction and love.

    250: Asher has a great voice! Definitely something I can see being sustained for the book and staying entertaining. I'd just warn against the pop culture references you were using. I'm 22, so even a little older than most teens, and I more or less could imagine McDreamy having seen the occasional episode of Gray's, but the other reference went right over my head.

    The Selkie Can't Swim:
    Query: Overall, great query! I guess my only question is does "new family" in the last paragraph refer to Fiona or that family that turned Emily down?

    250: I'd agree with the comment about the times being more important than placing. The page, overall, is strong though. For any suggestions, I just have a bigger one. The inciting incident happens really quickly in the story. Would you maybe consider making the score readings a longer scene to introduce Emily's normal world and then have the inciting incident? Right now I don't know Emily enough to care much that she's drowning.

    Overall, two great entries!

  7. 420
    Query: Legitimately, I was put off. This comes off as a lesson novel. Most agents and teen aren't going to go for that. I'm assuming you want it marketed to all teens, but as the query reads right now, it actually feels like Christian fiction, and not something that could be big, but rather the kind you find in small mom and pop Christian bookstores. Nothing wrong with that, if it's what you want, but I have a feeling it's not, based on your writing. Maybe focus more on the fact that an Angel of Death is telling him that he can save the love of his life--and himself--if he makes changes. Idk, still a bit preachy, but yeah...

    250: There is definitely humour here. Loved the opening line. I would throw a line in there about Marvel having Death as a woman though when you mention the depictions--after all Thanos' whole Infinity Stones hunt was just to court her. And Deadpool even tried to screw her, so it'd be a great nod to pop culture.

    ADORE the line about Death loving comedies too--because we have to laugh when things get too serious, which is why there are so many comedies dealing with death and funerals. It's a human trait. Very strong voice here too!

    Query: There's a lot packed in here, and some of it comes across info-dumpy. There's a lot to unbox here, which I totally get. However, there has got to be a way to slim this down, simplify it.

    Also, is the relationship with Fiona romantic or platonic/motherly? Because I couldn't tell and I FELT like it was romantic, especially after reading the first 250.

    250: I don't get why she her attitude about being a winner is to treat it as cringeworthy. Also, her boyfriend? Is it purposeful that she doesn't feel too connected to him?

    I LOVED the fact that you got straight to the pool chlorine issue. That was BRILLIANT! But, I also don't know enough about her to care that she's drowning. I also think you could make the writing of that stronger, show us more. Get in her headspace and make us writhe with how unpleasant this is.

    The tones were very different, so this feels a bit of an unfair match-up. Just saying this as an observer. Obviously I'm not a judge, so it doesn't matter.

  8. JB Harris

    She's better than 4/20

    Query: Int he first paragraph I'd cut everything after resumes his usual routine. In paragraph two, I don't understand why he suddenly heeds the warning? If he is already suicidal why would he then turn things around without a catalyst? I didn't buy it. Like some before me, I don't see the choice you presented int he last paragraph...it's a no brainer not a choice. I'm thinking you wrote a cliche and filled in the choices. You need to rework he very end of the query. That said, I love the idea of talking to death and she and the fates being actual beings the teenager is about to hang out with and talk to. I would definitely read the book based not he query.

    250: Love the first line and the whole beginning. I'd drop the " I Guess I should've know" line. You don't need it and it is stronger without. Loved the writing in the second paragraph, but you lost me a bit int he third...you start with it is no surprise death wanted to meet me, but then instead of illuminating that comment you start talking about deaths gender. I found that confusing. I also didn't like the self description...it felt like an info dump.

    This Selkie can't swim

    Query: I have to start by confessing that this premise doesn't appeal to me, but that is from a subjective POV not because the query wasn't well done. In fact, I believe your query was spot on. It told what it must, was well written, and laid the story line out brilliantly. The genre just isn't my cup of tea.

    So not being my cup of tea, might be why I wasn't engaged by the first 250. The first paragraph was good, but then the one line second paragraph was redundant in my mind. I also felt like were so in her head. I wanted more scene, or dialogue or something. That said, I think given what the book is about, you were right to jump right in to her having an issue with the chlorine and your last line of the 250 was inspired. I'm the best swimmer in the state and I am drowning. Loved it.

  9. Romancing Death

    -How does one not know they’ve met someone? Or did you mean he didn’t know Kali was an angel of death?
    -she supernaturally (I’m not picturing this. There are so many options to choose from) dangles
    -I wondered how Asher would know Grace still love him until I realized you mixed POVs within the same paragraphs. If the story alternates POV, I’d have a separate paragraph for both. If this is just Asher’s POV, then I would be careful how you mention Grace.
    -“Kali promises Asher, he can still help Grace if finds the strength to help himself.” (In what way?)
    -“beat his addictions to save himself and the girl he loves.” (Again, I don’t understand how giving up his addiction will save her.)

    First 250:

    -“I had a date with Death once.” (I love this sentence! Grabs my attention immediately.)
    -I guess I should have known though. (Why should he have know she liked pizza and comedies? This isn’t typical of what I imagine a person of death would be like.)
    -Ah, you explained in latter sentences. Perhaps mention earlier before this line about fate jerking just to laugh at him.
    -“It’s no surprise Death wanted to meet me” (Why? And then you don’t explain. Instead you describe Death and how other describe death, which I don’t think others views are relevant. Are they?)
    -The last sentence is a bit telly for me. Is there a way you can shorten how he views himself?
    Good luck!



    -I think you have a better beginning with the second paragraph. It has a better punch and then I’d make the second sentence “…last memory of her mother walking into the sea, never to return.” I’d start a new paragraph after that.
    -I Googled what a selkie was before seeing at end of query. Perhaps mention earlier.
    -This is a refreshing change from mermaids! Great concept.

    First 250:

    -“glares at me with jealousy” (For me, this suddenly detaches her from wanting to crawl into a hole. It makes her seem more arrogant.
    -“So why don't I enjoy any of it?” (Yes, why? Only she knows why. Perhaps say “But I don’t enjoy any of it.)
    -“ jelly-like water” (I’m picturing a thick consistency, but is this what you meant to do?)
    -“It starts as a prickle on my arms.” (What starts?)
    -“Then (<-remove) I want to rub my eyes.”
    - They're gritty, like I haven't slept. Just as I'm thinking how weird that is, the pain kicks in. I gasp water.
    -“it's getting spiky” (I’m not sure how you men this for the prickling.)
    -“I'm the best swimmer in the state and I'm drowning.” (Ooooh! This grabs me. I want to turn the page!)
    -Again, I love the idea of someone turning into a seal instead of a mermaid, for a change. Great concept! I’d read this!

  10. She's Better than 4/20

    Query: Very well written, but I also agree it's a bit preachy, and I'm personally not a fan of a "good" character being the motivation for a "bad" one to redeem himself. I also thought the final stakes a bit unbalanced.

    First 250: Really loved the voice here! Left me wanting to read more!


    Query: Well written, my only comment is maybe you could add more about why she needs to save all the selkies--what challenge or threat are they facing?

    First 250: Very well written and flowed nicely (pun intended :-)

  11. Romancing Death: The opening sentence of the first 250 immediately grabs me and sucks me in! I automatically want to read more. The query is also solid. I know who Asher is, what Asher wants, the conflict, and the high stakes if Asher doesn't succeed. I'm not sure if I'd call this paranormal romance however. I think maybe it's contemporary with a paranormal element since contemporary issues seem to take front and center in the story and the only paranormal element is Kali appearing to Asher and delivering her warning. Kali is also mentioned by name in the query which gives the impression that she's an integral character with her own plot arc, motivations, and stakes. If she is, make that clear. If not, I would just call her an Angel of Death and not identify her by name.

    Selkie: The opening line of the query is fantastic. It automatically sets the tone and mood of the story. The stakes are clear and you start to offer the reader a good enough glimpse into Emily's world.

    Vote: Romancing Death