Jun 20, 2017

QK Round 3: Super Powers and Problems vs Boy Band Ninja Assassins

Title: Engine of Change
Entry Nickname: Super Powers and Problems
Word Count: 100K
Genre: Adult Speculative Fiction


Seeing twenty-seven-year-old Jenna downing shots at the local dive bar, no one would guess she was once the feared supervillain Engine. That’s because everyone knows Engine is dead, just like the rest of the Specials–the superpowered teens who, ten years ago, tried to take over the world.
Or so the old manufactured headlines read. Jenna would say she and the others were trying to help.

Burdened with anger and guilt over being the last of her kind, all Jenna wants is to be left alone in the secret life she’s pieced together in New York City. That dream dies when the man who created the plague that eradicated the Specials threatens humanity with a new strain of the virus, and a government agency aware Jenna survived demands her help. Help she has no intention of providing until they blackmail her with the only thing that would change her mind: a promise to execute a handful of secretly-imprisoned surviving Specials.
Now Jenna must resurrect the leader she was and stop a madman from murdering billions. After enduring the genocide committed against her people, she’s not sure she can. Or should.

First 250:

The worst thing about having gained immortality at sixteen was being treated like a scamming teenager any time I wanted a fucking drink.

“ID,” Jimmy said as I climbed into the rust-red swivel seat at the middle of the bar. He leaned over the stained bar top and eyed me like I’d trailed dog shit in on my shoe.

I ripped open my wallet, nearly knocking over a half-empty glass of skunky swill someone had abandoned. “I’ve been in here a hundred times. Why are you still being a tool about this?”

Jimmy flicked his bald head up and to the right, at the fist-sized camera aimed at the bar. His engorged belly swung around under his blue sweat-soaked t-shirt. “Because I still don’t buy that you’re twenty-two, Jenna.”

He was right, I wasn’t twenty-two. I was twenty-seven, but got carded everywhere. I couldn’t even buy cigarettes without catching grief. Immunity to physical addiction was a nice perk to the whole doesn’t-age-or-get-sick thing, though. Take that, Philip Morris and Anheuser-Busch.

I yanked out my well-fabricated driver’s license and passed it over. Jimmy looked at it just long enough to satisfy a judge, and handed it back. “The usual? Beer and a bourbon shot?”

I nodded and jammed my ID back into my wallet.

The place was pretty empty; only three sad sacks scattered around, hunched in shadows, nursing their regrets. Of course it was a Tuesday at five PM and the place was a dump.


Entry Nickname: Boy Band Ninja Assassins
Word Count: 80K
Genre: YA Adventure Comedy


When Derrick Dominick and the other members of the world’s hottest boy band stumble into a coffee shop robbery in progress, they easily thwart the crooks with killer choreography. They didn’t name the band ‘Leth5l’ for nothing. Audiences, fangirl hearts, bad guys—they can slay just about anything thanks to their training for the Special Intelligence Network for Global Espionage, Recon and Security. (And dance class.)

Due to a misunderstanding with the barista, Derrick ends up in the back of a cop car. Roughly six seconds after he leaves the station, photos, videos, and internet rumors spread faster than a bullet leaving a gun. Consequently, Leth5l’s Manager/Handler sends two bloggers along on their next tour/mission to prove they’re just another boy band and Derrick’s not a criminal with a dimple.

Things get dicey when, to protect his cover, Derrick is forced to take a dangerous new drug called Rewind. It turns out that reliving the moment your biological mom abandoned you can sting just as much at seventeen-years-old as it did as a baby. Rewind, his butt, he’d rather erase that memory completely. Now, on top of his mission, and the two nosy (and hot!) bloggers up in his business, he’s got one mother of a mother issue to deal with before he makes a mistake that might be lethal (minus the five) to one of his bandmates.

At least his hair’s still on point.

First 250:

Five-part harmony is ridiculously hard in the morning. Especially before coffee. Yet, here we are, strolling out of W-IDK television station after singing our asses off at six-freaking-thirty A.M. on “Wake Up, Whichever-City-We’re-In!

They’re awake now.

I learned—foster situation number two, specifically—my dimple has that effect on people. Thank God it stayed with me beyond the chubby-cheek baby phase. I can wield it like a sword, but that’s only for my second job. Other times, like today, I use it to give the people what they want. Because giving the people what they want is the best part of my day. Even if it’s at an unholy hour.

Four steps outside the studio, Jay starts in on me. Again. “Do you think that you could, for once, turn your thousand-watt smile down some? How are the rest of us supposed to compete? That make-up chick was under my spell until you Derricked her to death.”

I dive into the backseat of the SUV with Leth5l-standard blacked out windows. Can’t let fangirls or bad guys know our location. Though, I’d totally be down if some of the fangirls knew. “I wasn’t aware that my name is a verb now. Good to know. How, exactly, does one Derrick somebody?”

Dash slides in next to me, his untied tie flapping around his neck. “Don’t act like you don’t know.”

“I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

Maybe that’s a bit of a lie. Lying is one of the things I do best; lying, and carrying lead vocals.


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

    1. Again, another super close match. Both queries are stellar, and I have nothing to add.

      I love the voice in these two, both in the query and first page. The first sentence in SUPER POWERS reads a bit wonky, though. "The worst thing about having gained immortality at sixteen was being treated like a scamming teenager any time I wanted a fucking drink." The "having gained", plus the "was being treated" kind of weight it down. Perhaps change "having gained" to just "gaining"? Or even "becoming immortal"?

      Aside from that, nothing else to add. Like I said, both are stellar. I fell in love with BBNA last round, and the query's improved. On account of that, VICTORY TO BAD BOY NINJA ASSASSINS!

    2. Super Powers and Problems
      I love the concept, and both the query and 250 are well written.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins
      To me the query feels split between two stories: a crime-fighting band, and a guy who can rewind his memories. Otherwise good voice overall.

      For this match-up it's going to be victory to Super Powers and Problems!

    3. You’ve both done an excellent job tightening the queries since the last time I saw them, and you both have voice overflowing the page. Well done!!


      Ahh…specifying that the agency is going to execute the other specials is a game-changer, though now I’m curious why they don’t use those guys to stop the madman. What makes Jenna special? (Ba-dum-ting! But no, really…)


      The query's first paragraph is rocking now! I also like the changes to the 250 that bring in his childhood.


    4. I still really, really love both of these. I have to say, that in the case of BOY BAND, I kind of enjoyed the query more before the revisions. I wonder if there is a way to bring back some more of the voice and keep the focus.

      Regardless, I'd read it in a heart beat :)

      Super Powers and Problems: Great job tightening everything! I think the query is really strong, but I have a feeling you could write an even better last line. I'd take another look at it if I were you.

      The 250 is still awesome :)


    5. Replying as Chief Doodler!

      Good GRIEF what a hard decision to make. Whyyyyy....

      Engine of Change:

      Holy anti-hero awesomeness. I can't even with this. So great. Snarky voice, and a fun concept. I think the query and 250 words are working well.

      Boy Band:
      OK. I laughed so much while reading the query. It's actually pretty difficult to get the right voice in the query, and you nailed it. The 250 words didn't disappoint!! Such. Great. Voice.

      Oh, gosh. I have to pick now....

      I loved these both but I'm leaning toward BOY BAND! Congrats! :)

    6. No One Of ConsequenceJune 21, 2017 at 3:14 PM

      Love the changes to the first page for BOY BAND. The main character comes off much better. Still don't care for the second person in the query for SUPER POWERS.

      I'm with the (victory for) BOY BAND.

    7. Super Powers and Problems Feedback
      Love the query. Stakes clearly identified. Your MC sounds like a very intriguing, exciting person to read about.
      For the 250, I think you can make the last 2 lines a bit stronger by getting rid of the passive voice. “the place was pretty empty” doesn’t tell us very much, and you kinda get there with “only three sad sacks…” … we can also get that “the place was a dump” with a nice piece of vivid description. So rework and tighten those, keeping her voice as you have so far, and just avoiding the passive voice if you can.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins Feedback:
      Query: I’m not quite sure how the drug fits in with “protecting his cover” or how it would help do that? So it doesn’t flow logically for me. The query itself is so voicey and addictive. Really awesome and love the last sentence.
      250: Love “Derricked her to death” 

      Kind of an impossible decision because they are both very, very good. But only one can win….
      Victory to: Super Powers and Problems

    8. Well, these are two very excellent entries, aren't they!? I'd say both queries nailed the voice of the 250 and give a good sense of what kind of fun trouble we'd be getting ourselves into as readers.

      SUPER POWERS: in the 250 you paint the scene fantastically, but I got a bit tangled up in description in the 4th paragraph - maybe consider trimming the adjectives?

      BOY BAND: I'm already crushing on these guys! However, I got a bit confused by the phrase "-foster situation number two, specifically—" I wanted it to say something like "-during foster situation..." Just made me pause for a moment.

      A difficult choice - and best of luck to both - but I'm going to give victory to BOY BAND!

    9. Super Powers--
      Love the concept and the first 250. My only hang up is that in the query, your MC is upset about the fact that all the other Specials are dead, but then in exchange for her help, she wants the secretly imprisoned group of Specials to be executed. Which doesn't make any sense to me since earlier in the query she was upset at being one of the last Specials left.

      Boy Band--
      You've made some good changes to this, and I still really like the voice/humor in these samples.

      Victory to Boy Band Ninja Assassins!


      Yup, this was improved upon! Great job, really don't have anything to add!


      Still love this and the changes really pop!

      This is a crazy match up! I want to pick both, but I can't. Darn!


    11. I don't have much else to add that hasn't been covered already. Solid concept, excellent writing, voicey queries. I really enjoyed both of these and would read more. My only nitpicky item is in BOY BAND - why is he taking a drug for his memories? Need to connect that to the rest of the plot a little better.

      Victory to SUPER POWERS!


      Query: Love the changes to this query. A few suggestions. I’m wondering if you can work in that the specials died in the plague in the first paragraph to avoid that wordy sentence in the second. Something like “…tried to take over the world but were massacred when…” or similar. In the second paragraph, instead of “aware she survived”, have they been monitoring her? Something more active than just the knowledge she exists? Otherwise, why would they not have tracked her down earlier and imprisoned her like the others? Last sentence in that paragraph, I think you need to add at the end “unless she agrees to…” or similar. As-is it reads like her reward is them being executed.

      250: Really strong opening. The only sentence that seems a bit out of place to me is “Immunity to physical addiction…”. It seems a bit telling and doesn’t flow as well as the rest of your writing. Other than that, really great job!


      Query: You’ve got a really strong query here, so just a few small things I can point out. “Consequently” reads very stiffly as compared to the way everything else flows. I’m still curious whether their Handler is worried that sending bloggers along with them could compromise their mission or cover. The third paragraph is still losing me a bit. I’m having a hard time tying in their mission (I don’t think you mention what it is anymore) and how this connects to his mother. Is his mom involved with the drugs? The last line though is still fabulous. Mainly I think the biggest issue here is that your query is almost reading as two different stories. You just need to meld it together a little more. I think you’ve done a really good job tightening up this query, but I think we’re also missing a bit of the voice you used to have in here which made it so special. It’s such a difficult balance, but, personally, I think the voice is what will really make or break a query.

      250: I love the changes you made here. Derrick comes across as a lot more likable. Awesome job. When you’re talking about the dimple and his second job, I’m not clear on which job is which. It seems like a dimple could be useful in both of his jobs? Further down “untied tie” has the double tie in there, maybe loosened tie?


    13. Moonstone DragonJune 21, 2017 at 9:57 PM

      This is like Sophie’s Choice, I swear! Two of my personal faves from Round 1, paired up against each other. For the record, I’d keep them both, if I could.

      Things being what they are, though, here we go…


      I loved the query the first time, and now I love it even more! You’ve tweaked and clarified a lot and I think it works much better. That being said, I’m still finding that the ending kind of loses me a bit: The stakes are already high for Jenna: she doesn’t want to help, but if she doesn’t, her friends will die, but she’s not sure if she can actually help… That’s fine. It’s the “or should” that confuses me, because I’m not understanding her hesitation to save billions. I’m guessing it’s a baggage/backstory issue and I realize you don’t have tons of room in a query to explain every little thing. My suggestion? Nix the “or should.” At this point, it poses more questions than it answers.

      The only other thing I’d change (and it’s really a nit-pick), is, in your second paragraph, I’d use em dash to separate the two instances of “help.” Like so, “…demands her help—help she has no intention…”

      The first 250 still rock. The only thing I would still change (yep, I still would :) ) is adding colon to your last sentence: “Of course: it was a Tuesday…”


      I still love this query. Love the concept, love the voice, love the humour. And I love the slight tweaks you’ve made to make it stronger and clearer. (Tl;dr - the SINGERS acronym made me snort my Coke out of my nose, thank you very much. It burned ;) )

      Still a great, voice-y opening and your changes have made it clearer. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d keep reading in a heartbeat.

      Oh man, this is the hardest one yet!

      I’m granting victory to BOY BAND NINJA ASSASSINS (but note that I do so only because I have to pick only one. These are both solid queries and openings. My choice is subjective.)

    14. Vanellope von SchweetzJune 22, 2017 at 6:00 AM

      Love the query. Won't change a thing! For the first 250, the first sentence is a bit awkward for me. You might want to work on it a bit so it'll flow better. Other than that, great job! You've got some stellar voice here.

      While I love the voice in the query, I feel like there are two things going on here: the undercover boy band, and the Rewind drug. It might be better if you can integrate these two better (like, does this drug come into play with the "lethal mistake"?).

      These are great 250! Love the term, "Derricked"!

      This is a hard decision, but I guess I'll have to go with the one whose voice resonated with me better. VICTORY TO SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS!

    15. Outer Space Potato ManJune 22, 2017 at 11:57 AM

      Wow, I voted on both of these in the first round and I'm deeply impressed with the edits you two have made. I thought they were pretty great before, but now they're fantastic. Boy Band Ninja Assassins in particular reads so much more clearly without sacrificing any of the voice.

      When I read one query I thought this would be an easy vote, but then I read the other one. I don't really have any advice, both are about as good as they need to be.


    16. Critique: Super Powers and Problems
      Oof…this query really tests “substance over form.” The story is there, but you need to have this revised to include proper punctuation. The number of mistakes here is so high, that I’d run out of room cataloguing them. FIX IT! Also, the line:
      “Or so the old manufactured headlines read. Jenna would say she and the others were trying to help.”
      Is very jarring. Jenna’s thoughts on the matter should be the focus not an afterthought.
      First 250 words:
      Nice at establishing character and plot. The fact the punctuation here is so much better, makes me have hope for the author in properly revising the query.

      Critique: Boy Band Ninja Assassins
      Fun query! I like this idea, but you’ve got some issues.
      You’ve got some clunky wording here:
      - band stumble into a coffee shop robbery in progress
      - Now, on top of his mission, and the two nosy (and hot!) bloggers up in his business, he’s got one mother of a mother issue to deal with before he makes a mistake that might be lethal (minus the five) to one of his bandmates.
      For the record…I’ve no idea what the (minus the five) part is doing there. That sentence is long and the joke (which I assume is what the parenthetical is doing?) is lost/buried.
      As well as really bad clichés:
      - faster than a bullet leaving a gun.
      First 250 words:
      Derrick Dominick is charming in a slightly egotistical “bad boy” kind of way. I’m not sure you are starting this story in the right place, but it’s entertaining. However, these first 250 words are relying heavily on charm to make you ignore that it is all exposition and set up. I’d recommend starting at your/closer to the inciting incident. You even mention coffee, so I thought we’d be at the coffee shop already.
      Specific notes:
      - What is “foster situation number two, specifically” supposed to mean?
      - Your main character is named “Derrick Dominick” and there is also someone named “Dash,” That’s a lot of D names. I strongly suggest you change Dash to something else.

      Verdict: Honestly, I don’t LOVE either of these. However, I think Boy Band Ninja Assassins would likely sell well. The books needs more over the top adventures like that. Though I pray to god the author edits the query and the story itself to hopefully be less misogynistic. I get that he’s an idol, but he could also genuinely respect women.
      WINNER GOES TO: Boy Band Ninja Assassins

  2. Super Powers and Problems
    I love the concept of your story and I’m intrigued to see how Jenna’s character progresses. She oozes with bitterness. Great job bringing her to life in the first 250. You've made smart choices with your descriptions in that I really see everything from Jenna's point of view/personality.

    I’ve told you before how much I love your concept and characters. Great job solving the LETH5L silent 5 dilemma in your query. I can't wait to buy this book!

    Good luck to both of you!


    Strong stakes and set-up.. Picky point -- suggest adding a comma here: '...feared supervillain, Engine.' Also, the 2nd sentence in the 2nd paragraph seemed a bit clunky to me. Perhaps rework and cut one of the uses of 'that', i.e., 'But her (that) dream dies...plague that...and a government agency, aware of Jenna's survival (survived), demands help.' Great stakes. I love the opening line of the first 250. You do a wonderful job bringing the scene to life -- through Jenna's dialogue and thoughts and by showing us her world through the details included about the setting.


    Wonderful humorous opening paragraph for the query. Though I love the voice, I'm not clear what Derrick and the band's current assignment is. While Derrick takes the drug to 'protect his cover', is there an over-arching goal or assignment for the band? Great opening for the first 250. Very voice-y. Love how you've made Derrick more likable -- without losing his humor and wise-assery. I really liked the earlier version, but had some concerns about the mc coming across as obnoxious. This rewrite is super-effective.

    Wow. These are both amazing entries and I wish I could vote twice.


    1. Oops! The above vote is from CatAttack

    Since the last time I reviewed this query, I noticed one major change - the implication that Jenna/Engine and the other Specials were not supervillains trying to take over the world, and possibly victims of a smear campaign. That definitely changes a lot, as my previous question about why the scientist who saved the world from the Specials was now threatening it. Clearly, he wasn't the hero I was led to believe the first time around. And it does give Jenna some more high ground now, whereas before her not wanting to stop the scientist came off as a lot more selfish (upset that her plans of domination were ruined, as opposed to justified bitterness at being unfairly targeted). It's more of an X-Men vibe now than the more Suicide Squad vibe I previously got from it. I kind of liked the idea of a supervillain now being forced to be a hero, but I do think this will probably be a more appealing story to most.
    The voice is as good as ever, and it gives the reader nice insight into the character's personality. I doesn't quite instill any sense of conflict or urgency, but I think the voice might be enough to make the more impatient reader willing to wait.

    Your concept's still as quirky and amusing as ever. I'm a little lost as to the real conflict going on here. It seems from the first paragraph that the focus is the fact that they're really a spy team disguised as a boy band. In the second paragraph, however, the emphasis seems to be on salvaging their boyband image after the run-in with police. Then, in the third paragraph, the focus is on the Rewind drug and Derrick's issues with abandonment. You mention his "mission" in the last sentence, but I don't really know what that mission is. I think a little more clarity and focus might remove some of the confusion.
    You have a lot of energy here, and a lot of fun voice. It might be better to open with the initial conflict mentioned in the query (the coffee shop hold-up), but since the genre seems to be more focused on humor, this kind of opening might be more to your advantage.

  5. Hi all! Fellow Kombatant here. This is a super hard matchup. I love both of your entries so much, so basically I'm here to tell you why I love them. Woot!

    Super Powers and Problems

    Still want to one-click buy this. Still in love with the voice. The details of the bar, Jenna's attitude -- it's all wonderful. Let me know when you get representation and are handing out ARCs.

    Boy Band Ninja Assassins

    Also would buy this in a heartbeat. How on earth are the judges ever going to decide between you two? I love the changes you made to Derrick, and I feel like you really nail his voice. Solid work.

    Amazing job to both of you! And I apologize for inadvertently spiking your blood pressure by adding another non-judge comment, haha. :) Good luck!

  6. Kombatant here! These are both just so clever, funny, and things I would totally love to read! Best of luck!

  7. Great voice in both. Boy Band: The individuals paragraphs of the query could flow together a bit better. Reading from paragraph 1 to 2 was kind of an abrupt shift. Maybe think about revisiting and ironing the beginning of your query out?

    My Vote: Super powers!

  8. Jess GulbrandsenJune 22, 2017 at 2:56 PM

    Super Powers and Problems:

    Very intriguing concept. The query was strong, but I think it would be better without the lines: "Or so the old manufactured headlines read. Jenna would say she and the others were trying to help." The first sentence is inferred from the sentences before it and the second sentence was a bit confusing. Other than that, the query and 250 are very strong. Your 250 really set-up a great tone for the book.

    Boy Band Ninja Assassins:

    Your voice is awesome. In the query, I got confused in this section: "Rewind, his butt, he’d rather erase that memory completely. Now, on top of his mission, and the two nosy (and hot!) bloggers up in his business, he’s got one mother of a mother issue to deal with before he makes a mistake that might be lethal (minus the five) to one of his bandmates." With a little clarification, this query will be perfect. And your 250 is great. I have no comments there.

  9. Super Powers & Problems

    My problem in critiquing this entry is that I'm so not the right audience for any superhero/supervillain related story, so it's hard for me to talk about the content itself. I will say that the query seems to lay out the conflict and stakes well, and the first page has a great voice. I especially liked the description of the bar. Good luck.

    Boy Band Ninja Assassins

    What can I say that I haven't said before? Just take my money already!