Wednesday, June 1, 2016

QUERY KOMBAT ROUND 1: BLACK HOLES vs. WATER UNICORNS AND ARMADILLOS

Title: The Pull of Gravity
Entry Nickname: Black Holes
Word Count: 122,000
Genre: Adult Science Fiction

Query:

Iari Lenerian wanted to help make the galaxy a better place. He was supposed to be a small cog in a big machine--an informant posing as a palace guard, that’s it. He didn’t mean to attract the Emperor’s attention, didn’t mean to gain his trust. And he didn’t mean to fall in love.

The rebellion is going forward as planned. Iari is the only person who can get close to the Emperor--and the only mindfighter strong enough to challenge him. Iari still wants to see his impoverished homeworld free of Imperial exploitation, but he’s not ready to kill the man he loves. Desperate, he takes the Emperor hostage aboard the insurgent fleet to keep him safe.

The planet below isn’t so fortunate when Iari’s new allies open fire in a last minute change of plans. If Iari wants the Empire to fall, he needs to trust this tenuous collaboration: a foreign Premier, the head of a monopoly, and a religious fanatic, each looking to further their own ends. Now, with the destruction of a planet on his conscience and the Emperor’s vengeful sister chasing them across space, he has to decide how much he’s willing to compromise his integrity for his ideals.

First 250:

Iari drew a shaky breath and checked the time, dark digits that glowed against the frosted glass of the lounge window. 7:92. Eight minutes until he betrayed his best friend.

He peered up, searching the sky for ships, but it was impossible to make anything out through the blustery snow. They're out there, he reassured himself, though his heart pounded in his chest.

Dialing up the opacity on the windows, he arranged his face into some facsimile of composure and took a moment to gather courage. Emperor Alexander Furin rested on the lavender cushions by the fireplace, forehead in one hand as he scrolled through the reports scattered around him. On any other day, Iari would have picked up the Emperor’s mug and refilled the coffee. On any other day, he would have collected the discarded silk coat, checked their schedule for tomorrow, and found something unusual to order for breakfast. Not today.

The Emperor shifted, gaze flicking up. Iari's breath caught, but the other's eyes passed over him and dropped back to the report pad without focusing. He looked so ordinary there in the dim stillness of the lounge—the fingers in his light hair, the way he sat on one foot, the furrow between his eyes as he concentrated. Not an Emperor, just Alexander.

Iari steeled himself. The time for such feelings was past. Elise stood guard outside their chambers, planetary defenses were down, and ships from the Independent Alliance had entered orbit that morning under the pretense of border negotiations.

~ VERSUS ~ 

Title: Monsters of the Deep
Entry Nickname: Water Unicorns and Armadillos
Word count: 92K
Genre: Adult Sci-Fi

Query:

Sea monsters are real, and S.O.B. wants Tally Fisher to hunt them.

After four years crushing swim records at university in California, Tally can’t believe she’s back in her hometown—Podunk, North Dakota. That is until S.O.B. calls with a career opportunity.

Pressured by a mountain of student debt and North Dakota’s encroaching flatlands, which only look like water in the breeze of a cloudy day, Tally accepts the position. The job description is shady at best—patrol the ocean and resolve top-tier threats, but it’s as close to Coast Guard rescue swimmer as she can get. And the salary sweetens the deal—hello, debt free.

But then she discovers what S.O.B. stands for—Society of Buccaneers, a firm steeped in pirate history. And she learns what they really do—exterminate sea monsters and hide their existence from the public, including people like her father, a foreman on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Tally is forced to choose between sitting safe on land with the secret of the monsters of the deep, or risking her life on a daily basis to keep others safe. 

She could lose a limb. She could die. Or worse for her, she could never swim again.

First 250:

Tally couldn't believe she had ended up back here. Again. Flatlands full of rapeseed stretched to meet the pale blue sky, curved like one of the giant chipped bowls in her mother's kitchen cabinet. Oil wells dotted the flat expanse in grimy interruptions, pumping back and forth, back and forth.

North Dakota.

The wind whipped her blonde hair across her dry lips again, and she scraped it away. She downed the last of her coffee and pushed through the screen door.

"Oh, good dear, you're home." Tally's mother greeted her from the kitchen table, the drawn out North Dakota O's stretching her words. "How was work?"

"Fine." If fine meant three tables stiffing her and one complaining to the manager. Tally kicked off her shoes, then tossed her coffee cup.

Her mom eyed her over an open newspaper for a moment. "You know, I heard there's an opening at the feed store down on Main. Do you want me to give Danny a call?"

"No, that's fine. I just finished training at this job. I should give it some time." Tally could barely stomach living at home again, let alone facing her mother's friends every time she went to work. She picked up her bag and made her way toward the hall at the other end of the kitchen. If she could just get to the hallway... "Anyway, it's just temporary. Hopefully I can find a swim coaching job or something."

"Hold on there, Tally."

Damn. Her escape had been mere steps away.

18 comments:

  1. Judges, please post feedback and votes as a reply to this comment:

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Black Holes:

      Query:

      Right away you do an excellent job of setting up the story. It pulls me in and makes me want to read on.

      2nd paragraph throws me a bit. You mention a rebellion, but it's not specified as to why there's a rebellion. I would also take out the word 'and' after the em-dash. Also, it wasn't clear that the Emperor was the one he fell in love with until this paragraph. Personally, I would add something in the beginning paragraph to show this right away. Here is how I would word that last paragraph: "And he didn’t mean to fall in love WITH HIM." Another thing, this line: "but he’s not ready to kill the man he loves." I would say: "but he's not ready to kill the man he's "he's fallen for. Also, that word 'Desperate' It leaves me wondering if there should be something to follow it like this instead: "Desperate to keep him safe, Iari takes the Emperor hostage aboard the insurgent fleet.

      4th Paragraph: This paragraph has a few problematic areas for me. You say: trust this tenuous collaboration. Something is not working for me here. I think it's the word THIS that's tripping me up. Also, to me, introducing 4 new characters in the last paragraph of a query is bothersome. I understand why you did it but, somehow, I'd like to see them introduced sooner.

      250:

      Usually you should spell out the numbers in a query. In this case, I wouldn't even talk about the time. it's unnecessary. Simply saying: Eight minutes until he betrayed his best friend works fine.

      3rd paragraph: The line: 'he arranged his face' is you telling me what he did. I have no idea how that looks from a readers perspective. Show me what his face looks like. Also, from the way the query was written, it makes it seem like he doesn't know the Emperor right away, but the 250 say differently. Be sure to clarify that he knows the Emperor right away in the query. This, to me, takes the story in a different direction since they have already know each other.

      4th paragraph: I have issues with floating body parts and when you say 'the other's eyes passed over him and dropped back to the report pad without focusing' I read this as literally the eyes are floating out of their bodies and dropping to the pad. Replace with stares or focus (not gaze though since you just used this.)

      Delete
    2. Water Unicorns and Armadillos:

      Query:

      1st line: I have no idea what S.O.B means, this should be clarified right away. If anything, I think of the bad words. Personally, I love the first paragraph more than that first line and think that first line could be left out.

      2nd Paragraph: I love that the stakes are pointed out right away, but this line: 'which only look like water in the breeze of a cloudy day' takes the punch right out of it. It feels like a filler that's not needed.

      4th Paragraph: So, from the way you have this written, you'd think she'd know what the S.O.B. And personally, I think that needs to happen. It shouldn't be a secret up until this paragraph.

      5th Paragraph: Could you add this to the paragraph below? keep the stakes all together? It feels like a floating sentence in need of more of more meat. It's good, as far as stakes go, but it's not enough. Combining it with the last paragraph would be great.

      250:

      1st Paragraph: That very first line is not memorable enough for me. In a way, it's passive and doesn't make me want to read on. Then you go into the description of the land and even though it's well written, it's not voicey enough.

      2nd Paragraph: 'The wind whipped her blonde hair' This feels like an unnatural thought. Even in third person to say 'her blonde hair' isn't something someone would think.

      The line in there that says: She tossed her coffee cup. I read that and think: Where did she toss it that it didn't break? I'd say: set her coffee cup down on table or counter.
      You also use the word 'fine' twice in close proximity. Be sure to stagger words.

      Seventh Paragraph: You have a line there that says: If she could just get to the hallway. Do you mean that in the sense that her mom won't let her go? I'd clarify this a bit more. Talk quickly about her mom being overbearing or what not. Her attitude is a bit off putting to me. Her mom is just trying to help her and she's being rude. I would like more of a sense as to why she's irritated with her mom more.

      In the end, I enjoyed both of these entries, but am leaning toward the voice and 250 I was drawn to the most.

      Victory to: Black Holes

      Delete
    3. Black Holes:
      Good worldbuilding in this query! And an LGBT SF novel, I am so into these.

      “…Iari’s new allies…” This is a little confusing because I’m not sure at this point whose side he’s really on. I’d do something to clarify, either that he is having a loyalty crisis and so aligns himself with another faction, or that he switches sides, or whatever it is.

      “….Emperor’s vengeful sister…” Why is she vengeful, though? A hint would ground me. Seems like Iari saved her brother.

      Compromising integrity for ideals or vice versa – those are good stakes for one of those coming-of-age literary novels I usually DNF. I’m guessing there are stakes with more punch in this book, though. More deaths/battles? Iari’s own death? The Emperor’s death? I would increase the tension here a bit.

      This is a good opening. Great tension, great worldbuilding, good character development. I’m guessing this is a prologue-ish beginning, and then we’re going to go back and see how Iari got there. I am going to state with no hesitation that you should begin this way, if that is the case. You can call it chapter one and get away with it, because this beginning is working really well for me.

      Water Unicorns and ARmadillos:

      Cool, weird concept.
      Query:
      “…which only look like water in the breeze of a cloudy day…” I almost get to the image you’re creating here, but you could make it clearer by saying something like, “…the endless grass rippling like water in the breeze of a cloudy day…”. Some may say this sentence doesn’t belong in a query at all, but I like style and imagery in a query, as long as it’s consistent with the style of the pages.
      “The job description is shady at best—patrol the ocean and resolve top-tier threats,”
      Reword a bit to clarify. Perhaps, “The job description seems shady—“, to clarify that she has her doubts that are then backed up by her discovery of what S.O.B. stands for (great acronym…although it does make me wonder what she believed the organization was all about BEFORE…you might want to hint to this in the query to ground us a bit more). Also, add a dash at the end of this clause instead of the comma.
      “…including people like her father, a foreman on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.” I’d say, “…Including from people like…”
      The last line of the query is good stakes, good style. My only problem is I’m having a bit of vagueness in my mind about which outcome is tied to which choice – for one, is it possible that S.O.B. might kill her if she leaves the job, afraid she might spill their secrets? And would she be able to keep that secret from her father? And is she worried she’ll never swim again if she leaves the job? That this might be her only chance at work that involves her passion? Or does this only mean the sea monsters might maim her? I might rework a bit to clarify the stakes.

      Tough, but I vote for Black Holes.

      Delete
    4. Water unicorns, I forgot to give critique of your pages.

      Pages:
      “Her mom eyed her over an open newspaper for a moment.”
      I’d remove the “for a moment”.
      This is a good opening. Good character development, good job grounding me in MC’s world, and just enough tension to keep me reading.

      Delete
    5. BLACK HOLES: Really intriguing premise! I would like to read more right now! ☺ Query: I like the first paragraph – it gives a voice to the query and has a good rhythm to it. The second paragraph was a little confusing to me and I had to read it a couple times to make sense of it. Is there a way for it to be immediately clear that “The rebellion” is the side Iari is on? In the third paragraph, is the “tenuous collaboration” the same as the rebellion? It might help to make that clearer. And I know it’s kind of sucky of grammar to do this to us, but technically it should be “each looking to further HIS own ends.” At the end of the query, I’m not sure exactly what Iari is deciding. If the planet is destroyed, what does he have to decide now, between his integrity and ideals? Giving up to the sister? Not quite sure. 250: So, so good. I really don’t have anything to say about these. I like Iari, can get a great feel for where they are and how he feels about the Emperor. As I said before, I would like to read more now!

      WATER UNICORNS AND ARMADILLOS: Nice work, here. What a fun premise – the idea of sea monsters is always fun. Congratulations! Query: Good details here, and a good voice for the novel. Just a few nitpicks: First off, the S.O.B. threw me. You know what we all think when we see those initials, and I couldn’t quite shake that. Not sure if it’s supposed to be funny, or not? It was a little distracting. It seemed a bit as if your “British” is showing, when you say she’s at university in California. If she truly is from the US, she would say either something like “attending university in California” or “at The University of California.” In par. 3, there should be a hyphen after “top tier threats” instead of a comma. In the very last sentence, I don’t think you need the “for her.” It’s a bit stronger without it. 250: Very enjoyable! I got a good feel for Tally and what she’s going through. Great job. Again, a few nitpicks: There should be a comma in the fourth paragraph after “good,” but not after “Oh,” so it reads, “Oh good, dear, you’re home.” In the fifth paragraph I was confused about her tossing her coffee cup. I was picturing her just throwing it across the room – but I think you meant she tossed it in the trash… In the 6th paragraph it would be stronger to cut “for a moment.”

      Both strong entries with interesting and fun premises. A space chase, or sea monsters? Both awesome. Congrats and best of luck to you both!

      Victory to BLACK HOLES

      Delete
    6. Black Holes: This story sounds like a very exciting adventure, and there's a dire need for LGBTQ male leads in sci-fi.

      Query: Your query letter displayed some very interesting points, but it did run a bit on the long side and didn't have much intensity in the way of personal stakes for Iari. I didn't realize the person Iari was in love with was the Emperor until the second paragraph. I feel that combining the last two sentences in the first paragraph could help to clear up that confusion. I would suggest trimming out any details that are not important to the overall plot, and adding some more depth to what Iari has to lose if he doesn't fulfill his mission, or what might happen if he does.

      250: I really enjoyed your writing style. The flow and feel is very appropriate for the genre. Your word count is a bit on the high side, but you didn't begin with dumping large chunks of back story, and you seem to be starting in the right place. I know the world building can be insane with space settings (I didn't pick the name Poddy Fries because it sounds like potty), so I suppose it's right on target for an adult sci-fi. I didn't find any issues with the sample. It was very intriguing, and I'd definitely keep reading.


      Water Unicorns and Armadillos: This is a very cool premise. The fact that Tally is a rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard is awesome! I love seeing female characters in predominately male roles.

      Query: Your query letter started out good, but I felt it was lacking personal stakes. Is there something more than just deciding whether to battle sea creatures or not that could be driving Tally? Are the monsters extra active lately? Has there maybe been some shift in events that caused the monsters to encroach on the coast, and only Tally can stop them? There has to be something greater than just fear of losing a limb or death, because people risk that everyday just getting into a car.

      250: I was very pulled in by your writing. You did an excellent job of showing through Tally's eyes, it helped to settle me right into the world. I only noticed one issue. This sentence feels like it's missing something: Tally kicked off her shoes, then tossed her coffee cup. Where did Tally toss her cup to? In my mind, she just chucked it over her shoulder.

      I absolutely adored both of these entries, and wish they weren't matched up against each other. This is so difficult, and I feel you both deserve to move on, but one entry did catch my eye more than the other.

      Victory to Black Holes

      Delete
    7. Katherine PierceJune 3, 2016 at 12:11 PM

      Black Holes

      Query: This query is really pretty strong, and I’ve got to give you props for conveying a complicated SFF world so well. Great job. In the first paragraph I’d recommend combining the last two sentences and also clarifying that the love interest is the Emperor. The second paragraph is a bit more confusing. You say “Iari is the only person who can get close to the Emperor” but based on the initial opening isn’t he already close to him? The last sentence in that paragraph I might reword to something like, “Desperate to keep the Emperor safe, he…” For the third paragraph, I’m not loving the introduction of this new collaboration and I’m not sure how it fits in the big scheme of things. Is there a way to focus more on the big picture plot elements and really amp up the personal stakes for Iari? What’s the plan now that they have the Emperor and they’ve destroyed the planet? On a personal side, how is Iari’s relationship with the Emperor affected and how is he dealing with it?

      250: I really loved this 250 and immediately felt drawn into the story. In the first paragraph I might skip “7:92,” I’m not sure it’s really necessary. My biggest question here is in the disconnect I’m feeling between the query and the opening. The query made it seem as if the Emperor and Iari had a relationship going on, but here it feels more like they’re only Emperor/Attendant. Are Iari’s feelings one-sided? If they’re not, I might throw in a detail in the third paragraph of something more personal that he’d typically be doing—brushing his hair back or something to indicate to us that they have a romantic relationship. Also, can you give us an idea who Elise is? Is she friend or foe? My only other concern is that based on where the 250 starts, we’re already a good deal through the information you’ve provided us in the query (he’s already in place as a palace guard, already close to the Emperor, already in love with him, and it seems like he’ll be taking him hostage soon?). I’m wondering (now) if there might be too much setup in the query and not enough on what the rest of the story is going to have for us (especially since it’s a nice, long 122k).


      Water Unicorns and Armadillos

      Query: Reading through this, I get the sense that I’m missing some of the pieces here. Like why Tally is back in ND. I’m thinking that something may have happened and she’s really disappointed not to be doing something with swimming. Am I right? Personally, I’d move the first line to the last of the first paragraph, giving us information about why SOB called and what the opportunity is. I think the other judges mentioned this, but SOB is a pretty conspicuous name that we’re all auto-correcting in our heads to curse words. If that’s on purpose and meant to be funny you might mention that in the query, if not and it’s unintentional, consider adding another word to the company’s name to adjust the abbreviation. Third paragraph, the “which only look like…” line—I’d cut that part. We don’t really need scenery description in the query. I also find it a bit odd that she’d taking the job without knowing what it really is and what the company name stands for. And the mention of her father seems out of place. Is he a crucial part of the story? Because it reads as a bit random in the query. As for the stakes, are they really the overall stakes for the MS? I would think that she’d have to choose early on whether she wanted to the job or not and that there would be something larger down the line that would be driving the story.

      250: I really love the concept of this story. I think it’s unique and intriguing. But the opening here feels very generic. All we’re seeing is the typical college grad who unfortunately had to move back home with their parents because of loan debt and having to work in a job they don’t like. I’d really love to see more flavor in this opening, something to spice it up. While I do think it’s well-written, it isn’t living up to what I was expecting based on the query.

      Two more great entries, but VICTORY TO BLACK HOLES!

      Delete
    8. Black Holes
      Query:
      Great concept.

      I want to know more about what a mindfighter is! Can we get a couple of words that are specific instead of “to challenge him.” What do mindfighters do? This sounds important.

      I think these two sentences: “Desperate, he takes ...change of plans.” May be getting to synopsis-level. I think you can skip them, although they sound very interesting!

      “to trust this tenuous collaboration:” I would say “To trust three tenuous allies” or something like that. Get the number three in there so we know what is coming after the colon. I had to read it a couple of times to understand that you were naming 3 people.

      Also can we get some real stakes like “if Iari doesn’t kill his true love, then millions will perish” or something concrete. Is another planet marked for destruction? Is their relationship over? The stakes should be very clear and personal, and then add in the world stakes. This guy is going to sacrifice either his heart or his morals. That’s huge. And planets are resting on the decision.

      Also just a note on wordcount. I know that 122k is acceptable for Adult Sci Fi, but I’ve always been told to stay as close to 100k as possible for a debut. Just something to consider!

      First 250:
      “the way he sat on one foot” – I know what you are getting at (I think) but it is hard to picture in this wording. “the way he tucked one foot under him” or something clearer

      “Eight minutes until he betrayed his best friend.” THIS IS SUCH A GOOD SENTENCE. I think start with this. It is a killer. “Iari had eight minutes until he betrayed his best friend.” You want your first sentence to punch people in the stomach, and tell them what the story is about. This is such a strong sentence!

      Really neat writing.

      Water Unicorns and Armadillos

      Query:
      “which only look ...cloudy day” – this phrase made the sentence hard to figure out. It’s nice. Keep it for something else, but I think just saying “landlocked North Dakota’s flatlands” gets us the point. She is far from the water she loves.

      “Tally is forced to choose between sitting safe ... or risking her life ... “ – Is this really the choice? I mean, she doesn’t seem like she would ever choose the former. I know it is risky, but you’ve already established her as someone who wants to GET OUT. Unpick what the stakes really are… is her dad in danger? Does she not want to kill sea monsters? Does she not trust the SOB? I think digging into the “her dad is in danger” angle really could ground it.

      Also the first sentence was confusing and I had nothing to grab onto. Not knowing what SOB is, not knowing who Tally is… I think just skip that sentence.

      This sounds like SUCH a cool concept!!!

      First 250:
      I think you can get deeper on your first sentence. Any hint of her love of water/swimming and us not being there will give us more of a connection with her. Or even something about sea monsters. Give us a deeper chance to learn more about the story…

      "Oh, good dear, you're home." – I think this needs different punctuation, unless her mom calls her “good dear”

      “If fine meant three tables stiffing her and one complaining to the manager” This is a sentence fragment and I don’t think it works in this case. Can you add a phrase to the beginning or end to make it make more sense?

      I think we need more of a sense of urgency if she is trying to escape a conversation. Have her motions be more rushed. I didn’t get the sense that she wants out of the room. She is dallying, not rushing to the hallway…

      Also can she miss the water more. I love the scenery descriptions, and I feel the dry heat. One moment of her thinking of water / swimming … that would really give us the whole picture and complete the sense of longing that will help us connect with her.

      Your premise is so intriguing. If we can feel the pull of the water and the desperation in her from page 1, you are going to have readers clamoring to read on.

      Both really strong entries! SO many good things in both…
      Victory to Black Holes

      Delete
  2. Black Holes: First paragraph was really interesting and I absolutely wanted to read on! In the second paragraph I started to get muddled with all the extra info, but the part about killing the man *he* loves interested me. I got seriously muddled in the third paragraph. There were just too many details for me, and I feel a lot of what you mentioned wasn't important enough for a query. As a SF writer myself, I sympathize with how to efficiently convey such a massive amount of world building and plot info, but I would tighten and really focus on the hooks.

    First 250: Definitely back on track with catching my interest. Enjoyed the voice a lot - felt your protagonist's nerves, and his internal conflict right away. I found the last paragraph a bit jarring, because it feels a bit wordy, with planetary defenses, etc. (Maybe just me, but in the "* minutes until he betrayed his best friend" line, would "8 minutes until he *would* betray his best friend" make more sense grammatically? Not sure.) Happy writing and revising! Good luck!

    Monsters of the Deep: Loved starting with "Sea monsters are real." It hits you in the face and puts me in your fantastical world right away. I would consider adding S.O.B. Corporation or something like that to clarify who they are, but yeah, assume readers are most likely automatically inserting the curse words in, potty mouths that we are, so adding a tag would help clarify.

    Stakes: "Pressured by a mountain of student debt" not only made me understand what is driving Tally, it really helped me empathize and identify with her. I think the part about the North Dakota flatlands could be tightened and streamlined, as nice a description as it was. Loved loved loved the next sentence - great voice (hello, debt free!) and really starts to bring in the creepy conflict and obstacles Tally will face. I thought the rest of your query was great, increased the stakes, nice voice, and nice punch.

    250: Nice voice right off the bat. I could already feel the internal conflict (frustration, despair, shame) brewing. I might play around with switching the position of "North Dakota" so that it is above the description in the first paragraph rather than below. I think it will help readers conjure the image in their mind.

    Loved the voice right off the bat, and the relationship between Tally and her mom - what Tally says vs. what she doesn't say, her mom's "helpful" nagging. The line about "if she could just get to the hallway" confused me a little, so you could clarify that, but right away Tally is someone I identify with and am rooting for. Happy writing and revising!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm feeling a little superfluous here because I could just copy and paste all Sarah's comments for my own. I think these are two very different and very successful entries! Fantastic work, both of you!

    Black Holes:
    Query: I echo the feeling there is just so much going on as the paragraphs continue that I'm lost. I was right there with you when the stakes were that he's a spy in love with the emperor he's trying to defeat. But as more and more was added, I felt overwhelmed: he's a palace guard who somehow gets close enough to the emperor to fall in love... he's a mindfighter... he's either a kidnapper or a rescuer of the emperor (that wasn't clear to me)... he's a collaborator... he's a fugitive... I know you're squeezing in 122k into 3 paragraphs (bravo!), but maybe we don't need every role he plays in the query? Pick a few?

    The first paragraph made me really want to read your book, but by the 3rd paragraph, I was losing steam. It's a query, not a synopsis... How about:
    First para as is
    drop the "mindfighter" from the second paragraph (it may be important to the story, but I'll find that out as I read your book)
    Third para - focus on sister chasing across galaxy while the fate of the planet, the empire and love hang in the balance (better stakes than integrity for this kind of book, I think)...

    250: The only thing I'd add to what's already been said is that the "fingers in his hair" through me... It's SciFi - for all I know, he has finger hair. Maybe "HIS fingers running through his light hair."?

    All in all, this is great. I watch a lot of sci fi movies, but never read it. Yours, I would read!!!

    Water Unicorns:
    Love this! What a great concept! :-) Love the voice and was sucked right in... And sadly, I STILL know way too much about student loan debt. :-(

    Query: I definitely thought there was a bad guy called the Son of a B who wanted her to kill the sea monsters. I agree with the others that you should spell that out name first with acronym (which then seems funny) in parenthesis. And while I know what you're trying to do with the "Or worse for her" line, maybe bear in mind that many people won't relate to that and you're building up stakes, building up stakes and then that's a little anti-climatic.

    First 250: I love your page - love it! Only thing I'd add to what's already been said is really minor: just "swim coaching job" sounded a bit awkward. What about "Hopefully, I can coach swimming or something..." (I coach diving or something... :-))

    Two amazing entries! I can't wait to find them both on my bookstore's shelves!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm feeling a little superfluous here because I could just copy and paste all Sarah's comments for my own. I think these are two very different and very successful entries! Fantastic work, both of you!

    Black Holes:
    Query: I echo the feeling there is just so much going on as the paragraphs continue that I'm lost. I was right there with you when the stakes were that he's a spy in love with the emperor he's trying to defeat. But as more and more was added, I felt overwhelmed: he's a palace guard who somehow gets close enough to the emperor to fall in love... he's a mindfighter... he's either a kidnapper or a rescuer of the emperor (that wasn't clear to me)... he's a collaborator... he's a fugitive... I know you're squeezing in 122k into 3 paragraphs (bravo!), but maybe we don't need every role he plays in the query? Pick a few?

    The first paragraph made me really want to read your book, but by the 3rd paragraph, I was losing steam. It's a query, not a synopsis... How about:
    First para as is
    drop the "mindfighter" from the second paragraph (it may be important to the story, but I'll find that out as I read your book)
    Third para - focus on sister chasing across galaxy while the fate of the planet, the empire and love hang in the balance (better stakes than integrity for this kind of book, I think)...

    250: The only thing I'd add to what's already been said is that the "fingers in his hair" through me... It's SciFi - for all I know, he has finger hair. Maybe "HIS fingers running through his light hair."?

    All in all, this is great. I watch a lot of sci fi movies, but never read it. Yours, I would read!!!

    Water Unicorns:
    Love this! What a great concept! :-) Love the voice and was sucked right in... And sadly, I STILL know way too much about student loan debt. :-(

    Query: I definitely thought there was a bad guy called the Son of a B who wanted her to kill the sea monsters. I agree with the others that you should spell that out name first with acronym (which then seems funny) in parenthesis. And while I know what you're trying to do with the "Or worse for her" line, maybe bear in mind that many people won't relate to that and you're building up stakes, building up stakes and then that's a little anti-climatic.

    First 250: I love your page - love it! Only thing I'd add to what's already been said is really minor: just "swim coaching job" sounded a bit awkward. What about "Hopefully, I can coach swimming or something..." (I coach diving or something... :-))

    Two amazing entries! I can't wait to find them both on my bookstore's shelves!

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  5. Black Holes
    Query: Great first paragraph. I'd take "help" out of the first sentence. Having "rebellion" and "empire" together makes me think of Star Wars (and, by extension, of someone falling in love with Emperor Palpatine). Can you call it something other than "rebellion"?
    250: Great writing. You could probably rephrase some things to make it shorter -- take out "peered up" in the second paragraph; change "to make anything out" to "to see." I love the "on any other day" sentences.

    Water Unicorns and Armadillos
    Query: I love the concept. Giving the reader the chance to connect sea monsters with the Gulf oil rigs is great -- there are no big pirate ships to get eaten by sea monsters, but there are other guys in trouble! "S.O.B" without context is a bit jarring -- if you want to use that in the first line, I'd clarify with it is in the next paragraph. The last line doesn't really add much, and I don't believe that not swimming would be worse than dying, even if she loves swimming a WHOLE lot. :)
    250: I love opening here -- you can feel the MC's boredom and desperation. A couple things: "Scraping" her hair away seems a little strange. You could probably leave out "giant" from "giant chipped bowls" -- it's not concrete enough to add a lot.

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  6. Yay, a battle of adult sci-fi! Love it! Can’t wait to dive in, and thanks to you both for sharing.

    Black Holes: 122k is a touch on the long side, but I don’t know if it’s long enough to be auto-reject territory. Something to keep in mind. (Query) So I was reading the first paragraph and my comment was “This wording is a little unclear and makes it sound like the Emperor is the one Iari falls in love with.” Go to second paragraph—duh! Haha me. But I LOVE this concept. In fact, I love it so much that I’m kind of uninterested in the rest of the machinations outlined in the query. If anything, I think you could focus more in on this love vs. betrayal idea and less on the details of the alliances. And maybe the stakes could be more dramatic. I think that there is more at stake than Iari’s level of compromise, given that he’s betraying his lover and presumably the Emperor’s life could be forfeit, etc. (250) This is great. Little science fiction details to ground us in the setting without going over the top. I’m mad I can’t read more! Only nitpick is the sentence “he reassured himself, though his heart pounded in his chest”. Something about the “though” seems misplaced. Good luck!!

    Water Unicorns and Armadillos: (Query) I have a hard time with the S.O.B. name. I think it would work better to introduce the full name first. In fact, I think it would be better to almost swap the order of the paragraphs. I felt there was a little too much table-setting/atmosphere up front, and I was thinking “So what?” and then all the activity gets there and it’s like ohhh. Not sure if I’m making sense here…basically, I think you have an interesting story and premise but it isn’t presented for maximum captivation. (250) I like the scenario you’re presenting here. As a Midwest escapee, I can imagine the horror of having to move back in with my parents. It’s very suited to our current times as well, given recent trends among people living with family. It didn’t make sense to me that Tally thinks she just needs to make it to the hallway but then continues speaking. I like the scene you’re setting here.

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  7. Black Holes

    Liked the descriptiveness of this query and the voice of the character it presents. Though with the fate of entire planets hanging in the balance, I thought a description of the stakes here merited much more than mention of integrity and ideals. The setup in the first 250 was wondrously foreboding.

    Water Unicorns and Armadillos

    Being that my own novel features active duty Navy and Coast Guard, this query was full of win! The stakes didn't have the gravity I would have wanted, though. Tally's voice come through loud and proud in the first 250 albeit crestfallen. Her derisive assessment of being back on the High Plains struck me as awkward and too short. In the full novel's opening I would have liked to see a little bit more description here--what Tally is seeing and, most important, how it makes her feel.

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  8. Black Holes: The first two paragraphs of your query do a nice job of setting things up--the atmosphere, the conflict, and Iari's motives. The ending of the first paragraph is especially well-done. In the third paragraph, things get a little convoluted. Was there an incident that forced Iari's hand in taking the Emperor hostage? Why do you refer to Iari's allies as 'new' allies? Hasn't he been working with them the whole time? And where did the 'tenuous collaboration' come from--what threw these people together and why is it in their best interest to now work together? If you can clarify some of these questions in your third paragraph, it will make the query all the more compelling. Also--what happens if he fails? If the vengeful sister catches them, will she kill Iari? Will the Emperor lose his life? Are there any other consequences for failing, like from the rebels he initially signed on to serve? Make sure these stakes are crystal clear and compelling.

    Your 250 is really good. It seems like you're starting in just the right place, where tension is high and the conflict has already begun. The way you introduce things drops us right in the middle of it, giving us just enough details to understand what is going on but not enough that we don't have questions. And the unanswered questions compel us to read on. Well done!

    Water Unicorns: Query--Ooh, I really like this concept! The first time you introduce the acronym S.O.B., it seems strange to not say what it stands for. Since that's part of your reveal later, make sure you highlight the mysteriousness of the organization or state that she doesn't know anything about them but maybe doesn't care. You could even just say "an organization called SOB wants Tally to hunt them" or something like that in the first paragraph. I would then combine the second two paragraphs and move the line "That is, until SOB calls with a career opportunity" to after you reveal that Tally is feeling stifled by North Dakota and her debt. (By the way, can flatlands be encroaching? I'd replace encroaching with something else--boring, dismal, enless). I really like how you've set up why she would want to accept the job. The second half of that paragraph is really well done. Lastly, in your final paragraph, I'd take out the words 'for her'. Just say "Or worse, she could never swim again". We get that it's for her because it's her story and her perspective.

    On the 250: Just a few little things here. When you first see her pushing through the screen door, I thought she was going outside rather than in. Maybe mention that she's walking up the front steps or something as the wind is whipping her hair around. I know the wind should have clued me in, but when you say pushed through the screen door, usually screen doors open to the outside so that made it sound like she was going out.

    You do a nice job of setting the scene. I don't have any sense that this will be a sci-fi book just yet, and you want to make sure you set the tone early on so readers don't get jaded, but I do like the feel of this opening. Just make sure you infuse a sci-fi feel early on. I also like how you mentioned the North Dakota O's being stretched out. Nice job on this!

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  9. Black Holes

    Query – It has Character. It has Conflict. It has Stakes, though they could be brought out more.

    I love the name of the main character – it just flows off the tongue so beautifully. I like what you’re setting up in the query. I was confused by the part about having the destruction of a planet on his conscious. When you say they opened fire, was that with some planet destroying gun or something? I’m left wondering about what’s going on with the Emperor and how that’s all going to play out because if he was supposed to kill him, what does the rebellion think about it all? Won’t they just kill him now? Overall, pretty solid.

    250 – Good opening. It clearly establishes the genre and sets a nice scene. The only thing I was confused about what who the best friend is. I also wondered about the use of the reports being scattered around him and how to picture that if they’re digital. Overall, nice opening!


    Water Unicorns and Armadillos

    Query – It has Conflict. It has Character. It has Stakes. It has voice.

    This sounds fun. The query is clear and concise and gives me all the info I need. The only thing I’m left wanting is to know why she’s back in North Dakota if she was breaking so many records in Ca.?

    250 – Love this opening. Beautiful descriptions – from the flat expanse with the rapeseed (we have the same thing in Idaho, though not as flat) to the chipped bowl and oil wells. Wonderful. I love the characterization and mood and boringness to her life which only sets me up for what I know is coming based on the query description. Well done!

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  10. Good queries both of you.

    BLACK HOLES

    I want the book. I want it in my hands now. I’m not really a sci-fi girl, and if I was an agent, I prolly wouldn’t represent sci-fi, but if I read this query and this pages I’d change my mind.

    I just worry the third paragraph of the query loses focus on the emperor. At that point, I still want to know what is going to happen with Iari and the Emperor’s relationship.

    One thought, I’d love a hint of sensory information in the opening – smells, sound, sensations. Right now if feels purely visual.

    WATER UNICORNS

    Query note: It reads really well. Just a cultural note. Someone from North Dakota would say “at (a) university in California” or “at the University of California, Berkley (pick a campus)”. “At university” without “a” or “the” is too British.

    The first paragraph of your 250 feels like she JUST arrived in North Dakota, but the scene at the kitchen table seems like she just finished a day of work. Maybe a line like “Driving home after her third day at ‘insert diner name here,’ Tally gazed over her steering wheel at the plains….”

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