Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Title: The Fakers
Entry Nickname: FBI Ruined My Love Life
Word count: 77,000
Genre: YA Contemporary/Humor


Sixteen-year-old Daisy Kranzer is pretty much the exact opposite of a Mormon. As the crass, opinionated daughter of an FBI agent, she has a wicked right hook, she knows how to keep her true identity a secret, and she swears like a sailor. But when Daisy's mom is assigned to a special undercover operation in Pleasant Park, Utah, Daisy's unique set of skills won't cut it. She'll need to appear every bit as Mormon as the perfectly perky teenagers or risk blowing her mom's cover.

At first, fitting in is low on Daisy's priority list—especially when she meets a hunky Mormon boy named Cooper who seems more than eager to do some very un-Mormon things with her. But when Daisy finds out that Cooper is actually the son of the man her mom is investigating for the FBI, things get complicated. Daisy's mom, desperate for help with the op, asks Daisy to use her relationship with Cooper to obtain information about his dad. The only problem? Cooper is feeling guilty about his make-out sessions with Daisy and wants nothing to do with her. If she wants to win him back and help the FBI, she'll have to prove she can be the straight-laced Mormon girl Cooper is looking for, despite her dirty mouth and short shorts—and the fact that she's not actually Mormon at all.

First 250:

Real Mormons don't swear.

Oh, hell no,” I said. Of course, I didn't know about the swearing thing yet. Or the Mormon thing, for that matter.

Sorry, Daisy. We don't have a choice. Orders are orders.” Mom's forehead wrinkled in what had to be faux concern. I kept looking for the sparkle in her eyes that would give away her excitement. Not only was this her first assignment after being stuck behind a desk for five months, it was her first operation as lead agent. She had to be stoked.

I, on the other hand, was the opposite of stoked. I stared down at the manila folder splayed across the kitchen table, the words at the top of the page taunting me.


I closed the file and pushed it away from me. Aside from being 2,136 miles from our home in Virginia (I knew this thanks to my new arch nemesis: El Folder Manila), Utah was about as far from Daisy-friendly as it got.

The name of the town is Pleasant Park, Mom. Pleasant Park.” I shuddered. You can't trust a place that insists on including a fluffy adjective in its name.

Mom pulled her chestnut hair back into a tight bun at the base of her neck, her fingers swirling her hair with practiced expertise. The 'do made her Irish cheekbones pop, which I doubted was intentional, and also made her look ridiculously intimidating, which was definitely intentional.


Title: Under the Surface
Entry nickname: Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy
Word count: 64K
Genre: YA Speculative Fiction


Seventeen-year-old Lauren Williams, self-proclaimed rebel and professional mother-disappointer, needs an escape. 

When Lauren hears about the legend of Lake Modoc, she’s intrigued; exploring the forgotten underwater town is exactly the kind of adventure to take her mind off her dismal grades and the history teacher who has it out for her. Together with her two best friends, Lauren hops on a boat (somewhat illegally), and sets out to discover the Atlantis of Owego County. 

One problem: Lauren must bring her eight-year-old sister, Roxie, along for the ride. And in the spilt second Lauren and her friends find the creepy, algae-covered church steeple under the lake, Roxie disappears from the boat. Silently, impossibly, Roxie is gone.

While the police and the county focus their efforts on dragging the lake, Lauren is wracked with grief. She becomes obsessed with uncovering the secrets behind Roxie’s increasingly mysterious disappearance. The further she digs, the more she realizes that century-old secret towns buried under lakes like being buried. Unwittingly, Lauren unleashes the old town’s scandalous, malevolent history—and if she doesn’t find her sister soon, that history is doomed to repeat itself. With Roxie’s life hanging by a thread, Lauren must dive under the surface to save her sister… or live under the weight of her death forever.

First 250 words:

The water stretches out in a dark blanket before me, rippling slightly in the cool breeze. I breathe deeply, closing my eyes and letting the wind play with the ends of my hair. I feel tranquil—free.

“Ugh, damn it! These tubes are impossible,” Carly shouts beside me, breaking my meditation.

“Jesus. You ruined my yoga vibe.”

“You’re not here to do yoga, which, by the way, you’d never do anyway. Can you help for two seconds?” Carly pushes her red curls out of her face, bent over the water’s edge.

“Hey, you’re the one who wanted to overachieve on this assignment. I would’ve been fine using tap water,” I say, taking a tentative step toward her.

“Tap water is too easy. I want a challenge.” The glass tubes she’s holding cascade into the lake.

“Well, consider yourself challenged.”

Carly has been my best friend since that time we had the misfortune of being dressed in the same hideous sweater on picture day in the second grade, but it’s times like these I ponder our actual compatibility as human beings.

I crouch down next to her and help her fish the test tubes out of the water. Flecks of dirt and algae cling to their outsides, so I wipe a few on my t-shirt before handing them back to her. “Here, nerd. Go do science.”

“You’re my lab partner. You’re required to do science, too. Here,” she says, extracting a test tube rack from the messenger bag lying next to her.


  1. Judges, please post your feedback and comments as a reply here:

    1. FBI Ruined My Life:
      I find zero fault with the query. It’s a cool concept, and a little edgy. I’m slightly leery of the potential for stereotyping Mormons, but that’s too complicated a subject to touch on here (and I get accused of Christian-bashing even though I’m Christian, so it’s hard to avoid controversy if you tackle religious characters and communities in your books anyway, no matter how you do it).

      This is a good opening, except I’d remove “Of course, I didn't know about the swearing thing yet. Or the Mormon thing, for that matter.” It makes me lost in time, since she finds out right after that.

      Like Atlantis:
      “…self-proclaimed rebel and professional mother-disappointer…” AWESOME.
      Whoa…there’s a lot going on in this query, but I like it. It works for me, and I want to read it, like, NOW. Like Atlantis but Totally Creepy, indeed.
      “…cascade into the lake.” I’m not clear right away if this is intentional. Clarify…have her curse under her breath or something if it’s a mistake.

      No other qualms at all. Good opening. Great writing.

      You're KILLING me here. Extremely worthy entries here. I'm voting for Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy

    2. Oh man, these both look great!

      The FBI Ruined My Life:

      This query basically has everything you need: character, setting, conflict, stakes! Extremely well-written, concise, and clear. The only think that gives me a little bit of concern here is "perfectly perky teenagers"... I wonder if this is Daisy's POV coming across, or if the Mormon characters in your book are actually going to be stereotypes. At this point, it's well-written enough that I'd give you the benefit of the doubt and keep reading, but know that it's a concern.

      First 250 are great. I love the voice and the humor, and there's some great promise here for the mom to also be an interesting character (YA with well-rounded adult characters is a big YAY for me!) I'd keep reading!


      Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy

      I honestly think the query here is PERFECT, so I'm going to give you some nitpicky advice because it's all I can think of. "spilt second" should be "split second." But seriously, that typo is my only qualm. The voice is amazing, and "Silently, impossibly, Roxie is gone" gave me chills.

      First 250, I'm not TOTALLY onboard with the first line. You've got such a great, humorous voice in the query, and then you open with... landscape and feels? Fortunately, everything AFTER that lives up to the premise of the query very well. The dialogue flows naturally and I'm already loving the dynamic between these friends. Maybe consider opening with something a little stronger to hook the reader... but I'm INCREDIBLY disappointed there isn't more here to read.


      Loved them both, but...

      Victory to Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy!

    3. FBI Ruined My Love Life: This is a great concept. The story sounds very fun yet tense, which is a good combination in my opinion.

      Query: This is a great query letter. It has voice, suspense, tells me all the details to make me want to read the book, and ends with personal stakes for Daisy. My only comment (and this might be nitpicking), is the first sentence of the query feels unfinished. You mention Daisy is the exact opposite of a Mormon, but don't mention why that matters until two sentences later. I feel like (and this is just my personal opinion) that bit of info is unnecessary at that point in the query letter. In fact, the pitch would work just fine without it. For example:

      Sixteen-year-old Daisy Kranzer is crass, the opinionated daughter of an FBI agent, has a wicked right hook, knows how to keep her true identity a secret, and swears like a sailor. But when Daisy's mom is assigned...

      250: I really like the opening in this sample. It fits the mood that was promised in the query perfectly. Just be careful of how many sentences you begin with "I", as it can come off as repetitive. It could help to show more through Daisy's perspective. That way you can immerse the reader into the world a bit better, and cut down on sentence that start with "I". For example, this sentence:

      I closed the file and pushed it away from me.

      could be reworked to show very easily. Something like:

      My fingers slide along the smooth file as I close its cover, pushing it away.

      Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy: I'm very intrigued by the concept of this story. I love ghost town settings, but never seen one under a lake before! It's very exciting.

      Query: This is a great query letter! It describes the plot in a suspenseful way, gives the reader some insight as to who Lauren is, and shows personal stakes for her. I just have a few comments. This sentence:

      The further she digs, the more she realizes that century-old secret towns buried under lakes like being buried.

      is a bit hard for me to follow. I'm not sure I understand exactly what you're trying to convey with this statement. Is there a way you can clear up your meaning here at all? Also, in the last part of the last sentence in the query letter:

      or live under the weight of her death forever.

      I would suggest specifying who the "her" is here.

      250: I was very pulled in by the opening in your sample. However, I would've liked to see more of what the characters were doing in-between the string of dialogue, as it would've helped to set the scene better and ground me in the story. Otherwise, I thought your writing style was very engaging and I would definitely read more of this story

      Both of these entries had strong query letters, awesome concepts, and great writing. Honestly, I'd rather go to the dentist than vote on this matchup. I love them both! Since I have to pick, I'm going to vote for the entry whose voice I connected with more.

      Victory to FBI Ruined My Love Life

    4. Katherine PierceJune 3, 2016 at 4:29 PM

      The FBI Ruined My Life

      Query: This is a really solid query. Great job! Here are a few of my nitpicks: In the first line, “the exact opposite of Mormon,” I’m not sure I love it. Mainly because we have no idea how that relates and we don’t see it until the last sentence in that paragraph. In the next sentence, you can delete the second and third use of “she.” Same sentence “crass” and “swears like a sailor” are similar, can you come up with a different, more distinctive phrase in one of those places? Right after that you mention that her skills won’t cut it, but technically keeping her identity a secret will, right? In the last sentence in that paragraph you mention “perfectly perky teenagers” which makes me a bit hesitant. I love the idea of a book exploring this religion, I’m just really hoping it’s not relying on stereotypes. I thought the last paragraph was really smooth, easily readable. My only trip-up was in Cooper’s character. In the beginning he seems to be rebellious, happy to fool around with her, but at the end his character seems to do a 180. Clarify that if you can?

      250: Love it. Love the voice and the writing. Really, really great. My only concern is with the first sentence and “Of course I didn’t know…for that matter.” It drew me out of the moment and confused me. I’m not a fan of characters knowing what’s going to happen and referencing it like this in the story. I’d recommend cutting it. Especially because I thought her “hell no” comment was finding out about their cover.

      Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy

      Query: This is a really fun premise. Love the “professional mother disappointer” line. You mention she needs an escape, but from what/who? It’s very vague and generic. In the last paragraph, “century-old secret towns…” confused me. Can you reword this to make it clearer? Other than that I think this is really well done. Although (and I can’t put my finger on why exactly) it’s coming across as a little young. Probably just me though.

      250: More strong writing in the 250. The dialogue is natural and flows really well. However, I’m not sure you’re starting in the right place. Despite being well-written it’s also a bit boring and falls flat for me. I’d really love to see a stronger or more unique opening to go with such a fantastic premise.

      Another hard one, but VICTORY TO THE FBI RUINED MY LIFE!

    5. FBI Ruined My Love Life

      Neat concept! I love a story where someone has to pretend to be something they’re not.

      Can you break paragraph 2 into two parts? It has a lot going on. Maybe between “nothing to do with her. // If she…”

      What happens if Cooper and Dad learn the truth? Does mom get fired? Do they get driven out of town? Is time running out? Let us know what happens if she fails. Also she wants to help but it’s hard for her not to curse and make out with boys? What is the real struggle? Those things are superficial actions… what part of herself really has to grow or is at risk of being compromised?

      First 250:
      Great voice.

      I think you don’t have to give the mom’s hair color… that always seems cliché to me to have a character’s hair color on page 1 (others may disagree!). The action of her pulling the hair back is good, though. It helps me picture her. Also don’t repeat the word “hair” in the same sentence if you can avoid it.

      And this goes without saying, but in case: be sure if you are not Mormon that you have a sensitivity reader. Always good when featuring specific faiths and cultures.( If you are #ownvoices then no worries!)

      Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy

      Wowzer what a neat story.

      “hanging by a thread” – can I get a more watery sounding phrase here to fit in with the story?

      Not sure you need to throw in the history teacher detail. I think we get that she has issues with school / traditional achievement.

      I would like to know a bit more what “unleashes the old town’s scandalous, malevolent history” means. Ghosts? I think a specific here would help up the stakes. (it will also help “that history is doomed to repeat itself” sound actually dangerous. For now it is too vague)

      Also instead of find her sister “soon” maybe “before [something!]” … soon isn’t really dangerous enough. Soon could be in an hour or next week.

      I heart the last sentence.

      THIS SOUNDS SO COOL AND I LIKE IT A LOT. Color me intrigued.

      First 250 words:
      “You’re not here to do yoga, which, by the way, you’d never do anyway.” – maybe a little too much telling here . “You haven’t done a sun salutation in your life.” or something like that is a little more conversational.

      I like the water description but I don’t think it is ominous enough for what this story is going to be about. Give us just a sense. “dark” is nice but can we get something a bit more creeptastic?

      “These tubes are impossible” really didn’t make sense to me. Maybe “these tubes are slippery” or “these tubes keep slipping out of my hands” or anything. I didn’t know what “tubes” meant. (or just say “test tubes” so we know what the tubes are)

      LOVE the description of their friendship!!!! I feel it. Great repartee between these two. I want to see more.

      Both sound great! Tough Call... but....

      Victory to Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy

    6. Jumping in based on a call for judges! I didn’t read other comments to avoid being influenced, so I apologize if I repeat anything said by others.

      FBI Ruined My Love Life

      The voice in your query and 250 screams off the page. And your premise is interesting and unique.

      I believe you could cut your first line of your query; it’s unnecessary. And I worry about the implied stereotyping of Mormons, although I’m confident it’s not present in your MS.

      My only issue is in your query stakes. Daisy’s mom wants her to use Cooper to obtain information about his dad, but Daisy’s only concern seems to be her short shorts and the difficulty of pretending to being a Mormon.

      I assume that she also has qualms about using a boy she likes to gain information that may convict his dad. Huge conflict right there. If your story includes exploration into that conflict on Daisy’s part, that could make your stakes stronger.

      Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy

      Another entry with excellent voice in both the query and 250.

      You had me at professional mother-disappointer and seeking the Atlantis of Owego County.

      Great tone and excellent stakes in your query, but I wonder if it would help to give a few more hints into why the town’s history is scandalous and malevolent, which are nice, creepy descriptors, but don’t actually give details. Also, is her sister dead? Because that’s what the last line implies.

      In your 250: The following snippet made me pause. I think it works as is, but I had to read it a few times to make sure:

      “but it’s times like these I ponder our actual compatibility as human beings.”

      Should it be: but, "at" times like these, I ponder our actual …

      You two are making this hard for me, but I give Victory to:


    7. FBI Ruined My Love Life: Wow. I love the irony in this query’s hook and in the first page. I’m just blown away by the voice, the writing and the awesome mood set up so beautifully in the first page. This is a page that will stay with me. Just so well done.

      Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy: Great job on the query. MC, premise and stakes are well laid out. While I love this premise and the mystery, I didn’t really feel hooked by the first page. The mood and tone feel a bit off for me. This is a mystery, but I don’t get the ominous feel of the premise from this page, and I didn’t get a real feel for the world-building either. To me it opened more like a contemporary. Maybe consider a different starting point—one that really introduces or even hints at the world or at the mystery of the Lake.

      Victory to FBI RUINED MY LOVE LIFE

    8. No wonder tie breakers are needed here! I find no fault with either query of 250 that hasn't already been said and I think both concepts sound equally as interesting. However, I agree with those who have expressed concern about the use of religion as a plot device (which may not be an issue if we had more info, but it's hard to tell here) so I'm going with VICTORY to ATLANTIS!

    9. Jumping in due to call for judges! To save time this time, I read the comments before drafting a critique. I really don't have anything that hasn't been said. Two great concepts, two good queries, and two engaging first 250s.

      For FBI--the query did come off a bit like your MC is kind of mean. I'm not sure I get why getting this inside info for her Mom is so important to her that she's willing to screw over this guy. Is it because if she gets the info, the mission will be over, and she can leave? Is his dad a really bad dude? To some extent, the query relates the mom's stakes over your MC's stakes. If you can clarify that, you'd have a home run. The 250 read very well--Nice!!!

      For ATLANTIS, the malevolent town threw me. It seems to come out of nowhere. I had to check your genre again, and it does say speculative fiction, so I'm thinking there's a huge component of that in your story. I'd provide a few more specifics about the town's history and how it affects the stakes.

      Overall, I can see why people are mulling over their decision here. Hmmmm. Totally subjective, but one engaged me a bit more . . .


    10. And another match that’s so tough to call. Stop writing such great stuff, people!

      In all seriousness, here’s my take.

      FBI Ruined My Love Life
      I love the concept here but I wound up feeling a tad bit confused as to what is going on. I would agree with the other judges that I think the first fine needs to be modified in some way (or possibly eliminated) as it kind of points toward Mormon stereotypes. At the end, I felt unsure about Daisy’s relationship with Connor. Does she just need to pretend to be a good girl to trick him into revealing helpful info, or does she actually like him? In the 250, I thought the voice was excellent. I can tell already that I want to be on this journey with Daisy. I would totally keep reading to find out what happens next.

      Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy
      Okay, so here I am totally dying to read a story that an entry title such as Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy promises. I thought the query was very solid and don’t have much to suggest there. For me, the first 250 was a bit rough. The dialogue between the friends is snappy but creates a somewhat unclear mental picture for me. I think it would be better to lead with the info that the characters are crouching down beside the lake.

      While I loved both entries, ultimately the query for Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy really got my attention. Victory for Like Atlantis!

  2. FBI Ruined My Love Life

    Query: I like this query a lot. It's punchy and unique. The first sentence actually confused me at first, because I didn't understand why being "the exact opposite of a Mormon" was important, but my curiosity was satisfied by the end of the first paragraph. In addition to the good writing, I'm particularly drawn to this query for the subject matter; illegal Mormon activity has always fascinated me.

    250: The first two paragraphs don't connect very well. I get what you're trying to say, but the flow feels off. It seemed like she was saying "Oh, hell no" to the fact that Mormons don't swear, which was confusing because she doesn't know yet that they don't swear. Besides that, I love the voice in these opening paragraphs. The character really pops off the page.

    Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy

    Query: My first thought after reading the first two paragraphs was: "This sounds pretty cliche, but it's written in a unique way, so that's cool." But then I kept reading, and the query took one crazy turn after another while maintaining the awesome voice. Two thumbs up!

    250: The opening is cute, though I have to admit there's nothing about it that particularly stands out to me. We're getting a good sense of how the characters get along, but I'm not sure that's the best place to start this story. I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what to say, because I can't find anything technically wrong with your opening; I'm simply not a big fan of it.

  3. FBI Ruined my Love Life (BTW, I love this nickname)
    Query: Very strong! I don't typically read this genre, but you had me hooked, especially with the last line.
    250: The voice is really strong. She's an interesting and sassy character, and I definitely would like to know more about her. I'm a little torn about the opening lines, as they didn't draw me in as much as I would have hoped, but then I kept reading and you hooked me.

    Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy
    Query: Definitely a lot going on in this query! You've got a great, thrilling storyline here, but I feel like the query ran just a tad long for me.
    250: The dialogue was fun, but didn't really pull me in like the query did. I love this though: "since that time we had the misfortune of being dressed in the same hideous sweater on picture day in the second grade, but it’s times like these I ponder our actual compatibility as human beings."

  4. I can’t believe I have to choose between these two! They are both so interesting and well-done. Congrats to both of you!

    FBI: I love Daisy from the first sentence. And it’s especially fun that Daisy is her name, with her dirty mouth and right hook. ☺ Your writing is so well-done, and I feel like you’ve caught the essence in the query. Your book reminds me of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girl books, which are a favorite of mine, and very well liked by girls all over. So you’d have a bunch of people ready to jump on board! I have only a couple of nitpicks, because that’s what we’re supposed to do! 1) Two comments about this sentence: “As the crass, opinionated daughter of an FBI agent, she has a wicked right hook, she knows how to keep her true identity a secret, and she swears like a sailor.” You say in the next sentence that her unique skills won’t cut it, but isn’t keeping her true identity a secret exactly what she’ll be doing in Utah? Secondly, I think the sentence would be crisper if you cut the 2nd and 3rd “she’s.” “As the crass, opinionated daughter of an FBI agent, she has a wicked right hook, knows how to keep her true identity a secret, and swears like a sailor.” Make sense? Other than that, I really don’t have anything to say. I love your 250 – feel like you really get her personality across. My only concern is that I had to read the first sentence and first paragraph a couple of times. I was confused that she says “Real Mormons don’t swear,” but then goes on to say she didn’t know about them yet. It’s a great first line, but it is a little confusing. Awesome job. Can’t wait to read the book!

    ATLANTIS: First off, I love the nickname! So great. The premise is definitely creepy, and the idea of underwater towns is so intriguing. I really like your first sentence – the idea of a “mother-disappointer” is so funny and rings true. Great stuff. In the third paragraph, I would consider cutting the “And” at the beginning of the sentence about Roxie disappearing. I have done this myself in the past, so I know why you do it, but I think it would read better without it. I like the sound of Lauren unwittingly unleashing the history, but I’m not quite sure what that means. Is it happening right then? Or do you mean she uncovers it? That part is a little vague, and might need some more fleshing out. And how does she know Roxie’s life is hanging by a thread? Does she actually know she’s alive? Your 250 is full of imagery and good dialogue. Just one nitpick: 1) Be careful of active dialogue tags. For example: “Ugh, damn it! These tubes are impossible,” Carly shouts beside me, breaking my meditation. Might work better as “Ugh, damn it! These tubes are impossible.” Carly shouts in my ear, breaking my meditation. OR “ I would’ve been fine using tap water,” I say, taking a tentative step toward her. Might sound better as “I would’ve been fine using tap water.” I take a tentative step toward her. Make sense? I really like all of the dialogue. Sounds real, and like teenagers. Great stuff.

    Congrats to you both! I look forward to seeing both of these books on the shelves! It was really hard to decide on a Victor here. After lots in inner debating, I finally chose one:

    Victory to FBI Ruined my Love Life

  5. FBI Ruined My Love Life: Your query is really strong! It immediately engaged me and made me want to read the book! The stakes are clear and I don’t think there’s too many YA books out there that explore the Mormon faith, so this is a unique concept. I love the voice in your 250, but I would suggest starting at a different point in the scene or trying a different opening. It was hard to orient myself as a reader with the first couple of lines.

    Like Atlantis: Another great query! The only thing I would suggest is being a little more specific about what will happen if MC doesn’t find her sister. In the first 250, you’ve captured the teen voice perfectly! However, I think the opening page could be stronger by adding more conflict or action.

    Great job, guys! I would love to read both of these books!

  6. FBI ruined my love life: In the query, you do a good job of setting the stakes, creating tension, and showing us how this character is going to be all sorts of uncomfortable in her new life. The query is concise and easy to follow--you've done a good job with it. I only got hung up on the line where Cooper is feeling guilty about his make out sessions and wants nothing to do with Daisy. I'm actually Mormon and I never felt guilty about a make-out session. Take it further than that, or add a little vandalism or drinking or something like that and, yeah, the guilt could set in. But not for just making out. Also, I got the sense that Cooper was happy to do un-mormon things with Daisy, so why is he suddenly guilty about it? I got the sense that he was a bad-boy of sorts, not really following the Mormon standards anyway. Now, if Daisy lures him off, or convinces him to do something he normally wouldn't have, then it would feel more believable when he suddenly feels guilty and refuses to talk to her. Maybe you could fix this by just saying that Cooper was happy to experiment in some un-Mormon things with her, or something else that shows this is new territory for him. There are lots of kids in Utah that don't follow the Mormon standards, though, so it should be pretty easy for Daisy to find a group where she fits in.

    (By the way, if you'd like to run any religion questions by me for verification or debunking, I'd be happy to help you get all the details right. My twitter handle is @byutm33).

    Okay, on to the 250. I love the lines "thanks to my new arch-nemesis, El Folder Manilla" and the bit about not trusting anyplace that has to include a fluffy adjective in it's name. Those lines are gold. The voice in your opening comes across well. I'm not sure your first line is working. It's a great attention grabber, but then you go on to say that she didn't know about the mormon thing or the swearing thing yet. So it seems odd to start off with that if it doesn't fit what she would know at the time. I would just start with your second line, and have her mom drop into the conversation that, 'oh, by the way, Mormon's don't swear' after Daisy swears and that makes everything even worse for her. Otherwise I really enjoyed this.

    Like Atlantis: Amazing opening line of your query. I love the succinct and snappy description of your main character. The rest of the query is good too--well organized, sets up the story and the stakes well, and leaves us wanting to know more. In the final line, which I like, you talk about how your mc must dive under the surface to save her sister. I'm assuming you're talking about a metaphorical surface? Like, diving under the surface of the mystery of the sunken city and not just diving in the water? Because if it's just diving into the lake, I lose some respect for your character and why she wouldn't have done that earlier. Just make sure it's clear what surface it is she has to dive under.

    The voice in your 250 sounds a little younger than 17. I can't put my finger on exactly why, though, and I know how frustrating that is to hear. It might be in the dialogue--the way things are stated and the way the mc thinks feels a little immature. Like, would a 17 year old really be so invested in this science experiment? They're seniors, right? Do seniors even take science classes? Usually by senior year they'd be done with those types of classes unless they're taking an AP class and then I would think they'd care more about the experiment. I think if you make their dialogue more snappy, shorter exchanges, some incomplete sentences, etc, that would help. I like the line "Here nerd, go do science." Oh, and when you say the glass tubes she's holding cascade into the lake, do you mean she drops them in or are they very long tubes that extend into the lake water? That was unclear to me. Overall, though, this is strong and I liked it.

  7. Yay! Two humorous entries! They both look like a lot of fun. Here are my thoughts on each.
    FBI Ruined My Love Life: In the query, in the second sentence “crass” and “swears like a sailor” feel repetitive to me. I would also remove the second two “she”s for fluidity in that sentence. “Swears like a sailor” is also cliché. Maybe use a different, more unique phrase? In the second paragraph, there is a disconnect for me between Daisy not making fitting in a priority and her meeting this guy Cooper. I think because in a way she’s fitting in at least with Cooper by being her crass self, right? Something just seemed a little logically off there. Ah—now that I’ve read further, I see that Cooper LIKES Mormon-behaving girls. So, yeah, I got a little confused on how that info was unfolded, so consider tweaking. Love the 250. I wonder about the first sentence only because nothing connects directly back to that idea, and I kind of expected the narrative to. Could be just me, though.

    Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy: In the query, I have to admit I’m wondering why Lauren needs to bring her sister Roxie for the lake adventure. It feels stuck in there, and it’s clearly an important part of the story. Also—do you mean “town secrets” instead of “secret towns?” I wanted a little more detail about the malevolent town history, too. As is, I’m not too scared about it repeating itself because I don’t know enough about its malevolent nature. You might consider leaving that whole malevolent business out, though, to streamline the query and focus on the clear goal and stakes of saving the sister. The 250 are pretty solid, I think.

    Overall, these are both fun concepts with strong writing, and the humor shows through pretty well in both. Good job, guys!

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  9. Here is another impossible match up with two strong entries! So hard to pick 1 -- I'm glad I don't have to! :)

    FBI Ruined my Love Life: You have a strong, very tight query with a unique concept/setting and conflict that makes me want to read your story. Something that occurred to me in reading this (probably because I come from a family of FBI agents) is the danger of involving families members esp. children in an undercover investigation and I feel like whatever is in that manilla folder would be classified to anyone but the agent with clearance. On the other hand, as a reader I feel like I just want to go with it. So if you haven't already I might just do a little research about it just to have an idea of how that element would work.

    Atlantis--love this concept, which reminded me immediately of the French TV series The Returned. Very creepy and atmospheric story and I definitely would love to read more. Everyone else has given such great suggestions I don't have much to add at this point except great job!

    Good luck to both of you!

  10. FBI
    Query: Strong and character-centric. You really flesh out the MC well and set her up before delving into the conflict. Love the plot you set up and the stakes.

    250: Love the humor (especially the fluffy adjective line). I think the writing could be tightened up in a few places. But I love the opening hook where she says “Real Mormons don’t swear” then proceeds to swear (which shows off the bat that she isn’t). I like this clever way of establishing the character/situation from the get-go.

    Query: LOVED “professional mother-disappointer.” Content-wise, I think you hit all the notes right: stakes, characters, etc. It definitely hooks me and makes me want to read the book. I do think some of the longer sentences could be pared down a bit for readability, though.

    250: Good way to start the book with them trying to get water in the tubes. Good setting and mood establishment. I like the dialogue, but you might scale back on some of the action descriptions after the dialogue tags (ie. “Here,” she says, extracting a…”), as they can grate on a reader if overused.

  11. FBI: I had no idea being a Mormon was so stifling. I've known some Mormons who weren't so there you go. Intriguing concept but I felt the query lacked stakes. Why would Cooper break up with her for kissing? I get that her mom needs her help but maybe make him break up with her for another reason like maybe he found out about the investigation. Your first 250 was fine but it felt like it was starting too far back. Maybe when she first enters the town would be a better place. Make sure you aren't doing too much back story at the start.
    ATLANTIS: Yes, creepy underwater town with a secret??? I'm in. Your query needs to focus on the disappearance of the sister. I'd start with that. Your 250 sets the tone but again look at where you are starting. Why not start with the MC complaining about having to bring her sister along? I hope the disappearance is in the first chapter, ideally I'd like it on the first page. Great job, both of you!

  12. The FBI Ruined My Life: This is such a well-written query! I love the story, too. This seems like a really fun read! I love the fact that you give us so much information about who Daisy is right off the bat as well as twists in the story. Awesome opening line. Awesome 250 overall. I love the humor of it. It really brings out Daisy’s personality. The only part that seems a little confusing was the part where Daisy says her Mom should be stoked, since this is her first assignment, but that she doesn’t seem to be. Is that because it seems boring to her Mom? We learn next that it’s certainly boring to Daisy, but I’m not sure that’s the reason why her Mom isn’t excited. Maybe we learn that beyond the first 250? Really nice job with both pieces. I can see this story on bookshelves!
    Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy: This story idea seems really fantastic. I love it! The query is well-written and conveys the stakes of the story really well. One critique: I wonder if you should move up the part about Roxie even higher in the query (somehow, if that’s possible)? I really like the opening lines of your first 250. I like them so much, I wish there was a bit more there describing the scene, before the dialogue starts, so I can really get a sense of the place before the action starts. That would be my only comment in what is really a beautifully written beginning. I would love to read this whole story and hope to someday!
    I’m glad I’m not a judge here. Both entries show the authors are great writers with really intriguing story ideas. Best of luck to both!


    Query: I love this concept. I repeat: I LOVE this concept. So now you know everything that follows comes from that love. Sorry. “things get complicated” – when I read lines like this I say to myself, sometimes out loud, always sarcastically, “No, really?” and then I lose interest and stop reading. The preface to this sentence is great, and could be a great preface to move into your stakes, which I assumed would follow, but instead you have another setup sentence, and after that you have a sort of rhetorical question. NEVER. Unless you are writing fan fic about the Riddler and are for some reason describing his wardrobe (something you shouldn’t do - don’t describe clothes in a query or write fanfic about the Riddler) a question mark should never show up in a query. You have great stakes to this story, not only can she lose the boy and/or tarnish her relationship with her mother, she can also screw up an FBI investigation. Awesome. Now bring that across a little more efficiently. “But when Daisy’s mom asks her to use her relationship with Cooper to obtain information about the target of her investigation, Cooper’s dad, Daisey must either become the straight-laced Mormon girl Cooper really wants or watch the FBI’s investigation, and her mom’s career, go down the tubes…” If you can put that together in your own words, and then add a sentence to the end to incorporate your voice, I think you will have an excellent query to match an excellent idea.

    250: Great first line. It sets up the rest of the story – the conflict between who she is and who she has to be – quite nicely. Following that the voice pops right off the page. Great work. The only thing I’d say you should watch out for is being too voicey at times. I had to read “The ‘do” in your last sentence like five times because I thought it was bad grammar and I was trying to figure out how to fix it until I scrolled down and the spot I thought was just a well-placed speck on my screen turned out to be an apostrophe. The point is, voice is great, but try not to let it get in the way of the reader’s reading. Awesome concept, fantastic writing, and I would wish you luck, but I kind of hope you lose so that I don’t ever have to face you.


    Query: “professional mother-disappointer” - every once in a while I will read a sentence/phrase/term like this and actually become angry that I didn’t think of it. Well done. The parentheses in the second paragraph takes me out of the query and could be done better by incorporating the idea into the actual sentence; something like: “Together with her two best friends, Laura stows away on a boat…less-than-legally hops a boat… breaks the law and nearly a leg hopping a boat…” That last one’s really bad, don’t use it. The only other comment I have is with the … at the end… delete it. Otherwise great query and great concept.

    250: Try to get rid of the “ly”s in the first two lines. Show the slightness of the ripples and show the deepness of the breath, or just get rid of the “ly”s altogether. The sentences are just as strong without them as they are with, maybe more so. Also, I love em dashes – I LOVE them. But this sentence might be stronger if you separate the two thoughts with a period. “I feel tranquil. Free.” The non- dialogues portion of this is great, but not big enough. I’ve heard a lot of agents say that when dialogue takes up most of the first page/chapter, it tends to be a turn-off. If you can cut down some of the dialogue and add a little more action to this opening scene, I think it’ll be a great start.

    I’m a contestant, not a judge, but if I were a judge I would vote for…
    Running away and not making a decision because this is too close to call. They are both great. Good job. I hope they do a Hunger Games thing here except in reverse and say there are no winners because I don't want to face either of you in another round.

  14. When I heard that there was an entry with Mormons, I was very excited, because I am a Mormon, and there aren't many of us in literature. When I read the query for FBI Ruined, I was angry.
    People pretending to be Mormon to get in the pants of Mormon teenagers and young adults is a real thing that happens, especially in Utah. They pretend to know the religion better than their impressionable targets and use that to convince them that it's actually okay to have sex outside of marriage, which if you don't already know is something that Mormons consider to be a serious sin. (Not judging people who believe differently, BTW, but if this book was about convincing a Muslim or Jew to do things that their religion forbade, people would be up in arms.) So if Cooper is starting to feel guilty about behavior that he knows will lead to him committing sin, and Daisy wants to get him to do it anyways, and her mother condones this? Does nobody else see a problem with this?
    To the author: I don't see why your characters have to pretend to be Mormon to live in Utah. Even in "Pleasant Park" (by the way everyone from Utah knows exactly what place that really is) there are people who aren't members of the church. It seems like you could write almost the exact same book without your main character and her mother being awful pieces of garbage.
    You've got a great voice in your 250. I wish you wouldn't use it to make my religion a stereotype and a thing that people can just put on or take off at will.

  15. FBI Ruined My Life: I love Daisy. She is totally my type of girl. I think the premise is great and the opening 250 draws me right in. Be careful of phrases like "things get complicated" in the query. Try to be more specific in what is happening.
    Like Atlantis: I love this concept. Since I spend a lot of time under the water, this totally draws me in. Your query is excellent. It sets up the conflict and stakes. I was wondering in your 250 if they are at the lake and if they are I'd like to feel something more forboding in it. Really, I'm just being nitpicky.
    These are amazing entries! Good luck to both of you.



    You’ve got a great query with a unique premise. There’s only thing I see to point out. Your last sentence halts the momentum of the stakes a bit and seems to be something that can easily be cut or made stronger, since the reader has already been told she’s not Mormon in a few different ways, anyway.


    The repetition of words in this 250 doesn’t always work with the same impact. Your repeat of “thing” is good, but the second “stoked” might be better changed to “I was just the opposite.” In the last paragraph, the second “intentional” flows better when changed to “ which definitely was,” but that creates a passive voice situation that you may not be comfortable with. These are small, nit-picky things for an otherwise well-written 250. It would certainly be interesting to see how Daisy changes within the realm of her new Mormon community. Good luck!



    “Professional mother-disappointer”—NICE! Gives us an idea of a Lauren’s personality and voice in an interesting way.

    In your second paragraph, I’m left wondering why Lauren has to take her sister with her. To keep her from tattling? Committed to babysitting? Since this is a pivotal moment, it seems like that detail would do well in the query.

    It might just be me, but I tripped over “…towns buried under lakes like being buried” and had to re-read it a few times. Maybe “…like staying that way”? Your last sentence gives your query a strong finish.


    In your first paragraph, you do a good job showing your reader how Lauren feels at the water’s edge. By adding “I feel tranquil—free” you’re not trusting your reader to understand; you’re telling. A simple clip does away with that. “Tentative” doesn’t seem like the word to use with the way Lauren is ribbing Carly—she’s not hesitant or unsure in any way. Perhaps she kicks a rock toward Carly, or maybe she steps toward her with a bored sigh or huff. You give the reader a good sense of the girls’ relationship with your eighth and ninth paragraphs. Best of luck!

  17. FBI Ruined My Love Life

    Love Daisy already! Although I have my suspension of disbelief stretched to its limits given Daisy's mother will need to rely on Daisy herself to keep her cover intact. I'm sure Quantico would have taken that into consideration in deciding to assign her to the case. So if there is indeed an extenuating circumstance, maybe let us in on it in the query? "Mormon" ends up being used a lot, and the instance of "un-Mormon things" took me out of the story. Maybe use a different word to suggest what Cooper has in mind wouldn't set will with the old folks. "...things get complicated." Uhm, I already drew that conclusion reading about how Cooper's dad is the target of Daisy's mother's investigation.

    OK, now Daisy's mom will depend on her to get information on Cooper's dad so that she can--lost me. Neither Quantico nor any field office agent-in-charge in his or her right mind would sanction or condone an agent putting their minor child in harm's way. Daisy's mom is risking her career as well as her daughter's life. I realize one must suspend disbelief to enjoy a work of fiction, but as a parent myself this exceeds my limit.

    But what if Daisy's mother isn't in the FBI at all? Maybe she's a bounty hunter. Or a private investigator. Someone not constrained by rules and procedures. Putting her daughter's life at risk is still a bit to take in, but under the right mitigating circumstances (like perhaps her daughter may come to harm if she *doesn't* use her connection with Cooper and his dad) then I could easily be on board.

    Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy

    Oooh, interesting setup in the query! Although "buried" twice in the same sentence jarred me. Maybe "old secret towns buried under lakes would rather remain that way"? What imminent danger is Roxie in?

    Love the "picture day" reference! Wonderful line and tells us so much about Lauren.