Wednesday, June 1, 2016

QUERY KOMBAT ROUND 1: KIDS + MONSTERS FTW vs. ICE CREAM REBEL ROUSERS

Title: The Search for Alexander Gold
Entry Nickname: Kids + Monsters FTW?
Word Count: 52,000 words
Genre: MG Horror

Query:

What would you do if your father disappeared? Worse – what would you do if your father was kidnapped by giant bird-monster-things, which then turned around and tried to kill you?

Ruby Gold, daughter of the world-famous horror-writer Alexander Gold, faces these questions and more. And worse? Her mother, Lydia, doesn’t believe her!

She turns to her best friends, Ayla and Miles, for help. Of course she does. Wouldn’t you? These three misfits – from different backgrounds and different faiths in New York City’s Upper East Side –  quickly learn: these creepy giant bird-monster-things? They’re featured in Alexander Gold’s latest book, the very book he worked on the morning before he disappeared!

There’s only one person who can help them solve the mystery and save Ruby’s father. The only problem? She’s a fictional character, straight out of Alexander Gold’s imagination. But when digital clues lead straight to the apartment of the great heroine, Calliope Clay, things only get…weirder. Deep beneath Manhattan subway tunnels, the misfits fight off monsters that only exist in Alexander Gold’s mind, as they make their way toward the ever-terrifying Overlord of the Bottomlands.

But the Bottomlands aren’t a final destination. They’re not even real. Or are they? With a narrator who loves to question reality, and a cast of monsters set for world-domination, THE SEARCH FOR ALEXANDER GOLD is a leap into disbelief, a dive out of reality, and a journey into darkness with some lovable misfit kids.

First 250 Words: 

Hi there, friend.
Yes, that’s you I’m talking to. You who picked up this book. You who…
Well, let’s just say we’re about to go on a journey, you and me. We’re about to take a trip, meet some friends, learn some things about life and love and…monsters.
Of course we’re going to learn about monsters.
For here, there be monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.
I’m thrilled you’re here with me. I know you’ll add something very you to this tale.
So for now…buckle up. It’s going to be a ride. 

****

Ruby Gold, it should be said from the get-go, never liked riding in cars after dark.

It terrified her, the blindness to everything outside the circular beams of the car’s headlights. Anything could hide in the darkness, and Ruby had a pretty good idea of what anything could be. Vampires, zombies, creepy alien monsters with long tentacles and slimy, pointed tongues. She’d read about them all, at night, head under the blanket, lit only by a flashlight, in the books her father wrote and her mother tried to keep her from reading. There were monsters out there. She was sure of it.


Of course, that early May morning, when her father, Alexander Gold (the famous writer – have you heard of him?) called to ask if she wanted to spend the afternoon with him down the Jersey shore, Ruby squealed. “Yes, yes,” even though it meant they’d drive home after dark. It wouldn’t matter…much. She’d be with her father.

~ VERSUS ~ 

Title: Mischief, Mysteries, and Milkshakes
Entry Nickname: Ice Cream Rebel Rousers
Word Count: 45,000
Genre: Middle Grade Mystery Humor

Query:

Eleven-year-old Gabe and his younger sister Lily are dreading summer vacation. They’d rather do anything than spend eight weeks with Aunt Helene in her big, old smelly house. No Wi-Fi, no cable, a grandfather clock called The Howler that randomly shrieks, and plenty of rules: Nothing slimy, loud, or messy. Keep all the rooms neat. And do not touch any of the antiques—especially the old writing desk in the library. It belonged to your Great Uncle Patrick and, well, some secrets should never see the light of day. 

When Aunt Helene goes out for her weekly tea, where they wear white gloves and eat ridiculous tiny sandwiches, Gabe and Lily decide that some rules are made to be broken. They find the key and unlock the writing desk. Inside they discover a journal written by young Patrick. As they begin to read, Gabe and Lily realize their great uncle is writing about hidden rooms and tunnels throughout the house where a treasure is allegedly buried.  Determined to learn more, Gabe and Lily enlist the help of their new friend, ten-year old Harper, a self-proclaimed milkshake addict, to launch an eight-week countdown to unravel the mystery. Can they do it before summer runs out? 

First 250:

The rules for Aunt Helene’s house were clear: Nothing slimy, loud, or messy, keep all rooms neat, ask before doing anything, and no fighting with my sister. Keeping the rules wouldn’t be impossible; they would just be inconvenient.  As far as summers go, this one was officially going down in the books as the worst in my eleven-year history, and it hadn’t even started yet.

“Are we here?” my younger sister Lily asked in a nervous sounding whisper. She clutched her doll, Missyella close to her body with white knuckles as I peered out the window.

Dad had pulled the car over, but there was no sign we were getting out. Lily stared at me, waiting for some kind of confirmation. But how would I know if this was Aunt Helene’s house? I’d never been here before either. In fact, up until a few weeks ago, I never even knew we had an Aunt Helene. I mean, I guess maybe I’d heard of her, but I never paid much attention to those sorts of things, and I’d definitely had never met her before.

“Hey, Lil,” I whispered across the back seat of the car. My little sister turned her head slowly toward me.

“Yeah?”

“I heard Aunt Helene keeps pet rats in her basement.”

“Gabe!” Mom turned around from the front seat while Dad looked at us through his rear view mirror with a smirk on his face.

24 comments:

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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kids + Monsters:
      Query:

      “What would you do if your father disappeared? Worse – what would you do if your father was kidnapped by giant bird-monster-things, which then turned around and tried to kill you?”

      You just broke the no-rhetorical-questions rule and got into Query Kombat. Great image, great voice, makes me laugh. Keep it.

      “And worse? Her mother, Lydia, doesn’t believe her!”
      Reword to avoid repeat use of “worse”.


      “With a narrator who loves to question reality, and a cast of monsters set for world-domination, THE SEARCH FOR ALEXANDER GOLD is a leap into disbelief, a dive out of reality, and a journey into darkness with some lovable misfit kids.”

      This is well-written, but I’d remove it and give us some sense of the stakes instead. I’m assuming her dad could die or disappear into this cool/bizarre imagination land…or maybe they all could. Tell us.

      Pages:

      The little prelude is well-written, and compelling, but I’d consider removing it. You might lose more agents with it than you gain, and the opening after it is great.

      In fact, I have no other problems. Great voice, great character development.

      Ice Cream:
      Query:
      “…a journal written by young Patrick.” I’d say, “…Patrick, when he was young.”
      “…to launch an eight-week countdown to unravel the mystery. Can they do it before summer runs out?”

      These stakes are a little bit light for me, but they’re not bad. If there’s any way to increase the tension a bit, I would.

      “Keeping the rules wouldn’t be impossible; they would just be inconvenient.” I’d change “they” to “it”.
      Pages:
      “The rules for Aunt Helene’s house were clear: Nothing slimy, loud, or messy, keep all rooms neat, ask before doing anything, and no fighting with my sister.” It’s great wording, but I’d reword either here or in the query to avoid repeat. And “my sister” – the “my” is ambiguous. I’d heard this stated in the aunt’s voice, so I assume it would be her sister, but I’m guessing not. I’d reword.
      “But how would I know if this was Aunt Helene’s house?” I’d remove the “but”.
      “…, and I’d definitely had never met her before.” I’d remove. Implied.

      Good writing!

      Worthy opponents. I'm voting for Kids + Monsters FTW.

      Delete
    2. Kids + Monsters FTW?

      Query:
      Hmm, rhetorical questions. But it matches the 2nd person in the excerpt. I don’t know if agents would stumble on this…I know so many of them are anti-rhetorical-questions… I’d prefer a more straightforward query starting with Ruby and what she's like. In the excerpt I learn that she believes in monsters. That’s a great detail that I’d love to see up in the query.

      Also it would be great to get a few-word descriptions attached to Ayla and Miles (you hint at this by saying they are from different backgrounds and faiths… can you work into the query how their differences help with the rescue maybe? (if they do))

      The premise sounds like an amazingly fun ride, but I was kind of distracted by the rhetorical questions and asides. Also, what happens if they don’t find her dad? Does he die? Do the monsters take over New York? Add in the stakes and make them clear, rather than the final sentence, which doesn’t tell us too much about the actual plot.

      First 250:
      The opening reminds me of a Rick Riordan book, which I like! But I would tighten it up just a bit. “Hi there, friend. We’re about to go on a journey…” You’re driving towards the word MONSTERS! Let your reader get to that ASAP. And maybe tell us / warn us about the monsters. Again, a couple juicy words/details to draw us in on why these monsters are scarier/different/better than other monsters. Even “my dad invented them” would be fascinating! Specifics please!

      I have a very very clear picture of her reading the books under the blanket. Awesome. (and good work on getting “down the shore” right!)


      Ice Cream Rebel Rousers

      Query:
      WOW you’ve got a doozy of a query here. Love the vivid language and I LOVE me some treasure hunts. I would have liked to get to the central mystery a little sooner (the writing desk! The treasure!) I’d love to hear more about the challenges on the treasure hunt, and a little less about the stodgy Aunt… there are several more things about her (who isn’t someone I want to spend time with) and not enough about the people I DO want to spend time with (Gabe, Lily, and young Patrick!)

      Also I think there are already a lot of people in play… I love the line about Harper, but I think it might just be too much in such a short query to intro Harper. I think it’s enough to say that Gabe and Lily are on the deadline for the sake of the query, and give us a couple more juicy details about what young Patrick was like or what challenges happen on the quest.

      I have a feeling if you pull out the things that make the quest / Patrick / the house / the treasure itself unique, you will really grab agent attention. (you obviously have a great eye for detail with describing the Aunt… just use those powers on the other things instead)

      I think ditch the question at the end. Tell me what could happen if they fail. “If they don’t solve this before summer runs out, …” It will be stronger.

      First 250:
      (you don’t need to repeat things that are in the query on the first page. I would ditch the “rules” from the query and keep it here because it’s adorable and sets the tone so well!)

      A great start. I think don’t bother with the doll’s name yet (there’s already a lot going on) and my only other feedback would be paragraph 3 is maybe a bit repetitive. I think you can keep the great voice you have going, but tighten it up juuuuust a little bit (I think just take out the final phrase “and I’d definitely had never met her before” … also a small typo in the phrase, ps. That’s the kind of thing everyone misses, so don’t worry. A read out loud can often catch those things.)

      I like Gabe a lot already! “they would just be inconvenient” – could you shorten to “just inconvenient”? I want to get to the next sentence a little faster because it is GREAT. And should it be “summers go” or “summers went”? I think the past tense is what you want. But I LOVE the intro paragraph!!!

      Overall:
      Both entries sound totally awesome, but I am drawn more to the one voice…
      Victory to Ice Cream Rebel Rousers

      Delete
    3. Katherine PierceJune 3, 2016 at 9:17 PM

      Kids + Monsters FTW?

      Query: Rhetorical questions are a big no-no in queries. I love the voice it’s giving here, but I’d highly recommend you take them out and rephrase them as statements instead. In general the amount of questions in this query was really distracting. There’s seven in total and another two exclamation points on top of that (I’m not entirely sure about MG, but I know agents usually have issues with too many !, I’d suggest replacing them with a period.) “She turns to her best friends” is a little sudden, I feel like we’re missing a tiny transition into this paragraph. Also, I really love that you’ve got diverse characters here, but it just seems like it’s thrown into the query and makes that particular sentence really wordy. Unless their backgrounds are really important to the character and how they solve things, I wouldn’t mention them here. In the fourth paragraph you say that clues lead them to Calliope, but in the previous sentence didn’t you mention she’s the only one who can help them? Wouldn’t they be looking for her anyway? I’d also cut the very last sentence and it replace it with some real concrete stakes—what will happen if they don’t get to the Dad, what are the personal stakes? Overall, I do think this is a really strong query and I love how strong the voice is.

      250: Honestly, I’m not a fan of how this starts with addressing the reader. I think this would be really cool as a little intro in an MG book, but I wouldn’t start a sample this way. Also, if this is something you *really* want to keep, I’d suggest making it more personal to your book. Right now this seems pretty generic and other than really showcasing the great voice, it isn’t doing anything for me. Especially since once we get into the story below it’s SO strong. Once we get into it, the second paragraph, I’d only italicize one anything, my vote would go for the second one. The aside to the reader in the third paragraph isn’t my cup of tea either, but could just be a personal preference. This is some really tight writing, awesome voice, and I’m really loving it.

      With both the query and the 250 my biggest concern is that the amount of questions in the former and the letter to the reader in the latter might be an automatic turn-off for agents, which is really a shame because this is a really strong entry and likely a fantastic story.


      Ice Cream Rebel Rousers

      Query: I’d recommend removing the excerpt in the first paragraph here, especially since something very similar is in the 250. Maybe just have the last sentence be, “No Wi-Fi, no cable, and plenty of rules.” Second paragraph, I think you can cut “where they wear…sandwiches.” The end of the second paragraph is a bit vague and there really aren’t any stakes to close out it. Really gives us some details, let us see what’s going to make your story stand out from others that have similar plot lines, and then let us know what the MC has to gain or lose.

      250: In the first paragraph, should it be “keeping to the rules”? You can probably shorten the end there to “just inconvenient” too. I think the next sentence should be “summers went” instead of “summers go” based on the tense. The end of the third paragraph, you say that he’s never met her before, but just before he said he didn’t even know he had an aunt so I think that’s a bit redundant. Then the very last paragraph, the dad would look at them “in” the rearview mirror rather than through. Really these are just little things because the writing is really strong. Now, I don’t read a whole lot of MG, but compared to the other MG entries this wasn’t quite reading as an MG voice to me. It seems a little bit older.

      Two more great entries, but for this one I have to give VICTORY TO KIDS + MONSTERS FTW!

      Delete
    4. Kids + Monsters FTW?: I really liked this concept, but I wonder if your genre would be better suited as fantasy. The way the details present in the query seem to fit with a contemporary fantasy more than a horror.

      Query: There are a lot of questions in your query letter. It's usually not a good idea to have questions in a query, as the purpose of a pitch is to inform while entertaining. Also, many of the sentence weren't even questions yet had question marks. For example: The only problem? & And worse? & These three misfits – from different backgrounds and different faiths in New York City’s Upper East Side – quickly learn: these creepy giant bird-monster-things? (This last sentence, aside from the unnecessary question mark, also feels incomplete). I would suggest combing through your query letter and weeding out anything that's not directly connected to the overall plot of the story. Removing the questions and clearly presenting only the meat and bones of the plot should help add a sense of urgency to the pitch.

      250: The tone in the writing, however, fit with a MG horror novel perfectly. If you could transfer that same tone and creepy vibe to your query letter, I think it would be very beneficial. You have a very interesting voice, very unique. The opening was a bit jarring with the change in POV. I'm glad you didn't stick with the 2nd person (even though you performed it very well), because it can be hard to place a debut novel told in the 2nd person. I would suggest giving some serious consideration as to whether you'd like to keep that first section. While witty, it doesn’t quite flow with the rest of the sample.


      Ice Cream Rebel Rousers: I love this concept. A creepy old house and a search for hidden treasure, it's very fitting for MG

      Query: This is a very good query letter. It introduced the characters and setting nicely, and held an air of suspense. My only suggestion would be to rework the last sentence of the query letter, so that it's not a question but an urgent statement.

      250: I wasn't keen on seeing the same exact paragraph from the query letter as the opening of the sample. This information about the rules of Aunt Helene's house was already relayed only moments ago, making it feel repetitious. Otherwise, I really liked the voice in this sample. The writing threw me right into the world, and carried me through quite easily.


      I really liked both of these entries, and went back and forth on my decision a few times. Ultimately, I found myself connecting to one MC more than the other.

      Victory to Ice Cream Rebel Rousers

      Delete
    5. Kids + Monsters FTW:

      Rhetorical questions, rhetorical questions! I actually think the voice here works better than it does in most cases, but a LOT of agents will just click NEXT if you open your query like this. Consider rewording and condensing the first two paragraphs to eliminate these rhetorical questions. I'd also consider getting rid of "Of course she does. Wouldn't you?"

      Despite the unusual format here, though, there is an interesting premise presented, and the voice in the last couple of paragraphs works very well for me. If wordcount allows, after eliminating rhetorical questions, you may also want to consider a couple of words to describe HOW your characters are diverse. (Something like "together with Jewish skateboarder Bob, and Jim, a budding comedian with cerebral palsy" (or, insert how YOUR characters are diverse here, I just made that up to show variety in sentence structure) )

      The first 250 are perfect. I really can't think of a thing to suggest. Addressing the reader like this is a rule-breaker... but you break the hell out of the rules, and you do it VERY WELL. You may get some agents who reject you for this, but I think you're also likely to get plenty who see how masterfully this is done. Really. It takes a lot to get me so unequivocally behind a rule-breaker like this... but you've done it. I'd maybe work on making the query a little more conventional, but this opening blows me away.

      ***

      Ice Cream Rebel Rousers:

      This is another great query with a lot of voice! I'd consider doing away with the italicized quote in the first paragraph, and incorporating it into the rest of the query with the same third-person voice. There are two reasons for this: First, if the agent's email client undoes the italics, it's going to be confusing for them to get that second person sentence. Second, it simply isn't necessary. You can reword the last two sentences as something like: "And no touching any of the antiques—especially the old writing desk in the library. It belonged to their Great Uncle Patrick and, well, some secrets should never see the light of day." You may also want to make it a little clearer as to WHY they must find the treasure by the end of the summer... agents may want to see higher stakes (although MG readers, if my own past self is any indication, may just love the mystery. This reminds me so much of Nancy Drew's CLUE IN THE OLD CLOCK, and the Bobbsey Twins mystery (can't remember the title!) where they found a decades-old treasure hunt in their house, under wallpaper and things. Overall, the query is succinct and enticing! My middle-grade self would have checked this out of the library!

      The first 250 start out great. I love the first line, but the talk of inconvenience that follows seems a bit old for an MG voice. I'd also consider deleting or trimming down "In fact, up until a few weeks ago, I never even knew we had an Aunt Helene. I mean, I guess maybe I’d heard of her, but I never paid much attention to those sorts of things, and I’d definitely had never met her before." This feels a little repetitive.

      ***

      While both entries are strong, one voice really sticks out as one I'd like to stay with through the rest of the book.

      Victory to... Kids + Monsters FTW!

      Delete
    6. I'm jumping in on the plea for judges, but won't read the other critiques (and be influenced), so I apologize if I repeat anything.

      Kids + Monsters FTW?

      I’ll state right away that I’m on the beginning-with-rhetorical-questions-can-put-me-off team. Instead of asking a question, I prefer to jump right into the meat of the story. I’d love to see you combine the first two mini paragraphs and present them as if they’re happening to Ruby that moment. But this could just be me.

      Since the most exciting part of your story is that the creatures who kidnapped her father emerged from his latest book, I’d love to see you start here. This is cool and very unique, and will make your story stand out. I think this should be the focus of your first line hook.

      I suggest you cut the last part of the paragraph that’s you, the author, telling the reader that the characters are loveable and that the story dives out of reality. Use those precious words to show the reader this in the query and stakes.

      In your 250:

      I believe you should cut your prelude. Like in the last paragraph of your query, I’m drawn out of the story when the narrator puts themselves between me and the main character. When I pick up a book, I want to jump into the story and take a journey, not have you tell me first that I need to hang on, because it’s about to happen.

      Ice Cream Rebel Rousers

      I love the voice in your query, but there are times when I feel you lose it. For example, “ridiculous” little sandwiches could be: little sandwiches stuffed with pink goo or something voicey like that.

      I believe your stakes could be stronger, and, if you read my critique of your competitor above, you already know how I feel about rhetorical questions (ha).

      Instead of asking the reader if the characters can unravel the mystery before the summer runs out, suggest what might happen if they don’t solve the mystery before the summer runs out. What do they stand to lose? Why do we want to go on this adventure with them? Showing “why” in your stakes will make the reader eager to jump into your pages.

      250:

      Be careful about reusing funny phrases from your query (nothing slimy, loud, messy), because the repetition suggests you can’t come up with something new that’s equally intriguing, and that’s not the impression you want to give an agent. Shake it up and show Aunt Helene’s rules in a different way in your 250 or query.

      I’m okay with a little telling in a story, but I believe you could really make your 250 pop and draw the reader in more by showing a few parts.

      For example: “my younger sister asked in a nervous sounding whisper.”

      What does nervous-sounding whisper look/sound like? Is she biting her nails? Sucking her thumb when she hasn’t done it for years? You could also consider using her dialogue to show she’s nervous. Her wide eyes met mine. “Are we . . . here?”

      You have an extra word: “and I’d definitely “had”< never met her before.”

      Another tough choice, folks. But, this is a contest, and someone needs to move to round 2.

      Victory to: ICE CREAM REBEL ROUSERS!

      Delete
    7. Kids + Monsters FTW?: This has a Jumanji and Goosebumps feel to it. I really like the ragtag misfit characters and the mission they take sounds like an adventure I’d LOVE! There were a few too many rhetorical questions in the query for my taste. Also, the last paragraph didn’t intrigue me. Maybe rework that into a great hook that leaves a question hanging in my mind or one that has a little irony in it.

      The first page didn’t reel me in. It felt like two halves, and if I were a CP for this author, I think I’d try to convince him or her to cut that first section and maybe save that for a back-cover blurb or maybe an inside cover blurb. The story-telling style with the narrator butting in isn’t my favorite, but I know some readers like it. I’m just not one of them. :-(

      ICE CREAM REBEL ROUSERS
      A quirky house. A seemingly straight-laced aunt. And a treasure hunt with a time limit. I like it. In this query, the rhetorical sentence at the end works for me.

      GREAT voice in 1st page. I like the opening, but maybe format it a bit different to get more white space in there. The list could be formatted as an actual list from Aunt Helene. ”Inconvenient” seems like a big word for MG. Maybe it isn’t, but maybe consider a younger word like “annoying”. Maybe instead of “my younger sister” use “my little sister”. Similarly “waiting for some kind of confirmation.” could maybe even be cut rather than reworded to something younger. The exchange between Lily and Gabe was hysterical! PERFECT sibling chitchat. Omg, I giggled.

      Victory to ICE CREAM REBEL ROUSERS

      Delete
    8. Coming on in to help given these are so close!

      KIDS & MONSTERS:

      I'm sure you've been told by now about the rhetorical questions (checks other comments-YES). I'm not saying they could never work, but this is a story concept that doesn't need them. You can find a way to get that point across with a little revision. The "Wouldn't you?" particularly turned me off. I can see an agent saying, "Nope." and tossing your query. Yet if you remove that question, your query loses absolutely nothing. Your writing is strong--I know you can find a better, stronger way to get across voice and engage the reader other than throw in rhetorical questions!

      I like the first 250 except for when you break that fourth wall. The reason is because just above that you started with a break in the fourth wall. That works fine, but then give the reader a chance to get invested in the characters before you break it again.

      ICE CREAM REBEL ROUSERS:

      I like this query a lot. My only suggestion is that last sentence. Not only is it a rhetorical question, but the stakes are kind of lame. If they figure it out before summer or not, who cares? The desk isn't going anywhere. They can finish on the next visit. How about increasing the conflict--what't the ultimate goal--where does the trail leave? Does Aunt Helene get on their trail? I think this is a great place to build up that tension. "If they can dodge Aunt Helene and solve the clues before summer ends, then . . . Otherwise, it really will have been the worse summer vacation ever." (but much, much better!) Basically, increase the stakes!

      I think the 250 is well done. I do love the sibling torture. I think you've started in the exact right place--right before they arrive at the house. Nice!

      This is a close one--two great concepts. I think one query is further along, and since this is Query Kombat . . .

      VICTORY TO ICE CREAM REBEL ROUSERS!!!!

      Delete
  2. Wow! These are two very strong entries. Very, very hard to come up with a winner here. Congratulations to both of you. Just a few notes.
    KIDS+MONSTERS: This is such a smooth, well-written entry I only have a couple of nitpicks. The tone and voice of the query are consistent with the 250, and I really feel like you have a good hold on what a query is about. Now, the nitpicks: 1) in the 2nd paragraph of the query, what if instead of "And worse?" It could be something like "Even worse?" Since there was just and "and" a couple of words before, this might make it read a little better. 2) This sentence in the 4th paragraph is a little confusing: "Deep beneath Manhattan subway tunnels, the misfits fight off monsters that only exist in Alexander Gold’s mind, as they make their way toward the ever-terrifying Overlord of the Bottomlands." Are the misfits making their way, or the monsters? Also, technically it should be "exist only" rather than "only exist." (See? I told you -- Nit. Picky.) 3) It took me a few reads to decide if I liked the conversational narrative that starts out the 250 words. After re-reading the query and the second part of the 250, I decided I felt okay about it (kind of reminds me of Obert Skye's "Foo" series, which I love!). But it will be interesting to see what other judges say. I think the sentence about Ruby Gold is so strong it would make a great beginning by itself. But I don't have the pleasure of reading more of the book, so it's hard to tell how the rest of the book reads -- if there are more of these kinds of narratives to tie it together. Great entry, very strong. I would love to read the book! Congrats!
    ICE CREAM: A very fun premise. What kid doesn't want to explore an old house, especially when told not to? Love it. You have a strong entry, and I think a lot of kids would want to read this book. A few comments: 1) You state the genre as Middle Grade Mystery Humor. It would read stronger as Middle Grade Humorous Mystery. Make sense? 2) The query is very strong, and has a great tone to it. The only nitpick I have is that I think a comma after "throughout the house" in the second paragraph might make it read a little smoother. 3) Your 250 are fun! In the first paragraph it would be clearer if the rules said "no fighting with YOUR sister," rather than MY sister. Since the rules are being given by Aunt Helene, it makes it seem like she has a sister he's not allowed to fight with. Make sense? 4) 2nd paragraph there should be a comma after Missyella 5) 3rd paragraph there should be a comma between "before, either." 6) You use the word "turned" twice in a short span of time -- could one of those change? 7) Dad should look at them "in" the rear view mirror rather than "through" it. So, as I said, just nitpicky things. I really liked this, and you did a great job.

    This was very, very hard to come up with a winner. Both entries are great, and I would read both. After much deliberation, I decided that the slightly more unique premise of Kids+Monsters gave it an edge. So...

    Victory to Kids+Monsters FTW

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kids + Monsters FTW?
      Query:

      As far as MG goes, I’m not too familiar what is good for a query and what is not. In general, I don’t think you should start a query out with questions. That’s what I’ve learned. So to me, I think you should cut the first two paragraphs and jump right into the bones. Starting with something like: Ruby Gold’s father has been kidnapped by giant bird-monster-things. The problem? Her mother doesn’t believe her. (Of course use your amazing middle grade voice to make this happen because you very much have one.)

      2nd paragraph: Talking to the reader/question the reader, bugs me in a query, especially if the story itself is written in third person. Also, you use the word ‘these’ twice. Stagger your word choices. Also, yay for diversity, but I’m not too sure if you want to add it in your query about different back grounds and different religions unless it plays a major role in the story. If an agent is interested in your book, they will read it and see that the characters are diverse. Let it happen naturally. But, again, these are just my thoughts.
      I like this one. It has a Goosebumps movie feel to it.

      250:

      So, I don’t care for the whole first paragraph. Like, I want to jump into the story, and this just makes me kind of bored. I had my MG kiddo read it and they just shrugged and got bored as well. This could be subjective, of course.

      I do love that first line in the actual book. Right away I want to know why Ruby doesn’t like to ride in cars after dark. It’s intriguing.
      Again, I’m not a middle grade reader, but it feels weird to add 2nd person pov in with third person like you’ve done in the last paragraph.

      Ice Cream Rebel Rousers

      Query:

      1st Paragraph: LOVE the voice showing through right away. I’m just wondering if there are too many things listed in italics. Maybe if you put this line NOT in italics: No Wi-Fi, no cable, a grandfather clock called The Howler that randomly shrieks, and plenty of rules, then it might read better.

      I feel like the query ends flat. What about if you cut that last line and add it into its own paragraph adding something like this: The question is, can they do it before summer runs out?

      250:

      1st paragraph: When I read the line, they would just be inconvenient, I feel like this is too proper for a MG narrating boy. By simply changing ‘they would’ to ‘they’d’ I feel that helps the voice. Also, I can’t see my eleven year old saying: the worst in my eleve-year-history. If anything, I’d just say something like: the worst of my life or the worst ever. It sounds less like an adult is writing it with the way I suggested.

      2nd Paragraph: I would cut the word ‘sounding.’ Saying: nervous whisper is enough. Also, that word ‘clutched’ seems too much. If anything, clung might be better, or held tight even. Again, I have never heard my 11 year old say clutched in her life.

      3rd paragraph: you use the word ‘never’ three times. Stagger your word choices.
      You also use the word whisper/whispered twice. Be careful of repetitive dialogue tags, especially in such a short period of words.
      For me, it comes down to the voice in this one. So…

      Victory to:

      Ice Cream Rebel Rousers

      Delete
  3. Kids + Monsters FTW
    Query: This MG voice is spot-on. Well done! My one suggestion is to moderate the use of the repetitive sentences, which I think are done deliberately. (example: Wouldn’t you? The only problem? Or are they? And worse?) There’s one or two too many for my taste, diluting their initially awesome effect.
    250: I LOVE THIS. Great setting, great character presentation via her fear of the dark, great voice.

    Ice Cream Rebel Rousers
    Query: Rhetorical questions, even in MG, tend to turn me off. Otherwise, I think this is great! I’d suggest separating Aunt Helene’s italics to a stand-alone paragraph or remove the italics and add in one or two “she saids” to insert the quoted speech. It’s a great query but the italics embedded to the first paragraph took me out of the atmosphere you created with those first two sentences.
    250: Why was this the worst summer in his 11-year old history? I’d like something more dramatic from his P.O.V. like “no wifi, no tv, no thai food” preceding that declaration. Why does the whisper have to be nervous sounding? It could just be nervous  Otherwise this is a really fun opening! Good work!

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  4. Kids + Monsters FTW?

    Query: I like the rhetorical questions because both reveal the voice of your story. I also feel this book would truly appeal to middle grade readers. This seems well grounded in this world. A tiny pick: "misfits fight off monsters that only exist in Alexander Gold’s mind" is confusing to me. It sounds like the misfits are in Alexander Gold's mind. But up to this point I believed the monsters had really come to life. Perhaps clarify that the narrator begins to question, well, everything. This feels fun and with perfect amount of chill factor. On the 250 words, this is kid friendly. Ruby Gold seems accessible. Humor is fab.

    Who doesn't love a secret journal, hidden rooms and a treasure! I'd like less about the aunt and dive right into the mystery. I'm interested in the complications on the search and would like to see a couple added to the query. "The big old smelly house" does not create a unique picture for me. The scene in the car is kid-friendly. The arguing between siblings is also authentic. The rats in the basement are the right note. I was slightly confused about the kids' knowledge of the rules from a woman they just met and at house they had never been to. Perhaps reveal why these rules are so ingrained in them. I want to know what the treasure is!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Kids + Monsters FTW?

    Query: I like the rhetorical questions because both reveal the voice of your story. I also feel this book would truly appeal to middle grade readers. This seems well grounded in this world. A tiny pick: "misfits fight off monsters that only exist in Alexander Gold’s mind" is confusing to me. It sounds like the misfits are in Alexander Gold's mind. But up to this point I believed the monsters had really come to life. Perhaps clarify that the narrator begins to question, well, everything. This feels fun and with perfect amount of chill factor. On the 250 words, this is kid friendly. Ruby Gold seems accessible. Humor is fab.

    Who doesn't love a secret journal, hidden rooms and a treasure! I'd like less about the aunt and dive right into the mystery. I'm interested in the complications on the search and would like to see a couple added to the query. "The big old smelly house" does not create a unique picture for me. The scene in the car is kid-friendly. The arguing between siblings is also authentic. The rats in the basement are the right note. I was slightly confused about the kids' knowledge of the rules from a woman they just met and at house they had never been to. Perhaps reveal why these rules are so ingrained in them. I want to know what the treasure is!

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  6. K&M: Really like the concept. Query spells it out well enough but I'm not a fan of 'talking' to the reader. You might make clearer that Calliope is a fictional character now apparently alive and that her father's novel is somehow entering the real world. Don't know if you've read the very mature 'The Unwritten' series but this has some parallels - it might be a good comp. I thought the last paragraph of the query didn't add much.

    The first 250 - again I'm not a fan of breaking the fourth wall (unless you're Deadpool) but that may just be me. MC's voice comes through nicely and you start to setup her background but cutting the fourth wall break might allow for a more dramatic opening.

    IC Rebel Rousers: Query is very well laid out and the principles are sketched out in easy to understand fashion. Perhaps you could up the tension or stakes though if it turns out Auntie's worries are valid because there's some danger surrounding Uncle Patrick's secrets.

    The first 250 are nicely written. Perhaps you should emphasize that this trip is being pushed on them and maybe why (parents divorcing, indifferent parents dumping kids, etc). This could up the stakes more.

    I think both these efforts have a lot of promise, good luck.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Kids + Monsters FTW?: Query: This is a really intriguing premise! I see some people like the questions in the query, but I found them distracting. 250 words: The first bit there that starts with Hi there, friend – I think you can cut this. The following paragraphs make for a stronger opening. Also I don’t think there’s any need to include question (have you heard of him?) in the last paragraph.

    Ice Cream Rebel Rousers: Wonderful query! I especially like the opening paragraph. Such a strong MG voice here. First 250: Love the way you’ve opened the story and given a sense of the aunt before we even meet her.

    Great job, guys!

    ReplyDelete
  8. What wonderful middle grade entries! I want to read both of them please! (Seriously: looking for CPs?)

    Kids and Monsters FTW: As a lot of people mentioned already, some folks have a pretty heavy prejudice against rhetorical questions. I don’t mind them in the first paragraph because they are so filled with voice. However, I think you could avoid them easily, and have something like:

    Ruby Gold’s father disappeared. Worse – he was kidnapped by giant bird-monster-things, which then turned around and tried to kill Ruby.

    I would change “And worse?” to “Even worse.”

    I love your 250, though I agree with some of the other commenters that you might be stronger without the 2nd person prologue. It reminds me of how Rick Riordan begins the Kane Chronicles (but then the Kane Chronicles continue in the 1st person so it feels less jarring).

    Ice Cream Rebel Rousers:

    Libraries! Secret Diaries! Hidden Tunnels! I am all about this entry.

    Query: I would not repeat Aunt Helene’s rules in the query and on the first page. I think it is stronger on page 1, and we understand Aunt Helene’s horribleness from the other info. I think you could use that query real estate describing the stakes of their journey or maybe some of the obstacles they face beyond the aunt. I would love more of a distinction between Gabe and his sister’s personalities.

    250: I love the opening! I think you have a few opportunities to delve a little deeper into what Gabe is feeling and why. Why was this the worst summer of Gabe’s life? What is he missing by not being at home? Baseball games? Epic camping trips? Also, “there was no sign we were getting out.” I was a little confused as to whether Gabe wanted to get out of the car or not. Was he refusing to move? Or is he waiting for his parents to take the lead?

    Wonderful job! I want to read more!

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  9. Monsters:
    Query: The premise is awesome, and it totally draws me in. But I'm not sure I really get to the premise until about halfway through the query. Personally, I would want to get to the fictional characters becoming real a little bit sooner. I would also love to get a stronger sense of the stakes in the last line. I think being specific would be good here!

    250: I'm not opposed to breaking down the 4th wall, but the voice in that opening paragraph seems really different than the rest. I think it might work better for me if it was a bit more coherent. But in all honesty, the rest of the 250 is so strong, I really don't think you need the opening paragraph.

    Ice Cream:
    Query: I can tell I'm in for a rip-roaring adventure, and that really makes me want to read more. I would love a bit more about conflict and stakes, something more specific about what they are up against. I think the italicized section could be a bit shorter, but that's just me.

    250: Love the voice! There's a great balance of dialogue and internal monologue. I also think a read-aloud would be really helpful--it seems like there are a few extra words here and there that are interrupting the rhythm and flow.

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  10. Monsters:
    I've been told so many times that Agents hate rhetorical questions. That being said, I like yours :) Maybe cut them down to one? I love the concept of your query and the giant monster things is classic kid speak. Very cute. I agree with some of the judges about the little prologue. I actually love it, but it might trip some agents up, so maybe don't include it. I love how you get immediately into Ruby's fear of monsters and how she's not quite positive her dad can keep them at bay. I can tell this will be a great read.
    Ice cream - I love a good treasure hunt story. And I love a dynamic between an older brother and younger sister. The voice seems perfect for your character. I think the only thing is to not repeat all the rules in the query and in the story. Maybe just say in the query there are rules and then spell them out in the book, so it isn't so repetitive.
    Both of your stories are so cute and fun. I hope you all the best!

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  11. Monsters:
    I've been told so many times that Agents hate rhetorical questions. That being said, I like yours :) Maybe cut them down to one? I love the concept of your query and the giant monster things is classic kid speak. Very cute. I agree with some of the judges about the little prologue. I actually love it, but it might trip some agents up, so maybe don't include it. I love how you get immediately into Ruby's fear of monsters and how she's not quite positive her dad can keep them at bay. I can tell this will be a great read.
    Ice cream - I love a good treasure hunt story. And I love a dynamic between an older brother and younger sister. The voice seems perfect for your character. I think the only thing is to not repeat all the rules in the query and in the story. Maybe just say in the query there are rules and then spell them out in the book, so it isn't so repetitive.
    Both of your stories are so cute and fun. I hope you all the best!

    ReplyDelete
  12. KIDS + MONSTERS
    Query: As a non-agent, I found this to be engaging. But I have ready MANY times that rhetorical questions are a non-no. The first one didn’t bother me, however the repeated use of them began get old. You’ve got a real “Goosebumps Movie” vibe, here, and I think that’s fine, but you need to steer clear of anything that is too parallel. I’m sure you already know this. I’d cut the last sentence; it reads like a movie poster, and strikes me as something a reviewer would say about a book, not what the author should say in a pitch. You need to demonstrate those qualities of the book in the query itself.
    150: Love the voice. But I think I would cut the whole direct-to-the-reader opening and go straight to “Ruby Gold, it sold be said...” The other aside also jars. Perhaps you could move that bit of information up to the previous paragraph when you describe her reading the books.

    ICE CREAM REBEL ROUSERS
    Query: Beautiful query, right up until the end, where you attempt to cram all of the stakes and plot into the final eight words. This needs to be expanded upon; what is the mystery? What’s at stake if they fail to solve it? If they get caught? Is there any actual danger aside from a scolding from Aunt Helene?
    250: This felt a little disjointed to me. I’d like to be anchored in the action first, then get the rules. That first paragraph sticks out like a lump. Then, later, when Gabe tries to scare his sister ... that seemed to come out of nowhere. What’s his motivation? You give no clue up to that point that he had those tendencies. It felt out of place. Also, I think you can cut most of the third paragraph, after “I’d never been here before either.” After that, you just beat the idea to death. Otherwise, I found this concept to be very intriguing – kind of a junior “National Treasure” sort of thing. I’d be excited to read more.

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  13. Kids plus monsters: I think the query is good, but confusing. It was hard to wrap my head around the concept with everything that was nothing (if that makes sense). 250: I don't like when characters talk directly to the reader, especially address them picking up the book. Once you got past that part I was pulled in until you wrote about her father and said, "Have you heard of him."

    Ice Cream Rebel Rousers: Query: Your query is good but the stakes seem low. They have to find a possible treasure before summer ends. If they don't find it then what? 250: You have a good middle-grade voice. I like Gabe but question parents who drop kids off with a relative the kids have never met. Seems weird and bad parenting.

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  14. Kids + Monsters FTW?

    Several hosts and judges have made their opinions well known about rhetorical questions in a query. I would recommend against using them, ever. I do like how the three friends are from different backgrounds (ostensibly socio-economic) but how pertinent to the story are their faiths? There is some great tension leading up to their finding Calliope but then we're left hanging--"weirder" than what? Giant bird-monster-things chasing you? "With a narrator who loves to question reality..." You're telling me something about the book when I'd rather you tell me more about Ruby. Can you rework a statement like this to tell me what imminent threat her father faces instead? Maybe it's Ruby herself who must leap into disbelief and dive out of reality despite being scared and intimidated. And rather than tell me the kids are lovable, is there a way you can show me?

    "it should be said"--not sure this is a good application of passive voice.
    I'm not a fan of the character or the narrator addressing the fourth wall. This is one instance where I think it better to tell than show--if he's a ficticious famous writer in the story then come right out and tell us. Or maybe show us by having reference to a book signing or something. And I find that last paragraph structured awkwardly along with misapplied punctuation. Perhaps an em dash instead of an ellipsis between "matter" and "much."


    Ice Cream Rebel Rousers

    The first paragraph of the query sounds like it's being told from an omniscient narrator until it comes to "It belonged to your Great Uncle Patrick..." That sounds like Aunt Helene talking, and I don't believe we're in her POV. Perhaps reword this so one might not discern such. "...rules were made to be broken" strikes me as cliched. How did they find the key to the writing desk? Steal it? Watch Aunt Helene hide it? While I love milkshakes, I'm not sure I need to know in the query Harper is addicted to them. If that impacts the plot, perhaps this detail should be expanded upon here. Or if it doesn't, perhaps omitted entirely (although he can still be one in the text of the novel!)

    I don't know if italics are being properly used here. This suggests internal monologue from what I guess would be Gabe's POV. I don't think it a good idea to do that in the query and following a colon in the first 250 doesn't strike me as a good idea either. The voice in the this passage is great, however, as is the dynamic played out between Gabe and Lil. That alone would keep me reading!

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  15. Thank you to everyone who took the time to leave comments! All of these wonderful suggestions will not only help me tighten my query/250, but they also will help me grow as a writer. I love this amazing and supportive community!

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