Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Query Kombat Round 2: BE GRATEFUL FOR COOKIES vs. DOGS AND CHICKENS AND DRAGONS, OH MY!

Title: Plus-Size
Entry Nickname: Be Grateful For Cookies
Word Count: 40,000
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary 


Query:
Thirteen-year-old Lizzie will do almost anything for a cookie. Sadly, her mother banned them from her life months ago, replacing sweets with tasteless foods and a gym membership. Her mom claims it’s for her own good, even though her skinny sister can still eat whatever she wants.

Doomed to a life of flaxseed and broccoli, Lizzie joins what she believes is an after school cooking club, hoping to make chocolate-anything on the sly. When the teacher announces they'll also be sewing, Lizzie discovers a knack for designing stylish plus-size clothes, something she desperately needs. After the owner of a local boutique sees one of Lizzie's shirts with the message BE STRONG sewn across the back, she convinces Lizzie to reveal her inspirational clothing to the public with a fashion show. Lizzie hesitantly agrees—it's a lot of work, and she’s never been comfortable being the center of attention. 

Faced with an overpowering mom, a group of relentless school bullies, and some embarrassing mishaps at the gym, Lizzie realizes how important it is to BE YOU — a phrase on one of her shirts. Armed with her collection and a chance to show her mother that success comes in all sizes, Lizzie sets out to prove there's more to a person than the size of their waist. 

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. My 250 word opening is below.

From the moment I stepped out onto Aunt Teri and Uncle Joe’s patio, they taunted me. My eyes darted away, trying my best to ignore them, but I knew they were there. Every summer my aunt and uncle hosted a huge neighborhood cookout. Mom had warned me on the car ride over to be good. "A little self-control goes a long way." The words still echoed in my head.

Hearing Aunt Teri behind me, my heart began to race. No doubt she had them with her.

You can do this, I reminded myself. You’re better than they are.

“Lizzie,” Aunt Teri called.

I felt her hand on my shoulder. She twirled me around.

“It’s so lovely to see you. And my, look how big you’ve gotten. Chip?”

She thrust the dreaded bowl in my face. They were the kind with ridges. The kind covered with that powdered sour cream and onion stuff I loved. I forced a smile.

“No thanks. I’m good.”

She shrugged and began to walk away.

“Wait!” I yelled. “I mean …” Rushing over to her, I dug my chubby fingers into the bowl, emerging with a fistful of my forbidden fare. “Maybe just a couple. Thanks.”

Looking up, I saw my mother glaring down at me through Aunt Teri’s kitchen window. I threw the chips in the trash and grabbed a piece of celery off of the veggie tray instead. I was in for a long afternoon.

~ VERSUS ~ 

Title: Flecka Wivern and Her Two Pet Dragons
Entry Nickname: Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!
Word Count: 43,000
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy

Query:
Twelve-year-old Flecka Wivern is happy living a secret life as a Magical in rural Pennsylvania, even though her closest friends (besides her non-magical classmate Darrell, of course) are her five chickens, one dog, and two pet dragons. Everything changes, however, when wicked little creatures from Vitterdam--the realm where her family’s Magical ancestors once lived--open a portal to Earth and kidnap her five-year-old brother Felix.
Flecka doesn’t know why anyone would want her smelly and loud little brother, but she doesn’t care--he’s her smelly and loud little brother. Now Flecka, with the help of Darrell and her dragons, must face magicked monsters and school bullies to reopen the portal and save Felix.

But once they open the portal, their true adventure begins: the wicked little creatures who kidnapped Felix work for an evil sorcerer who wants to take over Vitterdam, and who mysteriously believes Felix will help him do so. Flecka, Darrell, and her two dragons must use all the magical and non-magical tricks they have to not only save Felix, but also to save Vitterdam from the evil sorcerer’s clutches.

First 250 words:

Flecka didn't want to do her morning chores. But she had begged her mom for the chickens, and her mom had agreed provided Flecka take care of them.
"Your chickens, your responsibility," her mom had said, talking over the din of Felix crashing his toy trucks into the coffee table. "And if you get them to the point where their eggs hatch, then those are your responsibility too."
Flecka had agreed at the time; she had been eleven years old, and she loved chickens almost as much as she loved dragons.
But now she was twelve, and her love for both was flagging this muddy morning, which also happened to be the first day of fall. Which also happened to be Vitterdam Day.
Her sneakers slurped through the mucky ground as she tromped to the chicken coop to let her flock out on the wet grass. She was glad it was so damp; wet grass meant she would have to put out fewer fires. Wet grass meant she would have fewer chores to do.
The smell of straw and droppings welcomed her as she opened the squeaky wooden door to the coop. She wrinkled her nose while she did a headcount of her flock: five purple and pink-feathered hens and two rainbow-scaled and red-horned dragons.

"Come on," she coaxed as she held the coop door open. "I'm not going to wait forever. Now shoo!"
Her chickens clucked and trotted out, startled by Flecka's cry. Her dragons, however, did little more than give Flecka bored serpentine stares.

15 comments:

  1. Judges, please leave your votes and feedback as a reply to this comment.

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    Replies
    1. Be Grateful For Cookies

      Query:

      This sounds like a really fun story with a strong message. For a moment, I thought she was going to become a famous YouTube chef or something, but I really like the idea of her being a fashion designer for plus-size girls. There are a lot of people trying to stand in her way and I imagine it's going to be an uphill battle.

      The stakes are the only thing that threw me a bit. I understand what she's trying to do. I'm just curious what's going to happen if she doesn't? Is her mom opposing this new designer lifestyle? Is she threatening to send her to a "fat camp" sort of deal? I would just like it to be a little more specific in that regard.

      First 250:

      Man, I can feel the angst here. The desire of wanting to stick to a diet and then have someone thrust your favorite food in your face? Man, that's not cool! This is a great first 250. The problem is right there. You've started in a really good spot and I would want to read more.

      vs.

      Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!

      Query:

      This sounds like a fun story. Almost Labyrinth-esque. The first sentence in the query is long and has an awkward syntax. You really want that first sentence to pop, so think about reworking it. I also feel like it's a lot of scene setting and back story. If the true adventure doesn't begin until they get to Vitterdam, I want to know more about that. Not what it took to get them there. I think you can utilize the space to tell us who the evil sorcerer is, why he thinks Felix can help him, and get more into the nitty gritty of the story.

      First 250:

      What kid wants to do their morning chores? I sure didn't when I was a kid. The voice is there, but I'm not sure you started in the right spot. I feel like we don't need the backstory on how she got the chickens from the get-go. I'd rather have something happening that pulls me into the action of the story. That last line though, with the dragons? Now that definitely caught my attention. I would definitely want to read more and see where this is going. Dragon's are awesome!

      You both have done great jobs!

      Victory: Be Grateful For Cookies

      Delete
    2. Be Grateful for Cookies:

      -I LOVE the concept!
      -Great query!
      -250: strong opening! I might change your last two lines just a bit to provide more imagery and match your other strongly written previous lines.
      -Otherwise, I love it and want to read more!

      Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!

      -Your plot sounds interesting!
      -Your query is well written.
      -In your first 250, I have a couple small tweaks. I would choose a different word than "those" when the mother says that those are your responsibility, too. I think another word might strengthen the sentence.
      -Also, I wouldn't use the phrase "wet grass meant" twice in a row. I understand that you're going for an effect, but it sounds a little awkward.
      -Overall, it looks really good!

      Victory to Be Grateful for Cookies

      Delete
    3. Be Grateful for Cookies
      This is a great concept! MG fiction is in need of some body-positive stories. I can definitely get behind Lizzie as a character. There isn’t really anything I would change in your query itself. You make the stakes clear, and you compel me to read more.
      I like your first 250 words, but I wish I had a little more about how Lizzie felt when she saw her mom glaring.

      Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!
      Flecka seems like an interesting character, and I love how she raises chickens and dragons! I really enjoy how you set her story in rural Pennsylvania instead of in the city or a more suburban setting, as is typical of contemporary fantasy.
      As for your first 250 words, I think “din” and “tromped” might be too uncommon of to use in a MG novel. While “flagging” is correct, I feel like it will only confuse MG readers.

      Both entries have strong queries and first pages, but COOKIES has a slightly more polished first page. VICTORY TO BE GRATEFUL FOR COOKIES!

      Delete
    4. Be Grateful for Cookies

      I'm emphatically not the audience for this query. This is a book I would never read!

      And yet, I ain't mad at it, as the saying goes. It's well-written, the query has a good rhythm, and I identified with the plight of the main character very quickly. This might not be my cup of tea, but it's good tea nonetheless.

      My only note is to be careful with the tone. This book is very earnest, by its design, which is fine, but you do run the risk of veering into after-school special. Things like "the words still echoed in my head" in the 250 inch it closer to melodrama. Be careful to not to gild the lily.

      DOGS, CHICKENS, DRAGONS

      In the query, I really don't like the "of course" to introduce a main character we've never heard of. I get that you're trying to inject voice into the query, but it comes off wrong, let's say. I also think that 'smelly and loud' aren't interesting or funny enough modifiers to be repeated. Additionally, its a misstep to say that the
      'true adventure' doesn't start until X happens, because if that's the case, why not just start the book there?

      An overarching concern I have with this query (and something to think about if ends up not getting a good agent response) is that it's all very familiar. I feel like the plot of the query could be described as "Kidnapped-Brother Portal Fantasy", and I just about have all the beats you give me. I'm exaggerating slightly here, but not excessively.

      I think this query would be stronger if it leaned into what makes the book unique. The chickens and animal husbandry seem to be important, given that you put them in the title, and I wonder about bringing that to the forefront of the query. It would make it stand out from the pack a little more, which might be the biggest issue with this one.

      The 250 was very confident, I felt.

      VICTORY to BE GRATEFUL FOR COOKIES

      Delete
    5. Be Grateful for Cookies—

      Query: Aww, I love this so much! The first two paragraphs set up the story very well. The transition into the third paragraph felt a bit rushed. The flow of the three setbacks she faces works well, and we need to see that they lead Lizzie to realize to BE YOU, but I felt the wording at the beginning of that sentence could be finessed to make it more clear that these are the struggles she faces once she agrees to do the fashion show, and that they ultimately are what lead her to accept herself.

      Overall, though, this is a strong query. And it’s a story that the middle grade world needs.

      First 250: Wow. Just … WOW! This drops the reader right into the middle of Lizzy’s struggle, which feels very real and very raw. You’ve done a brilliant job of showing the conflicting ways your MC is being pulled in, and we get a sense of how painful that is going to be as the story progresses. I don’t have a single suggestion for improvement, and I need to read this NOW!

      (By the way, this feels like a middle grade version of the book 45 Pounds (more or less) by KA Barson, if you’re looking for a comp title).

      Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!—

      Query: This is a well-organized query with clear stakes. I especially love the second paragraph.

      In the third para, there are a couple of repetitions that start to make things sound cliché. First off, you use the phrase “wicked little creatures” twice in the query. It’s distinctive enough to stand out since it’s used twice in such a short span of time. Try switching the second phrase to something else. (Bonus points if whatever you change it to tells us something new about these creatures.) You also use the word “evil” twice when describing the sorcerer. Finding another word that makes him more three-dimensional instead of the clichéd evil villain would make this query stronger. Also, in the first sentence of the third paragraph, you could tighten it by taking out the words “who mysteriously”, so that it reads “…work for an evil sorcerer who wants to take over V and believes having Felix will help …”.

      First 250: The two really interesting things about this opening are the dragons and the mention of Vitterdam day. These are the things that stand out, since they are unexpected and different in an otherwise normal scene about a girl doing her chores. Have you considered starting your story with the line, “Flicka loved chickens almost as much as she loved dragons”? That’s SUCH a great line, and would kick your 250 off with a bang. It’s unexpected, while the fact that she doesn’t want to do her chores won’t surprise anyone. Anything else you can do to highlight the unexpected in this opening, would go a long way to making your 250 really shine.

      I like the implications in the line “wet grass meant she would have to put out fewer fires”. I’m assuming this means that her dragons breathe fire and that they won’t be able to light the grass up if it’s wet? I almost missed it, though—you might want to make mention of the fire-breathing dragons either just before or just after that. But then with the line after that one, I’m not sure why wet grass would mean she’d have fewer chores. Is this also a reference to the fires she won’t have to put out? If so, just cut that part. You don’t need to state it twice.

      If you end up keeping the first sentence, it needs a comma or dash between the words “agreed” and “provided.”

      I enjoyed both of these entries, but I’m voting for the one with the more compelling 250.

      Victory to Be Grateful for Cookies

      Delete
    6. Be Grateful for Cookies:
      Query: I'm drawn in by Lizzie's personality and creativity, and I love the fact that she finds multiple creative outlets as well as a way to tackle her own uncertainty through action. However, I think you could add more specifics to this query regarding the actual conflicts and obstacles she faces in the story. What happens during the fashion show, for instance? What is the big turning point for her character, and what are the stakes if she fails?
      1st 250: You do such a good job of describing how excruciating this scene is for Lizzie, especially when surrounded by temptation. You could even push that a little more, I think, with Lizzie's internal reactions: is her stomach growling? What does she love, specifically, about the chip powder? How does she feel about her mother's directives—is she herself conflicted about wanting to eat healthier? The writing is strong, but more grounding in Lizzie's head would make it even stronger.

      Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!
      Query: Very tightly written pitch here! You make it clear in the first paragraph what's at stake for Flecka, and you do a good job of showing how the adventure builds and the plot thickens. I did wonder if her secret magic is in danger of being revealed—is there something at stake in the nonmagical world? And what is the nature of her magic? You could hint at those answers in the pitch. Overall, though, I'm left intrigued. It sounds like a fun story.
      1st 250: It is a great reveal to talk about how much Flecka loves dragons, and then have the dragons actually appear—inside the chicken coop. The reader immediately knows we are in a fantasy setting. I almost think you could start with "Your chickens, your responsibility"—it's a funny line and conveys most of the information in the first paragraph anyway. I do wonder what Vitterdam Day entails—specifically, is Flecka excited or unenthused about it. But this is a strong, colorful first section with hints of humor.

      Victory to Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!

      Delete
    7. Be Grateful for Cookies

      Query: I feel for Lizzie right away with an overpowering, unkind mom. I love the plot and am drawn in. Curious, does Lizzy's sister support her? She's mentioned briefly, but I wondered if the sister was as harsh as the mom. Cut the last line, not necessary in QK.

      First 250: I love the first 250 and feel her struggle. But I wasn't 100% sure who 'they' were. The chips? The aunt & uncle? The guests?

      Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!

      Query: I love the relationship she has with her brother. He's smelly but he's hers! Consider jumping past the school bullies and going right into them opening the portal. Get to the adventure sooner.

      First 250: I'm assuming the mom knows about the dragons in the barn too? Does the mom feel like she needs to do her dragon chores as well? Curious. Not sure if it's something you need to tweak. I like the voice. This is clean and well written!

      Ugh. This is tough! Both great queries and fabulous intros. I'm going to vote on subjectivity.

      Victory goes to: Be grateful for Cookies

      Delete
  2. Be grateful for Cookies

    Your query is great. I just suggest you cut this line: [even though her skinny sister can still eat whatever she wants]

    Your first 250 words really drew me in. That word "they" was just perfect. My overactive imagination immediately started guessing friends? bullies? animals? family?
    I never knew chips could be that scary.

    Dogs and Chickens and Dragons

    You've polished up your query nicely. I suggest you cut the "of course" in your first paragraph. It's not necessary.
    Flecka's connection to Vitterdam makes more sense now, though I think you could still elaborate a bit.

    Just a note on your first 250 words: If she has 5 'hens' how is she going to get the eggs to hatch?

    Another tough match-up. Good luck!

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  3. Be Grateful for Cookies

    Query:
    You capture her struggle perfectly in your query. I love the girl power involved as well as accepting who you are. Just from your query, I can tell you have a lot of fun to offer in your story along with a good message.

    First 250:
    I love the voice in your 250. I have been in situation where I am so tempted by food, even though I’m trying to deny myself. Even though I don’t read middle grade, I would totally read this story!

    Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!
    Query:
    I like your first two paragraphs, although I don’t quite understand why you used “of course” after Darrell. In the last paragraph, I wouldn’t repeat “Flecka, Darrell, and her two dragons”. It’s just a mouthful and it was already established before that they were all working together. I would find a different way of wording it, or just say “Flecka must use the magical and non-magical tricks she has…”

    First 250:
    This passage was interesting, especially the pink and purple hens. You mentioned that the wet grass meant she would have to put out fewer fires and have fewer chores. I assumed this is part of her magic and/or part of Vitterdam Day and would be explained later. If that isn’t the case, it should be explained more here. Other than the crazy animals, the scene seems like a typical kid not wanting to do chores. Maybe the excitement could be ratcheted up with a more dramatic mention of Vitterdam Day. You talked about the fires, but I first imagined her stuffing out fires with her feet, which isn’t magical. Does she put them out in a unique way? Why do they start in the first place? You don’t have to share everything, but putting in a specific detail can draw the reader in more.

    Good job to both of you!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Cookies
    OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS CONCEPT SO MUCH! The query sets it up really well. And the first page is so painful but so good. I am rooting for this character so hard already. I know this isn’t really feedback, but I love it!


    Dogs and Chickens
    I got a little confused about the closest friends besides her closest friend set up here. Love the first line of your second paragraph! Very funny! I’d cut the “But” from the beginning of the third paragraph.

    I love the “your chickens, your responsibility” dialogue! Very realistic and funny! Also great: “she loved chickens almost as much as she loved dragons.” I agree with earlier comments, though, that it feels weird to have a flashback to an earlier age right on the first page

    ReplyDelete
  5. Another Kontestant here. These are just some thoughts as I read.

    COOKIES

    Query:

    - As a 6th grade teacher, this is a book I'm sure a lot of my students would love reading, not to mention a book I'd ENCOURAGE them to read or even read along with them.
    - I really don't have a lot of feedback on the query, it seems strong as is
    - Maybe be a bit more specific with the bullies part, just because so many MG books deal with issues on bullying
    - I did feel like I wanted a little bit more info about the main conflict - is she trying to decide if she wants to do the fashion show? Is it more about the conflict with her mom? What's the big turning point that this is all building up to?

    First 250:

    - Nice voice, you can really feel the internal conflict Lizzie is going through
    - The "they" thing works well, but threw me off when it says "You're better than they are." Is she talking about being better than her mom and aunt, or the chips?
    - It seems odd that she calls her fingers chubby - I was an overweight kid, and I just called them "fingers." : )
    - "Forbidden fare" doesn't sound like MG language

    I know these are just little nit-picky things. Overall, I think you have a wonderful concept and a well-written first page. I'm sure you'll have much success with this book!

    DOGS, CHICKENS AND DRAGONS

    Query:

    - I'm confused about why Felix was kidnapped. I know it's because the sorcerer wants to take over Vitterdam, but I'm not sure how Felix will help him do that.
    - Who are these wicked little creatures? Almost seems like you don't need to mention them in the query.
    - I agree that it would be nice to hear more about what happens in Vitterdam rather than so much info on what happens before they go
    - I like the "her" smelly and loud little brother part. That's cute.

    First 250:

    - Just a few little things with wording - you have the word "had" in there a lot; you also use the word "was" a few times, which I know is frowned upon; the part that says "which also happened" twice, read a little awkwardly to me. You did the same thing with the "wet grass" thing, and I know what you're doing (I happen to use a style where I repeat words/phrases to emphasize them a lot in my writing, too), but I try to use it sparingly.
    - I like how you just slid in the part about the dragons being mixed in with the chickens, like that's completely normal.

    Overall, sounds like an interesting concept. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Be Grateful For Cookies
    First… great nickname.

    Query: I liked the query but wasn’t totally clear on the stakes… the way you set up the fashion show in the second paragraph, it seems like there would be some sort of drama surrounding it, other than that it will be a great opportunity for Lizzie.

    Maybe move the fashion show part to the very end, so it’s like, “When Lizzies’ teacher convinces her to reveal her inspirational clothing to the public with a fashion show, Lizzie must learn how to internalize her own inspirational messages to summon the courage for a public show”?

    Regardless, these issues don’t break the query for me—I would still read the book ☺ And great voice with the First 250.


    Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!

    Query: I appreciate how much information you convey in such a short query! With that said… are there any stakes for Flecka back home? The query is strong, but if there’s something else going on for Flecka’s fate besides saving Vitterdam, that would be great to see.

    First 250: I appreciate how nonchalant you are about the dragons.

    Small thing, in the second sentence, I was briefly caught at “her mom had agreed provided Flecka take care of them.” I think a comma between “agreed” and “provided” would help clarify the meaning of the sentence. Also, the two “which also happened to be” felt a little much.

    But, I’m very intrigued!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Be Grateful for Cookies:

    Query: What I love the most about your query is the instant sympathy you invoke in the reader. I'm empathetic towards Lizzie in her battles with weight and her mom, and then I'm cheering for her when she discovers her clothing design talent. Fantastic query. I love the phrases broccoli and flaxseed, and making chocolate-anything on the fly. I do wonder about the phrase "it's a lot of work" in the second paragraph. I'm not sure if this is showing Lizzie being lazy and it kind of muddles "center of attention” as a reason for her nervousness to have fashion show. I love the voice in the query and the capitalization of BE YOU and BE STRONG. I can’t wait to read this someday and go on Lizzie’s fashion design journey.

    250: Admittedly, I was a bit confused on my first read that "them" and "they" meant chips and not people, although I think that's great. Maybe clarification is needed if other readers also get confused? Aunt Terri is so mean! I am a little surprised Lizzie takes the chips after her aunt points out how big she's gotten. Perhaps there is something more Aunt Teri can do to entice her instead of shrugging and walking away? Of course this depends on how you want to portray Lizzie's self control.

    Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!

    Query: Your premise is so cool! I love stories with dragons and I'd definitely read this! I love the revisions in paragraph 1 that clarify Vitterdam, and her non-magical friend. Your stakes are clear and it sounds like a cool world and adventure. Some phrases are repetitive. For example: you use wicked little creatures twice and portal in the 3rd paragraph comes so quickly after it's used in the 2nd paragraph. You might consider rewording or varying vocabulary a little bit. Regardless, I’m really intrigued by your premise.

    250: Ohmigosh! Your last line is brilliant!! Actually I love the last paragraph so much I want more of the dragons and colorful hens. To me this is where your story leaps off the page and I wonder if you could cut some of what's above or rearrange, even, to give us more dragons!

    Great work both of you! I'd read these in a heartbeat!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Be Grateful for Cookies:

    I really love this concept! I think you could up the stakes a little in the query by clarifying them—like is her mom going to stop her from pursuing her passion of designing plus size clothes, or is it as much about proving to herself that she's worth it, as it is to her mom? That being said, I think it still works well enough as is. Nothing to say about the first 250. I want to eat a bowl of chips now.



    Dogs and Chickens and Dragons, Oh My!

    I remember your query from last round. Great job tightening it up. One quick suggestion for you first 250. You more or less say the same thing twice– that her mom agreed, if she'll take care of them.

    Flecka didn't want to do her morning chores, even though she was one who'd begged for the chickens. (or you could throw in some color/personality and call them little feathery monsters, or something.)

    "Your chickens, your responsibility," her mom had said, talking over the din of Felix crashing his toy trucks into the coffee table. "And if their eggs hatch, then those are your responsibility, too."

    ReplyDelete