Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Knight in Shining Armani versus Witch for Hire

 Entry Nickname: Knight in Shining Armani
Title: Catch My Breath
Word count: 74,500
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance


Lia Meyers' plan for a relaxing Scottish vacation is short-lived. One uncharacteristic moment of clumsiness lands her in the arms of a dangerously attractive Englishman.

Still reeling from a bad breakup with a controlling, possessive boyfriend, Lia doesn't have the time or patience for Alastair Holden's seduction. Enigmatic and charming, he's exactly what she wants to avoid but can't. He hides behind an impenetrable mask, never allowing anyone to see passed it. The mystery is too tempting for Lia. His quiet intensity lures her, easily breaking apart her attempts to resist him.

Drawn to him, Lia battles with her insecurities. The closer they become, the more she recognizes her own weaknesses as she peels away his layers. Discovering that Alastair is tormented by a painful past, Lia must decide if they can heal one another together or if their deepest fears will tear them apart.

First 250 words:

“Amelia Grace Meyers. Nap time is over. Let’s go. We’re getting picked up at seven for the benefit. I don’t want to be late.”

The blankets were unceremoniously ripped from my body, destroying the warm cocoon I’d wrapped around myself. I sat up with a start, blinded by the bright light spilling from the bedside lamp. Wisps of an unpleasant dream nagged at me. Grabbing the blankets, I flopped back onto the mattress.

“You’re mean,” I whined into the pillow, trying to figure out what the hell my best friend was talking about. And more importantly, where I was. I opened a sleepy eye and saw Stephanie Tempe, all perfumed and primped, standing at the foot of the bed. Oh right. Scotland.

“What time is it?” I yawned.

“Quarter past six. Get up.”

I crawled out of bed, shooting a half-hearted glare in her direction. Why I agreed to go to this event with her tonight was beyond me. I stumbled toward the bathroom, deftly avoiding suitcases that were scattered in a schizophrenic maze on the floor. I’d been in Glasgow for two days and still hadn’t technically seen the outside of this room. Who knew jet-lag could be so vicious?
Twenty minutes, and a furious effort on my part to look presentable, later, our heels clicked in unison on the marble floor in the hotel lobby.

“You totally set a new record for getting ready,” Stephanie remarked as we waited for our ride. I nodded, yawning.


Entry Nickname: Witch for Hire
Title: Wytchcraft
Word count: 101,000
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy


Wytchcraft takes place in Brighthaven, a supernatural populated neighborhood of West Hollywood. In this universe the supernaturals are out of the closet and living among humans, in a strenuous relationship.

Matilda Kavanagh is a witch for hire, just trying to pay rent and keep from sharing the same can of tuna with her cat. When a troll comes knocking at her door, looking for a spell to catch a fairy, Mattie can’t turn away his money. Little does she know, the fairy he intends to catch is the fairy princess, Rae of Dunhallow.

Rae’s brother, Roane, has gone missing and now all eyes on are Mattie and her charms. The Lord and Lady of Dunhallow are holding Mattie responsible to bring Roane home, safe and sound. To force her to cooperate, the Dunhallows are holding the vampire she once loved hostage. If she cannot save Roane, the Dunhallows will kill her and her former love.

Can Mattie find Roane and bring him home before the Lord and Lady lose their patience and kill her and her former, and possibly future, lover?

First 250 words:

I was almost out of vervain; I was almost out of a lot of my stores. I’d have to go visit Ronnie soon, but my tab was getting a little out of hand and I didn’t like the idea of adding to it. I closed the cupboard, deciding against starting the potion I was going to make; if I didn’t do it right it would blow up in my face. Literally and I had just waxed my eyebrows, I wanted to keep them.

“Gonna have to find work soon, Artie,” I reached to scratch my black, smush-faced cat behind the ears as he purred on the kitchen table. “We’ll both be eating canned tuna if I’m not careful.” Artemis rolled on his back, four black paws stretching in opposite directions before he became boneless.

I reached for the fridge door, poking through leftover take out containers. Just as I grabbed a cold eggroll, someone banged at my front door. A glance at the clock told me it was well after midnight. It wasn’t odd for someone to come by at this time of night, but I wasn’t expecting anyone. I bit off a bite of eggroll and nudged the fridge closed with my hip, grabbing my baseball bat on my way to the door. Sure, I could hex whoever it was or use my knockout powder, but if it was a friend they wouldn’t thank me for it in the morning. At least the bat was threatening enough to give someone pause and me a second to react.


  1. This comment is reserved for the judges' votes

    1. Victory to Knight in Shining Armani.

      To Shining, your prose was strong and you had a nice consistent voice through your query. My only thought for your query is describing how she eventually fell for Alastair with a bit more strength. I loved the idea that she "doesn't have the time or patience" for his seduction. Yet, then, she just lets him because he's mysterious? I need a bit more there.

      To Witch for Hire, I don't think you need to define your genre as your opening sentence. The query would be stronger without it and I'm sure you could work in your location in that second paragraph rather than the first sentence. Regarding your prose, try to add some sentence variation. I noticed this ONLY because I had the same problem in many of my drafts for my first novel. It took me a year to figure out how to explain my character's perspective without using sentences that start with I. Your first paragraph is filled with them, your third paragraph offers more variation. But cutting back on those I sentences will certainly help your prose come alive.

      Good luck to you both!

    2. Victory to Knight in Shining Armani

      To Armani: Not typically a romance reader but I think you have a query that does the job. Your query is formulaic in regards to the basics of what I would expect from a romance, but your voice and writing in the first page was really top-notch. That's ultimately what sold me.

      To Wytch: You don't need that first paragraph considering humans aren't a part of your query. If you are inclined to keep it, I would look for a more subtle way of getting that info across. I really like the sentence about sharing the same can of tuna with her cat (in the query) but didn't like the mention of it in the first page. It may be because it's a repeat of what I read in the query, but I'm not sure.

      I wasn't really engaged in your first page. I have to agree with SavageBlue. The 'I' sentences really pulled me out of what was happening.

    3. Victory to Witch for Hire

      Here's why - loved the premise, loved the voice, loved the details like supernaturals coming out of the closet. The first paragraph in the opening page needs work, though. I'd rework a few of the sentences to get rid of some of the "I" repeat. Mix up your sentences.

      Knight in Shining Armani, great writing. I love me some HAWT English man action. I just wasn't hooked with the query and opening pages. What makes this story unique? Why is this guy different than all the other I'm-Too-Sexy-For-My-Page heroes in romance? How is his mystery different. I'd hint at it in the query to show the agents why this story is unique. Also, I'm not a fan with starting with dialogue. It's too talking headish. Introduce your character first and ground us in the point of view upfront. This opening scene doesn't hook. I'd start the story at the benefit, where I hope the inciting event occurs. But really, great voice!

      Great job, you guys!

    4. Victory to Kight in Shining Armani.

      Kight: Great query and page. The voice comes through in both, and while nothing of huge consequence happens in your 250, the characters' personalities shone through. (Although, your use of passed instead of the correct PAST nearly broke me. I'm a stickler for attention to detail, and that's one that should've been caught by CP's if not yourself.) Also, I'm not usually a fan of starting with dialogue, but I thought it worked here. Well done :)

      Wytch: If I were choosing for ME and not based on the query, I would have chosen you. The premise sounds fun, and your first 250 were fantastic, ending in just the right place. BUT, your query needs work. I got no voice, no sense of awe that I'd expect from a fantasy, and no depth. It just felt flat, to be honest. Take the first paragraph:

      "Wytchcraft takes place in Brighthaven, a supernatural populated neighborhood of West Hollywood. In this universe the supernaturals are out of the closet and living among humans, in a strenuous relationship."
      "Brighthaven, California isn't your typical Hollywood suburb. But if a human can look past the witches, trolls, faries, and ___, they might be okay. Maybe."

      That's a quick, and probably poor example, but you get the point. The rest of the query suffers from the same thing. Aside from the tuna sentence (which I love) the rest is all telling with very little voice. From your 250, I know you can do it, though. Work on it.

      Good luck to you both!

    5. Victory to Witch for Hire: I enjoyed your premise. Your first 250 showed the character and set up the mystery. It could be stronger. Your query needs to be tightened. What does the troll have to do with the missing Prince? You said he was after the princess, but they’re not mentioned again.

      Knight in Shining Armani: I enjoyed your query and page. But I wish there was more in the query to differentiate this from other romances with the same theme. The first 250 was written well, but nothing exciting happened. She just woke up.

      Based on what I read, I voted for what held my attention in regards to plot. I didn’t have enough of a sense of plot for Knight in Shining Armani outside of the romantic elements.

      It was a tough choice. Good luck to you both.

    6. Victory to Knight in Shining Armani

      Another one I'm going to be honest about neither of them being really hooky enough for me, but CATCH MY BREATH's writing in both the query and the 250 came across as more professional.

      The premise for CATCH MY BREATH is pretty formulaic. I did feel there was too much of a quick give-in to the push-me, pull-me of Alastair's mysteriousness. Then the query itself turns mysterious with "weaknesses," "layers," "painful past" and "deepest fears" thrown out but not explained. Is there a plot, other than two people trying to decide if they're meant to be together? Is there a dark moment that keeps them apart? As written, it just doesn't feel like it can fill up 74,000 words. For the 250, I was a bit unconvinced that Lia was so blase about being in Glasgow. TBH, that had me feeling a bit blase about Lia and about the 250.

      I tried to follow the query for WYTCHCRAFT and, I'm afraid, wound up confused. The troll wants to catch Rae, but Roane is the one who goes missing? What happened to Rae and, if nothing, why is she named in the query? And why does Mattie have to be forced to cooperate? What obstacles does she face, or is this just a typical missing fairy case? The first bit introducing the story can go. For the 250, sentence structure needs some variation but it's clear in what's happening. Except for the line about 'both be eating canned tuna' - it's better in the query where they'll both be eating out of the SAME can.

    7. Victory for Knight

      Knight- typos in queries will get your sample tossed by agents before being given due consideration, so make sure to have CP's look it over before sending. (Passed instead of Past). I also think you're not giving us enough of a conflict/hook here- I wanted more detail to separate this from so many other romances that could be described the same way so I can see how it will hold up for a full-length novel. Other than the setting, what are some specific details that make your story unique? Your writing sample is fun and well-done, though I think the second paragraph is overwritten a bit.

      Wycthcraft- I would lose the first paragraph of your query entirely- your voice starts to show up in the line beginning with Mathilda and nothing about the first paragraph seems like information we'd need to know to evaluate the story. Watch word repeats (holding)- if your query has them, agents will assume your ms does as well. I wasn't totally sold on the writing in the sample- it seemed almost over-narrated to me.

    8. This one is too cruel. I’m drawn to both.

      Knight in Shining Armani: Scottish vacation equals huge sigh. But I didn’t get a great sense of Lia’s personality from the query. I wish some of the voice from the first page was transferred over to the query. Also the last paragraph, painful past and insecurities, gives me nothing to go on. The voice in the first page is delightful.

      Witch for Hire: I’m not seeing the connection to catching the fairy princess and the princess’ brother. How do we go from Rae to Roane? It feels like the connection is missing that would give us the reason they are blaming Mattie. Also your word count is up there. I know for fantasy that is allowed, but when it comes down to small things, it can work against you. Great humor in the opening page. The query and first page have the same great voice.

      Ack. Torture. Victory to Witch for Hire!

    9. Damn. This one is tough...


      Victory to Knight

      (Seriously, that was hard.)

      I love the voice in Knight, I think the story sounds cool, and I would pick it up and read it if I came across it on my own.

      For Witch, I actually loved this. Like, a lot. The voice is amazing, the story sounds super cool. I wish I could have voted for both!

  2. Victory to Knight in Shining Armani - Ultraviolet
    This was a very, very close one for me. The concept behind Catch My Breath doesn't seem particularly fresh, but I realize there is a steady romance market for stories along these lines and that there is a formula to them. "Passed" in the query should be "past" btw. I thought Wytchcraft was a somewhat more unusual story idea but the writing wasn't as strong-and as SavageBlue mentioned, all those "I" sentences didn't get the story off to an engaging start for me, even though I liked the last 3 sentences of the 250. In the end writing trumped concept for me in this round.

  3. Knight: I really like your premise. It sounds like a lot of the books I've been reading lately. Don't hate me for thinking that the query seems a drop repetitive at points when you say she is drawn to him and can't resist. However, (no pun intended) I am drawn to this story. I actually liked the first 250 more than the query and wished I had more to read. I think your voice is great and unique and your MC sounds like someone I want to know more about.

    Witch: I think your query needs a drop of oomph, and I mean this is the nicest way possible. I think the query does its purpose in getting the idea of your story across very nicely and it's an interesting premise, but it read a little too much like a synopsis. I love the line about her wanting to keep her eyebrows; makes me like the MC and her wittiness.

    Good luck to you both!!

  4. Victory to Witch for Hire from Judge Interrobang.

    Love the premise and the voice. Snarky and fun, it's a new take on something that feels a little worn out. The query is strong but not amazing. The hook needs more oomph. Opening 250 has great voice though.

    Knight has a perfectly fine query, but again the hook needs more. I'm also very non-romance so this could be a personal choice. I feel like all romance plots have been played out over and over again, so I don't see what makes this one different. Also the opening 250 weren't grabbing me.

  5. Knight in Shining Armani:

    I like the premise and love reading stories set in Scotland (I travel there frequently :) "Passed" instead of "past" right away caught my eye, but in queries especially, it can be SO easy to read right through typos because you've seen them 100x and your eyes just pass (no pun intended) over them ;) I agree, though, that the query needs more hook. All we know from it is that Lia is on holiday in Scotland, and has fallen into the arms of this mysterious man with a past. What does he do to seem mysterious/attractive to Lia? What does SHE do to learn more about him?

    I also agree that your first 250 are stronger than the query. I want to know more about Lia, what exactly the benefit is for, what she and her best friend are doing in Glasgow, etc. I think you've got a few too many commas in the "Twenty minutes" sentence, but overall, I like the voice and am curious to know more! Well done!

    Witch for Hire:

    I think your query's second paragraph should be your first, beginning with the sentence. "Matilda Kavanagh is a witch for hire..." because that seems a bigger grab than the worldbuilding in your first paragraph (which I think you could intersperse with the second paragraph's info neatly). Love that sentence at the start of paragraph 2!

    Great opening line - I don't know what vervain is, though I can tell it's some sort of natural ingredient for a spell/potion, and this makes me want to know more. Right away we get a sense for how she lives, that there's enough danger in her life for her to be used to carrying a baseball bat to the door, and this also pulls me in.

    Both intriguing entries! Good luck!

  6. In this match-up, I think both excerpts are MUCH stronger than the queries. This is not a good thing if an agent only asks for a query (without the first few pages). I'd like to see the voice that emerges in the excerpts in the actual queries.

    KNIGHT: The query comes across a bit formulaic...like it could be any steamy romance. Interject some of the humor from the excerpt into the query. Does your MC meet Alistair at that party? Maybe describe the clumsy moment that leads to their first meeting?

    WITCH: Almost the same advice. I like the personality/voice/humor of the MC in the excerpt (waxed eyebrows, baseball bat, eggroll). The excerpt also grounds us to the present day whereas the query lacks modern elements. I thought the setting was ages ago until I read the 250 words.

    The GREAT news is that both of you are strong writers! Queries can be fixed easily -- voice cannot. Good luck.

  7. Knight in Shining Armani - I think you query would do great with a bit more of the MCs voice in it. It does come across as a romance that might not stand out. Your first 250 are great, though. This one sentence read a bit awkward to me. "Twenty minutes, and a furious effort on my part to look presentable, later..." But I'd definitely read on.

    Witch for Hire - As far as your query is concerned, I think you can get rid of the first paragraph - it doesn't add anything that I think is vital for your query. You should add something that ties Roane vanishing with the MC. Does the spell to trap the fairy go awry and he's missing instead? There's a gap that needs to be filled. I thought your first 250 were much stronger than the query. As others posted, a few too many sentences start with "I." But the voice is there and you've a good start!

  8. Knight in Shining Armani-Love that yours takes place in Scotland! So does mine! The "Still reeling" paragraph is a little heavy. You can say in just a sentence that she finds herself drawn to Alastair. Save all the reasons why for the book. This will leave you more room for the conflict, for these haunted pasts that each need to share. Love the idea, and the opening 250 has great voice!

    Witch for Hire-Jump right in with your query's second paragraph. No need to explain setting. It's Matilda's story that's important. The setting will come out in the story. Love the voice in the first 250 and Mattie's relationship with her cat!

  9. Knight in Shining Armani- love this nickname! I'm reading this match-up solely based on that!!! Anyway... this sounds awesome and I'd read it in a hot second. A query nitpick- I thik it should be "see PAST it" not "passed." Also, I really hope you do have something in the MS that really stands out because the hot Scot has definitely been done before a lot. It wouldn't stop me from reading, but it might stop others. If there is something, maybe mention it in the query so we can see why this stands out a bit. I liked the sample, although I'm not a big fan of dialogue in the first line and for a second, I thought the person talking was talking to a child (nap time). Other than that, the voice was great!

    With For Hire- I loved this query! Except... the first and last lines. I think someone already said, but you don't need that first paragraph. And the last line, I'm thinking maybe something happens between her and Roane? Or does she rekindle the relationship with her ex-vamp lover? The last line is very unclear- I don't know what you're getting at with possible future lover. Other than that, I loved the idea, I feel like I know what Mattie will be like from the query alone and that's awesome! In your sample, I like how you jump right into the story (I'm assuming the knock on her door is the troll.) The first paragraph read a little clunky to me though. The two "I almost's" don't read smoothly and you've got two semi-colons in that para alone which is meh. (Semi-colons are the devil!)

  10. Knight in Shining Armani: I love the friendship you set up in the first 250. I can totally see the scene. I think you can tighten up the query. There are a couple places where you do this emotional back and forth that took away from the punch. For example, she wants to avoid, but can't, or, he lures her, easily breaking down her defenses. I think *think* it would work better to build up her desire to avoid him in a sentence or two and then knock them down with a build up of his charm, rather than a little of each throughout.

    Witch for Hire: This reminded me very strongly of The Hollows series by Kim Harrison, which I loved. That features a mercenary/for-hire witch on the run who stirs spells and works charms, has a sassy pixie helper, a vamp partner and a vamp lover. Aside from the awesomeness of the pitch and 250, you should definitely read this if you haven't already, if only to show that they are different. What I love about the 250 is that the character comes through loud and clear and we get an immediate sense of the world and how it might work.

    Good luck to you both!

  11. Knight In Shining Armani! You've really, really gotta' fix the word "passed (should be "past")." Your query and excerpt are really great, but that almost took me right out of it. Romantic history isn't my usual thing, but it does sound intriguing.

    Witch For Hire! Love the humor, the whole cat thing. SO many times it seems humor and characters set apart generic-sounding stories (not that yours is! But I see the humor involved). However (and it's just a personal preference), I was bummed to see a vampire wallowing about in the tale. Noooo!

    Both very strong entries. Good luck!

  12. Knight in Shining Armani - totally reading this based on your nickname but the query left me wondering if that humour extended into the MS. It would be awesome if it did. It also sounds a bit formulaic and I'm not entirely sure what's unique, but I do like the travel aspect and I know that formula is part of the genre.

    Witch for Hire - I really haven't ever read Adult Urban Fantasy but your premise made me want to start! Overall i think the query and 250 need a bit of pizazz, but I think you can do it! The premise is so awesome and the little touches like the egg roll and the eyebrows shine.

    Great Job! This is a tough one.

  13. Knight--

    I like the Scottish angle, who doesn't love a great setting? But I'm wondering what makes this love interest special besides the fact that he's mysterious? He lures her by being quiet and intense? I guess I'd like to really feel what he does to make her interested, even when she doesn't want to be, what are his actions? Right now it feels like you use several ways to basically describe him as closed off. But romance books are really my weak spot so it could be I don't know what I'm talking about with this one.

    Witch for Hire--

    I love the premise of supernatural beings being out of the closet, that feels like a different spin and the fact that it's set in West Hollywood. I also love that there are trolls and fairies and a number of different beings but the vampire thing does feel a little played out. I'd get rid of the first paragraph of the query, it's flat and unnecessary. I'd start with the witch for hire line, that's a good line and grabbed my attention. Also in the third paragraph you can tighten that up and make it sing. Phrases like "safe and sound" are cliche and unnecessary. I feel like you can condense the idea that she has to find Roane or his family's going to kill and her boyfriend, giving it a little more personality in the process.

    Good Luck!

  14. Victory to Knight.

    Knight—your query is so easy and quick to read (that is awesome and SO hard to do!). But you have a grammar mistake since “passed” should be “past.” But the query needs to focus a lot more on Lia and stick to more concrete details, instead of “deepest fears” and “painful past” and “weaknesses” and “peels away his layers” and “insecurities” and you get the idea. I almost laughed at “’You’re mean.’” That’s funny :) (I love quirky, funny humor like that.) Of course, others might think it’s too young for an adult, so take my love of the humor with a grain of salt (I have weird humor, anyway).

    Witch—I love that there are witches in Hollywood. That’s kind of awesome! I’m in love with this story. Why can’t it be a MG! I’m not sure if the voice fits and Adult entry :( Comma after ‘literally’ (or maybe a period), and I love your diction in the 250 (like “he became boneless”). I love the nonchalant voice to it as well. Darn it, if only this was a MG…. I think this CAN work as a MG with an adult protagonist, since the voice is there—oh, wait, never mind. Just saw the word count. Sigh. I liked this a lot.

    1. I'm a judge, by the way. (So sorry, forgot to reply in the reply spot.)

  15. Now that I can comment on my own, I want to say thank you to all the judges and to everyone else who offered suggestions and good criticism! This has been awesome and frustrating at the same time :D It's always a bummer when you hear the crits and suddenly it's incredibly obvious, lol! But I'm glad for it because I have some awesome feedback to use to go through my MS.

    Thanks again everyone and congratz to Knight in Shining Armani!