Thursday, January 23, 2014


Genre: YA mystery
Word Count: 64, 000

My main character is most uncomfortable with:

Lauren has lived her whole life in the Deep South, so heat and humidity are "no sweat". But even a few inches of snow would leave her underdressed, unable to drive, and with an unacceptable case of hat-head!


Dear Wonderful Mentors and Agents,

They say nothing interesting ever happens in Bell, Mississippi, but this summer, that’s all changed. Sixteen-year-old Lauren’s district attorney mother is prosecuting the biggest murder trial of her career, a case that’s fascinated the whole county. And the boy of Lauren’s dreams, Bowie Weston, has finally noticed she’s alive. Too bad it’s for the wrong reasons. He’s the son of Diane Weston, the defendant.

Bowie is sure his mom isn’t guilty of shooting his father, but he can’t figure out why she lied about the details of that night. Maybe she had a good reason. Hell, he lied about it, too. Bowie’s devastated by the loss of his dad and determined to keep his mom out of prison. He believes Lauren may be the key, and he thinks he can convince her to help him—he has something she wants desperately.

Lauren wants to believe Bowie, and she wishes she could help him, but she knows better than to interfere. Her mom has already sacrificed so much for this case: sleep, her social standing, even re-election to the job she loves. She can’t lose the trial, too. And Lauren wonders, like everyone in town, how much Bowie knows about what happened the night his father died. And whether he was somehow involved.

If Lauren goes against her good-girl M.O. and risks helping Bowie, she might be able to prove his mother’s innocence and finally win his heart. But in the process, she could lose much more.

First 250 words:

I’d seen a couple of caskets lowered into the ground, but I’d never seen one raised out of it. Neither had most people, probably. Maybe that was why so many were out here. Plus, when you live in a po-dunk town like Bell, you’ll take just about anything and call it entertainment.

It was steamy already at eleven in the morning—June in Mississippi isn’t for wusses. Regardless, dozens of people had turned out at the Hickory Flats Baptist Cemetery to watch the exhumation. Folks were lined up at the chain link fence surrounding the square plot of land next to the old country church. Many of them I knew. Some I didn’t.

Only the official types were allowed inside the fence, but the rest of us still had a pretty good view of the heavy machinery at the grave site and of the six or so people who stood near it, looking down into the open pit, watching as the muddy vault was lifted.

Two workers stood to the side, leaning on shovels and wearing sweaty dark t-shirts and dirty jeans. It seemed wrong, somehow, for them to be dressed like that at this reverse funeral. The others at the gravesite wore deputy uniforms or dark pants and white dress shirts with ties. Only one of them wore a skirt. My mom.

She hadn’t wanted me to be here today, but Jenny and Sophie had insisted. They’d walked over to my house and double-teamed me at the front door a half hour ago.


  1. Cool premise, title, and the "reverse funeral" scene for your first 250 has me intrigued.

    Omit the name Diane Weston, as the query will be fine without it. You use Bowie's POV in the second paragraph--don't so this unless your book has his POV as well.

    FIRST 250:
    "Only one of them wore a skirt. My mom." This line felt a little awkward for me. I think you're just wanting to show that her mom was there but it reads as if her wearing the skirt is some sort of dramatic statement. Maybe simplify it a bit.

    Good luck to you!

  2. Hey there, FOUR BULLETS author! Mentor Sarah Marsh here. I'm so excited to read your query and pages because I'm a sucker for Southern settings :)

    In your query, I love the first line. It sets up the perfect place for a small-town mystery to happen. I like how you set up the conflict with Lauren and Bowie, and the hint of romance. My only comment on the first paragraph is that these two lines can be combined for greater effect, and with the defendant's name omitted. "Too bad it’s for the wrong reasons. He’s the son of Diane Weston, the defendant," can become: "Too bad it's for the wrong reasons--he's the defendant's son."

    My only other comment on the query is that I feel, after all the build up, it currently falls a bit flat. You say she could lose a lot, but you don't specify get specific with those stakes! Is Lauren afraid her family will get hurt, or she herself will get hurt, by looking into this murder case? I want to know more about the specific risks to Lauren so the query ends with a bang!

    In your first 250, I adore Lauren's Southern voice! It's not overwhelming, just the right amount to give the story an authentic feel. :) Regarding the line Ami pointed out that feels a bit stilted, I think it could be fixed by saying something like "My mom was the only one wearing a skirt." And I'd actually move that line to the bottom paragraph, so that it's grouped with the lines about her not wanting to come to the reverse funeral. So it'd read: "My mom was the only one wearing a skirt. She hadn't wanted me to be here..." Like that.

    Wishing you lots of luck with this, and many requests!

  3. Query: I agree that I'm wondering about Bowie as a POV. "isn't guilty" could you say innocent instead? It feels like it has more conviction. I also want a few more specifics. Exactly how would she help him? Sneak into her mom's files? Why would Lauren be "the key?" And I agree that the stakes at the end of the letter need to be high. And I feel like I don't need to know all the things her mother will lose. Maybe say something along the lines of "She wants desperately to help him, but to do that would ruin xyz for her mom/her family."

    First 250: I also love the reverse funeral line :) The voice is great and you start in an intriguing scene. And I get a really good sense of place. I'm always impressed with mystery writers because it's so much logistics to figure out--and I couldn't do it. Your title has me wondering too! Four bullets. Why so many? :)

  4. What a wonderful sounding book! Your first 250 are great and they have a great voice to them. It really speaks so well for the rest of your book.

    Your query is also good and it describes the story well, but I think it's too long and complicated. It almost reads more like a synopsis (though clearly shorter than that). Here's what I'm thinking...

    They say nothing interesting ever happens in Bell, Mississippi, but this summer, that’s all changed. Sixteen-year-old Lauren’s district attorney mother is prosecuting the biggest murder trial of her career, a case that’s fascinated the whole county. And the boy of Lauren’s dreams, Bowie Weston, has finally noticed she’s alive. Too bad it’s for the wrong reasons. He’s the son of Diane Weston, the defendant. (Love this all, except for naming the mom. Don't think you need that.)

    Bowie is sure his mom isn’t guilty of shooting his father, but he can’t figure out why she lied about the details of that night. Maybe she had a good reason. Hell, he lied about it, too. And he'd do anything to keep her out of jail, even if it means convincing Lauren to help him using SOMETHING. But while Lauren wants to believe Bowie, interfering would mean SOMETHING (some description of what it could do to her mom) And then there's the matter of what Bowie knows about what happened the night his father died. And whether he was somehow involved.

    If Lauren goes against her good-girl M.O. and risks helping Bowie, she might be able to prove his mother’s innocence and finally win his heart. But in the process, she could lose much more. (This is fabulous as a last line.)

    Anyway, not sure if that helped. I'd just suggest not getting lost in all the details of the story. But it sounds great and I can't wait to read it as a book one day soon!

    Team Snowy Snowy Day

  5. Mentor of Team Snow, Copernicus Nerd here! It's all subjective in this grand 'ol writing world of ours, but I hope whatever I have to say helps out at least a little!

    Starting with your query, it definitely tells the story, but it may be "telling" a bit too much. Someone said earlier that it reads a bit like a synopsis, and I'll agree with that. I feel like it comes across a bit too much like "this happens, then this happens, then they react, then this happens, then they react again."

    I think you can re-work this a little bit to bring a little bit more voice into the query and make it seem a little bit more lively. Adding that OOMPH will make this query stand out even more. It could just be a matter of re-wording things as I like what the mentor above me had to say about it. And raise those stakes!! What is she going to lose!?

    First 250 - Opening line is perfect. It's so unique, and unexpected it does the job of pulling me in right from the start. Not to mention it describes the atmosphere of where she lives so eloquently. And I always get a laugh when I hear the term "po-dunk"

    Honestly, I wouldn't change much here. The voice is strong and captures the essence of your MC and I'm already intrigued just by the opening scene. See what the other mentors have to say and give it a whirl, but I for one am loving it so far.

    Well done! Good luck with your changes!

  6. Hi, Snow mentor Kate Brauning here, of Month9Books!


    The wording changes the other mentors suggested all ring true to me. Phrasing things a bit more actively and removing some of the extra words could really tighten this up. That said, this is a really solid query. I’d just want to see the stakes be a bit more clear. What does she stand to lose? What will happen if she doesn’t help him, and why does it matter to her? Show us that, and this will be an awesome query.


    Great first line! Intriguing and voicey. The voice, actually, is a strength in this whole first page. It’s not over-the-top, it’s convincing, and it shows her personality. Your writing is very solid throughout, actually. I’d absolutely read on. I agree about the line mentioning her mother’s skirt. I wouldn’t use the sentence fragments to separate the ideas unless the skirt becomes important. Otherwise, it seems a little ominous. Lovely work here—this is a fantastic first page. :)

  7. Hi -- mentor from TEAM SNOW, Vicki Lemp Weavil here --

    I love the idea of a YA Mystery, and this story sounds like a winner. I just don't think your query is quite capturing what I expect is a fantastic book --

    I agree that this query feels a bit like a synopsis. It is well written, so it still captures one's attention, but I think you could really punch this up if you distilled the essence of the conflict -- and brought out the doubts about Bowie sooner. (That's where I really got interested -- with the concept that Bowie might be involved, so that Lauren's conflict level really ramps up).

    Maybe start with a hook line that lays out that conflict somehow, touching on how Lauren wants to help Bowie prove his mom innocent, but her mom is the D.A. AND Bowie might be the guilty one. Tough, I know, but I think that could be a real "grabber."

    Your second paragraph switches the POV to Bowie, and -- even in a multiple POV book -- that is not suggested in queries (unless you are writing romance with a capital "R"). I would suggest cutting most of that second paragraph and then adjust the third paragraph to include the fact that Lauren wants to help Bowie because Bowie believes his mom is innocent of killing his dad.

    As other mentors have suggested, I would play around with the wording to see if can slip some more voice into the query -- as well as more detailing of the stakes. What happens if Lauren helps Bowie? Is there a risk if she does? What exactly? (Losing her mom's trust, breaking the law, etc.) What about the risk to Lauren if Bowie is actually somehow involved in his dad's murder? You need to be more specific than "she'll lose much more." You don't have to tell us everything that she will lose or risk, but you must detail the stakes a little more clearly.

    First 250 Words:

    I think your first 250 words are great. You can easily solve that problem about -- "Only one of them wore a skirt. My mom" if you just say -- "Only one person wore a skirt -- my mom."

    Good luck with the revisions -- I will look forward to seeing this again!

  8. Team Snow mentor Kat here!

    LOVE the title, and the premise is great.

    Query: Is this told in dual narrative? If not, it's confusing as the query skips from Lauren to Bowie and back again. Even if the story is in dual narrative, is there a way you can make this less jarring in the query? The phrasing you use is really good, and drew me right in until the final part of the query - what will Lauren really lose if she helps Bowie? It has to be something that would genuinely give her pause about helping free an innocent woman (if she is innocent), and 'she could lose much more' is too vague for me. Be a little more specific, and it will be much stronger.

    First 250: Loved this, and definitely would keep reading. I loved the southern phrasing, the tone, the set-up of the scene. Excellent job.

    Good luck!

  9. Team Snow mentor here!


    The first line feels really generic to me. Maybe replace the "something vague happened" part with something more specific. Like "Nothing interesting ever happens in Bell, Mississippi . . . until a vicious murder captures the town's attention DUN DUN DUNNNNN." Not exactly that, but you know what I mean.

    I'm also confused about the POV. If it's dual POV, okay, fine. But if it's not, Bowie's gotta go. And I think that you're trying not to give too much plot away, but the end result feels a bit too vague. How can Lauren possibly help? What does Bowie have that she wants (other than his affection because that's kind of how it sounds)? What did his mom lie about? What did HE lie about? Give us just enough detail to tantalize, but beware of falling into synopsis territory.


    I dig it. I know it's only the first 250, but I'm kind of wondering how Lauren feels about what she's watching. If there's any way to inject a sort of personal response from her beyond a general blasé sort of disinterest -- which is what I'm getting right now -- it could be interesting. And if she is actually blasé about the whole thing, maybe play it up. I can picture the scene quite clearly, but I don't really get much of Lauren's voice here.

  10. Hello, Katie, author of #9 here!
    Query: I LOVE this twist & I feel her pain: He’s the son of Diane Weston, the defendant.

    This line: He believes Lauren may be the key, and he thinks he can convince her to help him—he has something she wants desperately.-- is it referring to her crush on him, or something else? If it's something else, can you give more of a hint?

    First 250: I LOVE the first sentence! It drew me in right away. I also loved how you almost sneakily slide in that her mom is important enough to be at the grave site.
    I think your MC has a great voice and I would definitely continue reading!


  11. Hi, fellow Team Snow member here. Following are my suggestions, for what they are worth.

    I think you can get away with not mentioning Bowie's last name, since it is the same as his moms.

    Love first paragraph of your first 250 words.

    Good luck in the agent round!

  12. Just a reminder to take the feedback that works for you when revising for the agent round. It’s a lot to take in, but you’re the expert on your story and know best. If you have any questions about the next round you may ask here or on twitter.

    Thought you’d like to know why you were picked. One of the things I like about this was the way your MC sounded mature in the query. She's a teen who really cares about her mom. That's refreshingly different! I tweeted during the slush reading about how your first page is so unique. It's full of voice and humor and a really one of a kind beginning scene.

  13. Hi, there! Fellow Team Snow member here with a few comments for you--hope they're helpful in some way!

    Query: Overall, I'm intrigued, but there are a few lines that are a little vague. I think the query would be stronger if you were a bit more specific in some or all of these places.
    -the second half of the first line ("this summer, that’s all changed"). Love the first half of the first line, but this second half is vague. You might be able to just launch right into what's changed (there's a giant murder trial).
    -"He believes Lauren may be the key". I know this must be something to do with the fact that she's the prosecuting attorney's daughter, but I'm unclear on exactly what he thinks she'll be able to do for him.
    -"he has something she wants desperately". I'm not completely sure if this something he has is simply himself (she's crushing on him), or if there's something else he has that she wants.
    -"But in the process, she could lose much more". I think it'd give more punch to the end of this query if you specified what exactly she might lose.

    First 250: I don't really have any criticisms here. The voice is strong, and the situation intriguing. Interesting character+interesting situation=I'd keep reading!

  14. Hi there, I'm a Fellow Team snow member. While I don't usually read YA, I would make an exception in this case. Love the title, premise, mature protagonist and, most of all, your VOICE.

    Regarding the query...I agree with the mentors who mentioned more specific stakes. What exactly could Lauren lose?

    Regarding First 250 words...No major issues. The "skirt" issue has been addressed--a minor point.

    Best of luck in the next round.

  15. Hi fellow team snow member! I am the PB writer in the contest so this is way out of my comfort zone, BUT I have been waiting patiently to comment on this one!

    I just love the premise of this. And your voice is fantastic. Nice job! That first sentence pulled me right in.
    I also agree with the skirt line and I like the suggestion Sarah made for it.

    Best of luck in the agent round!

  16. Hello fellow Team Snow Member! Wow--what a story you've got going here! I love your first sentence. With the small town set up you created, I can easily picture all the lookie-loos gawking over the big-doings. You've received some terrific feedback, and you can see there's not much work to be done, so I'll just extend my wishes of good luck. :)

    Looking forward to seeing how this does in the agent round!

  17. I read mysteries and write them so this intrigued me. I love the title and the premise but I need to know more. I get that her mother is being looked down on for taking on this case but why? I like the romance aspect but unless it's in dual POV, keep the query in your MC's voice. I, like others, want to know what your MC has to lose, what are the exact stakes? How is she the key to helping solve the mystery? Good luck in the agent round!

  18. The opening line of your first page is amazing! Right away, I had a sense of scene and I wanted to keep reading. Way to go and good luck in the agent round!

    #TeamSun Leader Amy

  19. Thank you Michelle and Amy and thank you to everyone who's taken time to weigh in and try to help me improve my query and first page. You didn't have to do it, and I'm grateful that you did. I'm taking all the comments seriously and will hopefully end up with a stronger entry as a result. Thank you for your generosity!

  20. Fellow Team Snow member here. I love the basic premise for your story and enjoyed your first 250. My only nitpicks are some lines in the query I don't understand -- that either seem to call for a bit more explanation or omission. Bowie doesn't notice Lauren until he wants her help? Doesn't sound like a boy for anyone's dreams. He lied about the night of the murder somehow? Same point. He has something she wants desperately? I hope this is something more than his attention. He knows more about the case than he's divulged, and yet he still expects her help? Icky.

    In other words, I have problems understanding why she would want to help someone who doesn't sound that dreamy or even nice. I expect you explain all this in your book. But it doesn't come across in your query, for me at least. You write well, so you should be able to fix this! Good luck

  21. Fellow Team Snow member here,

    I don't have critique, because I've read through all the comments, and I think everyone has done such a wonderful job of giving you awesome tips to strengthen, I just wanted to say that if this was on the book shelf today, I'd so buy it. I really love the conflict in it, and I like the love story too. Also, I am a total pushover for stories set in the South. Great job and good luck in the agent round!

  22. Snow Mentor Matt Sinclair of Elephant's Bookshelf Press here. I like the first 250 more than the query, which needs to be pithier. Shifting from Lauren's POV to Bowie's is a distraction. Keep to the main conflict and the focus of your story, which is Lauren, I'm assuming. But the premise is a good one. Best of luck!