Thursday, January 23, 2014

SVS 6: GAME CHANGER, Upper YA Contemporary

Genre: Upper YA Contemporary 
Word Count: 84,000

My Main Character is most uncomfortable with: 

Adam is used to ball-sweat-hot summers in his small town, but slipping on snow could tweak his knee and put a quick end to his college football future...and his escape to a better life). 


Dear Fabulous Agent,

With a girlfriend damn near close to perfect, an imminent college escape out of NowhereVille, USA, and a throwing arm clocked at 42 mph, everyone wants to sack quarterback Adam Emerson. But he never expected his dad to do the blindsiding, let alone do the most damage.

Three weeks before graduation, Adam’s widower dad dies, leaving him to bury his college dreams and NFL future with him. In their place, he’s left with the family garage to run and guardianship of a little brother who’s hellbent on self-destruction.

In no time, Adam’s brother’s fighting and drinking jeopardize his custody. And the auto shop takes such a dive that Adam’s forced to sell his dad’s beloved ’57 Ranchero just to make payroll. His coach and friends suspect he needs help, but he’s been trained to be a leader, and no amount of their pushing changes his determination to hide his growing failure. The family business, his home, his brother—everything that once seemed stable, everything he couldn’t wait to leave—are on the line. It’s up to Adam to decide whether to admit defeat or to adapt his strategy. It’s also up to him to learn the real life secret of the game he’s a master at: it’s not just how a player handles a game changer…it’s who he has on his team.

First 250 words:

If she were an honest-to-god drug, Jenn Deel couldn’t have had me more strung out. Her freckled shoulders and cocoa-buttered curves even made me forget the fireworks my best friend Langdon and I had snuck over state lines for. Not the best use of fake IDs and money, unless the fact that it was our last Labor Day hurrah at the river was considered.

The official end of another summer spent in the armpit town of Milton, where spontaneous combustion felt like a real possibility. Especially for my brother Ethan and me, working in our Dad’s shop through the whole thing, while Lang spent the season up to his ass in lemonade and air conditioning. He tutored Mandarin Chinese and Russian to kids two towns over and had no clue what a summer in coveralls and exhaust fumes felt like. That kind of ball-sweat-hot made so much as a toe dipped in the river water almost better than an orgasm. Of course, if Jenn and her lime green bikini slid into that water, “almost” would have dropped straight over the edge. A guy could hope.

Unfortunately, she was too busy threatening to slip Lang’s number to some preteens across the way if he didn’t put his cigarette out, for that to happen. Lang leaned against our cooler with an almanac of Los Angeles, ignoring her, and I watched them both through the smoke cloud. Ethan came out of the water and plopped his head on Jenn’s lap like a family dog.


  1. Hi, author of GAME CHANGER. Mentor Sarah Marsh here. I'm so excited to see a YA Contemp with boy POV in the mix--awesome stuff!

    The first two paragraphs of your query are already dripping with voice, and they flow so nicely. Well done! The only place where things started to fall apart for me was toward the end, in the third paragraph. The last three sentences started to feel repetitive, and I'm wondering whether you could trim them, perhaps even combine them, to give them more impact and end on a stronger note. I've played around with it a little on my own, and here's what I came up with:

    "The family business, his home, his brother—everything he couldn’t wait to leave—will force Adam to admit defeat or adapt his strategy. It's time to learn the secret of the game he’s a master at: it’s not just how a player handles a game changer (change, not changer?)…it’s who he has on his team."

    The opening line of your first 250 is terrific! After that, I think the first paragraph can benefit from some trimming. For example: "Not the best use of fake IDs and money, unless the fact that it was our last Labor Day hurrah at the river was considered" could be trimmed to, "Not the best use of fake IDs and money, though it was our last Labor Day hurrah," and still have the same impact. I love all your descriptions of the sweltering summer heat in paragraph 2! Nicely done. My only critique there is that the first sentence, "The official end of..." is a fragment. You can fix it by simply adding, "It was," before "the official end of." In the third paragraph, I recommend switching a bit of this sentence around: "Unfortunately, she was too busy threatening to slip Lang’s number to some preteens across the way if he didn’t put his cigarette out, for that to happen." I'd put "for that to happen" right after "she was too busy," and have that be one sentence. Put the rest of the line into a new sentence. But that's just personal preference. :)

    Overall, my one concern with your opening is that I felt I was being introduced to too many characters at once. There's your MC, Adam, but then there's also Jenn, Langdon, and and Ethan. It's a lot of characters to keep track of on the first page. I recommend starting with just your MC and one other character, let them have a bit of a scene, and then ease into introducing us to your other characters. Even if you just pare it down to three chars. here instead of four, I think that will help prevent readers from being overwhelmed by all the new faces.

    Hope my comments help! I love the voice and concept for your story, and wish you the best of luck with it!

  2. Hello, I'm Vicki Lemp Weavil, a mentor with TEAM SNOW.

    Your query is almost there -- the first paragraphs are very strong. In the second paragraph you might consider another word choice for "leaving", maybe something stronger like "forcing." I would consider cutting the final words ("with him") in that sentence as well. (Ex.: "...dies, forcing Adam to bury his college dreams and NFL future.") Also, you could trim "In their place... to something like "All he's left with is the family garage and guardianship of a little brother hellbent on self-destruction." Trim the excess words as long as you can still get the ideas and voice across.

    The third paragraph could be trimmed slightly as well. I agree that the end is repetitive. "It’s up to Adam..." could be revised to something shorter and maybe more "voicy" like "It's Adam's call whether to admit defeat..."

    To be honest, I don't much care for the following line -- "It’s also up to him to learn the real life secret of the game he’s a master at: it’s not just how a player handles a game changer…it’s who he has on his team." It seems a little bit "after-school special" for the tone of the rest of the query and the tone of the first 250 words. I would like to see something a bit more hard-hitting, and also something that does NOT tell us up front that Adam learns this lesson. You want to leave the possibility in that he does NOT, since that ups the stakes. Will Adam learn anything, change, etc. -- or will he bungle the Hail Mary pass? Keep the reader guessing in the query, so we want to read the book to find out. I hope that makes sense!

    First 250 words:

    Great opening. I would lose the "for" at the end of the second sentence. Maybe just say something like "...fireworks my best friend Langdon and I had smuggled over the state line." I like mentor Sarah's suggestion for the following line as well.

    Just adding "It was" before "the official end" will solve your fragment problem. You might want to consider just cutting that "through the whole thing" in the next sentence -- not sure that's necessary.

    In the third paragraph I don't think you need the comma after "...cigarette out". Also consider something other than "Ethan came out of the water..." Perhaps "Ethan climbed out, or Ethan crawled out" or however you feel best to describe Ethan's movements.

    There are a lot of people introduced in the first 250 words, but that didn't actually bother me too much. I wasn't confused by who was who. However, some writing experts do suggest limiting the introduction of characters at the start of a story, so bear that in mind.

    Overall, I loved the voice of this -- I really felt like I was reading from an authentic perspective and your use of description is great.

    I look forward to checking this out again after your revisions!

  3. I have to be honest, I don't have much to say on this because I think it's really really solid. I agree with the other mentors that you can trim a bit, but really, it has a strong voice, a compelling conflict and obstacle, and clearly great prose.

    I'm not usually one to like boy POVs but this one is really excellent and it sounds like you've written a great story. I can't wait to read more.

  4. Minor typo fix with removing the ) from the question answer. :)

    Query: Wow. I love it! I love the football lingo you work in and you're just layering in the conflict and the tension. And I love the theme of teamwork. Well done. Wish I had more fixes for you...the only thing that made me pause was the "Adam’s brother’s fighting" it would be clearer with "Adam's brother is fighting." Super minor fix.

    The first 250 had me searching a bit for what was going on right in the first moment. It was a lot of information, a lot of bouncing around to characters. Play around with it. Try showing us what he's up to, let us meet his girlfriend and Langdon and then tell us what a relief swimming is because of how hot and monotonous the summer has been. The visual of the freckled shoulders was great. And I can totally feel the lazy hot summer day, I just want to be drawn into that moment right up front.

    Good luck on revisions!

  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!

    Great job on the opening line for you query. It's a good hook, although sometimes (which is probably just me), the "list method" seems to roll off the tongue weird. But it works okay with your part, so I wouldn't necessarily change it. Its great - a kid who has it all, and is hit with this metaphorical train wreck.

    Agreeing with someone that said above that the word leaving in the second paragraph should be changed out. Leaving seems like the wrong word choice. Definitely something like forcing to show the true nature of this problem.

    I think the only problem in the query is the third paragraph. It's a little bit long winded, and could be trimmed down a little bit. You've got a bit too much of a "synopsis" feel going on, and I want to be left wondering what will happen to Adam, not what DOES happen to Adam. I want to be left wondering is this kid going to struggle, or is he going to figure things out. Take into account everyone's notes on the query (specifically third paragraph), and then I think you have a winner.

    As for your 250 - your descriptions are amazing. That first paragraph was so well done. My only issue with the introduction of too many characters, was that it felt like it was a bit too many. I felt like each paragraph was just a new character, but this should be broken up and spread out a bit more. Although, this may just be a subjective opinion, and it's not that bad. Just a suggestion!

    Like I said, I love the voice and I love your use of descriptions, so it's definitely a strong suit. Now it's just figuring out how to spread it out a bit more!

    All in all, great work, and can't wait to see what you do with this.

  6. Hi, Snow mentor Kate Brauning here, of Month9Books!
    Great voice in your query! You’ve got a solid structure, too. I am wondering if his girlfriend affects any of this, or if she’s fairly background to the situation. Love interests can be a huge source of motivation and conflict, so if she’s involved, I want to see it.
    I do like the mentor suggestions for altering the final lines, but I don’t think it has to be a question. Sometimes statements are stronger, so I’d play around to see how you can strengthen that idea with specifics.
    Your concept is a really compelling one, and this is absolutely something I’d go on to read pages for.
    This is really clean writing. I love the voice, and it carries the story along well. But voice aside, there are some structural things that I think could make your first page more gripping. Some of the sentences have connecting phases that clunk for me. For example: “unless the fact that it was our last Labor Day hurrah at the river was considered.” The basic idea is they bought fireworks for the party, so I think you could trim it down to something like: “but it was our last Labor Day hurrah at the river.”
    At that point, I’m ready to see actions and have some sensory details going on. Parties are almost always interesting, so I want to see the MC acting and get a sense of what’s going on in the scene. For most of this we’re hearing him think, and I definitely want more action. He’s going a great voice, which can carry a lot of that, but especially in the first pages, I want grounding details and the action to start happening.
    I agree, too, that there were too many names in the opening paragraphs. The information about Lang doesn’t seem to be important yet, so even if he’s there, I might hold off on his details until we are more grounded with the MC and the scene.
    Otherwise, great stuff here! As a reader, I’m intrigued, and I’d definitely keep going. This is smooth, funny, and compelling!

  7. Hey there Game Changer author. I like the humor and drama in here. There's a lot going on and I like that there's going to be a story and some subplots to get into in your pages.

    So, right off I'm going to nit pick. Subjectivity is a real thing, so take what you like/feels right to you and ditch what you don't. I do this because I care--and you've already got a lot of the goods here, (as previous mentors have expressed as well) so we might as well polish the heck out of it, right?

    Your 250 are great (but DO fix the things that the brilliant Kate Brauning has pointed out). I must say though, that I'm bummed that I'm not getting ANY (barely) of your first 250 in your query. Based on the romance/relationship plot going on in your book, I would bring her into it more or tone it down on the first 250.

    I also am not crazy about the last sentence of your hook paragraph. "But he never expected his dad to do the blindsiding, let alone do the most damage." It just doesn't flow well enough for me. Here are a couple suggestions:
    But he never expected his dad to do the blindsiding, or cause the most damage.
    So it's a total blindside when his dad dies, leaving damage and __ amidst a mountain of grief, and financial problems.

    Bring the girlfriend into the second paragraph. Does she flake on him when the problems come up? Is she there for him? Does he need/want her by his side even more? Obviously not in a corny voice, but do bring that up so I'm not thrown off when I start reading and it reads less like the tone of the current query and more like it's going to be a novel about a guy wanting to get more action from his hot girlfriend.
    For the record, I'd want to read both. ; )

    Finally, the last sentence in the query. I highly suggest you rephrase this so it comes off as more stakes driven. For me, it felt more like you were trying to teach me some lessons about life, family, and friends and tell me how touching the novel is. If that happens, great, but that needs to be a bonus and nothing orchestrated or glaringly obvious. Use the last portion of your query to show how Adam needs to get all his "stuff" together or else he's going to lose "this and that" Or even that. Give me stakes and a reason I must read the pages.

    One little side note that I'd give you if you were my CP: Your word count is a little bit high for contemporary YA. Just something to keep in mind and I'd definitely go through your ms one final time (and have a beta or CP or two) looking for all the easy ways to cut back. (too much telling vs. show, over narrating, too much backstory, too much overly descript prose, scenes and dialogue that aren't advancing your plot)

    I'm excited to see this get some requests. Good luck to you!!

  8. Team Snow mentor Kat here!

    I really like your premise, and I have a real soft spot for 1st person narratives in male voice. Speaking of voice, you have it in abundance in both your query and first 250, and it's working really well. The only thing I'd suggest apart from what has already been covered by the other mentors is maybe not to have the query end on such a happy note - it feels too conclusive, like "Ah, it's all going to work out in the end." It doesn't make me feel like I need to read the story RIGHT NOW to find out how it ends because I'm worried about where the MC is going to end up.

    First 250: Really great opener to your novel, I love the tone. Just check your commas and you'll be golden. I think this is going to do really well.

    Good luck!

  9. Team Snow mentor here.


    I love your premise. I think it's great, and it's relatable. Your query just needs a little polishing. I'd combine the ideas in the first two paragraphs. Instead of saying something vague like his dad blindsides him with something, just tell us that his dad dies and now all of his dreams have been replaced with responsibilities he doesn't know how to handle. Keep it simple and straightforward.

    I'd clean up the last paragraph and make sure that you clarify what's at stake. What happens to his brother or the business if he fails? Is there a glimmer of hope on the horizon? Does something or someone show up on the scene to rock the boat? I like the specifics you've thrown into the first few sentences, but I don't think they're necessary.

    And in the first sentence of the query, is "sack" the right word? Basically, you're saying everyone wants a piece of him because he's all that, right? Maybe it's a regional thing, but sack doesn't really convey that. For me, sack means firing someone.


    Your voice is clear and I know who this character is right away. I feel like there are really vivid pictures being painted here, but the scene is a bit lost for me. Where is he, exactly? Who is he with? It wasn't until the end there that I had some visual concept of where he was. Establish this earlier, so your reader can focus on the voice without being distracted by trying to place themselves in the situation.

  10. Hi!

    Mentor here! I have no real niggles about this one: I'd read it. It's that simple. That said, I think you need to pare back paragraph three of the query and dial back the name-dropping in the 250. There's too much info there, to the point where I had to stop and do a recount of the who's who of people who do.

    Apart from that, this query is well on its way. There are very successful comp. titles out at the minute, aswell, so I have full faith in this!


  11. TeamSun mentor Sharon here.

    On a personal note, I really love this story as it’s close to my heart. At eighteen I, my husband and I had his fourteen-year-old brother move in with us, and it’s the type of story not a lot of people get to here.


    The opening line is good and dramatic. You caught me off guard with where things went, but in a good way.

    I found the words ‘Adam’s brother’s’ a bit awkward. I know they say to keep the names to a minimum, but I think two names are okay and you should name his brother.

    The stakes aren’t clear enough, or high enough in the closing. I would recommend closing it with that he has to work out how to not lose his father’s business, his home and his brother. Something clearer like that has more of an impact than the two sentences.


    There’s a nice strong voice here. But I found the thought trail in the narration jumped around a bit with too much info crammed into these early words. I think my main issue is with the second paragraph for this. I’d move most of this further into the story.

  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. Besides having a male MC and including football(!!), the query is very tight and gives detailed specific examples throughout. There's an understated voice in the first 250 such as 'armpit town' and again this is full of specific details about the characters.

  13. Thank you all SO much for your time and feedback. To say this is an amazing opportunity is an understatement; those words could never sufficiently describe the education this process provides. Michelle, I'm grateful you chose GC for Team Snow. Thank you, too, for paying it forward to all of us writers still in the query trenches. :)

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

    Great opening paragraph! I know just enough about sports to follow it, and even though I don't like said sports (nerd here), it was interesting.

    I think since you only mention Adam by name in the query, you can go ahead and name his brother too—instead of Adam's brother's which tripped be up a bit.

    Good luck in the agent round!

  15. Hi, I'm a fellow Team Snow member.

    I love the title and inspirational feel to this story. While I'm not a sports enthusiast, I love watching football movies. I may be stretching a bit here, but I could easily visualize Game Changer on the big screen. BTW...great title!

    Regarding the query...It's dripping with voice and immediately pulls us into Adam's world. The last few sentences of the third paragraph need some streamlining.

    Regarding the 250 words...Great voice, but I had a hard time keeping track of the characters.

    Good luck in the next round!

  16. Hi there fellow team snow member. I am the PB writer in the contest so this is way out of my comfort zone.

    This is terrific! I agree with team snow member above, I could see this on the big screen. I think you have a great voice and a great sense of humor that pulls the reader right into your story. Nice work!

    Best of luck in the agent rounds.

  17. Hello author,

    Like others, I enjoy the voice of both your query and your first 250. One thing about the first line in the query put me off, though: the first clauses in the sentences *technically* refer to the subject of the sentence, which is "everyone" (not Adam). Everything else about it worked well.

    In the second paragraph of the query, I had to read carefully to make sure I matched up male pronouns (him, his, him) with the two different males.

    Otherwise, keep the voice and the content, trim as others have suggested, and this becomes an even better query. Good luck!

  18. Hi Kranky Crow! Fellow Team Snow member here... as someone who hails from an armpit town, I appreciated the little details like fireworks and the river and the feel of oppressive summer in your first page-- very authentic. I really liked it. Your query looked solid to me. The only thing I wondered about (as a romance junkie) was the stakes for the romance element of the story. I know his custody of the younger brother is at stake, but if the romance element is big in your novel, maybe another line referring to that in the query? Is this nearly perfect girl The One, or is someone else coming along? Best of luck in the agent round and beyond!

  19. I like this premise and concept. Life doesn't always work out the way we want it but we have to adapt. Great theme. I like the male POV for a YA contemporary too. Follow edits in comments to make this query stand out. I was a little confused about your opening romance since it wasn't mentioned in the query. If it's not essential, maybe open with something else. Good luck in the agent round!

  20. Wow! Amazing entry. Great voice, writing and male POV for a YA Contemporary. It's a complete trifecta.

    Good luck to you in the agent round!

    #TeamSun Leader Amy

  21. Snow mentor Matt Sinclair from Elephant's Bookshelf Press here. Really like the premise and where you're taking the story. I don't have much to add on the query, though I'm not used to hearing about QBs being touted for the velocity of their throws; more often I hear about their ability to fling a tight spiral 60 yards into a receiver's supple hands. As for the first 250, I'm not sure that's the best place to start, especially after reading the query. It's nice that he appreciates how beautiful his girlfriend is and that he works hard in his dad's shop, but we're 250 words in and we haven't seen a single football. May be fine, but strikes me as odd given the query.

  22. Hi KC, fellow teammate #3. Loved the first line of the 250. I think you have a great start to what seems like a wonderful story. Great job. I also really like the title GAME CHANGER it works on so many levels.

  23. Thank you for your feedback, Matt! If I hadn't super-cheated on Adam's stats and given him the 42 mph because Peyton Manning throws passes over 40 mph, you'd have scared me! :)