Monday, June 1, 2015


Entry Nickname: The Pied Piper
Title: Where Did You Sleep Last Night
Word Count: 75K
Genre: Adult Supernatural Thriller


Children’s fairy tales can grow up to become nightmares.

When Professor Philip Reeves dreams, he vanishes. Instead of waking up in his safe, suburban Bellingham, Washington home, he’s sent all over the globe. Helplessness overwhelms him as the almost weekly night-time disappearances threaten his marriage, finances, and career.

Phil’s wife Becky digs deep into his family history and unearths a fairy curse that haunted his ancestors. But the motives of the hidden people can be misleading. Becky suspects the fairies are sending a message through the unusual destination pattern. While the Reeves try to untangle the fairy’s riddle, their six-year-old daughter Janie develops a deadly imaginary friendship with the Pied Piper. The vengeful ghost, known to Janie alternately as “Piper” and “Hunter,” is stalking the final descendant of the Hamelin children.

A terrorist attack in Germany leads authorities to falsely imprison Phil and put out a warrant for Becky at the moment Hunter makes his move. With the police closing in, Becky must overcome terrifying visions, find Janie, and stop the Piper from fulfilling his dark legacy.

First 250 words:

Philip sat up sharply. His temple slammed into the slat of an upper bunk.

“God-” He stopped short of blasphemy.

He immediately grabbed at his head, trying ineffectively to mute the pain. Wooden slats shouldn’t have been there. He felt panic bubbling in his chest and fought to stamp it down.

The bed didn’t feel right, he thought irritably, as his head ached. He struggled to shake off a night’s worth of grogginess and sour dreams. His hand hadn’t been resting on his wife’s hip or the dip in her side as it should be. Becky should be there. As he lay back down, he realized the mattress was too thin to be his own, and the unfamiliar pillow weakly cradling his head housed a reminder of someone else's cigarettes. In the pale, morning light, he saw that a threadbare bed sheet had gotten tangled up in his legs.

Inhaling slowly, exhaling with forced control, Phil set his mind to analyzing the problem. For starters, he was fully dressed. That much was good. In most situations, waking up fully clothed would be even more alarming. For most people, it would mean they’d blacked out the night before, leaving a wake of destruction behind drug or drink-fueled adventures. That didn’t describe Phil. He’d gone to his very sensible suburban bed dressed for this night’s potential event. It was the third time this had happened to him in two weeks, and he was officially over


Entry NicknameParanormal Fear, An Exorcist's Murder Trial
Title: King of Skins
Word Count: 91,500
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy


Zhao Ling, a flippant criminal defense attorney faces the toughest case of career: acquitting an accused murderer who only has a supernatural alibi.

His client is a professional exorcist whose only crime was banishing a spirit from an already dead body. Who wouldn’t buy that? Zhao certainly doesn’t until he’s visited by his client’s employer and paranormal mob boss, the King of Skins. A body lender, the King, allows his clients to take a ride in someone else's body for a price. The King threatens to add Zhao to his collection of skins, unless Wayne is acquitted.

On the journey to free his client, Zhao ventures into Saint Louis’s supernatural underground, a bizarre place of preternatural street thugs, obsidian guardians, and emotion brokers. There Zhao is harassed by a rival paranormal gang leader, a broker by the name of Lady Sorrow. She reveals that Zhao’s life isn’t the only one on the line. If the King is left to his own devices, everyone may soon be joining his collection.

First Two Hundred and Fifty Words:

I had forgotten to lock the door that night, not that it would have made a difference, not to the King of Skins. He was a thing of a deranged child’s nightmares or an insane man’s dreams. I later learned, no one says no to the King. Not if they wanted to stay in one, healthy piece.

Until five months ago I had been your average criminal defense attorney slightly crazy, underpaid and struggling with a mountain of debt. Then the King arrived in my office, late one evening, and destroyed every preconceived notion I had of the world. 

I had always had an irrational phobia of the night and the darkness especially when alone. Even with every light in my office turned on to full intensity, I disliked having my back turned to a doorway or an open space for too long. Irrational thoughts of a boogeyman sneaking up behind me always crept into my thoughts. It never occurred to me that the one would come walking right into my face.

He strolled into my office, the lingering scent of death his cologne. This wasn’t a man who demanded attention, he simply acknowledged it as his own. Of course when confronted with such an auspicious looking character, it’s only appropriate to address him correctly; “Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my office at eleven pm?” No one has ever accused my mouth of coordinating with my brain.


  1. This space reserved for judge feedback and votes. Thanks!

    1. Princess of LlamasJune 2, 2015 at 2:18 AM

      THE PIED PIPER: I know fancy hooks are all the rage these days. Heck, last year I had one. ;-) But I’m not crazy about this first sentence. I think your query is stronger by starting with the Professor . . . unless Becky is the MC? I’m confused because it starts with him, but the last sentence is all about what Becky must do to save the family. If this is Becky’s story, then I think the first paragraph needs to be about her. Even if it’s along the lines of, “Becky’s husband leaves her every night . . .” And then, in the last paragraph, you sort of skip over that Becky is now also having visions. I think you can sharpen that extraordinary event to emphasize that her challenge has become even that much more difficult.

      As for the 250, it starts with Phil, which made me re-read the query (of course), and added to my confusion. Perhaps it’s dual POV? If that’s the case, I believe the rule is to have the query letter focus on the person whose POV is in the first chapter, which in this case is Phil. So you’ll have to scratch the last sentence in your query on what Becky must do to save the day and focus on Phil’s conflict, obstacles, etc.

      All that being said, I like the 250, especially if the query will focus on Phil. His nightmares are a central part of the story, so his waking up from one is a great starting place. But if this is old hat to him, and he specifically went to bed expecting this trip, I’m not sure he should be taking time to “analyze the problem” or wondering why wooden slats were there or that the mattress was too thin and his pillow was unfamiliar. I’d think the conversation he’d have with himself would be more like dreading what he’d find when he got out of the bed. If that makes sense?

      PARANORMAL FEAR: Typos aside, I like the idea of this first sentence, but the problem is that it spoils the conflict reveal in paragraph 2, where you repeat that he must acquit his client or face the wrath of the King. Perhaps tweaking it so Zhao has just met the toughest CLIENT of his career—an exorcist accused of murder whose only defense is that the body was already dead when he started his exorcism. OK, that’s not great, but you get the idea. Basically, revise with an eye to avoiding using acquittal up front when that is the crux of the conflict you get to later. Also, if the exorcist was present at the scene, the word “alibi” doesn’t work in the legal sense.

      The rest reads well, although you can use a stronger final sentence. We know what will happen if the King wins, but what can Zhao do to stop it? Acquitting Wayne is no longer just enough, right? If that’s the case, the query needs to tell us what Zhao needs to do to stop the King once and for all.

      For the first 250, just a few nit picks. Again, like your competitor, I think you’ve started in the right place. The story centers on the King, and chapter one opens with the King-lawyer meeting. Great starting place. The only suggestion I have is to re-read with a sharp eye on unnecessary words/repetition, which would make it crisper. For example, you don’t need, (and I think it’s stronger if you omit), “I later learned” in the first paragraph. And “late one evening” in the second paragraph is repetitive because you’ve already told us that it’s night in the first paragraph. Same thing with, “come walking.” No need for the “come” – “It never occurred to me that one would walk right into my face.”

      So this is a tough one. Again. Great concepts, great starting places for the 250s, both awkward first lines/hooks . . . ;-0 and really, I think with little tweaks, both queries could be really strong and sell the rest. Ugh. I wish I knew if Pied Piper was dual POV, because I get how hard it is to write queries for those types of stories. But I suppose that wouldn’t be fair, so, at this stage, based on the query and 250, victory goes to PARANORMAL FEAR.

    2. The Pied Piper

      [word count is maybe slightly on the low side; the ideal for a debut Adult novel is 80–100K]

      I like the first line and the overall premise, but clarity is an issue. At first it seems to focus on Phil, but by the end it seems to be more Becky’s story. And is the main problem Phil’s disappearances, or nightmares coming to life (both can be in the story, but too many elements into a query can make it feel unfocused)? Also, at times the query works against itself. For example, it states his marriage is threatened (raising the tension), but then indicates his wife is helping him (removing that same tension). Finally, the overall language is somewhat generic (“vengeful ghost” “terrifying visions” “dark legacy”). Details are your ticket to grabbing a reader’s attention.

      First 250 words:
      I really like the direction of this opening. I think having him wake up in a strange place, dressed because he anticipated this happening again is fantastic. Having said that, right now I don’t feel like the narrative is leading me through the moment as strongly as it could be. Why does he sit up so suddenly? It doesn’t say. Phrases like “he thought irritably” are unnecessary and distancing (see Michelle’s excellent blog entry on “filtering”). Also, the first half makes it seem like he’s surprised, while the second half makes it feel like he’s prepared. Personally, I think presenting the whole thing from the perspective of him having been ready for this would be much stronger.

      Paranormal Fear, An Exorcist's Murder Trial

      Love the idea of a murder suspect with a supernatural alibi. But the query feels incomplete and the stakes are too general (e.g., if “Zhao’s life isn’t the only one on the line” then who’s else is? If we don’t know, we don’t care). Likewise, descriptions like “flippant criminal defense attorney” could also be made stronger with specific details (for example, how exactly is he flippant? Is he a “wise-cracking criminal defense attorney”? Details matter). Further, what exactly is the relationship between Zhao’s client and the King of Skins? I found it somewhat unclear. And finally, the rising stakes aren’t really “rising” IMO. Zhao’s already working to save his own life, so I’m not sure how finding out more lives are on the line changes anything (i.e., would he be working less hard if it was still only his own life he was fighting for?).

      First 250 words:
      Phrases like “deranged child’s nightmares” and “an insane man’s dreams” are far too generic. It’s shorthand that’s supposed to make the reader feel something (e.g., “fear”) without actually doing the work of showing why they should be afraid. The same in sentences like “I had always had an irrational phobia of the night and the darkness especially when alone.” It’s all very “telling.” He can tell us his *opinion* of things (especially since we’re in his head), but I’d rather actually *see* him afraid than have him tell us about it (or at the very least have him relate a story that shows us the basis for this fear).

      The final paragraph, however, I thought was wonderful. I laughed at his line of dialogue, and his overall smugness. That’s the type of narrative voice I could get on board with, but would want to see it from the very first line.


      Although I really, really love the world-traveling element of The Pied Piper and the mystery it suggests, I think the “child’s fairy tale dream monster comes to life” element is potentially overdone at this point (just my own opinion, of course). And while the first half of the 250 for Paranormal could be stronger, I feel the final paragraph shows its potential. Thus, coupled with a stronger overall query, I’m declaring VICTORY TO PARANORMAL FEAR!

    3. The Pied Piper

      Love the opening line here, bravo.

      Second Paragraph: I'd cut either suburban Bellingham or Washington home. It's one detail too many that doesn't really have any importance. My question is, if he vanishes when he dreams, why is it only happening once a week? I'd think that he'd be dreaming more often than that.

      Third Paragraph: This is where you lost me a little. I'd almost like an introductory sentence to his wife, a nice transition. As-is I felt the switch from Phil to his wife was abrupt. You'll also want to add commas around "Becky" in that first sentence. I'm not sure what you mean by "unusual destination pattern." I'm also not understanding the connection between the Pied Piper and fairies, and he's also a vengeful ghost? You also throw in "Hamelin children" and I'm not sure who they are. Suffice to say I'm pretty lost about now, and I'm not really sure who the main character is, and who's point of view this story will be told from.

      Last paragraph: A terrorist attack seems to come out of left field here, and I'm not sure how that would connect to the rest of the story. And Becky is having visions too? My biggest recommendation here is to really hone down on who the character is that's leading the story, stick to their point of view, and clear up some of the confusion.

      250: To be honest with you, your opening line seems more like it's somewhere in the middle of the chapter than the first sentence. I'd much rather see you open with the pillow smelling of someone else's cigarettes so we're immediately experiencing the character waking up in the wrong bed.

      The story definitely sounds interesting, and I am intrigued, but I need more clarity to really understand what's going on and who the story is going to focus on.


      Paranormal Fear, An Exorcist's Murder Trial

      I think what's tripping me up here is that it sounds like paranormal-ness is pretty out and about in the world. So I'm wondering whether the fact that the client has a supernatural alibi is that much of a hindrance? Overall, I think this query is on the short side and could really use some more detail, explanation, and definitely stakes. I'll also throw out there that I'm not really sure what's going to happen in the meat of the story here, and I'm curious whether the "everyone" you reference in the last line includes anyone important to Zhao, therefore making him more invested and motivated. Also, be careful with your named characters. In 169 words you manage to mention four, and typically you want no more than 3. Last note, there are some comma issues here that I'd love to see you fix so that this is more polished.

      250: Generally, I think this is well-written, however, there are more comma and typo errors here. There's also a lot of telling and background information about the main character which I'd love to see added in a more seamless fashion. My suggestion would be to start more around what's going on in the last paragraph, and leave the rest for later.

      Another intriguing concept, but again, there's a lack of clarity here. As well, the typos/comma issues make me wonder whether the rest of the MS is quite as ready as it needs to be.


      I feel like both of these have a lot of potential, but to me, The Pied Piper was closer to being what I'd want to see in a query and 250, and overall was more polished.


    4. The Pied Piper: Love the sound of this story, with Phillip’s weird dreamwalking, Becky looking into fairy lore, and Janie’s deadly imaginary friendship with the Pied Piper, all very interesting stuff. But the query needs some work. First, I have no idea who the protagonist is – we begin with Phillip but end up with Becky, with Janie in there too, so you absolutely must clarify this. Smaller tweaks: I’d take out ‘Bellingham, Washington’ we don’t need to know that now. ‘Helplessness overwhelms him as the almost weekly night-time disappearances threaten his marriage, finances, and career.’ Is both passive and rather vague, and doesn’t make Phillip sound like a very proactive MC. If perhaps, this is dual POV, at the moment Becky sounds like the more interesting and proactive character, and you want the reader to root for both of them. Also, specifics are gold in queries. Make personalities come alive, give us little intriguing, original details about your story, I’m sure there are plenty. ‘dark legacy’ is also rather generic, what exactly will happen if they don’t stop the Piper?

      First page: I like the idea of this scene, starting with the MC waking up somewhere strange, and then mentioning this has happened before, it’s both gripping and nice scene-setting. But I think you can polish it up a bit. Get rid of superfluous words. Eg I might suggest:

      Philip sat up sharply. His temple slammed into the slat of an upper bunk. He grabbed his head, trying ineffectively to mute the pain.

      Wooden slats shouldn’t have been there.

      He felt panic bubbling in his chest and fought to stamp it down.

      (I thought the bit about blasphemy didn’t quite work, as some people would think just saying ‘God’ as an exclamation is blasphemy.)

      Then I’d cut the whole of the following para – once he’s hit his head on the top bunk, he knows he’s not at home, so we don’t need all the other details – he’s already figured it out. Plus it seems odd that he would lie down again after waking in a strange place. Get onto him figuring out where he is and deciding what to do about it, as you do in the final para.

      Paranormal Fear: This sounds like a gripping, original story, love the title, and love the first line, great hook, and love the premise of lending out bodies. But I think you can make it even better. It’s very short (169 words, you could go up to 250) and I think you could flesh it out with some more details about this fascinating underworld Zhao finds himself in. Smaller things: add a comma here: ‘Zhao Ling, a flippant criminal defense attorney, faces...’ and remove the comma here: ‘A body lender, the King allows...’ I’d also add Wayne’s name to the first line of the 2nd para for clarity. You also tell us Zhao is flippant, but I’d rather see that in the tone of the query, perhaps with some wisecrack, than be told it.

      First page: Opening with forgetting to lock one’s door at night and talk of bogeymen made me think the King had walked into Zhao’s bedroom, so I got quite confused and had to reread this a couple of times. Opening with the King walking into his office seems like a great place to start your story, so I’d consider rejigging this a bit. I’d suggest ditching any narrative and starting in scene, with Zhao at his desk, thinking about whatever, his business etc, then have the King walk in in real time and give us Zhao’s visceral reaction to him (and the funny line where he’s rude to him). I’d save all the stuff about being afraid of the dark etc and who exactly the King is for later – why not start with intrigue instead – the King walking in and your MC wondering who the hell he is, and the reader dicovering along with Zhao.

      These both sound like intriguing, original stories, but the second has a clearer query and a little more voice to the first page, so VICTORY TO PARANORMAL FEAR

    5. The Pied Piper

      The first sentence is good, but unfortunately, for me, it goes downhill after that. The first paragraph is hard to read. You've got a lot of commas going on there. Consider revising to vary sentence structure. You could do a lot by re-organizing and/or rewriting this paragraph.
      There is very little transition between the first 2 paragraphs. Who are "the hidden people?" Referring to them as "The Reeves" is a bit confusing since you've been referring to them mainly by their first names in the preceding sentences/paragraphs.
      You need to transition into the third paragraph as well.

      250 words
      Waking up as a beginning is a cliché, but given the subject matter, it is earned here. That said, you start a lot of sentences with "He." You need to vary your sentence structure here. You also use "head" a lot. Your last paragraph has some good content, but there is a lot of "telling" and I'd prefer more "showing."

      Paranormal Fear, An Exorcist's Murder Trial


      Great first line! Funny yet sets stakes.

      I think you need a comma after "Doesn't" in the 2nd paragraph. I think you could revise the "a body lender" portion to flow more naturally. As it is now, it's a bit messy, and that has me worried about the text of the novel itself. If this takes place in "St. Louis" you should abbreviate "Saint"

      250 words

      The text here is pretty dense. There is a lot of telling and instead of showing. You don't want to start a novel with a giant infodump. Let us get to know Zhao Ling. You've got some nice details, but it's hidden in exposition.

      Victory goes to Paranormal Fear, An Exorcist's Murder Trial

    6. Note: For round 1 since there's so many entries, I'm judging based on the query only!


      Sounds creepy!

      Unfortunately, the "hook" doesn't really hook me. I'm much more interested in the fact that when the professor dreams, he vanishes. THAT's more attention-grabbing, IMO.

      I'm also a bit confused on who's the main character. Initially it seemed to be Phil, but in the last paragraph, it's Becky who becomes the heroine of the story (or so it seems). Whichever it is, the action of the query should be focused on that person.



      Interesting hook! I'm intrigued! And I like the voice in this; I'm expecting some sort of paranormal noir.

      You don't mention the client's name until the end of the second paragraph, at which point it's a bit confusing trying to figure out who Wayne is.

      Nitpicky little thing: comma after "doesn't" in paragraph 2, sentence 2.


    7. Concession Speech! We're at 5-2, I'm happy to say thanks, you can judge others now. :)

      Hey- THANK YOU everyone, judges and critics, for the wonderful feedback! Unfortunately, when the query was revealed I had strong reason to suspect I'd lose. I'd already been receiving a lot of advice from The Writer's Voice and I was unaware you MUST say you're doing dual POV. I thought to demonstrate that through the writing rather than say it outright and it bombed miserably. So... 21 comments later, I am deeply, deeply aware that only one of twenty-one people can tell who my MC is. :D I desperately wish we could revise after the reveal. Alas, no. Also, the last word of the 250 was cut off during copy/pasting. Should have been "it." Dumb mistake.

      Regarding the hook, I appreciate that around 50% hated, 50% loved it. I'm going to kill it off, though. Polarizing hook is not the way to go with agents!

      At any rate, I'll take all of the wonderful critique provided, drop them in a spreadsheet, work through each comment, and carry it into my query. I've already heavily revised and I don't think you'd recognize it as is. Thank you very much for your time, and you may stop judging, I concede.

      Congratulations to King of Skins, my new CP! I look forward to working with him on our works in progress.

      This process has been helpful, but I would encourage a single opportunity to edit after the first cut.

      Thanks again for your time and it was a thrill to make the first round. Thanks again for this opportunity, SC.

    8. A similar thank you to my very gracious and friendly opponent! No matter how this turned out I've met a wonderful new person with fantastic ideas. Thank you to all the judges and organizers for their hard work. It takes real commitment to read through each of the entries and make meaningful comments.

      The typos were embarrassing! That's what I get for doing my final edits at midnight the day before! Some fantastic comments here which I'll be implementing. Looking forward to the next round and already dreading it as we speak!

      Just wanted to say thank you and this has been fantastic. My skin didn't even need to be that thick. Everyone was so kind with their advice!


    I would take out Bellingham, Washington as it sounds kind of funny there and isn't necessary at all to the story. What about "waking up in the safety of the suburbs" or something?
    I don't know what you mean when you say "the unusual destination pattern." You don't explain that in your query.
    I'm also confused because Philip is the one who dreams and vanishes in the beginning, but Becky is the one who needs to overcome visions. Maybe you could explain more about Becky's role so that we can understand that line at the end.

    I'm not a fan of the "God..." To me, it already felt like blasphemy. Can you change it to a curse word maybe?
    "The bed didn't feel right..." I would personally change it to "doesn't" and italicize.
    "His hand WASN'T resting on his wife’s hip..." I don't think the tense works the other way.
    You should've finished the last sentence, it's okay if it goes over 250 words if it's just to finish the sentence.

    I love love love the idea of the Pied Piper. I want to know more about what is motivating him in the query. Why is he stalking the final descendant? I would spend a little more time on developing that character's involvement because it seems to be the main part of the story. This is such a great idea and is definitely something I would be interested in reading.


    Ouch. First sentence has two typos. Comma after attorney and your missing the word HIS - after his career. I'm not an agent (or a judge) but that's not great, you know?
    Instead of "who wouldn't buy that?" and then saying Zhao doesn't, maybe try "who would believe that?"
    "A body lender, the King..." 1. no comma after King 2. capitalize The if his name is The King and 3. I would say "As a body lender...."
    LOVE the last paragraph. Very well written.

    I really like the first sentence, but the rest of that paragraph seems like back story.
    3rd paragraph is back story
    I would almost start that chapter with the last paragraph. That is where the story begins.

    I think your story is incredibly creative. The King of Skins is such a creepy cool name. Maybe someone else can verify, but I think his name should be a capitalized The every time you use it.

  3. A cyber ghost ate my first, lengthy comments.

    PIPER-Like the premise. Who is the MC, Philip or Becky? Your query's beginning and 250 say Philip, but the rest of the query says Becky since she is the active one regarding the climax. You have more words to play with-add more info to the last paragraph. Is Philip arrested in Germany during a night travel? What's with Becky having visions? 250 is strong, but starting in wrong POV if Becky is the MC. By my count you have 7 more words so not sure why it cuts off mid-sentence.

    FIGHTING-Cool, different premise. Move "St. Louis" to before defense attorney so we get setting ASAP. Based on the names and subject, I was thinking Asia at first. I'd take out the rhetorical question. "A body lender, the King, allows his clients to take a ride in someone else's body for a price." is awkward. Change the order of the previous sentence so you can start this one, "The King, a body lender, allows....Is Lady Sorrow a love interest? Make it clear if she is. Also I think I get what your stakes are, but you don't present them together in the last sentence. (i.e. If Zhao doesn't get Wayne acquitted, the King will kill him, but if he helps Wayne go free, the King will be free to kill Lady Sorrow.) The 250 is full of your MC's voice, and I love it. Can you take out some of the passive voice words? (i.e. I forgot to lock the door that night.) Overall nice job of introducing your MC and your antagonist and their personalities on page 1.

  4. Pied Piper-

    Your first 250 was perfection. Just don't end in the middle of a sentence! :) some suggestions for the query:

    How does he get back if he wakes up in another country? (Passports, money, and all that) which could explain why he would be falsely imprisoned for a terrorist attack. Also, is Janie their only child? At the end it says "find Janie" but earlier in the query it says children plural. Also, when it says "motives for the hidden people" is that mean Philip? If so, is her really hidden? Maybe just "disappearing"? All in all great job!!

    Jenna-Lynne Duncan

  5. Pied Piper -

    I really like the first sentence.

    The query is a bit short, and the arrest for a terrorist attack in Germany is a bit jarring. It seems a bit disconnected from the supernatural elements elsewhere. I'd like more details on that.

    Really solid premise.

    For the 250 -

    Love it. Very good writing. Though, I would have him curse when he hits his head. That's just a personal thing though.

    Paranormal Fear, An Exorcist's Murder Trial -

    I feel like overall the query is a bit short. It seems like there's a word missing from the first sentence. Really cool premise.

    For the 250 -

    There's a lot of backstory. I'd like to see more action. Also, the phrase ' scent of death his cologne'. I think it'd be better if he was trying to hide the scent of death with cologne. The way it's worded it sounds like he's deliberately trying to smell like death. Usually those who are hiding supernatural abilities try to conceal themselves to blend in, not stand out.

    “Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my office at eleven pm?” - Doesn't feel like authentic dialogue to me. You'd usually hear, "what are you doing here this late?". I don't think it's important to the reader exactly what time it is.

  6. The Pied Piper
    Taking a trope that's been used is fine if you have a new twist on it. I can't think of any of these stories that has it caused by a fairy curse so that is a unique twist. The Pied Piper thing throws me in the query. I'm sure in the book the connection is obvious so I'd work to make that seem like a flawless transition in the query. This sounds like a fun take on the nightly travel scenario. :-)
    250 Words - if it's happened enough that he dressed for it before going to bed, he shouldn't seem confused about what's going on. Yes, he can question where he's landed this time but in this scene it feels more like a what is going on instead. It should be an easy tweak.

  7. King of Skins
    Your story doesn't heat up until the last paragraph of you 250 words. I'd lop off the rest and start there. I love the attitude of the MC and it really starts the story off with a bang.

  8. My two cents, for what they're worth:

    PIED: What an interesting idea!In reading the query, I started wondering how long this had been going on. How would one finish grad school while disappearing every night? Also, to be honest, I found myself wondering why this would necessarily be a bad thing--I don't think I'm alone in wishing I could wake up somewhere else. Perhaps some small clue as to potentially less than nice places he's woken up? As for the first 250, I am not sure I "buy" the not knowing where he is or why the bed's funny scenario. First off, this has happened before, so I think he'd know that he wasn't in his own bed, and second, unless he knocked himself unconscious (pretty dang hard to do by sitting up in bed, groggy in the morning), I'd think finding himself in such an obviously strange scenario would wake him pretty quickly. It comes across that he's more drugged than anything--which might be the case? If so, maybe find a way to show that a bit? Speaking of showing, you do have a bit of telling of the backstory in the last paragraph, which I recognize is in part necessary, but I think could be shown a bit more through a conversation with his wife, for example.

    PARANORMAL: Interesting premise! Reminds me a bit of Jim Butcher novel :) In your query, is there a pronoun missing, or is it supposed to read like a newspaper headline? Kind of threw me a bit. Also, I had no idea who Wayne was--could his identity be worked in earlier by any chance? The second paragraph required a second read-through, overall, as I wasn't entirely sure I followed it the first time through. Perhaps with the Wayne re-arrangement it will work a little more smoothly. As for your first 250, I was first thinking that he'd forgotten to lock his house door, not his office, so a word to make that clear from the get-go might help. There are a couple of commas that don't seem to be quite in the right spot, which could use some attention. The last line got me to laugh, which is great, though giving the dialogue and following commentary its own line might give it more of a punch for the reader.

  9. PIED PIPER: What a great idea – both the random teleportation and the cause. Nice to see someone tackling the creepiness of that fairy tale! In the query, I think you can strike the first line; the second would be a stronger beginning. Becky seems to take over the action in the final paragraph, which was a little jarring; are she and Phil both POV characters? I wonder if there’s some way to make this clear earlier on – maybe give us a sentence about her reaction (threatening his marriage in the first paragraph would make a good segue)?

    Compelling 250 – I’d read on! Some suggestions to tighten further: maybe strike a few of the adverbs, which jumped out at me in the first few paragraphs. I am not a sworn enemy of adverbs, but so many of them so close together might raise flags. You can also cut back some filters, to use our hostess’s excellent term, to get more immediately into Phil’s perspective – “He felt panic bubbling in his chest” = “Panic bubbled in his chest,” “The bed didn’t feel right, he thought irritably” = “The bed didn’t feel right. Rubbing his aching head, he struggled to shake off…”

    KING OF SKINS: For the query – this reads really well, with a couple of hiccups. You’re missing a comma after “attorney” in the opening line. I agree with the previous commenter who found “Who wouldn’t buy that?” a little confusing – good voice, but I had to read it twice to get it, and clarity takes precedence.

    For first 250: I like the “hardboiled detective noir” flavour you establish here, but I think this may be starting in the wrong place. The opening retrospective is awkward, and there’s a lot you’re telling us here instead of showing it. I’d start with the stranger strolling into his office and give a little more description. Love that you’re using more than visual description, but I wanted more specifics. What does death smell like anyway?

    On the Query, there's not much feedback I can give that hasn't already been said, except I think for the sake of keeping it clean, you could safely remove the antagonists second name "Hunter."

    In the 250, unless this book has a moralistic element or is meant for a Christian audience, I suggest getting rid of "blasphemous" and owning the curse word.

    Otherwise, I'm a huge fan of fairy tale re-tellings and am definitely intrigued by the premise.

    On the query, I'm with many in that it use a bit of proofing, but otherwise, the premise is amazing. I like too, how you seem to have captured the tone of your story. Plus, body lenders and emotion brokers--who needs vampires and angels?

    First 250, I'm getting who Zhao is right away which is always great, so right away you have me hooked. I think paragraph three is the weakest, and wonder whether you could "show" his fear of the dark in the way he reacts to the arrival of The King, but otherwise, it leaves me wanting more. And kudos for having an MC from a different cultural background. Diversity literature is sorely needed!


    I love the first paragraph, even though it’s not a genre I read. I think it’d be even stronger if you got rid of that first line before it? First paragraph seems atmospheric and intriguing, and for me personally it’s a great hook. You think it’s about Philip Reeves, but then it switches to Becky being the MC I think…? Obviously there’s nothing wrong with this, and maybe you’re going to show both characters equally or something? I think reduce your home/town to one word, no need for two, too clunky. You add Becky having visions right at the end, very casually, but it isn’t normal to have visions, so a bigger deal ought to be made of it, the same amount as would be made of his nightly travels, otherwise it seems convenient that she can have visions in order to move the plot forward or something. I found the language/tone slightly jarring as the query went on, I don’t know, I think it’s just me, but “terrorist attack in Germany” suddenly seemed out of place with “fairy curse”. I didn’t like “God-” He stopped short of blasphemy.” It felt weak… either have him swear or don’t, and if you’re worried about upsetting someone you can always get rid of the ‘God’ and choose a nice good swear (I’ve loads if you want!). I was intrigued about having the name of a famous author as a MC…? Was that on purpose? The structure of your query needs more work. Ace idea, very different.
    250: While I found the query full of promise, I found the opening boring. I personally think it would be a lot stronger if you began with the 4th paragraph, could easily adjust it. Having read the rest of the 250, I must say I preferred the writing in the query to the 250. I think it lacks atmosphere, tone – a little subtle eeriness is needed just to remind readers that it’s also a very serious predicament to be in, because at present the tone’s a little too light-hearted for what you’ve promised will come later? Love the idea, premise – sounds like it could be quite atmospheric and eerie in places.


    You missed out the word “his” in “case of career”. I think the whole premise is super interesting and sounds fascinating. The query seems short on stakes to me, and finishes abruptly – maybe swop the order of the last two sentences around? Love all the names! Your description of the MC is quite superficial, I think you could come up with more detailed description than you have.
    I don’t think you need a comma after “I later learned” in first paragraph.
    I don’t at all like stories that jump into exposition – I’m so quickly turned off. In this case you jump straight into expo in the very second paragraph and my heart sank at “until 5 months ago” because I knew there’d now be a pause in the story for back story, before I’d cared enough about it to be interested in it. Skilfully done, exposition can be dripped here and there without the reader even realising they’re being brought up to speed on things. When I’m stopped altogether from the story moving forward, in order to be brought up to speed, and it’s done before I’ve started caring about what and why, then I lose interest. Try to hold back on back story etc – find places to drip it in here and there, so that it still feels as if the story’s moving forward. And leave off the larger chunks of exposition for when we’ve read enough to care about it and absorb it without getting bored. I would delete the last sentence of the 3rd paragraph, and instead add the last sentence from the 2nd paragraph to it. Then I would delete the second paragraph. I think this new combined paragraph would be much stronger than the current two. I’m afraid I found his dialogue a little stilted when he finally spoke directly. Despite my rant on exposition, I do think this is a truly fab and creative idea with some great writing, the too-early back story aside.

    Good luck to you both; both great ideas and sound like they’ll make for very interesting reads once ready. May the best kombatant go forward ☺

    Thank you

    London Skye

  12. Pied Piper -
    I liked the concept but was a bit confused by the end of the query when Becky's visions are mentioned. If her visions are something created by the Piper, spelling that out would clarify things. In the first 250, you might want to look at trimming out filtering words where effective -- to bring the scene closer to the reader, e.g.: '(He felt) Panic bubbled(ing) in his chest....'

    Paranormal Fear -
    I love this idea -- it feels both noir and modern -- and like that this supernatural world thrives in a place like St. Louis. I thought the query did a good job delineating the stakes. I think the 2nd paragraph would work better if you kept the focus on Zhao, i.e.,: '...body. (Who wouldn't buy that) Zhao (certainly) doesn't buy it until he...' Great villain names! In the first 250, you may want to look at trimming out word repetitions used in close proximity, e.g.: 'irrational' is used twice in the 3rd paragraph and 'thoughts' is used twice in the 3rd sentence of that same paragraph. Great line describing 'The lingering scent of death his cologne.'

  13. The Pied Piper

    That’s a great layout of an intricate plot and premise in the query, especially with the switches in POVs. I like the twists on the traditional roles too: he’s the one at the mercy of fate, she’s the rational detective, it’s an adventure starring a couple with a kid. The biggest problem I’m having is with the villain having three names (almost four names) in the query (‘Pied Piper’, ‘Piper’ and ‘Hunter’, with ‘vengeful ghost’ thrown in too). Piper’s multiple facades may be crucial in the story, but for the query I’d streamline or only mention that he’s going by multiple names. I wanted a little more description of the terrorist attack in Germany, but that was mostly curiosity about which fairy tale it might reference (So where is it?).

    It’s a great 250. My only quibble is the “stopping short of blasphemy”. I either wouldn’t worry about it and just let Phillip swear, or I wouldn’t have him say it. There’s a fine line between respecting your readers and being too afraid of offending them.

    Paranormal Fear, An Exorcist’s Murder Trial

    Great query. I love the spare way you’ve described a whole set of unique paranormal characters.

    The 250 I find more problematic. For me, the paragraphs are in the wrong order. I’d take out the second paragraph completely and let that information unfold naturally later in the story, especially as it’s already laid out in the query (or use it as the text for the movie promo!). I think the third paragraph should be the first, followed by your current first paragraph and ending with the fourth. That way it flows from Fear of the Dark -> Arrival of the Bogeyman in the Dark -> Reaction to the Bogeyman.

    Would I read both of these? Hell yes!

  14. THE PIED PIPER: (Love the real title!) This query feels a bit "summary-ish," like you're detailing what is happening in the book rather than the essence of it (esp. paragraphs 3 & 4). Think about what the big picture is, instead of point by point. You don't need the first sentence -- the query would be much stronger starting with paragraph 2. In the 2nd paragraph you could cut Billngham and "almost" (before weekly) to make it stronger. Don't need "unusual destination pattern." Reeves should be "Reeveses." When does Becky start to have visions? Thought it was Philip? Love the Hamelin children idea -- very creative.

    250: Writing feels a bit choppy, is there a way to merge some sentences, smooth it out, change rhythms? Try to avoid "he felt" sentences and show what is happening. ex: "Panic bubbled in his chest..." I like the "reminder of someone else's cigarettes" line! Great job and congrats!

    PARANORMAL FEAR: This query feels a bit confusing to me -- I'm not sure what the main idea is because so much is going on here. Can you concentrate on the main conflict, rather than everything Zhao is doing? Pick a main point. Nit-pick: in the first sentence you need a comma after attorney, and switch only and has, "has only a supernatural..."

    250: Take a look at your punctuation, or have someone look it over for you sometime so you can maybe get a better feel for where commas and periods go to make the rhythm natural: 1st par. "lock the door that night. Not to the King..." "learned no one" no comma after "one." Also you could delete deranged, because all children have nightmares, not just deranged ones. :) 2nd par. "attorney. Slightly crazy..." could you take out the comma after "office" and I don't think you need "late one evening." 3rd par. no comma after darkness. Make comma after attention a period and start a new sentence with He simply. You could delete "for too long." Add comma after "of course" and take out the one after character. The semi colon should be a colon, and add a comma after "you" so it's "you, and what..." Sorry for all the nit picks -- hope they make sense!

    Good luck to both of you!

    Victory to THE PIED PIPER


    I love the premise here, with some work to make the originality shine, I think you’ll have a great query. I personally am a fan of hooks. My only problem with this one is that it leads me to believe this story’s going to be for a younger audience.

    Safe, suburban Bellingham Washington home is a mouthful. All you need is suburban Washington home. The city doesn’t add much. And suburban connotes safe.

    When you mention “hidden people” I’m not sure what/ who you’re referring to...the fairies or Philip’s ancestors.

    The terrorist attack in Germany comes out of left field for me. At least, it doesn’t seem to jive with the flow of the fairy curse and disappearing daughter. Becky’s visions too. Perhaps you’re bringing in too many subplots. I think if you narrow your focus to Philip, the curse, and the Pied Piper the crux of the story will feel more clear.

    For the 250...I know people always say don’t start with a character waking up, but this works for me because Philip’s nightmares are central to the plot. That being said, I think you could look to tighten up the language and dig us deeper into Philip’s POV. Eliminate filtering words like felt/ realized. Watch out for adverb abuse. While cutting ALL adverbs isn’t realistic, don’t rely on them as much as you do. There’s often a more creative (and voicey!) way to describe something.


    Love the start to this query. Definitely hooks me. But WHY THE TYPOS? You’ve already caught them by now, I’m sure ;)

    I’m a little confused by “Who wouldn’t by that?” because I’m not sure whether or not Zhao is being sarcastic. “Who would by that?” Read more clear IMO.

    Wow. This King of Skins guy sounds wicked cool. I did get mixed up with the use of the word “client” again. Before we were talking about Zhao’s client’s now the mob bosses’. Maybe a synonym here?

    I like where the last sentence is going, but I do think it could be punched up for more drama. Really nail how the stakes are raising.

    Your 250 definitely intrigues me, but I would start IN the scene. There’s too much narration/ telling going on here. It’s okay to litter in details for clarity as the scene with the King of Skins is unfolding. I would START the 250 with the mob boss walking into the office. The last paragraph is the strongest of this passage. It would make a great first paragraph.