Monday, June 1, 2015


Entry Nickname: Sparkling Wildflower Among Giant Stinky Weeds
Title: Blue and the Icky Sticky Boys
Word Count: 32,000
Genre: Middle Grade


Beulah “Blue” Warren journeys from one adventure to the next with tons of humor and sass.

Blue spends every waking moment surrounded by smelly ole boys: her three brothers, her father, her best friend - even the family dog...but that's never stopped her from being her usual marvelous self. When she is sent to the principal’s office, she handles it like a boss (even Ferris Bueller would be proud). When the witchy neighbor next door trashes her front yard, Blue doesn’t just get even, she gets ahead. No clean underwear because she hasn’t done the laundry? No worries. That’s what little brother’s Superman underwear is for. Yes, it was fairly devastating when the entire school happened to see them, but some things are unavoidable.

Blue crushes anything that comes her way…until the day she explores the attic. Her mother’s death certificate shows the date she died is the same as her littlest brother’s birthday. Her father has been lying to them all along. Her mother didn’t pass away in a car accident, she died giving birth to Arnie. Blue will need to muster all the strength she has to forgive her brother, trust in her father, and let her mother go once and for all. Maybe her life’s curse – her rotten brothers – will be her biggest blessing after all.

First 250 Words:

I gripped his foot tightly as I wrapped the cord around his ankle. He looked up at me and the fear in his eyes made my hands tremble. I turned his face away so I didn’t have to see his pain. I lifted him over the edge and tried not to think about what I was going to do. What I had to do.


Startled, I lost my hold and he went tumbling over the balcony head first. I winced when his body hit the concrete below.


“Mr. Bunny Boo! Nooooo!” Arnie ran out of the room, screaming at the top of his lungs. “Daaaaaad!”

I sighed. That didn’t quite go as planned, but it often didn’t. Mr. Bunny Boo was just another casualty of war. Oh, and my brother’s favorite stuffed animal, of course. I wasn’t surprised when my dad called me downstairs a moment later.

“It was an accident,” I said before my father had a chance to speak. “I was only going to dangle him, I wasn’t really going to let go. It’s just Arnie snuck up from behind and scared me.”

Arnie sniffed dramatically, wiping away his giant crocodile tears. I looked away. Did the kid have to be so darn cute? That wasn’t going to get me any sympathy.

“March right outside and find your brother’s bunny. What were you thinking, Beulah?”

Uh oh. I knew I was in serious trouble when my dad used my real name. But with a name like Beulah, shouldn’t that be punishment enough?


Entry Nickname: Middle Grade Leverage
Title: Team L.O.S.E.R.
Word count: 49,000
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Contemporary


Eighth grade president, Corbin Webster is used to hard work. But when he’s forced to accept the position as mentor to a team of outcast sixth grade delinquents, reality smacks him upside the head. It is one thing to be told to teach his team right from wrong. It’s quite another to discover that they’re a car thief, a pick-pocket, a hacker, and a girl who cosplays a different character each day and who refuses to answer to her real name.

To foster kindness and team spirit, Corbin has them find a student who needs their help. When they choose a boy whose lunch is stolen daily, Corbin stages an intervention. There they find that this bully is physically abused, and his father controls his family by starving them. In order to get proof of  the real abuser’s criminal activities, and to put him away for good, Corbin must use the illegal skills that landed his group on Team Loser in the first place.

First 250 Words:

The early morning light haloed two birds perched in the tree outside our kitchen window. They sang like they were in the opening credits of a Disney movie. Gramps' scrambled eggs were a perfect bright yellow so I scooped them from the pan, and onto his plate. “Come and eat before I throw it away,” I yelled.

“Corbin Webster, do I look like a track star to you?” His cane made crabby thunks on the worn linoleum but he had to duck his head to hide a smile. He might fool the salesmen at the front door, but I knew better. Gramps put the great in great-grandpa. If it wasn’t for him, I’d be in some random person’s foster home.

“I don’t need any eggs,” he said. “Coffee is fine.”

“You’ll eat them and like it.” I tried to sound stern instead of worried. “Besides, there’s plenty.” If I didn't watch him, he’d starve himself to make sure I didn't go hungry. “Mrs. Sanchez brought over a dozen this morning when she dropped off the suit. Her chickens lay too many for her to eat.”

“That’s different.” He picked up his fork and shoveled some into his mouth. “It would be a crying shame for food to go to waste.” I finished my coffee and carried my plate to the sink. He whistled low. “Dang boy, you look sharp. Turn around."

I made an awkward spin so he could see how well her alterations had made his old suit fit.


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

    1. Princess of LlamasJune 2, 2015 at 7:49 PM

      A SPARKLING WILDFLOWER: The voice really shines through in the query, so great job there! My issue is that the first paragraph is disconnected from the second. It’s great to give a few details about your MC’s personality, but a whole paragraph is a bit much, especially since it seems the conflict revolves around her finding out the truth about her mother? Why does this bother her so much? And I’m not sure of the stakes here—the chances of her not forgiving her brother/father seem low. Maybe if the death is recent or we learn more in the first paragraph how she misses her mother or their special relationship it’d make more sense. Also, for middle grade you should put the age of your MC right up front.

      As for the first 250, while Blue’s character comes through, I’m not sympathizing with her at all. Maybe if there’s something in there about why this revenge is warranted, it’d soften it up for me. As it is though, I end up thinking she’s a brat. I know that sounds horrible. Sorry. I’m sure it’s bought me a first-class ticket on the bus to hell, but I felt more for the poor bunny than Blue.

      MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE: I think you have good bones to this query. Revise with an eye to omitting needless words and using stronger verbs. Instead of, “But when he’s forced to accept the position as mentor . . .” try “But when he’s forced to mentor a team . . .” In the second paragraph, “has them find” can be “instructs” and “There they find” can be “They discover.” Instead of, “controls his family by starving them,” consider “starves his family.” Little things like that make it crisper and flow better. Also, getting rid of those words free up word count to throw in more detail. Otherwise, the only thing that caught my eye was your last sentence. “Landed his group on Team Loser” could be stronger (also, you can omit “in the first place”). Does the team think they’re losers or just Colin? Is it more that if Colin wants to put the real abuser away for good, he’s going to have to embrace the illegal skills he was assigned to eliminate? I’d look at tweaking that last line to make the conflict and stakes clearer.

      As for the 250, I like opening here and getting a sense for Corbin’s responsibility. Some of the language seems clunky to me, though. As with your query, re-read and look for ways to make it stronger. Watch your tenses too. In the second paragraph, “but I knew better” should be “but I know better.” I like the image of the cane’s thunks, but the sentence as a whole is awkward. Consider a way to tighten. Instead of, “cane made crabby thunks,” consider “The crabby thunks of his cane on the worn linoleum . . .” Words like, “made” can often be removed or replaced. Like in the last paragraph, “made an awkward spin,” can be “spun awkwardly,” or, even better, describe the awkward nature of the spin and get rid of the adverb.

      These are two great entries, and I love the concepts. I think they’re both just one revision away from really shining. In the end though, I think one query and 250 is just a tad more polished than the other.


    2. A Sparkling Wildflower Among Giant Stinky Weeds

      Cut the first line. Never tell the reader a book is funny and sassy; write a funny and sassy query. And there are definitely some humorous lines in the query, so I know you have the writing chops to pull it off :)

      On the query as a whole however, it needs some reworking IMO. It spends far too long telling us about Blue, and far too little setting up the actual stakes of the plot/story. And I don’t see how the hook at the end is really a hook: her father might have lied about how Blue’s mother died, but she’s still dead. Unless trusting her father is a larger issue throughout the book, and then you might have a hook.

      Thus I would suggest a much shorter introduction for Blue, spend more time in the middle setting up the rocky relationship between Blue and her brother and/or father (preferably concentrating more on one than the other; whichever is the primary focus) and how she feels about her mother being gone, and then hit us with the hook.

      First 250 Words:
      This is a nice opening (well, slightly disturbing, but you know what I mean). Strong voice. Some good misdirection. And I laughed at several of the lines. Nothing really to say except well done.

      (except, depending on the age range you’re looking at—for example, possibly lower MG given the lower word count—it might be consider slightly too shocking for younger readers (that is, even the suggestion that this could be a real person she’s doing this to); just something to keep in mind)

      Middle Grade Leverage

      I rarely get the opportunity to say this, but this query probably isn’t long enough :)

      On many levels, this is already a pretty strong query as is. I do think you could add in a bit more detail to clarify things though. For example, the way it reads now it sounds at first like the kid who gets his lunch money stolen is the bully (when in actual fact I assume it’s referring to the person who is bullying him). Also, the hook needs to be much stronger. Yes, they want to help this kid out, but what’s the danger? What might it cost them? It’s implied, sort of, but you’ve got plenty of word count and there’s no reason not to spell it out. Also don’t be afraid to inject a little more voice into the query, especially for Middle Grade. MG readers like a strong narrative voice, so agents will be looking for that right from the get go, even in the cover letter.

      First 250 Words:
      Again, overall this is strong writing as well. My main point would be that I still have no sense of the narrator’s age by the end. In fact, the reference to coffee makes me think he could nearly be an adult (only the reference to a foster home set the age lower than eighteen for me). I would suggest making that clear as soon as possible. Also, again, I think there’s room here to push the voice. Bring out the narrator’s personality. Perhaps more than anything else in MG, that’s something young readers will connect with.


      In this case the writing in both 250s is about equal IMO, so I think it comes down to which of the queries provided a clearer pitch, which for me means VICTORY TO MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE!

    3. Sparkling Wildflower

      Query: You've got a lot of voice in this query, which is great. But, there's a serious disconnect between the first and the second paragraph. I love that you're giving us some detail on your main character, but what we really need is more on the story/plot. I'd introduce the death of her mother earlier, and really amp up the stakes. Make us see how she's missing her mother, and what that was like for her. I'm also on the fence as to whether she'd need to "forgive" her youngest brother. I can see why she might think it's partially his fault, but it's also a stretch for me.

      250: Overall, I think this is really well written. I'm going to quibble with you over the word "splat." If it's a stuffed animal, I'm not sure there'd be any splatting, but rather more of a bouncing, or a thud. And if it's only over the balcony, the animal likely wouldn't be damaged or anything, right? Also, the main character is coming across as a little unsympathetic. Her dad's not showing sympathy, and I'm not really feeling any either.


      Middle Grade Leverage

      Query: Overall, I think this query is really good, but could use some more details and a little bit of tightening. After reading the 250, I feel like there's a lot of responsibility on Corbin's shoulders. I get the sense his family is struggling a little and he's helping take care of his great-grandfather. When you say he's used to hard work, you might want to mention that too. Second sentence-change "it is" to "it's," it reads smoother. Same sentence, I'd cut "to be told." I am loving the cast of characters here. Your second paragraph needs some clarification. On first read, it sounded like the boy who's lunch was stolen is also the bully. I think you can amp up the stakes by really emphasizing that he needs to go against what he's been doing, utilize some of those illegal skills he's been trying to eradicate, and help the bully. I'll also say that swapping some of the weaker verbs "find" "needs" "made" for stronger ones will really help this out.

      250: Same as the query, I think picking some stronger words here will help this entry stand out. For example: maybe the birds are *starring* in Disney credits, not just in it. Also, I feel like the dialogue is a little backwards. Wouldn't he refuse the food before coming into the kitchen? Very last sentence, you can cut "had." A minor issue I had here was Corbin drinking coffee. I'm sure that some eight graders do, but that combined with him making breakfast is making him seem older than he is.


      Two great entries here, but one is making me really root for the main character while the other is not. VICTORY TO MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE!

    4. A Sparkling wildflower
      Query: Great voice and background in the query. I question your use of Ferris Buller a little bit. That’s a very old movie, and also one that isn’t exactly a MG genre film. Is there a kid-friendly movie comparison to make here? I also don’t get the jump from finding the death paperwork to forgiving her brothers. What makes her change? What happens if she doesn’t forgive them?
      I am a huge sucker for family stories though, and I love the idea of a girl learning to accept her stinky brothers. There’s something very sweet and real there.

      First 250.
      Again, a very strong voice. Loved the sort of “cut-throat” opening. However, there’s a lot of empty words here, such as “looked” which gets used twice. Also, we don’t need to know Arnie is screaming. We can see that from the exclamation point in his dialogue. Trimming words like that will let you have more awesome voicey prose in there. The MC has a great, clear personality, and I love how the scene opens with action. I don’t think she’s a brat at all. I think she’s cunning, and smart, and fed up with her brothers. You may have an “unlikeable female protagonist” on your hands, which means you’ll get a lot of interesting feedback on her.

      Middle grade leverage
      Query: The query is a bit wordy. I got lost twice, once in the line “girl who cosplays a..” and once in “When they choose a boy whose lunch is stolen daily, Corbin stages an intervention. There they find” –I think this part could use a little build up. How old is this boy? What type of an intervention? Etc. That being said, I think you nail your genre, voice and word count perfectly. It’s refreshing and interesting, and appealing to both kids who have been popular and kids who have been picked on.

      If it wasn’t for your query, I’d have no idea this was a MG story. Could you add details of being only 13? Maybe his voice cracks? Or he can’t reach a cupboard? “Haloed” also feels a little too old of a voice-word choice. I’d watch out for words like that with MG.
      The kitchen and the great-grandpa are very detailed, and tug wonderfully at the heartstrings.
      I do like where the 250 ends. I’m very curious to know why he’s wearing a suit. And if I knew he was a kid, I’d be even more curious.

      A very, very tough call, but VICTORY TO MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE!

    5. Princess ButtercupJune 3, 2015 at 8:19 PM

      A Sparkling Wildflower Among Giant Stinky Weeds
      First, kudos for having such excellent voice in your query! However, I would consider cutting the first line. Show us Blue having adventures with tons of humor and sass instead of telling us. I’d also cut the majority, if not all, of the next paragraph. By the end I’m now two-thirds of the way through your query and I know the main character’s name and a few things she’s done in the past. What concerns me most is that by the time we’re this far into the query we should have a better grasp on what’s going on.
      The final paragraph also doesn’t help much. I think it’s because with no prior knowledge that her mother is deceased, the father’s lie doesn’t have the impact it should. I mean, I get that she would feel betrayed, but wouldn’t an older sibling also understand that it would be hard for their little brother to know their mother died during their birth? Granted, I could also be imagining her a bit older than she is. All in all, I don’t get a sense of what’s at stake for Blue. What happens if she doesn’t forgive and trust?
      First 250
      After reading the query and knowing that the MC is going to have major issues with her brother(s), my initial reaction was that she’s doing something to her brother that involves a rope and a balcony. I even skimmed ahead to see if I needed to stop reading.
      Then I had to stop and really question why I would’ve stopped reading (especially since my favorite genre is MG/YA horror). I think it has to do with connecting to Blue. With what I know of her from the query and now seeing her torment her younger sibling, I’m just not connecting with her at all.
      However—there is a wonderful sense of voice in both samples. So you’ve already cleared what most people consider the biggest hurdle of all. I would revisit your query and see what you can do on your first page to build that kind of great tension, while also making the reader sympathetic to your MC’s position.

      Middle Grade Leverage
      Your query is in pretty decent shape! I know who the MC is, what the conflict is, and what’s at stake. I especially love that the MC (and his team) will be stepping up for another student—and not just any other student—they’re stepping up for the one person they shouldn’t care about.
      And that makes me care. Well done!
      I would add that punching up the voice and editing for flow would really help your query shine. One particular phrase, “reality smacks him upside the head” kind of stuck out to me. If he’s used to hard work, wouldn’t he already be well-acquainted with reality?
      First 250
      My biggest critique about your first 250 is that it sounds too grown up in places. “The early morning light haloed two birds…” definitely doesn’t sound MG. However, “…like the opening credits to a Disney movie…” definitely does. It’s that kind of inconsistency that I see giving you trouble.
      Also, not everything has to be the worst-of-the-worst type scenarios to garner an emotional reaction from the reader. Not only is the bully being starved by his father, but Corbin and his great-grandfather are starving because of poverty. Just keep in mind that all of that together is a lot for the reader to carry emotionally, so use the worst-of-the-worst sparingly, when it’ll get you the most response from the reader. You’ve done a great job of getting us to care and I’d hate for that to get buried.
      I’m finally casting my first vote! There were redeeming qualities in both entries, but in the end, Middle Grade Leverage made me care.

    6. A Sparkling Wildflower:

      I really love the opening of your query. You’ve done a great job infusing voice. My only problem with the opening is that it doesn’t tell me how old Blue is. That’s important when we get to the stakes, because I feel like a 12-13 year old should know that sometimes people die in childbirth and it’s not the child’s fault. The word count makes me think it’s lower MG (and is a different issue, if it’s not), but don’t leave me guessing. Tell me.

      Where it falls a little flat, for me, is the second part. Why does she need to “forgive” her brother? It’s not like he intentionally murdered her mother. I can see the trust issues with her father, so that’s fine. Why does she need to let her go? There’s nothing in the first paragraph that even hints to me that she has any issues with her mother’s death (in fact, it doesn’t even tell me that her mother IS dead, which, if that’s key to the plot, should be stated—Surrounded by boys could mean her parents are divorced). Also, what happens to Blue if she fails to come to terms with her mother’s death? What does she have to lose? That’s what I want to get from your stakes paragraph.

      The first 250 also has some really great voice. The problem with it, for me, is that I don’t get any of Blue’s motivation. She just looks like a bully who’s torturing her little brother. We need to connect with Blue so we can root for her, and all the first page does is make me feel bad for Arnie. Also, I’m not a fan of opening with the fake out. It’s written like you want us to think she’s throwing her brother out the window - and that automatically makes me want to stop reading. Yes, it’s subjective, but I don’t like bullies.

      Middle Grade Leverage:

      Hey! What’s wrong with cosplayers?! *deducts lots of points* Seriously, though, this sounds amazing. I know lots of people say over and over to limit the number of characters named in a query—but I actually think you’re not naming enough. When I read “This bully,” I had to go back and read again to make sure you weren’t talking about the kid who’s lunch gets stolen. If the plot is about helping the “bad guy”, give him a name. Give us some details. How do they find this out? Tell us more about why Corbin is mentoring these sixth graders in the first place - it sounds like a punishment. I want more. A query should typically be around 250 words, and you’re only at 165. Give me more!

      I love Gramps. He’s my new best friend. You’ve done a good job of establishing the relationship between him and Corbin. BUT—and I have typed this so many times I feel like I should be copy-pasting—I wonder if your story is really starting in the right place. Where does the action of the story start? Is it when Corbin’s elected? Because that might be a better place to start. This is a nice little scene, but I just wonder if it’s the best place to pack a punch on your first page.


    7. A Sparkling Wildflower Among Giant Stinky Weeds

      There are some real diamonds buried in this rough. I love that I get a strong sense of your character, but you need to clean it up a bit. You repeat Blue's name too mcuh, and your first sentence/paragraph is not really a hook. Everything that follows tells us the same information, so you should either cut it or tell us something new there. The superman underwear stuff is great. The 2nd paragraph which seems to tell us the overarching story is a bit confusing. Why did her dad lie? old is Blue that she would hold it against her brother for something like that? It makes your very charming protaganist immediately unlikable.

      250 words:
      Your bit where you "reveal" that Mr. Bunny Boo is a stuffed animal is a bit convoluted. Consider revising. Other than that, much like your query, it's charming.

      Middle Grade Leverage

      This is a great query. My only advise is to see if you can inject a bit of Corbin's personality into it. OTher than that, you explain the premise very well, and it sounds very intriguing.

      250 words:
      Solely because i know this is a MG book, it did take me a second to realize Corbin was cooking the eggs, but I like that. I also love that he drinks coffee, but I hope that after these 250 words their is a joke about it. does he take it? But really this is lovely writing! I'm a fan, and want to see more.



    8. A Sparkling Wildflower: Get rid of the first line, it’s editorialising. Show us the humour and sass instead, as you do further down. Love the second para, the superman underpants bit in particular made me laugh out loud :) Hmm, this query has a ton of voice, but the stakes seem pretty low. It seems like it’d be more traumatic for Arnie to discover their mother died giving birth to him than it would be for the MC...

      First page: this is a fun scene, with siblings torturing each other, and the MC’s got plenty of voice. All the same, in trying to be clever and not let us know she’s dropping a toy not a person over the balcony, you confuse the reader with your opening which is never a good idea. I’d also be wary of introducing too many people on the first page. I’d suggest letting us get to know Blue a bit more first before bringing more than one other person into the scene, and losing the confusing opening.

      Middle Grade Leverage: This sounds like a really fun premise, and I love the sound of the characters in Team Loser (although I have to say they sound a little more interesting than the MC at this point, so I’d be careful of that.) The stakes at the end are great. But this is very short. You can take time to add a bit more of the MC’s personality, some humour, and a few more details into this. I’d especially clarify the 2nd para, because I got a bit lost here: ‘When they choose a boy whose lunch is stolen daily, Corbin stages an intervention. There they find that this bully is physically abused, and his father controls his family by starving them.’ I presume you’re talking about the person who is stealing the boy’s lunch, but the segue is disjointed. Flesh this out a bit.

      First page: This is a really nice first page. Well-written, introduces us gently to the MC and his grandpa and their enjoyably subverted relationship, has voice. And I presume his being dressed up in a suit is about to segue into how this is an important day for him, which is a good hook. I honestly don’t think I’d change anything.

      These both have a ton of wonderful voice, but the latter has higher stakes and a cleaner first page, so VICTORY TO MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE.

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


      The hook doesn't hook me. This could describe about 75% of all MG novels. I'd recommend cutting it.

      Your first paragraph is full of awesome little tidbits, but I don't feel like we get into the real conflict until the second half of the last paragraph. We want to know what the story is, what the conflict is, what's her goal as she's getting into all these misadventures.

      Also, would your audience know who Ferris Bueller is?



      Interesting premise; I like the "Goonies"-esque band of misfits all having to work together toward a common goal.

      Minor clarification -- at first, they're helping a kid whose lunch is stolen, but then they end up helping the bully who steals it instead, right? I had to re-read this part to understand that they were two different kids.

      Victory to... MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE!

  2. I loved the voice for A Sparkling Wildflower Among Giant Stinky Weeds--the opening is very clever and funny. The name "Beulah" is just perfect! Beulah/Blue is a wonderful character, really charming. As far as the query, I don't think the stand-alone sentence is effective. The first paragraph is where the query really starts, and it does a great job of showing us "humor and sass" without an introductory line. Perhaps start your query with a mention of the mc's age, something like this: Eleven-year-old Blue Warren spends every waking moment surrounded by smelly ole boys . . .

    Team L.O.S.E.R really moved me--I want to read this book right now! The premise is intriguing, and the characters are fascinating. Tiny suggestion to try, perhaps for a smoother opening line: Corbin Webster, eight grade class president, is used to hard work. Or if you keep it as is, think about adding "class" before president. I had to mentally fill it in, which added a tiny bump. A word swap to consider is "sunny" yellow versus "bright" yellow, to match up with language and imagery of the cheery "Disney" birds. Your characterizations are spot on--loved the cane's "crabby thunks on the worn linoleum," and "Dang boy, you look sharp." Great job setting the scene and relationship between Corbin and Gramps.

  3. What fun entries! They both made me smile.

    WILDFLOWER: Beulah is fun and funny. Lots of personality, which is awesome. I think this comes across in your second paragraph, and you don't need your first sentence. In fact, I've heard agents say that they don't want authors telling them how to view their characters. If you started with the 2nd paragraph about the smelly boys (so fun!), you'll already be showing us Blue's personality. It might be good to mention her mother in the first paragraph, because we don't know that she's dealing with her mother's death until the end of the query, so a heads-up would be helpful. Very fun first 250! I really enjoyed it, and the suspense of not knowing it's a stuffed animal is good. Watch in your first paragraph for the rhythm and using "I" so much -- is there a way to change it up at all? Congrats and good luck!

    LEVERAGE: This is great! I love the show Leverage, and this really does seem like the MG version. Fun! Nit-picky things: You don't need the comma in the first sentence, and I would suggest merging the first and second sentences to make a smoother beginning. Also, when you're naming the criminal activities of the group, the sentence should be worded a bit differently, since "they" are not each all of those things. "It’s quite another to discover that they’re a car thief..." What if you said something like "It's quite another to discover that the group is made up of a car thief..." What do you think? The first 250 are very strong -- I love the crabby thunks. :) The only suggestion I might make is to use "Mrs. Sanchez" instead of "her" in the last sentence. Great stuff!

    Good job to both of you, and I love both premises. If I HAVE to choose...

    Victory to Middle Grade Leverage

  4. A Sparkling Wildflower Among Giant Stinky Weeds -

    Love the voice here, it really shines and makes the query feel fun and lighthearted. I'm rooting for her. I feel like there may be a little too much about her though, and not enough about the plot.

    For the 250 -

    The dialogue is great, it feels very authentic. The 250 works great for me. Love the sibling rivalry from the get-go.

    Middle Grade Leverage -

    The query is very good. But, I feel like the voice isn't shining as much in the second paragraph as in the first.

    For the 250 -

    I love this description: His cane made crabby thunks on the worn linoleum but he had to duck his head to hide a smile.

    The banter between the MC and his great grandfather is great.

  5. Both of these look snappy and heartwarming – what a great combo!

    WILDFLOWER: I agree that the voice is crystal-clear in both the query and first 250 – in the query, it would shine all the brighter without the first line. In the 250, not sure that a stuffed animal would make a “splat” sound on impact?

    LEVERAGE: I had to re-read to see how the cosplaying girl fits in with the rest of the team, since her offence seems much more “outcast” than “delinquent,” and her skill isn’t illegal.

  6. Both of these look snappy and heartwarming – what a great combo!

    WILDFLOWER: I agree that the voice is crystal-clear in both the query and first 250 – in the query, it would shine all the brighter without the first line. In the 250, not sure that a stuffed animal would make a “splat” sound on impact?

    LEVERAGE: I had to re-read to see how the cosplaying girl fits in with the rest of the team, since her offence seems much more “outcast” than “delinquent,” and her skill isn’t illegal.

  7. A Sparkling Wildflower: This is a solid spin on the "mom is dead" story line. Beulah's character is well-established from the start in the query, although the Ferris Bueller reference might date you.

    The second paragraph of the query needs a couple of tweaks: No one passes away in a car accident. The mother needs to die here. I realize you are looking for a synonym. Perhaps do something like this. "Her mother wasn't killed in a car accident, she died ..."

    Then: I don't think "forgive" her brother is quite right. I think rather that she needs to look at him anew, as the innocent that he is. "Trust her father" is spot on. The part about her letting her mother go is fine, but I don't get a sense before this point that she is hanging on to her. I am not sure if this is a problem, but it seemed a little odd.

    The story has a strong start, but is it deceptive? You make it seem as though Beulah is gripping a child, but it turns out to be the child's toy. I think you can keep the tension but correct the misinterpretation by saying: "I gripped his foot tightly as I wrapped the cord around his ankle. He looked at me and my hands trembled. I turned his face away (although I don't know that stuffed animal head would stay in place). Also, the animal would not "splat."

    To me, the setup is creepy, but I don't like creepy. And I am not a good judge of the creepiness level that kids can take.

    I hope this is useful. Good luck.

  8. Middle Grade Leverage: I like your "Breakfast Club"-style concept reworked for an eighth-grade leader and a group of sixth-grade misfits. The first paragraph of your query is a little slow. Here are some suggestions:

    "But when he’s forced to become a mentor to a team of outcast sixth-grade delinquents," then you need to say something specific. Are you trying to imply that he really wasn't used to hard work, as stated in the first sentence? That doesn't tell me much. Or are you trying to say that he hasn't dealt with this big a problem before, these types of kids?

    "It is one thing to be told to teach his team right from wrong. It’s quite another to discover that his team" is made up of a car thief, a pickpocket and a girl ??? I don't understand the rest. Do you mean displays? Is she mentally ill, unbalanced? An actress, using the roles to escape pain?

    Love this: "To foster kindness and team spirit, Corbin has them find a student who needs their help."

    This is mushy: "There they find that this bully is physically abused, and his father controls his family by starving them. In order to get proof of the real abuser’s criminal activities, and to put him away for good, Corbin must use the illegal skills that landed his group on Team Loser in the first place."

    Suggest: "The team learns that the bully is abused by a father who starves his family. But they'll need proof to take the case to authorities. That's when Corbin decides to tap the skills that landed ..."

    The first 250 words are nice. Readers get a good sense of Corbin and the great-grandfather he cares for, but why isn't the old man in the query? If he's a big enough deal for the opening, does he not play a large enough role to be in the query?

    Also, the stage directions are confusing. Corbin first puts the eggs on the plate, and the grandfather walks into the room. So has Corbin quickly set the plate on the table and seated himself, too? I imagined him still standing, but later, he is taking his plate to the sink. This is presumably the first time grandpa has seen the newly fitted suit, but in my mind, Corbin was standing all along, which would have allowed a first viewing.

    I hope these comments are helpful.

    Good luck.

  9. These both have such interesting premises! Okay, for my two cents:

    Sparkling: I'm not terribly fond of the opening line and first paragraph of your query. It tells me what I want to see. And the Farris Beuller reference--while funny, doesn't fit well with an MG. The second paragraph is great, and really hit the story home for me. Your first 250 are fun and bring Blue's voice to life really well and the scene drew me in instantly. I did wonder about the phrase "crocodile tears" though, as that struck me as a little old for her age, but perhaps that's just me.

    Middle Grade: Your query is great, though I did wonder why this kid's been told to help out the other sixth graders. It kind of struck me as a punishment, which is probably not what you're going for. With you query being so short, you could probably add in a bit of why he's got to help them. Your first 250 are well done and set the scene well, though I wasn't terribly fond of the Disney birds--would a boy think something like that? Not to be gender biased, but it did kind of make me wonder why he'd notice (in my head, I really thought he'd go for the Shrek reference of the song bird swelling and then popping, but that might be just me). Anyhow, your characters came through well and I definitely wanted to read on!

  10. A Sparkling Wildflower:

    I love love love this! The voice in your query and first 250-- wow! My favorite line is how she borrows her brother superman underwear. My daughter has been guilty of doing that before! LOL!

    One thing that tripped me up is when you said the "witchy" neighbor as this is MG. What do you mean by this? Do they think she is a witch? Or is that just a nicer way of saying she's... Well, you know.


    Oh! I love this concept! It sounds so fun. The first paragraph of the query is really strong. The second could use a little tightening.

    Jenna-Lynne Duncan
    "A Pirate's Life for Me"

    Query: I’m not a fan of your first line—I’d cut it. Start with her age. What great voice in your query. We have a great feel of your MC. I love how her mother’s death challenges her thinking. I just advise you don’t give too much away. Leave us with the stakes of your story. 250: Haha! Great voice. I connected so well to this. Though I’m not a fan of the “splat,” this opening is very well written. ☺

    Query: This is an interesting premise. Though your MC seems a bit mature in my opinion, I love they need to use their “illegal skills” to solve the problem. 250: Again, I’m feeling like this MC is really mature for his age, drinking coffee. I love the grandfather in this opening scene. Pulls my emotions.

  12. WILDFLOWER: There's a nice voice in the first 250, although from the query it struck me that she was closer to 8 or 9, but in the first 250 it skewed a little older for me (12?) with the reference to crocodile tears and having the punishment of the name Beulah. That could probably be cleared up by having her age in the query. I also think you need to jump into the central plot point - coming to terms with the death of her mother - earlier in the query. Overall, though, there's some nice sass from Blue that comes through in the query and first 250.

    LEVERAGE: I like the idea of great-grandparents being part of a kid's life - it's not something we've seen a lot of. It's especially interesting to me if a 60-something grandparent is the primary caregiver, taking care of Corbin and Gramps. Either way, the family dynamic may be worth throwing into the query, or something that explains why he's used to hard work, hardship, etc. If it stays as is, there should be no comma after president in the first line. I do see the point about the girl and her delinquency sticking out, but I assume that her crime isn't cosplay but something else. I would also think about whether Gramps needs to use Corbin's full name in the first 250 - that may reflect his character, but it feels like an easy way to let people know what the character's name is. There's a nice set-up here - good luck.

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  14. Wildflower: Your query is fantastic! I love the line “When she is sent to the principal’s office, she handles it like a boss (even Ferris Bueller would be proud).” Such a great visual, and I feel like a know your character. Her level of sass is fantastic; she reminds me of an older Junie B. Jones. This may be personal preference, but I’d lose the hyphen and use another comma before “even the family dog.” In other exciting punctuation news, it looks like you’re using hyphens where there should be em dashes (which I only learned about due to my amazing editor!).

    The last line of your first 250 was my favorite. That’s the voice of the character I loved in your query, but it didn’t come through quite as strongly for me in your prose until that line. I think it’s a great scene, but I’d love to see the amazing Blue appear sooner!

    Leverage: This is an interesting concept! It’s a lot of information to take in at once in the query letter. I’d recommend trying to break your query up into shorter, punchier statements. Also, the grammar nerd in me is pretty sure you don’t need a comma after president in your first line. Because of my day job, I’m concerned by the idea of kids intervening on their own in such a serious situation; it may be that this didn’t make it into the query, but I’m hoping there’s a teacher or mentor that Corbin and/or the other students seek out…that’s an important lesson for kids to learn!


    Beulah Warren, freaking awesome name. I’m immediately picturing the South :D

    I personally got a chuckle out of the Ferris Bueller reference, but Blue is a middle-grade character. Would she (or her target audience) have seen the movie? It feels a bit more YA to me. You don’t need to spend as much time focusing on Blue as you do. Only a sentence (maybe two), then move onto the plot.

    I can give you one ellipses, but two I found distracting. I would definitely cut the second use. Honestly, I think you could lose the first too.

    Overall, the voice is just incredible here.

    In the 250, starting with revenge is tricky. If we don’t sympathies with WHY the revenge is necessary, the MC comes across as a bully. I might include one line to soften her up a bit. Why does she HAVE to do what she’s doing? (I say this knowing you probably answer this later). Other than that, I loved the suspense of not knowing it was a stuffed animal she was dangling.


    Really great start in this query. I love the premise. One thing confused me though—the boy whose lunch is stolen. The query makes it sound like he’s the bully. I think it’s just a matter of reshuffling to make sure the pronouns are clear.

    Also, I would see if you can infuse a little more “MG” voice into the query. Take a non-voicey word like “quite” and consider how you can mold the sentence into something that sounds more like your character is speaking.

    Really strong writing in the 250. But I would also like a little more voice here. “The early morning light haloed...” doesn’t really read as a 13-14 year old boy to me. Scrutinize your word choices. Would an MG character (or reader) know what linoleum is?

    I absolutely love reading about all the responsibility Corbin has. It makes him easy to sympathize with.


    Great job guys, and good luck!

  16. SPARKLING - Your story sounds really interesting. I think your query is pretty strong but you need to cut the first line. I was a little thrown when I started reading your 250 though. I felt like you query had voice but it didn't really match the voice in the 250 necessarily. I think that's mostly because I didn't find your first paragraph or two of your 250 quite as voicey as the rest. Also, because of the query I thought she was tying up a brother and dangling him over the balcony and I seriously almost stopped reading right there. It made my stomach curdle just a little too much and not want to be with Blue at all. So if you could give a few more details very, very early on to clue us in that this is not a brother, that would be helpful.

    LEVERAGE - Your premise sounds awesome. The one thing you're going to run into is that you're walking a very thin line straddling MG and YA. Your MC is almost too old. You might want to play it safe if possible and put him in 7th grade. But if you keep him in 8th, make sure your prose don't sound YA. Some of your descriptions seem a little old.

    Good job both of you, these sound like really fun and touching stories.

  17. Sparkling: I really liked the first 250 words of your novel. At first I thought that she was tying her brother, so it surprised me when I realized that it was the stuffed doll. Which makes me wonder why she's doing it in the first place, and makes me want to keep reading!

    Leverage: Reading your query, I liked your idea immediately. After your 250 words, I was hooked. I like how in just the first 250 words, you showed us that the character was poor without outright saying it.

  18. Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to read, comment, critique and judge. This is a community of authors striving to help fellow authors, and I feel so privileged to be a part of it. I am lucky enough to walk away with great advice that I will be able to use to learn and grow.

    Thank you again to the judges and especially the hosts. You're changing lives. You're helping to make dreams come true. Thank you for this opportunity.