Sunday, June 21, 2015


Entry Nickname: Middle Grade Leverage
Title: Team L.O.S.E.R.
Word count: 45,000
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Contemporary


When the world fails you, Team L.O.S.E.R. has your back.

Eighth grade class president, Corbin Webster hasn’t met a challenge that hard work and determination couldn’t beat. When he’s forced to accept the position as mentor to a team of outcast sixth grade delinquents, reality smacks him upside the head. He thought teaching his team right from wrong would be easy until he discovers 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 to stop the thief. They soon learn the lunch bully has his own bully at home, and that 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.

Sometimes the bad guys are the only good guys you get. 

First 250 Words:

The early morning light hit the small, old houses in my neighborhood until they glowed like pastel jewels. Gramp’s 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. She said 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. Two birds perched in the mimosa tree outside the kitchen window and sang like they were in the opening credits of a Disney movie.

 Gramps whistled low. “Dang boy, you look sharp. Turn around.”


Entry Nickname: Eavesdropping Monkey
Word count: 650
Genre: Children’s Picture Book - Funny

When the monkeys overhear the elephants planning a family reunion they decide to throw a bash for their long lost relations, too. But they’re not the only ones. Family reunions are too good to miss out on and party planning spreads through the jungle like a Savanna grass fire.
Soon the watering hold is filled to capacity with animals of different species. Tempers flare as each fight to reunite with their own kind. Talk about a bungle in the jungle. Finally, a wise frog speaks up with a better idea that blows the family reunion right out of the watering hole.
FAMILY REUNION is an amusing tale of diversity and acceptance. At 650 words, this fun-filled, rollicking rhyme will appeal to children of the 4-8 age range.

First 250 words: On a hot, steamy day in the Jungle of Ghee,
                             A sly, nosey monkey swung from a tree.
                             He was eavesdropping on a large elephant herd,
                             And he hung there and listened to every last word.

                            “We’ll invite all our cousins from near and afar,”
                            Said the matriarch queen named Ali Dalmar.


  1. Judges, reply to this comment with your vote!

    1. Team Loser:

      Your query has a comma it doesn't need in the second sentence. Some people say that a query needs a hook sentence to start off before the blurb, but I'm one who prefers for the blurb to start right away. There's nothing wrong with yours; I just don't think you need it. The story is cute and sounds funny, and you've promised funny characters -- way to go. Watch the preachiness of the query, though. Some agents really hate when they're told what the readers are going to learn by reading the book. (It wouldn't bother me.) Your 250 is good, but I think you can do better with a punchier first sentence. That sentence is all setting.

      Eavesdropping Monkey:
      Your query is good, but I'll say the same thing. In children's books, watch the preachiness/this is what the kiddies will learn kind of stuff. I've seen agents criticize that in online Ten Queries.
      Your excerpt is adorable, though it does have the same sing-songiness as Dr. Seuss, and begins in much the same way as one of the Horton books.

      I really, really hate judging two books not in the same genre/age category, but that's where we are now.

    2. Great job on both of these. I’ve been re-reading them for 15 minutes trying to figure out a way to pick a winner. Love the premise for both.

      For MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE – you have great voice, and you’ve given us insight into Corbin’s home life quickly. The query is compelling, but I’m left wondering why he’s forced to mentor delinquents. Is it a part of the duties of class president? Also, you need a comma before “so” but not before “and” in the second sentence.

      For EAVESDROPPING MONKEY – very cute concept. I’m already picturing all the beautiful animals that will gather in chaos, and I want to know what that frog’s going say to resolve the conflict. And I love alexandrine rhyme schemes, too.

      Man, this is impossible.


    3. Okay. I'm aiming for short and sweet here.

      250 Matchup:

      MG Leverage, attend to details in that query carefully. You don't need the comma before Corbin's name in the first sentence -- it's not an appositive phrase in that usage, and if it was, you'd need two commas, anyhow. Why is L.O.S.E.R. an acronym in the beginning of the query and just a word (Loser) at the end? Is there a way to make the ending of the query less abrupt? I do like the A-Team like quality of that final sentiment, but it seems to just be hanging there.

      Eavedropping Monkey, it's "watering hole," not "watering hold" you're looking for there. You'll need to be absolutely sure each and every word is the RIGHT word, especially in a PB, where language is at such a premium from query to ms itself.

      Sample Matchup:
      The Seussian rhythms of Eavesdropping Monkey's same are fun, but feel a little dated to me. I'm intrigued by the concept of MG Leverage's story and find a lot of the 1st person POV personality coming through in the sample.


    4. Middle Grade Leverage:

      I was instantly drawn into this query. I love the line ‘sometimes the bad guys are the only good guys you get.’ This sounds like a fun read with quirky characters.

      The first 250: I liked the voice in the query better, and starting off with the morning light didn’t have the punch I was hoping for. I don’t think this is the right spot for the story to start.

      Eavesdropping Monkey:

      I remember this from round one, and I like the changes. I have a clear idea about what to expect in this story and the age group it’s aimed at. I agree with the other judges about the Seussian rhythms, and while I would read this book to my kiddos, it might be overdone.

      It’s hard to compare PB vs MG, but ultimately victory goes to: MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE

    5. I really enjoyed both of these.

      TEAM LOSER: The voice blew me away. Along with the premise, I think you have something special.

      MONKEY: I like the changes a lot. I wouldn't repeat "watering hole" twice in one query. I also don't think you need to call it amusing and fun-filled. Let the query and text speak for themselves.


    6. Dr. T.J. EckleburgJune 22, 2015 at 12:46 PM

      Middle Grade Leverage:

      This query is interesting because it seems perfectly split into two distinct stories without going into a lot of detail on either. The first half is the story of straight-as-an-arrow Corbin having to work with a bunch of misfits. Not sure why he has to mentor them, or what mentoring entails, or what he's trying to accomplish with them, or if there are any obstacles, or consequences if he fails. This seems, from content, like it would be a lighter, amusing story, although the tone doesn't really suggest that.

      The second story is catching an abuser with a misfit team. Again, not much elaboration here. No sense of how they'll do it, or the obstacles they have to overcome to achieve this, or even a sense that anything bad will happen if they fail, other than the abuser will continue. Which is bad, but doesn't effect the MC at all. This has a serious tone.

      Because you're splitting the query so evenly between these, I'm not sure which is the main story. I don't know if this is an amusing book (like the title & firsrt paragraph would suggest) or a serious one. I think you need to pick one angle to focus the majority of your query on so that you can give us more details and better enunciate the tone.

      Not sure if your 250 is starting in the right place. It's breakfast. It's fairly mundane, and not much is happening. It wouldn't entice me to request pages. Also, if I didn't know it's middle grade, I'd assume the MC is in high school. He's cooking breakfast, he's taking care of granpa, he's drinking coffee. All things that suggest an older MC. If I were an agent, I'd question whether you really knew your age range.

      Eavesdropping Monkey:

      I'm not really familiar with PBs or PB queries, but I'll do my best. Overall, I liked the query. It was short and sweet and quick to read. I did see multiple typos (which I see others pointed out) and the last paragraph could use some cuts. Between "amusing", "fun-filled", and "rollicking," you're not only being redundant, but you're tooting your own horn way too much.

      As far as your 250, I read it aloud as picture books are so often read aloud to kids. The rhymes in the second and third sentence seemed a bit off. Namely, the second sentence seemed a bit short, and the third seemed a bit long. You may want to experiment with adding (or dropping) a syllable respectively so see if you can even it out. Not sure what else to say since I don't really read this sort of PB.

      Strange match-up, but due to the fact that I think the Loser query needs more work, I'm giving VICTORY to EAVESDROPPING MONKEY

    7. Middle Grade Leverage:

      Your voice is terrific and I was immediately drawn in. I think several have mentioned a misplaced comma, so be careful of the small details like that esp. your query and first pages. You only get one shot to blow an agent away on those and something so tiny could turn them away.

      Eavesdropping Monkey:

      Nice job on the revised query! I believe some have already pointed out the misspelled word already, so I won't go there. But same applies as I wrote above. Also, I know many have said to take out the 'amusing tale' and as another PBer :) I personally would write it that way too.

      But that's your choice. Go with your gut on that one.

      Because I am a PB writer at heart, I have got to support the only remaining PB in the contest SO:


    8. I like each of these entries, and have watched them earlier in the contest. To be perfectly honest, I've always been a little wary of PB entries in Query Kombat, just because I'm not really sure how to evaluate them.


      I love the notion of this query, which I think is excellent. The cosplaying character who won't answer to her name is especially intriguing. The 250 is fine, but I don't know that I speaks to me as much as the query does.


      I like this entry,and as a librarian who orders kids' books, I bristle at some of the advice people have given you. There are still plenty of new books with "Seussian" rhythms that come out: IGGY PECK ARCHITECT and ROSIE GREER ENGINEER spring to mind. Likewise, there are PB books that have a moral lesson (just as many don't.) PB is a diverse as any other age group out there, and I'd encourage you to write what you want.

      The trick with rhyming books, however, is they've got really have rhythms that work, (you'd be surprised how many run into trouble) but what I see here so far is a lot of fun.

      Despite my PB trepidation, victory to EAVESDROPPING MONKEY


      I'm a bit wary of this query because it is so much like the original show Leverage, show much so that you even used the line 'Bad guys are the only good guys you get' -- which is directly from the show itself. In my opinion you're better off taking that out. Leverage has already been done. I like the idea of putting a new spin on it, but I would suggest keeping it original to your story as opposed to using lines from the show.

      The first 250--seem to have started int he wrong spot. It's well written, but I don't feel like there's much drawing me in. I think if you read through a bit more you'll find a better place to begin and engage the reader.


      I really like the concept. The query makes it seems like it would be fun and engaging for the target audience. I agree with the others though, just be careful with talking about the moral lessons of the story. Otherwise the voice is fun and engaging.

      I also like where it starts with the monkey eaves dropping. It engages the story right away. I don't really have much to say on that. I think it's pretty strong and solid.


    10. Great work on both entries!

      Team LOSER - I like what you've done to make the query clearer! I'm still not convinced your first page is starting in the right place, and would like to see more zip and voice to match the promise of the query.

      Eavesdropping Monkey - I like the playful tone! Sounds like a colorful, fun story.

      In the query, watch out for applying praise to your own work (amusing, fun-filled, rollicking) and telling what readers will learn from the story, as both can be red flags. Also, you have a typo (hold for hole).

      In the first 250, while your meter and rhyme are spot on, the flow is a bit rambly and the word choice sometimes sounds like you're padding it out to make a rhyme. You might even be better off skipping rhyme and using some other form of fun word play to make the story lively but with a more contemporary feel.

      Great work and good luck on both!


    11. MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE: I still really like this premise. The query has been pared down and tightened, though I still think it's missing what happens if LOSER fails or what the main character's overall journey is. I really think one or two more lines connecting those themes would do it; why the MC is assigned with the losers, and how helping this down-and-out kid accomplishes the MC's end goal. This is one of the cases that it's probably all in the story, but it's not fully coming through in the query. The first 250 works, though since it's a school-focused story and the query doesn't mention grandpa, it might be a good idea to start the story at school. This is totally subjective, but just a thought if looking for consistency.


      I like the voice in the query that communicates the tone of the story, and already I can imagine a vibrant jungle full of partying animals. The wise frog's idea ends on a cliffhanger--what is it?! I want to know. The rhyming in the text is sweet. I wanted to read more!

      This is a tough match-up since the entries are so different.


    12. Middle Grade Leverage

      I remember this entry from the first round and I love the improvements that you made. Your query is concise and tells me what the story is about. However, I feel like the first paragraph packs a really nice punch while the second doesn’t quite deliver and seems a little abrupt. I’m also curious why he’s forced into this role as mentor. As for your 250, I love the voice that comes through, but I’m not a huge fan of the opening line. I think you can come up with something that’s stronger than light reflecting off houses. The cast of characters sounds amazing, and I’m really intrigued by the story as a whole.

      Eavesdropping Monkey

      I think your query is well-written for the most part, although there’s a typo on the second paragraph (“watering hold” should be “watering hole”). I’m not sure you need the part about “diversity and acceptance.” Show us rather than tell us about that. In regards to your 250, again it reads well and is well-written, but it doesn’t feel as fresh as I want it to. Especially, since you’re going with a rhyme.



    13. An unfortunate matchup of these two, but it's great to see a picture book make it so far!

      MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE has a nice setup in the query. I like the Breakfast Club feel to the MC's situation, and the promise of an interesting cast of characters. Then it's time to team up the delinquents to solve a real problem, and they're off. I like the query's opening line about Team LOSER. I would cut the ending line because it doesn't add much.

      Bonus points for working the age category into the title!

      EAVESDROPPING MONKEYS: I wanted to get behind this PB so badly, but I had some issues with the query. The language is inconsistent, sometimes going for PB-level voice, other times sounding very adult ("capacity"). My main concern, as someone who does buy picture books and read them to his/her kid(s), is that I can already tell this one is going to be preachy. The very first thing I'd do is remove the theme statement from the query.

      This is a delicate topic to broach with children, and the writing sample tells me you haven't thought enough about how to best approach it. All that being said, I do applaud what you're trying to do with this book, and hope that you can find the right recipe for pulling it off.


    14. Princess of LlamasJune 23, 2015 at 7:36 PM

      MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE: I like the changes you've made to the query--it reads much clearer than before. Nice! The only thing I'd change is adding the MC's age instead of 8th grade, as he can be anywhere from 12-14 depending on where his birthday falls. When it came to the 250 though, I felt like I was listening to a kid much older than a kid in that range. *Maybe* 14, but then we're closer to YA, not MG, and the plot of this is definitely more MG. The first line also seemed out of place, and sets the tone for an older MC, a tone that's reinforced with the mention of coffee and, really, the entire inner monologue. It's entirely possible your MC has reasons for acting older than he is, and that's fine. But if that's the case, I'm not sure this is the best opening scene. You might consider starting with more action and a more age-appropriate scene and then come back to him and gramps.

      EAVESDROPPING MONKEY: This is also improved from the first time I read it! I think the concept is great, and that it definitely starts in the right place--let's get to that eavesdropping monkey!

      Because I'm not sold on the voice in the first and question the starting place, victory to EAVESDROPPING MONKEY!

    15. Jumping in 3 min before the deadline.

      Middle Grade: I feel like the voice is inconsistent; sometimes sounding older than MG.

      Eavesdropping Monkey: Love the rhyming, but wish you could incorporate some of your PB voice into your query.

      Still a tough decision. Ugh. VICTORY TO EAVESDROPPING MONKEY

  2. How do I even compare a picture book to a middle grade? You both have acceptable word counts. That's unfortunate, because picking would be easier if, say, one of you clocked in at 300k. (Don't do that. I'm kidding.)

    Most of these comments are really subjective. We give you guys feedback, and it's up to you whether to incorporate it. Go with your gut. But at the same time, some feedback is NOT subjective. Six people mentioned that there's an incorrect comma in the beginning of the Middle Grade Leverage query. The entry has been revised twice and the comma is still there. I can't begin to express how much that irks me - it takes less than a second to delete a comma. And the changes to the query don't address any of the substantive comments. Review the earlier feedback and flesh out the query.

    I have zero experience with picture books, but I like monkeys. I also like things that rhyme. Plus, I like kids learning young kids about diversity and acceptance. My main comment is to take out the "this book is an amusing tale.." that should be shown through the query and the text, not told.



    Query: It's strong and funny at the same time. One question: why is he forced to mentor this group? Is he being punished or is this part of his school duties? I love the descriptions of the team and especially love the cosplay girl!

    250: I was disappointed the first page wasn't about meeting his team. Maybe this starts in the wrong place because I'm not sure middle grade readers want to read about the grandfather not eating. The pages don't match the query and that might be a problem for agents who only want to see the first few pages.

    Query: The query sounds cute and fun but don't tell the reader it's amusing and fun, let us discover that for ourselves.

    250: I'm not a fan of rhyming picture books but your 250 is fine.

    Because I prefer middle grade (and yes, this is THAT subjective in this round), VICTORY TO MIDDLE GRADE LEVERAGE.

  4. Middle Grade Leverage
    Query: NICE. Really streamlined. I think I'd leave out that he was "forced" to accept the position, though, as that's not explained in the query and to do so would probably lengthen it unnecessarily.
    First 250: Good voice. I'm sure the situation re Grandpa not eating means something later in the story - possibly quite soon. If your story dictates that you keep it there, you should.

    Eavesdropping Monkey:
    Query: I love the query, but you do have a couple spelling missteps. For example, "savannah", not "Savanna", no capital S. "Watering hole", instead of "watering hold".
    First words: So much fun! Would love to read this.

    Best of luck to both entries!

  5. Wow! Two entries I haven’t commented on so far. I can imagine you’re both kind of fatigued by making changes at this point, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt or save them for a time when you feel fresher.

    Middle Grade Leverage


    I too would drop the first stand-alone sentence, especially as you end on a stronger one. I would also consider not identifying the father as the bully, it feels like too much is being given away, and it’s confusing when the first 250 also discuses hunger. I’d rather have more information about the LOSERs; we get their pathologies but not much else. Presumably it’s not just Corbin’s leadership that makes them heroes by the end, they must have something to bring.

    First 250:

    This is really accomplished writing, with no hiccups or awkwardness. My only caveat is Corbin sounds older than 13 (and he drinks coffee?). That said you set the stage for why Corbin is as responsible and upstanding as he is right away. I love his grandfather already.

    Eavesdropping Monkey


    I don’t think you need to say this “is an amusing tale of diversity and acceptance”. That’s demonstrated charmingly in the description of what happens in the story. I can definitely see it as an allegory of all the families trying the share the same space at a big city park on summer day. I think that with good illustrations it could be a huge hit with kids. I even think you could extend the age range lower as it would work as a read-aloud book.

    First 50:

    I liked reading rhyming books to my daughter. It made it easier for both of us when we were tired. Therein lies the trick to getting this right. The rhyme has to be clean enough that a very exhausted parent would be willing and able to read it for the 400-th time. The first time I read the words to EM it was late and I couldn’t get through, “He was eavesdropping on a large elephant herd.” The word “large” felt like a syllable too many and I wanted it be “he was eavesdropping on the elephant herd”. I read it out loud the following day when well rested and it didn’t seem a problem, but you might want to consider this when revising later. Maybe ask multiple people to read it out loud to you and see what they do with that line?

    These are both really good. Good luck to both of you!

  6. Leverage: I don't know what you did to that query but it is tight, powerful, not a word out of place. There is a comma out of place in the first sentence before MC's name though. I really like it and would want to read more just based on the query. The first 250 also reads a bit tighter. Excellent job. Really get the feel for both your MC and his grandpa right in one little page, which is not easy to do.

    Monkey: I've loved this every time I've read it. I'd take out the first use of "watering hole" and call it something else, because that second use is simply to clever to miss. Love the rhyming. And most of all I love the idea that this book can teach kids the value of family and family reunions, although I've heard that agents don't like the message made so blatant in the query itself. I did read your first 50 out loud and I thought the rhythm and the flow of it was right one..

  7. LEVERAGE: I like this premise, and the query is very clearly written! This is small, but there’s no need for a comma after president in your second sentence. Your first 250 are great, especially Gramps’ line about being a track start.

    MONKEY: I love this concept! Your query is so clearly written, and there’s such a need for books like this. Your writing is fantastic; I can totally picture reading this to my goddaughters!