Sunday, June 21, 2015


Entry Nickname: A Thousand Miles Astray
Word Count: 60,000
Genre: NA Contemporary


Eighteen-year-old Lotus Adams has no interest in college. The classes are boring, the frat boys are slobbery, and the beer is downright nasty. She’d rather be on the open road in her dad’s vintage RV, Flora, but without some costly repairs, Flora is unlivable. Her mom doesn’t want her to go traipsing around the country like her long-gone dad, so she makes Lotus a deal. Finish her first year of college with a 3.5 GPA, and mom will pay for all Flora’s repairs.

For eighteen-year-old Aaron Kim, the anonymity of college is a relief. After finding his girlfriend in bed with a friend, he threw himself into homework, work, and working out. Aside from his family and his best friend, he’s cut himself off from everyone. But after meeting free-spirited Lotus, he wonders if he was wrong to drop out of life. Already committed to his education, he decides to give love another chance.

Only Lotus knows their time together is limited. When she finishes the year and gets Flora, she’s never going back to college, never going back to live with her workaholic, absent mom. Instead of school, she’ll tour the country, and Aaron will stay at college. With freshman year ticking to a close, Aaron has to stop Lotus from dropping out of school and their relationship. If he fails, they’ll lose each other forever.

First 250:

The grassy quad stretched out in front of me, an endless sea of students adorned in Crandall State’s colors. I was too busy sweating my ass off to look for my new roommate, so I plopped down on the edge of the lawn.

“Like sheep,” I muttered. This was too much. I needed space and the open road. I needed to know where dad was, not waste another year at school.

“What’s that?” asked the guy next to me.

“We’re sheep. What’s the point of all this, anyway? Some form of torture?”

“I think they call it ‘freshman orientation,’ actually.” He sounded amused and I sneaked a peek at him, wondering why he was wasting his breath. He stared at me from under black Ray-Bans, his white hat turned backwards. Dumb. “I take it you aren’t a fan of higher learning?”

“It was my mom’s idea. You know, if that hat was on the right way, you wouldn’t need the sunglasses.”

He smiled broadly, his shiny perfect teeth flashing at me. “I always need the sunglasses. This way, the hat stays out of my way.”

Ridiculous. “Then why wear the hat at all?”

“Bad hair day.” Everything in me said turn away, kill this conversation now.

“What, out of mousse before the first day?”


“Maybe I misplaced my flat iron.” He yanked off the hat and pulled his hand through glossy black hair. It fell into place immediately.

Not a bad hair day.


Entry Nickname: If You Give a Girl a Redo
Title: The Art of Almost
Word count: 104,000
Genre: Upmarket Women’s Fiction


32-year-old Anna Marin already carries too many regrets. She’s still pining for the one who got away and can’t forgive herself for the fallout from her mother’s stroke. On a flight home to marry the wrong man, Anna realizes she must take control of her life and stop living in the past.
But when she wakes as her 20-year-old self en route to her semester abroad in Australia, it seems fate has a different idea: a second chance with Charlie Beckham, the older man she was drawn to but never pursued. This time Anna falls hard, and being with Charlie is even better than what she’s imagined.

Yet if Anna’s history plays out as it once did, in a few months her mother will suffer a debilitating stroke. And Anna’s baby sister will begin a downward spiral from which she never recovers. When Anna’s efforts to change the future from across the Pacific fail, she must make an impossible decision: walk away from the love of her life—again—or stay with Charlie and abandon her family.

Adding to Anna’s distress, her on-and-off college boyfriend (and future fiancĂ©) flies to Australia to win her back. Seeing him as the boy she fell in love with, Anna finally realizes she also played a part in their relationship’s unraveling. As he shows a side Anna’s never seen, and it becomes clear Charlie cannot leave Australia, Anna wonders whether part of her mission is rewriting her first love story.

First 250 words:

I tried to steady my breathing as Nick lowered down on one knee. A cool spring breeze blew petal confetti toward us, so gently that bits of white and pink remained suspended in midair before fluttering to the ground. Shushing spread through the people surrounding us; suddenly it made sense why our family and friends all happened to show up at the same benefit. Even the river, humming low and deep like a bass line just beyond the hotel courtyard, slowed to a crawl.

And yet I couldn’t hit pause, take a second to reflect on how I’d let it get so far.

“Anna Jane, you are my past and my future. You’re all of my best memories and the center of every great moment to come. And so to you Ipresent—” here he paused to allow sufficient time to appreciate his pun—“this ring. It’s time we made it official!”

The choreography was perfect.

I tried to speak, to tell him it felt like I was disappearing. That putting a ring on my finger would sever the last threads tying me to the earth. But the words went sliding down some shadowy passage, piling on top of all the other things I never said.

Nick’s speech kept going, though not a word registered. I searched the gowns and tuxedoes for a flash of crimson and looked up. My eyes met my sister Claire’s and I immediately regretted it. Hers held a question; mine, a plea.

I had to look away or I’d cry. Or scream. 


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

    1. Thousand Miles: I love the changes to the query. You've given me a really great sense of Lotus' dilemma, and adding Aaron's love interest lets agents know right off they're getting a diverse romance. But I admit that I'm still unclear on the stakes - why can't Lotus go find her father and still be with Aaron after?

      I think I love Lotus. It's possible that I just don't understand why men don't get the purpose of hats. But pretty sure she would've been my BFF in college.


      I've loved this entry from day 1. I still love it. Please send me the full MS immediately. I would reverse the first sentence, though. Start with Nick going down on one knee. Describe the setting. Then give us Anna's internal freaking out.

      A totally subjective VICTORY TO IF YOU GIVE A GIRL A REDO by a hair.

    2. A THOUSAND MILES ASTRAY – I recall this query from before and this reads so much better. Good job. The stakes still feel a little shaky to me. Losing the girl “forever” seems like a stretch. But the writing is fun and I’m not above reading a book where the worst thing that could happen would be to lose a chance at romance.

      IF YOU GIVE A GIRL A REDO – I read your query and said, GIMME. GIMME NOW. Love this whole premise and I want to read. Now. And then I read your first 250 and cursed the contest for making you stop writing. This is my favorite entry so far. Beautiful descriptive writing. I’m right there in the moment and you’ve managed to create a wonderful scene showing your MC’s ambivalence to a pivotal event. Well done.

      Both of these are lovely, but with apologies to the competition, this is a foregone conclusion.


    3. These two Kombatants are bringing the heat!
      A Thousand Miles Astray offers a cleanly-written query that lays out the conflict for both characters. Yet my concern is that their motivations (keeping a girl around and getting money to fix an RV) are a little ho-hum, at least as they're presented here. I wanted more tension. Putting two MCs into one query is always a risk. At first, I thought this was Lotus's story, but by the end I feel like it's Aaron's instead.

      If You Give a Girl a Redo... well, the nickname says it all, doesn't it? I like time travel with consequences, and who doesn't dream about having a second chance? The query promises the heat of a romance not missed out on this side, coupled with events that are sure to up the stakes.

      Victory to: If You Give a Girl a Redo

      The stakes are not there for me. Why does she have to wait a year to fix up the RV? She could get a job and pay for it herself. If the purpose of this story is to find her long-lost father, she should do all she can to put the pieces in place. Maybe she doesn't have the RV but she has a car of some sort, right? I like the idea of her going on the road and taking the love interest with her. Maybe there's a connection to father she has to know about. In any case, this was well-written but I'd pass on it because of the lack of stakes.

      The writing is well-done. However, this isn't unique enough of an opening for me to keep reading. Instead of starting with the college freshmen orientation why not start with her in the RV or tinkering with the motor? Something to show us how she feels about her missing dad.


      Interesting premise. Make sure to spell out your numbers. This has been done numerous times, SEVENTEEN AGAIN movie is an example. A chance to relive your life over is a dream many share.

      Strong writing, drew me in right away. It felt a little jarring to start with Nick on his knee then to go right into the setting.

      The writing is strong and clear so VICTORY TO IF YOU GIVE A GIRL A REDO

    5. Dr. T.J. EckleburgJune 22, 2015 at 9:05 PM

      Thousand Miles:

      The first two paragraphs of the query started out strong, but when you hit the third it went off the rails a bit. A couple problems here. First, by starting with Lotus, you're designating her primary MC, but when you get to the stakes, goals, and obstacles in the last paragraph, they're ALL Aaron's. He has to convince her to stay in school, he has to convince her to stay in the relationship. The next problem was that you said "Only Lotus knows" she's not staying, but then you go on to say what Aaron must do. Well, if Aaron doesn't know she's going, how does he know he needs to do anything?

      The other main problem is that while this is ultimately a relationship story, you skip over the actual relationship in the query. You mention them meeting, and Aaron finding love, but never even say they get into a relationship let alone show us what the relationship is like. Clearly Aaron is invested, but how does Lotus see the relationship? The end paragraph makes it sound like she has only a casual interest in Aaron and will dump his ass the moment she gets Flora.

      I liked the first 250. I assume it's Lotus and Aaron talking, and I like that they're meeting right away. Nice voice and banter. I'm interested.

      If You Give a Girl a Redo:

      Overall, it's a strong query, though I did have to reread a bit to verify certain things. Notably, I was thrown by the college boyfriend apparently being the fiance, namely because it seems like their romance happened when she was 20, but apparently they didn't get engaged until she's 32? The time gap seems odd, especially since we have zero context on their relationship or why they waited so long. Also, you mention their relationship having unraveled at the end, but we got no sense of that at the beginning. All you said was he's the "wrong man," like she's pining for the one who got away, but you don't indicate issues with the relationship. So that bit at the end came out of left field. Also, I'm struggling a lot with the last line because I'm not sure if the "first love story" refers to Charlie or the fiance.

      The other thing I'm wondering about is the family stuff. You talk about regrets from the fallout of her mom's stroke, but don't give any useful detail. You say her sister went on a downward spiral and never recovered. So how did her staying help the family? Because I'm not getting the sense that her staying did any good. She's regretful about it and her sister declined anyway. So why not just stay with Charlie? My point is--you need to make a better case for how her staying was key to her family's survival if you want to pit her love for Charlie against her family.

      On the upside, I thought the first 250 was great! Even with the issues in the query, I'd probably still request based on the strength of the first page.

      These are both good, but ultimately the second one struck me as more original and having a stronger 250, so VICTORY to IF YOU GIVE A GIRL A REDO

    6. THOUSAND MILES: Great changes to the query! It really helps in terms of conflict and character. I get a much better picture of Aaron's journey. The 250 is still great.

      REDO: It's really a fabulous premise. I would look at revamping the first paragraph of the query because the really compelling stuff is a little later. I'm not sure a lot of agents would keep reading. I would challenge you to try to write a great first line as a hook. That said, the originality of the plot won me over.


    7. A Thousand Miles Astray:

      I like the changes you made to the query, and I understand both Lotus and Aaron better. I’m confused at the end when you mention that only Lotus knows their time is limited, but then Aaron has to stop her from dropping out of school and their relationship. Did he find out? I feel like it needs to be her decision to leave, her struggle to make the right choice.

      First 250: I like the banter between them and get a great idea of who Lotus is from the start.

      If You Give a Girl a Redo: I’d like a little clarity in the first section. Did she fall asleep on the plane and wake up younger? Overall I like the premise but I think a little more info would strengthen this query.

      First 250: Good starting point. I feel the tension, the fear. I would keep reading.

      Ugh. This is tough. I like both these stories… This is purely subjective. Victory to: A THOUSAND MILES

  2. Thousand Miles Astray:

    I like your query. It's well-written and gets across the story and characters well. I like the flip of the stereotype that Lotus is the free-spirited "bad girl" and the love interest is the follow the rules type. Fun. Cute dialogue in the 250.

    Give a Girl a Redo:

    I read the first paragraph of this query thinking that this was going to be another WF book in which woman goes home to take care of family and rediscovers herself. But then it wasn't! I love the concept of the re-do. You've hooked me. Wouldn't we all love to have a chance to do it over again? I think your first paragraph of the 250 could be a little punchier, though.


  3. It's hard to give edges to any of the pieces now. It feels like a preference for a genre or a story line. Good job to both.

  4. A Thousand Miles -
    Query set up is much clearer -- as are the stakes. The first 250 gives a charming meeting between the two mcs with enough detail to anchor us in the scene as well as give us hints about their personalities.

    Redo -
    The timeline and stakes are clearer in this version. Also, the closing line is much more compelling than before. The first 250 provided a better sense of setting as well, without ever feeling 'telly'. And, of course, I'm wondering what question is in the eyes of the mc's sister.

  5. A Thousand Miles -
    I'm reading this query for the first time, and I'd definitely pick up this book. :) As for the suggestion everyone's giving about stakes, I do see their point, but I wouldn't have noticed it without them pointing it out. Maybe just make sure the stakes are clear, or focus on the stakes for Lotus and leave Aaron's out of the query. As for the 250, I really liked it! The conversation was super engaging between Lotus and Aaron, and I'm already getting a sense that the dialogue is going to be on point.

    Redo - Love the changes in the query. The last paragraph does wonders for the query for clarity and stakes. Excellent job. I also really like the changes to the 250. I definitely feel more grounded in the scene visually, but you also managed to keep the initial emotional urgency in the moment. Excellent.

    The best of luck to both of you! Hope to see both of these in the bookstore. :)

  6. A Thousand Miles Astray:
    Query: Your first paragraph not only shows me your mc’s character but makes me sympathize with Lotus’ predicament. Well done! My only suggestion would be to end the query with Lotus. Something along the lines of: But does Lotus want to be stopped?
    250: Great voice. Love the bad hair day exchange.

    If You Give a Girl a Redo:
    Query: The obstacle to Anna and Charlie’s HEA and getting a glimpse of Nick's potential makes your query so much more intriguing.
    250: Your new opening grabs me and never lets go. Great job on the revisions.

    Good luck to you both!

  7. Thousand Miles:
    Query: I actually think Aaron has more to lose than Lotus, here. I have more sympathy for him, and want to read about how he keeps Lotus - or doesn't.
    First 250: I've enjoyed each time I've read this. Nice setup, and I like how the dialogue pins their characters down (at least, one aspect of their characters) right away.

    Girl a Redo:
    Query: Very nice. Very clear and well written.
    First 250: Really good setup of tension right away. I'd love to know what about a proposal is so abhorrent to Anna (which I will find out, when I read the published version!)

    Good luck to both entries!

  8. Having just read these last week, the changes are excellent and obvious. Very nicely done, both of you!

    Thousand Miles Astray
    I like how you clarified the point about the RV and the stakes in the last paragraph. I’m also even more intrigued by how Adam’s agency plays into the outcome. Your 250 was already fabulous. ☺

    If You Give a Girl a Redo
    Query still wonderful. I can see how you’ve rearranged the 250, and the emotional progression is even more engaging now. Good job!

  9. Thousand Miles Astray: I can't believe I haven't read this one before—it's awesome! No really, the first 250 drew my in with VOICE and I really, really wanted to read more. Why'd it have to stop? :)

    Girl a Redo: I've loved your concept from the beginning and now I love your query as well. You've made some great changes to clarify the storyline in the query. Well done! It seems like your first 250 is different than when I first read that right? I like this so much better, showing us her apprehension at getting engaged to Nick on what should be one of the happiest days of her life. Her anxiety says it all for the reader. Can't wait to read this one someday!