Wednesday, June 1, 2016

QK Round 1: Madam Butterfly vs. Sit, Stay, Heal

Title: The Absence of Butterflies
Entry NicknameMadam Butterfly
Word count: 80,000
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance

Query: 

Will Kavanagh is the only one who knows the truth about the drug overdose that killed Christy Talbot, the world famous actress who starred in the film adaption of his best-selling mystery novel. It’s a truth that has self-loathing and guilt paralyzing him during the day, and images of a lifeless body plaguing his dreams at night.

Burdened with the knowledge that his actions led to the actress’ death, he leaves New York City to seek refuge in his quiet hometown of Cherrington, Ontario. He’s intent on staying at his family’s cottage, but his best laid plans begin to unravel when his mother reveals she’s getting the cottage ready to sell. And the real kicker? The horticulturist she hired to do the landscape work is Jessica Locke – Will’s ex-fiancée.

Given the way their relationship ended, Jessica is the last person Will wants to be around. Jessica, grieving the recent death of her father, feels much the same way about Will, who broke off their engagement to move to the city. However, when Jessica’s eccentric uncle plays matchmaker, the old attraction heats up between them, intense and undeniable. Will discovers that he’s still in love with Jessica, but he’s worried that his involvement in Christy’s death will scare her away; Jessica wants to give Will another chance, but she’s afraid of getting hurt again. With each of them battling ghosts from their pasts, they struggle to navigate a complex mix of emotions that includes love, guilt, regret and doubt. And Will comes to the realization that unless he’s willing to expose his shameful secret in a very public way, he’ll lose Jessica all over again.

First 250:

Will Kavanagh had finally managed to forget about the dead body that had lain sprawled at his feet, but when he caught sight of the display in the bookstore window, the image came tumbling back.

He’d just come out of the coffee shop, headed for his car parked at the curb, when the colorful arrangement of books caught his eye from across the street. His legs seemed to move of their own volition, taking him off the sidewalk and over to the wide store window.

He would have been able to spot those red and gold splashed covers anywhere. Some of the books were stacked in neat towers so that their spines clearly displayed the title, Hunter’s Mark, while others were propped up to showcase the front cover. Bold black letters at the top of each one proclaimed Now a Major Motion Picture. Underneath this was a snapshot of the two main stars. The one on the right gazed back at Will, her full lips drawn into a seductive pout.

As he stood transfixed on the sidewalk, the world around him faded away. He didn’t see Christy Talbot with her arm around her leading man. Instead his mind burned with the image of the actress as she lay dead on the floor, a pill bottle upended next to her. With a hand that shook, he’d brushed aside dark brown hair to reveal an ashen face and empty eyes. Eyes that had haunted him every day for the last two months.

VERSUS

Title: Blue Harmony
Entry Nickname: Sit, Stay, Heal
Word Count: 80K
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance

Query: 

Typical workday?  Hardly.  Not only does Mandy get laid off, she comes home to find her husband Joe in bed with one of her best friends.  As if that weren't enough excitement for one day, she then meets Nick, a cute but slightly awkward guitarist. With her sanity in question and her heart in shreds, she would be wise to forget all about him.
  
She never claimed to be wise.
  
Determined to stay positive while reinventing her career path and plodding through divorce proceedings, she opens Sit & Stay Pet Sitting.  Easy as woof-2-3, right? She doesn't count on disappearing dogs, crafty cats and quirky clients.  Add to that her chaotic love life: her ex wreaking havoc on her self-esteem while lusty Nick leaves her begging (and panting) for more.
  
If she could just forgive Joe, and herself, things would be so much easier.  Her heart needs time to heel, er -- heal, before she commits to a new love, but her head keeps getting in the way. Especially after her ex delivers once last blow that leaves her wondering if she’s even ready to run with the big dogs or if she’s better off stayingon the porch.

First 250:

Nick was not a forgettable kind of guy.  I just happened to meet him on one of the worst days of my life.

Pushing a clump of black hair off my husband Joe’s forehead, I bent down to kiss him goodbye, lightly. He had a bad migraine and was staying in bed for a while longer.  On his nightstand, I’d left him two Advil after swallowing two myself.  My period had rolled into town the night before so I felt kind of cruddy as well but I was more nervous about my big work presentation.

Shuffling into work and up to my desk, expecting a quiet, brainstormy morning of last-minute edits, I run smack into the Grim Reaper.  John from Human Resources lurked, arms crossed, blank-faced, against the side of my cubicle.  With one monotonal, "Mandy, I need you to come with me,” I knew.  I just knew.  This was not good.

Dread began pouring from my ears all the way to my toes, and by the time we lumbered into his office, where the proverbial ax fell, my stomach knotted.  My throat closed up.  I blinked hard at the wall.  Barely moving, barely breathing, I nodded my head, pretending to understand.  Ten minutes of stunted conversation and an unheard explanation of corporate layoff policy later, I was shuffling once more, out the door, my tail wedged firmly between my legs. 

The Executioner had escorted me back to my (former) desk to get all my things. Right past all my co-workers.  #humbling.

24 comments:

  1. Judges, reply here with your votes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bernadine HarrisJune 1, 2016 at 12:43 PM

      Another hard one! These are both great concepts, but I thought one of you had a stronger query but then the other had stronger pages. Hmmm.

      The Absence of Butterflies

      In the query, you do a great job setting up the issues of both characters and giving us just enough details of the backstory involving their relationship. I’m wondering if you need the “And the real kicker?” line though.

      In terms of the pages, I think you can tighten it up a bit. It’s manages to show us so much great stuff that I don’t want it to get bogged down with unnecessary details. For example, I’d tighten the opening along the lines of: Will Kavanagh had finally managed to forget about the dead body but when he caught sight of the bookstore window, the image came tumbling back.

      Also, don’t underestimate the appeal of a dead body. I’d end that paragraph on this line versus burying it in the middle: “Instead his mind burned with the image of the actress as she lay dead on the floor, a pill bottle upended next to her.” Give us a moment to savor that before we move on to the next thought.

      I also wasn’t clear whose “eyes” haunted him every day. Someone being haunted by their own eyes felt a bit strange to me yet that is what I got from the way it's worded.

      Blue Harmony

      We get such great sense of your voice in this query! I also really liked how you used the dogs theme throughout it at as well. Honestly I don’t even like dogs that much (I can say that since this is anonymous. Lol) but I wanted to read this book. I did think that the phrasing was a bit weird here: Add to that her chaotic love life: her ex wreaking havoc on her self-esteem while lusty Nick leaves her begging (and panting) for more.

      My main concern is your pages. I’ve very big on show don’t tell and this feels like all tell. I wanted to be WITH her when she was getting fired versus hearing about what happened in a concise paragraph. Based on your query, I obviously knew what was going to happen but I think I would have been a bit confused if I just read your pages. I don’t even think it needs to be a long scene but it does need to be a scene.

      Another really hard decision and I labored over it but ultimately…

      VICTORY: Madam Butterfly

      Delete
    2. Another really great match! I think Bernadine did a fantastic job already of analyzing some of the issues that are at play here. I would agree that Blue Harmony was a bit more successful in its query while The Absence of Butterflies had a really strong and solid first 250.

      The Absence of Butterflies
      Since I felt like the 250 here were very strong, I’m going to focus in on the query. My main recommendation is to work on the last part. For me, the last couple of lines read really vague and glossed over an important aspect of the book – specifically the cost to the characters if they fail at their relationship.

      Blue Harmony
      I felt like the voice in both the query and the first 250 was amazing. You’ve already got me rooting for Mandy! I do agree that there’s something bordering on a bit info-dumpy about the first 250. I don’t totally agree with Bernadine that I want to see you show Mandy getting fired in scene (I think that gets done a lot in Cat Romance openers), but I do want you to start with some in-scene action versus a summery of Mandy’s crappy morning.

      It was a really tough decision, but I am voting for Blue Harmony. Ultimately, I just felt more hooked by the voice and I was prepared to just go with it.

      Delete
    3. MADAME BUTTERFLY: Although the premise at the beginning is cool, I felt that the query took too long to get to the meat of the story...the relationship between Will and Jessica. As the query stands now, it begins out by sounding like it is going to be more about Christy and Will, but by the end it sounds like more of a typical romance between Jessica and Will. I think you need to spend more time with the last paragraph and the stakes.

      As for the first 250, it feels a bit like a summary in parts...and too many details about the book. And, if he saw his own book sitting in the store window, I didn't quite buy into his thoughts. Also, the first line doesn't ring true to me. How could he have just forgotten the image that is clearly still haunting him every day? And the last couple of lines of the 250 are a bit unclear. Are they a flashback? I do like the premise of having a mystery of a murder that complicates Will and Jessica's relationship. And your writing is nice and easy to read. I do wonder about the use of the past perfect tense. Is it needed here?

      BLUE HARMONY: I like the snappy voice you have going on in your query. I'd try to get rid of the questions. Some agents state that that is a pet peeve. This sounds like a fun, steamy romance. I'd try to include something about Mandy's affinity for dogs in the first paragraph of the query so that it doesn't come out of the blue in the next paragraph--it seems a bit random as it is now. I'd also work to make sure the query doesn't come off sounding like a cliche romance. Show us what is really different about it (aside from the dog sitting business which really isn't strong enough to make it seem unique).

      In the first 250, again, I like the voice. I do feel like the first line is out of place with the rest of the 250. I get what you're trying to do, but it's a bit jolting after you read the 1st line and then move on to the next paragraph.

      The manuscript I would want to read more of is...

      VICTORY: Blue Harmony

      Delete
    4. Madam Butterfly:

      I love the query! Most of this is very clear. We get a good sense of the setting, conflict, and stakes, and I'm intrigued to see a (non-M/M) romance novel from a male POV. That MAY be a "hard to sell" tripping point with agents, I'm not 100% sure, but I do think the uniqueness is a point in this entry's favor. I'm also a sucker for characters with tragic pasts so... I'd definitely request pages if I were an agent! You may want to try to give a little more sense of who Will is as a character by adding a LITTLE more of his voice to the query. I'd also like to know why NOT disclosing his secret could lead to losing Jessica... losing her if he DID talk about it makes sense... but what (other than Will's conscience) is the problem with keeping it a secret forever?

      The first 250, too, I love! Excellent mix of strong physical, visual images and character emotion here, and you start on an exciting note as far as mystery and intrigue... I want to read more!

      ***

      Sit, Stay, Heal:

      Oh, wow, the VOICE in this query! It's so cute and fun and young... if anything, this book seems like it MAY be more women's fiction than romance, based on the query? You also might want to be more specific about WHAT her ex is doing to wreck her self esteem or to deal one last blow... the conflict is a LITTLE vague right now.

      The first 250 opens strong. I love the first paragraph. The second and third paragraphs, though, start to fall a bit flat. They read a little like a play-by-play of Mandy's day, and if you read them aloud... there are quite a few sentences in a row with the same rhythm. From about the fourth paragraph, you start to vary sentence length again, but the scene with the boss still feels a little glossed over. I wonder if you couldn't just start AFTER she has been fired, if these scenes are not important enough to show in detail?

      ***

      Honestly, I love both queries. They're quite different in tone, but both do the job well. Based largely on voice in the first 250...

      Victory to Madam Butterfly!

      Delete
    5. MADAM BUTTERFLY:

      I like your query a lot, but I think the last paragraph is a little vague and could be helped by being a little more specific. Dealing with ghosts of the past, navigating emotions, giving another chance are all cliché so that if your story is about that (which, yes), it would be good to show how this is different. The death of Christy adds some intrigue, but tying it to Will and Jessica’s relationship is crucial. I’m just not getting why he has to come clean in a “public way” or lose Jessica. Without some inkling of why that’s the case, it doesn’t ring true for me.

      For the 250, I felt like it was too much summary rather than being present with Will. I just wasn’t pulled in by this scene. Overall, it felt like a lot of description for a single act—looking at a book. Wondering if it would work better if we had a better connection to Will, which is definitely possible if it was les than a summary.

      SIT STAY HEAL:

      I love your query! It’s very strong, but watch for typos: delivers “one” last blow, not once, “stayingon” should be two words, and the first paragraph looks like there’s two spaces after the periods instead of one.

      For the 250, I get why you want to “rush through” the firing because the story begins with what happens after that, but if you’re going to include her at her workplace, then you have to slow down a bit here and do more than summarize it. You might be better off putting her in the car/train home recapping her crappy day. Also, be careful of thesis sentences/tipping off the reader with what is happening. Referring him as the Grim Reaper in the first sentence kills the suspense of her getting fired. Overall though, I’m thinking it’d be better to rework and show the MC in a situation and dealing with it—whether it be the actual firing or something else.

      This was a close one. The 250s are draw for me, but one query I felt was better, and so . . .

      VICTORY TO SIT, STAY, HEAL!

      Delete
    6. MADAME BUTTERFLY: Congrats on a great entry! I feel for Will, and also for Jessica! Query: I know the reason he went to the cabin was to escape the horror of the past, but I feel that the query is a little conflicted. Is the main part of the book his relationship with Jessica, or is it the mystery of what happened to the actress? With the first paragraph as it is, I thought this book was going to be about the mystery, when I believe it’s actually about the romance. This could be fixed by cutting down the first paragraph into just one sentence leading into the real issue – that Will is going away to the cabin and will run into Jessica. (Perhaps that’s not the real issue, in which the mystery needs to be played up more) Make sense? 250: These are very strong. Great job! One thing caught me here and in the query – the word “that” is used a lot – if you could find a way around using half of them it wouldn’t stand out so much. I know that is SO nitpicky – but I don’t have anything major to say. ☺ Great work!

      SIT, STAY, HEAL: Fun stuff here! Congrats. Query: The first paragraph has a lot of information in it, and it sort of caught me off guard – these huge things happen to her, and then meeting some guitarist is put at the same level as a job lay-off and a cheating husband. At that point she has no way of knowing he’ll play a big part in her life, so equating meeting him with those other things seems a bit off to me. I enjoy the cute word-play in the 2nd and third paragraphs! Fun. I’m not quite sure what she needs to forgive herself for – as it sounds like things are done to her – or why she would want to forgive Joe if he’s been so horrible. She sounds kind of weak, which is unattractive in a protagonist. Any way to make her seem more the kind of person we could root for a little more? Make sense? 250: 1) The first sentence makes me think I’m in one reality, and the second paragraph jars me out of that. Any way to make us realize the 2nd paragraph is separate, and in in the past? Could be simple, like, “That morning, I push a clump of black hair off my husband Joe’s forehead…” 2) In the 2nd paragraph I don’t think you need “lightly.” 3) You need a comma after “as well.” 4) Throughout -- If you are going to use the present tense, it’s so tricky! Make sure it’s consistent. For example, in the sentence about John it needs to be “lurks” rather than “lurked.” And then it needs to be “I know. I just know. This is not good.” Take a good look at the whole entry to make sure the tenses are the same. 4) Just make it “I nodded.” You don’t need “my head.” I like your fun word-play again, #humbling, and “brainstormy.” Congrats and good luck!

      Both fun entries.

      Victory to MADAME BUTTERFLY

      Delete
    7. While I don't disagree with what the other judges' comments on the technicals aspects of your queries, I found both of these queries to be simply excellent. Both showed a strong voice and a love for the genre. For me, the final decision came down to your first 250 words.

      MADAM BUTTERFLY. This is one case where I found the query to be stronger than the first 250 words. It felt like you were trying really hard for a compelling hook instead of letting the story flow. For example: Will really hadn't forgotten about the dead body, especially if the sight of his own book brought the memory back so quickly. So be really careful about phrasing and word choices in those opening lines.

      SIT, STAY, HEAL. I loved everything about this query and first 250 words. It reminds me so much of Theresa Gladden's romances, which were humorous without losing the deeper, more serious emotions involved in a romance. I loved the word play and the voice of the query and the first 250 words are perfectly matched.

      VICTORY: SIT, STAY, HEAL

      Delete
    8. Katherine PierceJune 4, 2016 at 11:25 AM

      Madam Butterfly

      Query: Overall I think this query is doing its job of letting me know what’s going on with the story. I think you can tighten it up a little bit thought. First paragraph, last line—I’d cut “self-loathing” to avoid two “ands” in one sentence and make it flow a little better. I’m a little confused as to how his actions led to her death. Can you give us a hint? Unless this is a huge secret in the book I think it’s worth being more specific here so we can see the connection and understand why he would feel so guilty. The third paragraph, specifically, is where you lose me a little. This is all told from Will’s POV up to this point so I’d cut everything that’s from Jessica’s (“Jessica, grieving…” “Jessica wants to give Will…”) and keep it focused on him. Even if it is dual POV, the shift to her in the last paragraph is jarring and makes it run too long. Then this line: “With each of them…regret and doubt” is very vague, and I don’t think you need to list the emotions, we’ll understand that just by what you’ve told us so for. Focus here on the specific personal stakes and what Will has to lose/gain. I’d also like some clarification on why *not* telling would cause her to leave him.

      250: This is a pretty strong sample, I like it! I think there are some spots you can trim to make it a little better though. Second paragraph, “headed for his car…” you can probably cut this, it’s more detail than we really need. Third paragraph, you can leave out “this” in “Underneath this.” In the last paragraph, is there a different way you can describe the body other than “dead”? It’s very similar wording to the query and first paragraph. In fact you could probably just say, “the image of the actress as she lay on the floor.” I’d actually end the paragraph on that sentence since it has a lot of impact or tie it into the last one and skip the next one altogether. Something like, “Instead his mind burned with the image of the actress as she lay dead on the floor, a pill bottle upended next to her, her eyes dull and empty. Those eyes had haunted him every day for the last two months.” Or something like that. Otherwise I really enjoyed this!

      Sit, Stay, Heal
      Query: I’m not a fan of starting this off with a rhetorical question. I think it’d read much better just as a statement. I’d also like to see how she meets Nick mentioned in the first paragraph. It seems a little random thrown in with the rest of the information, and I think just adding something like “She meets Nick while drowning her sorrows at the local bar” so we can see the connection. In that last line, I’m confused as to why she’s questioning her sanity. I do really love the voice in the second paragraph and the way you tie everything together with dog references. That’s super cute. But you lose me again a little bit in the last paragraph. Why does she need to forgive Joe? He isn’t coming across as a character who deserves or wants forgiveness. Also, can you give us any specifics on the last blow he deals? Right now, based on the query, the story seems really light on conflict (romantic conflict specifically) which makes me wonder if this might be more WF?

      250: I don’t love that the first sentence mentions Nick and then we jump back in time. I’d rather be right in the moment with the character. I also think there are also some tense issues here (second paragraph, that should be “I ran smack into”?). But really my biggest issue with the 250 is that it’s really heavy on the telling, especially when we get to her getting fired. I’d love to have seen this happening and gotten more inside her head. Or to even have the story start right here as she’s getting fired. I don’t really think the piece about her husband and his migraine really need to be up front. You can throw in a line about that when she gets home, having to be quiet or picking up his meds from the pharmacy or something. We really get a flavor for her voice at the end (#humbling), and I would love to see more of this throughout the beginning.

      Another tough matchup, but my vote goes to MADAM BUTTERFLY!

      Delete
    9. Both queries did a good job describing plot, character, conflict, and relationship arc.

      The query for Madam Butterfly is missing some voice for me, and came off a bit sleepy. I do like a matchmaker though!

      The first page didn’t draw me in. That first line felt like the punchline before the joke, in that it told me exactly where this page was going. It was a sort of summary of the next couple paragraphs instead of a tease, and I started skimming the page. I wasn’t pulled along at all. Maybe rework that a bit into something a more compelling and indicative of the ominous mood: Random things reminded him of her. A vacant booth, the smell of coffee, the color red. That morning it was the bookstore window. Will Kavanagh had just escaped the coffee shop when yet another vestige confronted him. <-- Something that pulls instead of pushes (btw, I hate the word vestige, but it popped into my head—sorry!)

      Sit, Stay, Heal has a fun premise. I also like the play on words. There’s typo in the last paragraph “once” should be “one” and “stayingon” needs a space.

      There’s a great voice in this first page, and I like the day-from-hell mood here. I didn’t like the first sentence though. I have no idea who Nick is and he has no other mention here. I’d almost want “Nick” to remain nameless maybe? Maybe make that more ambiguous so that I’m wondering if her lover is this John the executioner from human resources? My lover was not a forgettable kind of guy. I just happened to meet him… Also, I felt like I wanted a transition after that first paragraph. Maybe even consider axing that 2nd paragraph. Matter of fact, I kinda like the 3rd paragraph as a start. Just a thought.

      Victory to SIT, STAY, HEAL

      Delete
    10. I’m a round 2 judge jumping in, but won’t read the other comments to avoid being influenced. I apologize if I repeat.


      Madam Butterfly:

      Query: I love how you make their arcs clear, and your stakes are excellent. And, a romance told from the male pov? I’m in.

      Nitpick: How did his relationship with Jessica end? Adding that detail could enhance your query. It’s implied in the next line he ended things to move to the city. Why, then, is Jessica the last person Will wants to be around—assuming it’s his fault? Sometimes it’s good to be vague in a query (so you don’t give away too many details), but other times—like this—being vague makes the reader less engaged.

      250: Great first line! And, I have no suggestions to make. I’m drawn in and would definitely read more.


      Sit, Stay, Heal:

      Query: At first, I worried about the well-used trope of finding her husband in bed with her BF, but you shake it up nicely with the “slightly awkward guitarist”. And, I enjoy how you incorporate pet terminology into your query; it really ups her voice.

      250: The fun voice you use in your query continues into your 250, and I have no suggestions for improvement.

      Choices, choices. I hope all of you know that, for each match-up I’ve judged, I could’ve easily gone with either entry. But, judge I must, so:

      Victory to SIT, STAY, HEAL!

      Delete
    11. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    12. Wow. Another really, really tough choice. I love them both and would devour them in a heart beat.

      The other judges have offered some helpful advice.

      Madame Butterfly: I love the tension in the first page. It's a great way to start the mystery and draw us in right away. I think the query could be a tad tighter. For instance, I'm not sure we need to know about the eccentric uncle, just that they're drawn back together at the cabin. I'd also watch for cliches like "ghosts from their past."

      Sit, Stay, Heal: I'm in love with your query. It's fantastic. In terms of the 250, I think you can delve a little deeper. It reads like a lot of telling and too much "first I did this, then I did that." Can you break up the narrative with some dialogue and emotion? It's feeling a little removed. Another option is to start at a different point in the story and/or just focus on that. I.e. being called into her boss's office.

      Again, this is an awful choice. I'm going to have to go with the one that feels a little more "ready" overall.

      VICTORY to MADAME BUTTERFLY

      Delete
    13. I’ve been awakened from my “not until second round slumber” to break a tie here. Here goes— I’ve not read any other comments.

      Madame Butterfly:

      Will Kavanagh is the only one who knows the truth about the drug overdose that killed Christy Talbot, the world famous actress who starred in the film adaption of his best-selling mystery novel. Interesting concept, but the first sentence feels overly busy to me—I can feel the effort of you trying to cram all the important bits in. It’s a truth that has self-loathing and guilt paralyzing him during the day, and images of a lifeless body plaguing his dreams at night.Again, I think think sentence could be streamlined. This opening paragraph should be as tight as you can possibly make it.

      Burdened with the knowledge that his actions led to the actress’ death, he leaves New York City to seek refuge in his quiet hometown of Cherrington, Ontario. I find this second paragraph transition strange— first, it’s a very off-handed way to say that’s responsible, and secondly, it’s feels odd that he’s leaving and not investigating! I see that this is an Adult Contemporary and not a Mystery, but telling us that Will is a mystery writer in the first paragraph led me to think that this was going in a different direction. Maybe spare the mystery detail, given that the first sentence is already a little overstuffed? He’s intent on staying at his family’s cottage, but his best laid plans begin to unravel when his mother reveals she’s getting the cottage ready to sell. Stay at hotel, Will? This doesn’t feel like a high stakes problem to me. I wouldn’t spend oxygen in your query on this minor issue.And the real kicker? The horticulturist she hired to do the landscape work is Jessica Locke – Will’s ex-fiancée. Wouldn’t a kicker here be someone related to Christy Talbot’s death? This was the first line of the query, so I’m expecting it to be important.

      Given the way their relationship ended, Jessica is the last person Will wants to be around. Jessica, grieving the recent death of her father, feels much the same way about Will, who broke off their engagement to move to the city. However, when Jessica’s eccentric uncle plays matchmaker, the old attraction heats up between them, intense and undeniable. Will discovers that he’s still in love with Jessica, but he’s worried that his involvement in Christy’s death will scare her away; Jessica wants to give Will another chance, but she’s afraid of getting hurt again. With each of them battling ghosts from their pasts, they struggle to navigate a complex mix of emotions that includes love, guilt, regret and doubt. And Will comes to the realization that unless he’s willing to expose his shameful secret in a very public way, he’ll lose Jessica all over again. Okay, I see what this book is now. But the first paragraph, was to me, very misleading. You also gloss over a lot of details here. Jessica feels the same way about Will as her dead father— okay, but what exactly is that way? I also feel like the high stakes about revealing the mystery about Christy’s death is very hand wavey. Either give us more details about Christy and make it more important in the query, or cut it and take it out.

      250:

      I won’t go into as much detail here. I like it, broadly. The first sentence is a little clunky to my ears— this is where you should spend all your zip!— and ‘ashen face and empty eyes’ are a little purple as far as I’m concerned. But it’s solid.

      Scowling Discontented Judge

      Delete
    14. Sit Stay Heel

      Typical workday? Hardly. I haven’t read the other judges comments but I’m guessing they’ve already browbeaten you over this opening. Rhetorical in queries are dangerous, and if you’re going to use them you really want to do something that the agent hasn’t seen before. This is as basic as it gets.

      Not only does Mandy get laid off, she comes home to find her husband Joe in bed with one of her best friends. As if that weren't enough excitement for one day, she then meets Nick, a cute but slightly awkward guitarist. With her sanity in question and her heart in shreds, she would be wise to forget all about him.

      This doesn’t work for me for a couple of reasons, among them:
      1) These are pretty common tropes for the genre, (which is fine!) but the query seems to be suggesting these are astonishing circumstances, when they aren’t for the genre, not really. This choice is not working in the queries’ favor, IMO.
      2) It feels very distant. Who is Nick? Who is Joe? Who is Nick? This is the story told from a very great distance, and we need more details to make us care.
      3) It’s not even clear who Mandy would be wise to forget, Will or Nick?

      She never claimed to be wise. This is the sort of kicker that would work if it had stronger material in front of it.



      Determined to stay positive while reinventing her career path and plodding through divorce proceedings, she opens Sit & Stay Pet Sitting. Easy as woof-2-3, right? She doesn't count on disappearing dogs, crafty cats and quirky clients. Add to that her chaotic love life: her ex wreaking havoc on her self-esteem while lusty Nick leaves her begging (and panting) for more. The query is picking up now— the voice here is working more, and we’re starting to get a little more detail.

      If she could just forgive Joe, and herself, things would be so much easier. Her heart needs time to heel, er -- heal, before she commits to a new love, but her head keeps getting in the way. Especially after her ex delivers once last blow that leaves her wondering if she’s even ready to run with the big dogs or if she’s better off staying on the porch. You nailed the landing, at least. A nice last paragraph.

      250:

      It’s good but I feel it’s actually too fast moving, especially given the lack of details about Mandy in the query. I’d almost rather just see Mandy at work, or just see her at home. I feel like the 250 is trying to hit too many notes at once? It’s not bad, certainly, but I think it would be stronger if it focused more in one space.

      ———

      These are both certainly very worthy entries, and I can see why they were selected. Whoever goes out her can take pride knowing that they went down fighting! But the story that intrigues me most— and the query and 250 that seems like it could be turned around most easily is the prior.

      Victory to MADAME BUTTERFLY, or so says the SCOWLING DISCONTENTED JUDGE.

      Delete
  2. Madame Butterfly: Your query is rather strong and gives a good sense of stakes. I did stumble over the first line and wonder if there’s too much information, if some lightening might make it flow better?

    Awesome 250! The only suggestion I can make is to make it clear Will is seeing his reflection in the final paragraph.

    Sit, Stay, Heal: Love the voice in this query! However, avoid questions, see what you can do to remove them.

    Your 250 is good, but I don’t understand why the first sentence involves Nick. There’s no connection to the rest, I think it would be better to remove this line until it’s important.

    Victory to Madame Butterfly!

    ReplyDelete
  3. MADAM BUTTERFLY: I'm a real fan of murder mysteries and, though this murder seems to be secondary to the romance plot, it really pulled me in. When you mentioned the cottage in the query, I thought it was going to be a big deal, but reading farther on, it seems to be just the vehicle for the ex's meeting, so I think it may be an unnecessary detail.

    I really enjoyed your 250 and the word choices you made: memories tumbling back, legs moving of their own volition. Maybe a little too much detail about the book cover, but overall, I would definitely keep reading. Nice job!

    SIT, STAY, HEAL: The voice in both your query and 250 is exceptionally good. I was caught up by the "disappearing dogs" & "crafty cats" and started to think there might be a mystery here, too. I did have a little trouble with the transition from the first sentence to the second paragraph -- at first I didn't realize it had stepped back to the morning. And I'd have liked to hear at least the beginning of the lay-off conversation.

    But these are minor things. Your voice and the situation really grabbed me and I would definitely keep reading this as well.

    Best of luck to both of you!

    ReplyDelete
  4. The voice for Sit, Stay, Heal drew me in immediately, but I agree with an earlier comment that the author can use some growth in showing, rather than telling. The paragraph that glosses over the main character getting fired from her job was a big missed opportunity for the reader to really understand and sympathize with what the character was going through.

    Madame Butterfly: Sometimes it just takes small inconsistencies to jolt a reader from the story. The first sentence has Will forgetting about the body. This makes the final sentence in the excerpt - the one about how her eyes haunt him daily - feel more overdramatized, rather than authentic. Overall, however, the writing is much stronger in this piece.

    Each submission has its strengths, good luck to you both!

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Madame Butterfly, I love your first 250 words. Your main character felt very real, and I would definitely want to keep on reading. The query suggests a story with a lot of depth and intensity, which is my favorite kind of romance. :) I also really liked the comment by Bernadine Harris about letting that dead body grab all the attention it can. It's a very dramatic image, especially when combined with his response. Nicely done!

    Sit, Stay, Heal-- I like your word play, and I can definitely see the humor shining through, which is great! I agree with the comment shared about maybe saving the line about Nick until later. Even though I know it's important to get your male MC in there quickly, it could either wait or maybe be expanded just a tiny bit so we know for sure he's a future love interest.

    I can see why you were both selected. Two strong romances with quite different moods and tones. Good luck to you both!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Madame Butterfly:

    I LOVE how your query starts off. My only thought to suggest is that your last paragraph gets a little cliche. "Jessica wants to give Will another chance, but she’s afraid of getting hurt again. With each of them battling ghosts from their pasts, they struggle to navigate a complex mix of emotions that includes love, guilt, regret and doubt." --> This all seems just a little vague and cliche when I think you could drill down to a more specific conflict between them. Or just trim this out all together.

    In your first 250, your first few paragraphs are a little passive, in my opinion. I think you could rearrange the order so that we readers are experiencing things with your character instead of him telling us what he is feeling. Just a thought :)


    Sit, Stay, Heal

    Your query is so cool! I really, really enjoyed it. My only thought on it is that the first paragraph didn't quite seem to match the later ones. It just didn't read as smoothly and in the same style as the rest of the query does. That's super picky because honestly, I loved it!

    For your first 250, I agree that the first line is a little random. This is a totally random thought, but have you considered opening with your character getting laid off? And instead of summarizing that happening, actually showing it? Just a thought! This sounds like such a great, funny read!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Both of these sound fun and sexy! I don't envy the judges having to decide between them. Everyone has given such great suggestions I don't have much more to add as far as improvements because they are both strong entries.

    Madam Butterfly: This was a strong, tightly written query and I love the concept and mystery. I can definitely see me reading this. For me it wasn't clear in that last line if he'd brushed his own hair back and seen his own eyes in the reflection, or he'd brushed Christy's hair back after she was dead?

    Sit, Stay, Heel -- having worked as a pet sitter this entry made me smile! Great voice and the story sounds fun and sexy. I agree I'd like just a little more when she gets laid off, maybe just the last bit of the conversation between her and the HR person, some snarky thought from her or a snappy come back when he gives her a cliched "we have to right-size" lay off line

    Great job to both writers & congratulations for being chosen for Round 1!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Butterflies: the query drew me in right away. I was completely caught by the opening concept and wanted to know more about what was happening. The first 250 is fantastic too, but one little suggestion: you want your opening line as punch as possible, and "had lain" feels too wordy. I would just say the body sprawled at his feet.

    Sit Stay Heal: Your query is picture perfect: tight, precisely worded, fun, and compelling. The first 250 though feels a bit wordy. For example, I don't think you need the ,lightly in there, and some of the sentence phrasing feels a bit off. Your query makes it clear you can write amazingly well, so I think it's just a matter of some strict editing to reach perfection!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Madam Butterfly

    Interesting setup. I'd like to be able to feel more for Will by knowing how much and in what ways he's haunted by Christy's memory. And just how is he culpable for her death? Errors of omission or comission? A tragic accident or did he cave to sinister impulses? We'll feel one way or another about him depending. "Ghosts from their pasts" struck me as cliched.

    The first line of the first 250 left me thinking Will killed Christy. Could be a useful red herring or confusing to the reader right from the get go.



    Sit, Stay, Heal

    I think "weren't enough excitement" would work better for me if it were simply "weren't enough." I like "woof-2-3" if it's a tagline for Mandy's pet sitting service. But the "heel" vs. "heal" thing strikes me as carrying the canine-themed metaphors too far. "Panting" brought a certain imagery to mind that I'm not sure you intended!

    As written I gathered her stomach knotted only after she was let go. I would have thought her stomach would be all balled up as she walked toward the HR guy's office. Not a fan of hashtags in prose.

    ReplyDelete