Friday, June 2, 2017

QK Round 1: Moving On is Never Easy vs. I Fell For a Convicted Felon

Title: Free Fall
Entry Nickname: Moving On Is Never Easy
Word Count: 81k
Genre: Women's Fic (Adult)


When Larkin Winters tries to figure out why her college boyfriend committed suicide, she discovers some secrets are meant to stay buried. 

Five years after Adam jumped off the campus clock tower, Larkin is a sarcastic, functional alcoholic who is barely able to handle the daily stresses of her dead-end retail job. While her therapist continually suggests dealing with Adam’s death and reapplying to medical school, Larkin prefers to drift through her life until a near nervous break-down forces her to reconsider her priorities. The only way to confront the loss, Larkin’s therapist says, is to attend her upcoming college reunion. 

There, rumors swirl about Adam’s double life. Larkin doesn’t know who—or what—she should trust. Her memories of Adam are fading just like those of her life in college. Her free-spirited, feminist roommate, Kate, is unrecognizable as an uptight, Upper East Side-housewife. Larkin seems to share a connection with an attractive classmate, Hank, but she doesn’t remember him. With Kate and Hank’s help, she investigates Adam’s secrets while desperately trying to hold onto a past that no longer exists. 

Even though what Larkin uncovers is the key to moving on, it stands to destroy Adam’s reputation and her college friendships. In the end, she must decide whether saving herself is worth losing everything. 

First 250: 

“Larkin?” a woman’s voice calls. “Are you still with me?” 

The smart leather chairs and the bookshelf lined walls blur back into focus. Oh yeah, I’m in my therapist’s office. I run a shaking hand over my face, then pinch myself. 

On the other side of the room, Dr. Shannon Fielding looks at me over her glasses. “Larkin?”

When I don’t reply, she makes a notation on her pad of paper. The scratch of the pen cuts through me. I dig my nails into the couch cushion. I’m surprised there aren’t permanent dents in it by now. I hate when she writes things down during our sessions, but she already knows that. 

This is just a challenge. Something to bait me into ‘sharing’ things with her. 

Well, it isn’t going to work today. She already used this trick on me last month. That’s how she found out about my college boyfriend, Adam. I cracked under a moment of intense pressure while she took notes on that pad. I won’t make that mistake again. 

Leaning back in my chair, I cross my arms. “Dr. Fielding, it’s just – “ 

“Ms. Winters,” she interrupts, her voice as no-nonsense as her expression. 

I close my eyes to hide the involuntary roll. This office has a first name only policy. For some insane reason, Dr. Fielding thinks throwing societal labels and professional etiquette to the wayside really helps her connect with patients. As though calling me something different changes who I am. 

It’s a bunch of psycho-babble.


Title: Unreasonable Doubts
Entry nickname: I fell for a convicted felon
Word Count: 91,000
Genre: Contemporary Women's Fiction


Liana Cohen is a 29 year-old public defender. Her job is to represent indigent defendants whether they are guilty or innocent. But after years of representing the most hardened criminals, she is burned out. She needs one client, just one, in whom she can believe, to reignite her passion for the work and salvage her career.

In this state of emotional turmoil, Liana pins her hopes on Danny Shea, a convicted rapist. She finds Danny intelligent, magnetic and compelling. And he could be innocent.

As their attorney-client relationship transforms into something less than arms-length, Danny painstakingly insinuates himself into Liana’s world. After she wins him a reversal and he is released from prison, she is confronted with a man who is single-minded in his desire to be with her. Danny’s attentions intensify at the same time that Liana’s long-time boyfriend, Jakob Weiss, proposes marriage, and she’s forced to choose between love and a dangerous attraction.

First 250 Words:

                                                                 July, 2012
Dear Ms. Cohen,

Forgive me for being so direct, but I have no choice.           

I need you to do something for me, something that goes beyond just doing your job. I’m begging you to put aside what you think you know about me based upon my conviction and from reading the testimony of the witnesses at trial, and to search out the man behind those words. It’s critical that you know in your heart, as my public defender, but even more so, as a woman, that I couldn’t, and I didn’t, rape Jennifer Nash or anyone else. I need you to believe in me.

My case could have been assigned to any attorney, but I have you. I believe there’s a reason for this, and I know that with you on my side I will emerge from this terrible darkness that has engulfed me since this false accusation was lodged.  I pray that you’ll have the courage to stand with me.


Danny Shea

Who is this guy? Liana wondered.
                                                                                Chapter 1
“Liana, you have a call on line 1.”   
“Who is it, Tony?”

“Randy Napoli, that reporter from the New York Law Journal,” Tony responded. “Want me to ask him what it’s about?”

“No, thanks. You can put him through,” Liana said. She and Randy had the kind of friendship that sometimes flourishes because both parties know that it exists only in cyberspace and they’ll never actually have to meet.


  1. Judges can reply with their feedback and vote here.

    1. Both of these entries are awesome and sound like amazing books!

      For Moving On: Overall, I think the premise is very intriguing and the query has lots of little details that make me want to learn more. I too felt the query was a tad disjointed or maybe missing something, possibly some sense of agency from the character Larkin. The query kind of makes it seem like she's being jostled through a series of events by other characters. It isn't clear why Larkin wasn't in on her boyfriend's secrets and why she suddenly decides to act on her therapist's advice. On the first page, I agree with Quaker Rain Forest that a character who seems to be in therapy against her will is typically a YA construct since adults can usually opt out of therapy. I think if the book opens in this way, with Larkin in therapy but resisting help, we need to know why she's there.

      For I Fell: I think both the query and first page are excellent. One thing I will say though, is that the query teetered on the edge of suggesting a thriller for me. I think because it's not clear whether Danny is guilty and whether his attentions to Liana are over the line, I wound up a little uncertain as to what kind of book this is.

      Great job to both entries but victory to I Fell for a Convicted Felon!

    2. Thoughts on MOVING ON:

      - I’m struggling with the idea that a therapist would be so prescriptive. You might use wording like “suggested” or “from the list of suggested coping techniques” or similar.
      - What was Adam’s secret life? I need some more clues. What tips her off that things weren’t as she thought?
      - Stakes are a little unclear. Sure, she might lose some friendships, but what does that really mean? Does her drinking get worse?
      - I think this has a lot of potential, there’s tension in the query even if I have some questions.
      - In the 250, what’s a challenge? That her therapist is calling her name?
      - I have no idea what’s going on in this scene and why it’s important. The thing with the names is off-putting. All we learn is that Larkin is in her therapist’s office and she doesn’t trust her. I don’t learn anything about the story. It might be wiser to either start it somewhere else, or maybe have the conversation start with Adam.

      Thoughts on CONVICTED:

      - No need to explain what a public defender is.
      - I struggle with the idea that a woman is pinning her hopes on a rapist.
      - Insinuates doesn’t mean what you think it means.
      - We have an inappropriate lawyer/client relationship involving a potential rapist and cheating? You lose me there.
      - In the 250, I would’ve hoped Liana would roll her eyes at the letter from Danny.
      - The section beyond the letter is well-written and I get a good sense of voice.

      I think both of these entries have pros and cons, but for me, I prefer the concept of one over the other. Victory to MOVING ON!

    3. Critique: Moving On Is Never Easy
      This Query suffers from being too vague. I assume it’s to avoid revealing the big mystery, but it creates concerns for the reader (presumably an agent) that the book is going to be equally obtuse. You don’t have to give the climactic reveal, but you need to be giving us solid hints. Or at least one incredibly juicy example. This might help explain why she has a nervous breakdown, and why her coming to this reunion would make sense. As of now, this sounds like it’s probably a fun mystery once you get to the end, but it sounds like getting there is going to be a lot of work, and, therefore, not likely be worthwhile.

      First 250 words:

      I connect to Larkin’s disdain of her therapist, leaves me with one big question: WHY IS SHE HERE!? Neither the query nor this section really explain it, and while it gives me a sense of who Larkin is, it doesn’t seem like a person I want to follow around for 81K. I want to emphasize my complaint is not that she is snarky or even reserved. I like snarky narrators, but ultimately we need to connect and have some sense of the source for it to be entertaining.

      Critique: I fell for a convicted felon
      To be perfectly frank, my first thought is: YIKES! The query does a great job of setting up the stakes (though you’d likely do better to introduce Jakob Weiss much earlier so it doesn’t seem so random.) The query is well written, but I think you need to give us more about why this guy is likely innocent (or is he not, and she’s just an amazing attorney?) In addition, while I’m aware this is fiction, I strongly encourage you to make it clear that Liana takes the attorney/client relationship seriously and that when things begin or ultimately do cross the line it’s a big deal. I’m aware it happens, but much like novels featuring romance between students and teachers, it is kind of a sore point for many readers and can really serve as a turn off unless it is earned. This query makes it sound like it sound like the rules are thrown away pretty quickly.
      First 250 words:
      Instantly gripping. Good job. I don’t have much to say here, you are laying out the promise to the reader pretty quickly, and I like that!
      Verdict: Honestly, I was really about to throw out “I fell for a convicted felon,” as I basically find the premise kind of creepy and icky. However, the first 250 words are so good, that I’m not quite “all in,” but willing to see where it goes. My fear is that this is one of those stories I really dislike where the guy is super hot and seems a controlling and dangerous, and the protagonist is willing to go along with it as he is super hot and different. However, at this stage I’m willing to let it go to round two. Solely because I have a stronger sense of the story.
      WINNER GOES TO: I fell for a convicted felon

    4. Moving On is Never Easy

      The premise is definitely enough to pique my interest, but the final hook needs a stronger setup. We need to know what exactly it is she finds out about Adam, how exactly it will hurt him and her friends, and what exactly she stands to lose (it already sounds like she’s hit rock bottom, so what else is left?).

      First 250 Words:
      Solid opening. Well done. I would suggest cutting “Oh yeah, I’m in my therapist’s office.” though. The writing clearly shows us this, so no need to the narrator to tell us too. It’s redundant.

      I Fell for a Convicted Felon

      The query has a lot of snap, and definitely grabs attention. But we need more details, and some of it seems contradictory. For example, if he’s already convicted, why is she defending him? If he’s innocent, why is a relationship with him potentially dangerous? What’s going on (or not) with her boyfriend that she has to make a choice? These need clarification if the query is going to hook a potential reader.

      Also, minor point, watch for word repetitions (e.g. “represent”).

      First 250 Words:
      Since so much of the opening here is a letter in the voice of the felon, it’s hard to get a sense of the main character. And while the premise is interesting (if he truly is innocent), I’m not sure the letter as written is enough to grab a reader’s attention. It comes across as a convicted felon stating quite simply that he believes he’s innocent, but statistically many if not most convicted felons say the say thing. So what’s so different here that Liana (or the reader) should give him any of their time? Once that question is answered, then you’ll be able to hook the reader’s interest.

      For a clearer premise in the query and a strong opening page, I’m giving victory to MOVING ON IS NEVER EASY!

    5. Replying as Chief Doodler!

      Moving On:

      The premise in this query is super interesting. I would just tweak the what you're giving away and when. For example, the first paragraph reads like it should be in the third paragraph. It gives away too much up front—you haven't set up Larkin yet, so I'm not as invested in the secrets she discovers. I would keep your first paragraph centered around who your character is and what she wants. Then go into what stands in the way of her desire. Have us care about her first.
      The writing sample was well written, but I wanted more from them—I wanted more emotion, and perhaps stronger questions from the therapist. That way we have more of a response from Larkin.

      I Fell For Convicted Felon:

      We have done great information in this query—and my biggest feedback centers on how the writer is delivering it. I would strive to pack some voice into the query, a bit more of the main character. Strive for an active voice and some punchy lines to hook your reader. Maybe instead of "Liana Cohen is a 29 year old public defender", you can play around with that sentence so it doesn't read like you're stating a fact. Something like...
      Twenty-nine year old Liana Cohen—dedicated public defender—is tired of representing the bad guys. More than anything, she wants that one special client to remind her why she became a lawyer in the first place.
      I really loved that you started off with the letter! I'm super intrigued by what will happen next!

      My vote goes to I Fell for a Convicted Felon!

    6. No One Of ConsequenceJune 5, 2017 at 2:03 PM

      MOVING ON:
      The first paragraph of your query is strong, right up until the last sentence. I just can't imagine a therapist suggesting that as the ONLY way . I'd maybe delete that, and then just work it into the next paragraph. 'Attending her college reunion as a way to deal with...'

      But ultimately, none of that mattered to me, because I thought your writing on the first page was amazing. Among the best I've read in the entire contest. I have no comment to offer beyond that.

      So because of that, I'm voting VICTORY to MOVING ON IS NEVER EASY

    7. MOVING ON:
      For me, the query for a little confusing when it was going between Larkin, Adam, and Kate. I suggest you limit the names characters to just your MC. The more characters there are, the harder it is for you to get us attached to your MC enough to want to read a book about them. Unlike some of the others, I see nothing wrong with having an adult going to a therapist they don't really want to go to. It could be to appease a family member/friend, or because she originally thought it would help and is now too committed to stop, or any other reason. I don't think it's a problem and I think you did a great job with the voice.

      I think this is a fascinating concept and once again I'm going to break with some of the others and say I completely understand why she would want to take on a case like this. I don't want to give away too many personal details and blow my cover, but you can trust my opinion that a lawyer who really needed to make a name for themselves would want to take as many difficult cases as they could. As for the inappropriate relationship with a client though, I need to agree with others. Since your MC seems extremely career focused, she would know an ethics committee would frown upon her sleeping with a client. Keep that in mind while writing.

      I really like both of these, but I'm going to have to go with the one who in my opinion had the more gripping 250: Victory to FELON

      Ooooh, I got major LEFT DROWNING vibes on this one. LD (by Jessica Park) is totally one of my favorite NAs, so that's super awesome. The premise sounds amazing.

      I was somewhat lost after that first line of the query. The "Five years after Adam's death…" portion tripped me up. Is the story set at that after-five-years period? or is Larkin looking for truth before that, and then stops, and resumes again after five years? I wasn't sure. Maybe clarify that by choosing one line or the other and establishing when the story takes place. The information you convey in explaining Larkin's relationships to us in paragraph 3 really feel disjointed. They feel like bullet points placed one after another. Connect them and show us how they form a story.

      I was SO IFFY about the premise of this and you WON ME OVER ENTIRELY with that query.

      I think you could have a REALLY powerful query if you gave us a little more of a hook, however. You can do that by really highlighting the stakes. What are the stakes? What does your MC stand to lose if she doesn't win this case for Danny? Or, if that's not the crux of your story (I assume it is because that's the vibe I got from your query), what is?


  2. Quaker Rain ForestJune 2, 2017 at 4:29 PM

    Moving On


    I really liked the first two paragraphs but I felt like the third one was a little disjointed. I was confused how Larkin could so easily find the exact two people she needed to in order to solve the mystery of her college-boyfriend's death. It seemed a little easy. But I also really liked the last paragraph.

    First 250:

    The voice here sounds very YA to me, not so much WF. I was wondering why Larkin is going to therapy if she hates it so much. After all, she's a consenting adult. Can't she just refuse therapy if she doesn't want to go? And why would the therapist try to get her to reapply to medical school? What's in it for him/her? Bu the eye roll and the first name basis all sound like YA to me.

    I Fell:


    Love the query -- I think it was absolutely great. I was wondering how Danny manages to painstakingly insinuate himself into Liana's life, though. A small thing that I can live without.

    First 250:

    I loved the letter. Great start. It was gripping and gives us a sense of character immediately.

    In Chapter One, I felt like you lost a little momentum with dialogue that seemed a little showy. "Who is it? Why is he calling," etc. But I liked the last line.

    My vote goes to I Fell for a Convicted Felon. Nice work! Good luck.

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  4. I absolutely loved both of these entries and found it very hard to choose between them!

    I really liked the premise for Moving On and the MCs choice at the end seemed like it was genuinely difficult.

    I Fell was also very interesting but I feel like it may fit into the Romance genre more than Women's Fiction.

    Nice job to both of you!

    Victory goes to Moving On is Never Easy!

  5. Moving: small point--is roommate supposed to be ex-roommate, since Kate is married now?

    I fell: I'm not completely sold on starting with the letter, as it seems just a little too short to be a prologue.

    Both of these are quite intriguing, the judges will have a tough choice.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Moving on:

    Query was solid and clear. It let us know what the stakes are.
    250: Starting off at the therapist's office felt too over done for me. "Oh yeah, I’m in my therapist’s office." I would take out the 'oh yeah,' since it is not a YA.

    I FELL FOR A...
    Query: The query was very nicely and clearly written, although by the end, I thought it was romance and had to double check the genre. I found being attracted to a 'rapist,' very strange, and was hoping he really would be innocent.

    250 words: I liked how the letter shows us Danny's personality. The last sentence was really good, "because both parties know that it exists only in cyberspace and they’ll never actually have to meet."

  8. Moving On Is Never Easy:

    Query: Take out the first paragraph—no need to summarize what you’re about to say.

    The last sentence—“losing everything” feels too vague. What specifically would she lose? Her reputation? Her life? Her friends?

    Otherwise, this query was strong. I have a definite sense of the character, the story, and the stakes.

    First 250:

    Why and how long has Larkin been going to therapy if she’s not into it? Also, when she was “out of it,” what was she thinking of or was she just tuned out of the moment?

    The name thing at the end confused me too. Why is Larkin rolling her eyes when the Dr. is breaking the rules? I feel like there would be a stronger reaction.

    Regardless, I would read more ☺

    I fell for a convicted felon

    Query: Too many commas in the third sentence—maybe switch to “in whom she can believe in order to reignite…”
    I though the query read well, but might also suggest simplifying the third paragraph to get to the stakes quicker.

    First 250:

    I’m into it. Hooked into the story immediately.

  9. Moving On: Fantastic premise. I would totally read this book. Love the idea of going back to college (such an emotional, tumultuous time of life anyway -- even without a boyfriend's suicide) to uncover a mystery and gain firm footing in life. To jazz up your query, perhaps we could hear an example of the daily stresses of her dead-end retail job? Like, "the daily struggle to attain hospital corners while folding T-shirts at The Gap" or "dealing with the inane platitudes of would-be customers who just want to use the public restroom." I also got tripped up by the line, "desperately trying to hold on to a past that no longer exists." In my mind, it seems as though the fate of her future hinges upon whether she can make sense of her mysterious past and put her old demons to rest. But this is just my opinion after reading only these few lines!
    Love the first 250: Your dialogue is spot on. I'm also surprised there aren't permanent dents in the therapist's leather chair. We understand her hesitancy toward therapy and yet get an underlying sense that help is very much needed. Well done.

    Felon: I don't know where you come up with these concepts, but the hook is there and it is solid. What I love most about women's fiction is the potential to sort of cross over and incorporate other genres. This could include romance, suspense, action -- the list is endless! For your query, some of your phrases fell a touch flat on my ears. The "most hardened criminals" doesn't jump off the page -- why not say baby-killers and knife-wielding rapists? Take her most extreme examples and use them to illustrate why she is so burnt out at this point in her career. Or say, she no longer has the stomach to open a case file, knowing even before she opens it the (hours of work? Physical strain? Emotional exhaustion?) that will undoubtedly follow.
    First 250 - I love the opening with a letter. Very sharp and immediately drew me in. It's so hard to give constructive feedback on such a tiny sample of writing. But I really enjoy what I've seen thus far and would definitely like to read more!

    Congrats to you both. Please feel free to reach out (on Twitter, etc.) if you'd like to connect with another writer of WF. And best of luck in Query Kombat!!!

  10. Moving on Is Never Easy

    Query – I’m fascinated by this concept, especially because I get hints that Larkin’s college experience was more confused and mysterious than she realized at the time. (Or am I misinterpreting the fact that she shares a connection with Hank but doesn’t remember him?) I think you could combine and condense the first two paragraphs. You do well introducing the current situation, but you could drop the second and third sentences of paragraph 2, which will leave more room to go into detail in the next paragraph about what she’s finding out about Adam and how that information threatens his reputation. You don’t have to spill all the secrets, but you need a clearer hint to make it more intriguing.

    250 – I’m getting a little antsy by the end. It’s good to set up the tension between Larkin and her therapist, but don’t drag it out too long. I want to get to the juicy stuff—her problems, how her therapist is pushing her, etc. You could probably cut the last part about names because by now we know she’s reluctant to be there. (As another commenter pointed out, it would be good to know why she’s there if she’s so resistant.) I’m interested in the story you’re telling, so I’d keep reading after this.

    I Fell for a Convicted Felon

    Query – The query is really strong. I understand Liana’s conflict and the dissatisfaction that motivates her, and I can see how it would lead her to a very dangerous place. I only have a couple of suggestions. I’d drop the word “painstakingly.” I don’t think it conveys the right feeling. “Insinuates” alone suggests he’s up to no good. I’d also drop the boyfriend’s name. The only substantive change I’d suggest is to show that Liana is drawn to Danny in spite of his unsettling behavior. Until the last sentence, I assumed she’d be trying to get away from him. I didn’t get that she might be attracted instead.

    250 – Danny’s letter is a good starting place and sets the right tone. It has a feeling of exaggerated sincerity that rings false, which puts me on edge in a good way. On the other hand, you could lose the back-and-forth with Tony. Just let her pick up the phone and get on with the meaty stuff.

    Good luck to both of you!