Friday, June 2, 2017

QK Round 1: Three Men and an Actuary vs. Boomerang

Title: Drowning in Perfect
Entry Nickname: Three Men and an Actuary
Word Count: 93K
Genre: Women’s Commercial Fiction


Brooke Holt is a twenty-seven-year-old actuary and raging perfectionist—not that she sees it that way. She is simply striving to be the best version of herself, especially in the eyes of others, whose opinions hold her hostage.

After being dumped by her safe, lackluster boyfriend, Brooke takes a job in Minneapolis.  A new city gives her a fresh start where she can get it right this time. She rents the basement apartment of a house occupied by three younger, immature men who are determined to disrupt Brooke’s carefully calculated life with their teasing, partying, and carefree attitudes.

When her estranged mother reaches out after seventeen years of no contact with a wedding invitation, she is torn, but ultimately decides she must finally get the answers she’s been longing for since she was ten. Desperate for the courage to face her mother, Brooke turns to the last people she thought she would ever ask for help—her rowdy roommates.

Forcing her to confront all her worst fears, the guys put her through a gauntlet of hellish challenges such as delivering pickup lines like a pirate, singing in public, and even falling in love. Unfortunately, she can’t tell if their efforts are curing her or crippling her further.

In the end, she must decide whether she will continue to hide behind her perfect façade, or finally acknowledge her demons and reveal the real Brooke.

First 250:

And to Brooke Hott, while I have enjoyed our time together over the past year, there comes a point when you know a person isn’t THE person, but I wish you the best future imaginable.

That gem of a sentence had ended up in my inbox on the Friday before the Christmas holidays from my boyfriend, Ira.  It was the last sentiment in the mass farewell email he sent to the entire company. He even spelled my last name wrong. It’s Holt, not Hott. Was his error a slight against me, a careless typo, or did he sincerely not know my damn name?

After the worst holidays of my life, I turned in my resignation. I also vomited. At least I had made it to the bathroom with the utmost composure, so no one knew.

I sat at my desk, still shaky from being sick. My rash decision to quit USA Care came the day after that email. I had no choice since I would forever be tied to it, yet uprooting my career and life to another state was the riskiest thing I had ever done.  Despite insanely planning for two weeks, I still felt out of control.

I wiped my clammy hands on my pants. I needed to stick to my to-do list. Unfinished business needled me like the constant clicking of a pen. I popped a piece of gum in my mouth, chewed for thirty seconds, and spit it into the trash can. Good as new, kind of.


Title: Bouncing Back
Entry Nickname: Boomerang
Word Count: 80K
Genre: Women’s Fiction


Now that her children are grown and flown, Robin Larson is looking forward to resuscitating her almost thirty-year marriage. Unfortunately, her husband Bob has other ideas and, within hours of dropping their youngest at college, he announces he’s leaving her for another woman.

A year later, Robin has cobbled together a new life. With the help of her closest friend—a 63-year-old flower child named Barbara—Robin now works at a hipster coffee shop where she’s building new relationships with the young baristas, particularly the beautiful and brilliant but acerbic Dara. 

Just when she finally starts to get the hang of her new independence, her adult son, Owen moves back home after having crashed and burned his own life in Hollywood where he was the creator of a popular sitcom. Mother and son unwittingly tumble into old roles—a choice that has disaster written all over it. Eventually, Owen’s childish regressions push Robin to the brink. Thinking it might help him get back on track, Robin introduces Owen to her co-workers at the coffeehouse. But when her two worlds collide and Robin finds her new friend Dara in bed with her son, she realizes she must cut the apron strings or risk losing her chance at finding new love, adventure, and a truly independent life. 

First 250:  

We haven’t spoken since Allentown. Bob listens to sports radio and occasionally digs at something in his ear as I stare out the window at distant, seemingly idyllic farms that turn dilapidated and disappointing the closer we get to them. I’m not the least bit concerned about the silence. It’s one of the perks, actually, of twenty-nine years of marriage—knowing you don’t have to worry about filling the dead air. And besides, I’m sure Bob is as lost in thought over the events of today as I am. She was our last to go. It’s a big deal.

“The roommate seems nice,” I finally say.

Bob doesn’t answer. He leans in and cocks his head toward the radio. Two guys named Joe, both with Long Island accents (pronounced Lung Island) are talking about a baseball player named Manny whose injury and forthcoming surgery will keep him out for the rest of the season. Joe and Joe take a caller.“I’m a little worried about how they are going to organize that room,” I say, letting my ongoing internal monologue spill out, “It’s so much smaller than I thought it would be. And it isn’t a real closet. It’s an armoire. She’s never going to fit everything in there. I should have insisted she leave her winter clothes home until Thanksgiving.”

One of the Joes is arguing with the caller who thinks Manny should pay back part of his fifteen million dollar salary. Joe calls him an idiot and hangs up on him.


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

    1. Replying as Sonya Blade!

      This was a tough match up for me. I feel DROWNING has a stronger first page while BOUNCING BACK has a stronger query.

      For DROWNING, I thought the first couple of sentences were a little bland. A perfectionist who feels like she just can't get it right IS intriguing but I'd love to get an example of this. Something like, "Brooke is a perfectionist who spends hours prepping for a meeting only to walk in with a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe" or something. The book's inciting incident (that Brooke is dumped via e-mail by a boyfriend who misspells her name) is so interesting and I would have loved to get a better sense of that in the query itself. I agree with the other judge in that the trials developed by the roommates come across as disconnected from the plot point with the mother. How do these things go together? I think the first page is really excellent and if I had more in front of me I would definitely keep going.

      BOUNCING BACK has a very strong query. Again, I'd concur with the other judge who says that the stakes could stand to be clarified or enhanced. Both otherwise, I think it does a great job expressing what the book is about. With the first page, if I hadn't read the query, I don't think it would hook me. I'm just not that interested in what's happening with the radio show and it takes up a lot of space in the opening where we're introduced to 3 characters.

      This is really tough, but I say victory to Boomerang!

    2. Critique: Three Men and an Actuary

      This query is a bit confusing. I like the basic trope of her living with annoying guys who end up helping her, but....I’m so confused why a perfectionist would choose to live with these people to begin with. Furthermore, the query is incredibly unclear why them asking her to do humiliating things will help her. I assume it is to prepare her for the wedding drama, but it’s not clear how those dots are connected. Similarly, it’s not overly clear how the mother fits into everything. Aside from the fact she was estranged for 17 years (which means she left her at age 10) it’s not clear how this all fits together. Did her mother’s disappearance trigger her perfectionism? Does she think if she can just be perfect her mom will come back? Is that what the guys are training her for? I think that this query needs to go back to the drawing board in terms of explaining the basics of the plot and who the characters are. I want to applaud the author for keeping things pretty steamlined, I don’t think we need MORE plot, I think we need to know how the plot points stated come together. The other thing I liked is that the query definitely gives the reader an idea of the voice and POV of the novel, so kudos there! I’d recommend rewriting it from scratch, I think if you do that you’ll have a winner.
      First 250 words:
      I like it. Brooke’s voice comes in nice and strong, but read the piece aloud (or better yet have a friend do it!) as you’ve got a few words that seem extraneous.
      Critique: Bouncing Back

      This query present a rather charming, but it has some issues. For starters, I’m not sure we need the prologue. Is the inciting incident the divorce or her son moving back? It’s hard to tell how much of the novel is spent on these time periods. If the main conflict is her son moving back, then that should be where you start, and you can pepper in the backstory throughout. My other concern here is whether or not her finding Dara in bed with her son the climax? If so, you’ve explained too much of the plot. If not, I’m not sure what the remainder of the novel is really about. I also wasn’t sure if Dara was male or female. I don’t think it really matters (for the record I assumed Dara was male her son is gay?) but it is something to note.

      Rarely do I ever think a query should or could be longer, but in this one, I think I need less plot and more of the general stakes and more about Robin. I need to feel her voice and wit coming off the page.
      First 250 words:

      I generally like it, I can tell we are about to hit the first plot point. Sadly that part isn’t in this section. I’m all for ambiance, but your first chapter isn’t the place to put it. You need to hook that reader right here and right now. If the query was stronger I’d be more inclined to give you slack on this, but right now it looks like that what you have is a wonderful story in need of some editing. It seems like you’re going to need to cut a lot and restructure the story. However, the story you are telling is really great sounding. I want to read a book about this! It’s got everything that you need for it to be a big seller! You just need to really edit/rewrite it and make sure that your query is showing (and not telling) the reader the following:

      Who these characters are.
      What the basic idea of the novel/stakes of the novel are.
      Why is your book better/special compared to the 1000 other books like this that are being pitched.

      While I’m aware I’m certainly harsher on Bouncing Back, it is also the winner for me. Both of these works don’t seem quite ready to be pitched to agents, but Bouncing Back’s story seemed to make more sense to me. So, for that reason, it’s my winner.

      WINNER GOES TO: Bouncing Back

    3. Thoughts on THREE MEN:

      - I would definitely read this. I do enjoy a good perfectionist turned upside down story.
      - I think you’ve got too much backstory up front. Start the query with the move.
      - The guys sound funny. I’m curious if the falling in love part is with one of them?
      - I think I want more information on Brooke’s relationship with her mom—to punch up the urgency—and more on the guys as individuals.
      - I love the voice in the 250. I also love the way Ira breaks up with her. Classic.

      Thoughts on BOOMERANG:

      - I think this is really well-written and clear.
      - My concern with the query is the stakes seem really low.
      - The 250 completely nails parenthood and marriage.
      - I think I’d like her to be thinking about what they’re going to do that night—the first night without kids!—instead of listening to the radio though. You can introduce the conflict sooner.

      This is a tough decision. I think both are well-written and the authors are talented, but the voice in one sells me – victory to THREE MEN!

    4. Three Men and an Actuary

      The overall setup is solid and the query is already flowing quite well (although I might suggest combining paragraphs 2 and 3 and also 4 and 5). My main critique is that the query seems divided between whether she’s “facing her worst fears” or “confronting her demons” (which I would take to be two very different things). The stakes need to be clear for the hook to do its job.

      First 250 Words:
      While the writing is good on a technical level, I think more voice could be injected. After all, we’re talking about a woman who quit her job a day after someone breaks up with her (which she herself acknowledges as rash). Thus, I would expect someone a little more neurotic-sounding. The narrative voice should match the personality.


      The introduction is clear enough, but by the end I felt a bit lost. It suggest that her son’s return interferes with her own chance for love and adventure, but barely hints at how. Details are your best friend in a query, and so I would suggest painting a bit more of what exactly is happening. Also, we need to know more about her specific goals beyond the general aim of a “truly independent life.” What exactly does that mean in her case? And how is her son’s presence preventing it?

      First 250 Words:
      I enjoyed this opening. It gives me a clear sense of this character and the relationship she has with her husband. It might benefit from a few tweaks, but overall sets the scene nicely. Be careful of being too “on the nose” though (for example, the line “It’s a big deal” is telling us straight out her assessment of the situation, whereas it’s stronger if the narrative shows us instead, which might mean letting things play out a bit longer).


      While I do think both entries need more work before they’re ready to send out, the voice of one feels more self-assured to me than the other. So, with that in mind, for me it’s going to have to be victory to BOOMERANG!

    5. Short and sweet on this one:
      Both of these entries piqued my interest and this was a hard decision.


      This seems like such a fun and exploratory type of project filled with tons of hilarity and angst and life lessons for all involved—which is totally my thing. Well done in conveying that! It's not easy to do at all, but you've managed it in so few words, as seen above.

      The part that tripped me up in your QUERY were the second and third paragraphs. In the second—I wanted more clarification. I couldn't see why your MC would volunteer to leave her familiar city and then move in with three younger co-eds. Did she know they were younger co-eds before moving in? Is the breakup enough to propel her out of her comfort zone and into a brand new unknown city? These are all things I wanted clarified. Help us see her motivation in just the right amount of words.

      In the third paragraph, you give us what FEELS LIKE your hook. The estranged mother, the unanswered questions she's been needing since age 10. I wanted more here. Why does she then decide to seek those answers? It all stems back to motivation. You could really hook us if you set up the motivation for your MC better.


      Oh, wow, this is such an untapped niche genre. I love where you're going with this. The tone and voice in your first 250 indicate you've very likely handled it well. I'd love to see this story on shelves.

      As for your QUERY—the part that gave me pause was that third paragraph where you move away from the overarching quality that is a query and you began to give us a too-close examination of the plot. Essentially, that part reads more like a voicey synopsis. You can step back a little, and not give us too much of a play-by-play of that part of the story. I do think you lose the focus of the story a little. Figure out which major plot point is your hook and serve that too us on a plate.

      VICTORY GOES TO: Three Men!

    6. THREE MEN:

      This is a great query and a great concept. I like the bits of voice injected into the opening paragraph- it's not easy to do in a query so well done. That said, I do think it's a bit long. Maybe trying to combine the first and second paragraph so you get to the move quicker. As for the 250, we'll done. You started at a good spot to really introduce your character in a way that brings sympathy, but still edges it a bit with the voice.

      Everyone seemed to already point out the things I would improve upon, but the main thing for me was the stakes. It might just be me (I am not your target audience), but the stakes as written made your MC fairly unlikeable. The problems I had with the query were more than made up for with the writing. You nailed the falling apart marriage. Nicely done.

      Both of these have pitch perfect voices for their characters. The voices I already had in my head from your descriptions in the query were exactly the ones I found in the samples. That's the hardest part about this writing biz so good job. There has to be a winner though so I'm going to have to go with the entry I think will be easier to tighten up for the agent round. Victory to THREE MEN

    7. Short and sweet to break the tie:

      THREE MEN: Great query, love how both conflicts (with roommates and mother) are clearly connected. Sounds like a great mix of fun and serious.

      First 250: Ouch! What girl couldn't feel for Brooke after that nasty breakup? One thing that sort of bothered me... I initially read "USA Care" as a fictional version of Obamacare, and wondered why she would always be tied to her health insurance. Maybe choose a different name, or at least add Inc or Ltd, etc?

      BOOMERANG: I love the query, and the idea of a mother-son relationship with older characters. I'm definitely intrigued.

      The first 250 fall a little flat for me... I get that that is probably exactly the vibe you're going for, but there doesn't seem to be a lot happening in this scene. Is your MC excited about her new life with her husband, or worried that he DOESNT seem excited? Right now she just seems content, and that's not much of a hook. I'd like to see a bit more emotion in this scene.

      Both great entries but...

      Victory to THREE MEN!

    8. No One Of ConsequenceJune 5, 2017 at 5:56 PM

      I don't have a ton of time to write feedback right now, but I did thoroughly read and consider both entries.

      While I think that it could use a bit of work to bring the writing more to life and give it some voice, I thought the query was very good, and that made the difference in my vote.


  2. Re: Three Men and an Actuary -I love the setup of a perfectionist who is far from perfect. I feel we get a clear impression of her in your first 250. You say in your query, "she must finally get the answers she's been longing for since she was ten." This sentence feels vague to me. Could you give a specific question she's wanted answered?

  3. I really enjoyed both of these!

    I think they both have a nice setup but would have loved more detail about the stakes in Boomerang. Why is it important for Robin to cut ties with her son? What exactly does she stand to lose if this doesn't happen? I love the idea of Robin finding herself but I would like to know more about how she is trying to accomplish her goal and the obstacles that stand in her way.

    Three Men and an Actuary was more polished and the stakes seemed clearer. I also found the idea of Brooke breaking the bonds of perfectionism intriguing.

    So in the end, Victory goes to Three Men and an Actuary!

  4. Replying as Chief Doodler!


    Lots of great info here! I had a clear sense of the character and her predicament however I really wanted some clear stakes mentioned at the end of the Query. What happens to Brooke if people see the real her? What will she lose if they see past the perfect facade? Adding clear stakes adds natural tension to the Query. The sample given has great voice (if you could work that into your Query, that'd be awesome), however I really wanted to feel grounded in the moment. So she was replaying the email her ex sent at her new job? Had she just thrown up? Had she already made her big move?


    I definitely got a clear sense of the character's predicament, however I also wanted clear stakes in this one! The line about "losing the chance of love and adventure" is very vague, so it doesn't read as a strong ending to your Query. Rule of thumb: if you can insert a line into any Query, than it's too vague. Be as specific as you can!

    I really loved the sample given! Great job with tension. I especially loved how you used the fun down houses and the radio hosts about to break into an argument as the backdrop of what will eventually be a hard conversation.

    My vote is for...BOUNCING BACK!

  5. Three Men: an amusing and intriguing query. My only point of confusion was what her roommates' trials had to do with attending the wedding. Great opening line to your 250.

    Bouncing: Sounds like a fun story! I'm curious about if Dara is Robin's love interest. That would up the stakes of the ending line a lot, and higher stakes are good.

  6. Three Men: I love that breakup line. Almost makes me want the ex BF to make his way back into the story somewhere so I can love to hate his face. But then if he's lackluster, good riddance. I also like in the last line of the 250 that she tries to start a new life with a piece of gum. Good as new, sort of, like her new life. I like it. In the query I wanted more stakes, or clearer stakes, I guess when I read "confront her demons" I wondered whether she was more messed up that the query let on.

    Bouncing Back: Getting super picky, when you said Barabara was 63, I wondered whether she was older or younger than Robin, and whether that mattered. I also wondered how Owen could have made a career in just a year after they dropped him off for a second before I realized it's obviously another child. But it could be just a slow morning for me. Instead of "adult son" maybe "oldest son" would have made that very clear. Since she dropped her youngest off at college, we know all her children are adults.

    Loved the first 250! So much tension in a quiet car, and I love how she is justifying the non-response of her husband as a perk of marriage, and at the same time pointing out the room will be difficult to rearrange. Then the caller being shut-down, I love it. I already like Robin and I want to see how she rearranges after being shut down.

  7. Three Men - I really like the beginning of your query. The first three paragraphs are tight and well written. I like how you describe her life and how she is. It's a good set-up, but I think I'm lacking the definite stakes in the query. Like what happens if she doesn't confront her demons? I think I need something concrete.
    I like your first 250. The first sentence to me felt clunky. I know it's supposed to be written by her loser boyfriend, but I stumbled over it. I really, really like what it says. So I might consider rewording it to tighten it up. Or break it up it a few smaller sentences.

    Boomerang: Your first two paragraphs in your query have a great set-up. I think I'm not sure how the third one drives the book forward. I love the idea of the adult son coming home while his mother is trying to reset her life, but I'm a little lost as to how him sleeping with her much younger friend is going to stop her from finding love. Clearer stakes and what Robin stand to lose if she doesn't cut the apron strings would help. Also, I don't think you need to include Barbara in the query as you only mention her once and you never mention her again.
    I'm loving the first 250! What she goes through with her husband is spot-on for a long term marriage. Does she suspect at this point that something might be wrong as I get that from being a reader, but she doesn't seem to give off that vibe. To me, she thinks that everything is normal. As the reader, I know what's coming.

    - Ashley/unilocular (can't get any of my logins to work)

  8. Hello! Fellow Kombatant here. Take my advice with a grain of salt! Both of your entries are stellar, and good luck to you both. Here are my thoughts:

    3 Men

    Interesting concenpt! Just a few things about your query I'd love to know more about:
    - Why is she held hostage by the opinions of others? Is that a product of some inciting event, or just the nature of her personality? I'm not suggesting you delve into a personality analysis by any means, but she makes a lot of choices about being "safe."
    - Which brings me to the next point -- is she safe and calculating because of the estranged mother? I get that you can't divulge the entirety of their relationship in a query letter, but it might amp the stakes if we have a little more going on between the two of them.
    - I love this gauntlet of worst fears trial thing you've got going on here.
    - Demons? What demons? Does she consider her overcoming her fears now "demons" because she's not as "safe" as she once was? This was a tad confusing to me.

    First 250:
    Your voice leaps off the page in your first 250! I would read this (and continue to read this) in a heartbeat. Your characterization of her is just lovely.


    Also an interesting concept! Here are my thoughts on the query:
    - Your writing is very clean! But I'm going to have to mirror the sentiment of those who've commented so far: stakes. Do what you can to boost them as much as possible! I'm all for love and adventure in a coffee shop. but is Owen making it impossible for a budding relationship? We haven't touched on it yet, so it kind of threw me when the love line appeared.
    - It would probably bother any mother to have her friend sleep with her son, but is it the driving force? It almost sounds like Dara is the love interest, which if she is, could definitely be used to amplify the stakes.

    First 250:
    Just lovely. The interspersed radio voices with the stilted conversation -- even if the MC doesn't know what's coming, you lay it out perfectly. I don't have a lot to say about it in the way of changes -- nicely done!

  9. Three Men and an Actuary

    Q: This is a really fun nickname and premise! I really enjoy that you have a unique profession for your heroine, and your setup with her living with these three rowdy guys. But I’m not sure why she would live with them when it’s so disruptive to her life, unless she’s burdened financially – you may want to clarify. As well, it’s unclear to me why she’s so sensitive to others’ opinions, unless this is an emotional response to her mom leaving her. I’d love to know how it all ties together, especially as (it seems) like the guys do their best to help her get her confidence back. At least, that’s what I’m hoping was going on because the language can translate as a little “hazing”-esque without the benefits spelled out – what does being able to deliver pickup lines like a pirate accomplish for her in terms of reaching her goals? Or was this more malicious behavior to ruin her chances of reconciling with her mom? Mostly, I just want to know more! Can’t wait to read the first 250!

    First 250: I really enjoyed your voice this, and I felt a lot of sympathy and connection with your character. However, I’m very confused about the timeline – it seems like the email happened a while ago, and she says she quit the next day and threw up, but now she’s saying she just threw up. So the email happened yesterday? And does that mean she’s still at the job that she quit? Or has she already moved? I really like your voice and your premise, but the timeline thing unfortunately pulled me out of the story from having so many questions. I would try to simplify this chain of events, and maybe have it happen in real time vs a summary of a past event intermingled with current actions to help avoid confusion.


    Q: From your first line, I’m hooked! I’m connected to your character, the world, and the inciting incident resonated with me on so many levels - really love your voice through this as well! Having her work in a hipster coffee shops – I have all the grabby hands! I’m not sure whether Barbara is a love interest or just a friend, so you may want to clarify that as it could have a big impact on your stakes, which seem to revolve around distancing herself from her son and gaining her independence. I wonder: is there another aspect to this, another risk if she doesn’t? Could she lose her fave new job because her son is causing her trouble? Would love to know more, and excited to read the first 250!

    First 250: Such a great opening! The imagery, the tone and voice, the dual aspect of the character feeling confident and the reader knowing hell is around the corner, great job. I’d keep an eye on your paragraph breaks for speaker grouping, but apart from that, I’d love to read more!

    Great job to both entries!

  10. Happy to find some Women's Fiction entries in Query Kombat! Both are such strong contenders!
    3 Men - love this premise. The juxtaposition of an uptight, perfection-seeking, meticulous Brooke thrown haphazardously into a house with three young ruffians has me cracking up. I can only imagine the hilarity! (Speak Like a Pirate Day ... that's a real thing, no?) And whenever you've got the potential for falling in love set against the backdrop of an absentee parent and some gut-wrenchingly difficult soul-searching, you've got the makings of a must-read.
    My suggestions for the query would be to spice up the language a bit. Instead of "carefully calculated life," I would use "meticulously scripted." Instead of "all her worst fears," I would have her "step outside her Excel spreadsheet" or "dive headfirst into the chaos," etc. Brooke sounds like an absolutely fascinating character to write; I picture her something like a female version of Don Tillman from "The Rosie Project."
    First 250- I noticed the name misspelling right away! Oh the agony of being dumped via group email! Immediately hooked and wanting more.
    My only critique is that after your bombshell opening line, you slip quickly into flashback "had ended up" and then switch tenses in the next sentence. Probably I would make the entire opening scene her nauseatingly awful response to the breakup and save the quitting the job/moving to a different city action for later on in the story. But overall, would love to read!

    Another fantastic premise! And so timely -- I've done research into the number of empty-nesters seeking divorce, and the stats are staggering. Love the flower-child Barbara and acerbic Dara. At first read, I wondered briefly whether there was a love interest between Robin and Dara? Inquiring minds!! Either way, your descriptions are spot-on fantastic. I would pick up this book in a heartbeat.
    My only suggestion for the query would be to help us see a bit more clearly how Owen moving back in is disastrous for Robin. I'm filling in the blanks to assume that she's just gotten her life figured out as an independent, single-again, 50something woman, and having her son back under her roof makes her feel like a maternal, tied-down mother hen again. Without more description, we are left to draw our own assumptions -- which might be way off! (Forgive me if I'm missing the point!)
    First 250 - Love the measure of time through physical distance driven. Love that Bob is trying to dig something out of his ear. Not 100 percent sure about the sports talk radio Joes (maybe this ties into something later?) but I'll ride with it for now. Her one-sided conversation definitely hints at a bombshell-a-brewing. Would love to read more!

    Best of luck to you both! Please reach on on Twitter or otherwise if you'd like to connect with another writer of WF.

  11. 3 Men & an Actuary

    Query – Intriguing concept. Ordinarily I would expect a setup like this to lead to a romance with one of the three guys, but it looks like it’s going a different way, and I appreciate the surprise. However, I’m not entirely sure how their series of challenges is supposed to get her ready to see her mother and get answers. Is it building her confidence? Forcing her to get used to taking chances and dealing with embarrassment? Just one sentence would be enough to connect this process with what it’s supposed to achieve.

    250 – I want to smack the clueless ex-boyfriend in the head, so that’s instant sympathy with Brooke. My main concern about the first page is that the timeline is all tangled. She’s telling something that happened to her in the past, but I don’t know when or where she is now. That’s the trouble with starting with backstory. The easy fix is to start with the dumping email and move forward in time instead of trying to have her look back from whenever she is now. If you feel the need to explain this incident before you tell the story, maybe you should start when it happens. Otherwise, start where she is right now and weave the dumping story (which is great, by the way. Included in a group email, yikes!) in gradually.


    Query – You have an interesting setup here, and I feel for Robin. It seems like an extremely relatable situation. I think you should spend more time on the conflict between Robin and Owen. What exactly is he doing that causes problems? And why is finding him in bed with a woman the thing that pushes her to cut the apron strings? Is she surprised by it? Does it go against the way he was raised? Otherwise, I don’t understand her motivation.

    250 – I was a little confused by the first line. I understood as I read on, but you could clarify by saying, “We haven’t spoken since we passed Allentown,” just to let us know we’re driving. You do a great job of gradually showing that the silence between them is more than the comfortable familiarity of people who’ve been married a long time and building the awkwardness. However, I think you could cut some of the description of the radio problem, specifically the last line, and get to the painful moment I assume is just ahead.

    Overall, two good entries that sound like wonderful stories.

    1. Replying as JB Harris

      Three Men and an Actuary: I like the premise of the story and immediately identified with the MC, but I felt the writing in the query itself could be tightened up. I feel like the query starts to get into the meat of it when you introduce the mother and I'd like to see this conflict a little more clearly. I could use more of why she hasn't seen her mother and less of the struggle with who she is as although when it is written I am sure it is unique, the description of it is pretty universal.

      250: The first 250 were well written, but I wasn't finding myself identifying with the MC as I expected to (as a type a female) Vomiting...okay, but she would be totally humiliated, getting a stress headache from fighting back tears, looking around to see if people were looking at her without wanting anyone to see her look around. I feel like the emotion could be better rendered.

      Boomerang: I think the query was very strong. I was immediately drawn into the story. The only part that stopped me was the very last line. It is the first time you have mentioned she is looking for new love or adventure. I bought the independence part, but the other two came out of left field in my opinion.

      250: I think the query writing was stronger than the first 250 pages. I want to see the conflict between the husband and wife and if I hadn't read it in the query, I wouldn't know it was there. You only need one line about Joe and Joe's show. It's background noise and should be for us to. I don't want to hear the show and their voice; I want to hear the husband's; he hasn't talked yet. Given the premise in the query, I'd like him to reply to her first comment with I'm leaving and have it go from there.

  12. Three Men and an Actuary: At first, I thought the premise of this sounded a little dull…Actuaries are not the most interesting people in the world, but I can see how this has the potential for great tension and conflict. Actually, it’s so similar to the premise of my entry, and I didn’t notice that at first. Nice, succinct query, but I wish I knew more about the conflict with Mom. I’m intrigued enough to want to read more. First 250: Great voice. Love it so much. Had a feel for the character right away. I was a little taken aback when she said she resigned. As a perfectionist, I’m sure she wouldn’t do that without having a good reason, and I wish I knew what it was. After all, the terrible, no good, asshole boyfriend is leaving the company, so why does she have to go? Either way, I would keep reading this. Love it. Well done.

    Boomerang: Ooh, I like this premise. I think we need stories about that weird, empty-nest period in parent’s lives. The query was great. |’m curious when thee story starts, as there seems to be a lot of stuff happening for poor Robin. I hope she stands up for herself and shows a little agency early in the book. There are a lot of characters in the Query, it would be fine to leave out the hippy friend as she doesn’t seem to relate to the main plot. First 250: Ah, the story starts when the last kid moves out. Good place. I had a good feel for Robin right away, the always looking to please, always taken for grated mom/wife. Nice tension. Good job, and Good luck!

  13. Such strong entries, I enjoyed reading them both!

    Three Men: Query is STRONG, premise/hook are grabby and promise a fun, zany read with thoughtful learning moments interspersed here and there. But I found the sequence of the first page distracting, since our main character is jumping around in time a bit during her musings.

    Bouncing Back: Query wasn't as grabby to me, even though it's packed with major life-events for the main character. I think what I was missing is what makes her special. Lots of people are surrounded by toxic relationships that they don't know how to escape from, so we need a connection with the protagonist to make us want to read about this particular person and how she solves her problems. That being said, I think your first page wins. The duddy relationship/car ride. The abomination of sports talk radio on road trips. :D I'm all-in!

    You both have done exceptionally well, and I know I'll be hearing of your successes soon!