Friday, June 2, 2017

QK Round 1: Worth vs. Delicious Vicious Cycles

Title: WORTH
Entry Nickname: Worth
Word Count: 83,000 words
Genre: YA Contemporary


All her life, seventeen-year-old Kayen has been unfavorably compared to her twin sister Arabel. She craves the love of her father, who adores Arabel and considers Arabel’s boyfriend Garrick the son he never had. When a school experiment has students install Worth, an app that measures social media popularity and assigns each student a score, it’s scientific proof Kayen doesn’t measure up. But as students pin on the nametag-sized scoreboards and obsess over Worth, Kayen discovers an opportunity to get what’s rightfully hers.

Kayen might not have Arabel’s looks or athleticism, but she knows math. She cracks Worth’s algorithm, empowering her to manipulate scores and make Arabel feel what it's like to be Worthless. Arabel becomes a drag on Garrick’s Worth. He dumps her, which diminishes Arabel in her father’s eyes. Kayen maneuvers into an alliance with Garrick and her Worth rises. She’s almost Worthy enough for Garrick to make their relationship public. Then her father will finally love her.   

But Kayen’s mathematics can’t predict Arabel’s comeback. Free from her father’s oppression and dismayed at the suffering Worth causes, Arabel launches a grassroots movement promoting compassionate self-worth. She challenges Garrick for the class presidency to end the Worth experiment, threatening everything Kayen treasures as the source of her esteem. But Kayen has come too far to let that happen. She’ll do anything to protect her Worth.

First 250:

From The Law Offices of Hillman & Meisel, PLLC

Dear Ms. Hillman,

About your shoes. They’re Emprezz, right? About $500? Why spend so much on shoes? Do they make you happy? Or are you trying to create an image for the judge and jury, to inspire confidence and trust? Well it doesn’t work for me. You don’t look happy. And I don’t trust you.

I know, I know. I’m one to talk. I obviously lied about why I wanted this paper. I’m not using it to write my mother. She still won’t visit me or attend the trial, and I doubt my begging would make a difference. She’s not strong enough to handle the truth.

It’s the same between us, Ms. Hillman. You said you didn’t want to know if I did it, that I should dress nice and cry for the jury. You won’t put me on the stand because you’re afraid I’ll talk. You’re not interested in truth.

I’ve watched you these many weeks. You never wear the same outfit twice. You’re always on social media checking coverage of the trial and to see if that guy you text with liked your hot pic. You’re a lie, Ms. Hillman.

I won’t take part in your deception. Unlike you, I am happy. And the jury must hear the truth: I did it. I’m 100% guilty.

I did for my sister.

I did it for every girl who lives a lie.

I did it for you.


Entry NicknameDelicious Vicious Cycles
Word count: 74K
Genre: YA Contemporary, Own Voices


Teenage entrepreneur Vera Davis starts a business to sell revenge in VERA WITH A VENGEANCE, a 74,000-word young adult contemporary novel. Vera and I are both Jewish and sexual assault survivors. 

When a car accident paralyzes Vera’s basketball-star brother and kills her parents, she's suddenly in charge of the medical bills, the mortgage, and her own anger and helplessness. Vera's always been good at getting back at people who hurt her, but she can’t exactly get revenge on the curve in the road where her father lost control of the car. 

Meager insurance payouts leave Vera desperate for money, so she starts a business: when the traditional justice system fails her clients, Vera wrecks wrongdoers’ careers and cars, relationships and reputations. She revels in taking down racists and sexual assault perpetrators, but her crush--her brother’s best friend--thinks her style of vengeance is morally wrong. 

Then, while helping a client get payback for a leaked nude picture, Vera finds new evidence about her family’s “accident.” Turns out there is someone for Vera to blame, but the perpetrator had her own very good reason to seek vengeance. 

Now Vera must decide whether getting revenge is worth getting blood on her hands. 

First 250:

This creeper keeps staring at me with this little half smile, like he thinks I want his eyes undressing me. His face, all chin and cheekbones, reeks of always getting what he wants—women, money, free drinks in first class en route to Ibiza. I want to walk away, but his wife is shopping for an evening gown, and I need the commission to pay the energy bill.

I focus on her, and hold up a green dress to hide my body. “This would look great with your eyes.”

Her eyes are blue, but the green dress sells well, and if she buys it, I’ll hit the monthly quota for a higher commission percentage. I can only work so much after school, and I have to make the hours count.

She turns to Creeper. “What do you think?”

“I’d like to see more.” His eyes flicker down to my calves and back up to my chest. For all his wife can tell, he’s checking out the dress, but his gaze burns my skin.

I hold the dress higher to cover my breasts and look at my boss for rescue. He mouths work it. If I didn’t need this job so badly…I force myself to smile.

Creeper’s gold smartwatch buzzes, and he glances away from me. Those watches cost ten grand. Ten grand would keep the lights on and pay for three months of the mortgage. Ten grand could keep Levi and me from losing the house our parents raised us in.


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

    1. Thoughts on WORTH:

      - I love it. This is so timely. This reads like a YA version of the Black Mirror episode NOSEDIVE.
      - I think the query is pretty solid as-is. The stakes are clear and I really like that this is a sister story.
      - I’m curious why a school would go for such an experiment though. It seems like the kind of thing that would promote bullying and I know my school would never encourage that. Maybe clarify that part.
      - The 250 is really intriguing. Without knowing who’s POV this is—seems like it could be either sister based on the query—I’m sucked in. It reads kind of like a prologue though, so I’m curious what the next scene is and if that isn’t the right place to begin.

      Thoughts on DELICIOUS:

      - I like that you say up front that this is an #ownvoices book – maybe think about using the # to alert agents even more.
      - The query is excellent as it is right now! I would probably mention Vera’s age—it seems being 18 or not would make a big difference given her circumstances.
      - I want to know more about the business. How does she find clients? I think you have room to add a sentence or two more.
      - Does Vera struggle with morality at all?
      - The 250 is so full of voice! And the stakes are clear immediately and so in your face, in a good way.
      - I like how you’re hinting at what’s to come with the nod to rape culture, which for me makes this story super timely and important.

      Incredibly hard decision but for me, the voice in the 250 and the underlying message sells me. Victory to DELICIOUS!

    2. I absolutely love the themes of both of these stories! They both turn relevant topics into entertaining stories and I had a very hard time choosing.

      Worth had a good query but the first 250 didn't engage me in the action as much as I'd hoped.

      Delicious query/250 really sucked me into the story and felt like something I wouldn't be able to put down.


    3. This one is too hard. I quit. No, I don't quit, but this makes me want to. I have nothing I can add to either of these except that the query in WORTH has too many named characters, making it slightly confusing. slightly.

      I love both of these. I love the queries and the 250s and I wish I could vote for both of you. But I can't, so purely because of the tiny confusion in the query for Worth, victory goes to VICIOUS!

    4. Replying as Chief Doodler!

      Both of these were sooooooo good!!!!!!

      Wow. What a great and horrifying concept. Horrifying because this is something that's already happening, which will make this particular book fascinating to read (if a little hard, too). I think the Query is pretty strong, but I did wonder about the school allowing the introduction of the app to even happen at all. Most schools oppose this sort of thing. I wonder if you add in what benefits the school for having the app? Maybe the app founders give money to the school? A new building, etc.?
      I was intrigued by the letter. You have a type toward the end, but it's a quick fix (missing the "it"). Part of me wanted to start in an actual scene, though? Is the letter meant to be a prologue?

      Excellent query! It gives just the right amount of information, the conflict and stakes are clear, and as soon as I finished, I wanted to dive into the rest of the book.

      The writing sample didn't disappoint either!! Great job!

      I'm afraid I can't actually vote in this pairing since I know one of the contestants, but good luck to you both!

    5. Wow. What wonderful ideas ! And the first 250s are very well written.

      Others have given you excellent suggestions to make your queries and first pages even better, so I'll defer adding more.

      But I will cast a vote. Hmmm. The judges make this SO difficult! You guys! What if I want to pick them both?

      I can hear Mike, Michelle & Laura shouting, "no," so I'll have to cast my vote for...


    6. Wow. This one is tough. both queries are strong, though I thought Worth might be a tad overstuffed. And the 250 for me--prologue? Not sure. So hard to tell from just the first 250 words. But because I was able to follow the 250 a little bit better from the query, my vote is for VERA.

    7. From Catattack

      Query: The set up and stakes are clear but I did have a couple questions, the biggest being why a school would introduce this app to their students. What’s the school’s rationale for taking part in an experiment using children? My lesser question was about their mother's role in the twins' lives.

      250: This open is super-effective when paired with the query – I desperately want to know who the writer is. But I’m not sure it’s as compelling as a standalone start to your story. That said, the writing hits the right tone.

      Query: Since this is YA and the parents die, I did want to know Vera’s age – if she’s 18 that eliminates the questions I have about her being in charge after their deaths. Great set up and stakes.

      250: Vivid description of the ‘creeper’ in the opening. Suggest replacing the vague term ‘energy bill’ with a specific, i.e., electricity/light bill or gas/heating bill. The writing is engaging.

      These are both strong entries!


      I love love love the idea of both of these (I hope you both get in contact with me so I can beta the hell out of them both!)

      Morally wrong girls in YA is EVERYTHING i love and want.
      I personally think both queries are fairly solid, as well as the first 250. I'd be happy to see more than the first 250 if either of you would like more eyes on the project after that, given this feedback was so minimal on my part.


    9. Worth

      An intriguing premise. Right now, though, it feels more like a synopsis than a query. I also think the hook could be stronger. “Do anything to protect” is cliché. Tell us exactly what she’s prepared to do. Details raise the stakes and also reader interest.

      First 250 Words:
      On the one hand, I find the letter quite interesting (and generally well written). On the other, I admit my confusion. At first the letter appears to be coming from a law office, yet seems to have been written by one of the sisters mention in the query. There is the brief explanation about why she borrowed the paper, but then that becomes a distracting and forces the reader to go back and retread old ground. Sending the reader back to the beginning isn’t necessarily the strongest way to begin a story.

      Delicious Vicious Cycles

      Definitely a high stakes premise. My main concern is that the hook doesn’t quite match those stakes though. The hook as stated suggests Vera must choose between murder as revenge or nothing at all, but why should that be so? There are other forms of revenge (as made clear earlier in the query). So that needs clearing up. Also, for the purposes of the contest, I would leave off the first paragraph since QK is generally concerned with pitch only and not the other parts of the query letter.

      First 250 Words:
      Strong opening page (also, creepy!). Would suggest placing “I force myself to smile.” On its own line. Also, where the query suggest Vera has always been good at getting revenge, she seems rather meek here in the beginning.


      A tough match up, no question. But of the two, I think the second is closer to ready. So it’s victory to DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES!

    10. WORTH:
      Query: Very compelling story! I love the mix of technology (apps) with the love of math. As far as suggestions go, the one that sticks out are the use of the repetitive use of the girls’ names. But the problem is using the pronouns would make it confusing as to which “she” or “her” we’re talking about. And reworking the paragraphs I think would take away from the story. So, IF there is a way to use “her sister” in a spot of to where it is absolutely clear, I’d ask you to consider that. Otherwise this is a well written query—clear stakes and conflict are easily identified, and the arc of the story intensifies, too. Well done!

      First 250: Mechanics wise, this 250 has a great hook. The tone/voice is sharp and you can absolutely feel the angst and frustration this person is having. I just wish I knew WHO was writing the letter (darn that 250 word cut off!). Nice sprinkling of backstory, too, without going into an info dump. Sentence wise, the “I obviously lied about why I wanted this paper” made me stop and re-read the passage again because I didn’t know WHAT paper your character was talking about. But then I realized it was office letterhead. Might be worth clarifying, but then again, I may be the only one who stumbled. Overall, a nicely done opening!

      Query: My goodness! Vera has a lot of her shoulders for a 17 year old! This query is well written with a good hook, clear stakes and conflict. From a mechanics side, I don’t have much to share with you: 3rd paragraph, “…so she starts a business:” I’d remove the “so” and replace the colon with a period. The “so” usage is too light and breezy and Vera doesn’t seem like someone with an easy-breezy voice—especially someone who is starting a revenge business. And in the second to last sentence, “…but the perpetrator had her own very good reason…” did you want to give it away that the perpetrator is female? At least, that’s how this sentence reads to me. Overall, though, this is a very strong query. Nicely done!

      First 250: I love the voice! I also love the feeling/emotion that comes out with this one—you do that flawlessly without being overly wordy. I, honestly, have read and re-read this and I am unable to provide any ideas for suggested changes. You did a great job of a nicely set up intro. Well done!

      This was incredibly hard to choose. But I'm going with...

    11. Critique: Worth
      Another gorgeous query. I’ve got an idea of the characters/plot/stakes/and uniqueness right out the gate. Honestly…I’d reduce the name mentions a bit, but other than that, it’s gold.
      First 250 words:
      I’m so confused…what does this have to do with the query I just read? You seem to be starting in the wrong place. Avoid prologues, if that is what this is.

      Critique: Delicious Vicious Cycles
      I’d move your word count and survivor story to the end. The query should always put the story first. I like the concept of the novel, but you might be able to connect the dots provided a bit more. The 3rd paragraph’s first sentence is very long, I almost glossed over what her business actually entailed.
      First 250 words:
      I really like the character here. I just worry about pacing. You are introducing Vera wonderfully, but it feels like an introduction because the section is thin on plot.

      Verdict: If it was based on queries alone, Worth would have the win. However, the first 250 words are so confusing, that Delicious Vicious Cycles steals victory.

      WINNER GOES TO: Delicious Vicious Cycles

  2. (I'm another Kombatant leaving feedback.)
    WORTH: LOVE this concept. In fact, I had a similar idea bouncing around my head, which I will have to tweak now, thankyouverymuch. LOL. After reading the query, I'm left wondering why the father is so obsessed with Garrick. For me, that takes the focus off Kayen. Would you be able to dial back on the Garrick mentions (though it's obvious he's a key part of the story) and focus more on the sister rivalry? Just reading through this, I'm thinking Garrick's not really worthy of either of them and maybe that's your point, but I'm a little confused by it. I'd rather the focus be solely on the sisters.
    I liked the voice of your first 250, but I'm wondering if this is prologue. I felt a disconnect between the query and 250. I wasn't quite sure who was writing the letter or the intended receiver. IF that's what you are going for at this point, then that's fine because I, personally, would definitely keep reading. Having said that, I liked the contrast you created when you used a formal letterhead, then launched immediately into trash talk about shoes. I was expected a formal letter written by a lawyer and got something opposite of that. Liked that a lot.

    The query hooked me. The only question I had was Vera's age, which is insignificant really, (especially because I know it's YA)but if she's under 18, would she really be left to fend on her own enough to have to start a business? (Plus care for a younger brother as stated in the 250) I'm guessing there are conditions/circumstances mentioned in the manuscript that clear that up though.
    Loved the voice in the 250. I'm already rooting for her. If I hadn't read the query about her being a sexual assault victim, I would have picked up a hint of that in your text. I think that's awesome because it speaks to how she processes situations like this without her literally mentioning what happened to her on the first page. Very well done!

    Best of luck to you both. Glad I'm not judging!

  3. Both of these entries are among my favorites. I want them on my bookshelf.

    Query: I really, really like the concept, and the query does a good job of setting it up.
    First 250: I got a little confused at first as to whose letter this was, but I think I get it.

    Delicious Vicious Cycles
    Query: Another great concept. In the very last sentence, I'd change "getting revenge" to "getting even", because "revenge" sounds like "vengeance", which has already been used twice in the query.
    First 250: While reading this, I can feel what Vera feels. Compelling stakes from the beginning. Great job.

    1. And just like Michelle C, I'm glad I'm not judging. :)

  4. Hi guys, gonna leave you some feedback...


    Query: The concept here sounds so great, and I love me a story that has a sibling relationship at the center of it. I'd say that there are just few places that could use some clarity. For instance, what exactly is it about Arabel that their father values so much? Is it her apparent success she's had in life; and how does Kayen present the opposite to him? Otherwise, I felt like the second paragraph read a little awkwardly. The sentences suddenly got short and felt more synopsis-y as opposed to more voice-infused like the rest of it. Maybe combining sentences or having more transition words would help?

    Wow, what a voice here! You portray Kayen's anger here wonderfully. I'm definitely intrigued!

    Delicious Vicious Cycles:

    Query: I've noticed people often get this confused while reading your query, and it might be worth it to clarify that Levi is an older brother; I think it helps characterize him right away without saying much. I suppose my only feedback is that I know the stakes Vera has at the end, but I feel like they could be made more clear. I suppose it's unclear what kind of revenge Vera would be thinking of for this potential murderer -- would she actually be considering killing them? I think clarifying that could help set up the stakes, show us exactly what she'd become if she tries to take revenge on the killer.

    250: Amazing voice. Honestly I don't have much to say -- the stakes of the scene are clear, and you do an amazing job showing just how creepy this dude is. My only thing that bothers me is creeper sounds...idk like less of a threatening word than this guy gives off. Like friends call each other creepers; it seems like a more casual term to me. Would replacing it with "pervert" or some form of that work?

    Anyway, love both of these! Best of luck to you both!

  5. Worth

    This is very interesting! I'm impressed with how dark and manipulative this story sounds, and I like how you've taken simple motivations (a father's love, a boyfriend) to the next level by transplanting them into a technology-obsessed society.

    First 250:
    There's a lot of voice in this opening, which I'm totally digging. But I have to admit I'm confused about who's writing the letter, or even who Ms. Hillman is, and especially what this trial is about. I sense this story is starting in the wrong place, or else the query is missing something big. (And a minor typo: change "I did for my sister" to "I it did for my sister" :).)

    Delicious Vicious Cycles

    Hmmm! I'm intrigued! I love how Vera uses what she's good at to start a business--even if that business is super shady. This is the kind of morally defunct character I could get behind.

    First 250:
    Great opening! I can feel the tension with Vera and her situation, and it makes me want to read more!

  6. Worth

    WOW!! Loved this idea! Social media issues are big now both in real life and books. I really liked how you used the letter to give backstory without telling. Great idea. I am intrigued to see who wrote it and what they did! I'm guessing its Kayen.
    Only gripe: The POV changes in the last paragraph of the query. How does Kayen know her sister "feels free from her father's oppression"?


    Great premise too!

    Query: I have concerns about the "teen" being left in charge of everything when her parents die. Is she 18? That would make sense but you might want to clarify. Also, a little more info on how she could set up such a business would help me believe the idea more.

    250: Your voice is great, I cringed with Vera when Creeper (love his nickname) was looking at her.

    Right now I'm thinking she's going to steal the watch from Creeper. If that's not your intent, you may want to revisit that paragraph. Maybe it's clarified in the following paragraph but that's the feeling i get reading it as is.

    Good work authors! And good luck to you both!

  7. Worth

    Query – I’m fascinated that you’re telling your story from the POV of what appears to be the bad guy. Or maybe it’s that she started out more sympathetic (never measuring up to her sister) but she goes so far to get what she wants that she seems like the bad guy. That’s a tricky thing to pull off, and I’m curious to see if you manage it. The concept itself, of an app to measure popularity, is intriguing, but I find myself wondering why the school would not only allow but require it.

    250 – I have to say, I’m confused by the first page. Is this letter a framing device for the story described in the query? That should probably be mentioned. There’s also nothing in the query about Kayen (I assume it’s Kayen writing) committing a crime. Unless her sister is writing the letter. But that is also confusing because she didn’t seem like a POV character in the query. So the problem isn’t with the first page itself. The problem is the mismatch between query and first page. If you can resolve that, you’ll be off to a much better start.

    Delicious Vicious Cycles

    Query – Revenge for sale is a cool concept. (Also, I *love* the title.) The query is strong already, but I did have a few nitpicks.

    In the last sentence of paragraph 3, why mention her crush? He and his disapproval, and whatever conflict they cause, aren’t mentioned again in the query. If they’re important, we need more information about him. If not, you can cut that bit.

    In the same sentence, is there a reason to say “sexual assault perpetrators” instead of “rapists”? It definitely flows better with racists, unless you’re worried about too much alliteration. If that’s the case, I’d change racists to bigots or something similar just because “sexual assault perpetrators” is so clunky.

    250 – This is really solid. You do a great job of painting a picture. I can tell a lot about Vera’s character, and seeing her in this bad situation increases my sympathy for her. I can’t think of anything I’d change.

  8. WORTH:
    In your query, I think you can cut Garrick’s name—just Arabel’s boyfriend is probably fine. Also, maybe try giving us a better impression of your main characters’ personalities. Just a one or two word descriptor would be enough. Other than that, your query is super strong and intriguing, and I love the conflict and motives you’ve set up between Kayen and Arabel, and how ruthless Kayen sounds.

    The first 250 is a little confusing to me. I don’t know who Ms. Hilllman is, and I don’t understand the context this note is being sent in, although the voice is really intriguing. If this is something that gets clarified later in your first chapter, then I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I think you end your 250 here on a really strong note!

    The second paragraph of your query does a great job setting up the stakes. The whole premise sounds super intriguing; it’s something I would definitely read. Your query also does a great job conveying voice.

    As a young adult, and this is pretty subjective, this first 250 makes me pretty uncomfortable. On the one hand, I understand that this is the effect you’re going for, and you do a really good job getting it across, but based on your query, I was expecting a more aggressive subversion of tropes. Maybe Vera gets revenge on Creeper later in the first chapter—I hope so, but I think this opening scene could be even more powerful if you play with what we’d expect of this power dynamic. Maybe try conveying Vera’s character by showing how she takes control of the situation somehow, rather than having her play the young, helpless female victim, which, as it is, doesn’t sit very well with me.

  9. Another Kontestant here on her lunch break!

    Q: Snappy premise, author. I'm intrigued by Worth being a tool for social media - reminds me of Klout, but in a Hunger Games kind of way. I'm also intrigued by the fact that there doesn't appear to be a character with whom we can completely empathize. Does the reader know whose POV this is in? Why doesn't the father have paternal feelings toward his own offspring, instead favoring a random teenage boy?

    250: My interest is piqued by the letter, and because I don't know which sister is writing it (or for what crime, for that matter). I wasn't in love with this line: "You’re always on social media checking coverage of the trial and to see if that guy you text with liked your hot pic." I was able to understand that the letter was to a lawyer (though you may want to address it diff - to "Ms. ____ Hillman, Esq." or something. I had a similar question to I think one of the judges - is this a prologue?


    Q: Great voice, a study in clarity and succinctness. Nice work, author.
    Ugh, poor Vera! I need to know how old she is, though -- if she's 17 and under, as YA often-but-not-always is, how is she allowed to have medical decision making power over her brother? And if she's 18 plus - are we skating into new adult?
    The query was honesty quite good as is. There was a bit of a disconnect for me between sentence 1 and 2. I also wanted to know more about Vera's morality scale, but I love the decision she has to make. I'm itchy to know more.

    250: Voice was great, undercurrent of tension with the "Creeper" (I'm not wholly thrilled with this nickname, though). I actually read your 250 before reading the query, and with the Creeper and the $10K smartwatch, I for a VERY short second wondered if this was some kind of futuristic sci-fi. Creeper sounds like some kind of aggressively terrible being. :)
    Overall, though, I'd keep reading. Nice work!

  10. Just wanted to stop by and say thank you all for your feedback and cheering!