Sunday, June 1, 2014

QK Round 1: Amnesiac vs. An Endangered Species

Entry Nickname: Amnesiac
Word Count: 72,000
Genre: YA thriller with sci-fi elements

Something went very wrong with seventeen-year-old Nessa's memory removal procedure. Ever since that trip to the shady neuroscience lab, she can't stop stealing everything in sight. And she's pretty sure she hallucinated a creepy old woman wearing a bunny mask in her bedroom.

Demanding answers, Nessa's parents take her back to the lab, where an assistant named Amir pulls her aside. He confesses that he accidentally gave Nessa the wrong memory to cover up her old one. The new memory contains encrypted information, and the client who was supposed to get it just turned up dead. Amir says the lab director is planning to scrape Nessa's brain clean to hide their mistake.

When Nessa confronts the director, he denies everything. Her parents believe him, but she doesn't. She runs away with Amir, who promises he can hypnotize her so they can figure out what's hidden in her mind and expose the lab. But the details are buried deep, and every time Nessa gets close, pieces of the memory she thought she had erased -- screeching tires and a boy's head smashing her windshield -- start coming back. She can't face it.

But she needs to face it, because that old lady in Nessa's bedroom wasn't a hallucination. She knows exactly what's in Nessa's brain and she's willing to kill again to get it.

First 250 words:

I climb into the driver's seat and tug off the wig that's been torturing my scalp for the last three hours. If hair could breathe, mine would be gasping in relief right now.

"Better put these on, Nessa." My cousin Beth picks up my jeans from her seat.

She has a point: I probably shouldn't be driving Grammy’s car wearing a corset and thigh-high stockings. I pull the banana out of the front of my spangly black underwear and throw it in Beth's lap. With a horrified squeak, she tosses it onto the floor.

"What time is it?" I say.

"Almost three," she says. "I don't know what the law is in Florida, but you're probably not supposed to be driving this late. Should we call a cab?"

My knees thump the steering wheel as I kick my heels off and squirm into the jeans. "We're incognito in this old lady car. It'll be fine."

With a nervous sigh, Beth hands me my t-shirt. She played it safe dressing up as Janet for the Rocky Horror Picture Show tonight, in a plain white dress and cardigan. She didn't even need to hide her outfit when we left the house. I, however, required a full costume change in the movie theater parking lot before we went in. And for a few precious hours, I wasn't Nessa Shea, boring Junior class treasurer and crew team captain. I was Dr. Frank N Furter, the deranged cross-dressing alien and red-lipstick aficionado from Transsexual, Transylvania.


Entry Nickname: Humans: An Endangered Species
Word count: 76K
Genre: YA Science Fiction


At sixteen, Cadi is one of the youngest people at LabDor, or anywhere for that matter.

With mankind’s birthrate fallen to zero, Cadi’s been prepped to do her duty her whole life - been poked and prodded by the Lab Coats for as long as she can remember - all so she can marry her genetically assigned partner.

Whether she wants to or not.

No one has ever escaped LabDor. But she refuses to give up her innocence and freedom to an experiment she knows isn’t working…even if it means mankind will fade into extinction.

Cadi manages to escape, but with an aggravating tagalong – Jack Dearborn, her husband-to-be.
Pursued relentlessly by LabDor’s leader, Director Gibson, the pair set out for Old Vegas, the home of an underground group who fled the experiment when it began.

Along the way, Cadi realizes Jack has feelings for her…and they might just be mutual. But falling for Jack means LabDor was right all along in assigning them. And that’s not validation she’s willing to give.

When they discover the real reason Director Gibson wants them back so badly, Cadi seriously doubts whether the rebels of Old Vegas will allow them to join. And whether the entire experiment is a sham after all.

First 250 words:

I’ve met my parents exactly sixteen times in my life. Well, almost sixteen. Today will be awkward meeting number sixteen, since it’s my birthday and that’s the only time they’re allowed to visit us here at the LabraDormitory.

I press my back against the wall as the other students stream by, trying my best to blend in but be noticed at the same time. Not exactly easy. I scan the crowd looking for the two people that will stand out like yellow scrubbing gloves in a sea of white surgical ones. I hope they see me before anyone else notices me standing here and stops to remind me of what a special day it is.

Acknowledging my birthday is the very last thing I want to do. Today is supposed to be my day after all.

Too bad it belongs to everyone else.

I see his brown and grey streaked hair looming over the sea of kids at the other end of the hall. “Hey, Paul!” I call, waving my hand to catch his attention. He sees me right away and smiles warmly as he makes his way over. I force myself to return his smile as he approaches. He means well, I remind myself sternly. None of this is his fault. Not really.

“Hi, Paul,” I say with the best smile I can muster as he joins me. “Where’s Nora?” I ask, and it’s his turn to try and hide a grimace. They both hate when I call them by their first names.


  1. Judges - reply to this comment to cast your votes.

    1. AMNESIAC: Love the questions this query raises - they're all the right ones. The creepy bunny woman gives me chills. I also like the internal conflict hinted at with the windshield memory. This is a solid query.
      The first page is voicey and compelling, but there's a disconnect between the pitch and the pages that leaves me wondering if this starts in the right place. I assume this chapter might be the one where we see her hit someone with her car? You might consider starting after the accident, closer to the memory removal procedure. Or possibly even after the memory removal procedure. Just my opinion of course, but I would encourage you to write the opening out both ways and see which you like better. But overall, nice job.

      HUMANS: Great first line in the pitch. The query starts to get foggy for me in the second paragraph. What is Cadi's duty, specifically? To get married? To try to have children? What experiment is she a part of and why is she being genetically matched? Love the romantic conflict you've set up between her and her intended husband. At the end, I'm left a little confused on the stakes. You might consider telling us exactly why the director wants them back and why that means the rebels won't want them. Most importantly, what will happen if they fail to join the rebels?
      For the first 250, you again open with a great first line. Nice work. And you keep the action clipping along. There's nothing in the pages I'd want to change.

      I give VICTORY to AMNESIAC.

    2. MINDSWEPT sounds like a really neat concept, but the query reads like a synopsis (this happened, then this happened, then this happened). I also don't really get a good idea of who she is before all of this happens to her -- I want to know what memories she's having removed in the first place!

      ASSIGNED reminds me of "Matched"... if Cassia would have run off with Xander instead of Ky :) The premise is intriguing and the conflict is there, but how does she go from "prepped to do her duty" to "refus[ing] to give up her innocence"? There's a disconnect there that confuses me.

      Victory to An Endangered Species

    3. Amnesiac

      query: Your query definitely did a great job communicating plot and stakes, but it was a little light on character. It's also a bit long. If you can trim back some of the details and cut unneces. lines ("Amir says the lab director is planning to scrape Nessa's brain clean to hide their mistake....When Nessa confronts the director, he denies everything. Her parents believe him, but she doesn't.") you'd have a little more space to inject some character into the plot. For instance, how did this character feel about that procedure in the first place, and how does she feel now?

      250: Cute scene, but it was a bit heavy on dialogue for a first 250, and I didn't see much of a connection to the plot laid out in the query. It's okay if you're building up to that, but ideally we'll get *some* hint of what's to come in the first page.


      An Endangered Species

      query: Plenty of conflict and character in this query. I think the stakes could be clarified a bit though, especially b/c the *main* conflict in the story is thrown in right at the end.

      250: Nice opening page. Sets the scene, gives us a glimpse into her character. Only two things I'd change. First, I didn't understand these lines: "Acknowledging my birthday is the very last thing I want to do. Today is supposed to be my day after all." Second, I'd love to see a hint of the conflict to come at the very end of the sentence instead of Paul's grimace. Use that precious word count real estate wisely!


    4. Princess PrimroseJune 2, 2014 at 9:11 AM

      Dear Humans: An Endangered Species,

      Query: Your query did an accurate job explaining what your story was about, but seemed to lack any real voice. I understood what Cadi's motivation and conflict were, but I didn't really get a feeling for Cadi herself. Also, I wonder if that last line "And whether the entire experiment is a sham after all" could be tweaked. What do you mean a sham? What would be a clearer way to say that that packs an emotional punch for Cadi?

      First 250: This first 250, too, seemed somewhat bland to me. Cadi's voice seems to be missing. From the way she calls her parents by their first names when she knows they hate it, and from what the query has told us she's going to do, I sense that Cadi's a rebel, someone who doesn't care what anyone thinks of her. And yet, these first 250 don't convey that at all. Still, I must say you have a very intriguing premise here. Good luck!

      Dear Amnesiac,

      Query: Your query, while conveying the story to me, lacked a strong voice. What does Nessa sound like in your book? I think rewriting this query by channeling her would really help make this stand out to an agent.

      First 250: Nessa's voice is much stronger here. I already can tell she has a good sense of humor, is a rebel, and seems to care deeply about her family. (All of these would be great to channel for the query.) Though not a whole lot is happening here, I like that we get to see Nessa as she wants to be--someone not boring, someone with something to look forward to. This would make me keep reading. Good job!


    5. Allusion AssassinJune 2, 2014 at 4:51 PM

      I like your opening. It’s not really a standard hook, but does its job nonetheless and has me wanting to read on.

      I don’t quite understand why the implanted memory makes Nessa want to steal everything she sees. I’m probably being dense, but it might be worth a sentence to spell out. I’m not sure I get why Nessa’s parents wouldn’t believe her and it’s unclear why she would go off with Amir, some person she just met. Why would she trust him? That needs to be cleared up.

      The query makes it seem as if Nessa ran over a boy with her car and killed him as the reason she went to the lab to start with. If it’s that straight forward, maybe hide it a bit more in the query, be less obvious than it is now to up the suspense. If that’s not what happened, then it’s great :~)

      I loved your opening page. Nessa has great voice. I’d really like to see some of that come through in the query. Why do you like Nessa? Whatever that reasoning, find a way to put that in your query. It’s a crowded market and MCs have to stand out to get noticed.

      I think your hook could punch a lot harder. This states a fact of your novel, but doesn’t give us much mystery.

      Why is getting married her duty? Why has the population fallen to 0 and why would mankind fade to extinction if she doesn’t go through with the marriage?

      The Jack paragraph is your strongest. It has great voice and made me want to read. I think all the paragraphs before it could be tightened to get to this point faster.

      You then tell us they fall for each other, but don’t show us why. In a query, just as in your novel, if a romance is important it needs to be shown, not told. I don’t understand why she would care that LabDor was correct about their pair up and your last paragraph is very confusing. I get that you are trying to build mystery, but because the rest of the stakes are muddled, this secret makes it feel more so.

      What is the meat of your book – is it about the escape or what comes after? After reading the query, I’m left not knowing what the obstacle and stakes are – What does your MC want, what is in her way and what bad thing happens if she doesn’t get it? To me, these feel almost there in your query, but not quite. If you focus on that, I think you’ll have a stronger product.

      I suspect the escape is only a small part and that the real meat of your book is about “Great, I escaped, now what am I going to do?” Maybe that’s what you should build on your query – Soon to be 16 yr old Cadia gave herself the only birthday she ever dreamed of – an escape from the imprisoning genetics institution she was raised at. What she didn’t realize was that building a life outside LabDor would be so hard. Or that her genetically perfect match and dimwit husband would be tagging along.

      Not that, but you get the idea.

      If Cadi is one of the youngest people, as you state in your query, why are there so many kids passing by in the opening scene? That confused me. Other than that, I thought the opening was okay, but a little confusing. I didn’t quite get why she’d want to see her parents if they didn’t help raise her and what the point was. I assume you get to that in the next 250.

      I have a soft spot for Endangered’s premise and hope he/she whips it in shape so that it gets picked up so I can read it. But on the strength of the query and the opening page the victory goes to - AMNESIAC

    6. MRS N, the Query QueenJune 3, 2014 at 10:54 AM

      Query- What a great concept and I love the image of an old lady in Nessa’s bedroom wearing a bunny mask! Your query is solid but a little too wordy. Tighten it up a bit and it will be perfect!
      250- I loved your intro! Questions flew into my mind and I wanted to know more about Nessa and why it seems like she is running from something. My favorite is this: I wasn't Nessa Shea, boring Junior class treasurer and crew team captain. I was Dr. Frank N Furter, the deranged cross-dressing alien and red-lipstick aficionado from Transsexual, Transylvania.

      Humans: An Endangered Species:
      Query- I thought about this for awhile and your query has too many paragraphs. You could condense your first four paragraphs into one. Ideally your query should have three to four paragraphs tops. Using so many paragraphs will raise a red flag for agents.
      Also, you need to tell the agent what the stakes are. You leave it a mystery as to what Director Gibson is really up to. Don’t leave them (and the readers in the dark). It’s okay to leak it. I promise not to tell. Lol!
      250- I liked your first 250. You show me a part of the MC and I feel what she is feeling. I wonder immediately how I would feel being a part of that world.

      Both intros were great and I want to read each book! In the end, this competition came down to the query letter. I award VICTORY to AMNESIAC.

    7. Amnesiac:
      Great hook! Drew me right in. But you probably shouldn't start a sentence with And.
      Your stakes at the end are great, but I feel like the rest of the query lacks voice, and is just telling me what is going to happen.
      Spangly should be spangled.
      This is a strong 250. There's a good set up of character and world building. I feel grounded in the story, so good job.

      Humans: An Endangered Species
      Like I said with the previous entry, don't start sentences with And :-)
      I can't see anything atrocious in this query. Good hook, and your stakes leave me wanting to know what is really going on.
      I feel like the 250 starts out great, but then I'm left wondering who Paul is. Since I'd read on anyway if I had the MS, I don't think this is a big deal. I love her voice about her birthday and how you use it to establish the world in which she lives.

      This one is a tough one, and seriously my vote could go to either. But the one that pulled my curiosity a little more gets my vote.
      Victory to Humans: An Endangered Species

    8. Book Boyfriend ConnoisseurJune 4, 2014 at 7:20 PM


      What an awesome opening for your query. Love the fact that your character's voice already shines through. I'm not exactly sure what you mean by 'scrape her brain' though. Erase it? Kill her in general? I'd clarify that a bit more. I'm also confused as to why she needed to hide her memories in the first place...but yet, that's part of the mystery that drags me in and makes me want to keep reading. As far as the first 250 go, I wouldn't change a thing about it. It's clear and reels me in for sure.

      Humans: An Endangered Species:

      Your query is well written, but in need of a little tweaking. Nothing major. I'm curious as to what LabDor is. A town? Company? In your first 250 my only concern is in the end when she greets her parents. She says hey Paul and again, Hi Paul in the next paragraph. Maybe have her say something else at first so as not to repeat. Overall, I really got sucked into this one. Great voice!

      For premise and voice: Victory: Humans: An Endangered Species

    9. So sorry, Book - I know I called for votes on this entry but I called too late :( Since your vote is 20 min past the deadline, it can't count. I'm so sorry but thank you SO much for voting on it!!!

    10. Amnesiac: I really like this premise and the query is laid out well.

      One question I had was her running away with Amir. In his role as assistant does that mean he's significantly older? It might help to have some clarity here because as it is written now I'm getting a love interest vibe.

      Your sinker does the job well and leaves me with questions, making me want to read more! Well done!

      First 250: I felt a little disembodied in the set-up and wasn't quite sure where you were going with the "banana" until the final paragraph. I would suggest using a sentence or two to set the scene before you get into the whole wig scenario.

      Humans: An Endangered Species. I think your query is well-written, and you've laid out all the necessities for us: character, conflict & cost.

      Your premise reminds me of two YA series already in the marketplace that have the dystopian theme of females as incubator scenario: Anna Carey's EVE series and Katie French's THE BREEDERS. My suggestion would be to show how your novel differs from these already published books.

      First 250: I really like your first line. It sets the scene and tone immediately. The rest of the sample has a ton of voice, and we automatically get Cadi's sense of unease.

      I would recommend that you add something to your second to last line, acknowledging Paul is her father. You sort of allude to it in the last line but I was unsure.

      These are two amazing entries, and I think both will go far in the query trenches! Good luck!

  2. Amnesiac - Your query lays out the plot and stakes well and makes me interested in reading more. The 250, while amusing and good writing, seemed to be an entirely different story from the query. You might want to reconsider where you are starting the story. I would have liked to have seen the two sections connect more.

    Humans: An Endangered Species - I love the first line of your query. I had to stop and read it again and it made me wonder how someone could be the youngest *anywhere*. It sets up nicely the underlying premise of your story, and your second paragraph. I also like that your query voice matches your 250 voice. The only nitpick I have is that the 250 starts out strong but the last sentence kind of ends flat. Is there anything you can do with the ending to give the reader a real need to turn the page and see what is going to happen next?

    Good job to both of you and good luck!

  3. Amnesiac: I agree with the above commentor that there's a definate disconnect between the query and 250. Both are really intriguing and make me want to read more, but I'm expecting two different books. From the very first line, the query pulls me in and makes me question things like, why is Nessa getting a memory removal procedure and is is common in her world?
    The creepy factor is definately raised with the mention of the bunny mask. Nice.
    I did wonder why a teenager confronts the director. It seems like something the parents should do.

    Humans: I have a lot of questions after reading this! Some I'd like answers to and others that pull me into the story and make me want to read more. Like, why does her birthday belong to everyone?
    And this exchange doesn't connect to me: she waves Paul/dad over (bc she doesn't want others to notice her first), then she forces a smile, reminding herself it's not his fault, and then antagonizes him intentionally by calling him by his first name. I think the problem is, is that I'm having a difficult time immersing myself in the scene.
    The query raises questions I wonder if you could clarify: is it just Cadi being prepped or all females? Why is she the youngest? Did something happen to stop reproduction 16 years ago? How does she know "it" isn't working?

    I think both of these entries are great and I'm eager to read more!

  4. Amnesiac: First, I love the bunny mask. I think your opening paragraph in your query is great. I got a little lost in the next paragraph and had to go back and read it again. Afterwards I felt like I knew what you were trying to say, but I'm not so sure an agent would have time to do that. I think you might try to write an opening to your story with the part about--screeching tires and a boy's head smashing her windshield--this is such a vivid scene and I think it would draw the reader in. Overall, I think a few minor tweaks would make this just a bit stronger. Nice job!

    Humans: An Endangered Species: Your first line is an attention grabber. In both your query and your 250. Great first sentences! And we all know how critical those are. The one thing I would like to know is what would happen to them if they fail to join the rebels? Also, I love the romantic conflict, but this is a matter of taste.

    Both stories were great and I would certainly read more!! Good luck to the both of you!

    Good, clear and exciting query, and I loved the image of an old woman in a bunny mask. Unclear why if Nessa has the new memory why she can't remember it straight away though? The 250 was great - got the character personalities across just right and had the bonus inclusion of a humorous banana. I want to read more - see me shiver with antici...

    Enjoyed the query, which made me a little nostalgic for some of those great films of the 70s like Logan's Run - in a good way! I wondered how Cadi knew the experiment was failing though? I thought The 250 contained just the right balance of action and scene-setting. I wondered about the "too bad it belongs to eveyone else" part though - is everyone grown in the lab and do they all have the same birthday? Or did you mean something else? Anyway, again, I'd definitely read more.

    Good luck to you both!





  6. I think this one is going to be a tough match to judge…

    I really liked this query. It grabs in the first line and sets everything out clearly. Specifically, the whole idea of a memory removal gone wrong, of someone’s implanted memories, and of old memories leaking out, is all very compelling. Sounds like a very gripping thriller.

    I also enjoyed the 250. The only thing that threw me off there (and I could be wrong in my interpretation) was that it seems to start the story pre-crash, which struck me as odd since the query had led me to believe that realizing there had even been a crash was part of the mystery that needing solving. Otherwise I thought it was well written

    An Endangered Species
    Another solid query and 250. Great openers in both. The query grabbed my interest immediately and set up the elements nicely, and the 250 flowed very well. I like the slightly dystopian yet still high tech vibe.

    The one item that stuck out for me in the pitch in general is that, if they have specifically raised her from birth as part of some experiment to keep humankind alive, I question whether they would instill within her more Victorian sensibilities about marriage and “innocence.” It seems to me they would have raised her much more liberally-minded about matters regarding sex, marriage, etc., if there’s that much riding on it (or at least, that’s how I’m reading this; I could be wrong).

    Good luck to both!

  7. Amnesiac: Awesome hook and I love the premise, but this query reads like a synopsis. There’s so much potential for “punch” with just a bit of rewording and maybe taking out a character or two.

    First 250: Great starting point and introduction to your MC. It’s got voice and humor; I’d read more!

    Humans: This one also has a great hook in the starting sentence, but the sentence structure in the rest is awkward for me. The second sentence-paragraph can probably be broken up and integrated with the third. Question: if Cadi is abandoning an experiment that isn’t working to begin with, why would there be a threat that “mankind will fade into extinction” thanks to her actions? This doesn’t seem to be logical. The premise is really interesting, but there seem to be multiple stakes thrown all over the query with the one in the final sentence being the weakest. I’d still read this book, though 

    First 250: I notice the same type of sentence structure in this as in the query, which I guess is your style. It does convey a certain voice, but I still find it a bit distracting (sorry!). Good descriptions, although throwing “Paul” into the mix confused me until I made the connection that it was her dad. It would have been smoother for me if you’d started that paragraph with “I see MY FATHER’S brown and grey . . . “

    Great job to both though, this is a tough one to judge!


    Loved the premise here. Your query explains the concept and storyline well, but I felt it read a bit like a synopsis. I'd like to see some more voice coming through. For example, the line ending with "...planning to scrape Nessa's brain clean to hide their mistake" could be followed by "No way that's happening." I want to see your character's personality and attitude in your query so I'm not left wondering, who is this girl?

    While I felt your query could use some tweaking, your first 250 was stellar. You write like a pro with your word choices and general flow of the narrative. You put me right inside the scene and I didn't want to leave. This is exactly what you want from your readers. Amazing.


    Another great premise. Very "Children of Men" meets YA. That promises darkness and tension right there. I'm intrigued.

    The query is clear cut and reads well, which is always a challenge in sci-fi since there's so much to explain. I have two nitpicks:

    One, I'd cut the line about "even if it means mankind will fade into extinction." Even though this might be the case, it makes the MC seem unlikable since the query doesn't provide enough room to justify her reasoning. I could understand her wanting to leave for an experiment she doesn't believe in, so I'd leave it at that.

    Two, I feel the final paragraph gets a bit too mysterious and doesn't spell out the stakes well enough for me. If Jack and Cadi can't get with the rebels, will they be left to defend for themselves in a desolate world? If they go back to LabDor, will they become lab rats for the rest of their lives? I need more details here so I really feel the characters' struggle.

    Your first 250 starts strong. What a great opening line! I also reveled in your subtle hints "It's supposed to be my day. Too bad it belongs to everyone else." Well done. World-building wrapped in enigma. This is what I read science fiction for, and you've done it beautifully.