Sunday, June 1, 2014

QK Round 1: A Cozy for Geeks vs. [retracted]

Entry Nickname: A Cozy for Geeks
Title: The Genuine Fake
Word count: 75K
Genre: Mystery


Here's my proposition. I'll give you $2,000 in cash -- and you will recover a spear that has been stolen from me. Not a real spear -- a digital one, from a video game. I realize that you're not a detective, and probably not much of a gamer. No problem. I've just a got a hunch that you're the right gal for the job.

Suspicious? So was Dahlia Moss, heroine of the geek mystery "The Genuine Fake" (75,030 words). Dahlia, an unemployed millennial with more student loans than friends, takes the job anyway. Two thousand dollars buys a lot of Ramen. She certainly didn't think that the job would change her routine. But when her client is murdered by a real-world copy of the spear she'd been looking for, everything is upended.

Now's she's fending off suspicious policemen and sleuthing around St. Louis. Gamers are showing up at her doorstep, cute botanists are asking her out to dinner, and a syringe-wielding woman in a treant costume wants her dead. Everything she can think of has gone completely wrong-- so why can't she stop smiling?

"The Genuine Fake" is a comic mystery that will appeal to readers of Donna Andrews and Alan Bradley, as well as to fans of geek humorists like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.

First 250 words:

The only time I ever met Jonah Long he was wearing a fake beard, a blue pinstripe captain's outfit and a toy pipe that blew soap bubbles. He did not seem like someone that was about to change my life.

"I have a proposition for you," he had told me. Typing that out I realize that it does look like the kind of thing a life changing person might say. It's right up there with "it's dangerous to go alone-- take this!" and "you are the chosen one." But a plastic bubble pipe really takes the edge off this sort of thing.

It was a nautical themed party, which partly explained his ridiculous outfit. I had thought he was hitting on me. “I’m in a non-dating phase," I had told him. Not entirely true, but I repeat: bubble pipe.

"A financial proposition, Dahlia."

I had no idea who he was. I was irked that he knew my name but it was clear from the way Charice was hovering over him that my roommate was involved. She was wearing a over-sized mermaid's outfit that made her look faintly seal-like-- especially with her mugging at me as Jonah spoke. Eh? Eh? I felt like I should throw a fish at her.

But really: what could I do? I had seventeen dollars and twenty three cents in my bank account at the time of this exchange, with less in savings. I could only use ATMs that dispensed tens. Despite my correct sense that Jonah was 1) ridiculous and 2) trouble, at the phrase "financial proposition" my actions were effectively bound.




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

    1. THE GENUINE FAKE seems very similar in premise to "Ready Player One" and "Eye of the Minds," (both which I loved) and because of that, I really wanted the query to include more specific details about what sets this story apart. There were a few things that confused me -- if she's unemployed, then who's her client? What does the botanist have to do with a video game quest? I also had to google what a "treant" is (though maybe that's just a gap in my own knowledge). I did love the line about Dahlia having "more student loans than friends." Best of luck!

      ASLEEP EVER AFTER's query set the stage well (pun intended). The problem is clear and there were enough details to pique my interest. Some of the wording in the second paragraph sounds awkward -- maybe using the simple present instead of present continuous tense would help (ie. "she deliberately causes" instead of "she is deliberately causing")? I'd also simplify the last paragraph, just stating that the story has series potential.

      Victory to Dead Princesses Don't Kiss!

    2. A Cozy for Geeks: The content of this query is great – your story sounds fun and original, and it has very good voice. BUT... I really dislike addressing the reader, and am pretty sure agents don’t like it either. So I’d reword it so that your title and word count comes at the top, and it’s told in regular narrative. Also, I don’t quite understand the last bit about her not being able to stop smiling – because of the cute guys asking her out? Or because she’s just enjoying the adventure? Make that clearer.

      This is a great first page – brilliant voice and very funny. My only suggestions are: the mention of her typing threw me a bit; I think the whole thing would sound much better in past tense, not pluperfect, and I thought ‘my actions were effectively bound’ was a clunky phrase, and could be reworded in a better, less academic-toned, way. But I would definitely read on, this sounds like so much fun and made me laugh out loud a couple of times.

      Asleep Ever After: This sounds like a fun mystery, with an original setting. But your query somehow feels backwards. If Ashling is the main character, start with her, not Katrina, and get onto the murder more quickly, don’t leave it right till the end.

      I think this first page needs some work. I’m not a fan of the first italicised line, I’d take it out, it’s confusing. I don’t think we need to know about her picking up the trash etc, don’t waste valuable first page real estate on mundane details like that. And then the final two paras are rather clunky exposition. Don’t tell us about this after the fact like a synopsis, show us Ashling and her staff finding out about Katrina, make it come alive in-scene, and trust the reader to pick up that Ashling is the boss by showing us that too, not telling us straight out.

      Victory to A Cozy for Geeks.

    3. Princess PrimroseJune 2, 2014 at 8:57 AM

      Dear Carol,

      Query: I found your query a bit confusing as it appears to introduce Katrina as the protagonist. However, as the query progresses, it turns out Katrina dies. Since Ashling is barely talked about, I wasn't sure who was going to step up and play the sleuth. I strongly advise rewording your query to tell the sequence of events from Ashling's point of view. Secondly, I would also suggest infusing your query with Ashling's voice. As it is, it comes across as a rundown of events, which is not the most effective way to nab an agent's attention.

      First 250: I was still a bit confused from the query as to whose story was really being told. I take it the "I" talking is Ashling, though it's not clearly evident at first go. Also, I felt this could really use some polishing to bring out Ashling's voice. Who is Ashling? What does she want? What is she struggling with (on an emotional level) when this story opens? Answering these questions could help you rework this till it shines.

      Dear A Cozy for Geeks,

      Query: First, a typo: "I've just a got a hunch that you're the right gal for the job." There's an extra "a" there. Secondly, I think you could take out the italics. Since it's such a long block of text, it takes away the "punch" factor. Also, I'd recommend getting rid of "Suspicious? So was..." as this line doesn't really add much. You don't need to mention how long the MS is or the genre at the beginning of the query anyway, and I felt it hurt rather than helped the strength of this query. Your query has a strong voice, which I liked (especially the bit about Ramen--ha!). However, I was a bit confused by the line, "Everything she can think of has gone completely wrong-- so why can't she stop smiling?" It made Dahlia appear callous or a bit unbalanced, and wasn't explained. I suggest reworking this query.

      First 250: Your first 250 shone. It was infused with voice, humorous, and definitely piqued my interest. I liked Dahlia immediately because she seemed like someone I could be friends with--important in a cozy mystery. Well done!


    4. Allusion AssassinJune 2, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      Other judges have pointed out your typo and suggested that you drop the long block of non standard query format text at the beginning. I echo those suggestions. Also, please move your genre and word count to either the beginning or end of your query (you already have it there too anyway), per standard query guidelines. Agents aren't kidding with those things.

      Start with a hook - "When Dahlia Moss is offered a proposition that doesn't involve taking off her clothes but will cover rent and Ramen for a year, she knows it's too good to be true, but as an unemployed millennial with more student loans than friends, takes the job anyway. Her client turning up dead, was not one of the consequences she had considered." Not that but you get the idea.

      Next, move to the story - She took a job to find a virtual object, but then her client turned up real life dead. I think your third paragraph works well as is with the exception of the smile. First, don't end with a question. Second, I don't get why Dahlia can't stop smiling. It doesn't seem intriguing, it just seems a little weird. So whatever you're going for there, maybe try a different way.

      Your opening is really strong. You had me all the way until the end. "effectively bound" seems awkward. Good job overall though. I'm left wanting more.

      Cozies are all about the amateur sleuth and the setting. Your query doesn't give us the first, and short circuits the second. By the end of your query, we have no idea who the MC is and what her stakes are. After reading the pages, we get the feel that it is the park owner. If so, that needs to be front and center in the query and it should be told from her point of view.

      Contrary to their title, cozy mysteries are less about the who done it and more about the journey to find out who done it. So while the dead princess is superficially important, she's not the meat of the story. It's about what ever obstacle your MC has to overcome to solve dead princesses murder.

      They are also about setting. Your opening page gives a big dose of that, but that fairy tale world wasn't brought into your query at all. Consider incorporating some of that great voice into the query.

      The opening page is okay, but we still don't know who is talking, who is the MC. Additionally, I agree with whatever judge said it may not be the best use of real estate. You're taking us through some mundane details to introduce the place and the set up, but I'm left feeling there was a more creative way you could conquer that task.

      It's a cute concept, so keep at it.

      But the victory goes to A COZY FOR GEEKS

    5. A COZY FOR GEEKS: I really like this pitch. Honestly, I wouldn't touch the start of the query (except for the place where there's an extra "a", of course). Sometimes "breaking the rules" can work in your favor, and I think it works here. It's voicey and compelling and brings a unique factor to your pitch that sets you apart. The only comment I have - at the end, I'm left wondering what the real stakes are. Is she trying to solve her client's murder? Has she been accused of murder? Is she just going to spend the rest of the book dodging the syringe-wielding woman? What's the Big Problem she needs to solve and what happens if she fails?
      The first 250 are excellent. GREAT voice; Dahlia is the kind of MC I'd love to spend a whole book with.

      CAROL: I think the query focuses too much on the victim and not enough on the MC. I even assumed Katrina was the MC until the time of her murder - which was excellently revealed and shocking - but then I was confused on who our sleuth would be. I agree with the others who have said they felt disconnected. Start us with your MC and whittle the details about Katrina down to the bare minimum.
      For the first 250, great first line. The voice is good in the first paragraph, but I feel like the second paragraph about StoryWorld took me out of the story and is a lot more "telling" than I like to see. I would prefer those details be revealed as she welcomes a snooty Katrina to the park, for instance.


    6. So I'm running out of time so my feedback with be brief. I'm so sorry! There's just too many great entries and not enough time in a day. So!
      A Cozy for Geeks
      I don't really like how this starts with a quote, and how you say "So was Dahlia Moss, heroine of the geek mystery "The Genuine Fake" (75,030 words)." I think you need focus on a strong hook to start, because the rest is excellent.
      Great voice. Well done at setting the scene so clearly.

      Carol Ayer
      The opening line to the query is a little too much having both characters' names in it. Focus on Ashling.
      Good setting the scene, but I'd like to see more voice.

      Despite needing some work on the query, the voice for my choice just sang. Victory to Cozy for Geeks


    Query: Typically agents don't want to see quotes from the manuscript, but this quote really worked for me. Still--it's a risk, so really think hard about whether it's worth it. That all being said, I thought the conflict & stakes were very clear, and you had solid character development. The only line that confused me: "She certainly didn't think that the job would change her routine." What routine? Also, how could $2k NOT change her routine a little if she's currently eating ramen?

    250: Holy voice! The MC's personality bounced off the page. I think you could move a little more quickly into the plot itself, but I loved all of the details so I'm not even sure it's worth changing the pacing. I particularly appreciated the ATM line--great detail that really captured her financial situation.




    Query: Plot is clear & concise, setting is vivid. The only problem is that I didn't feel connected to any of the characters. The query is from a distant third, but your first page is a close third. I'd like to see the query rewritten to match so that we are able to connect to the MC. Example: "Ashling X has always wanted..." I also suggest you find 1-2 comp titles, since that will help agents envision what this novel is like without reading it, and also where it would fit on shelves.

    250: Great setting details & clear stakes. Main character's voice is a bit lost amidst the beanstalks. In paragraph 2, I'd like to see a) more specifics (not 20 something, but 24; not "i don't know how they got her, but a guess as to HOW they did it (Bribery?) even if she doesn't know, b) more of the MC's *feelings* about the starlet coming to visit, which will help us connect to him, and c) more *voice*. The first paragraph is so loud in comparison that she felt subdued here. It might actually pay off to introduce the MC's voice a bit BEFORE you show her wandering through the fairy tale set.


  3. I enjoyed both these concepts, I would definitely read both - this is going to be a tough call for the judges for sure!


    Although I like the writing itself in the first paragraph of the query, for me it broke a bit from the traditional "query" format and the transition to the traditional query below seemed disjointed. Although the details given later are intriguing, I would have liked to learn a little more about the plot and the MC in the query. I loved the 250 excerpt - tons of voice and humor mixed and and I would have definitely read on!


    From the way the query is written, I would expect the MC (and POV of the story) to be Katrina, but it seems from the fact that Katrina is killed and the first 250 that it is actually from Ashling's. Other than that I thought the query was effective and presented the plot in an intriguing way. (minor point, but I think you need to spell out 20 as "twenty" when it begins a sentence). I would have liked to see a little more voice/personality in the 250 excerpt, and I thought it was a bit repetitive (the fact that Katrina is starting that day is mentioned twice, 2nd paragraph and last), but it does a good job of setting up the story.

    Good luck to you both!

    Interesting way to start a query - a bit different but I think it works. Perhaps the query itself says more about the tone of the book than the plot itself, but it did make me want to read it. And I laughed at the bubble pipe and fish-throwing! Not sure about the "why can't she stop smiling" bit. Is this saying something about the MC's personality, that she find it all amusing despite the peril? Might need to spell it out a bit more?

    Is the word count a bit on the low side for this one? It certainly sounds enjoyable, but I think the world is a bit overloaded with fairy-tale-themed stuff at the moment. Third para of query may also need polishing. Until that point, there's no indication of who sleeping beauty is, so it took a couple of reads for me.

    Good luck to both entries!

  5. Genuine Fake:

    Honestly, I'm underwhelmed by the query. I see you were going for different, which is fine, but the number one rule of breaking rules is that it has to work. Since others think the start works and others don't, examine our suggestions and go with what you believe will work. Also, the business stuff like title and word count go at either the beginning or the end of the query and not in the main section. I thought the rest of the query could use some clarity. Remember: we don't know your story as well as you do. Now for the good stuff. Your 250 was fantastic. Love the voice, and the writing is tight and clear. I would definitely read on.

    Asleep Ever After:

    Cute premise! The first paragraph didn't hook, so you need to work on that, but the rest enticed me to want to read the book. As an aside, you might want to bump up the word count to 60K. Cozies can run short, but 60K seems more viable than 59K, and agents won't get upset if you round up a thousand words. All that aside, there's a big issue that needs to be addressed. The query makes it sound like Katrina's the main character, yet the first 250 is clearly in Ashling's POV. As much as I love the query, it needs to showcase Ashling, not Katrina. As to the 250, it lacked the same punch and voice as the query. You have too much exposition, and we need to see more of a hint of Ashling's personality.

  6. Genuine Fake

    The quote didn't work for me, or the rhetorical question. I think it's actually working to your disadvantage and distracting from the great voice in the rest of the query. That voice is shining through in the first 250, too, I love the humor in it.

    Asleep Ever After

    Reading the query, I thought the main character was Katrina until I hit the part where she turns up dead. I had to go back and reread to find the main character, who's treated like an afterthought. It's well written, but by the end of the query, all I know about Ashling is that she owns an amusement park and doesn't like Katrina. No stakes, no mention of what Ashling wants. The book is in first person from Ashling's point of view, but the query doesn't even hint at what Ashling is like. The first 250 doesn't help much more with that.

    If the query were redone from a perspective of what Ashling is doing to try to manage Katrina, I think that'd work a lot better. Then I'd be more invested in the character, and more willing to read past the scene-setting that makes up the opening.

  7. I really, really enjoyed both.
    For Genuine Fake: Your turns of phrases about Dahlia being broke are perfect. The line about ramen is dripping with voice. I like the set up with the guy with the bubble pipe at the party. It's also a great place to start a story, an out of the ordinary setting and an out of the ordinary proposition. Stakes are clear, which is also great. I don't get some of the gaming terms, but that may just be me.

    For Dead Princesses:
    I agree that the query should be from Ashling's perspective. We need more of the stakes as well. That said, I think it's a great concept, and some fun world building in the 250. And I, for one would love to read it.

    Honestly, starting with the quote from the story, then the question really didn't work for me. They say not to start a query with a rhetorical question, because the agent could say, "Suspicious? Not really." and stop reading. I'd start with "Dahlia, an unemployed millennial gets a suspicious proposition..." and go from there. I see that other people like it, though, so it may come down to knowing the agents you query or having two different queries and carefully choosing who sees which.

    You've got a great voice in the first 250. Unless the story is clearly told in flashback, though, I'd change "the only time I ever met" to "When I met..." It threw me a little - do I need to know right away that they only met once, or is it better to leave me wondering? I'd also go through and try to change some of the "was" to more active verbs - but overall, this is great. I'd keep reading.

    I like the concept, but your query gave me no inclination until the end that Katrina wasn't the main character. Ashling got so lost in the query that when Lanette mentioned her, I had no idea where she got the MC's name (since there's also no indication in the 250). I'd rewrite the query so the entire focus is on Ashling and how Katrina's actions affect her, then what happens following the death. What are the stakes for Ashling? I also agree with the comments re: series. It's not necessary to say anything more than "series potential."

    The same comment as above - you have a lot of sentences that use "was" as the verb, and this is just the first page. That makes me worry that there are 75k words of telling ahead of me. Show that the goats are well-taken care of, avoid using "was verb ending in -ing" as much as possible, and it will be stronger. You also say twice that Katrina is arriving that day, and that's not necessary. I'd look for a way to reword or eliminate one of them. I do like the fairy tale stuff, though, and I like the idea of a mystery set in a fairy-tale theme park (although I worry for the owner if people frequently get murdered there).

    These are both great ideas and really strong entries. I'd read either book. Good luck to both of you.

  9. A Cozy for Geeks

    Query - This is an interesting query since you break the standard query mold. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not because it definitely gets my attention, and as they say, it doesn't matter if you follow the rules if you can get someone to want to read more. The problem for me is that you break the flow by changing from first person to third after the first paragraph. In paragraph 2, definitely get rid of the reference to your novel and word count, otherwise it reads like a Reading Rainbow introduction (But don't take my word for it.)

    Ok - now that I've covered structure, let me get into the actual story.You hooked me right away with the premise of getting inside a game. Tell me that some of the action takes place inside a game and I'm totally sold. You have some great voice throughout your query and Douglas Adams? If you're not just pulling my leg, I need this book stat.

    250 - You do a good job of setting up the absurdity of your story. The writing feels like it could use some tightening, but it's a little hard to critique zany. Best I can do is give you a few nitpicks and send you on your way.

    "Typing that out" implies that the narrator is sitting down writing out the story, which is a frame that always leaves me a little cold. Not sure why, but it makes me feel 100 times more removed from the action. Love the line about the bubble pipe taking the edge off.

    Also hyphenate "life-changing", "nautical-themed", "twenty-three".

    Overall - It seems to me that you are aiming for a precarious balance between comic and tense. I don't know if that's possible to pull off and for me, the query does a better job of conveying that than the 250. The 250 gives me a sense of the writing, but it's a little confusing and loose. It does leave me curious to read at least the next chapter to see where this is going.

    Asleep Ever After

    Query: Love the premise of this. Your set up is very clear and sounds like a fun read. I'm not fond of the semi-colons in your second paragraph, but otherwise, I can't find much to nitpick.

    250: The characters your MC visits are amusing, but my concern is that nothing happens for an entire paragraph. You could maybe cut some of the tour of the park down and use the words to build up more of your story. Paragraph 2 and 3 are all exposition and telling, which you might be able to convey through some dialogue.

    Both of these sound like a lot of fun and wish you both the best in the competition!

  10. MRS N, the Query QueenJune 2, 2014 at 11:30 AM


    Query- I was confused from the start of your query and it continued on to the end. Is this a quote from your book? I see that you broke the traditional query lines but I found it difficult to pull out your hook and the stakes. Your writing voice is clear. However, the publishing industry has certain rules in place, such as query formats, for a reason. I know of several literary agents who would reject your query on that basis alone. I'm more flexible. :-)

    250- It's good. A little wordy but good. In order to grab the reader, I would suggest moving the first two sentences down to the second paragraph and starting with, "I have a proposition for you," he had told me. It draws the reader into your story more effectively. :-)


    Query- I loved your title! Your story is fun and I loved the idea of Story World! There are so many things you could do to play around with this. Your query was wordy and I was also confused about who the MC was. I would recommend having it be from Ashing's POV. The stakes are her stakes, not Katrina's. Tighten up the wording and I think it is a great query!

    250- I got totally lost and was uninterested in your story by the time I finished. While your query is strong, your first 250 is not. I think it needs to be rewritten. Maybe start with the third paragraph and then weave the first two back in. You want to grab people right away not lose them. Tell me more about your park and your conflict.


    Good luck to your both! :-)

  11. A Cozy For Geeks:
    This is a very interesting premise and I like the query. I love the line about Ramen. However, the line after it seemed a bit strange to me. If she's living on Ramen, doesn't she want a change in her routine? I know a lot of people may not like using a quote, but I like it. It drew me right in.

    I love your description of Jonah. You do have a couple of typos like a missing comma and using "a" instead of "an." The last sentence of your 250 was a bit confusing for me. It took reading it a couple of times to really make sense of it.

    Dead Princess Don't Kiss:
    I love your title. This is a great query. It could me tightened up a bit. There are a few places where it seems like you use extra words like you can say "director" instead of "play's director" and get rid of "but" before "with no apparent murder weapon."

    Your opening line is fantastic. I really like your description as she walks around the park. Again, you can get rid of some words. You don't need to say that Beauty is from Beauty and the Beast. People know who Beauty is.

    Both of these are great. I feel like I have to be really nit-picky to find problems. Good luck!

  12. A Cozy for Geeks
    The premise in the query really grabbed me. I like the idea of this story taking place both in real life and in some online gaming world. Two thoughts: 1) I would suggest removing the title and word count from the middle of the query. Those items should come either before or after the actual pitch; and 2) I would suggest trimming the description to just “Mystery” (and also possibly dropping the reference o Adams and Pratchett) and letting the comic part speak for itself. There’s something about “telling” readers a story will be funny that tends to turn them off. Which means the query probably needs an injection of humour, because while it’s well written, it doesn’t scream “humorous” just yet, and it really should (in short, don’t tell us it’s funny, show us it is :-).

    By contrast, I thought the opening paragraph of the 250 was absolutely hilarious. Made me laugh out loud. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything I would change in that whole opening. Fantastic voice throughout. Really, really solid. Bring that kind of humour to the query and I think you’ll be set.

    Dead Princesses Don't Kiss
    Another premise that really intrigued me. I would definitely recommend trimming that opening line in the query though. Something short and snappy. Right now it’s packed with info that I think would work better once you’ve grabbed the reader’s attention. Also, right now the query makes it sound like Katrina is the main character (to me anyway), but the in 250—and given that Katrina dies at some point—it sounds like Ashling is actually the MC. If that’s the case, I would rework the query to focus more on him.

    While I liked the 250, I think it could be a little punchier up front. There’s some nice humorous lines in the second half, and the voice feels a little stronger there, more confident. I’d suggest revising the first half to match, because it gets rolling, it flows well.

    Best of luck to both entries!

  13. Carol Ayer AKA Dead Princesses Don't KissJune 4, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    A *huge* thank you to Mike for choosing me, a *gigantic* thank you to each and every one of you who commented on my entry, and a *super duper* congratulations to my opponent! I hope you make it all the way!

  14. A Cozy for GeeksJune 4, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    Love and thanks to everyone for the feedback. I'm taking lots of notes here, and I'll do everything I can to apply your advice into the next draft of the query. Know that you are being listened to and infinitely appreciated. (Well, finitely appreciated. But _a lot_.)

    And amazing thanks to Carol Ayer, a fierce competitor and a _great_ cozy writer. How do I know this? Because I've been reading her book all week and enjoying it immensely. #hostsave