Thursday, August 7, 2014

Become an Agent #18

Genre: MG Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Word Count: 33,000


Eleven-year-old Opal never sleeps.

Nobody she knows sleeps. Nobody knows what sleep is, or that it ever existed, thanks to a government pill that keeps citizens awake twenty-four hours a day in an attempt to foster intense productivity.

Opal leads a lonely but content life in her world. With no friends at school, she finds comfort in spending time with her scientist Dad. Opal’s life is disrupted when she begins to experience inexplicable events, like flying through an unfamiliar tunnel one moment and sitting back in her house the next. Before she has a chance to talk to Dad about her distressing ordeal, he is arrested for reasons Opal can’t figure out.

Without her Dad to talk to, she warily turns to older Sidney, a dark boy who has just joined her class after serving time for a grave crime that he refuses to discuss. Using Sidney’s knowledge and cryptic messages that Dad has left behind for her, Opal uncovers her Dad’s plans and why he was arrested: he has created a new pill that allows citizens to sleep. Even scarier, he used his children to test his pill. Feeling betrayed, Opal begins to question his motives and his trustworthiness. Unfortunately someone else has also uncovered Dad’s new pill: an underground society of people who still sleep known as The Dreamers.

The Dreamers want Dad’s research, but when Opal refuses to help they kidnap Sidney. After learning the details of his abominable crime, Opal must make the choice between saving Sidney or protecting her Dad’s secret.



I turned my head back to see what I was escaping from and was shocked to see my own family. My father, his arms stretched out to me, reaching for me, “Opal, wait!”

My younger sister and brother, weeping and sobbing uncontrollably. Every fiber in my body yearned to go to them, but something forced me to keep moving.

A dim tunnel stretched before and behind me, dirt and rock held from collapsing by thick wooden beams. A musty chill covered my arms with goose bumps and filled my heart with dread. Where am I?
Suddenly I was moving so fast that the flickering drops of light in the tunnel became streaks in my peripheral vision. I knew I was not normally this fast; I looked down and it seemed as though my feet weren’t even touching the rocky ground.

I felt hot tears streaking sideways on my face and I moved faster, faster. A bright light at the end of the tunnel grew bigger until I saw that the tunnel opened into sunlight. I unwillingly flew towards it and as I reached the end of the tunnel, my body was thrust into the light.


I look down at my text-reader on the floor. That’s weird. It was just in my hand a second ago. How did it get there? Even more puzzling is how I was in the strange tunnel one moment and back in my dwelling the next, with no memory of changing location.

Genre: MG science fiction
Word Count: 33,000


Nobody eleven-year-old Opal knows sleeps. In an effort to advance productivity and technology, the Government has created a pill that keeps citizens awake twenty-four hours a day by providing the body with all the benefits of a nightly rest.

The thought of spending every day for the rest of her life following the same exact schedule makes Opal want to scream. She likes being different, and doesn’t care that her favorite purple dress gets her labeled as an outcast among her white and beige classmates; she’d rather spend time with her scientist dad anyway.

Excitement finds Opal when something strange happens. She’s flying through an unfamiliar tunnel one moment and sitting back in her house the next. Before she has a chance to talk to Dad about her distressing ordeal, he is arrested for reasons Opal can’t figure out.

Without Dad to talk to, she warily turns to older Sidney, a dark boy who has just joined her class. Although he served time for a crime that he refuses to discuss, Opal knows she can trust him after he stands up for her. Using Sidney’s knowledge and cryptic messages that Dad gives her, Opal uncovers why Dad was arrested: he has created an illegal pill that allows citizens to sleep. Even scarier, he used his children to test his pill. Unfortunately someone else has also found out about Dad’s new pill: an underground society of people who still sleep, known as The Dreamers.

The Dreamers want Dad’s research, but when Opal refuses to help they kidnap Sidney. After learning the details of his horrible crime, Opal is torn between saving Sidney or protecting her Dad’s secret from getting into the wrong hands.

First 250:

“ALERT! Opal Reeves take your pill. ALERT!”

The loud computerized voice echoes off the curved white walls of the kitchen and snaps me out of my thoughts. If I don’t take my pill in thirty seconds, an alarm will go off at the Government Health Department and police droids will barge through the front door. Or so I’ve been warned.

Mom rushes by me, hardly pausing to chew me out. “Opal, why do you always have to wait until the last second? Please take your pill.”

I roll my eyes and pick up the cartridge of little blue pills off the metal counter, which must satisfy Mom, as she leaves the kitchen. I examine the label, OPAL REEVES. DORM ZERO-5. TO BE TAKEN EVERY 24 HOURS. NO EXCEPTIONS. I sigh. Fine. The pill forces its way down my throat and I feel it every inch of the way, like hands squeezing my insides.

Today’s routine is just like yesterday’s, and the day before that, with nothing to break up the pattern. For eleven years, I’ve known nothing else. Pill at noon, or else. Family Quality Time at 1pm. Solitary Leisure Time at 4. Sundown Meal; School; Personal Fitness; Midday Meal. Repeat.

The thought of doing the same exact thing every day for the rest of my life kind of makes me want to scream. When I tried to talk to Mom about it, she brushed it off, saying I was “just going through a phase.” I wonder if everyone my age goes through this “phase,” though I doubt it. All the kids at school look perfectly happy in their regimented lives. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart from the droids.


  1. Although I can't point out anything specific about the query, and I know this is fantasy, I still find it hard to imagine people never sleeping. That seems to be a fundamental requirement for humans. Without sleep, we make too many mistakes, get irritable, etc. I get that there's a magic pill that must fix all that in this story. But I can't help but be left with too much disbelief. I think if this premise were for adults, it would seem more relevant. But here, do they start giving this pill to newborns, too? It seems like an odd subject for middle grade.

    That being said, I think the query is okay and the opening 250 is okay. Not anything that jumps out at me. Sorry. I really feel like I'm not giving much advice that's helpful. If you can put this in the perspective of a middle grade kid, it might seem more relative. What does lack of sleep do for a kid? do they still go to school, just all day and all night?

    No. (#11)

  2. Query:

    I absolutely LOVED your query and your premise. I would totally read this. However, I didn't understand the stakes at the end. It already sounded like the secret was out. Who else doesn't know? What happens if that does happen? I do think the query is a tad bit too long and would benefit by consolidating some parts and fleshing out others. But otherwise, so good.

    First 250:
    I loved the writing, but I was left confused. Is your first chapter less than 250 words? Is that a prologue or the first chapter? Then the second part jumps to something completely different. I wasn't following, unfortunately. I was actually really intrigued enough to say YES until one other post had a slightly stronger 250 words. I think if you clear up your book's beginning, this would be DYNAMITE and agents would eat it up.

    NO #13 (but I still really want to read this. Wish you the best!)

  3. I liked the idea though for me it sounds like it should be either NA or Adult. There have been studies about no sleep and it's not pleasant.I think you should cut the last paragraph out of your query.
    I liked the 250 especially the way you describe it.
    Sadly no (#4)

  4. The first sentence is interesting, but when I get to the second, it loses all meaning - if no one sleeps, why do I care that Opal doesn't? What makes her special? You get to that later, and that's good, but I'd rethink the opening. "a grave crime that he refuses to discuss." feels too old to be MG to me. It's hard to get voice into a query, but it should fit the main character. You've got good stakes, though. I like that part.

    Every agent will say not to open with a dream. I know that it's relevant to the plot, because of the dreamless world, but it's still super risky. I didn't really connect with the voice - it doesn't really feel like an 11-year-old to me. Words like sobbing or "I yearned" make it seem older and a little overwritten.

    I'm afraid I'd have to say no to this one.

  5. This is an interesting premise, and I thought the query was compelling. I was torn between this and another entry, but the opening page put me in favor of another entry. I felt like the writing was strongly filtered through the POV character which made it feel more distant. That distance didn't allow me to get close to the character. Sorry. I do feel like you could easily edit it to pull out the I saw, I felt, I turned phrasing that distances us from the story.

    No (#20)

  6. If I were playing acquisition editor of a publisher, my answer would be different, but because I'm playing agent,

    My vote is Yes.

    I love the premise, it seems to be a well developed story, and - even though the opening isn't strong - I'd request a partial to see if the opening is just in the wrong place.

    I'd want to know how the author handles the know theories about sleep - how a lack of dreams is supposed to kill people, and how bodies are allowed (or forced) to recharge. (Or are lifespans shorter as a result of overworked bodies?)

    This story has so much potential. The only question would be whether the manuscript is submission ready. That's why I'd ask for a little more.

    Yes (from the audience)

  7. I like the premise (in fact, it reminds me a bit of Attack on Titan), but the writing felt disconnected (possibly because it's a dream sequence), but it's also couched in a lot of description that slows it down, stuff like "I felt hot tears streaking" rather than saying "Hot tears streaked."

    No. (#19)

  8. Yes! What I really like about this is that you take a big high-concept idea about sleep and center it on one person and their character, their stakes, and their conflicts.

    I agree that I'd like to see it start in a different place, but I have faith that with a story like yours, you can find a more dynamic opening.

    If I were an agent I would request more.

  9. I'm on the fence about this one. I love the idea - but the query reads more like a synopsis. You throw in the stakes at the last minute but I don't know why helping Sidney could possibly trump saving her dad, right? Maybe a bit more about his terrible crime to make it clear why she's torn between the two?
    Ultimately, because agents often say they have to love something unconditionally, being on the fence about something ends up being a no. So sadly, I guess this would be a no - but it shows a lot of promise!
    Good Luck -
    Audience Member

  10. Hi, it'd be a no from this audience member. The query read as YA, certainly not MG and not an MG that would only be 33,000 words, so more younger MG. I understood I was reading a dream sequence, but only because I read the query. Also, the dream itself wasn't that interesting or a standout. I'm sure you've heard not to start with a dream, and I get your book is about sleep vs. dreams, but if you're going to start that way, I think the dream has to be more dramatic.

    This IS a neat concept though! Good luck!

  11. This is a really neat concept! But alas, I'd have to vote no at this point. Suggestions on how to make it better:

    * I think you can tighten up the query. I love the first line -- it got my interest right away! But there I think you can present the conflict & stakes more concisely. You don't need to tell us every turn of events, just the core conflict, character, & stakes.

    * The voice doesn't seem like MG. I kept thinking it was YA. The MC doesn't sound like an 11-year-old.

    * I'd pick a different starting point. Starting with a dream is apparently overused and a no-no. I know dreams are important to the plot, but it'll have even more impact if you start with her awake, establish character and setting, and THEN show us her confused reaction to the experience of dreaming.

    * Pick one genre... this sounds more like Sci Fi than Fantasy? Actually, it sounds like Dystopian.

    I hope this is helpful! Good luck!


  12. I agree that the voice sounds more YA than MG but the word count troubles me. A short word count like this for a fantasy/SF means the world building isn't there. I love the concept too and this could be a great story. Age up your MC, rewrite your query to make it one plot point and start your story at a different spot. If you do all that, I'd request pages just to see where you take it.
    Yes (audience member)

  13. Such an interesting idea, but I must admit I didn't see the point of the query's opening line. If no one in this world sleeps, the fact that 'Eleven-year-old Opal never sleeps' seems unimportant. Perhaps you can incorporate this information into the next paragraph: 'Nobody (she) eleven-year-old Opal knows sleeps.' Also suggest trimming the prose back a tad, i.e.,: ' an attempt to foster (intense) productivity.' I was unsure how one would be 'lonely but content' since lonely implies longing. Perhaps 'solitary' but content? A small note, but dad is capitalized only when used in lieu of a name.

    Again, an interesting idea, but I had to go with a No (#9)

  14. This is the world's most reluctant no... if I had a 3rd yes vote, it would be yours. I disagree with the commenters who say that the voice sounds too old for MG. I write MG, and am a Girl Scout leader for girls in the age range of your target audience. Some 11 year olds have a mature voice, particularly if they prefer the company of adults, like Opal's scientist dad, more than kids their own age. #2

  15. The premise sounds really cool, and part of me genuinely wondered if it could all be pulled off in just 33k effectively. An instance in the query, where she trusts this new boy she really has no reason to trust given his description, confused me briefly but I wasn't kicked out. What clinched it for me though was the first 250 are a dream. Even though the book is about (not)sleeping, opening with a dream is still something that gives pause. With fluff words like back and telling that a character sees or feels something instead of showing it, the prose needs tightening.

    It's be a no.

  16. The voice for this feels too mature for MG, and Fantasy/Sci-fi makes me wonder where the fantastical elements are because I couldn't spot them, and that makes me nervous. It's the use of words like 'yearn' and 'dread'. Those really feel more like YA+ vocabulary.

    I'm also nervous about this 'no sleep' thing because our brains require it, we literally go mad, and suffer severe debilitating health problems from lack of sleep, so I'd sort of want to see some kind of acknowledgement of this in the query - like an explanation that society's ability to survive lack of sleep is the fantastical element that makes this a mixed genre fantasy/scifi - because I though the science fiction part was the no-sleep pill.

    I am also having a hard time with the kidnapping an 11 year old child's best friend to convince her/threaten her into doing what they want. It's just really difficult - I'd imagine them resorting to other things, like the promise to free her father, or kidnapping her instead, since she's an 11 year old child.

    Most agents put waking up from a dream as the #1 thing that they are tired of seeing, so it might be better to try and begin the story somewhere else - of course this is all subjective, but that would be my own recommendation based on what I have read from just about every agent I've read an interview with.

    Kind of an interesting twist on the idea conveyed in that movie Equilibrium, for a younger audience. I like the premise, so this is a reluctant no for me.

    No. (#5)

  17. The revised query is much more clear. My only question came with the line about Dad testing the drug on his children. Until that point, I didn't know Opal had siblings. If no one else mentions this, though -- ignore! I love where the first 250 opens now; it gives a great introduction to this world. This is a solid 'yes' from me (#9).

  18. Revision Crit -

    Great improvement! I think this is a much better place to start, and I like the revisions you made to the query.

    I liked your original first line a lot, though, so I'd personally vote for going back to that!

    Your revisions kick it up to a yes for me. Good job!