Monday, June 1, 2015

QK Round 1: Brain Gourmet v. A Pirate’s Life for Me

Entry nickname: Brain Gourmet
Title: BrainZ
Word count: 60K
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance


Jill (16) has been disguised as a zombie since second grade. It’s the only way she can stay with her family, since mixed living/zombie households are not accepted. Keeping her secret while growing up in an all-zombie community hasn’t been easy, but things get tougher when she transfers into a newly formed integrated high school.

She’s constantly caught off guard by new temptations like real food (instead of brainchow) and living boys -- especially Dave, the football team’s quarterback. He has athletic grace no zombie can match. And, since his team is integrated, he doesn’t have the prejudices most of the other living do… including the school’s administration.

Worse, even the zombies on staff treat “zits” as second-class citizens. But, if the football team is mixed, shouldn’t there be zombie cheerleaders?

Jill decides if she can form a squad, they can take a big step toward equal rights for zombies. Getting permission is tough. Finding routines for shambling zombies is harder. Dealing with the insults and dirty tricks from the living girls is toughest of all. It would be impossible without the help of Dave and other sympathetic “pumpers.”

But every success makes Jill more conspicuous, raising the chance that she’ll be torn away from her family and they will become outcasts. And her biggest challenge is her longing to be herself, a living girl.

First 250 words:

Jill sat on the edge of her bed and fingered the tray of prosthetics. A cheek with a gouge. Part of a lip. The shoulder scar she’d hated since fifth grade.

She snatched up the ragged, scarred nose and placed it in front of her own small nose. She looked in the mirror. Most of one nostril had been torn free.


“I’m not wearing this,” she told her mom. Not on the first day of junior year. Not when living boys were there to gawk at her.

She dropped the nose back onto the tray.

Her mother aimed her good eye at her. “Then you’ll have to stay home.”

“I’ll wear last year’s nose, okay?” It was a fair compromise. If her mom wanted more decomposition – and she would – she could do it with make-up.

“I recycled it.”

Jill twisted her face into a scowl. She rose and strode over to the makeup chair, but she couldn’t get herself to sit down.

“Fine,” her mom said. “I still have the old molds. I’ll make a replacement nose. It will be ready in three days.”

Three days was a lifetime. She hadn’t seen Betsy all summer. Worse, she’d have to wait to meet the living boys she’d been dreaming about.


Jill threw herself into the chair, slumped, and folded her arms.

Her mother went right to work, her hands practiced at turning her daughter into a zombie.


Entry Nickname: A pirate's life for me
Title: Blue Tide
Word count: 85K
Genre: YA Romance


Set on a re-imagined Asian-Pacific island, BLUE TIDE (85,000 words) is a YA fantasy romance steeped in Middle Eastern culture.

Seventeen-year-old Lux is desperate to return to the comfortable life she had before the floods, but she’s stuck on the primitive tropical island of Sirbiad, where strange disappearances force the locals to train daily and fear the shore at night. Never fitting in on the island, Lux longs to go home and find answers about what happened to her home and her people. With a boat, a map, and high hopes, Lux plots her escape to a nearby island to gain passage home to the northern hemisphere. She’s about to set sail…

...and is promptly kidnapped by pirates.

She has seven days to make it back, or she’ll lose her one chance to go home. Worse, her fellow islanders are on board, the same people who took care of her when she needed it and Lux feels she must get them to safety before she can leave herself. Lux resorts to her Sirbiadian training, but Captain Draven is prepared for everything she throws at him—including her katana. She’s never met anyone like Draven. Armored. Arabic. Arrogant. Though they fight every nautical mile to their mysterious destination, the kindness the young captain shows his prisoners is anything but heartless.

Not knowing Lux is half-Middle Eastern, Draven shows her what it really feels like to belong. His culture and customs feel more familiar than her own world ever did. Suddenly, the luxuries she's been longing for don’t seem that important. But her seven days are almost up and she’s no closer organizing amutiny. As they sail farther and farther from both Sirbiad and her homeland, Lux discovers somewhere along the way she’s stopped hating Draven. Their relationship grows from animosity, to grudging respect, to something more. When Draven discovers Lux can speak Arabic, and now knows the truth about their destination —and his feelings about her— Lux must choose  between the life she's always wanted and a chance at love in a new world.

First 250:

Water here and water there.
Sailing around to who knows where,
With nothing to do I sing this tune.
Everyone died but me and you.
There’s only one man to thank and blame,
Because of Asmodeus we’re rich but insane.
Lands destroyed but now we rule the seas.
We’ll take what we want and do what we please.

Make it stop. I cringed, my head throbbing from the off-key voice. It was a song that most people would sacrifice their first-born to never have to hear. Most that heard it, never lived to hear it twice. Of all the dangers of the sea, nothing was worse than pirates.

Damp, musty smelling wood filled my senses. I was lying face-down in a small boat. I must have blacked out, because I had no memory of this: the boat, the swaying ocean, or why my head felt like a pounding island drum. Blinking away the fog of sleep, I pushed myself up, gaining my feet shakily.

I rubbed my temples, fighting nausea, the stench of fish making it worse. The contents of my stomach bubbled hotly and saliva pooled miserably in my mouth. Willing myself not to throw up, I blew out a measured breath. An uneven sharpness poked at my back. I hissed and flung my head around to find a pirate had poked me. My jaw dropped at the scene behind him. Not good. A line of people from my island stumbled up a wooden gangway onto a larger ship.

Lands destroyed but now we rule the seas.
We’ll take what we want and do what we please…


  1. Judges - hit 'reply' to this comment to cast your votes. Thank you!

    1. Brain Gourmet:

      I’ve got nothing but praise for your query. Your premise is a cute twist on the zombie genre. You’ve got great voice and stakes. The writing is clear and compelling. Well done. The 250 is well-written but while I like the idea of a mixed zombie family, I’m having trouble with the actual zombie-mom. It seems odd that she’d be able to talk and reason like her living kid. I was hoping to see more zombie-isms in action. More groaning than speaking, etc. especially since the query promises shambling and lurching.

      A Pirate’s Life For Me:

      Your query shows a lot of your story, but you are going to want to pare it way down. You should cut at least 100 words. Detail is good, but you don’t need to go so deep into the plot. This isn’t a synopsis. If you tighten the query, it will be more likely to hook the reader. And you use the word “home” four times in quick succession. I love your 250. Bravo on creating a whole pirate song that I could totally hear in my head. The prose is lovely, and totally sets the scene.


      This one is a tough call. I love the query for Brain Gourmet and I love the 250 for A Pirate’s Life For Me, and I think the query can be revised into something stronger. I’d love to read both of these, and this is very close, but I’m playing the subjectivity card.

      Victory: A PIRATE’S LIFE FOR ME.

    2. BRAIN GOURMET: I quite like your query! This reminds me of the new show iZombie, which I've seen advertised a lot recently. Super nitpicky, but I suggest you spell out "Sixteen-year-old Jill" instead of "Jill (16)."

      I also like the voice in your 250, but I didn't feel as drawn into the opening page as I'd have hoped from the query. I wonder if you're starting in the right place--I'm not sure what your inciting incident is from your query letter, but think about that and consider if there's a more exciting place to start the story!

      PIRATE'S LIFE: Right now, your query reads like a mini-synopsis. I think you've put too much of the romance--and too much of the plot--in your query letter. You could've refrained from mentioning him again after "...anything but heartless" and I would've been able to infer the blossoming romance anyway! Just something to consider. This query would do well to be between 200-250 words, but right now it's 323--way too long!! 250 is the max you'd want to hit. So, I highly recommend revising with an eye to removing most of the mentions of romance, and anything else you can cut! It's YA; we'll assume the romance is there if you give just a quick hint or two!

      That said, your first 250 are awesome. I wish you could teach me how to write songs (or sea chanties!) because you're great at it. Also, the details you gave made me feel fully immersed in the scene. I wanted to keep reading!!

      As much as I love the concept behind BRAIN GOURMET, the writing in PIRATE'S LIFE hit it out of the park. So...

      Victory to...A PIRATE'S LIFE FOR ME!

    3. Brain Gourmet
      Query: I think you could strengthen the stakes around the prejudices from the school admin. Exactly what are they doing to oppress the zombies.
      “Zits” aren’t ever defined. What are they? Maybe a tiny bit of setting is needed. Have zombies always existed in this world?
      Other than that and the age thing, I found this query very solid. I laughed out loud at the zombie cheerleading routine.
      Jill is a very likable protag, and I love the contrast from the usual “getting pretty for school” routine. I do think a deeper POV, connection more with her emotions could up the reader’s connection to her. I’m not sure why she gets up, debates to sit down, and then sits down. Perhaps she can just glare at the chair before sitting—showing, rather than telling her feelings about it?
      In general, I am a bit leery of “before first day of school” openings, but I think this one can pull it off!
      This is very voicey, which is great, and fun!
      A Pirates Life
      Query: The first sentence totally confuses me. Asian-Pacific would be Japan etc. So where is the Middle Eastern culture coming in? Is it a fantasy or a historical? “Re-imagined” doesn’t provide much to go off of.
      Lux, with a Latin name, and a Japanese sword, seems like a likeable heroine, but I’m very hung up on the location issues. Esp. because “Arabic” isn’t a race or cultural identity. It’s a language only. The same issue arises with the phrase “half Middle Eastern.” There are countless Middle Eastern countries. Which one is she from? Do you need all these Earth-based references if it’s a fantasy land?
      Other than that, the stakes are good. I think cutting down on words, and clearly defining the cultural background of the world and the characters can help.
      250: love the chanty, and the strong sense of setting. Possibly describe the pirate who poked her, since this is her first time seeing him.

      Victory to Brain Gourmet!

    4. Two more amazing entries! You are making the judging process very difficult!

      Brain Gourmet,

      Excellent writing and intriguing concept. Love it! I think your first paragraph does a nice job of setting the tone for the rest of the query. Your character's motivation is clear and the stakes are apparent. My only comment would be to rethink using words like "zits" and "pumpers" only because I'm not sure what these things mean in the context of your story.

      First 250: Excellent start. I'm immediately pulled into the world you've created, and I love the banter between Jill and her mother like they were just having some plain old conversation!

      Pirate's Life,

      Great opening paragraph. Immediately you've drawn me into the fantasy world you have created. I like that Lux's motivation is clear and we know up front what she wants.

      When we get to the second paragraph and you introduce Draven we know he is going to be the love interest. I think you can cover this in two sentences and then get back to the stakes. As it is now, your last two paragraphs felt more like a synopsis of the story and I lost track of the real stakes.

      First 250: Loved the opening song. It drew me right in. I also liked that you began your story where it should - with Lux in the midst of pirates. I would definitely read on.

      Wow! Making a decision between these two is VERY DIFFICULT. But if I must choose...


    5. Note: For round 1 since there's so many entries, I'm judging based on the query only!


      Love, love, LOVE the concept of Jill disguising herself as a zombie to stay with her family. This sounds hilarious, and a take on the zombie genre that I haven't seen before.

      The paragraph starting "Worse, even the zombies..." seems unnecessary, and redundant considering the sentence that comes before that. You could easily cut that and just include the zombie cheerleading squad in the next paragraph.



      The mix of Asian-Pacific and Middle Eastern cultures in this one sounds really interesting!

      Although Lux wants to go home, it's unclear where "home" is, really or how she ended up on Sirbiad. I'm guessing it had something to do with the flood, but the correlation is unclear. And why the seven day time limit? It seems that you could cut a lot of these details which only raise more questions and focus in more on the main conflict.

      Also, missing a space between "a" and "mutiny" in the last paragraph.

      Victory to... BRAIN GOURMET!

    6. Brain Gourmet

      Query - this is a great concept. The idea that a human has to disguise themselves as one of the paranormal instead of the other way around is great. The hook can be a little stronger I think, and a grammar note, it should be: Sixteen-year-old Jill (last name). Unless of course there is no last name. Also take out the redundant questions. Agents usually don't like that. I feel like the second paragraph is just excess knowledge. Get straight to the conflict of her wanting to create a cheerleading squad despite the diversity. (Love how this is all about integration.) I also think you need to ask a little bit more about the stakes. What is she trying to do? Create a squad? If so what are the consequences if she does or doesn't? Amping the end up is going to help this a lot.

      250 - This is a great opening, but it can be cleaned up a bit. My question is, if this is the first integrated school, wouldn't she be more worried about someone figuring out she's human as well as the hot guy finding her ugly? I think it can be deepened a little more to really shine.

      A Pirate's Life For Me

      Query - I feel like this is a little long with some details we don't need. Description of and scene setting. Sure. Primitive island and pirates gives us an idea. I think you need to shorten your hook and make it snappy. I also don't know what the stakes are. She has to get home in seven days or lose her one chance. Why? Why seven days and why is it her one chance? What happens if she doesn't make it home? Choosing between a life she's wanted and love in a new world is somewhat vague, so I think you need to dig more into the details there.

      250 - I have a hard time engaging in this because it's all prose. It's mostly her waking up trying to figure out her surroundings. I think you may have started a little early. If you move a couple of paragraphs down to where something is happening I think it would draw the reader in with a firmer grasp.

      Victory: BRAIN GOURMET


      QUERY: I LOVE this! What a great concept! Your query is quite solid. You might reconsider using the slang from the book in the query. It can add voice, yes, but can also detract from the meat of the query because we don’t know what those words mean. I also wonder if there’s any worry that she could be found out in all of this. How has she remained disguised for so long? I’m sure this is answered in the MS, but would that be something else that’s at stake?

      FIRST 250: Great voice. I love that she has to put on prosthetics for school. I really do wonder what the differences are between zombies and the living. Her mom seems perfectly normal, except maybe decaying. Also, is there any sort of smell? How does it feel to have her mom’s zombie hands putting on her makeup? She would be used to it, sure, but we’re definitely not. I just want to be even more solidly IN the story. All said, I would definitely read this.


      QUERY: This sounds like a really interesting story, but your query left me with a lot of questions. Where is home for Lux? Why does she only have 7 days? What are the locals training for? Also, I’m not sure the connection here -> “Not knowing Lux is half-Middle Eastern, Draven shows her what it really feels like to belong.” There’s just A LOT of information, and it feels like you’re trying to stuff so much in that it just all gets sort of tangled and confusing. Stick to the very basic plot and stakes. Don’t give quite so much of the story away. I absolutely love the last line though. I think this could get a lot of attention with some of the extra plot strings removed.

      FIRST 250: You do a beautiful job of setting the scene. Lots of great description. Watch your adverbs. Just a couple nitpicks. “An uneven sharpness poked my back.” Is sharpness uneven? I got stuck there. You do such a great job of imagery, and I think you could use that skill there. “I hissed at a sudden jab in my back, flinging my head to glare at the pirate who had poked me.” Something along those lines. Nice work.

      TOUGH DECISION. You guys are not making this easy on us. Victory to BRAIN GOURMET.

    8. Jackie Jormp-JompJune 4, 2015 at 2:48 AM


      I love this concept! I think it’s a great hook and with a fun quality. I think the query could be a bit shorter and simpler – really focused on who the MC is, what she wants, what is in her way, and what the stakes are if she doesn’t get there. For example, I think the cheerleading paragraph is unnecessary; you’ve established that mixed society is taboo. Also, I’d pump up the consequences of exposure as a human in a zombie family a bit more (and earlier) – make us understand why it’s so important that she keep her secret. Finally, if you can inject some more of the quirky voice in the 250 into the query, I think it would serve you well and make it stand out.

      I enjoyed the 250, but feel like the MC reads a bit young for a Junior – perhaps it’s a by product of the third person narration, but I’d like to see a bit more of Jill’s emotional reactions – a bit more teenage angst.


      Query – First off, I’d move the first sentence to the end of the query and get to the story first. I have to agree with other comments and say that you should pare the query down – really pick out the bones and don’t worry so much about telling the reader every detail. Also, I’m a bit confused by the world building – is it earth? Or an alternate reality earth? The future? The past?

      The first 250 have a lyrical quality, with lots of lush descriptions, but you may want to watch out for too many adjectives (hotly, miserably, shakily). The second paragraph, in particular, seems a lot wordier and denser than the others, and I felt it bogged down the energy of the adventure. It’s good to get in sensory images but maybe mix them into the action?

      Victory to BRAIN GOURMET

    9. Hey Judge Sparrow! Thank you so SO SO much for judging 11 match-ups (11!) even though you weren't assigned this round. The query feedback will help tons. We won't be able to count your vote because of the lack of 250 consideration, but seriously, thank you thank you. The writers will appreciate it tons.

  2. Brain Gourmet--

    Love this concept! Funny zombie, like iZombie. The 250 is a good start, but that query needs some work. Start with Sixteen-year-old Jill lives in an all zombie community with her all zombie family--too bad she's still alive.

    What's a "zit"?

    Pirates Life--

    That query starts great! And then I got to "she has 7 days to make it back" and it lost me. It's pretty long for a query (344 words).

    I would erase the "make it stop" for the first line. Her cringing sort of implies that she wants it to stop and it's showing instead of telling.

    1. love that suggestion for a first line for Brain Gourmet!

    2. love that suggestion for a first line for Brain Gourmet!

  3. Brain Gourmet- What a fun concept! I <3 zombies! I would maybe try to cut the query down to the one central conflict. I wasn't sure what the biggest problem of the story was. I would love to read this, though!

    Pirates Life- Pirates are so fun! I thought your query was a little long, so any where you can tighten would be good. Good job drawing on all senses in the first 250.

  4. Brain Gourmet- such an awesome concept! I think your query is really cute and unique and strong. I would write out the age of your mc not just the parentheses and the age. I think your first few pages set up the character well but I would think her mom might be human from what I read in the opening if I hadn't read the query.

    Your query reads more like a synopsis and definitely needs to be tightened. Make sure you pull us in set up the stakes and who the mc is and why they want it and what's stopping them without over sharing. I like the concept a lot and do love pirates! I like the poem and I like the images you set up in the opener.

  5. Brain Gourmet:
    Query: I really like your basic premise. You mix a (currently) very popular genre with the troubles that young teens go through. I do want to know a little more about Dave. Hard to do in a query, but where’s the conflict. We know why she likes him, but why is their young love doomed to fail? Also a little confused on how she’s becoming a real life girl, or is she? Still, definitely something I would pick up to quick read or recommend to a teenager.
    First 250 words: Nice characterization. Getting a feeling for Jill right off the bat. Picking noses is a nice unique intro. The “It will take three days” is a little formal. Try “It’ll” or “But you’ll have to wait three days”. Something a little more familiar.

    A Pirates Life
    Query: You need a hook line. (I love the name Lux by the way), but even something like “Most seventeen year olds have to be worried about pimples. Lux has been kidnapped by pirates!” It does feel a little bit book report-ish. I actually really like the concept, pirate novels are too few and far between, just get us a better feel for the type of book. Is it light-hearted, silly, dark?

    First 250: Just a tip. Start with the pirate poking him. You again want a hook. Seasickness is something you can have in the first chapter, but when a reader is browsing you have to think “Will this hook him?” On the flip side, the level of detail is wonderful. You feel the grossness of the ship, and reading it almost made me sway. Just add a little of that excitement in.

    Love this idea! Kind of reminds me of The Musters. Didn't they have a "normal" niece or something?
    I think the main thing is be very clear as to who is looked down on by whom. "zombies treat zits like second class citizens" makes me think the zombies are the upper class but then "...equal rights for zombies" makes me think the opposite. Just needs a little clarification.

    Genius opening. First two paragraphs - genius. That whole thing is genius!!

    First sentence is kind of long
    I like some more details/clarification on where is home and how long has she been stranded. Why can't she get back there? I'm really confused by that main part of the story.

    "most that heard it" has no comma after
    NO BACKSTORY. First time I feel 100% that this story started exactly where is should have. That is so hard to do so kudos to you. Great job!!

  7. Brain Gourmet:

    Your query is very polished. I agree that writing the age out might be preferable. As for your 250, the characterization of Jill is great. This is a fun read, and I can see plenty of teens enjoying it. My only quibble would be that the mom seems more living than zombie. Not everyone reads queries first!

    Pirate's Life for Me:
    I love the premise, but this is quite a long query, almost more of a synopsis. One nitpick: "closer to organizing a mutiny" - watch typos. Also, is anyone really Middle Eastern? (as opposed to say, Pakistani or Indonesian or Muslim, etc.) I LOVE the diverse setting and culture of this book, but perhaps you could revise how you refer to Lux's culture? The Girl of Fire and Thorns did a great job of a non-European setting without actually referring to any but "imagined" countries. Names can help with this.

    As for the 250, I would definitely keep reading this. I can see why some folks would prefer you not start with the song, but I don't think it's a problem.

  8. Brain Gourmet
    Query: This seems pretty solid! I sort of would've liked to see a bit more worldbuilding--curious how humans and zombies can live together at all, given that zombies are usually brain-eating, thoughtless dead things. Clearly, your zombies are a little different, so I would've liked a few details on how that works in your world. BUT if it's too hard to stuff in the query, it's a pretty great, clear query as it is.

    250: Same issue, really. The world building wasn't there for me, and now I do think it needs to be. Her mom is a zombie, yeah? There's no description of her. I can't get a sense of what being a zombie in this world means--her mom reads like a human, to me. Which maybe is the point, but she's still rotting, isn't she? I don't need to understand everything about these zombies yet, but I do really want to have a sense on the first page that mom isn't human (even if I don't fully understand what that means yet), and I don't.

    Pirate's Life
    Query: That whole first paragraph seems like backstory since the first 250 are her getting kidnapped. Since this query is kinda long, I'd think that paragraph needs to go, and the query should start where the story starts.

    I also don't quite understand the 7 day ticking clock that is set up. Why would she only have 7 days to return? Doesn't make sense to me.

    250: Lovely writing! I definitely feel the MC's plight instantly. I sort of would've preferred to start with the MC's thoughts and feelings and misery, then get the song, so I'm a bit more instantly grounded instead of wondering what I'm reading (and skimming the song...), but I suspect that may be personal preference.

    I think everyone agrees that you nailed it on unique concept, but the query left me scratching my head. Her zombie family doesn't try to eat her? I forced myself beyond asking all those questions about how this society would work, because obviously every zombie story is not the TWD. However, I shouldn’t have to come to that conclusion on my own. You need a concise way of explaining the intricacy of how this society operates early on in the query.

    The first 250—I agree with the comments that the mom doesn’t come across zombie-ish. I also think it’d really enhance this opening if you used all of the senses. I should get the heebie-jeebies reading this and I don’t. I think this has great potential, but it just isn’t there yet.

    Like Brain Gourmet, the issues with your query have already been covered by the other commenters, but I do see a great deal of voice in there. The part where you break it off with the ellipses and then hit us with the kidnapped by pirates is so fresh! I also like the sentence frags describing Draven. Smart. (See what I did there?) But yes, you need to trim this down.

    The first 250 —This made me want to puke. But that’s a good thing! Your character was feeling nauseas and I felt it, too. Your writing style has a unique edge. I don’t mind the song. The fact that you included it and still delivered a powerful opening with less words than the other contestants is a testament to your talent as a writer. And who doesn’t love pirates?

  10. Brain Gourmet -
    Full disclosure: I hate zombie themes. With a passion. And yet I loved your whole query and first 250. The creativity really caught me. I loved the idea of having to turn into a zombie before school rather than get dressed up. Although after reading other comments, I did agree the mother could act more zombie-like. I think that could be done easily with a few small touches.

    A Pirate's Life for Me -
    I really like the second paragraph of the query and the part after the ellipses. The last two paragraphs weren't as easy to follow. I could go either way with the song. I was tempted to skim it, but it seems like some people really liked it. In general it's an exciting scene to start with that's more engaging, in my opinion, than the midst of a battle. Bad things have happened and are about to happen, but there's some time to take it in.

  11. Brain Gourmet: I'm not normally a fan of zombie books, but your query and first 250 words caught me right away. I think it's awesome how you took a classic theme and breathed new life into it.

    I'd like to know more if the mother is zombie or human, though since it's only the first 250 words, I don't think that's terribly important. Based on the "one good eye" part, I assumed that she was a zombie.

    Pirate's Life: Your query confused me a little. When I first read it, I wasn't sure if she was a native to Sirbiad or not. The first two paragraphs suggest that the island isn't her home, but she relies on Sirdbiadian training. As I kept on reading, I learned that the island wasn't her homeland, which made me wonder why she was there. I loved the humor in the query though, and I thought your first 250 words were excellent! I felt like I was actually right there in that rickety wooden boat.

  12. Brain Gourmet:

    I'm not gonna lie: I do not like zombies. There's nothing about them that works for me. Despite that, your query is well written, and the first page is great. Would I read on? Sadly no, but I can very truthfully say that it's not you, it's me. My biggest concern though, is that your query seems to have very low stakes. There isn't much on the line except some equality for zombies. Not that it isn't a big deal, or that equality isn't a big deal, but since your character isn't even a zombie, there just isn't a lot on the line. Because of the lack of stakes, it makes me think that the arc of the story might be flat. So spruce up the query, make the stakes bigger, and you could have a submission that really zings with the right set of people.

    Blue Tide:

    I love everything about this. I'm on team pirate, so I'm super into your concept. I have to admit that your query seemed a little dry and at places seemed to lack voice. Another concern I have is that the query starts before your story does. If you query needs that back story, don't you think the novel does too? Or, more specifically, if you thought you needed to cut that back story from your novel, why would you leave it in your shorter format query where space is at such a high premium? I suspect you can rewrite it so the story of your query matches the story of your novel (if this doesn't make sense, feel free to shoot me an email or a tweet with questions @RenaTheWriter). Still your writing is solid, so I would definitely read on.

  13. Brain Gourmet:
    I loved your 250 and I love the school integration concept. I wonder though, since zombies come with so much of their own rules that you're either going to have to conform to or buck, if you could just give them a new name in your book - creatures similar to zombies but without the literary baggage. Then you get a clean slate and don't get all the immediate "I do not like zombies" or "but zombies should act like . . ." reactions. Also, it seems odd to me that mixed houses wouldn't be accepted in this society but mixed schools are -- that could be an issue clarified later in the book, though. Overall, I think you have a great concept and great voice.

    Pirate's Life -- I like that you start in scene with the MC already captured by pirates, but I wonder why your query started before that? I think your query should start with the immediate action like your book does. Also, I wonder if your 250 might be stronger without the song upfront. It could be a personal thing, but I always feel the urge to skip over intros in italics. It requires too much attention when I don't know the characters or stakes yet. I'm definitely interested in reading where the book goes, though!

  14. Brain Gourmet:

    I love zombies and this premise. For your query, I think the first two sentences could be rewritten. They kind of confused me and took a moment for me to realize she wasn't a zombie. Also, I would clarify what is zits and pumpers? The readers won't know what they are unless you tell them. I thought your 250 was fine. I liked how it started with Jill having to dress up like a zombie for school and her reactions. It shows what she has to go through and how she feels about it. Nice job.

    Blue Tide:
    I like this concept too! I have to agree with the others though. I think it would be better to start your query and 250 in the same spot. For your 250, loved it! The song and her reaction was hilarious. Only thing I want to suggest is about the boat she's in. Maybe a different word than small. It makes me wonder how small. I'm thinking it's one of those tiny boats that hold a couple people in order to transport them to the bigger boat. The thought of her standing up in it along with the waves just makes me imagine her rocking it and falling over. Could just be my opinion though.

    Anyway, you both did great jobs!

  15. Gourmet - Query -
    What a great voice and premise! Dave is a perfect name for a integrated Zombie team quarterback. Ha. Great stakes too! Really nice.

    First 250 - Loved this! Really nice twist on the zombie genre having her dress up as a zombie instead of dressing like a human. Made me want to read on. Great all around.

    Pirate's life - Query-
    How did she get to the Isle? I got that she wasn't a native but somehow wound up there. Maybe drop a hint of how she ended up there. The breakup of the line about being kidnapped seemed a little over the top for me. Maybe.."But before she can set sail she is kidnapped by a band of pirates." Or something like that.

    First 250 - I liked the song! I wasn't sure if the opening was on the isle, on the pirate ship, or somewhere else entirely. Maybe do a bit of scene setting then she can heat the song. Maybe the lapping of the waves compliment the rhythm of the tune. Very cool!

    Good luck to you both!

  16. Thank you to "A Pirate's Life."
    I love the adventure and all that your story evokes. I think pairing our queries/pages was a canny choice that elicited comparisons that deepened the comments.

    To the judges and those who commented, I have two words"
    Wow! and
    The frank and insightful criticisms are invaluable to me as I take this forward. It's clear that there's room for improvement, and I appreciate the direction you've provided.