Monday, June 15, 2015

QK Round 2: Broadway Baby vs. Life Sucks - I'm Stuck in Podunk

Entry Name: Broadway Baby
Title: Showstopper
Word Count: 88k
Genre: Contemporary YA


Seventeen-year-old Cadence Flemming fantasizes about a different life, one where her best friend Declan’s in love with her, her stepmonster hasn’t drained their bank account, her little sister Peyton stays cancer free, and her dreams of being a Broadway star are possible. Unfortunately, her real life has more drama than Les Misérables.

When Cadence and Declan land a spot on the new Broadway television competition, SHOWSTOPPER, which offers a $100,000 prize and a chance to be a Broadway star - her dreams suddenly seem within reach. But competition is fierce and her cutthroat cast mates make avoiding the elimination rounds harder than hitting a perfect high F. Even worse, halfway into production, Cadence’s nightmare comes true – Peyton’s cancer returns.

With things on set spiraling out of control and her home life becoming more complicated by the second, Cadence finds solace in Declan. He even appears to be falling in love with her, until he kisses their co-star Lyle on live television. Refusing to let go of her dreams, Cadence will have to claw her way to the top if she wants a shot at the spotlight and at granting her dying sister’s last wish of seeing her on Broadway. But one of the contestants is sabotaging the show and trying to get Cadence kicked off – and they’ll do anything to win. Cadence must expose them before they destroy Cadence’s chances and career, for good.

First 250 words:

There’s a moment when you’re watching a Broadway show and the theater goes dark, the music swells, and there’s this pause right before the curtain rises – a moment when anything could happen. If my life were a musical, this would be that moment.

A rainbow of people holding resumes and headshots snakes its way from the fabulous Fox Theatre, around the corner, and past Eighteenth Street into downtown Atlanta. Camera crews litter the streets, cars honk as they try to maneuver through the madness and a half-dozen police officers stand by, watching with interest. Everywhere you look, someone’s singing. I scan the area, my eyes landing on the clusters of people huddled together. Some of them are practicing their moves, some are screaming in excitement and a few are even crying.

But me . . . yeah, I feel like I’ve just done thirty pirouettes without spotting and I’m gonna puke.

My little sister, Peyton, tugs on my sleeve. “Come on, Cady!” she yells, darting around one of the cameramen, accidentally clipping his elbow.

“Hey watch it,” the guy barks.

“Sorry!” I yell over my shoulder. My dance bag bounces against my hip and I try to keep the box of cupcakes steady in my left hand as I chase after Peyton who weaves through another group of television crews with SHOWSTOPPER t-shirts. Even though she’s my half-sister, I’m glad Peyton inherited my family’s musicality and latched on to my Broadway obsession, or I might’ve missed out on today.


Entry Nickname:
Life Sucks—I’m Stuck in Podunk
Middle of Knowhere
Word count: 70K
Genre: YA Contemporary


When Hailey Nelson’s father decides to up and relocate their family from vibrant Chicago city life to the middle of God only knows where, seventeen-year-old Hailey thinks her life is over. She plans to hate this small, rural three-stoplight town. After all, what could she possibly have in common with truck-driving, tobacco-chewing rednecks? But what she doesn’t anticipate is falling in love with a Pepto-Bismol colored antiques store and the quirky woman who runs it. A woman who shows her more love and affection than Hailey's always absent, TV journalist mother.

Misery does love company, and when Hailey finds out her parents are getting divorced, anti-social Ryker Evans—a local teen outcast and bearer of hideous posture—is surprisingly supportive and understanding. Probably because his family is even more messed up than hers. When Hailey gets a glimpse of what Ryker could look like with a little TLC, Project Ryker is on. Only she doesn’t expect Ryker to be hot with a capital “H.” Or sweet and fun, writing her songs and taking her dumpster diving for donuts. Now she has more to worry about than her parents’ divorce and her mother’s abandonment. She has her own stupid feelings for Ryker to work through too.

Falling for Ryker could present a whole new set of problems. Because Ryker has scars that run too deep, scars that not even Hailey can heal. And if she tries to save him from his past, she could lose him forever.

First 250:

This is what hell looks like.

I stare out the window of Dad’s Ford Explorer. Along the curvy road, dilapidated double-wide trailers that look like they belong in some independent film version of a horror flick, litter the sparse lawns. An old couch, unused tires, and even a rust-stained toilet lay strewn next to one particularly neglected trailer.

“Please tell me no one lives there,” I mutter.

Dad glances in my direction, his mouth set in a firm, disapproving line. “Now, Hailey, try to remember that these people aren’t as fortunate as you and I have been.” His eyes grind into me, like a pestle trying to turn me into bits of shame. “They do the best they can.”

I sigh and turn back to the window as another trailer comes into view, this one even more unkempt. Amazingly enough, one of the occupants is sitting on the sagging porch steps blowing a cloud of smoke into the humid summer air. The man is grease personified. Like if someone wrung him out, they’d have an entire vat of frying oil. I wrinkle my nose and look down when I make eye contact with him. Suddenly, my nails are desperate for attention.

“How long until Mom joins us?” I ask, digging at one particularly bothersome cuticle.

Mom’s been gone for weeks now. As a broadcast journalist, she jet sets around the world while Dad acts as homemaker extraordinaire. Not that I’m knocking my dad’s skills. He can make a mean BLT sandwich.


  1. Judges, please reply to this comment.

    1. Broadway Baby:

      This is going to sound awful, but I'm not sure the changes you made really improved the query. It's not any worse—it just reads about the same to me. I don't think you need to name Lyle in the query, because he's not nearly as important as the cast mate trying to sabotage Cadence. You can just say "kissing their male co-star" if you want the query to convey that her best friend is gay. I'd also say that it's more important to name Melody than Peyton - and I want to know what Melody is doing. She's the one who's creating external conflict, and it's the conflict that drives the story. How are they trying to get her kicked off? What's Cadence dealing with?

      The first 250 hasn't really changed. I'd tweak the opening line a little more to remove the fourth wall break. There's a way to convey what the main character is feeling without saying "you." And I still don't understand why she has cupcakes.

      Life Sucks:

      I like that you moved the rhetorical question away from the first line of the query, but still consider rewriting so it's not a question at all. Agents don't like questions in queries. But, overall, great job. This is much stronger now.

      I still love the voice in the first 250, but again, I don't really see many changes. There's an extra comma in the second line. You don't need "sandwich" after BLT. Otherwise, I stand by my earlier comments about preachy Dad.

      This is 100% subjective, based on concept. VICTORY TO BROADWAY BABY.

    2. Broadway Baby
      Query: This is very well done. Clear, concise, easy to follow. Good voice. My only suggestion is I’d prefer to learn that Peyton’s cancer is terminal at the end of the second paragraph. It makes tension even higher going into the next paragraph. The way you have it now is problematic for me because (1) I have to work to piece it together myself, and (2) there’s a lot of other stuff going on in the third paragraph. I’d say something like: …nightmare comes true—Peyton’s cancer returns. And this time the diagnosis is terminal. Then delete the “dying” from the sentence in paragraph three.
      First 250: This is great. It flows well. I have a good sense of where and when and how we are in the story. My suggestions are small, sentence-level issues. I’m not crazy about addressing the reader with “you” in the first sentence. Watch your dialogue tags and exclamation marks. For example, if you use the “Come on, Cady!” you don’t need to tell us she yelled it, the action is implied by the exclamation. Feels like overkill to have both. Is there another way to phrase this line: Peyton inherited my family’s musicality…? Because Peyton is her family, even if they don’t share the same set of parents. Maybe something like “I’m glad Peyton and I both inherited our father’s musicality… (or whichever side of the family that comes from).

      Life Sucks
      Query: I LOVE a good small town setting, and this one sounds fantastic. Great use of details to give the query some voice and make it stand out. I think I’d delete the info about Project Ryker—it seems like a minor subplot that we don’t really need in this query. Maybe delete and stick with something like “…more messed up than hers. Only she doesn’t expect Ryker to be sweet and fun, writing her songs…” I’m also not crazy about the last paragraph. It’s a little vague, but also the deep scars/healing scars feels cliché. You have such a great query full of unique word choices and voice, don’t go out on something bland and overdone.
      First 250: This is very well done. Great setting, great voice. I don’t have any real suggestions. Hailey isn’t particularly sympathetic here (which is 110% fine), so I’d be sure to include a scene somewhere in the next handful of pages which gives us a chance to connect with her. (The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas has some great info about how to make your reader care about “unlikeable” (for lack of a better word) characters. If you haven't read it yet, I'd highly recommend.)

      This has been the toughest match up for me yet. Entirely subjective. Victory to Life Sucks.

    3. Broadway Baby Query:

      Overall, this is a solid query that entices me to read more. I love the reality show angle. The only tweak I suggest is to rid thyself of the overused “spiraling out of control” cliché which only serves as filler. You can replace the phrase with something specific happening on set, or omit entirely. One more thing: “He even appears to be falling in love with her” feels unneeded. I think you can sharpen this to say she finds solace in Declan … until she discovers him kissing their co-star… using a strong verb and putting your MC in the discovering seat brings more power to the query.

      First 250 words:

      Nice job with immediate tone and setting (Atlanta!) which help to orient the reader. The story feels like it starts in a good place with action happening that directly relates to the main plot.

      Life Sucks—I’m Stuck in Podunk Query:

      The first line can be condensed to eliminate repetition of the main character’s name—every word counts. The antiques store is a nice touch and gives a sense of setting and the trajectory of the story. Do Hailey’s parents decide to divorce after the move? I almost feel like this should tack onto the first paragraph and connect more to the move. Something like “even a new town can’t save her parents’ marriage” etc. Then the next paragraph goes into meeting Ryker. You want that Before snapshot and the What’s Next a little more clearly delineated.

      First 250:

      Great first line! The Point of View shown in describing the scenery is perfect. The setting is meaningful and shows the tone and attitude of your character. ‘Grease personified’ provides great imagery. While it can be a challenge to create something fresh from an often-seen beginning where a character is shown traveling to a new town/school, the details here read fresh and reveal essential story details.

      This is really hard and it’s down to splitting hairs. Both entries involve relatable contemporary YA themes. These are so evenly matched and I would read both. If I MUST choose, I’m going to go with the writing that read strongest to me …



      Query: I think the following needs to be: “When C&D land spots,” since I assume they’re not a package deal. Otherwise, I really like this. It has clear set-up and stakes. Excellent voice. Great job.

      250: I enjoy how you “set the stage” with your first paragraph. Consider changing “Everywhere you look, someone’s singing” to something auditory, since most don’t associate singing with visual. Maybe something about bits of innumerable songs carrying through the air, only better. Otherwise, this is such a fun read.


      Query: I love the voice in your query. There are parts when I laugh out loud, even though this is the second time I've read this. You could cut “But” from “But what she doesn’t anticipate …” Which is a nitpick, isn’t it? Other than that, I have nothing to suggest to make this better.

      First 250: I don’t have any suggestions here. The fun voice in your query is mirrored in your 250.

      Another difficult choice. I feel so bad, because I’d love to pick both. Please know this is purely subjective. VICTORY TO STUCK IN PODUNK

    5. First off, both of these are way out of my league of writing and critiquing so please take my comments with a grain of salt. That said, I’ll do my best to give helpful feedback.

      Broadway Baby


      This is a fantastic query and my heart breaks for Peyton. I agree that the reader needs to know that her cancer is terminal earlier on because it raises the stakes. Also, maybe give a subtle hint about why the contestant trying to sabotage the show. I get that they want Cadence kicked off the show but if they sabotage the entire show wouldn’t that end it for them too?

      First 250:

      This is terrific! I get a clear sense of the story and your writing is beautiful. I feel like I am right in the moment with Cady and Peyton.

      Life Sucks


      What a great setting! Your first line has the main characters name twice, I’d advice rewording a bit so it doesn’t repeat. Also, is dumpster diving for donuts supposed to be a good thing? It reads as though it is yet it’s kind of gross. I would think that something along the lines of star watching or long walks would go better with writing songs. But maybe I’m reading it wrong.

      First 250:

      Nice job with the imagery, I get a great sense of the setting and your MC comes across exactly as a teen who is uprooted to a Podunk town against her will would be.

      This is a tough decision. Both of these entries are fantastic and strong. In the end, once again I have to vote for the book I would actually buy and read if I were choosing between them.

      Victory to Life Sucks

    6. Broadway Baby
      Query: This sounds like one amazing story! The first paragraph is solid. The first sentence just runs long so maybe break it up with an emdash after “fantasizes about a different life—“ or a colon. The first sentence of the second paragraph reads a la little funny because of the dash and comma usage. Perhaps consider breaking it up into two sentences, like “When Cadence and Declan land a spot on the new Broadway television competition, SHOWSTOPPER, her dreams suddenly seem within reach…not to mention the $100,000 prize and the chance to be a Broadway star.” (That might suck, but hopefully you see what I mean about breaking it up differently!) In the third paragraph…who is Lyle? He’s not mentioned again, so is it possible to cut his name out? It threw me off a little to hear another character’s name. Her little sister’s possible death should be mentioned earlier as well to up the stakes…otherwise, it is definitely a struggle but the weight of losing someone close isn’t as heavy.

      First 250: I really love this beginning. Break the first sentence up more to give some gravity to the pause before the curtain rises and build anticipation—then when Cadence says “this would be that moment,” the reader has the chance to go “Whoa. That’s big.” Maybe something like, “There’s a moment when you’re watching a Broadway show—the theater goes dark. The music swells. And then, there’s a pause just before the curtain rises—a moment when anything could happen.

      If my life were a musical, this would be that moment.”

      Overall, strong start to the story.

      Life Sucks
      I really like this premise! I feel like the middle paragraph holds the juice of the story but the first and third paragraphs seem disjointed. Up the stakes for Hailey in the first paragraph and add some voice to it—maybe open with the line about truck driving rednecks. “Truck-driving, tobacco chewing rednecks. That’s what Hailey Nelson pictures as her dad loads a moving truck full of her family’s vibrant Chicago city life to the middle of God-Knows-Where. But what she finds is completely different.” That’s definitely a rough version but the “after all, what could she possibly have in common?” and the “But what she doesn’t anticipate” don’t gel (yet) and it’s more lackluster than the second paragraph. The mention of the woman is also not detailed enough—she shows Hailey more love than her mother but what else does she have do with the story? If she has a big role, maybe name her. Why is her dad moving them? What’s the purpose? Another question was about her parents getting divorced—is it because of the move? Why would Mom move if a divorce was impending? A little detail might help—and the fact that Hailey seems to be distracted by Ryker, which would add a different depth to Hailey’s character in the query. The third paragraph runs a bit cliche so some details wouldn’t hurt—even saying something like “But Ryker’s scars from an abusive past” or something that has the reader go “Oh, my gosh, what is going on?” will up the stakes.

      First 250:
      I really like this opening. It was a strong first line and definitely gets the reader’s attention. Really strong writing full of detail! I don’t have much in the way of critique for this. Maybe add a reason for why they’re fortunate—her dad could mention something about his job or their upbringing.

      Tough call! But victory goes to BROADWAY BABY.

  2. These are both great. I'd read them both.

    Broadway Baby:

    I would look at getting your word count down to 65-70k. 88k is really long for a contemporary YA. That said, you totally nailed the query with voice and clarity. I'm not sure I buy the stakes, that this is her one chance at a career. Can you be more specific? Does she not have money for a fancy theater program in college? Or if that is not the stakes, just focus on her sister seeing her on Broadway. On the 250, the first two paragraphs are fine, but they could be any book about a Broadway hopeful. The third paragraph is where I got hooked. If there is any way to grab the reader in the first sentence, I think you should.

    Life Sucks:
    This is also really good. I think you can be more specific and avoid phrases like "save him from the past or lose him forever." I think you also don't need the dumpster diving or a few other extra details in the query. You want to be as intriguing as possible in 200-250 words. Make every phrase count.

    The imagery and writing is really wonderful in both the query and the 250.

    My only concern in the 250 is that she isn't coming across as sympathetic, which can work, for sure, if there is a reason for us to root for her, but it may turn readers off.


  3. BABY: Nice premise. The only thing I would reconsider is if you want to say she's dying in the query - to me, the cancer being back raises the stakes enough. I'd also consider cutting your Les Mis line. Put a comma after "hey" in "Hey, watch it."
    PODUNK: May consider "pestle grinding me into bits of shame." My concern is the way Ryker is described, because it sounds like our heroine is going to save, or try to save, the brooding YA hero. What I like more is the father as the main parent. If the mom is an investigative broadcast journalist who goes overseas a lot to chase a story or cover a war, that is more interesting to me than if she's a local TV news person who can't be bothered to see her teenager. The writing and characters are good - I think the biggest problem you are going to have is that a lot of YA now has big concepts/twists, but I think if you market this as a coming-of-age story, you'll be in good shape.

  4. Broadway Baby:

    Query: “When Cadence and Declan land a spot on the new Broadway television competition, SHOWSTOPPER, which offers a $100,000 prize and a chance to be a Broadway star - her dreams suddenly seem within reach.” is too long a sentence, IMO. I wouldn’t name the co-star Declan kisses. I think this query could be simplified a little.

    250: It’s a good 250.

    Life Sucks:

    Query: I’d erase “city life.” I’d also cut the “what” from “but what she doesn’t anticipate.”

    250: “As a broadcast journalist, she jet sets around the world while Dad acts as homemaker extraordinaire.” feels like backstory and I wouldn’t add it.

  5. Broadway Baby - I really like the premise for this! Honestly, the query works very well on its own, but if there's any little things to fix, I may shorten a few sentences. For instance, maybe consider breaking up the first sentence/paragraph - it works now, but it did feel rather long. I agree with Sarah with not naming Lyle - I think it'd work just as well to say "kissed their male costar." As for the 250, I thought it was really good. I loved the opening line. If there's anything I see that could be fixed, I think there should be a comma in "Hey watch it" after the "hey." Also, I feel like there should be a new paragraph that starts with "my dance bag."

    Podunk - Honestly, I love this query. I agree with the suggestion to remove "city life" after Chicago - seems implied. As for the 250, personally I'm a bit put off by Hailey's attitude, but it also wouldn't deter me from reading further. I do feel like the last line of backstory maybe could be placed elsewhere as it sort of stops the action, but I also don't mind it. Maybe see what others say.

    Overall, these are two excellent entries and I'll definitely be reading both when they're published. :)

  6. Broadway Baby

    Query: I think the concept here is great and super appealing. And I loved Broadway shows as a teen, so I would totally read this. The query is a bit overwhelming, though. There are quite a few characters here--we have Cadence, stepmother, Peyton, Declan, Lyle, and someone trying to sabotage her. At the very least I think Lyle's name should be cut because he(?)'s (I find this name unusual and didn't immediately recognize the gender, and am still not even that sure) only mentioned once. I sort of feel like stepmom could go, too, because she doesn't seem to have an impact outside of her one mention. But the concept is awesome and big enough that I think the query doesn't have to be perfect to attract attention.

    250: I mostly like this, but it bothers me slightly that I don't know where Peyton is running to? Shouldn't they just be waiting in line like everyone else? I also might want to see the line about wanting to puke sooner--until that point, the whole thing felt very detached, and I prefer feeling a connection with the MC.

    Life Sucks

    Query: The final paragraph is a little vague (what scars?) How will saving him from his past make her lose him? I think the stakes need some clarity--these don't tell me why this book is different from all of the other ones out there about falling for the boy with a dangerous past.

    250: I like this! Solid descriptions, and while the MC is not being terribly pleasant, I can really sympathize (city girl, here), so I can forgive the bit of whining.

  7. Two amazing stories IMO! I felt hooked into the first 250 of both right away. Character and setting were clear as a bell.

    Both queries could be a bit tighter, esp. the second one where you mention Hailey's name twice and her age...get that down to one reference. Also, I felt it was going to be a story about the antique lady, then about Ryker, so if he is more the forefront of your action I'd save the antique reference for the story itself. Maybe make it more of a passing mention in your query?

    Broadway had an awesome query in that the language reflects the tone of the character. But I also think you can trim it down and really feature the "main acts" of the plot that get us excited to read on.

    Good luck to both of you!

  8. Broadway Baby

    For me this is one well-put-together, professional query. The only thing I ended up wondering was what was in for it Cadence by the end. She’s lost the fantasy of Declan becoming more than friend and she’s dancing to give Peyton joy. It felt like she was moving forward for everyone but herself – external stakes instead of internal stakes. That’s a round-about compliment, though, in that I was invested in Cadence by the end of the query and worried that she didn’t get some reward purely her own.

    The 250 is great too, and feels consistent with Cadence’s age. You might want to specify which parent’s side of the family Peyton got her musicality from, the way Cadence says “my family’s…” sounds like Peyton’s step-sister rather than a half-sister.

    Life Sucks

    I like the ideas in the query (Antique store? Fixer-upper boyfriend material? Yes, please!). What I think it still needs is a greater sense of Hailey’s personal trajectory and more details. I too was also thrown by the passing reference to the antique store owner. She seems important, but she gets mown down in the query by the appearance of Ryker. Does this older woman have a name? Is she connected to Ryker in some way? I like him but right now it’s not clear whether this is purely a romance (which would be just fine) or if it’s a story about Hailey growing up, or both.

    The 250 has great voice and gets across how cranky and put out Hailey is by the move, as well as how prejudiced she is against the place and its people. You could use the query to set up how it might be possible for her to change, and why she would want to change.

  9. Broadway Baby

    Your query is upbeat and fun, nailing the tone of dramatic shows/movies about Broadway hopefuls. And you had me at more drama than Les Mis. ☺

    The opening paragraph is perfect. It’s gripping and emotional. But I was little thrown by where I landed in the second paragraph; in that moment of silent expectation I thought we would be at the audition itself instead of standing on a noisy street.

    In the first sentence of the second paragraph, there’s a comma and a hyphen on each side of the relative clause instead of a pair of either. Parentheses might also work there.

    Stuck in Podunk

    I really like this, but I’m debating whether the voice of the narrator seems older than seventeen. Not the tone so much, but the word choices – unkempt, bothersome, dilapidated, pestle. (Unless she’s just a very mature seventeen-year-old?) I can’t decide! But I do really like it.

    Does the antique store and mother figure play into the resolution at all? Paragraph one seems about how she falls in love with a town, and then paragraphs two and three are entirely about the boy. Perhaps weave the town element back into the last paragraph and how it plays a part in her relationship with Ryker?

    Gosh, I would read both of these in a heartbeat!

    Query: Your voice really shines through, the stakes are clear, and I can’t help but root for Cadence.
    250: Love your writing. You skillfully set the chaotic scene, while capturing Cadence’s wonder and excitement. This line jumped at me: “Even though she’s my half-sister, I’m glad…” It doesn’t match Cadence’s protective feelings for her younger sibling. Besides, Peyton IS family. What if you said, “I’m glad my half-sister inherited our dad’s musicality and latched on to my Broadway obsession, or I might’ve missed out on today.”

    Query: This sounds like my kind of book. Not sure if you need “because” in your last paragraph. You can combine the two sentences: “Falling for Ryker could present a whole new set of problems; the boy has issues that run too deep, scars that not even Hailey can heal.” I wonder if you can be more specific when it comes to Ryker’s scars, especially if they are to become major obstacles in Hailey and his relationship.
    250: Great, vivid imagery, well-paced scenes. My only comment is to cut “have been” in your fourth paragraph.

    These are two of my favorite entries. Good luck to you both!!