Monday, June 15, 2015

QK Round 2: Zip vs. A Thousand Miles Astray

Entry Nickname: Zip
Title: Splinters and Clay
Word Count: 72,000
Genre: Adult Book Club Fiction


If there is one thing fourteen-year-old Zip thinks she can count on in Sweetgum, Alabama, it is that change comes slowly if it comes at all because time moves, in Sweetgum, to the speed of the sluggish brown river that steadily pushes past the outskirts of town. Zip grows to the tempo of that river and, until she’s fourteen, her family – her mother, grandfather, and older half-sister, Kam – all swirl easily and gradually along, as if trapped together in a slow, warm eddy. But then Kam leaves, and change all of sudden comes flooding in.

Neither Zip nor Kam know who their respective fathers are -- their mother won’t tell them. Their mother won’t tell anyone. Zip has never really minded not knowing the identity of her father, though, because she’s never felt like something was missing in her life. When Kam runs away to find her own father, however, questions suddenly bubble to the surface, and Zip begins to wonder if maybe she is missing something after all. As the heat of summer unfurls, Zip must navigate the void left by Kam's departure and the changes happening to her family, herself, and her town.

Although primarily narrated by Zip, SPLINTERS AND CLAY is just as much about her mother’s coming-of-age as her own. From constantly planning her funeral to hosting a surprise menstruation celebration for her daughter, Zip’s mother has all the crazy that a good Southern mother should have...and then some. Zip’s narrative is interwoven with chapters from her mother’s past, which give perspective to her mother’s silence concerning Kam and Zip’s mysterious fathers. After Kam leaves, Zip’s mother must decide whether holding on to past secrets is worth alienating one daughter and possibly losing the other. She must decide whether she’s not too old to still grow up.

First 250 Words:

“I pick here.”

My mother was lying face down in the field of wildflowers, her thick dark hair splayed like a shade over the brightness of the blooms.

“Here. Right here. This is where I want to be buried,” she said.

“Mom.” I stood near her head and looked down at her. “You can’t just pick any random spot to be buried. It has to be authorized or something. And anyways – get up. You’re not going to be buried for a while.”

“You never know.” She rolled over, spreading her arms wide, palms up. “You’d better be prepared. And you’d better take notes. Because this is it. This is the spot.”

She squinted up at the sun. “You don’t think it will get too hot here in the summer, do you? You might have to plant a tree over me. You know – just for a little shade every now and then. Oh,” she bit her bottom lip. “But what kind?”

She closed her eyes again to think.

“Mom.” I shook my head and picked dandelions with my toes, pulling them from their bases, right against the ground, and tossing them onto her one by one – sprinkling flowers, dirt, and grass across her stomach. “Mom – we don’t even know whose land this is. I seriously doubt they’ll plant a tree smack in the middle of their field with your dead body beneath it. Come on. I’m gonna be late for the doctor’s.”

“Huh.” My mother looked up at me, her sky-blue eyes narrowed against the sun, then closed them again.


Entry Nickname: A Thousand Miles Astray
Word Count: 60,000
Genre: NA Contemporary


Eighteen-year-old Lotus Adams has no time for college. Classes are boring, the frat boys are too slobbery, and the beer is downright nasty. Lotus’s free spirited dad has been out of contact for years, so what mom says goes, and mom says college. Lotus has a plan to find her dad that includes Flora, her dad’s vintage RV. But Mom has the keys, and to get them, Lotus has to give college her all.

For eighteen-year-old Aaron Kim, the anonymity of college is a relief. After finding his girlfriend and a friend in bed together, he threw himself into homework, work, and working out. Afraid that having fun will lead to another broken heart, he’s all business. Aside from his family and his best friend, he’s cut himself off from everyone. But after meeting cynical Lotus, he wonders if he was wrong to drop out of life.

Only Lotus knows that their time together is limited. She will find her dad. Nothing will stand in her way, not even love, because she can’t look forward without answers from her past. When Lotus has to hit the road, Aaron will be left behind, and he may not recover from a second bout of heartache. And while Lotus thought she wanted the open road, her heart may lie on a different path. They may each lose everything if Lotus goes after the only thing she thought mattered.

First 250:

The grassy quad stretched out in front of me, an endless sea of students adorned in Crandall State’s colors. I was too busy sweating my ass off to look for my new roommate, so I plopped down on the edge of the lawn.

“Like sheep,” I muttered. This was too much; I needed space and the open road. I needed to know where dad was, not waste another year at school.

“What’s that?” asked the guy next to me.

“We’re sheep,” I replied. “What’s the point of all this, anyway? Some form of torture?”

“I think they call it ‘freshman orientation,’ actually.” He sounded amused and I sneaked a peek at him, wondering why he was wasting his breath. He stared at me from under black Ray-Bans, while his white hat was turned backwards. Dumb. “I take it you aren’t a fan of higher learning?”

“It was my mom’s idea. You know, if that hat was on the right way, you wouldn’t need the sunglasses.”

He smiled broadly, his shiny perfect teeth flashing at me. “I always need the sunglasses. This way, the hat stays out of my way.”

Ridiculous. “Then why wear the hat at all?”

“Bad hair day,” he replied. Everything in me said turn away, kill this conversation now.

“What, out of mousse before the first day?”

Dammit. I chided myself for encouraging him.

“Maybe I misplaced my flat iron,” he replied. He yanked off the hat, and pulled his hand through glossy black hair.


  1. Judges, please reply to this comment.

    1. Zip
      Query: This sounds like a great concept. I love the idea of the mother planning her own funeral. And a menstruation celebration? Yes please. I also really like that you’ve imbued the query with a small Southern town kind of tone. My primary concern is that this is too wordy. The first sentence is really long, and you lost me about halfway through it. You have a lot that can be cut—sometimes you’re saying the same way twice. (Example “change all of [a] sudden comes flooding in.” The flooding in implies suddenly, so you don’t need both. Similarly with “Kip begins to wonder…” and “questions suddenly bubble to the surface.”) I also think we need more specific information about what happens to Kip at the end of the second paragraph. What you have now is pretty generic. I wonder if you’d be better off restructuring the query as Paragraph 1: Kip’s POV, Paragraph 2: Mother’s POV, Paragraph 3: tell us how the POVs are interwoven and give us the stakes.
      First 250: This is great. It had me laughing and kept me reading from one line to the next. A few suggestions: I wouldn’t start off with dialogue. Give us a chance to get our feet planted before you throw us in to the conversation. It would be a simple fix to just start with My mother was lying face down… ( You also make a point of telling us that she’s lying face down, but then she’s talking in the next paragraph and there’s no muffling, etc. My only other thought is that Kip’s actions (throwing the flowers and dirt on her mother) don’t match what she’s saying to her mother (“We’re going to be late, etc.). There’s a lot of potential for great microtension there, but since I don’t have any of Kip’s interior emotions on this page it falls flat. You really only need a few words to really make this pop. (Random example …grass across her stomach. Something I’d done every day for as long as I could remember. “Mom, we don’t even know…”)

      Thousand Miles
      Query: I read a lot of NA where the heroine is the hardworking/no time for life character, so seeing a spin on this is a nice change of pace. You’ve done a good job of getting voice in here as well. I was a little confused as I read though. Does Lotus have to finish all of college to get the RV or just her first year? Is she planning to never come back once she finds her father? Also I’d like some more information about why she’s so focused on finding her father. If he’s been out of contact for years why does she want to find him? Curiosity? Strange circumstances surrounding his disappearance? To give him a piece of her mind? I think we need more specifics about her motivations, otherwise it’s hard to invest in her goals.
      First 250: This really shines with voice. I get a good sense of your MC right away—the way she talks, views the world, the things she notices. My only suggestions are very small. I’d cut the “I chided myself for encouraging him.” (We already see that with the use of “Dammit.” In the last sentence, lose the comma. You don’t have a compound sentence and it adds a weird pause that you don’t need. This is great, and I’d definitely read more.

      In both of these, the first pages shine while (IMO) the queries need more work. If you both work to make your queries as great as your opening pages, I’m sure you’ll get requests.

      Victory to: Zip. The quirky mother is too much for me to resist.

    2. More lovely entries!

      Zip: I think the voice in the query is great, but it really needs to be focused on character, conflict, and stakes. I'm missing the clarity here. I think it would help to start paragraph one with a hook and something about Zip's present and what she needs. Then paragraph 2 should be mom's character, conflict, and stakes, and paragraph 3 to drive it home and how it works together.

      The query is the time to lay it all out there with some voice. Let the voice shine through in the 250 instead. Trust it. You know who these characters are.

      In the 250, I think the dialogue is just great. I think it does need more of Zip's emotion told through gestures, physicality, inner dialogue etc. But it's almost there. Great job!

      Undeclared: I think this is pretty clear. I get a good sense of who the characters are and what they want.. I'd like more specifics in the query about motivations, conflict, etc. I.e. why would Aaron not be cool with her taking a road trip to find her dad. If the dude can't wait a bit, is he really worth it? Make sure there are no holes in the query like that.

      The voice is perfectly NA. I could see getting invested in the characters and wanting to keep reading for sure.

      This was a tough call. I really, really like both of the 250s. The premise for Zip is very strong, but as this is a query contest, I felt I had to choose the one with a more polished query.


    3. Zip Query:

      Reading through, there’s a Southern charm that’s begging to be let loose. Minor tweaks like using contractions can help show a more conversational tone which the query seems to want in some parts, but resists in others (could be a result of lots of editing). There’s some great imagery here, but the query is leaning more toward synopsis at times. Trimming down to essentials about the main character and the plot will help this from reading too much like a first page. It’s close! You don’t want to lose that voice, but too much of it feels excessive and derails the point of the pitch.

      First 250 Words:

      Lovely writing that I connected with right away. This reads easily and shows an interesting dynamic between mother and child. Adding in a detail on time and place would be helpful since so much of that was shown in the query. The dialogue here is great, but I expected to see the lyrical sense of the south from the query.

      A Thousand Miles Astray Query:

      This query reads pretty strong. The free spirit vibe, her name being Lotus, and mention of the open road all set a tone that seems fitting for New Adult. Anything I suggest is minor: I think you combine the last 2 sentences of the first paragraph; Lotus has a plan to find her free-spirited dad … only because the Mom part reads a little redundant in two separate lines. Then for Aaron’s piece, maybe say “job” instead of work to avoid saying work and working out. Perhaps in place of the vague “answers from her past” it could relate more specifically to answers about her family, just to avoid cliché territory.

      First 250:

      The opening fits with the genre and right away Lotus meets a guy (THE guy?). It’s not a dealbreaker for me that love interests meet right away, but it definitely fits NA for that to happen right away. There’s tension already which sources with the main conflict of the book—Lotus’ restlessness.

      This is a little tricky since the entries are quite different. Ultimately, I went with the entry that the query and first page felt most consistent:


    4. Princess of LlamasJune 17, 2015 at 1:10 AM

      ZIP: I’m going to start with the 250 because I loved it. Very well done. I read adult book club fiction sparingly, and I’d read this. Now for the query . . . hmmmm. I don’t like the first sentence—too long. I understand the purpose of the last paragraph—you’ve got to mention the mother for the reason stated. I’m just wondering if there’s a better way to integrate mom into the first two paragraphs. It sticks out here. Maybe 1st para Kip, and then roll into mom in 2nd, then the 3rd can be conflict/stakes for both? The first and second paragraphs now do a lot of repeating. I think you can combine them to a streamlined first paragraph to introduce Zip, tell us her sister’s leaving, and now Zip is left alone dealing with mom, who has her own issues.

      UNDECLARED: I’m not sure the query really sets up an interesting conflict. I think we need to know a bit more as to why she needs to find her dad by traveling in an RV. In these times, wouldn’t the internet be easier? Also, in the last paragraph, the query says Lotus longs for the open road—which is something different from needing to find her father. Is this about Lotus wanting to get the hell out of dodge or is this about a girl’s search for her father? I think the query can benefit from more clearly setting up that portion so when she had to decide on Aaron there’s more of a conflict, though it did cross my mind as to why Aaron can’t skip town with her. Overall, I would suggest clarifying and ramping up the stakes.

      I like the 250. Great voice, good pace. You have enough description, but not too much to bog down the story. Nice job!

      This is a tough one. First time reading both these entries for me, and I like them both! Both queries could use work, both 250s are strong. I’m going to have to vote on which one I’d read first, and trust me when I say that I am as surprised as anyone to be choosing an “adult book club fiction.” Maybe this means I’m finally growing up! Victory to ZIP!

    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.



      The writing is beautiful and the storyline is wonderful and intriguing. But your query seems a bit wordy. The first sentence alone takes up three lines. Is there a way you can pare it down and cut any unnecessary words, combine sentences so that some are not needed?

      First 250:

      Wow! Starting off with the mom making her own burial plans is fantastic. I love the voice you have and I hope to see this on book store shelves.

      Thousand Miles


      Your query is well written and your story is terrific. I do wonder a few things. Being a free spirited teen wouldn’t Lotus sort steal the keys or come up with a plan to get the keys besides college? Also, why is it so important to find the dad? I’m sure it’s important otherwise you wouldn’t have it in the book, I just would like to see the reason in the query.

      First 250:

      I love the voice of Lotus. Nice job!

      Both of these are terrific and I wish you both well and a quick publication. In the end, I just can’t resist the quirkiness of the mom planning her own burial.

      Victory goes to Zip.


    6. ZIP

      Query: Your first sentence is rather long; 47 words. And it seems that your hook in paragraph one is Sweetgum and the river, rather than Zip. I wonder if you’d grab the reader more by focusing on Zip.

      I worry you spend too much space in your query with the simple life Zip leads, rather on the conflict, which I believe is not knowing who her father is and Kam leaving for answers. Because of that, your stakes fall flat. It appears Zip’s role in the MS is to navigate emotional changes, which is an internal goal. What does Zip want and what does she have to do to get it? What's stopping her?

      Your third paragraph reads like a mini synopsis and is more interesting than your first two. Consider incorporating this information into the body of the query from Zip’s perspective. For example, how does she feel about her mother holding a menstruation celebration? (Which is cool, by the way.) This paragraph also suggests the MS is told from two povs. Consider using alternate paragraphs from each pov.

      First 250 Words: The most fabulous part of your entry is your 250. If you can get an agent to read this part, you’ll hook them, even while your query has less voice. Starting with dialogue can be problematic, however, since we don’t know who is speaking or the setting. I think you could cut “I pick here.” Since it’s essentially repeated with Mom’s next bit of dialogue. And you can bring her second bit of dialogue up beside her action and eliminate “she said,” since it will be assumed she’s speaking.

      Other than that, I’d love some internal from Zip in the 250. What are her thoughts about her mother’s statements? Is she irritated, frustrated, bored?


      Query: I really enjoyed this. You present what’s going on in your MS with lots of voice. You also have a nice transition between povs, which tells me you’ll do the same in your MS. Well done.

      Your query doesn’t elude to much conflict, but I’m okay with that. I see this as a story about a girl finding herself while finding out what’s important in life, with romance thrown in.

      First 250: Great starting point. As a reader, I’m with the MC at the moment of change in her life, and the voice in the query is echoed in the 250, making me believe it will continue throughout the MS.

      I'm really torn because there's something magical in ZIP's 250, yet I'm not sure what the meat of the MS is from the query. Purely subjective, but, since this is a query contest, VICTORY TO A THOUSAND MILES/DECLARED

    7. Zip:

      It took me a few times with this query to love it--not because the story isn't compelling but because it's a bit wordy. There's Southern charm to it, and it bleeds through the words, however it also waxes lyrical in a way that could be simpler and more direct. While I LOVE the tie-in with the river in the first paragraph, it does take away from being immersed in the query. I actually thought for a minute that this might be a fantasy where the river dictates the story. The second paragraph is where it gets really good and where the meat of your query is. The stakes could be described a bit more, but there are still some "Wow, that's going to be fun to read about" feelings that come up reading about all this family is dealing with--well done! The third paragraph reads a bit like an explanation--perhaps there's a way you can offer up more details or a little more storyline. Instead of explaining that the narratives are woven together and that this story is as much about Zip's mother as it is about the girls, a more plot-based description might be better or condensing what you have to show more and tell less. An example like, "Although primarily narrated by Zip (with interweaving chapters from her mother's past), SPLINTERS AND CLAY is just as much about her mother's coming-of-age as her own. While Zip's mother has all the crazy that a good Southern mother should have--and then some--like constantly planning her funeral to hosting a surprise menstruation celebration for her daughter, Zip herself has changes to face in the form of ________. Now, Zip must ____ and her mother must ______." The query also ends relating to Zip's mother but begins with Kam. While all three stories are undoubtedly related, perhaps focus on one and tie in details of the others. I would restructure this query a bit because the story description and information is fantastic, but the structure may not be doing it justice.

      First 250: Loved it. Instead of opening with dialogue, I'd recommend opening with a line, like
      "My mother was lying face down in the field of wildflowers, her thick dark hair splayed like a shade over the brightness of the blooms.

      'Here. I pick here. This is where I want to be buried.'"

      Otherwise, it's funny and Mom definitely seems whimsical and a little nutty in a fun way! All the characters' personalities come across in both query and first 250. Nice job!

      Thousand Miles:
      Query: The query is well-written and to the point...but one major concept feels like it's missing to me: Why is Lotus so hell bent on finding her dad? What are the stakes? What if she doesn't? Why does it matter so much that she'll do anything to find him? Why is her mom insisting on college? Without those stakes, the query is going to fall flat and not seem as urgent or compelling. If you add some details in about her home life or her personality, a reader might feel more attached to this query and be involved with the stakes as well. While you've described her dad's spirit as free and Mom's personality comes off a bit strict, we don't learn much about Lotus's personality itself other than resigning herself to college. Don't be afraid to go all in and give her a little life in the query itself, rather than waiting for the words in the story to speak out.

      The first 250: Great voice! Reads like an NA and it sounds like Lotus is gonna be a sarcastic girl. Fun!

      While I enjoyed both, I have to go with the query that doesn't leave as many plot holes:

      Victory goes to ZIP.

    8. Zip:

      While, overall, I think this story sounds intriguing, especially as it interweaves past and present storylines, your query leaves me with a lot of questions and pretty confused. Although I love the lyrical quality your first paragraph has, I think you can cut this down to two sentences, tops, and really get the point across. In general, I think your query is overly wordy and that a lot can be cut from it. Remember that your query is your chance to showcase your story to the agent and while it does need to be well written, it should be direct and focus specifically on the characters, stakes, and conflict. You mention a lot of changes happening, but what specifically are they? Beyond that, your third paragraph throws me off. Her mom planning her own funeral and a menstruation celebration sound fantastic, but how do they work with the rest of the book? Can you showcase these quirks that your book has while still taking us through the rest of the story? Since this story is told in dual POV, I’d suggest starting out the query from Kip’s perspective, moving to the mom’s in the second, and then having the third paragraph to introduce the stakes.

      As for your 250, I think this is really strongly written. I’m much more compelled to keep reading here than I was with your query. It’s a unique opening and I immediately get a feel for the characters and their relationship. One minor suggestion would be to cut the second “Mom” in the second to last paragraph in the dialogue. Since she said it once I’m not sure it needs to be repeated.


      A Thousand Miles Astray:

      While I think your query is pretty decent overall, I think there are a few things you could do to really make this one shine. In your first paragraph, you reference “Lotus” four times. Now, I know it’s her name, but is there any way you can vary the sentence structure a little just so that it’s not used quite as much? Also, if you could work it in to mention that Lotus is a girl a little earlier on that would be helpful. I assumed she was, but I wasn’t entirely sure. Here are a few questions I have after reading your query that I think you might want to clear up to make this stronger: What specifically about Lotus makes Aaron wonder if he made a mistake dropping out of his life? Why is their time together limited? Why does going to find her dad mean that she can’t be with Aaron? Why is Lotus so determined to go after her father?

      In regards to the 250, I think it’s fantastic. The voice here is great and even without the Category tag I’d know this was NA just by reading it. The dialogue is snappy, the characters are interesting. I’d definitely read more of this.


      Both of these entries have a really strong 250 while I think the queries need more work to really make them shine. However, whereas Zip left me confused as to the premise of the overall story, I at least got a basic idea from A Thousand Miles Astray what I’d be getting in the rest of the MS.



      I'll be the tiebreaker. I loved this one in the first round and still do, here's why:
      Query: This has gotten stronger and I love the Southern voice in it. The part I would change is the line about secrets, what are they? I'd also like to know what changes the town is going through. This is a good query though and if I were an agent I'd request based on it.
      250: Don't start your first page with dialogue is a good rule of thumb but I think it works in this story. We get a feeling right away of who the mother is and the relationship between the daughter and mother. I'd make the daughter be more impatient with the mother if she wants to go because the way it's written now it sounds like she says she wants to go but doesn't really want to.
      I love the name Lotus but I was confused about why she want to find her father now. What does finishing college have to do with getting the RV? If it's that important she'd find a way to get the keys. It sounds like it's too much of a consequence: go to college, get keys to RV.
      I need more tension in the 250. It feels too mundane, a freshman orientation like any other. I feel like the 250 doesn't match the query. Both are well written though. Make sure the stakes are clear in the query and start with a hook in your 250. Good luck!

    10. Bookalicious MamaJune 17, 2015 at 5:28 PM

      Zip: Good query, although a bit wordy. I would shorten that first sentence up. Also, beware of using too many adverbs and over use of certain words in general, such as slow, in all it's form. Beware of filler words such as though. They have a tendency to slow things down. Your 250 is good, just watch for punctuation issues. After thick you need a comma, just a pet peeve of mine.

      Thousand Miles: Your query is good, just a bit wordy as well. I'd suggest combining your first two sentences, simplify it. Eighteen-year-old Lotus Adams has no time for boring college classes, slobbery frat boys, and nasty beer. (For example) Try doing that to several of your sentences throughout the query, so they are not so long. I love your first 250. Love the voice of Lotus and the scene is set up nicely. No complaints from me there at all.

      Because I am all about the voice in this one, victory to me goes to: Thousand Miles

    11. All right, tiebreaker effort here. Here goes.

      Query Matchup:

      Zip: There's no sense of urgency in the first paragraph of your query, and while I recognize it's an effort to establish the "how things start" status of Zip's situation, it feels low-energy to me. I'm not getting invested in the story because the idea of the town/life as a lazy, drifting thing feels like an invitation to mellow out, not lean forward and say, "Yes, tell me more." It's good that you're trying to use the query as a space to show how two kinds of stories are being told -- mother and daughters both -- but you might look at your opponent's query to see how s/he balanced accounting for two different personas/sets of stakes. The lead-in to Mom's situation and character feels awkward, and pulls me out of the tone and style you're trying so hard to weave into your query.

      Thousand Miles Astray: You have a classic query setup of style and stakes from early on. Be wary of your second paragraph, though. The middle two sentences don't really seem essential to Aaron's backstory. The first and last sentence of that paragraph really tell us all we need to know. Don't be afraid to keep paring down in other places, too, like your final paragraph, where building into the road trip turns into a bit of wheel-spinning (sorry, punning there) early on.

      250 Matchup:

      Zip's entry offers me a charming image of the mother in her full glory of being slightly odd, and shows the give-and-take of the relationship between these two very effectively. It was a nice start, character-driven and quirky, and I would read more.

      Thousand Miles Astray's entry is similarly all about character, and unlike Zip's entry (which uses the opening moment to go a little beyond what the query has already promised, into a less obvious opening scene) stays focused on the specific idea of Lotus as shown in the query. Both 250s use first person exceptionally well, voice-y without trying too hard. Frankly, I enjoyed the writing sample from Zip more than Thousand Miles because it gave me this very novel (ugh, THAT pun was unintentional!) opening image; I might have predicted orientation day sulking from Lotus, given the query.

      That said, the writing in Thousand Miles' sample is solid, the touches of personality through dialogue clever (you don't need the sunglasses if you wear the hat right, etc.), and the tone suggestive of the same kind of attitude promised in the query. As a package, query and 250 together, Thousand Miles seems like the stronger entry, though I'm interested in the writing for Zip and think it would do well with some stepping up of the query.


    12. A great match-up here. I'm swooping in to help break a tie, so no long flowery speeches.

      Both have a very well written 250, so I'm going to have to decide based on the query, and in that case I'd have to say while I like the premise of both stories, I found the query for Zip a bit unfocused; if the book shares two POVs, then the query should show us that rather than telling, as know (IMO). I felt A Thousand Miles Astray did a better job of showing a similar balance.


    13. Zip:

      I love the voice in your query, and the imagery is great. But I feel like the first section is as sluggish as that brown river you mention since the real story picks up when Kam leaves. There’s really no need to mention all the people she lives with in the query. Get to the heart of your story quicker.

      First 250: I’m not a big fan of beginning with dialogue, but if you feel strongly about it, consider starting with: “Here. Right here. This is where I want to be buried.” This line packs a bigger punch and made me sit up. Overall, I like your voice and how organic your story feels and would definitely keep reading.

      A Thousand Miles Astray:

      You do a great job introducing us to your main characters, although I’m a little confused about why meeting a cynical Lotus makes Aaron wonder if he was wrong to drop out of life. The next section makes it clear they like each other... I think it’s the ‘cynical’ that makes me pause. That’s not an endearing quality. Also, I feel like the stakes could be higher. Why can’t she just ask Aaron to go with her and have the best of both worlds?

      First 250: I loved your first 250 and even though she is indeed cynical, Lotus made me laugh. I definitely would have kept reading had there been more!

      Both queries were strong but could use a little more editing. The first 250 in both stories made me want to read more.

      This was a very hard decision, but Victory goes to: THOUSAND MILES ASTRAY

  2. Zip: This is a very intriguing story! The writing is beautiful and the imagery is powerful. Query: I especially like the line “all the crazy that a good Southern mother should have…and then some.” One word stuck out as somewhat cumbersome and academic in tone, “however.” I prefer a straightforward “but,” even as the start of a new sentence. The 250 is very strong, but your second line is a more powerful opening image than the short line of dialog. Think about combining lines one and three and dropping the extra “here.”

    My mother was lying face down in the field of wildflowers, her thick dark hair splayed like a shade over the darkness of the blooms.
    “I pick here,” she said. “Right here. This is where I want to be buried.”

    Best wishes!

    A Thousand Miles Astray: First of all, I love the title of your story! Permanently Undeclared is perfect! Query: An alternate word choice for “time” in the opening sentence might be “interest,” since your examples (slobbery frat boys, etc.) are things that don’t interest her. The 250 is wonderful, the voice shines through and makes me want to read more! One tiny bump: I am not a fan of semi-colons, it might just be me, but they seem awkward and make me focus on the punctuation versus staying tight in the scene. A period would work, or an em dash.

    Best wishes!

  3. Zip/ Splinters and Clay

    This is a very interesting premise. I like the shared perspective and southern vibe. I feel like the query may be a bit drawn out though. The first sentence is a little long and provides no real detail as to the story's plot. I would suggest trimming any unnecessary information and adding some more suspense to your pitch. What is driving Zip and her mother? What's at stake for them? What might they risk/gain?

    I like the voice in the 250, it's playful and you can get how outlandish Zip's mother is, but it doesn't seem right for an adult novel (IMO). I think it's the fact that the mother's manner of dialog is very similar to the child's. This could work if the mother had Zip when she was 15 or 16 (not unheard of, Teen Mom and all) but the query makes no mention of that. I also see that Zip is only 14, which means you could market this as a young adult contemporary or drama if the content fits.

    A Thousand Miles Astray/ Permanently Undeclared

    I love this new version of your query. Every time I read it, I get anxious to read the whole book. I saw your other feedback calling her greater personal stakes. You could try to work in how her mother is overbearing with the crazy rules, which is why Lotus wants to leave and never come back, essentially leaving Aaron behind forever.

    This 250 is great, your voice here is so natural and snazzy. I could see myself following these characters for a few hundred pages.

    All of these matchups are brutal. I wish you both good luck in this round!

  4. Zip: I read this in the first round and love the changes you've made! Your query is really tight, except for the first paragraph in my opinion. Your opening sentence is a bit long. I get that you're establishing voice and setting (two very important things in the query, in a very small amount of words) but it read clunky to me, and I wished for a period half-way through. Otherwise you set up the stakes and describe the main characters well! Your 250 are spectacular as I thought they were in R1. The imagery you use is wonderful and you set up the polar opposite mother and daughter perfectly. Great opening scene for Adult fiction too!

    UNDECLARED: Your query reads SO much tighter! I'm sure you only made one or two edits but whatever you did, it worked. My only suggestion is to remove the second to last sentence of the last paragraph for a final round of tightening. As is, the whole paragraph reads very back and forth for me which made me feel a bit whiplashed. Otherwise, the stakes are much clearer and you set up the premise for compelling read! Your 250: Awesome job! I saw you added in one or two lines and again made seemingly small edits but it's made a difference. Your MC is likeable while being grumpy and her motivations and goals are clear whereas before they were a little muddled. Aaron is slightly more accessible too, instead of being just some weird guy with glasses and a hat. For some reason, this version of your 250 makes both come alive to me. Great work!

  5. Zip

    The first two sentences are both extremely long. Is there any way to break them up? My head was spinning a bit before I got to the end of that first paragraph. And I found the fact that Kam leaves at the end of paragraph one, then that fact is repeated after two sentences of backstory, to be awkward. Is there any way to combine the two sentences that say "Kam leaves" into one? Maybe move the backstory about the dads up to paragraph 1, and start paragraph 2 with the statement that Kam leaves to find her father?

    First 250: I'm down with Zip as a narrator, but the mother seems just a bit over-the-top ridiculous to me. It almost felt like a more MG portrayal of an adult. I'm not southern, though, so I guess I don't really have much of an understanding of what "good southern crazy" is.


    Query:I think free-spirited has a hyphen. It sounds like a really cute love story, otherwise! Other than that, I'm a bit confused by what exactly Lotus's plan is. Is she getting the RV after a year? Why can't Aaron just go with her, then? Why would she have to give him up to find her father? Seems like a possible plot hole (but that may just be the way the query presents it/it's not a problem at all in the book).

    First 250: Really like the MC and her voice already. Not much else to say here....

  6. Zip

    As a born and bred Alabamian, I laughed pretty hard about the choosing of burial sites – that’s been a topic of conversation in my family for as long as I can remember.

    I might break up the first two sentences of the query. The imagery and tone are lovely, but those two sentences a little hard to follow on a first read-through. I’m a big fan of “however”, but I agree with Sarah that starting that particular sentence with a “but” would make it flow better.

    I’m not familiar with your chosen genre, but the 250 reads more like YA. It’s beautiful, though, and I want to keep reading. I can just hear their accents…

    A Thousand Miles Astray

    I really like the relationship dynamic laid out in the query - I’m intrigued that both of them seem so uptight, absorbed in their own problems. Instead of losing “everything” in the last sentence, perhaps losing “each other”? Unless there’s more at stake here than their relationship…

    I’m assuming the first guy she meets isn’t Adam (based off how he’s described in the query), but I love the chemistry between these characters and the MC’s voice.

    Both of these are intriguing stories - well done!

  7. ZIP: This is a query where it would help me to know if the author is from the South. I worry the "crazy Southern mother" line will lead us into a path of cliches. That said, I am totally in for the surprise menstruation celebration. Also, since this does have the mother's point of view, I may play that up a little bit. Based on the 250, I'm a little more interested in her than I am Zip.
    UNDECLARED: What I love about this is Aaron Kim - way too rare to see an NA hero who is (I'm assuming) not white. In the query, I would change the "Lotus has to give college her all" to something like "Lotus has to make it through the semester" maybe with a certain GPA. Otherwise, it's a little unclear to me. The other question is whether you stick with this as your genre - NA is, as far as I've heard, a little tough to break into right now, and this feels to me (voice wise) like it would be okay for YA. But only you know if the themes or lots of sex make it better for NA. Good luck to you both!

  8. Zip: Query: The first sentence is quite long. The setting detail is great, but I feel like that belongs in the story, not in a query. I don't feel like we get a great sense of Zip as a character. The ending of the query feels more about the mother than about Zip.

    First 250: The mother feels a bit to me like Astrid's mother in White Oleander, only less clever and sinister. Just kind of "out there". I like it a lot. The writing is lovely. Well done!

    Thousand Miles: Query: The first sentence doesn't really match the rest of the paragraph. I think it's the word "time". Perhaps switch "time" for "preference", or "need". That way it'll show the conflict between her and her mother. The rest of it is great, with the exception of the line where they lose "everything" - is that actually the case? Or what sort of things do they stand to lose - what are the stakes, specifically?

    First 250: Perfect characterization. Love the little details, like the backwards-turned hat strictly for vanity. The dialogue feels real, and Lotus' stand is defined immediately. No guessing about her at all, just yet. Very nice!

    Good luck to both entries!

  9. Zip

    The query:

    All the watery imagery in that first paragraph is crowding out its own goodness. The front end and the back end of that first sentence are asking to be separated into two simpler, but stronger, sentences. I do like what you’re doing in this first paragraph, setting up a harmony then destroying it in the last sentence, but I think that destruction needs to be stronger. I would just be explicit about Kam running away to find her father, a fact that would set up the second paragraph and allow you to tighten that up as well.

    I got antsy and did an edit of your second paragraph – this is just a suggestion about how to tighten it up, it’s your book and your voice:

    Neither Zip nor Kam know who their fathers are -- their mother won’t tell anyone. Zip’s never minded because their family felt complete, but Kam running away leads Zip to wonder if maybe she’s missing something after all. As the heat of the summer builds, Zip navigates the void left by Kam's departure and the changes happening to her family, herself, and her town.

    The 250:

    I agree with other commenters that you should start with the image of the mom lying in the grass and then begin her dialogue. I do love how Zip doesn’t get upset about her mom talking about her own death: it shows us already how free-flowing her mom’s thoughts and words are and how accustomed Zip is to her mother's whims. Zip’s nervous focus on the legal aspects shows us who does all the “grown-up” thinking in the family. This is great start, and very true to how such a relationship works.

    A thousand miles

    The query:

    The fact that I want to do micro edits on this is a great sign. The basic structure is great and flows really well except for these little grammar things. The list of things Lotus hates should start with “The classes” or none of the things in the list should have an article. I’m also not sure about the sentences beginning with “But” and “And”. In the first instance I think the sentence should be combined with the one before it, in the other two instances I don’t think the conjunctions need to be there at all.

    The 250:

    This feels spot on for the genre. My only suggestion is to think about cutting unnecessary dialogue tags. If there are only two people in a conversation, you don’t have to indicate that one of them replied, it’s clear from the dialogue and its position (I took too long to master this – learn from my mistakes!).

    I don’t envy the judges here, these are really well matched. With both I think a little polish of the query is all that's needed for these books to go places. Good luck!

  10. these are both terrific pieces!

    Zip: really enjoyed the exchange in your first 250. her mom's char comes thru beautifully, but who's story is this? feel like considering your genre i want it to be about the mom instead of the girl. but i am intrigued enough to definitely keep reading!

    Miles: i am loving the exchange between the characters here, but agree that removing a few dialogue tags would let the conversation feel more seamless.

    great work and good luck!