Friday, June 1, 2018

Query Kombat Round 1: Cowboys vs Zombie Pirates vs Dream a Little Bigger, Darling

Title: String Theory

Entry Nickname: Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates

Word Count: 93K

Genre: Young Adult Speculative

Music is the key to all time and space.

A violinist trapped in the past must choose between saving her mother or the future of mankind. Violin prodigy Crystal Aislen learns her mother, who went missing seven years ago, has been lost in time. When an eccentric scientist gives her the means to find her mother, she becomes impatient and accidently flings herself into the past. The specialized violin is her only hope of returning home, but its strings were scattered throughout history as she fell through time. Unless she can find all four before the temporal energy of the time rift runs out, she will be trapped in the past forever.

Crystal’s hunt for the strings will require her to stay a step ahead of some of the most ruthless outlaws of the Old West, outwit notorious pirates like Captain Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny, and team up with Anna Maria Mozart. Each string recovered gives Crystal more temporal control. However, each use of the violin drains precious temporal energy, and risks giving away her location in time to a Shadow Musician—electric guitar players with incredible powers over time and space. Their goal is to erase Crystal from existence, and the reason for it seems to be related to her mother. Despite being warned not to, Crystal searches for the truth about her mother’s fate. Her only clues come in the form of pages of sheet music dispersed through time. The music resembles a lullaby Crystal’s mother used to sing, but the true purpose of the composition will only be revealed when played in its entirety. It is a melody of hope, not only for Crystal to return home, but for the future of all humanity. 

STRING THEORY is ready for review at 93,000 words.

First 250:


Crystal lost concentration at the sharp command. Her violin screeched as she halted her song, her mouth wide in disbelief. She had barely played three measures. The faculty member had interrupted her. Why? This was her best work, an original composition guaranteed to impress. None of the other violinists auditioning to get into West Chester University had been bold enough to try an original. They were all sticking to the classics. Maybe she should have done the same, but the song was an ode to her mother, who had disappeared without a trace seven years ago. Her practices had gone flawlessly. Her high school symphony director labeled her a prodigy. If they didn’t let her finish, they would never see her talent, never know what truly set her apart from her peers. Her song to her mother might never be heard. She would go home in failure. Three measures?

“But I—”

“Thank you, Miss Aislen. That will be all,” the lead judge said with a flippant wave of her hand. The grey-haired woman pushed her wire-framed glasses up on her nose, leaned back in her chair, and folded her arms. “We have a lot of applicants to go through today.”

Surely there had been a mistake. Did they even look at the composition she gave them? It had a complex series of layered chords. Not only did the chorus alone demonstrate every classical skill, she had also captured all of the joy of the moment her mother returned.


Title: DreamCatch 3.0

Entry Nickname: You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling
Word Count: 86K
Genre: YA Science Fiction


Fable and Tillie are both sixteen, trying to survive the New Delhi streets, and Jani, also known as dream-jumpers. But that’s where their similarities stop.

Wild-haired Fable discovers she is a Janus while testing a new app and carries a butterfly from her dream into reality. This Janus ability is in her blood…like her grandma. But then her grandmother dies and so do her answers. So Fable teams up with this mysterious DreamCatch 3.0 Company, hoping answers will come quicker than the ocean’s rising tides.

Tillie has a headache every night, it could be from her cancer, or it could be from her purposefully tight ponytail. Tillie has been a skilled Janus for six months, helping DreamCatch 3.0 fight climate change, but when a better dream jumper comes along she panics. She can’t lose her good graces with the leader, especially when the price for the cancer drug keeps rising.

DREAMCATCH 3.0 is a standalone (or exciting series starting) young-adult novel complete at 86,000 words. It is a fast-paced escapade set in the year 2122, where the technological advances of the day are at war with climate change. Although DreamCatch 3.0 plans to save the world, Fable and Tillie team up to discover they just might be on the losing side.

First 250:

Fable wasn’t dreaming. She also wasn’t dead. Even though she lay on her back, with a stiff pillow against her neck, her eyes tightly closed, and her hands crossed over her chest, she wasn’t dead. Sure, she looked dead. Dead like she was in her coffin, like a fat mortician had freshly powdered her nose. Heck, dead like a vampire enjoying a few restful hours before creeping alive. Or half alive? Wait, are vampire’s dead or is that just zombies? Are zombies cooler than vampires? Oh forget it. The important thing here was Fable looked dead. But she wasn’t. She was very much alive.

“Patient 725, are you still with us? Because you look dead,” a voice echoed from the intercom. “You look very dead. And this test you signed up for, it isn’t going to work if you spend the entire eight hours stiff and awake. Or dead…wait are you dead?”

“I’m not—”

“Of course she’s not dead,” another intercom voice said. This voice boomed against the walls but still scratched like it had a sore throat. “We have her vitals right here, look at her heartbeat for Pete’s sake!”

“Fine sorry,” the original voice rushed. “God Dev, I was just nervous, she looked super de—”

“I’m not dead!” Fable sat up. Then immediately regretted it as her head spun. She blinked and tried to focus on the only colored tile on the wall. The rest of it was washed in a sterile gray, but this was dark pink.


  1. JUDGES ONLY: Please reply to this comment with your feedback and match decision. Thank you!


      Your query opens with not one but two loglines. I'd recommend cutting one (or ideally both). Also, I think you need to make it crystal clear right away that her method of time travel is this violin. That's both a unique aspect of your story and a cool worldbuilding detail--and music-related time travel sounds awesome, so let it sing! I'd also tweak your tenses in a few places to be more present and less future (ex. "Crystal's hunt for the strings will require her" to "Crystal's hunt for the strings requires her").

      The Shadow Musicians are an interesting hook but they're a little vague. Which leads into my main suggestion for your query: specifics. You have fun hints, but they're all very vague. Specifics are the lifeblood of a query. How are the Shadow Musicians connected to her mother? Why does the world need this melody of hope? Why does this eccentric scientist help Crystal in the first place? And, more importantly, how does all of this make Crystal feel? I'm not getting a good sense of her arc as a character or what choices she'll have to make along the way, and those are often the hookiest parts of a query.

      For your 250, I recommend ditching the "Crystal lost concentration" line. It's telling us what happens, when the next line with the screech and her reaction does a great job of showing. The rest of that paragraph in general is loaded with infodumps. Her being a prodigy, the missing mother, the previous violinists; it's all telling rather than showing, which slows down the pace. I'd much rather see Crystal's reaction to her competition, get a sense of what's going through her head as she performs for the faculty. Is she nervous? Hopeful? Missing mom?

      The specifics of mom's disappearance can be left off for now, and instead put us inside Crystal's head as she thinks about her mother. Everything here is more about her reaction to her audition/dismissal, not her missing mother. Right now, Crystal comes across a bit haughty/"How dare they not listen?" to me, but if you frame everything in the context of her feelings about her mother, that could put her reactions in a new, potentially less arrogant and more relatable light.


      Your query has an interesting but slightly confusing opening. Clarifying exactly what Jani are could help. I recommend ending the first sentence on Jani, then adding a brief new one to describe what they are before going into "but that's where their similarities stop."

      You do a good job introducing us to Fable and Tillie, showing us where they are at the start and the change that propels each forward. What I'm a bit hazier on are the stakes. Tillie's are obvious--if she loses her spot, there go her cancer drugs! But Fable's are ... what, simply wanting to learn what a Jani is? And if she doesn't, what happens? And then there's the climate change aspect, which is cool but again, a tad vague. How does DreamCatch 3.0 plan to save the world? Do Fable and Tillie factor into that at all? How might they be on the losing side? What choices do they face/what are their character arcs like? Specifics will go a long, long way to making a query standout in the slush.

      Love the first two sentences of your 250. Great opening hook, although the following line of laying down description seems more for the dreaming less the dead thing (but that could just be me). I think if you move the "Sure, she looked dead" line up to be the third sentence, it lends some oomph to the rest. That said, there feels like there's a bit too much of the "Are you dead? She's not dead" stuff in the rest of the 250. These are technicians/scientists/doctors administering a test, presumably, so wouldn't they assume she's asleep (or trying too hard?) rather than dead? It's fun, but starts to wear a bit thin by the end.



    2. ------------------------------------------------
      Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates

      Query: So I’m all in on this one! This sounds amazing! I’m not exactly wild about her reasoning for getting into this situation, but once she’s in, so am I! This sounds just like a blast! Your final sentence could likely be enhanced, but I expect that in a real query it might be more personalized to who you are querying.

      First 250 Words: This is so heart wrenching in a great way. I assume there is a reason for the judge to act like this, and the reason I assume this is because the query is well written and the writing is sublime. I am picky (thus the nickname) so I feel bad I’ve got very little to tell you here. Though isn’t Westchester just one word?

      You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling

      Query: This query is a bit all over the place. The statement of the stakes should not be in the paragraph about wordcount, so move that up. I feel like I’m told a lot about Tillie and Fable, but I get NOTHING about their personalities here. As such, the facts about them fade away from memory the second I start reading a new paragraph. You need to make the reader connect to these characters more.

      First 250 Words: Overusing the word dead in the opening paragraph isn’t doing you any favors, especially as it becomes so funny later on. I love the playful attitude regarding vampires and zombies, but I’m confused who is talking.

      The rest is very charming. Good sense of comedic bits while slowly but purposefully building the world. A good solid start.
      Victory to: Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates

      I’m just so all in on this one. Both authors are doing great work here, and both still could stand to revisit their work and do some fine tuning, but for me Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates has me all the way.



      Wow, what a fun idea.

      I’d recommend starting with the third sentence, it’s got a solid hook and tells us what we need to know right away. The first line is a tag line and the second sentence is a logline. Both are good to have on hand, but you don’t need them in a query. At least not the way you have it structured.

      This story sounds like it could be a lot of fun, and I wish the query reflected that more. The idea of a violinist trapped in time being chased by guitar players is great. I wonder if her searching for strings and sheet music is a bit redundant, at least in a query. I’d recommend centering the query on one plot element. You have her trying to save her mom, getting herself home and trying to save the future of humanity. It’s a lot going on. It sounds like they’re all intertwined, but I really want to feel like I’m going on an operatic adventure with Crystal and it’s bogged down.

      The last line of the first paragraph could be enough of a hook to end on.

      FIRST 250:

      Your first page is well done. I like how you jump right in with an obstacle for crystal and weave in some of her personality into it. We’re already given a reason to root for her (her mother missing, her work being flippantly dismissed) but also room for growth. Her confidence in her work, and the fact that she feels she’s not being adequately recognized could signal that she isn’t as talented as she thinks she is yet.

      I don’t really have much to recommend.



      The first sentence is a bit clunky, maybe instead of a comma use a dash: Janus – also known as dream-jumpers.

      I love how you describe the protagonists and how you set their arcs up against some worldbuilding. However, I think you should lose most of your last paragraph (except title, genre and wordcount) and put in the parts about climate change earlier into the main body of the query. Otherwise the line about the rising tides is sort of floating out there before we get some context. We don’t know the story takes place in the future in the main body either, and that’s probably a good thing to let the reader know.

      Otherwise, sounds like a fun story. Great start.

      FIRST 250:

      Your first 250 has some good voice in there, but I’m worried you’re spending too much time on what seems to be just a joke. I appreciate the humor, but I think you can wittle this down. We’ve gone a while not getting much information besides ‘she’s not dead’. I’d rework/cut/combine most of this.

      Both of these ideas are great sci-fi premises, that need some query rework, but one is a bit more polished.



    4. Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates

      This is a good query, which (especially as a musician who believes music is magical) hooks me a lot. It is a bit wordy, though. I’d go through and just condense it – take out 50-100 words if possible. There’s nothing in here that I feel like really SHOULD be taken out, so just prune it gently without losing the hooks.

      Also, I would replace “ready for review” in the last sentence with “complete” – otherwise you might give the impression that it hasn’t been revised yet.

      First 250:

      Nothing wrong with this! Good character development, good hook!

      You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling

      Fable and Tillie are both sixteen, trying to survive the New Delhi streets, and Jani, also known as dream-jumpers [I had to read this a couple times to figure out what you meant, because I thought Jani was a name. Maybe put Jani in italics, and split it into two sentences].

      Wild-haired Fable discovers she is a Janus [italics] while testing a new app and [I’d say which instead of and]

      Tillie has a headache every night, [I’d do a period instead of a comma]


      First 250:

      Or half alive? Wait, are vampire’s [vampires -no apostrophe-s for plurals] dead or is that just zombies?

      [I love this! Good humor, good hook]

      Okay, so I have to decide between two of my loves: magical music, and magical dreams. I think one is perhaps a bit more ready.


    5. Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates
      Very unique concept. At 288 words, it’s over where you want to be (250 words). The violin concept is cool, but you may be going overboard on detail. It has 4 strings, she has to find them throughout time, when she uses it the bad guys get a lock on her location. Simplify for query's sake.

      I think the clues in the sheet music are cool! But also too much detail there. She has to find her mother’s composition and play it on the violin to save the world. Something simpler like that.

      Also what happens if she doesn’t do the things? (there are a lot of things: find mom! Find sheet music! Find violin strings! Stay ahead of bad guys! Play the song! Get back to the present!) See how many things she has to do? Focus on like 1 to 2, show how they tie together, and tell us what happens if she fails.

      This really comes down to: simplify! Think of it like this: you have tried to write out every part of the symphony, but what we really need it to hear the melody line loud and clear, latch onto that, and then we will want to listen to more parts :)

      First 250:
      So much happens in that first big paragraph that I think you’ve tried to tell us too much, too soon.

      As an exercise, try to rewrite that paragraph with ½ the words, still keeping the meaning the same. Try to see how short you can make that moment on the page, yet lingering and impactful. We don’t know her well enough to care about her mother too much on page 1, but I think we could understand that she is under immense pressure auditioning, and they cut her off way early. Focus on that.

      See if the mother thing can be merely mentioned, briefly/lightly, and expanded later. (or try just taking it out entirely)

      I also wonder if it would be nice if we start with a moment of her playing, then the “next” interrupts something really nice and flowery and emo. Could be a more grounding start. (and a chance to subvert expectations!)

      You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling
      Dual POV is hard, especially in a query.

      Starting in sentence 1, rearranging will help get the meaning to readers right away (I thought Jani was another character name, and kept stumbling, until I reread enough times to get that Jani = dream-jumpers.)
      “Fable and Tillie are both sixteen, both trying to survive the climate-ravaged New Delhi streets, and they are both dream-jumpers, or Jani. But their similarities stop there.”

      Give us a clue on what dream-jumpers are… do they jump into dreams?? is it magic or tech? If this is what the book is about, you have to tell us!

      I’d shorten up both character-specific bits into just 1 sentence each so we can get to the plot. The stakes for Tillie are very clear (she needs to pay for the cancer drug) but not clear for Fable. What is she trying to do other than “get answers”? And her grandmother’s death – is that due to climate change?

      Last paragraph: the first sentence should be the last, and be its own paragraph. The last 2 sentences still seem to be part of your query, or they should be – move them up.

      First 250:
      The dead joke is cute.. but you might want to pull back on it just a little. It is bordering on repetitive. With humor, it’s usually good to follow a “rule of 3”
      1-Set up the joke
      2-Reference the bit again to remind readers
      3-BOOM the joke pays off.
      this is exactly the kind of joke I like, so I want you to edit it down and get it right!

      Vampires should not be vampire’s. Take out the apostrophe for the plural.

      I am also wondering about our narrator. Who is the narrator talking to? I prefer narrators to be closer to our POV characters, so having the narrator be so removed can be a risk…

      Is there something more appropriate in 2122 than “for Pete’s sake”?

      I want to be learning more about Fable on page 1.

      Both have such lovely concepts! Fresh and neat and I want more on both. Sadly I have to choose. I think the query is stronger in one, though.


    6. No one of consequenceJune 4, 2018 at 12:20 PM

      Cowboys vs Zombie Pirates:

      I LOVE the idea behind this...a magic violin. Wonderful. With that said, there's a LOT going on here in the query, and I'm not sure that's a good thing, as it makes it tough to tell what's really important. The query makes me feel like the story is a bit find the four things, one after the other. I'm not saying that can't work as a plot. It can. But it feels a bit younger than YA as described. Can you boil the query down so that it focuses on goal/stakes while cutting it a bit?

      The first 250: I'm going to be blunt. I don't like the character from the get go. It's very 'This isn't Fair! I'm a genius! These people should see that!' which is a real emotion, but when that's our first look at the's not someone I want to follow. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but I feel like it's a pretty significant issue. It's also something you can fix.

      I'm not saying you can't write an unlikable character. You can. But to do it, I want to care about her first.

      I realize that this is a pretty harsh thing to say. But I also think that if you don't address it, it will catch up to you in future rounds (and I think you'll still be around.)


      Query: there are some writing issues in the query itself that really make it hard for me to focus on the story. For example, the first line of the Tillie paragraph is punctuated incorrectly in a pretty blatant way.

      I think the format for the query is good...a paragraph that focuses on each of the two characters...but I think you need to dial in a little tighter in each of them, while paying attention to how you're saying things. When the writing in the query isn't sharp, it makes it feel like that might be a problem in the book.

      The first 250: I feel like you're trying too hard on the voice. The 'dead' thing is cute, but you play it a little too long, to the point where it becomes the story. It takes away from what's really happening, and makes it almost seem like you're writing a farce, when I don't think that's where you're going.


  2. This seems like a super interesting premise. The query successfully juggles the differences between a pair of protagonists. The overall objective for both seems to be to fight climate change using the power of making dreams a reality. I would say the way to improve the query would be to highlight the motivations of each character and show how their mutual goal will connect them to each other. The first 250 has an adorable voice, but it does sort of beat a "dead horse" (pun intended) that Fable is indeed alive.

  3. Cowboys Vs Zombie Pirates:

    Start with Crystal. Taglines are a mixed bag whether people like then or not, but characters are always important. For YA, you also need to start with her age (Sixteen-year-old Crystal, for example) to ground that yes, this is YA.

    I want to like this query, but it feels muddled to me. There are so many parts and characters that it feels like the main character gets lost. There’s Crystal, her mother, the scientist, Captain Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Anna Maria Mozart, and the Shadow Musicians, as well as the violin strings and the sheet music. Crystal and what she does gets lost in all of it. She almost feels like a side character in her own query. Get close to her and what she does. General advice I’ve seen is to try to limit to three characters brought up.

    The real title is simply fantastic.

    And if I’m being honest, your query makes me think your story would be a great video game, with the mixed settings and “collect all the pieces” questline. If it ever got made into one, I’d play the heck out of it.

    The first 250, the first full paragraph is again loaded with information I feel like I’d rather be eased into, or get in a quiet moment. I don’t need to know immediately that she’s considered a prodigy. That’s really the only one I can pinpoint that feels out of place, but it just feels like there’s a lot in there to absorb for the first paragraph. It does a good job of portraying what’s going through her mind, though, and the increasingly shorter sentences at the end give it a feeling of panic that I like. So I guess I’m torn on it! It does leave me wondering, have other applicants been stopped short, or is she the first one?


    Dream a Little Bigger Darling

    It’s hard to do queries from two POVS, because you have to split the plot between them, and generally, something gets lost between them. In this one, it’s what’s stopping them from achieving their goals. You show us who they are and what they want, but the third element important for queries is “what’s in their way” and that, we don’t know. General advice is to lose one of the POVs and focus on one, but you have two very interesting characters here. Consider giving up the opening sentences comparing them and just get to the characters, and drop the location into one of their paragraphs. We can see the similarities and differences in the words you choose (I love the descriptions of their hair for it.) Once you have them together at Dream 3.0, bring the last sentence up to a third summary paragraph and solidify what their main problem is. You don’t want to separate the plot with the bookkeeping.

    “It is a fast-paced escapade set in the year 2122, where the technological advances of the day are at war with climate change. “ The query should show all this.

    First 250, way way too much “she looked dead” at the front. It was funny in the first paragraph, but once other people started talking about her looking dead, it was more like I was being hit over the head with a hammer. Seems like the story is going to have good humor, but dial it back a bit with the “dead” here. Of the first 212 words, 13.5 of them are “dead”. Too much repetition in a short period.

  4. Cowboys vs Zombie Pirates:

    Query: The concept is definitely intriguing, and I really like the rules behind the violin strings and the temporal energy. However, I worry that you’re focusing too much on these rules and not enough on some details of the plot. For instance, why does the Shadow Musician want to erase Crystal? Why is her mother’s fate something that shouldn’t be discovered? And why is humanity at stake? And what is the purpose of the lullaby? Finally, the second paragraph is a bit long—consider splitting it into two paragraphs?

    First 250: I feel like the pacing could be sped up. You do a good job showing her frustration at her hard work being spurned, but it feels a little more telling than showing at the moment—I’m not getting a sense of what the music sounds like, and only know that it’s an original work.

    Dream Bigger, Darling

    Query: I really like this concept! Both characters are presented well and I love how DreamCatch 3.0 is fighting climate change. I do have to say that I am sympathizing more with Tillie now, since she has a clear goal we want her to achieve—getting that cancer medication—whereas Fable just wants to know why she is a Janus. Perhaps add more motivation to Fable, and tell us why she needs to win out over Tillie? I like the sentence “Tillie has a headache every night, it could be from her cancer, or it could be from her purposefully tight ponytail.” However, I think it’s a run-on, and while it’s interesting, the ponytail part is a little confusing—she already knows she has cancer. Finally, I think you can trim down the ending, from “fast-paced escapade” to “losing side”. These can be conveyed in the query—especially the last bit, with how Fable and Tillie are on the losing side.

    First 250: I like the voice here, but it’s rather confusing—why is Fable getting a checkup? why would the medical personnel think her dead if they can clearly read her vital signs? I feel like the first paragraph is rather long, and goes round and round a bit, delaying the moment when readers will understand what this is about.

  5. String Theory: #1, my daughter recently graduated from West Chester University, so yay, I'm a fan. Love the title - it encapsulates both the time travel and the musical aspects perfectly in two little words. In the query, it feels like you're glossing-over instead of delivering the nitty gritty details of the story. It would be great if you would fully commmit to whatever it is that's going on. I'd like specifics. What means to find her mother? How is the violin specialized? You get into a lot of fun possibilities in the next paragraph re: the pirates and the wild west and such, but I'd really love to get a few concrete examples of what goes on, instead of generalities. What is her mother's true fate? Why would the evil motivation "seem to be" related to her mother? I'm longing for the query to answer some of these questions instead of just raising them--although I adore the bit about the all-powerful guitarists! In the 250, let's see more of her feeling dejected instead of insulted. It feels a bit haughty now, like: how dare they not love me, I'm the great prodigy!

    DreamCatch 3.0: It feels like this is an ambitious story with lots of potential, but I'm a bit lost in trying to figure out the true plot. I'm not really a sci-fi chick, so I may not be the best judge, but the function of Jani feels vague. How does the dream-jumping affect climate change? Is carrying objects like the butterfly through different realms of consciousness a big breakthrough, or is that just the beginning of their powers? What are they trying to accomplish through this talent? And here's the big drum roll: How do the stories of the two girls intertwine? In the 250, the voice is vibrant and fresh and pulls us right in. I think you can move things along a bit rather than focusing on her mistaken death, since we all want to know what kind of an experiment this is, as opposed to reiterating that she resembles a corpse. You've piqued my interest and I'd love to know more, so find a way to give that to us, in the query through a more organized and detailed description that involves both girls, and in the 250 maybe just by streamlining the narration to move to through the moment faster.

    Thank you both for sharing your talents!

  6. Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates
    I love the idea of starting your query with a zinger (and “Music is the key to all time and space” is definitely a zinger), but be careful there’s not a strange disconnect between the opening and the rest of the query. The sentences don’t really connect to each other, and that happens a few more times within your query. You want everything to flow, but right now, it kind of jumps around. For example, I’m not sure how we get to “the future of all humanity” when we’ve been talking just about Crystal learning about her mother and returning home. It kind of comes out of nowhere, so it doesn’t have a big impact for me. It’s a really cool concept, though!

    On the first 250, I like that you start us off in the middle of things. I think, though, that you might have some details in the first paragraph that might be better held back for later. The “who had disappeared without a trace seven years ago” feels like pretty heavy exposition for an opener and doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the paragraph. The writing is solid, though, and I’d be curious to see what happened after the audition!

    DreamCatch 3.0
    So, I think you have an interesting premise. But I also think this query needs a little woodshedding. You have some grammar issues (comma splices, run-on sentences), and there are times when I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say. For example, “trying to survive the New Delhi streets, and Jani, also known as dream-jumpers.” After reading it a few times, I think it means they’re trying to survive the Jani, who are dream-jumpers. But the first time I read it, I thought Jani was a name.

    Solid first 250, though. It’s fun and cheeky. You still have some grammar issues (i.e. the comma splices), and I don’t really get much of a sense for what’s going on. But as far as kind of setting the tone for the story, I think it does a good job of piquing the reader’s interest and making us curious. Good job!

  7. Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates

    This book seems like a lot of fun. You definitely have an interesting and unique premise here. The title is perfect!
    For some reason it feels a little younger than YA to me, but I’m sure it’s all in how you write it. Maybe I’m just thinking that because it kind of made me think of “A Wrinkle in Time”.
    “When an eccentric scientist gives her the means to find her mother, she becomes impatient and accidently flings herself into the past. The specialized violin is her only hope of returning home, but its strings were scattered throughout history as she fell through time.”
    I think this information can be rearranged and tightened up a bit. You can just say that he gives her the violin and explain what it does and then you won’t have to repeat the information in the next sentence. It took me a second glance to figure out that the violin WAS the means and you say that she flings herself into the past without directly explaining yet that the violin has the ability to do this. It makes the reader have to work to link it all together.
    The 250 starts in a great place. I feel like we’ve all that that moment (as writers or otherwise) where we’ve gotten a big fat “no” before we’ve even gotten a chance to show what we can do. Very relatable.
    You throw the information about the mother being missing into the mix a bit too casually. We’re in the middle of feeling bad for her in this rehearsal, and then all of a sudden we are hit with this huge piece of information. Would you be able to slip it in somewhere with more subtlety in another spot in your story?
    I’d be surprised to NOT see this on the shelf someday. The premise is just so cool.

    You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling

    This seems like you have a story that is complex enough to be really hard to pear it down into a query. The first sentence has a lot of information in it. Maybe too much. Can you break that into two sentences? That way you could use the second sentence to explain what Jani are right up front. I was confused if they were trying to survive the Jani (like, they were being hunted) or if they ARE Jani and trying to survive being that. You say that Jani are dream jumpers, but don’t really say what that is. I need more. Since it is in New Delhi, my first thought was that Jani were creatures that are part of New Delhi cultural mythology or something. Then you go from saying “Jani” to “Janus” and I fully admit that I might just be being dumb here, but I can’t figure out why.

    I also had a delayed realization that your descriptions of their hair was how you were showing their different personalities. I think that’s very clever! I do wonder if there’s a way to do this more smoothly.
    The 250 gives us a good sense of voice with the character’s mental rambling, but it might be best to save showing that for a paragraph or two. It was a bit confusing to jump into her train of thought. Also, I totally get what you’re going for with the repetitiveness, but you use the word “dead” 12 times (not counting the cut-off one) out of 250 words. I got a bit tired of reading it over and over again.
    It sounds like you have a complex story here. I’m definitely interested.

  8. Cowboys versus Zombie Pirates

    Query: Really love the music theme, it’s at once simple and accessible and yet deep and profound. And the stakes couldn’t be higher! For the query, maybe there’s a succinct way to describe the “specialized violin” that give sis more specifics about its importance?

    1st 250: “they would never see her talent” … this makes Crystal seem a little arrogant — if that’s not in her character, maybe consider cutting. Or is that what you were going for? If she’s a prodigy, it does seem realistic that she’d be overconfident but it’s a tricky thing to also make her likeable. Just something to think about.


    Dream a Little Bigger, Darling

    Query: I found the “DreamCatch” concept really interesting but (nitpicky thing), why a “purposefully tight” ponytail? Didn’t get that and it stopped me in my tracks and took me out of the query. Also, very relevant climate change angle, but in the year 2122, would the issue have become even more dire and threatening… more like “climate peril” or something to capture that?

    1st 250: Really liked the voice here but maybe consider starting off with “I’m not dead.” Fable sat up (etc.). I’m not sure that what comes before draws you into the story enough or really adds anything. It’s a great premise but I found the internal back and forth discussion of that first section stopped me from getting immediately drawn in. Otherwise, well done!


    The premise for this one is wonderful, although it sounds perhaps overstuffed since we're moving between so many different locations. I can't help but feel like the main thrust of the story, the search for Crystal's mother, is going to get lost in the shuffle between the pirates and cowboys. But at the same time, I do want to read the novel to find out. My main suggestion to you would be to give us a bit more info about Crystal herself: how old is she? What's her personality like? Why does she jump into this time machine- was she close to her mom, or were things rocky between them?

    I thought the first half of your 250 was frontloaded with too much exposition. We don't need to find out all these details right away, I'd prefer to learn more about the piece of music, or Crystal, or even her physical surroundings. Fortunately this is what seems to be going on in the second half of the sample, which I think is great. Nice work!

    I'm a little sorry to say this, but your query letter is a mess. There are tons of things going on, and it all sounds really cool and interesting, but it's also overstuffed and disjointed. Consider this sentence: "Wild-haired Fable discovers she is a Janus while testing a new app and carries a butterfly from her dream into reality." This is meant to tell me about the character of Fable, but I don't know what a dream-jumper is exactly, or what it has to do with butterflies. If a Janus is a person who brings things from dreams into reality, you don't state that in the query. Your first paragraph also makes it sound like Fable and Tillie are trying to SURVIVE dream-jumpers, not that they are them. This lack of clarity really hurts your letter.
    Your first 250 are a lot better, I think the humor is pretty good- I just don't see what it has to do with anything. It tells me nothing about Fable as a character, or the world she lives in. I don't need exposition so early on, but this opening could be attached to a totally different novel about, IDK, Icelandic whaling vessels and you wouldn't have to change much. Give us something about Fable instead.

  10. Cowboys vs Zombie Pirates


    In young adult fiction, I think you should start the query with the MC. Give us first name, age and tell us something interesting about them.
    The stakes (saving her mother or mankind) are better saved for the ending.

    Maybe explain more about the violin. When you write “The specialized violin” it implies the violin has been mentioned before.

    I would have a full stop after “the Old West”, and I would be careful about using so many names in the query. I feel I should know who Captain Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny and Anna Maria Mozart are, but I don’t.

    Maybe focus on the Shadow Musicians instead?

    250 words:

    Your writing is good, but I would hold back some of Crystal’s thoughts around the interruption in the first paragraph, and try to give them to the reader in smaller doses as the scene plays out.

    The lead judge's dialogue tag/action beat could be tightened: “That will be all.” The lead judge flicked her hand and pushed her wire-framed glasses up. With folded arms, she leaned back in her chair. “We have…” (or something like that) As it is the paragraph is a little wordy.

    Hope some of this helps!
    Good luck!

    You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling


    Your first line is a bit confusing. Maybe tell us the MC’s are Jani, dream-jumpers, before you tell us they are trying to survive the New Delhi streets.

    The first sentence about Fable doesn’t sound right to me. I would say”… a Janus when she carries a butterfly from her dream to reality, while testing a new app (if the app-thing even needs to be there).

    In Tillie’s paragraph I would delete “purposefully” to make the sentence flow better. The inclusion of her ponytail in the query does beg the question: why is it so important?

    Since your query doesn’t involve anything about oceans, I don’t think the sentence “quicker than the ocean’s rising tides” does more than add words to the query.

    The last sentence in the last paragraph belongs further up (before the book keeping), I think.

    250 words:

    I think you should take out the first paragraph, and start with the

    I really like your sample from there!

    Hope some of this helps!
    Good luck!

  11. Hey both! Great job getting this far—that means your story and pitch are really strong already. I’ll do my best to make constructive comments, but if they don’t resonate with you then feel free to ignore.
    1) STRING THEORY. Totally geeking out at the title right from the start! And then you tie in music—I’m dead already! What are you trying to do to me?! OMG—THE STRINGS IN THE TITLE ARE THE STRINGS OF THE VIOLIN!! You’re committing murder by query right here in broad daylight. Love the sheet music and lullaby too. The only thing I would say is, try to put everything in chronological order—so the warning not to dig into the reason for her mother’s disappearance comes in sequence with its appearance in the story. It jarred me where it was. The paragraphs also feel a little dense—try breaking them up / stripping out some of the superfluous information. The opening has a great voice. I like Crystal immediately. Maybe for us to share her confusion, you could start with a beautiful description of the music she’s playing and how it’s an ode to her mother—she gets lost in her thoughts and her music & so do we—and then we’re rudely interrupted by the judge? It would seem more rude & abrupt, & we’d feel the harsh injustice of it? Just a suggestion though 😊

    2) DREAMCATCH 3.0. So much to love about this story! The title had me thinking sci-fi romance about an AI teenage boy. Now I know what it’s about, I see why you’ve chosen it, but I do think most people who would want to read it wouldn’t think to pick it up, based on the title, if you see what I mean? In the query, the first sentence confused me a bit because I didn’t know what a Jani was. Maybe you could reword it for clarity: Fable and Tillie are both sixteen-year-old Jani—also known as dream jumpers—trying to survive the New Delhi streets. You’ve got a lot of really interesting elements here, but it’s hard to see how they all tie in together. Tille’s experienced, Fable is green (good contrast there). Also Tillie feeling threatened by Fable’s unbridled natural abilities because she can’t lose out on her cancer drugs works well too. I just don’t see how their personal struggles tie in with the global issue of climate change. You need to clearly show how that is a barrier to them getting what they want personally. If you can find a way to tie all the elements together than you’ve got the making of a really strong story because I love the characters and climate fiction is in right now. In the opening, I loved the voice—it made me laugh & hooked me in, but I did wonder about who’s point of view I was in because Fable can’t see her own face (unless she can because of her dreamcatching powers?). And I think the intercom voice laboured the joke a bit too much—trust your reader & your humour. But I’m being really nitpicky here. I love the concept & the voice of this. Really well done.

    Best of luck to you both!

  12. String Theory

    The idea of music being a key to all time and space is intriguing, so the first sentence is good at capturing attention. I like it.

    The first sentence of the next paragraph feels like a good tag line, but I never get a sense of why mankind is in danger? The rest of the query seems to be about Crystal getting out of the past and finding her mother—which is fine, it just didn’t explain why that affects all of mankind.

    I would only call out the search for the scattered strings because adding the scattered sheet music makes it feel too confusing in the query (I’m sure it makes sense in the book).

    First 250:
    I agree with some of the other commenters that the mother disappearing seven years ago feels very heavy handed.

    Being rejected when you were sure you are confident of acceptance is a powerful blow and I think most people can sympathize with that. My only problem with it is that she seems overconfident to the point of cocky with “sure to impress” and being labeled “a prodigy”. Her character growth might be learning humility, if so that makes sense. It’s a small detail though, and definitely a subjective opinion.

    Overall though, I think it is a very good place to start the story, which sounds engaging and unique. Good luck!

    DreamCatch 3.0

    I like the setup for the query with the two different characters being introduced. They both sound very interesting and like characters I would want to know more about.

    The last paragraph where I expected to see the main conflict and states, but I didn’t find it. You hint that the team might be on the losing side, but that is too vague.

    I think you have a great idea of technology being at war with climate change. The query just needs to show the stakes of what Fable and Tillie are up against.

    First 250:

    I think the “is she dead” thing is a little too much. It’s cute in the beginning, but it loses appeal when it bleeds into the technicians doing it. I feel like I want to know more about why she looks dead but isn’t. I love the comedic feel, but you are missing out on a good opportunity to hook the reader in with the details of her situation.

    That being said, I like Fable already, so you are doing something right! Good luck!

  13. Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates
    You start with two tag lines, which I don’t think it necessary. The first line itself sounds like a twitter pitch, I’d, personally, open with the second, as it’s more specific. I think the third line that follows needs little more fleshing out. If he’s giving her what she needs, why does she become impatient? What specialized violin? Is that what the scientist gives her? If so, just say so. If not, where did the violin come from? The first paragraph sounds like the plot to a video game, which I don’t dislike, but you could drop more hints about Crystal herself and what she’s like. The second paragraph confused my because I don’t get a good sense of the sequence of events. I think you have good information and compelling stakes, but you could probably rearrange this a bit to also present a clear timeline, weaving in the violin strings, sheet music, her opposition etc. Right now, all the points seems disconnected, and I can’t piece the story together from reading the query, though each element is interesting. I’d love to know how everything works together.

    You’ve got a bit of telling followed by showing in your 250, which is easy to fix. Right away you say Crystal lost concentration, but then you actually show her losing concentration, which is much better. You don’t need the first sentence at all. I’m not sure why “interrupted” is italicized. The part about her mother reads like exposition—it’s unnatural to say the part about her disappearing, I’d just end at “an ode to her mother.” If you wanted, later you could say “her song to her missing mother...” or something to that effect. Then the reader knows something happened, but it doesn’t read so much like exposition. I think you characterize Crystal well off the bat.

  14. Cowboys Versus Zombie Pirates

    Query: Nice premise! Time travel is nothing new, but I love the musical twist. This reminds me of the show LEGENDS OF TOMORROW. My nitpick here is that too much seems to be crammed into the query. She's trying to find her mom, trying to find the violin strings, trying to survive the Shadow Musicians(should be plural in your query, by the way), and she's trying to put together sheet music. Does it all need to be mentioned at once? Maybe you could save some stuff for your synopsis.

    250: I love how you show the character's voice and how shocked and dismayed she is. I do think that second paragraph goes on a little too long, stopping the flow of the story. For example, the backstory about her mother disappearing could come later in the chapter. I do think you started your novel in the perfect place though!

    You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling

    Query: First of all, I LOVE your premise. It's so unique and I love the climate change aspect. However, the first sentence confused me. I had to read it a couple of times to understand it. Maybe it would read better as: "Sixteen-year-olds Fable and Tillie are both Jani, also known as dream-jumpers, trying to survive the New Delhi streets." And I think you can delete "standalone (or exciting series starting)" near the end of your query altogether. The sentence that starts "Although DreamCatch 3.0 plans..." should be put above the info about your title and word count, at the end of your third paragraph.

    First 250: This made me laugh out loud. Good job on the humor! Although maybe you could shorten this exchange a bit to move the story along. You could leave out "Dead like she was in her coffin, like a fat mortician had freshly powdered her nose. Heck," and go right into the vampire vs. zombie stuff. You could also delete "You look very dead." in the scientist's dialogue. But definitely keep the humor and the voice in this first page! I would read more.

  15. You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling
    The first sentence made sense up until “and Jani.” Is he also a character trying to survive the streets? Is he someone the characters are trying to survive? I couldn’t tell. You don’t mention Jani again, so I’d take him (her?) out. I don’t know why there’s a description of Fable’s hair—There’s a strong urge, for some reason, to describe what female characters look like before describing who they are. From everything I’ve read, agents are noticing this now, and they’re not appreciative. Here, her hair is an unnecessary detail. I’d much rather know what a “Janus” is. Without this description, the rest of the query isn’t as clear as it could be. I’m not sure why “like her grandmother,” is italicized. Unless she’s actually racing against the “ocean’s rising tide,” this just reads as cliché. If it is literal, more is needed to make it clear. Again, with Tillie, the ponytail thing doesn’t add anything to the story, I’d much prefer the details focus on the plot. What is this company’s purpose? How is she fighting climate change? Climate change also refers to the political landscape, so this could be more specific. The final paragraph added a little more clarity to the story, though the last sentence seems out of place. Maybe put that one earlier?

    In the pages, the word dead is used so many times it got a little grating. Basically, the first entire 250 says the same thing, over and over again. I liked Fable’s inner sidetracked mind—I’d rather see more of that. Also, I have zero idea what she’s doing or why she’s doing it. I’d cut out the repetition and paint a clearer picture right off the bat.

    This query reads a lot like a synopsis and it seems like there are a lot of things you could cut out to make it more concise and less confusing. I think you could cut the first two lines and just start with her mother being lost somewhere in the past. Tell us directly that the violin is the means to find her mother and then talk about how she loses the strings. Second paragraph stars out well, but then you mention “temporal energy,” and that lost me. I would probably leave that out since it seems like it would take a lot of explanation for the reader to understand what that is. Leave out “Shadow Musician” and just say that the strings give her location away to a group of electric guitar players who want her erased from time. The rest of the query after the Shadow Musicians didn’t seem all necessary to me, and I feel like it could all be condensed into one or two punchy sentences that show us the stakes she’s up against.

    First 250:
    This is awesome. I love the voice, and I’m already sucked into the story. I can practically feel her frustration. Bravo!

    First sentence of the query is confusing since I have no idea what Jani is at first so I assume it’s a person until you say “also known as dream-jumpers.” Also, until like my fifth read-through, I thought they were trying to survive the Jani. It wasn’t until reading it that many times that I realized you were saying that these two girls WERE Jani. So that first paragraph should probably be completely reworked. Also, do these girls know each other? Because that’s the impression I got from this first paragraph—that they were doing all of these things together. That they were either best friends or sisters.

    I like the next two paragraphs enough. The last paragraph I think you can take out the stuff in parentheses and leave it just saying that this book is a standalone. You could probably also take out the last sentence.

    First 250:
    I like the voice, but I think you hit the “she’s not dead” thing waaaaaay too many times. I’d limit it to maybe three times. Then we can get further in the story. Because right now we have a page of reasserting that she isn’t dead, which doesn’t have as much potential as I really feel like you could have.

    Great job to both writers! I would love to see where both of these go!