January Contest Crit Giveaway: Query or First 250

While I got my agent through querying, contests were critical along the way. Contests helped me hone my query and first 250, introduced me to other writers who gave me great feedback and encouragement, and pointed me to all kinds of fantastic online resources. In 2015, I want to give back to the writing community that helped me so much, and one way I’m going to do that is offering feedback to help other writers entering contests!

Thus, for my first contest crit giveaway, I’m offering the following to anyone thinking of entering Sun vs. Snow*:

Comment with your query OR your first 250 (not both), and I will tell you the ONE thing I think would most improve it!

Why only one? Left to my own devices, I tend to give overly lengthy feedback, which is both time consuming for me and potentially overwhelming for the recipient. By limiting myself to picking the one most important thing, I ensure I can respond to (and help) more people, and also protect your sanity. 😉

This offer is for the first 10 comments. If I get more than 10 entrants, I have to stop there. Only so much time in the day!

If you want to offer other people feedback, please do comment on their entries. Just make sure to be supportive even when delivering suggestions. If someone comments on yours, make sure to return a crit for theirs!

Good luck to everyone entering Sun vs. Snow! Learn lots and have fun!

(* If you aren’t familiar with Sun vs. Snow, it’s a great, fun contest for unagented writers seeking an agent for their polished manuscript. If you’re querying, you should think about entering!)

[UPDATE: I’ve got all 10 slots filled now! Thanks to those who posted for their bravery. I may do another crit giveaway next month, so stay tuned!]

About Melissa Caruso

I'm the author of THE TETHERED MAGE, first in the Swords & Fire trilogy, coming from Orbit Books in October 2017. I write fantasy novels. I love tea, adventure, and the great outdoors. I live in Massachusetts with my husband, two amazing daughters, three cats, and a Labrador. Represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary. View all posts by Melissa Caruso

29 responses to “January Contest Crit Giveaway: Query or First 250

  • mvwrite

    Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for doing this! Here’s my first 250 (technically 253 so as to finish the sentence) for Sun and Snow:

    When Mr. and Mrs. Stevens shuffle into my sister’s office it’s clear that they think couples therapy is their ticket out of marriage. Mr. Stevens, a balding man with a scarecrow’s face, is sporting a new Armani suit with price tags included. My guess: he’s hoping the dollars signs will attract a new little ingenue.
    It’s a ploy I’ve seen a zillion times (four other guys used it this week). But I can’t blame Mr. Stevens for trying. Mrs. Stevens, who probably fit the bill once upon a time, doesn’t seem to to care about him too much. She’s also got her double-chin buried in Fifty Shades. That book is never a good sign at Littlewood’s Couples Therapy.
    It’s even worse when the person reading it has Mrs. Stevens’ eyebrows. Those squashed caterpillars are fixed in a permanent downward angle, the sort of look that comes with a year’s worth of petulance and scorn.
    Lucky for her, Molly will call her back at 4:15 and she will leave at 5:00 happily aware that she and her husband were never meant to be.
    Not so lucky for me.
    Nibbling the end of my slick ballpoint pen, I turn my attention towards the calendar and count out the days.
    Ten.
    Ten days and—I cross Mrs. Stevens and her husband off my list of potentials—zero couples. There are no new couples coming in this week either. No chance of more people down the line.
    And I am running out of time.

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      Great voice here! I love the little details, and I’m definitely intrigued at the end about why she’s running out of time & for what.

      The one biggest thing I think you could do to improve your first 250 is to start in a slightly different place. The first page is so important, and here you use it mostly to focus on Mr. & Mrs. Stevens, who I’m guessing aren’t major characters. For your first page, I don’t want to see Mr. & Mrs. Stevens, no matter how cleverly they’re described — I want your MC. The things she notices and the voice do help establish her to some degree (or him? You don’t establish gender or age), but I need to immediately have a much stronger sense of who she is. Right now, the dramatic tension comes in right at the end, with the counting the days bit — maybe you can bring some of that, and more sense of her personal goals & conflict, right in at the beginning, rather than throwing away the most important page real estate in your book on characters we’ll probably never see again.

      I hope this is helpful! Good luck with the contest and with your book!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Gloria

    Dear Ms. Caruso:

    Thank you for this wonderful opportunity. My query is as follows:

    Meliana’s brown eyes tie her to a life of farming wheat and sewing sneakers. Manual labor is all she and the other brown-eyed are capable of. Surviving third world conditions pits neighbor against neighbor, even brother against brother.

    While the workers dodge each other’s scythes and work their fingers bloody to meet a production quota, the intelligent blue-eyed live in first-world luxury, blind to those who harvest their fruit and piece together their precious bPads. Meliana’s only contact with the blue-eyed is limited to disciplinary whippings … until she meets Gregor.

    When her mother falls ill, Meliana disables the machine that keeps track of their work. Blue-eyed Gregor learns of her crimes, but instead of flogging her, offers an education. He sees her cleverness and believes society made a mistake.

    Meliana trusts Gregor as much as she trusts his dad – the trigger-happy, ex-military envoy sent to keep her people in line. But when Meliana’s uncle dies suddenly, she realizes she can’t continue like this. Risking a treason sentence and torture, Meliana learns in secret while fighting her attraction to Gregor. When she reads her first word, she wonders – is she the only clever slave?

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      This sounds like an intriguing situation and setting!

      The one biggest thing I think you could do to improve your query is to focus more on the conflict/stakes for the MC and less on world background.

      Right now, the first half of the query is almost entirely description of a society you could sum up in one sentence — the only thing we really need to know is that brown-eyed people are laborers and slaves for blue-eyed people. (It also risks coming off a bit heavy-handed as is.)

      We get more about Meliana in the second half, but I’m still not clear what the core conflict is — what her driving goals are, and what’s at stake for her personally. Does she want to overturn the system? Use her secret education to get ahead somehow personally? Protect her family? Find a way to be with Gregor? I have no idea where she wants to go from here, and what she’ll lose on a personal level (torture and death aren’t as compelling as personal stakes in a query) if she fails. If you can trim that world background as much as possible and really focus on Meliana’s conflict and stakes, I think this query will stand out much more.

      I hope that’s helpful! Good luck with the contest and your book!

      Like

  • Lee

    Ooh, hope I can cut and paste this quickly enough.. thanks so much! Query:

    School teacher Kayla Petrovic knows she is a screw up.
    No amount of lovers can fill the emotional void left by the psychopathic mother who taught her she was worthless.
    Before Kayla killed her.
    Accidentally. Still, Kayla deserves punishment.

    When Kayla and her class are abducted and held for ransom in the Australian desert, Kayla seizes the opportunity to atone for her sins, bartering her body for her students’ safety. But as the depraved men brutalize her body, they unleash her psychological demons, trapping Kayla in a terrifying battle for sanity

    Army Captain Nick Stead recognizes love as a physical release: frequent, enjoyable, and completely transitory. He’s not interested in a relationship with the fragmented teacher he rescues. That would make him some kind of sick bastard. Yet he is irresistibly drawn to Kayla.
    Nick’s innate strength and undeniable passion ignite something Kayla thought dead: her ability to desire and love a man. But, instilled by her mother’s deep-rooted poison and fuelled by trauma from the ordeal, Kayla’s paranoid insecurities bloom inside her like a cancer-it is madness to believe that Nick could truly want someone like her.
    But Nick could provide protection from the kidnapper who still pursues her…unless that terror exists only in her shattered mind.

    Complete at 92,000 words, romantic thriller MALICIOUS DESIRE is a standalone work.

    A fully qualified and practicing Mental Health Professional, I am particularly fascinated by exploring forbidden desires and dreams, and have a passion for seeing characters evolve to a point of self-empowerment.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      Wow, there’s a TON of drama and deep internal character conflict here! Intense!

      I think my One Big Thing I’d work on is that right now it’s a little disjointed. Language-wise, there are some sentence fragments, super-short sentences, and one-sentence paragraphs… all of which are great tools to provide emphasis in moderation, but you have enough that it feels a bit jarring (especially at the beginning, which is otherwise strong). Also watch out for POV/voice shifts in the query.

      The core conflict also seems a bit scattered… I’m not clear from this query whether the abduction is mostly backstory and the book mainly takes place after the rescue, focusing on the romance; or whether there are two distinct phases to the book here where the main conflict shifts (pre and post rescue). If the former, I think you need to clarify what external conflict makes it a thriller after the rescue (you make a brief reference to a kidnapper still pursuing her, but it’s almost a throwaway… the internal conflicts are very clear, so great job there). If the latter, I think you need to show us a clear arc sustained through both phases of the book.

      I hope that’s helpful! Good luck with the contest and the book!

      Like

      • leehotline

        Wow, you are quick (lucky you’re not an agent, I like them to reply slowly, so as to keep the dream alive a little longer!) Thanks so much for your assistance, particularly with noting the need to emphasize the conflict in the second part of the book.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Rachel

    Here’s my first 250! I’m actually still deciding which WIP to enter. Thanks for the opportunity!

    Tarson’s family made a point to wait until the last minute to tell each other what they wanted. When Voshtarnagorn paused in the doorway after saying good-bye, Tarson knew something was coming. He leaned on the wall and watched his older brother pretend to fiddle with his uniform.
    “Oh, and by the way,” Voshtarnagorn said, as if it had just dawned on him.
    “I knew you’re about to say that.”
    Voshtarnagorn made a face, but laughed. He tossed Tarson something. Tarson missed. The book fluttered and clattered to veined marble underfoot.
    “They want you to read it,” Voshtarnagorn said apologetically. “So you’re going to have to.”
    Tarson scraped the book off the floor and grimaced, flipping to the front piece.
    “History on the Appearance of the Dark.” He looked up in exasperation. “History? Why?”
    “They said. All the Bluechildren have to, except us Travelers. If you want, go commiserate with Aniel, because she has to read it, too. Teregon’s out in Matae, so she’d probably like company. Though she always likes yours.”
    “Shut up about Aniel.”
    Voshtarnagorn bobbed his eyebrows at him.
    “But why?” Tarson asked.
    The smile on Voshtarnagorn’s face faded.
    “Do your math,” he said quietly. “The clouds will soon cover Gardemarn again. The Dark will set foot in the Worlds, for the last time.”
    Before Tarson could calculate his words, Voshtarnagorn swung on the door, his usual grin spreading to his eyes again. “The book can’t be too terrible. I’m featured in there.”
    “Wait, what?”
    “Bye,” said Voshtarnagorn.

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      I love the last little exchange there! Nice tease! I’m also a fantasy fan, so always happy to see more fantasy. 🙂

      My One Big Suggestion for your first 250 is to start in a different place.

      On the first page, I want to meet your MC, establish basic setting, and have some kind of initial conflict and stakes that will have me intrigued to read more. This scene reads more like a transition into a backstory dump — something I’d rather see after I’ve had time to get invested in the MC and start wondering more about the world.

      The only thing that really happens in this scene is that a character hands his brother a book and walks out the door. If there’s something at stake here, to do with their relationship or the situation, I don’t know it. And there are a ton of names to wade through. It feels like you’re trying to set up too much, too soon.

      Give us one moment, one relationship, one conflict, and get us to really identify with your viewpoint character and whatever they’re trying to accomplish at the start of the novel. If you can think of an early scene that does that — maybe near the inciting incident of the book — go with that instead for the first page, and save this for later, once we’re already invested.

      I hope that helps! Good luck with the contest, whichever book you choose to enter!

      Like

  • erinkbay

    Hi, Melissa!! Thanks so much for the critique opportunity!! Here is my first 250!

    Gwendolyn Darling paced anxiously in her lace-collared night gown, sweaty fingers tightly clasped against each other across her back. She walked the length of the window in her room, only to turn back when she hit either wall. Only a dim lamp lit the room, scattering vague shadows on the walls and ceiling. Eyebrows furrowed so that they resembled little more than a pair of fuzzy caterpillars, Gwen bit her lip, thinking.

    What did the girl mean by dark creatures?

    Thump.

    She whipped her head toward the door, alert, eyes wide; her ears pricked up, but it was clear. She heard the all too familiar thump thump of footsteps climbing the stairs and immediately leapt toward the bed. Gwen quickly threw herself under the covers and assumed what she hoped would pass for a delicate “lady in distress” position. Dabbing at the moisture on her forehead with the sleeve of her gown, she let her head sink into the fluffy pillow, tilted slightly at an angle, and let her eyes flutter closed. She could feel the beat of her heart pounding against her chest as she waited for the footsteps to arrive at her door. And soon, as anticipated, the sound of footsteps was followed by a brief knock before the clatter of the turning doorknob. Light flooded in from the hallway; Gwen took her cue and gave a great show of blinking blearily, as the head of her mother peeked through the cracked open door.

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      Nice opening moment — I like the combo of hints at a complicated relationship with her mother, hints at a larger and more sinister conflict, and glimpses into setting and character.

      My One Big Suggestion for you is to work in even more of those things by cutting some overly fiddly details. For example, you spend a lot of precious first-page words establishing exactly how she’s pacing (I get what I need from the sweaty fingers clasped… I don’t also need to know about the exact pattern she’s pacing, the frowny eyebrows, or the bit lip to get the mood of restless anxiety) or exactly how she’s lying on the bed (“lady in distress position” does it for me without needing to know the angle of her head on the pillow etc).

      Use the one exact right detail instead of throwing a whole bunch at us… and then, with the words you save, give us more of the really interesting stuff! Give me just a shade more info about the “dark creatures” comment, to hook me stronger with the tease, or imply more about her relationship with her mother, or give me a little more insight into her character and what drives her.

      I hope that helps! Good luck with the contest and with your book!

      Like

  • writercarrieann

    Thanks so much for doing this! here’s my 250 for my YA contemp.
    Seven months after moving to Cleveland, and a month after starting my sophomore year, I’d finally achieved my goal of a normal social life, complete with the world’s sweetest, boringest boyfriend.
    I cuddled into his side—Whit’s stocky frame made him a perfect cuddler—and he asked, “You’re going to be here for homecoming, right?”
    “Yeah,” I tried to play it cool, as if he hadn’t mentioned the pinnacle of suburban teen life.
    “You want to go?” “Yes! I’d love to.” Smart one Laney, I berated myself. Way too eager. Shit, shit shit.
    “Wait, what?” He pushed sandy blond hair away from his forehead.
    He’d heard me swearing. Had I said my real name out loud? Whit, along with the rest of the school, knew me as Elaine. “I forgot I left my favorite shoes back in Los Angeles.”
    “L.A.? I thought you moved here from Albany.”
    “Oh, right. We went to a family wedding in L.A. this summer.” I took a steadying breath, recollecting my catalog of lies. I couldn’t screw this up. “But, homecoming will be a lot of fun.” I kissed his cheek. Whit turned on the TV to the late night news.
    A familiar song blasted through the air, opening chords ripping into my peaceful night. Union Juliet.
    The TV displayed an old concert clip. Jack Heckler at the center mic, flanked by guitarists Phil Mackenzie and Nic Brixton. Their most famous song, Ignore Alien Orders. Jack screamed into the mic, “Why don’t we burn this rotten city? Why don’t we kill these *bleeping* kings!”

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      This is a great place to start! Clear, high stakes, and a chance to hint at mystery and secrets. Great choice!

      My One Big Suggestion for you is to ease off on cramming backstory and slow down… really get into the moment, immersing us in Laney’s head. We don’t need a flurry of names and specifics (Laney/Elaine, LA, Albany, Cleveland, Jack Heckler, Phil Mackenzie, Nic Brixton, Union Juliet, Whit… that’s a LOT for the first 250 words). All we need to know is that this is a big, big moment for her, and that she’s desperately afraid a secret from her past is going to muck it up. Hinting that the “Elaine” he knows isn’t the real her, and that the history he knows for her is a bunch of lies, is plenty without laying out specifically for us what’s the lie and what’s the truth and who knows. It’s more fun to give us a mystery and let us wonder for a little while.

      It’s the emotional stakes we need crystal clear, not the backstory specifics.

      I also think we don’t need to jump into Union Juliet quite yet (I remember this story from another query feedback venue somewhere, so I recall at least a bit of context)… you can ease the reader into that soon enough. Right now you want us to really feel character (Laney) and stakes (prom secrets, normal life). That is PLENTY to sink our teeth into and catch our interest.

      I hope that’s helpful! Good luck in the contest and with the book!

      Like

  • @Cpoe2Books

    Ms. Caruso:

    Thank you for your time and any feedback. Below is the meat of my usual query letter.

    High school senior, Crysta, barely escaped a medieval assassin’s clutches, only to learn she is destined to help save the world from an ancient evil. No memory of her past existence leaves the confused teenager struggling with her new reality. Not to mention you can’t actually write ‘Warrior Princess’ on a college application.

    The darkness once unleashed on her long-forgotten kingdom has reappeared to destroy the world she knows while friends get caught in the crossfire. Armed with an unstable power over the elements, Crysta faces killer spells, hormonal teenagers, suspicious co-workers, and her first shaky steps of adulthood.

    Not to mention, there are dangerous secrets buried in her long-lost past that could mean the difference between life and death, but only if Cyrsta has the courage to go digging before it’s too late. The world teeters on the brink of oblivion, and Crysta’s choices could leave behind a wasteland.

    CHILDREN OF AVALON is a work of Young Adult Fantasy, complete at 140,000 words. From medieval times to the present day, Crysta must learn to survive. My story builds a new world of magic in a similar sense as Lynne Ewing’s Daughters of the Moon. Swords are the newest fashion accessory, and magic can turn any life upside-down.

    I got my start in journalism, winning two minor awards. For the past several years, I have focused on my creative writing as a member of Ozark Writers League, Twin Lakes Writers, and Ozark Writers and Illustrators. I have won several regional awards including Best Unpublished Book for 2014. I have attended several conferences in the last few years to help refine my craft as well as to learn the ins-and-outs of book marketing, leading to an online presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I also have event marketing experience.

    I am currently searching for representation. After researching your profile, agency, and booklist, I believe my manuscript might be a good fit (if only the title). My contact information has been provided below. Thank you for the consideration of my work and the time you expended on this query.

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      Sounds like you have a fun, action-packed story here!

      My One Big Suggestion for you is to remove vagueness from your pitch. (I actually did a post a while back that explains what I mean way better than I have room to do in this comment: https://melissacaruso.net/2014/11/18/the-dreaded-vagueness/)

      Right now you use a lot of vague references to general situations or dangers (darkness unleashed, hormonal teenagers, etc) without giving us a sense of the specific, unique conflict and stakes, and the difficult choices Crysta must make. Tell us about her personal stakes as well as the epic-level stakes… what does she, personally, stand to lose (especially emotionally) if she fails?

      If you can be more specific, that will also help show us what makes this story different from all the other “teen destined to save world from evil” YA fantasy books out there, and what makes Crysta a character we’ll really enjoy spending 140K words with.

      (Speaking of which, I know I said I’d just comment on one thing, but I’d also HIGHLY recommend cutting your wordcount substantially. There are a lot of agents who will auto-reject anything much over 100K words.)

      I hope this is helpful! Good luck with the contest and the book!

      Like

  • Justin

    Hi Melissa, here is my query, I’d love your feedback! (#8 🙂

    I’d like you to represent my 93,000-word thriller novel The Breslau Legacy.

    In Nazi Germany, teenager Horst Ziegler discovers the mythical Belt of Ulm, but an SS officer steals it during the Soviet siege of Breslau in 1945 and disappears. In present day Berlin, the American English teacher and gifted linguist Max is sucked into the search for his grandfather Horst’s treasure when he meets Julia, a historian who inherited a secret cache of files with leads to the belt’s location. In Moscow, the Russian professional killer and powerful FSB-agent Aleksandr Kozlov learns of the belt from his elderly ex-KGB mentor and devises an operation to find it. As Max and Julia scour through Germany for more clues and uncover dark family secrets, Aleksandr becomes obsessed with obtaining the belt by whatever violent means necessary. Together, Max and Julia must fight off the dangerous Russian to find the Belt of Ulm and protect their families’ legacies

    The novel incorporates real historical events and legends into a modern day thriller, similar in style to The DaVinci Code or The Amber Room by Steve Berry. As a former history graduate student in Germany and Russia, I am intimately familiar with the locations and archives described in the novel. Last month The Breslau Legacy won Merrimack Media’s 2014 Outstanding Writer contest, and an excerpt from my other project, a narrative non-fiction book about the siege of Breslau in 1945, was published in Conclave: A Journal of Character, entitled The Last Christmas in Breslau.

    Thank you for your consideration. The first 10 pages of the novel are below, and I’d welcome the opportunity to provide you with the complete manuscript.

    Sincerely,

    Justin

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      This sounds like a fun story with a really cool and rich setting and backstory!

      My One Big Suggestion for you is to work on racheting up the tension in the query. You do a great job laying out the three major players in this treasure hunt and setting up what sounds like a cool plot, but you do it in a dry way that focuses on backstory more than on the personal stakes for the characters or on building a mood of danger and intensity.

      I’d recommend starting with the MC rather than his grandfather, and making it clearer what the characters’ personal drives/goals and relationships are (for instance, if there’s a romance between Max and Julia, you should definitely mention that). It’d be great to get more a sense of their character arcs and what interior obstacles they may face in addition to Aleksandr.

      If you can, try to wind the tension tighter and tighter, building it throughout the query, until by the end the stakes are so high we almost can’t stand it and need to read the book NOW.

      I hope this is helpful! Good luck with the contest and with the book!

      Like

      • Justin

        Dear Melissa, thank you for this helpful feedback! You’re the second person who’s called it a bit “dry”, so I will focus on building the tension and putting in more about character. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes! -Justin

        Liked by 1 person

  • Val

    It looks like you still have room, so here is my query. Thanks so much!

    Tyrin is a wharf rat; he makes his living loading and unloading ships that dock at his home planet. Street life isn’t easy, but he has a place and a protector. When government troupers move in, Tyrin finds himself on the run, and gains a position as a ship’s stocker with an old man, Gestor. Gestor helps him secure a position on a large cargo ship, the Mystyque, and his life is set again.

    On the Mystyque he makes friends, grows in confidence, and takes a lover. But when a trusted crew member betrays the ship and its captain, most of Tyrin’s friends – and his lover – are taken along with the ship. Tyrin again is on the run, and for months wanders aimlessly. A subtle manipulation by his new employer brings about a reunion with Gestor, and together they decide to hunt the pirate that betrayed the Mystyque. They want justice, and Tyrin wants to find what became of the man he loved.

    A search through space and the capture of the pirate leads to the discovery of the terrifying reason for the betrayal – a planned jailbreak of one of the most elite prisons in existence. Tyrin is in a race against time to prevent the release of some of the most vicious criminals in the galaxy.

    MYSTYQUE is an urban fantasy of approximately 65,000 words in length.

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      Sounds like a fun adventure with some cool twists — and I always love to see LGBT protagonists! Yay!

      My One Big Suggestion for you is to try to pull the query together into a single story arc centered around one core conflict with clear, compelling stakes. Right now it reads like a series of somewhat disconnected events up until the last paragraph, at which point you do pull it together. It’d be great to get some of that sense of steadily increasing stakes and tension into the rest of the query as well.

      As part of this, I think you could cut or rewrite the entire first paragraph — it sounds like it’s really setup for the main plot arc (finds friends/job/love on ship, ship gets stolen, must get it back/save lover and oh wait also thwart a horrible plot). Unless there’s some way it’s really tied in to the main arc (in which case you should make that clear), his job history isn’t nearly as compelling — you want to hook us right away with character and conflict. The middle paragraph also bogs down a bit with the aimless wandering part. If you can keep the query building smoothly to a climax, with steadily increasing tension, it will have us excited to read more!

      Final side note — this sounds more like science fiction than urban fantasy. Might want to check your genre.

      I hope this helps! Good luck in the contest and with the book!

      Like

  • demoness333

    Hey Melissa,

    Thank you so much! I just reworked my first chapter and could really use a good opinion.

    First 250:

    The sounds of a lively park drowned beneath the thump of her pen. Fiona drummed her notebook faster. “This essay’s gonna kill me,” she muttered.

    Fiona ripped the top page from her notebook. She crumbled the paper into a tight ball and dropped the wad into her backpack. While shifting within the wooden bench, she glanced around Central Park. Her tight curls brushed her cheek as she searched for inspiration.

    As the usual swarm of early evening joggers galloped by, Fiona groaned. Her shoulders slumped, and she returned to composing when a teenage girl sat beside her. Glancing over, she couldn’t help but stare. The girl’s glittery white hair was remarkable. She ogled the particular hue of ivory shaded locks, glimpsing a silvery tinge in the sunlight.

    A strange sense of connection absorbed her mind, and Fiona dropped her pen. Impulse carried her hand outward. As she reached for the alluring locks of shimmering hair, the girl turned to face her.

    Pulling back, Fiona gawked at the unnatural teal pigment of the eyes before her. A fuzzy warmth filled her chest. Those mesmeric eyes; she had been dreaming of this girl her entire life.

    “I don’t dream,” the girl blurted out. “I don’t remember ever sleeping, but I have seen your face in the haze of my mind.”

    The girl’s soft voice left a blissful vibration in Fiona’s bones. She tried to subdue the giddy sensation, but her smile widened. It was almost as though, she had been waiting for this day.

    Like

    • Melissa Caruso

      Love the image of the girl who sits down next to her — very anime!

      My One Big suggestion for you is to give us more of your MC. Particularly I’d like to see more of her voice — let us into her thoughts and feelings with the details she notices (if she notices the joggers in particular out of all the stuff in Central Park, why? What makes the joggers significant to her and why does she react to them that way?), the words you choose to describe things (they should be words she might choose). No descriptive detail should be random — each one is an opportunity to give us a window into your main character’s soul, especially on the first page.

      In addition to voice, I’d like to see more of her goals/drives/stakes here on the first page, too. We see her working on an essay, but I have no idea why the essay is important to her, or what she has riding on it. If it’s just a random school essay that doesn’t really matter, you might want to pick a thing for her to be doing before the mysterious girl shows up that has more inherent dramatic tension and reveals more about her starting goals and drives, so we can root for her to succeed right from the first page.

      I hope that helps! Good luck with the contest and the book!

      Liked by 1 person

      • demoness333

        You’re the best Melissa! Your feedback is so thoughtful. I’m definitely going to play around with this opening some more, to elaborate on my MC’s personal drive. I need to find just the right thing to ignite that instant reader connection, so it’s back to the drawing board for me.
        Thanks again,
        Jamie

        Liked by 1 person

  • aightball

    Here is my query (which I’ve gotten a TON of conflicting feedback on). Thank you so much for this!!!

    Coby married a drug addict—and he’s starting to regret saying ‘I do’.
    When they got married, Coby said he’d stand by Jimmy and never leave him. So when Jimmy stops taking his psych meds and falls back into drug abuse, Coby figures he can handle things. And when Jimmy has a nervous breakdown at work and gets hauled across town to the psych ward, Coby’s stays by Jimmy’s side.

    Tired of popping pills, Jimmy quits his psych meds cold turkey. He’s got a great job, good marriage, and he’s happier than he’s ever been. For the first week, he feels good. The second week, things become harder to manage, but he plasters on a smile and pretends he’s fine. But when his husband starts to suspect problems, Jimmy turns to old comforts. At first, it’s just cigarettes. But then he finds an old business card and it morphs into ‘just a little weed’. Hiding his backslide into addiction from Coby, Jimmy tries to keep things together. But one misstep by his boss at works sends Jimmy into a tailspin that lands him on the psych ward for two weeks.

    As Jimmy’s behavior escalates, Coby becomes more determined to save the marriage. But when Jimmy loses his job, gets charged with assault, and confesses that he’s into more than ‘just a little weed’, Coby starts thinking that, for the first time in their marriage, there’s nothing to save. Never one to back down, Coby tries to find the will to forgive Jimmy. But one confession from Jimmy leaves Coby wondering how many second chances he has left to give.

    RESCUE ME is dual POV, LGBT contemporary fiction complete at 84,000 words. My short story ‘Anguish’ was published in the anthology ‘Winter’s Regret’ by Elephant Bookshelf Press in 2014. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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    • Melissa Caruso

      Technically you’re #11, but I’ve been following your journey and am rooting for you, so I’ll squeeze you in! 🙂

      I would guess the reason you’ve gotten conflicting feedback is because there’s nothing wrong with this query. You clearly lay out character, conflict, and stakes, and the writing is solid. It’s very well executed.

      However, nothing wrong with it doesn’t mean it can’t be better! You want it to REALLY pop, to stand out from the slush pile. So my One Big Suggestion to you is this:

      Think about what will be the big thing that really compels your readers to devour this book. Is it a strong, charming or mesmerizing voice? A clever and twisting plot? Well-drawn characters we’ll care deeply for with high personal stakes at risk? Wry humor and wit? What is it that will draw us in and keep us turning pages?

      Whatever it is, it needs to come across strongly in the query. You’ve done a great job conveying what the story is — now make us feel why we HAVE to read it RIGHT NOW! If it’s the voice, get that voice into the query. If it’s the characters, make us love them and really care about saving their marriage just from the query. If it’s the plot, tease us with some of the most compelling twists.

      If you’re not sure what it is, you might want to consider what it COULD be and go back to your ms to crank that thing up a notch or two.

      I hope that’s helpful! Good luck!!!

      Liked by 1 person

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