Friday, September 30, 2016

September Pass Or Pages Entry #5

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.



15-year-old Marc Cheeks resents hearing “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Since his mother died, Marc’s troubled father repeats the cliché every chance he gets.[SN1] During his recovery from a near-fatal stabbing, Marc becomes physically stronger. Historically, the men in his family demonstrated superhuman strength but suffered for it. Strength for a price. Anger consumes his father. Insanity institutionalizes his uncle. Cancer stole his grandfather. Marc fears what awaits him when he realizes the cliché is family fact.[RN1] [KA1]

After his dad takes his own life, Marc enlists the help of his best friend, the girl next door, and a local bartender [SN2] to decipher his dad’s last words: “Find your Kismet. It doesn’t have to be a curse.” Left with only his dad’s secret journal, Marc’s frantic search for his Kismet, a soulmate thought to be the answer[SN3], begins[KA2]. His crazy uncle offers help, but their conversation yields more questions than answers.[SN4]

As the curse repeatedly places Marc in harm’s way, he learns he is doomed without his Kismet and begins to doubt his ability to escape his fate.[RN2] [SN5]

Marc’s escalating desperation forces him to risk not only his life but the lives of those helping him. Unfortunately, not everyone wants Marc to succeed. One person in particular would greatly benefit from Marc’s death while another seeks to manipulate a Kismet-less Marc and harness his new-found power for nefarious activities[SN6].[KA3]

Success gives Marc a chance at happily ever after[SN7], but failure will mean certain death for his Kismet and his friends, and the end of his life as he knows it.[SN8] [SN9]

Trading Stitches is an 89,000-word young adult dark supernatural thriller[RN3] with series potential containing similar elements to those found in the works of Madeleine Roux or Will McIntosh.

Renee's Notes:
[RN1]This is a lot of backstory that weighs down your query.
[RN2]This is really general language and doesn’t give me a great sense of the plot. Can you add a few plot points to show this harm and doom?
[RN3]I was surprised when I read this. The query didn’t feel like a query for a thriller. I would like to get a sense of an antagonist in the query. There needs to be the feeling of desperation for your main character.

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1] I would suggest cutting all of this. [Everything before this point.] It doesn't have anything to do with the rest of your query and makes for an awkward transition into the real meat of the query.
[SN2]What? Why those three? I'm really thrown off by the bartender and it makes me have hesitations about the ability to make the story feel authentic. Even within a fantasy novel, the non-fantastical parts need to seem plausible.
[SN3] The answer to what?
[SN4] You don't need this [sentence]. It doesn't add to the core of the story line and that's all we want in the query.
[SN5] This is generic in a way that doesn't add to the story. How is he in harm's way? He is doomed to what, escape his fate of what? I don't understand what is at stake if he can't find his Kismet or what that will solve.
[SN6] [for nefarious activities] Nope. This is just too generic. What activities? This sounds like a Dr. Evil type character and it feels over-the-top.
[SN7] Success at finding his Kismet? This is the case for everyone.
[SN8] Nothing in the query has led me to believe that his life, the lives of his friends, or of his Kismet are at stake.
[SN9] Right now the query is too generic. You are adding in details that aren't needed and skimping on the ones we do need. Focus on what Marc wants, what is stopping him from getting it, and what is at stake (specifically) if he doesn't get it. Right now, this would be an automatic pass without reading the pages.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1] The concept behind this is interesting, but the way this is structured is a little scattered.
[KA2] This aspect feels a bit random to me.
[KA3] This kind of vague detail isn't very compelling, and I'm still very unclear on how this curse/power works. It seems like there are a lot of rules, particularly with this Kismet (that I also don't understand the purpose of), and I think you're trying to leave a sense of mystery but landing more at vague confusion that won't entice me to read more.

First 250:

I thought it was a rule people didn’t use a kid’s dead mother against them. Dad didn’t get the memo.[SN10] [KA4]

“You’re using too much starch.” I tugged my collar. The fibers ran their scratchy fingers along the back of my neck.

Dad scrunched his face and stared cockeyed. “What?”

He yanked the wheel sharp left and the balding Michelin tires squealed. Heads turned as our rusty Nissan pulled into the school’s gravel parking lot. The rickety fender clung to the truck. A painful daily reminder of the past four years. It begged to be fixed, but Dad ignored it.

“We’re learning about starch in Home Economics,” I said. “Does this shirt even need it?”

He rolled his eyes, “I don’t know, Marc. That’s a question for your mom.”

I hated when he did that. A car accident ripped her from us four years ago, but he only mentioned her when he didn’t want to answer a question.

“Do other dudes know you’re learning this stuff.” My dad wiped down his scruffy face. “It’s going to get you beat up.”

“How’s that different than any other day?” I scoffed.

“Guys still pestering you?”

“It’s called bullying.” The peeling latch jiggled in my palm[KA5]. “Like you care.”

His fist slammed the faded dashboard. “I do care! Besides, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?”

“No one believes that, Dad.”

“I do. Your grandfather did,” he said. “One day you will, too.”

Dead grandfather card for the win[KA6].

Renee's Notes:
This is a really strong opening. I like the writing a lot!

Sarah's Notes:
[SN10] This opening lines feels like it's being used for effect. The pay off isn't until the 7th paragraph, but which time I've moved on. I get wanting to use a catchy phrase to start the story, but it feels artificial like you're just trying to catch my attention like a click-bait headline.
[SN11] So...his dad pulls a dead mom card, won't bother to get his car fixed and isn't really paying attention to what's going on with his son's life, but he starches his shirts? I realize this is a little thing, but right off the bat you've created a character that I don't believe and that makes it very hard to get into the story and believe the supernatural things you're going to introduce later in the story. Especially in speculative fiction genres it is essential that the parts of the story grounded in reality reflect a reality that readers can believe in. This is missing the mark for me.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA4] What a vivid way to immediately show us their relationship!
[KA5] This little detail reminds me of every broken down car I've been in, I love it.
[KA6] So I really like the voice in this excerpt. I'd love to see more of our main character's personality in the query, and have it grounded on him as a person. This will make me more likely to follow things and request pages even if the concept sounds a bit nebulous (but cool). As it stands, I probably would have passed if just seeing the query, but that could easily change with some refining.

Renee Nyen: PASS
Sarah Negovetich: PASS
Kurestin Armada: PASS

Thursday, September 29, 2016

September Pass Or Pages Entry #4

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.

Entry #4: QUANTUM


Seventeen-year-old student pilot, Willow Ryan, can be in two places at once, but she doesn’t know it.[RN1]

While on a solo flight, she is transported from Texas to Ireland where she meets a true gentleman[RN2]—stunning Irish local, Liam Tyl. [KA1] During her visits [SN1], he tries to help her unravel the mystery of how she appears and disappears, but their time together is always short lived.[SN2] [SN3]

At home, she has no memory of Liam or her travels to Ireland. There are chunks of time that she can’t account for—moments with her friends and family. Most importantly, memories with her ailing Mom that can’t be replaced.

Liam reaches out to her through letters, and together they discover there are two versions of Willow. Now she must learn how to navigate between her two realities without losing the new love in her life or her family back home. An accident proves that she may be too much like Schrödinger’s cat [SN4], and leaves Liam and Willow both questioning her survival.[RN3] [SN5] [KA2]

QUANTUM, a stand-alone young adult science fiction romance with series potential, is complete at 67,000 words.[RN4]

Renee's Notes:
[RN1]This is a killer opening sentence.
[RN2]This isn’t a traditional time travel story, is it? “Gentleman” feels antiquated and muddies the timeline a little bit.
[RN3]I don’t get a huge sense of what’s driving the plot. What is the main conflict of the book?
[RN4]Can you give a few comp titles here?

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1] So, this continues to happen? You need to establish that. Another sentence needs to be before this one to state that she keeps going back and forth between Texas and Ireland.
[SN2] Does she just disappear?
[SN3] This is a short query and I feel like it would be served with more details here. This is the hook of your story.
[SN4] So I know the paradox of Schrodinger's cat. Not everyone will. Agents aren't going to google a term in your query. i would suggest switching this out.
[SN5] I'm not sure you need this last bit. The first half of the paragraph does a nice job explaining her goal and setting the stakes.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1] Particularly for a romance, I need more on the love interest than just stunning and Irish. I want to already feel the chemistry of their relationship, and see how their dynamic might play out.
[KA2] You've set this conflict up in a very passive way. I don't feel the urgency, or the push for them to solve it ASAP and for me to find out what happens next. I would probably pass for lack of urgency, conflict, or much information on what’s going on here.

First 250:

My smile grew wider with each step I took toward the plane which sat peacefully on the ramp, almost [KA1] as if it had a personality all its own[RN1]. The paint sparkled in the sun, and the glare on the windshield could be mistaken for a wink. The airplane sat ready to take to the skies. The wind barely blew, a bit of a rarity in west Texas this time of year. The sky, a perfect blue, called my name, and I couldn’t wait to get in the air. Flying an airplane at seventeen years old was pretty amazing. I mean, some of my friends still couldn’t even drive. It made me kinda proud to be here.[RN2]

Today was different. I was headed out on my own. My flight instructor, Paul, walked out with me, but he wouldn’t be there during the flight, running surveillance. Just me and the sky, which felt a little nerve-racking. I woke with butterflies in my stomach, and they hadn’t gotten any better once I arrived. [KA2]

Paul watched as I performed my preflight with practiced ease and ordered fuel. He stayed quiet, writing down notes, while he stood off to the side. I was dying to know what he was writing.

I pointed to his notebook. “I’m assuming if I was doing something wrong, you’d tell me?”

He laughed. “Yeah. I’d tell you. You’re fine, Willow. Relax. Pretend I’m not here. These are just some things to go over for next time. [KA3]

Renee's Notes:
[RN1]Sitting peacefully does not denote any real personality.
[RN2]I love that she is confident in herself. She should be proud.

Sarah's Notes:
This is a great opening page. You've set the scene well. Good job.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1] Avoid hedging language like "almost"
[KA2] The rhythm is this paragraph is a bit choppy.
[KA3] Be careful not to include too much small talk style stuff in your dialogue. It can be tempting to add it for realism, but it tends to read awkwardly On the page and make the characters feel flat.

Renee Nyen: PASS
Sarah Negovetich: PASS
Kurestin Armada: PASS

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

September Pass Or Pages Entry #3

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.



Euphoria's Designs, a YA science fiction novel complete at 68,000 words, can be likened to A Court of Thorns and Roses meets the real science of The Martian.[RN1]

Seventeen-year-old Lottie leads a complicated life. Ensuring the survival of her alcoholic father, absentee mom, and disabled little brother forces her to sacrifice all[RN2] [KA1]. So when her father sells her to an advanced city to avoid punishment for his crime, it should have been an opportunity to start a new life.[SN1] [KA2]

And it was for a little while. With his beautiful brown skin, cocky smile and uncompromising attitude, Lottie meets her match in Eros.[SN2] At least, until Euphoria intervenes. Supercomputer Euphoria ensures all her people are chipped, tracked, genetically altered, born and bred warriors, and Eros is one of the elite.[RN3] [SN3] [KA3]

To make matters worse, Lottie alone uncovers an uprising against the warriors, only to have her family forsaken in the ensuing lockdown[RN4] [SN4]. Now the warriors, and possibly the boy she loves, will hunt her down if she flees to save her family, but if she doesn't, her little brother won't survive.[RN5] [SN5] [KA4]

Renee's Notes:
[RN1]The comps are CRAZY different. Which isn’t bad necessarily, but could you find a YA scifi title to bridge that gap? Perhaps something by Beth Revis?
[RN2]Unnecessary backstory. I recommend deleting.
[RN3]It is unclear to me how the supercomputer is intervening here.
[RN4]But I thought she didn’t live with her family anymore. She was sold to a new city? How does she find out that they are abandoned? 
[RN5]I can really feel the motivation for Lottie here. But I need a little more framing of the revolution. I would like to know why there is unrest.

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1] Sells her to do what? Is she a slave?
[SN2] Her love match? This isn't clear.
[SN3] I don't understand what this is trying to say or how it ruins Lotties new life. Also, is Lottie a warrior now?
[SN4] I'm also unclear. What does it mean that her family is forsaken?
[SN5] This is a very short query. Concise is good, but brevity that creates confusion is bad. You've got a good start here, but you need to add in a few more sentences here and there to clear up the confusion and help the agent get a better idea for what is going on.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1] There's nothing wrong with this opening, beyond the fact that I see it so often it feels a bit formulaic. Mix up the introductory sentences, make them snappier and include more of the voice from your manuscript.
[KA2] I'm a little unclear on the logistics of this arrangement, and I feel like there's an interesting tidbit you're keeping from me.
[KA3] Who? What? Where are they, how do they meet, what is this city like, why is there a supercomputer, why does it control warriors, why does it care about Lottie, what is she doing in this city? You've left me with a lot of questions and not a lot of interesting detail. Again I feel like there might be some cool stuff going on, you're just not telling me any of it.
[KA4] I'm again unclear on the cause and effect here, which means I don't feel any urgency or concern for Lottie because I'm still five steps behind. If I don't feel that concern and drive to find out what happens, I'm very likely to pass.

First 250:

I looked behind, barely able to see Dad buried between the sacks, hoping against hope that he’d stay there. Grains of sand whipped around us, scattering as we neared West Gate. Turning back around sent a slow ache rippling through my shoulder blades. Everything hurt, everything always hurt, by the time we got to the gate. Even my hair hurt. I tugged at its knot, letting the tangled mess fall to my shoulders.

A ding on the transport’s front display called, igniting a faint orange glow. They identified us. Up ahead, the warriors stood erect with their backs against the chiseled stone, looking as greyed and weathered as the wall they guarded, but also as proud. Upon our arrival, their darkened silhouettes shifted, drawing electrified braided spears outward. Black synthetic leathers ran smoothly over their bodies, layered on top of the hidden source of their inhuman strength: exogear. More warriors, positioned at ready yet hidden from view, watched us from the top of the warded wall, lost in the depths of the sky. [KA1]

The automatic alert woke Dad and he wrestled a bit as he made his way to the front of the transport, reeking from whatever he'd hidden under his dusty layers. “Charlotte, I’ve got this.” He leaned forward, his groggy, red eyes squinting into the faded light, searching to see which warrior was lead tonight. “Ervard.”

My fingers twitched as I queued a couple controls, dropping the transport’s speed and letting it coast to the staging area.


Renee's Notes:
These pages are really great! I love the world building.

Sarah's Notes:
This is a decent first page.

Kurestin's Notes: 
[KA1]This description feels more jumbled than vivid to me. Perhaps focus on highlighting the most interesting and pertinent aspect for this particular moment.

Renee Nyen: PASS
Sarah Negovetich: PASS
Kurestin Armada: PASS

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September Pass Or Pages Entry #2

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.



For generations, the ancient demon Void Storm has terrorized the Southlands.

All Luo Sanniang has ever wanted was to wear nice dresses, have children, and marry the aristocrat Shi Jinyu. But when the only person who could've ended Void Storm's[RN1] reign, her brother, is murdered on her wedding night[RN2], she vows revenge against the masked fiend.[RN3]

Without her brother to protect the city, slavers begin kidnapping women and children. Sanniang sees how powerless the military is to stop them, so she defies tradition by secretly training in Valiant Crane style, a martial art suitable for women with bound feet. Near the end of her family's mourning period, the outlaw Xiang Su swears allegiance[SN1] to Sanniang, bringing her evidence of the conspiracy responsible for her brother's death — and Void Storm's mask[SN2]. In order to truly use what Su has brought her, Sanniang has to find a way to unbind her feet, learn Su's outlaw ways, and become the thing she hates most — Void Storm.[SN3]

When Sanniang dons the mask, its full powers reveal her as the true Void Storm.[RN4][SN4] While at Jinyu's estate, she learns of her betrothed's[RN5] involvement in the conspiracy[RN6]. Sanniang burns her wedding dress before setting off to re-form Void Storm's gang. As Sanniang and Su’s unlikely association grows into deeper friendship, they must unify their multi-ethnic band of outlaws and prevent chaos[SN5] from consuming Guangzhou.[SN6][KA1]

VOID STORM: UNBOUND is a YA fantasy novel, or more aptly a Chinese wuxia written for an American audience. Popularized in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, wuxia is a genre of high-flying martial arts, romance, chivalry, and adventure. The novel is complete at 84,000 words and would appeal to fans of Batman, anime such as Naruto, the "Tales of the Otori" series by Lian Hearn, and "Grave Mercy" by Robin LaFevers.[RN7]

Renee's Notes:
[RN1]First of all, I know nothing about wuxia, so please take this piece of feedback with a grain of proverbial salt, but all of the character names in this are obviously very Chinese, but Void Storm is not. I wouldn’t mention things like character names at the query level, except that it was jarringly different enough that it pulled me out of the query a little bit each time I came across it. I would love something a little more in line with the rest of the character names here.
[RN2]YA is a little tricky with marriages. It can be done (BREAKING DAWN, WITHER) but it’s very rare. I know it sounds ridiculous, but even if her brother was murdered on the night before her wedding, that would help this feel a little bit more YA.
[RN3]I love the ladylike girl with vengeance plotline. I’m always immediately compelled to read more.
[RN4]So she was Void Storm all along? Or she becomes Void Storm? This is very unclear.
[RN5]I thought Sanniang and Jinyu were married. 
[RN6]This conspiracy has been mentioned several times, but I had no idea why there was one. Was her brother murdered for power? Money?
[RN7]These comp titles are really interesting. I think they are well thought through.

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1]This is confusing. How did an outlaw know to swear allegiance to her if she was training in secret?
[SN2]Did he kill Void Storm? Wouldn't that be the end of the story?
[SN3]I don't understand this. If she trained in a martial art designed for use by women with bound feet, why would she unbind hers, and why does she need to train to be an outlaw or become the void storm. You haven't made the connection between these actions and bringing down Void Storm.
[SN4]Wait, so she's a demon?
[SN5]Chaos from who?
[SN6]So, it seems like chaos already consumes the area with a demon terrorizing the place for generations. What exactly is she trying to achieve, who is stopping her from doing it and what is at stake if she fails. These are the crucial elements of a query and I'm missing them here.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]It feels like you've gone too far in this query. Ideally you'd stop right at the inciting incident that propels the action of the novel as a whole, usually what happens in the first twenty pages (give or take). This final bit feels more like something that happens in the third of the book or later. As a result, it doesn't feel powerful enough to propel an entire novel (likely because it does not). Refocus the query and leave us with the conflict that actually forms the beginning thrust of the novel.
Now, that all said, I would request because the concept is intriguing and our character sounds very driven, which I love.

First 250:

Images from a rogues' gallery glared down at her, and all Luo Sanniang could do was shake her head at them and mutter, "I could do better[SN1]." The hint of a smug grin crept across her slim face as she studied the array of yellow wanted posters pasted on the city wall. Tall, willowy, and well-dressed, Sanniang took pride in the attention and the wide berth everyone gave her.[SN2][KA1]

Shoppers shuffled across the flagstone streets, merchants called out the merits of their wares, horses clattered past leading a squeaky-wheeled carts, and armor-clad city guards leaned on their polearms. A trace of raw sewage lingered behind the more pungent licorice smell from an herbalist's shop. The constant haze of clouds had held back the mid-day sun's fury and made faint blobs of people's shadows. As the cover began to clear, Sanniang unfurled her parasol to protect her pale skin.

"Are you talking to the pictures, sister?" Xu Nianci dodged a slow-moving cart and waddled up, hands on her pregnant belly.

Sanniang pointed up at the posters. "Look how badly-drawn they are." A sudden gust disrupted the smoothness of her blue silk dress and pulled a long strand of hair free from her ornate headdress. It waved in the wind, slow and ephemeral, as if it were some sort[KA2] of ghost.

Nianci snorted and inspected the posters. "I don't think creating fine artwork was the goal here. Who would honor these lowlifes with talent such as yours anyway?"[SN3]

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1]It's unclear if she's suggesting she could be a better rogue or could have done a better job artistically.
[SN2]This sentence feels tacked on and not part of the first paragraph.
[SN3]There's nothing wrong with this opening, but it's a little forgettable.
Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]I do really enjoy this establishing shot of her character, we get a lot about her very quickly.
[KA2]Try to avoid hedging language like this, it really weakens an image and can kill the tension of a scene.

Renee Nyen: PASS
Sarah Negovetich: PASS
Kurestin Armada: PAGES!

Monday, September 26, 2016

September Pass Or Pages Entry #1

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.



THIS IS HOW WE FALL APART is a 94,000-word young adult fantasy novel told in four points of view. It is a standalone with series potential that would appeal to readers of Jennifer A. Nielson's THE FALSE PRINCE and Rachel Neumeier's THE FLOATING ISLANDS.[RN1][SN1][KA1]

When Nytes first appeared twenty years ago, gifted with supernatural powers, inhuman strength[KA2], and the ability to breathe freely in the toxic wasteland Outside[SN2][KA3] the domed cities, they were labeled as demons. Now, the only way to survive[SN3] is to pretend to be normal. But not all Nytes are content to continue hiding.[RN2]

Seventeen-year-old Lai Cathwell is good at keeping secrets. Being a mind reader and having to feign insanity to escape military service has only improved her ability to deceive others.[KA4] And as a supernaturally gifted Nyte, this skill is essential to survival.[RN3] But when the rebel Nytes' latest attack on the city ends in multiple deaths, Lai is asked[SN4] to return to the military[SN5] in order to fight with a new team of Nytes. Wanting to bridge the gap between Nytes and normal humans by taking down the ungifted-hating rebels, she reluctantly agrees, but the team is hardly what she imagined.[RN4][KA5] She butts heads with Al, a short-tempered fighter lying about her identity for the sake of revenge; Jay, a self-conscious perfectionist obsessed with being accepted; and Erik, an amnesiac hell-bent on finding his memories and his place in the world.[SN6] And if this team can't learn to work together, the entire city will be plunged into war.[RN5]

Together, these four unlikely soldiers will have to come to terms with their pasts and each other before they have any hope of stopping an all-out civil war. But trust isn't a currency that's easy to earn or spend[RN6], and the more these teammates learn about each other, the less reason they have to invest. No one can be trusted—especially among themselves.

Renee's Notes:
[RN1] This is a solid paragraph. I personally prefer it at the end of query, but it’s not really that important.
[RN2] This paragraph, though interesting world building, doesn’t add to the immediacy of your character’s journey. And you mention most of the important points (supernatural skills, living in secret, etc.) in your next paragraph anyway.
[RN3] The only necessary piece from your first paragraph is that Nytes are feared as demons and shunned. All you would have to do is add that in one of these sentences.
[RN4]I don’t get a real sense of what is at stake for Lai. No idea of what’s driving her. To me, that’s essential for a good query.
[RN5]These supporting characters are super interesting! I feel like I know more about them than I do about Lai.
[RN6]I like this turn of phrase.

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1] This is a classic example of a great opening to a query. Some agents prefer for this type of info to go at the bottom of the query, but some like it at the top. Since you are establishing that there are 4 POV characters, I like it at the top. Well done.
[SN2]So I'm assuming that this is capitalized because it is a proper noun, but they way you are using it in this sentence it isn't and that threw me. In general, you want to avoid using as many proper nouns as you can in a query, so I would suggest changing this to lower case.
[SN3] Sounds like they are actually really good at surviving. I suggest being more specific. What happens to the ones who aren't hiding. Are they killed? Sent to prison? Forced into experiments? Consider: The only way to avoid capture and certain death is to pretend to be normal. This is a stronger sentence that tells us what exactly they are hiding from.
[SN4]By whom? And why would she do it? You say to bridge the gap between these rebels and humans, but if the humans are killing Nytes, and she is one, why would she want to help them.
Keep in mind these aren't all questions that you have to answer in your query, but right now there is some world building confusion that is making it hard for me to understand and care about the journey your character is about to take.  
[SN5]So this is where I'm a little confused. In the first paragraph you establish that they only way for a Nyte to survive is to pretend they aren't one. But this makes it sound like the government has established a special wing of the military just for Nytes. So not everyone is pretending?
[SN6]  This is really well done

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]I would suggest moving this to the end. While it's not necessarily a problem to have it up front, it is often a stronger choice to lead with something that will hook me into your manuscript. Housekeeping details tend to engage my "skim" instinct.
[KA2]It seems like inhuman strength would qualify under the supernatural powers heading
[KA3]Capital letters on Significant Nouns feels a bit cliche nowadays 
[KA4]I had to retrace my steps a couple of times on this sentence, which isn't good. Make it more clear and more gripping, with a less awkward rhythm.
[KA5]More awkward phrasing, and I'm not very drawn in by the motivation here. I'd like to feel a more specific connection to what Lai wants out of this and out of life, beyond just a general peace. Or why that peace is so personal and specific for her, if it is.

First 250:

Somehow, sneaking back into the asylum is always harder than sneaking out of it.

Normally I wouldn't worry, but I've never come back this late before. Past the reflective cover of the overhead dome, the sky is already a weak gray, steadily infecting the clouds with a light shade of orange-pink. It feels like the whole sector is watching as I pick my way through the trees surrounding the mental hospital.

I absently run a hand through my hair, tangling the long, neat strands into bedhead[SN1] as I debate how to get in. The barred windows are a no-go. I can usually sneak in through the head doctor's office, but he's probably at his desk by now. Which leaves the main entrance.

From the shadows of the trees, I scan the front doors, but no one seems to be around. I can't hear anyone's thoughts, either, which is a good sign.[SN2]

Despite the fact that no one's in the nearby vicinity[KA1], I tread carefully, footsteps soundless from a lifetime of sneaking around. I pause by the doors, back pressed against the wall, listening again for anyone's thoughts. The receptionist is absent, but that's hardly a surprise. She's always disappearing to take care of odd jobs. There's a doctor off one of the hallways, but he seems to be heading in the opposite direction.

Okay. All clear. I slip inside and make for the hall that'll lead to my floor.

Renee's Notes:
I’m not in love with this opening. I would definitely keep reading, but after a really strong query (especially after some tweaks) these opening paragraphs weren’t quite as compelling. I would like to see the first 5 chapters, please!

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1] nice detail
[SN2] Well done weaving this into the world instead of stopping the story to tell us she can hear other people's thoughts.
Good strong first page.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]Try not to repeat information I've just read.
So nothing has grabbed me in this opening. It's fine, there's not really a specific thing I would say is bad, but it's just kind of boring and the descriptions and voice so far are a little generic. I'd keep reading, but I'd be skimming a bit until I found a bit that finally grabbed me. Or I became too bored, whichever came first. However, I would like to see more of this. After you revise the query letter, please send it and the first 50 pages of the manuscript to me.

Renee Nyen: PAGES!
Sarah Negovetich: PASS
Kurestin Armada: PAGES!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #19 Winner

Thank you to all our entrants! I really enjoyed reading each story. One had a unique narrator, one was super sweet, and one had a creepy twist. But there can only be one winner and that is...Barbara!! Congrats!

Winning Entry:

I walked beneath a sickle moon, placid waves lapping at my feet. The beach in autumn. It was silly to come. Autumn was the season of death and decay, ghouls and ghosts, not beach parties. But it was too far to walk home, and my ride was making out back at the bonfire. Everyone was. I couldn’t sit and watch.

A figure struggling from the water caught my eye. My heart quickened, and I glanced back at the bonfire. Would they hear me if I called out?

I turned and gasped. The figure stood before me. A girl. My age. She wore a thin nightgown, and seaweed dangled from her hair. But she wasn’t wet.

“Help me!” she cried. “We must save her!” She pointed at the island across the bay and offered her hand. "Hurry!"

“My friends. I should tell them—”

“Take my hand. Do not let go.”

She stared at me, eyes pleading, and I took her hand.
She led me into the ocean, neither cold nor warm, nor even wet, and we walked across the sea floor as if strolling on land.

“Why are there no fish?” I asked.

“They abide in the living sea. This is the sea of the dead.”

As if to prove it, bloated bodies began to appear. They swam past, their eyes pleading, too. I looked away, but even behind closed lids, I saw them stare. And then we rose from the sea and stepped onto a rocky shore.

The girl was dry as bone. I was dripping wet.

“There.” She pointed to a huddle of large boulders.

Another girl lay wedged between them, legs twisted, face bruised. I worked her out, the incoming tide helping in my task. I laid her in the sand, brushed back her hair, and gasped.

“It’s you.”

“Yes. I am free now. Thank you.” She began to fade away.

“Wait! Bring me back!”

“I cannot. I am no longer undead. I am spirit now.”

“But how—”

“Watch for the eddy,” she said, and vanished.

I stared across the bay at the flickering bonfire. It was too far. They would never hear me. I had to swim.

I removed my shoes and socks and dove into the water. Cold bit into my skin, took my breath and my strength, but I forced myself on.

The current suddenly changed, and the ocean pulled like a vacuum, sucking me back toward the island. Below me, the dead reached and groped. I thrashed and kicked, but my arms tired, my legs went weak. I sunk under the waves, struggled up again, and then I remembered nothing until I found myself struggling from the water.

Lyra raced toward me. “Dani, where’ve you been? We’ve be calling you for hours. Why would you go swimming alone at night and not tell anyone?” She looked at me strangely, brushed back my hair. “But, you’re not even wet.”

“Help me,” I said. “We have to save her. Take my hand and don’t let go.”


Once again, thank you to our participants! Everyone did a great job!!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #19

Now that fall is officially here (pumpkin spice everything!), you know what that means...September's #OAFlash Fiction word prompt will be all about: Autumn!

Rules for the contest can be found here
The winner will be announced Sunday night. Have fun!


Also, as some of you may noticed, I'm new here--and would love to introduce myself. My name is Leandra Wallace, and I'm really excited to be a part of the OA team. I've been writing for eight years now, and can firmly say that writing is my passion, and what I was definitely meant to do.

Which doesn't make it any easier, unfortunately (wouldn't that be nice?). Some days the words flow and all is well. Other days, drudging up good words is as hard as extracting a tooth from a grumpy alligator (hmm...picture book idea?).  

I write kidlit (PB, MG & YA) and my three short stories "The Mad Scientist's Daughter", "Prina and the Pea", and "Leaves, Trees, and Other Scary Things" are featured in Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets, Circuits and Slippers, and the 2017 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide

I am married, have one son, and along with a small black dog and three fish, we all live happily together in a clay-colored house. Besides reading and writing, my next passion is party planning. I enjoy diet vanilla cokes, desserts, family trips, ampersands, old houses, and curling up to read a book without housework hanging over my head. 

Books I would eagerly press into your hands are: The Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud (seriously, completely amazing, I've reread these books a zillion times), The Three Times Lucky series by Sheila Turnage (middle grade, set in the South, fabulous voice and characters), The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (or anything that she writes), and Marion Chesney's Regency Romances (hello, London; lords and ladies!).

I'm looking forward to getting to know everyone! Oh, and I like to use parenthesis. ;)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Heroic Authors: Defenders of the Weak, Champions of Meaning and Substance

Lindsey Leavitt, Rick Riordan, Anne Riley, 
Suzanne Collins.

There are many others in their ranks:

Authors who brought to light something important and quintessentially human that otherwise might have remained unknown and obscure. 

They could have told any stories, but they chose to tell stories that taught, enlightened, and inspired.

On the surface, Lindsey Leavitt's series about a girl who discovers she can act as a substitute for fanfare-weary princesses seems to be nothing more than a fluffy, pink book. One might be forgiven for assuming it held little of substance. But then again, we've been told never to judge a book by its cover, and for good reason. Through the clever, if silly, fantasy about princesses who just need a break, and the magical substitutes who replace them for such undesirable events as state dinners and arranged marriages, Lindsey Leavitt sneakily introduces young readers to diverse cultures they might never otherwise have discovered. In America, we hear "princess" and we think Princess Di and the Duchess of Cambridge. We don't think of a chief's daughter in an uncontacted tribe deep in the jungle. Or the royalty of small, all-but-forgotten provinces and countries throughout the world. Through each substitution story, we're given a glimpse into a way of life that includes unique culture, family life, and relationships. If you know of a teenager who could benefit from expanded horizons and increased empathy, give him or her this pink book.

On Goodreads
There are few populations more marginalized in schools and society than those labeled troubled teens and slow learners. Rick Riordan had tremendous sympathy for such kids, particularly because his own son suffered from dyslexia. What if, he imagined, what if dyslexia was something to be proud of? What if it only meant your brain was hardwired to read ancient Greek? And that because you were actually a demigod, half god and half human? This dynamic series took the marginalized and gave them a hero in Percy Jackson, a twelve-year-old troubled pre-teen with dyslexia. He is not only innately special, but he finds through his adventures that he is ultimately capable of making a very significant contribution to the world, even saving it from another war of the gods.

On Goodreads

Anne Riley's story about mystery, magic, and boarding school blends the mystic so smoothly with the mundane and miserable, you almost believe it's true. But in the midst of the magic, she takes page space to dwell on the real impact of bullying. The realism makes you want to cry for Natalie Watson who has already been through so much personal tragedy and who just needs a win. In fact, I cried a few times in the reading. In the interest of growing personal empathy, read this book. 

On Goodreads

Suzanne Collins did something that was nothing short of essential to this generation: she called us all out on our darkest obsessions in entertainment, our attraction to reality TV and ancient Rome-style gore. She showed us the disgusting excesses in which we'd indulged while others not so very far from us struggled for food enough to survive. She forced us to look hard at our relationships to war, fashion, entertainment, and family. She dared us to see through a well-crafted story and to see ourselves making the difficult choice between fighting for what really matters, or succumbing to a lifestyle of substance-less fluff; making the choice between self-sacrifice or betrayal of principle; making the choice between being brave and kind, vs. merely playing it safe. There are so many lessons and layers in this series--about community, government, human nature--you will likely learn something new every time you read it. By my definition, it's a classic.

All of these books/series are classics by my definition: a book that you can read over and over again throughout the years and continue to glean valuable insights from its pages. These authors are heroic because they used their talents at story-crafting to tell important stories, even the stories of the marginalized, the humble, the poor, the poor in spirit, and the forgotten.

I've written about them here in hopes of inspiring more of us to be like them, to write for something deeper than the fun of it--because it is so much fun! But when a writer takes on the challenge of telling an important story about seemingly unimportant, or forgotten, people... it changes the world.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Farewell Post From Donelle

Sometimes a leg of a journey is long and sometimes it's short. It’s not the length of time that matters, but the quality of the experience. I expected my stint on Operation Awesome to be longer than this, but life has a way of throwing things into your path that you hadn’t planned for.  I learned a good deal while part of this team and I’m grateful for the experience. 

I’m not disappearing. You can still find me blogging (mostly sporadically) on my own blog A Little Dversion. You can find me on Twitter and Facebook, and on my illustration website. If I'm not posting or tweeting, I'm somewhere writing and drawing, pursuing publication.

It was great to have this opportunity to connect with you all, and great to be part of a writing blog. Here's a sketch of Mr. Bean to brighten your day.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Independent Press Profile: New Growth Press

As I mentioned in an earlier post, last month I was back East visiting my extended family. My uncle asked me how my writing was going (standard answer: It's good!). He then remembered that one of his good friends from high school works in publishing, and offered to set me up with him.

This is how I got the opportunity to interview Mark Teears, owner of New Growth Press. New Growth is a medium-sized Christian press that publishes almost entirely non-fiction titles. It's completely different from all the publishers I've ever researched as a Young Adult fiction writer. So for me, it was fascinating to see how New Growth acquires books and builds its list.

If you visit New Growth's website, you'll notice that it's devoted to selling the books it publishes, as opposed to soliciting work from new authors. I assumed that meant they weren't open to unsolicited submissions, and that most of their work was submitted by literary agents. Mark explained to me that New Growth has contracts with many different Christian ministries, who submit books to be published by New Growth. New Growth started out publishing Christian counseling books, but has branched out as more authors associated with these ministries have come on board.

As there are many different sects of Christianity that teach a variety of doctrines and practices, I asked Mark how they select the ones that they will publish. To Mark, it is very important that someone who reads books published by New Growth will know what to expect when they buy another New Growth book, and so they are careful to publish books that teach similar doctrines. The Chief Editor at New Growth makes sure that all of the books considered for publication teach the same doctrine, and will appeal to the same audience.

Once a quarter, the Chief Editor brings projects under consideration to an acquisitions meeting, where they discuss which titles to publish. So even though a ministry has a contract with New Growth, they don't automatically get all of their books published. New Growth is still a business, and has to choose those books that they think they can sell. Author platform is an important factor in these decisions, which is true for any kind of non-fiction book. New Growth publishes approximately 175 books a year.

Many of those books are "minibooks." As the name suggests, these books are shorter, and focus on one subject. Mark credits his wife with the idea of publishing the minibooks, which are a very successful product for New Growth.

Mark is an entrepreneur at heart; New Growth is not the first business he's owned and operated. When I asked him what contributed to his success with New Growth, he told me that "niche is important." New Growth knows what it does well, and works hard to appeal to that niche. When they do venture outside their niche area, they do so cautiously. For example, New Growth recently published its first fiction title. Before acquiring more, they will wait to see how this one does, to see if their customers are interested in fiction or not.

As a writer, the takeaways I got from my interview with Mark were these: Find your niche, and try different things within it. For me, I've written books in several genres, but the one I'm really hoping will go somewhere is Young Adult speculative. I want that to be my niche, but I can try different things within it beside novels; short fiction contests, anthologies, magazines, etcetera.

I greatly appreciate the time Mark spent talking to me about New Growth and publishing in general. While at first I didn't think I'd get much out of interviewing a publisher that was never going to publish my books, I was wrong! It was fascinating to get a inside look at New Growth Press and still learn things that are applicable to many aspects of publishing.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

#TackleTBR Challenge

Welcome to the Operation Awesome #TackleTBR Challenge!

You have you CHOICE of challenges!

Challenge A

- Comment about the best debut author book you've ever read. Every author had that 'first book' published at some point. Tell us which was your favorite, why, and if you've read other books by the author since then.


Challenge B

- OA and Wishful Endings both love owls. Our Operation Awesome owl mascot, Oliver, wants you to find books with owls! Comment with information about an important owl character in a book. Be sure to include the book title and author.


Challenge C

- OA and Wishful Endings both love owls. Our Operation Awesome owl mascot, Oliver, wants you to find books with owls! Publicly post an image* of a book cover that has an owl on it. You can use Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, your own blog, etc. Be sure to hashtag the image with #OperationAwesomeOwls #TackleTBR for credit. *Do NOT violate copyright laws while doing this.


Choose between:
  • A query critique from two members of the OA team. 
  • A weekend guest post on the OA blog. (*Post must fit our theme of books, writing, publishing, or other such literary interests. Available dates begin in October.) 
  • Owl magnetic bookmarks. 


Comment on this post with the following information:

  • For Challenge A, simply leave your answers.
  • For Challenge B, comment with information about an important owl character in a book, the name of the book, and the name of the author.
  • For Challenge C, comment with a link to your "owl on a book cover" image hashtagged #OperationAwesomeOwls #TackleTBR
  • Either way, include in your comment a (typed out) email to reach you!
  • AND include which of the three prizes you want to win. PICK ONLY ONE.


Contest is one day only-- September 18, 2016.

Sample comment:
Challenge B. 
I choose Errol, an owl from the Harry Potter series. He was a Great Grey Owl that resembled a molting feather duster. His loyalty was to the Weasley family in the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling. Errol provided comic relief and small stumbling blocks for the other characters. 
"That bloody bird's a menace!" —Ron Weasley
Email: OperationAwesome6 AT gmail DOT com
I want to win the Owl magnetic bookmarks, please.


Challenge Choice:
Challenge Answer:
Email: Handle AT provider DOT com

Wishful Endings+

Friday, September 16, 2016

How to Infuse Tension into a Scene Without Vivisecting Your Plot

Hello there, writerly reader, and thanks for stopping by. Today I'm going to be talking about a little something called microtension, which was at one time mysterious and confusing for me, but that I'm pleased to say, upon mastery, is not that difficult to understand or incorporate.

I had heard the term floating around for a while, but one of Donald Maass's books finally explained it to me. I was about to go look up which one, but instead, I'm going to recommend all his stuff. The two I read this past year are Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling and The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great, and I have a couple more sitting waiting for my attention. If you want to be a better writer, gobble up everything he's published. I'm serious.

So what is microtension? It's any tension infused into a scene that keeps the reader wanting to know the outcome but that is not directly related to plot.

First I'll explain what it's not: What's the antagonist going to do next? How is the hero going to get out of this bind? What's the killer's identity? What's the resolution of this chapter cliffhanger? Those are all good things that make your audience read on, but they're not microtension. They're plot. If you removed them, you would lose a key piece of the story you're telling.

But sometimes you need to impart information that could be boring (back story, world-building), and you're not in a great position to enhance the plot while you do it. That's where microtension comes in.

Here are three examples, curated from movies and TV because it's easier to give those examples, and that's what I noticed when I was mastering this concept. Hey, you can learn a lot about storytelling from movies and TV.

(I have tried to leave out any spoilers that aren't absolutely essential to my explanation of microtension in case you haven't seen these.)

Example #1: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Rey and Finn have stolen a junk ship from the planet of Jakku. Something's going wrong with a gas leak below the floorboards, Rey is attempting to fix it with Finn and BB-8's help. If she doesn't fix it quickly, they're going to die. That is the microtension.

During this entire scene, in which we the watchers are worried that the poison gas is going to kill them, she and Finn talk about what they need to do. They talk about the map that BB-8 is carrying and where they could possibly go next. That is the boring but important plot information.

If the poison gas leak was removed from the scene, you would lose no vital plot information; however, if you removed the discussion about BB-8's map, you would. The microtension makes it (more) interesting than if they were sitting in the cockpit with their feet up on the console.

Example #2: The Sixth Sense

Child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe meets Cole Sear in his apartment for the first time. Malcolm wants to talk to Cole about the difficulties he's been having at school and elsewhere. All in good fun, Malcolm says he's a psychic and he can figure out what Cole is thinking. Malcolm makes a bet that if he gets answers correct, Cole will step forward, and when he gets to the chair, he must sit down and talk to Malcolm. That is the microtension.

As Malcolm asks questions, we unravel some interesting information about Cole. He's seeing and hearing things. We find out that what Malcolm is assuming about Cole (that he's a disturbed boy) is not correct; we discover that Cole does actually see dead people. That is the boring but important plot information.

During the scene, we want Cole to move forward and sit in the chair. Well, I did. Maybe if you're that kind of person, you didn't want him to, but the point is the same: you had feelings about Cole moving forward or backward. But if you removed the bet from the scene, it wouldn't make any difference to the outcome. Cole would impart some back story, and Malcolm would get stressed out about it.

Example #3: House, M.D.

I actually don't remember the details of this one all that well because it was just another House episode wherein House is being House. They're trying to figure out what's wrong with a patient, and for whatever reason, Dr. House decides to make Dr. Cameron (a female) come into the men's room while he pees in the urinal. She's obviously uncomfortable with this, but she goes along with it. That is the microtension.

She and the three other doctors talk about a possible diagnosis. That is the boring but important plot information.

I wanted to include this example even though the details have faded from my memory because it illustrates that microtension doesn't have to be something particularly intensive. Make a character uncomfortable and want something--to escape, to tell off the person being a jerk, to quit their job--and you've got microtension.

To Wrap Up

I hope that these examples helped illustrate what microtension is, and I hope you can see the immediate applicability to your writing. They're not a substitute for engaging plot, and I would always encourage you to trim away as much of the non-essentials that you can. But if you're got something that you think, "Ho, hum, this is important but sort of not interesting," you can use microtension to fix it.

In fact, you can use microtension to fix things that are already interesting. Don't have too much going on, but if something is just slightly saggy--hey, slap some poison gas in that room.

One Final Note

Thank you for sticking around to read to the end of this post. Before you go...

I didn't want to take up an entire blog slot with just this information, so hopefully the previous tidbits on microtension are useful to you.

It is with mixed emotions that I'm announcing that I'm leaving Operation Awesome. It's been a whirlwind year, and I'm glad for all the connections I've made and writers I've (hopefully) encouraged. Thank you all for your participation in the Friday flash fiction contests, and I'm sorry I didn't pick better books to engage more people in the monthly book club. ;)

I will be helping behind the scenes during the upcoming Pass or Pages, although I don't want to take credit for it or anything--our awesome team of Operatives that are sticking around will continue to be here and support that. We had a GREAT turnout this time, and we're all so glad this contest is beneficial to you.

I'm not going anywhere writing-wise. A stand-alone book in my Fallen Redemption series is coming out in October, I'm trying to finish up the last book in the series before the end of the year, and I'm looking to start writing a whole new series soon. I've got over a dozen short stories on submission, with several in second-look piles (oh great, did I just jinx myself?). I've decided to whole-heartedly pursue self-publishing, which means marketing replaces querying. I'm slush reading for Flash Fiction Online, and I'm volunteering as a Netgalley approver/other miscellaneous for SFWA.

So, phew.

Being honest here, blogging is really not for me--I tried this and I struggled, so I'm moving on to things that I am good at. HOWEVER, I really love helping newer writers, so I do definitely try to give back to the community in other ways! If you need anything at all, a shoulder to cry on, advice on writing, some eyes on your query, hit me up on Twitter @Saboviec.

Thank you all for this opportunity. Whatever it is you're working on--make 'em cry.


S. L. Saboviec grew up in a small town in Iowa but became an expat for her Canadian husband, whom she met in the Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game Star Wars: Galaxies (before the NGE, of course). She holds a B.S. in Physics, which qualifies her to B.S. about physics and occasionally do some math for the sci-fi stories she concocts. Her dark, thought-provoking science fiction & fantasy contains flawed, relatable characters and themes that challenge the status quo.

Her short fiction has appeared in AE and Grievous Angel. She's a member of SFWA and a slush pile reader at Flash Fiction Online. Her debut novel, Guarding Angel, received an honorable mention in the 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. The sequel, Reaping Angel, is out now, and the stand-alone companion novel, The Impending Possession of Scarlet Wakebridge-Rosé, releases Oct. 3.

Grab your FREE copy of the short story "When Your Time Is Up" when you sign up for her newsletter.

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