Friday, March 30, 2018

March Pass Or Pages Entry #5

Welcome to the feedback reveals for the first round of Pass Or Pages in 2018! Many thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Props to the authors who were brave enough to submit. We hope everyone learns something new this week!



18-year-old Livvy loves her life with a clan of itinerant horse riders.[KA1] Unfortunately, when a government official catches her using illegal magic,[KA2] Livvy is forced to leave her family and journey to the capital city of Trillia to register as a mage.[LM1]  The city is nature-loving Livvy’s nightmare: a crowded labyrinth of stone and living metal where nothing green grows.

Someone[MF1] in the government finds her substantial power threatening, and Livvy is nearly assassinated while trying to register. [LM2] Now a wanted fugitive, [LM3]she flees into Trillia’s underground, where she joins a local gang for protection. While she likes her new street-smart friends and is increasingly attracted to the tough but tempting girl who leads them[KA3], Livvy doesn’t plan to stay. She’ll rejoin her clan as soon as she figures out who wants her dead--and how to escape the city without them noticing.

Livvy isn’t the only one in danger; the clockwork[MF2] city itself is dying. The iron trees and mechanical animals are rusting, the buildings are crumbling, and the streetlights haven't worked in years. Worse, a deadly magical plague has begun spreading through the darkened streets. All Livvy wants is to return to the wilderness, but she soon realizes that her magic is tied into the very walls and stones, and that she has the power to bring light and life back to Trillia.[LM4][KA4][MF3]

THE DYING CITY is YA fantasy and is complete at 87,500 words. It combines the grittiness and complicated group dynamics of SIX OF CROWS with the bisexual[MF4] romances and struggle to save a kingdom of REIGN OF THE FALLEN.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]: Me too! I’m already interested.
[KA2]: If the magic is particularly cool, it might be good to give more than just “illegal magic”.
[KA3]: A name, please! 
[KA4]: This is a great example of how far voice and character can take you. With some of the others I was in a loop of “Who? What? Why?” as I kept questioning the logic of the story in the query. But when I’m truly swept in by a great detail here and there (horse clan! street gang! magic plague! clockwork city!) and a character I already want to get to know, I don’t really care if I understand what’s happening by the end (to a certain extent). I’m willing to find out in the pages as long as I get to read more about your MC! 
Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: Who someone?
[MF2]: Can you move this up somehow? I actually had a very different setting in mind, even with you saying stone and living metal in your first paragraph.
I will ask, too, is this intended to be a bit of steampunk? Because those are a very tough sell right now. I’d try and come up with a way to have it feel steampunk (if that’s what you’re going for) without it being actual steampunk.
[MF3]: Just make sure we do get our stakes in here and we know what the eventual bad guy is. I applaud you trying to keep the number of characters in the query to a minimum but make sure we do know who your protagonist and antagonist are!
[MF4]: So is there a love triangle?

Lindsay's Notes:
[LM1]:Why? I also really dislike the term ‘forced’. It is so frequently used in queries and suggests a lack of agency for the MC.
[LM2]: Rephrase this to be from Livvy’s POV – “While trying to register, Livvy…” You can remove the ‘someone in the government’.
[LM3]: How did she become a wanted fugitive?
[LM4]: This is very cool, but what is at stake for Livvy? And you haven’t done much to make this a choice for her. She hates the city and wants to return home right?

First 250:

I’m flying down a dirt road under the blazing sun, so certain of my skill and the strength coiled in my muscles that I want to shout in triumph. Every hunt makes me feel this way: achingly alive and centered in my identity. That confidence comes partly from the[LM1] horse beneath me. I named her Starlight in a fit of whimsy, although she’s a plain bay dun with lopsided ears. She’s strong and lean and loves to run, and on her back, I’m no longer a creature bound to earth, but something with wings.
I let out a whoop and give the mare her head, standing in the short stirrups while we gallop down the path. I nudge her off the track, into the grass, and pull an arrow from my quiver. The grass barely slows her, but it’s short here, the silvery stalks only reaching to her knee. The fox is a barely visible streak of brown in the distance, but as I sight down the arrow, I know it’s mine.

The beat of hooves behind me softens as my companion’s horse also plunges into the grass. He’ll be too late, though. My arrow is already singing through the air. It strikes the fox in the side.
I crow and pull back a bit, giving Corsun the chance to catch up. He’s beside me in a moment, bronze face gleaming with sweat, his reckless grin making me want to be even wilder.

Kurestin's Notes:
Love it! Hope I can see more!

Moe's Notes:
I really love the voice for this. I have nothing to really add. For me, I’d want to see a revised query to have a bit better idea of the plot and how things work (and if it’s steampunk or your own sort of worldbuilding).
Lindsay's Notes:
[LM1]: This is very minor, but use of “the” rather than “my” makes me feel quite distant from the horse and makes me feel your character is also quite detached from her as well.

Kurestin: PAGES! Please send the full manuscript as an attachment to
Moe: PASS But please query me if you revise your query letter, using my Query Manager. Put "Pass Or Pages" in the "Referred By" section.
Lindsay: PASS I didn’t have complaints about this first page, it just wasn’t particularly stand out to me.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

March Pass Or Pages Entry #4

Welcome to the feedback reveals for the first round of Pass Or Pages in 2018! Many thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Props to the authors who were brave enough to submit. We hope everyone learns something new this week!



Earth’s ancient forests hold a secret and fifteen-year old Colleen Muir lands in the middle of it after arriving at a seaside village for her summer vacation. [MF1] Certain she is going to join her mother on one of her research expeditions she is disappointed, but not surprised, when her mother departs, leaving her alone in the care of the innkeeper and his impetuous daughter. [KA1] After being almost struck by lightening, and living to tell about it, Colleen is left with an astonishing ability to channel water. [LM1]  Soon after she discovers supernatural beings, portrayed in many of the fairytales she read as a child, do exist and live in the remote village and surrounding forest. [LM2][KA2]

Colleen learns she is an Element and must join three other teenaged Elements for training. [LM3] With the Earth’s forests under constant siege, from changing climate and expanding cities, the magic held by the ancient trees is escaping and threatens the remaining refuge of the Faery. Wild storms spawned by the errant magic must be tamed and it is their job to do it. [LM4]

While returning from a training session Colleen becomes lost in the forest and encounters ancient enchantments leaving her in possession of talents worthy of a Forest Sorcerer. [MF2] While she struggles to understand what that means and what she is supposed to do with those talents, an interfering wizard, who was not about to let his plans to capture the errant magic for himself be thwarted, causes the tenuous relationship between the Elements to collapse. Not knowing whether she will see her mother again and with nowhere else to go, Colleen realizes the forest is now her home. She must cope with a monumental task and with the focus of the team in shambles the fate of her new home becomes uncertain. [LM5][MF3][KA3]

ELEMENTAL is a young adult fantasy complete at 90,000 words. The story is written in third person with multiple points of view [MF4] with series potential.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]: These can be trimmed and combined, so you can get to the good stuff faster.
[KA2]: These can also be combined. I don’t need as much of a play-by-play as you might think, I just need the details that are sharp and intriguing—so here that would mean what sort of supernatural creatures are we talking about here.
[KA3]: Wait, is this new magic from the Forest Sorcerer the main plot? Who is this interfering wizard? Why would she not see her mother again? What is this monumental task? What is the dynamic of the team like? I’m left with so many questions, mainly because you try to pack in so many elements but end up not really telling me anything about them. Pick the main thread that gets things moving max 20% of the way through the book—is it finding her water magic and joining the team? Then focus on that and why I should want to read more to find out about it, and don’t try to tease the entire plot in three paragraphs. 

Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: Wait she’s dropped in the middle of a forest but is at the seaside? Is this a portal fantasy?
[MF2]: This is a pet peeve of mine – when characters aren’t active in what happens to her. She’s nearly struck by lightening and gets water power (wouldn’t it be something more fire-based?). Then she encounters some enchantments and gets more talents. She so passive in her story rather than active.
[MF3]: Also I have no real sense of who the bad guy is here unless it’s just climate change/expanding cities – what is there to do about that? Is there some big bad guy to this? Otherwise I struggle with the antagonist just being progress. Overall, I feel like your query is a lot of backstory as opposed to getting the main plot of your book!
[MF4]: Just be careful with multiple points of view. Make sure that each POV sounds completely unique.

Lindsay's Notes:
[LM1]: I like magic concepts to be integrated more organically rather than blunt backstory.
[LM2]: How does she discover this?
[LM3]: More info dump about the magic system.
[LM4]: There is nothing in this paragraph about the character, or what she wants. Purely info dump.
[LM5]: I’m not getting a sense of who the character is or what she wants from this query, and it feels as if she has very little agency. I want more character focus with less world building.

First 250:

“Once upon a time, in the Land of Nod…”

“What or where is the Land of Nod?” asked Colleen. Her eyes focused on a brilliant green beetle crawling along a blade of grass. [LM1]

The dune grass drew circles in the sand as it waved around in a breeze warmed by the late morning sun. [LM2] The beetle spread its wings and flew off settling on the book her friend had propped up against some driftwood.

“I’m not sure, really.” Leanne flicked the bug into the air. “Maybe it’s a place you go after reading that last story.”

“Not sure about what?”

“The Land of Nod. You asked me where it was. Come back to Earth.” [LM3] Leanne’s short dark hair looked wild in the breeze, but it was like that even indoors. “Now, where was I?”

Colleen drew in a deep breath. “The air smells so good out here. Better than the city air.”

“You’re too much.” Leanne shook her head and returned to the story. [KA1]

The air was warmer than usual for a spring day. [LM4] A sea breeze played with loose strands of Colleen’s rebellious dark curls. [LM5] Listening to the waves lap at the shore she wished she could become part of the atmosphere that surrounded it all. She could not explain the way it made her feel, but that was close. She flopped back down on the warm sand and watched the birds dart through the trees. No school, no timetable. It didn’t seem so bad here after all. [LM6][MF1]

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]: I like this dynamic between these two characters.

Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: Technically, I don’t see anything to really point out in this. I will say, I feel like the voice may skew a little young so just be careful that your voice feels authentic for a fifteen year-old. Similarly, just keep an eye out on your dialogue too. I don’t have a lot to judge from but there’s something that does feel a little off to me. Make sure your dialogue feels authentic and you don’t fall into a trap of getting exposition out through your dialogue!

Lindsay's Notes:
[LM1]: Opening with dialogue can work, but it needs to be more impactful for me.
[LM2]: Weather openings are cliché.
[LM3]: This feels telly, rather than showing me. I want to feel Colleen’s sense of distraction which the action above isn’t doing for me.
[LM4]: More weather.
[LM5]: This is super distant from your character and do you think of your hair in this way? This is another person’s pov, not Colleen’s.
[LM6]: The POV is too distant for me in general. I could barely tell who’s head we were in. I want a tighter third.

Kurestin: PASS
Lindsay: PASS

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March Pass Or Pages Entry #3

Welcome to the feedback reveals for the first round of Pass Or Pages in 2018! Many thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Props to the authors who were brave enough to submit. We hope everyone learns something new this week!



Time is the selfish fourth dimension that few humans can control. In my young adult fantasy TIME IS DRY CLEAN ONLY,[MF1] complete at 89,000 words, time is not only traveled through, but wielded like magic.[KA1] Each time a tragedy strikes[MF2], the universe apologizes by giving one human the ability to control time. These eccentric dimers secretly live among us and can shift to any time period in history or age of their life.[LM1]

One of these is Lark Robles, an eighteen-year-old student, wishing she hadn’t eaten that breakfast burrito, panicking without her physics notebook, very late for her dreaded flight home. But then she stops. In fact, time stops. Two mysterious women step through the time-frozen airport and explain that she must choose[LM2] between becoming a dimer or dying in the 9/11 tragedy. If Lark becomes a dimer, she abandons her life, her family, her memories, and forces someone else to take her place on the destined plane.[KA2][LM3]

Lark hastily says yes to train in the art of time and trades her bejeweled jean jacket for a fur coat. She rides water subways in 2071, parties with Cleopatra, and plays tag at Woodstock.[KA3] When another dimer decides 9/11 is perfect for her disastrous plan, Lark must relive the events she deserted. But can she make the same decision again and fully let go of her painful past?[KA4][MF3][LM4]

This novel answers the question, what would the Outlander series be like if Marie Lu wrote it for teens?[KA5] [LM5]Thank you for your consideration and time.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]: You mention this here, but I didn’t see this at all in the query, so I wonder if it’s really such a standout part of the story?
[KA2]: I have no idea what’s going on. Why do I care about Lark, again? Why 9/11, specifically? Is that something teens are going to be particularly drawn to? And whoa, she has to force someone else to take her place? 
[KA3]: So she just hops around time partying? That doesn’t sound like much of a plot to hang a book on, honestly. And without a reason to care about it all, it sounds fairly boring.
[KA4]: So the plot appears! But because you’ve shoved it here at the end, it’s so vague as to be nonexistent. So the dimers are involved with each other, somehow? Who is this other dimer? How does Lark get involved? What is this plan, and why does Lark care? And how exactly would making the same decision fix things? It doesn’t sound like Lark does much of anything here to actively combat and face this challenge.
[KA5]: Honestly this entire query left me confused. Nothing about it sounds like YA, and these comps don’t really mean anything to me when paired together. It doesn’t give me a sense of what you’re going for, other than the time travel element. 

And even with all the time spent on explaining the time travel element, none of it sounds particularly convincing. Assume we’ll take the time travel on faith if you don’t try to overexplain it, and spend more of the query getting us hooked by Lark and what exactly is intriguing about the plot. 

Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: OMG I love the title.
[MF2]: Okay, so I’m going to poke at your world building here. I’m not saying you need to get all of this into your query but a single line like this is also a bit confusing to me. What sort of tragedy? Are we talking about things like a hurricane or a mass shooting (that affects a ton of people) – or something like the death of a loved one that affects only a few people? What one human gets the power? How long do they get the ability to control time?
[MF3]: I’m totally with you up until this point. And it is walking a thin line between getting too much backstory and not enough plot of the book in here but I want to see a bit more of what your 89k is about. Your stakes and what Lark is fighting for, etc.

Lindsay's Notes:
[LM1]: I got the genre, word count, then skimmed the rest of this paragraph. This is a really cool concept, but you don’t want to spend an entire paragraph of valuable word count telling me about your magic system. Incorporate this into your pitch and tighten it up.
[LM2]: Words like this make me feel immediately your character isn’t going to have agency. Can you rephrase this in a way that does?
[LM3]: I’m liking these stakes – really intense.
[LM4]: Hmm, these last two sentences feel like they’re hinting at something good, but not quite getting there. I’d like to see you rework this with a bit more character motivation and stakes.
[LM5]: I like what you’re doing here, but rephrase this without the question.

First 250:

Thisbe Endurant always loved being young. She loved the way her voice never tired, her stomach never filled, and her legs never stopped. She loved how she could witness the pink sunrise then the violet sunset without thinking about the day of the week, without complaining about work, and without looking forward to the weekend. Time was something Thisbe never thought about.

But today.

Oh today, at the ripe old age of seven years, two months, and three days, Thisbe Endurant didn’t feel so young. She felt old. She felt like time had taken a hammer and smashed her into the wood. Time had found her weakness and twisted till it burned. Time undid her saltshaker and shook it till it emptied.[KA1] She studied herself in the mirror. With eyes that smiled and lips the shined, she didn’t look how she felt.[LM1]

“Well this won’t do,” Thisbe stated. She closed her eyes, started at fifty-four and counted backward by three.[LM2] Her eyes blinked open.

“Much better,” Thisbe mused.[KA2] She smiled, her face deep with wrinkles, her neck loosely folded, and her lips weathered with the winds of age. Thisbe’s body hunched forward at eighty-five years, four months, and sixteen days.

She slowly opened the medicine cabinet, not knowing what creaked more, her fingers or the door. She smiled; she hoped it were her fingers. She grabbed the long pill case with a pocket for every day of the week. Forgetting to close the cabinet, Thisbe shuffled out the room.
Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]: I do really like these descriptions.
[KA2]: Be careful with dialogue tags, especially in cases like this where they feel out of place. There’s nothing wrong with a nice “said.”

There are multiple typos in this sample. Proofread!

Moe's Notes:
I’m totally confused here – since your query opened talking about Lark Robles, why are we opening with Thisbe? My guess is this is a prologue. Honestly? I’d skip your prologue. This is a cool idea and yes, it does introduce us to your world building but I’d much rather see it through the eyes of your main character.

That said, I do love the voice. If you get rid of the prologue, I’d love to take a look!

Lindsay's Notes:
[LM1]: I’m rather intrigued by this opening. The reversal of expectations makes me curious to know more.
[LM2]: Well this is just cool.

While the query wasn’t quite there yet, the first page was intriguing. Personally it is a pass for me because I’m not a fan of time travel tropes, but this is purely subjective and another agent is likely to feel differently.

Kurestin: PASS
Moe: PAGES! Please upload the full MS and a synopsis to my QueryManager:
Lindsay: PASS

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

March Pass Or Pages Entry #2

Welcome to the feedback reveals for the first round of Pass Or Pages in 2018! Many thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Props to the authors who were brave enough to submit. We hope everyone learns something new this week!

Entry #2: HOME FREE


Every teenager goes through a rebellious phase, but that phase doesn’t usually involve challenging a corrupt government regime.[LM1]

Set in the year 2173, Flag and her band of teens risk their lives to help people of all ages escape from the ruling government’s control.[KA1] Flag is a genius with a knack for coding and micro-machinery. She ran away from detached parents when she was twelve and never looked back. Sarcastic, skilled, and confident, she is the leader the small group of rebels need. G is quiet and excels at worrying. His bravery is underestimated and he doesn’t hesitate to take action when it counts. Fox is a goofball even in the darkest situations. He enjoys using his chemistry knowledge to cause mischief. Ray[MF1] grew up in the rough part of town and has always had to fend for herself. Despite that, she is feisty, writes poems and wants to become a tattoo artist. The four had been friends since they were eight and were inseparable. That is, until Ray was shot.[LM2] [KA2][MF2]

Old and new threats[MF3] are always lying in wait and living to see the next day is never a certainty. [LM3]With one friend already dead, that is painfully clear.[KA3] But the risk doesn’t stop Flag from smuggling people out of the ten massive cities that hold the population of North America after the new government’s takeover. In the super-cities, nonconformity is met with a smiling official and a swift disappearance. Many would rather take their own lives than face their unknown fate. Driven by anger over her friend’s death, the ever louder cry for help and the growing amount of suicides, Flag sets out on another trip with G, Fox, and four others.[KA4]

HOME FREE is a YA science fiction novel full of high stakes[KA5] and equally high-speed hoverboard chases. Told from four perspectives, it is complete at 139,000 words.[KA6][MF4] The novel would appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series and Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” series.[MF5]

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]: So here, I’m mostly like “eh, every YA SFF has a corrupt regime of some sort, they’re a dime a dozen.” You give us more detail on why exactly this society is bad later on, but even then it’s a bit generic sounding. With this kind of dystopian bent, I don’t need a long explanation of the world, but I do need at least one sharp detail to show the fresh voice/hook of your world. If you put it here, you can trim the stuff you put later on and get to the real plot.
[KA2]: I really love these character introductions! I think they could be amped up/smoothed over just a little bit more though—Flag’s is the strongest because it’s so specific, so see if you can add that same specificity to G and Fox. And if you read it aloud I think you’ll catch where your rhythm falters just a bit.
[KA3]: This is awkward and can probably be cut. 
[KA4]: Wait, what? Why? Where to? Is this the main plot of the story? If so, I need to hear more about it! Right now I don’t have enough to get me interested in finding out what unfolds.
[KA5]: I don’t know what they are though, alas! 
[KA6]:  Oh that’s definitely too long. Especially because the query was sounding like “pacey, action-packed SF,” I’d expect a word count closer to 100k.
Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: Unless you’re writing a book with this many POVs (and even then I’d caution against it) beware of putting so many named characters in your query.
[MF2]: When was Ray shot? Is that your starting action?   
[MF3]: What threats? I feel like you’d be better served to intro your main character (one or two) briefly and use the rest of the query to really show your plot. Avoid buzz words that are supposed to make your sound intriguing but don’t wind up doing just that – I want to know what the threats are. I want to know the stakes. Why I should care about your characters and if they’re successful or if they fail.
[MF4]: Wordcount is WAY too high for a YA. Aim to get this down around 100k.
[MF5]: I would always advise against comping to a book like Hunger Games because I see so many comps to that title.

Lindsay's Notes:
[LM1]: Delete this opening sentence. It isn’t doing anything.
[LM2]: This needs to be about your MC and at the moment, I don’t know who that is. I have no way to connect with anyone, no one has motivation, there are no stakes. This is all backstory. I’m guessing this is multi POV, but I’d recommend sticking to one POV to give me someone to connect to.
[LM3]: Too vague. Still no stakes.

First 250:


My feet fly over the dry grass making an absurd amount of noise. But stealth isn’t important anymore. I can hear the poachers – as we call them[LM1][KA1] – behind us, their footsteps heavy and menacing. The twins crashed their cars when the chase was still taking place among the trees. Shortly after, our hoverboards died. I adjust the little boy I’m carrying on my back and look to the front to find Flag. [LM2]

She’s not there.

I swivel my head around and see her at the back of the group. Her gaze is focused our chasers. She’s slowing down. I know why. I know why[LM3] and really, I do understand. And if I was braver and crazier, I might be back there with her.

“Flag!” I gasp. Her head[MF1] turns ever so slightly towards me. “Don’t.”

Flag [LM4][MF2]

I know I should listen to G. I know to stop, turn around and fight would be akin to suicide; it would be suicide. But the thought is still a strobe light in my mind.[KA2]

What I want to do, with every single finite fiber in my body, is to turn around and beat all of them until they’re bloody pulps or I’m dead. Make them pay for what, for who they took from Fox, G and me.

But I’m not stupid and I’m not suicidal – though I imagine they’d be highly rewarded for bringing me back alive or dead – so I push all my unreleased anger into sprinting the last hundred feet.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1]: Unless he’s telling this story to someone else, why would he frame it this way?
[KA2]: Hmmm, this is a quick POV shift. I’m not totally sold on it based on this snippet, to be honest. It seems like a third person POV might fit better. But if you’re committed to this structure, I would focus on immediately establishing strong and distinct voices for your POV characters. Right now they share a predilection for repetition and nothing is really jumping out at me as a particularly gripping detail, so you’ll have to work harder in that arena, particularly in these crucial opening pages.
Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: Pet peeve of mine: watch how much you talk about head motions. Don’t turn people into bobble heads!
[MF2]: I found the abrupt voice change to be really jarring. Especially at the beginning of your story, to shift POVs after not even 100 words, I don’t have the chance to get invested in your characters.

So for YA, I’d be very cautious about the number of POVs you have going on in your book. The max I would ever have is 3. Please make sure everyone feels individual and that you do give each character the chance to shine rather than bouncing back and forth.     

Lindsay's Notes:
[LM1]: This pulls me out of the action.
[LM2]: I like starting in the action, but I do need something to connect me with your character or I’m not invested. Give me something to care about.
[LM3]: Why? This seems like something I could care about.
[LM4]: I’m going to stop reading here. Just not OK with this kind of head hopping.

Kurestin: PASS
Lindsay: PASS