The first entry in this match-up has been withdrawn due to an agent offer. Congratulations to “And I Feel Fine,” who automatically advances to Round 3. Judges, please leave feedback on this entry but do not cast a vote.

Ok, well, you can vote, but it won’t count. 🙂

Title: Starborn
Entry Nickname: And I Feel Fine
Word Count: 85,500
Genre: NA Science Fiction
Cold and heartless but the Enders Agency’s finest, 24-year-old Sherman Logan has saved every life but his own. He’s damn good at pelting in from between galaxies and rescuing as many people off their dying planets as possible. Again and again. When Sherman’s last real friend and comrade goes starborn – or dies on the job – to save a brave and beautiful young Earthling named Bennett and her suicidal father, Sherman falls hard.  She wakes him up – but waking means feeling the horror of every victim he didn’t save. Soon, he realizes, the carnage won’t end at his faraway deployments: Armageddon is about to hit right at home.
On Sherman’s resident planet, a poltergeist ruler struggles to retake the podium from beyond the grave at the same time mysterious Ender disappearances begin to occur. With the help of Bennett, Sherman must confront the dictator-poltergeist and the root of these vanishings before they come for him too. On top of the incomprehensible death that haunts his everyday life, he’ll have to venture deeper into his crashing universe – and himself – than he could have ever imagined.
But hey, apocalypse doesn’t faze him. It’s his job.
First 250:
The vehicle jumps and knocks my hand off the wheel.
I slam it back. Sarge says keep on the wheel. Don’t let go of the wheel.
Fuck that. Sarge ain’t here. The grey leather jerks in my grip and I keep my foot hard against the pedal. My eyes are dead ahead as the blizzard pushes us aside before I can jolt the wheel steady. But the bridge is falling apart beneath us; concrete crumbling from our tires into the steel colored ocean below. Hail flashes like daggers off the headlights.
I glance into the overhead mirror at the huddled children in the backseat. Siblings. They always give those to me for some reason.
Sherm!” The mic attached to my shoulder buzzes.
Instinctively, I look out the driver’s window, expecting to see someone cruising next to me. Unc’s two lanes over, looking asleep again. His wrinkly old hand holds the wheel and his eyes droop, but nothing stirs, no emotion when his car jostles past a pothole at ninety miles per hour. More concrete railing sinks into the sea far below.
Wasn’t Unc. Of course. I know the voice.
I scrunch up my shoulder and speak into the mic, keeping my eyes on the road as we finally peak at the bridge’s arch and head for the descent. “Talk, Grant.”
Fuzz. Heavy breathing as Grant messes with his shoulder sleeve to speak.
“What’re we gonna do if this thing blows?”
“I’m gonna die. What’re you going to do?”
Always freaks him out.
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    • And I Feel Fine


      The hook catches me. Great job on that.

      When Sherman’s last real friend and comrade goes starborn – or dies on the job – to save a brave and beautiful young Earthling named Bennett and her suicidal father, Sherman falls hard.
      This sentence is long and awkward. Who’s Sherman falling for? Bennett? The Suicidal father? I know it’s Bennett, but changing up the syntax will tighten it so it’s not so awkward. Also, no spaces between em-dashes.

      I feel like you end the first paragraph with a vague hook instead of continuing the flow of it.

      The second paragraph starts with another awkward sentence. It’s long with words I hate to see in queries, like ‘mysterious’. Generally that means you’re going to vague.

      The apocalypse does phase him, at least if Bennett has ‘woken him up’. I’m not clear on the stakes, or what’s actually going on. People are disappearing. There’s a poltergeist, but what are they actually doing? What must Sherman do to resolve this situation? It’s missing some specific details that would make me want to read on.

      First 250:

      You’ve got some great description going on, especially with the bridge scene. The scene is set nicely without info dumping. I sort of feel like the children in the backseat is glanced over. Especially with the ‘they always give those to me’ line. Since I’m assuming he’s supposed to be cold and heartless in the beginning, I feel like that line could even be moved down in among the dialogue. Let the reader see how nonchalant he is about dying even with two kids in the backseat. That’s just a nitpick observation though.

      Overall it’s well written, draws me in, and keeps a good pace.


      Black Holes

      I like the first paragraph, it draws me in making me wonder just what’s going on with Iari.

      What’s a mindfighter?

      I feel the tension building in the second paragraph. Good pacing and you’re putting in the right information.

      The stakes are clear. Over all, I think you did a great job in this query. I can’t really see much that I would change, other than if you’re going to drop in ‘mindfighter’ let me know what it is.

      First 250:

      I like the voice, but I feel that it’s mostly scene setting and nothing is actually happening. I’d like to see some interaction or something that isn’t just laying out the décor’ around them. Something to draw me in a little better and make me say, “Holy hell yes! I want to read more!”

      At the moment, I feel like you need to work on that. The beginning is important and you don’t want it to be all description or observation. Let something happen.

      I Feel Fine: I like the premise, but think the query needs work. It’s a bit all over the place for me. However, I thought the first 250 was engaging and did a great job of pulling me in.

      Black Holes: Another great premise, and I think the query is done really well. However, the first 250 doesn’t draw me in as well because it’s all scene setting and description.

      It’s a tough choice, because essentially they even out in my book based on both query & 250.


    • Query: I’d love more explanation about what Enders Agency is and what Sherman’s does for the Agency.

      “Sherman falls hard”- I’m not sure if this mean he falls (in love) with Bennett or he’s having a hard time after the death of his friend/falling/feeling down. If it’s the earlier, consider dividing this sentence up, because I’d like to think he mourns his friend before he falls in love.

      What do you mean by “she wakes him up”? In sci-fi, this could mean just about anything. Waking implies he was asleep or in stasis. Going with the idea of him falling in love, how does this wake him up to the horror of those he didn’t save?

      I like the idea of a poltergeist ruler. Very creative. But what do Bennett and Sherman have to do to stop the ruler, and why do they feel they need to stop him/her? Is the ruler responsible for the disappearances? Being vague here doesn’t help build your stakes.

      Hypothetically, this could be: the ruler is doing X. Bennett and Sherman have to do Y or else, Z will happen.

      The most difficult part about writing a query for a sci-fi is balancing worldbuilding without overloading or confusing the reader.

      Your query is short, and while I appreciate that you’re concise, there are no prizes for the shortest query. You could comfortably add 50-75 words and not be considered too long. Flesh this out and it’ll really wow the reader.

      250: I can feel the excitement and tension in your entry. If I picked this up at the local book store and read this first page, I’d keep reading. Well done.

    • Very original idea and writing style, which is always great in sci fi! Needs a bit more clarity and polish overall…

      Query: I don’t quite get the first sentence. The term Enders Agency throws me out immediately, making me wonder if this has something to do with Ender’s Game. Are you giving a nod to that book here? And the fact that he’s saved every life but his own makes me wonder if he is dead, and telling the story as a ghost. I think I get what you’re trying to say, but it doesn’t quite work.

      Why are planets dying? And how does he save them? This could be clearer, so we’d have a real sense of what he’s doing and what’s going on.

      I’d take out “goes starborn.” I’m sure it’s great in the book, but unnecessarily confusing in the query. So his friend dies to save a girl and her suicidal father, and he falls hard? How do those two things go together? Do you mean he falls in love because his friend dies trying to save a girl? I’d eliminate the suicidal father, unnecessary detail in a sentence that’s already not quite clear.

      She wakes him up? Was he asleep in some way? In the beginning you say he’s saved every life but his own, but here you say he feels the horror of every victim he didn’t save.

      I have no idea what’s actually going on in this story. Is there a universe with many planets at war? Is there some kind of natural disaster taking place? Is he part of a team that goes from planet to planet, trying to rescue people? How does he rescue them and where does he take them? He must be taking them somewhere safe… I am missing the big picture which would ground this entire query and give it substance and power. Without that, It’s hard to advise how to clarify the stakes.

      This query feels quite short to me, with plenty of room to slow down and let us know what’s actually going on and what the stakes are for him and Bennett.


      A lot of energy and action and forward movement. It sounds like he loses control of the wheel but then slams his hand back down to control it, which is apparently what Sarge has told him to do , but then he says, “fuck that. Sarge ain’t here.” So for me, this is a confusing opening. As with the query, I feel ungrounded.

      I like that he’s racing across a bridge that’s crumbling out from under him. Don’t get the paragraph about Unc at all.

      You have a unique, choppy style. Very distinctive and full of voice. Definitely seems like the kind of thing that will appeal to young guys, with a bit of tightening and focus to make sure we get what’s going on.

      The last line throws me. What does it mean?

    • And I Feel Fine

      In the query, I’d add a comma here: ‘cold and heartless, but… ‘Suggest trimming back the following to strengthen it: ‘He’s damn good at pelting (in from) between galaxies and rescuing (as many) people off their dying planets (as possible).’ If ‘goes starborn’ means ‘dies on the job’, suggest cutting ‘goes starborn’ from the query – we can learn the term in the pages. As written, it sort of sounds like Sherman doesn’t know which of two possible things happened to his friend.

      Fun opening 250. Lots of action – and it’s clear what’s happening where – which can be a real challenge with action scenes. We don’t get a deep look into the MC, but we do know he’s courageous, has a sense of humor and isn’t overly bugged by the possibility of his own demise. If you want to give a bit more interiority to this, the moment when he looks at the children in the mirror could give you that opportunity, but I don’t have a problem with it as is.

  1. Black Holes: Query- The last sentence of the first paragraph would be stronger if you said it was the Emperor Iari had fallen in love with. Since mindfighter isn't really explained, I'm unsure it adds a lot to the query. It might be fine to just say Iari is the only one that can get close to the emperor and why. Generic phrases like "suddenly the galaxy doesn't seem so black and white" are kind of banal. Focusing more directly on the revolution not being what he thought would be stronger.

    The first 250 reads though the first paragraph might read more forcefully as 'Iari drew a shaky breath and checked the time; eight minutes until he betrayed his best friend.' You can mention they're in a lounge in the next paragraph.

    And I feel fine: Query – the first sentence should be rewritten, who is cold and heartless, the Agency or Sherman? I'm unsure saying someone goes 'starborn' rather than just saying 'dies' adds anything unless going 'starborn' means something else. The second paragraph seems to leap into a much different story than the first. I think these threads need to be tied together a bit better so we know how these relate. I'd also avoid words like 'poltergeist ruler' and use something more commonly understood. You can explain more in the book.

    The first 250 start nicely with a lot of action. There were a few things I thing could be clearer. What's 'fuzz', is that radio static? Was Unc really there or was he seeing something from the past and visualizing it driving next to them? Was the bridge going to blow or something else?

    I think both these entries have a lot of promise. Good luck.

  2. I had started a comment on this entry and then the page refreshed. 🙁

    Okay, so you've got a great entry here, especially the first 250, which I found very engaging. Your MC's voice is fun to listen to, so I don't have any suggestions for the first page, really. However, I do have some suggestions about the query. There were a few sections of the query I felt were a little unclear. For example, some might come to the conclusion that Sherman has fallen for Bennett's father. Obviously the rest of the query clears that up, but the syntax of the sentence could be changed to help clarify that a bit. Also, it might help, too, to write "Bennett wakes him up" rather than just "she." (That, for me, is a personal preference, though.)

    The other part I found a little confusing was "the incomprehensible death." Is that death as in an abstract concept, or a specific death that's occurred? Is it the deaths of the many he couldn't save? Clarifying this might make the stakes that much higher.

    I'm going to echo what others have said about you having a little more room to play around in the query. It's short, so you can add some extra details that will bring the reader in and want to know more about Sherman's adventures.

    Like I said, I really enjoyed this. 🙂 Good luck in the next round!


    You have all the makings of a great query here: an interesting and dynamic protagonist (we already know he's going to undergo a massive change throughout the book which is great), a poltergeist ruler (something I've never seen done before), and an Armageddon about to hit home.

    What this query does need is a little rewriting, however, because there are some serious syntax problems. Your first line, for example: Cold and heartless but the Enders Agency’s finest, 24-year-old Sherman Logan has saved every life but his own. The structure here is very confusing. I would suggest changing to something like: Though 24-year-old Sherman Logan may be cold and heartless, as the Enders Agency's finest, he's saved every life but his own. That may not be ideal, but you get the idea.

    Also, in the line that tells us Sherman falls hard, it's not immediately clear who he falls hard for.

    Then in this line "With the help of Bennett, Sherman must confront the dictator-poltergeist and the root of these vanishings before they come for him too." I'm not sure who "they refers to.

    The last line of that particular paragraph is also pretty vague. Be more specific about what Sherman will have to do and what he stands to lose if he doesn't. I guarantee it will strengthen your query. And as others have said, you have some words to play with. Go for it.

    In your first 250 words, the pacing is excellent. It has that breakneck feel that I like to see in this type of book. The writing style is also very distinct, which is great.

    The first two lines threw me just a little bit though, stylistically. I think it comes down to word choice. "Knock" doesn't quite feel like the right choice for what you're trying to convey. For me, it gives the feeling of one thing acting on another, something physically knocking his hand away. Maybe something more along the line of "jolts."

    Then in the next paragraph, in the line, "Sarge says keep on the wheel." I keep feeling like there's a word missing after "keep". I understand what you're saying, but it's awkward. I would suggest rewording.

    But overall, a fantastic 250. I would definitely keep reading this.

    Congrats on advancing!

  4. And I Feel Fine:
    This is such an interesting premise. I would love to read this. THe one line in your query that made me stumble was "When Sherman's last real friend…" I just didn't see how his friend dying and him falling for Bennett went together. Can you make these two separate sentences and expand on them?
    The first 250 has great voice and you dropped us in the middle of the action, which is always good. I do want to know more about Sherman, but I would keep reading.
    Good luck!

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