Title: The Tsar’s Heir
Nickname: Kaza
Word count: 110, 000K
Gendre: YA fantasy
Sixteen-year-old Olesya, the tsar’s strong-Willed only child, has spent her life trying to get her father to acknowledge her existence. When the tsar hosts a tournament to determine his successor, Olesya dares to hope he will revoke the ridiculous law that forbids women from ruling and choose her as his competitor. Instead he picks Russ, a talented beggar, as his champion.
Russ walks into the court with nothing but the clothes on his back . . . and a secret; he’s not the beggar he pretends. He has been trained since birth by an underground organisation to win the tournament, assassinate the tsar, and abolish the laws of Kaza, that have enslaved Unwilled people for centuries. To survive among the scheming nobles, Russ clings to one rule: Don’t form any attachments. Everything goes according to plan as Russ wins one match after another, until he breaks his own rule and falls in love with the tsar’s defiant daughter.

Olesya has plans of her own. Blind with jealousy at Russ, she does what no woman has ever dared: challenge the tsar’s champion to a battle of Wills. But Russ may be more than a match for her, and no matter how hard she tries, she can’t deny the growing attraction between them.

When the tsar is murdered before the tournament ends, he leaves behind an empty throne and an empire on the brink of civil war. Caught at the heart of the conflict, Russ and Olesya are forced to pick sides and ultimately choose between love, loyalty, and ambition.
First 250 words:

The sunset reflected off the snow and white limestone, making the open-pit mine look like a great basin of blood.

An apt resemblance, I thought as the gong echoed through the quarry, signalling the end of the working day.
I let the brick slip from my frostbitten hands and crouched for a moment, savouring the strain leaving my arms. The ache in my back dulled as I took slow, deep breaths, a cloud of vapour forming before my face. The snow blanketing the stone beckoned me to lie down, close my eyes . . .
“Snow is a grave, not a bed,” A voice whispered in the back of my mind. The memory of a frozen corpse made me surge to my feet and I bit my tongue not to scream as movement brought life back to my limbs.
I lurched down the staired walls and found Alexei on a ledge near the centre of the pit, curled up beside a rusted shovel.
“Wake up,” I whispered, turning him over and disentangling the scrawny ball of knees and elbows.
His mismatched eyes fluttered open, never failing to startle me. There was something unnatural about the proportions of his face. His eyes were too large, slanted at the corners, and the contrast between the ice-blue and black-brown of his irises made even the Kazich look twice. His mouth and nose were thin and small, as if he wasn’t meant to speak or smell, only to see.
“Is it morning?” he murmured.

Entry Nickname: Boy Band Ninja Assassins
Word Count: 80K
Genre: YA Adventure Comedy
When Derrick Dominick and the other members of the world’s biggest boy band, Leth5l (with a silent five), stumble into a coffee shop robbery in progress, they easily thwart the crooks with sick choreography. Just another Tuesday for a group of trained undercover agents working for the Special Intelligence Network for Global Espionage, Recon and Security.
Due to a misunderstanding with the barista—and certainly no fault of his own— Derrick ends up in the back of a cop car. Roughly six seconds after he exits the station, photos, videos, and internet rumors have spread like peanut butter. Consequently, Leth5l’s Manager/Handler sends two bloggers along on their next tour/mission to prove they’re just another boy band and Derrick’s not a criminal with a dimple.
The mission: assassinate the three leaders of drug ring who’ve developed a drug that allows users to experience moments from their past, complete with all the feelings and emotions of the first time. To protect his cover, Derrick is forced to take the drug. He relives a moment from his early childhood, this time as a guy with seventeen years of foster home experiences under his belt. Turns out being abandoned by your biological mother stings just as much the second time around. Now he’s got three bad guys to take out, two nosy (and hot!) bloggers up in his business, and one mother of a mother issue to deal with before he makes an uncharacteristic mistake that might be lethal (minus the five).
At least his hair’s still on point.
First 250:
Five-part harmony is ridiculously hard in the morning. Especially before coffee. Yet, here we are W-IDK television station singing our asses off at six-freaking-thirty A.M. on “Wake Up, Whichever-City-We’re-In!
They don’t pay me enough for this.
Actually, that’s not true. Two jobs, two salaries. I get paid loads. And what I don’t make in terms of cash, I make in fringe benefits, so I suppose I should turn off my brain and turn on my dimple—give the people what they want. Because giving the people what they want is always the best part of my day, even if it’s at an unholy hour.
Four paces outside the studio, Jay starts in on me, as usual. “Do you think that you could, for once, turn your thousand-watt smile down a bit? How are the rest of us supposed to compete? That make-up chick was under my spell until you Derricked her to death.”
I dive into the backseat of the SUV with Leth5l-standard blacked out windows. Can’t let fangirls or bad guys know our location. Though, I’d totally be down if some of the fangirls knew. “I wasn’t aware that my name is a verb now. Good to know. How, exactly, does one Derrick somebody?”
Dash slides in next to me, his untied tie flapping around his neck. “Don’t act like you don’t know.”
“I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
Maybe that’s a bit of a lie. Lying is one of the things I do best. Lying, and carrying lead vocals.
Posted in Blog and tagged .


    • Kaza

      The first paragraph for me is a bit confusing and has me asking more questions. I'm not sure if Willed in the first line is supposed to be capitalized or if that's a typo? If it is meant to be, I'm not sure why? If they're holding a tournament, why would she think that he would choose her? If he was to choose her, would he need the tournament? Why did he pick a random beggar?

      The second paragraph is much stronger. I clearly understand Russ's purpose and goal in the story. I still don't understand why the tsar would choose him as his competitor though. That, I think, needs to be made clear.

      Is Russ the one who murder the tsar? I kind of feel like there's a lot of side plots going on, and not enough of the main one to give me the stakes.

      First 250:

      I like the description of the first sentence. There's a sense of urgency, not that there is an immediate person threat, but that they could be killed by the elements around them. I really like how you begin, and I don't have too much to add. All in all, I'd keep reading. Great job!


      Boy Band Ninja Assassins

      The first paragraph of the query is strong and draws me in. I can definitely tell it's a comedy as it brought a smile to my face. I think it's strong up until the last paragraph. There is a lot going on and I feel like you're cramming too much into one paragraph. I'm not sure if you need all the backstory as to how he got to the part of taking the drug, so much as we need the info about the main plot, which I have a feeling has to do with him taking the drug? I'm not sure. I would play around with it and streamline that last paragraph.

      I do love the last line though.

      First 250:

      There's a whole lot of telling in this first 250. It moves super fast. I think it's because it's missing a transition. It starts with them singing in the TV studio and suddenly they are outside. Maybe if you put that they had just finished up, as opposed to that they are doing it. Present tense can be tricky.

      The voice is strong and I love the last line. I'd keep reading.

      Both have strengths and weaknesses, both are fantastic concepts. I would definitely want to read more.

      Victory: Boy Band Ninja Assasins

    • Kaza:

      -Nice job with your query.
      -My only suggestion is to find a way to show how your plot is unique. There are a number of plots with tournaments in this genre and I think it's important to show right away how yours is different.
      -I like your first 250.
      -I'm not sure, but the sentence starting with "The Memory of a Frozen" sounds like a bit like a run on sentence. Otherwise, your writing is beautiful.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins:

      -It's hard to express a comedy in a query, but I think you achieved that well.
      -I really like your first two lines in your 250.
      -One of the best pieces of advice I received about my writing is to make sure your MC is likable right away. I know it's a bit different in a comedy, but you still want to connect your readers to the character to make them root for him in the coming pages. I'm not sure I'm quite there with your MC. But again, your plot is really interesting, so I think with a couple tweaks, you can make your MC a bit more three-dimensional.
      -Great job overall.

      Hard choice but…

      Victory to Kaza

    • Kaza—

      Query: The stakes in this query are very strong, and the query itself is well organized and flows nicely—good job. I am wondering about the capitalized Unwilled people referred to in the second paragraph. Is this a radical group opposing the tsar and his people? Or is it a group of people from another kingdom or nationality or social class? Some clarification on that would help us understand the conflict and the stakes better.

      First 250: The first line threw me for a bit—it seemed like you’re comparing the snow and white limestone to a basin of blood. Are you actually saying that the snow and white limestone is surrounding a quarry or pit of red rock and that’s what looks like blood? Make sure this distinction is clear. You don’t want the reader to stumble over your very first line. Also, to tighten up that line, just use one white object to have the sun glinting off of. Pick the snow or the white limestone, but don’t use both.

      The atmosphere you create with the cold and the snow and the worn-out muscles is great. And I like the description of Alexei’s eyes and face and the conclusion that he’s only meant to see. Also, the fact that the MC has to remind himself that snow is a grave and not a bed tells us a lot about his life and that he’s familiar with hardship. Nice job.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins—

      Query: I love the voice you have going on in this query, especially the last line! I feel the query could use some tightening up to make it really shine. Consider changing the word “Biggest” in the first line to “hottest” or something similar. On first reading, I actually thought you meant this group was the largest boy band ever, with a ton of members.

      In the second paragraph, add a word to the line “And certainly *through* no fault of his own.” Also, the “spread like peanut butter” analogy is not working for me. You want to compare this to something that spreads all on its own, like in an uncontrollable way, for it to really ring true. “Spread like oil in the sea” or something like that would fit better, IMO.

      Third para—the first line is a little long and clunky. You could separate that into two sentences, or pare the wording down by cutting anything that’s not necessary. For example, do you need to specify that there are three leaders they need to assassinate? Or can you just say “leaders”? Or better yet, just say “The mission: assassinate the creators of a drug that allows users to…” Doing this would tighten the sentence up and eliminate the need to split it into two.
      Also, how does Derrick taking the drug protect his cover?

      The end of the query, after Derrick takes the drug, is really strong—I love it!

      First 250: W-IDK television–haha! Love it! (Make sure you add the word *at* just before this). Other than that tiny nitpick, I LOVE this first 250. So much voice, and I laughed several times. Fantastic job!

      Ooh, this is a tough choice. These are both so good, and so very different. I felt that one had a stronger query and one had a stronger 250. I’m going to have to go with the one that, for me, had a more compelling story opening, though both are good in different ways.

      Victory to Boy Band Ninja Assassins!

    • Kaza:
      Query: This is a very tightly written query, and immediately piques my interest when it's clear that Willed vs. Unwilled is at the magical heart of their universe. I think you might need a line of explanation, though, with respect to what it actually means in this story to be Willed vs. Unwilled. In practical terms, what abilities does a person with a Will have? Clarifying that would make this query stronger.
      1st 250: Great sensory details in this introductory section—I can see and feel Russ's world very clearly. It isn't apparent that the story is a fantasy yet, but I think that's OK. His situation is obviously desperate, and that's well depicted and sets things up for his deception.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins:
      Query: You did an excellent job of extending the humorous tone of the story into the writing of the pitch! The jokes are funny and well placed, without distracting from the actual plot points, although I did have a little trouble with how the rumors "spread like peanut butter." I'm not sure what that means. Slowly and thickly, with a butter knife? In any case, I think you do well with making it clear Derrick is a rounded character with a backstory that a reader would want to follow through an entire book.
      1st 250: This first page definitely establishes the humor of this piece, giving us the narrator's inner voice in a fun voice-over kind of style as well as setting up the boy-band part of the story. You also do well dropping hints about Derrick's secret life. I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for him at this point, but the story is intriguing. I might think about adding a visual detail or two about the boys themselves to make them distinct in the reader's mind.

      Two very different queries, and a tough choice! Victory to Boy Band Ninja Assassins.

    • Kaza
      I feel like this query’s timeline is slightly out of place. The first paragraph establishes that Russ has already been chosen as the champion, but the second paragraph makes it sound as though the competition is still taking place. How can he be chosen as a champion of the games aren’t finished yet? Aside from that, I think your query is excellent and engaging.
      I love your description in this sentence. I can really visualize how the quarry resembles a basin of blood. I like how you begin with Russ’s POV as well. His reaction to the flashback seems a bit too much though, removed from context. I would like to know why he is reacting that way?

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins
      This sounds like a fabulous, entertaining story. I love the humor in your query, and the way it continues into your first 250 words. Your voice is spot on. Still, I wish I had a slightly better idea of how his taking the drug plays into the story. It sounds like a subplot to me, whereas I’m more interested in learning about his work and newest mission. If there had been a little more about him being abandoned as a child, I think I would feel differently.
      Your first 250 words are great. I love how you start right with banter between band members. There is nothing I would really improve on.

      I enjoyed both submissions, but I feel like Kaza is slightly more engaging. VICTORY TO KAZA.

    • Kaza

      This query is very strong work. My only issues with it were: 'Willed' as an attribute (which I am assuming is a fantasy thing) is a little confusing. I don't think the query needs it at all. Just lower-case it and throw in a 'mystical' modifier to the 'battle of Wills' that she challenges Russ to in the latter part of the query. If that doesn't quite match up to how you capitalize it in the book, that's fine. Better to be clear and inviting here.

      Why describe the beggar as talented? It would be more shocking without the modifier.

      The 250 is good, but not as strong as the query. It gets a little telling in places. Be careful in the third paragraph– I feel like you're edging toward purple prose a bit there.


      Well, and now for something completely different! First off, can I just say that's it's bonkers that these entries are up against each other? They have nothing in common. We're not comparing apples and oranges, we are comparing apples and a vocoder.

      First, I _like_ the joke about the silent 5, as an objective academic thing, but it stopped me dead in my tracks while I was reading the query. Also, you do pronounce the 5, right? It's leet-speak. It's Lee-Thal, right? As in Lethal Weapon? Not Lethl, as in rhymes with Ethel. I guess what I'm saying is these are not the issues I should be thinking about mid-sentence while I read your query. Save that joke for your manuscript; take it out of the query.

      My biggest issue with this entry– which I like a lot– is that it tonally feels like MG. Wacky acronyms, crime fighting boy bands doing dance moves. It's goofy. I like goofy, but I can hear my own agent saying "this sounds like MG." This may, in fact, be an issue with the whole manuscript (and if it doesn't find representation I suspect this could be the culprit.) I'd like to see a teensy bit more emphasis on the YA aspects of the book in the query. The drug stuff is something, but it feels tacked on here. Fill that out, and I think it would help.

      The 250 is great, although there's too much "Derrick is so great". It feels a little Mary Sue, as if Derrick is a stand-in for the author and the author thinks that he/she is AMAZING. I'm not saying that's what happening, but it crossed my mind, so tune that down a bit.

      Jeez Louise, these two are ridiculous to choose between.

      I choose Kaza. No, Leth3l. No, it should be Kaza.

      Bah. I hate doing this.


    • KAZA

      Really strong query. I did find that the sentence "He has been trained since birth…" was a bit too long, and the end is a bit muddy. I suggest at least just saying "and abolish the laws that have enslaved Unwilled people for centuries". It makes it read better, in my opinion.

      In your first sentence, "The sunset reflected off the snow and white limestone, making the open-pit mine look like a great basin of blood." I think "off the snow and white limestone" throws the reader off. If you take out the "the" before snow, your problem's easily solved!

      The plot does, however, remind me a bit too much of the Crown's Game, with a dash of Court of Fives. I suggest making it clear how your novel differs from these, especially Crown's Game.


      The voice in this query is on-point. I don't think you need "—and certainly no fault of his own— " Also, in what situation is Derrick forced to take the drug? But other than that, great job. The last line is perfect!

      The voice on the first page is also on-point. The "Two jobs, two salaries. I get paid loads" had me arching my eyebrow a bit, though. A lot of people have two jobs and don't get paid loads for either. I suggest you say what those jobs are right there.

      These are very strong entries. On one hand, I'm a sucker for fantasies where one party is trying to kill the other, and both query and page are great. On the other hand, I felt that the voice on both query and page, as well as the originality of the concept warrant giving VICTORY TO BAD BOY NINJA ASSASSINS!

    • Kaza

      Query: Quite the strong query here. Here are some suggestions: is there any way you can give us a hint at what it means to be Willed? A hint of what magic we can expect in the book could be helpful. Also, if there’s any way to highlight the uniqueness of your book, I’d add that in to make it stand out from similar books. In the first paragraph, I’m wondering if maybe you can leave off “talented”? And maybe pick something else that can give us a hint of who Russ is, or what makes him who he is. Second paragraph, consider skipping “underground organization” since I’m not sure it really adds anything at this point. Then the last sentence here, what if you cut it? I feel like the paragraph ends more strongly on the prior sentence and you might be able to save the part about him falling in love for the concluding paragraph below (or skip it altogether since it’s mentioned in Olesya’s next paragraph. My biggest gripe with this query is the last paragraph. Knowing the tsar is murdered (presumably not by Russ) seems to take the wind out of it. It seemed like the stakes would be Russ choosing between his assignment and love, but now? I’m not entirely sure what the specific stakes are.

      250: I still love this 250 and the “snow is a grave” line. I really feel the emotion in this opening and get sucked in. “Staired walls” read a little awkwardly to me and gave me a weird mental image. I’m also loving the description of Alexei. I would definitely keep reading.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins

      Query: Another strong query, though I feel like it’s missing some flow for me. First paragraph, maybe “hottest” or “most popular” rather than “biggest.” I also really stumbled on the “with a silent 5.” I know it’s meant to be funny, but it confused me a little bit instead. “Spread like peanut butter” isn’t quite working for me either. I completely get what you’re going for, but I think you might be able to come up with a stronger simile. I’m curious whether their Manager/Handler has concerns about sending bloggers on tour when they’re also undercover agents? Are they worried they may uncover their secret or cause problems? When I get to the third paragraph I feel like there’s a bit of a disconnect or you’re missing a transition. All the sentences here are quite long and I feel like I’m missing the overall picture—is it just that they’re taking down a drug ring? What exactly is the mother issue? Is he looking for her now? I do love the closing line though, tons of voice in it.

      250: Love how much voice you’ve managed to inject in here, but, like some other judges mentioned, I’m having a really hard time connecting to the MC. He seems very braggy and full of himself, and I’m wondering if I’d want to spend an entire book with him. I also love all the clever little things you’ve added in (Leth5l, W-IDK, Whichever City, etc.), but I’d caution you not to go overboard with them. While funny they can also make the book seem like it’s written for a younger audience than you intend.

      These are two really great entries. Good queries, good writing. Bravo, writers!


    • These are both great. I'd feel confident sending either query to an agent, and both the samples are high quality.

      For Ninja…The query is perfect. Don't touch a word. For the first page, your guy comes off a bit *too* dick-ish. Maybe lighten it up just a touch and keep it a little more fun. But just a little.

      Like I said, I think both of these will make some agent happy. In the end, I'm going with personal preference and voting the one that I think is more original. Victory to BOY BAND NINJA ASSASSINS.

    • I like both of these. Kaza, the one thing that tripped me up in the query, is "defiant daughter." I'm like, "Wait that's Oleysa, right?" I'd just put her name there. I too would prefer a bit more info on what a battle of Wills means. It seemed odd to me that this is an option to her, given the background of a woman's place in this world. It seems like if she doesn't have the power/authority to be named a competitor, she also wouldn't have the ability to do the Wills challenge thingy. A smidge of clarification might be warranted there.

      The 250 is solid.

      For NINJA, I'm wondering about a tad more detail on the drug and how it comes into play specifically.

      Another solid 250.

      Close battle! I like both, but . . .


    • Kaza

      Query: the first line doesn't have a lot of punch, but the query itself is well-written and the plot defined. Although I did want to know why the dad picked a beggar as his possible successor. That seems odd. The ending could also use some clarity. Is Russ the one who murdered the tsar or did it happen before the battle? If someone else murdered him, is Russ surprised by this or worried his plot is being thwarted? Or does he doubt his ability to go through with it now that he has feelings for Olesya? Does she think Russ is the murderer?

      First 250: I feel like the first line could be stronger. I don't feel drawn into the scene / characters. I'd like to connect with him a bit more.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins

      Query: I like the voice and thwarting crooks with 'sick choreography' made me laugh! I'm kind of unsure what the main focus is… Dealing with his mom, keeping his identity a secret, or taking down the bad guys. Also, I want to know more about the mistake he makes and how it ties into the stakes.

      These entries were great and I wish I could choose both!

      Victory goes to: Boy Band Ninja Assassins

  1. Not a judge (kontestant), but I enjoyed reading these both!


    Query: This sounds so exciting! The query seemed a bit long. Although maybe this is the norm with longer books? If not, is there a way to condense the 2nd and 3rd paragraph. I love the last paragraph.

    250: The descriptions are very nice! One suggestion – there are several sentences where you have a phrase then the word “as” then another phrase. Try breaking these up into two (or more) sentences to give variety in structure and flow.

    Boy Band Ninja Assasins

    Query: I’m already laughing just from your first paragraph! The third paragraph though confuses me – it goes from being so light and funny to ultra serious with the foster/abandoned mother past and then back to cute/funny in the last sentence. It may send a mixed message about the tone/voice of the book.

    250: I like how this starts right in the action and gives a good sense of Derrick’s personality.

    Both of these are great – can’t wait to see them on the shelves!

  2. KAZA
    Well, you know this works from your Wild Cards! So here are some nitpicks! In the first paragraph, consider “choose her as his champion. Instead, he picks Russ, a talented beggar.” I’d swap the semi-colon after “secret” to a colon. Should it be “jealousy of Russ”? “At” just doesn’t seem right. In the last sentence, what if it was just “choose between love and ambition”?

    Overall this sounds like a very cool world and a great set up!

    For the first page, the imagery is great, but I’m not a huge fan of thoughts in italics, particularly in first person. For example, could just say: “The sunset reflected off the snow and white limestone, making the open-pit mine look like a great basin of blood. An apt resemblance. The gong echoed through the quarry, signalling the end of the working day.”

    Boy Band Ninja
    I kind of love this nickname more than the title, ha! The band name is ridiculous and hilarious. Love the line about peanut butter! The jump between the set up and the mission, however, seems a little abrupt.

    The first page is great, though there are a lot of characters to keep track of. But that seems inherent in the concept!

  3. Another Kontestant here! Just thoughts as I was reading both.



    – Why has the tsar ignored his only child? Because she's a girl? That's what I assume, but you might want to make that clear.
    – Why in the world did he pick Russ, the talented beggar? I'm sure there's something special about him, so just a touch more information here might help to solidify that part of the plot.
    – I'm assuming "Willed" is supposed to be capitalized because then you have "Unwilled" capitalized. Seems like these are classes of people living in Kaza??? I'm interested in that, and I'd like to learn more about it. Maybe just a little info in the query to world-build would help clarify.
    – 2nd paragraph in the query definitely picks up the pace of the story
    – Again, "Wills" is capitalized, so I'm thinking these are important terms in their world but it makes me really curious to know more about it! Just a little background info would help!
    – I'm not sure, from reading the query, if the MC likes her father or not. Who murders him?

    First 250

    – Good writing
    – Kind of descriptive, but I'm sure that's the norm for fantasy 110K words
    – The only line that tripped me up a bit was "bit my tongue not to scream as movement brought life back into my limbs." It just sounds odd to me for some reason.

    Overall, the biggest thing that I think would make your story stand out from the rest, is elaborating on the Willed and Unwilled thing. It seems integral to your plot. Again, I could be completely wrong here…it's just an assumption! : )



    – So, I love this premise. So fun and original. I can hear Derrick's voice coming through in the query.
    – I feel like the query started off strong but then got kind of blurry in the middle. I agree that it started off very light-hearted and funny, but then took a quick turn toward serious by the end of the query. Is that the same thing your book does? I assume that you continue the humor even into the serious points of your manuscript, so it would be nice if you could do that with the query too.
    – Looks like you left out the word "a" in "leaders of drug ring." Also, just a little thing, but you have the word "drug" in there three times.
    – Great last line. Love it. Love the silent 5 thing, too. It's hard to make me laugh at a book…for some reason I just don't. But this made me chuckle.

    First 250

    – I love the voice. Get a great idea of Derrick's personality right off the bat.
    – The line where he says giving the people what they want is the best part of his day, throws me off a bit. It sounds like he's somewhat annoyed at being up that early, in whatever city they happen to be in, and is just turning on his dimple b/c that's what he gets paid to do. But saying it's the best part of his day makes it sound like he loves it all. Maybe he does. Just something that tripped me up a bit.
    – It seems like they got outside really quickly. First they're inside the studio, then suddenly they're outside getting into a car. Seems like there needs to be another beat in there somewhere to connect the two.
    – I think he seems like a very likable character. One of those guys who's so ridiculously self-absorbed, it's funny.

    Great concept, so much fun. Good luck!

  4. Kaza


    I thought this was great! I do think you can clarify the stakes. What exactly will Russ and Oleysa lose if they don’t get what they want?

    Also, I think you could take out, “the tsar’s strong-Willed only child,” to help tighten it up.

    First 250:

    I have no comments. The first line draws you in. The tone is great. The language is beautiful. Great job!

    Boy Band Ninja Assassins:


    I love this idea! So fun!

    I think you could lose “and certainly no fault of his own” to tighten it up.

    Also, can you clarify the stakes? What does Derrick stand to lose, specifically?

    First 250:

    I love that you turned Derrick into a verb. That’s awesome.

    The voice in this is so strong. I love it!

    My one concern is that Derrick sounds like a giant jerk, so I don’t have a reason to care. I hope you give him a redeeming quality pretty quickly into the rest of the manuscript. I think it’s fine here, with only 250 words, but it’s something to think about through the next two or three pages.

  5. Sorry I'm not a judge. You're probably dying for more votes right now.


    Query – You’ve made big improvements here. However, I still vote for leaving out the tsar’s murder in the last paragraph. I feel like it goes too far ahead in the story. It also kills some of the tension you’ve built because Olesya’s goal is to gain his approval, which she can’t do if he’s already dead.

    One other thing you might add is more detail about what makes this story different than others in the genre. I don’t read much epic fantasy, but it still feels familiar to me. I’m sure there are things that make it stand out, and I’d love to see them in the query.

    250 – This is hard for me to critique because, as I said above, epic fantasy isn’t a genre I read. It seems strong and well-written to me. I do think you could add something about the ache in his arms from the beginning. If it’s so great that he savors the moment it ends, it would come through even when he’s having poetic thoughts about the scenery. (It is beautiful imagery, by the way. Don’t mean to sound snarky 😊)

    Boy Band Ninja Assassins

    Query – I love the concept here, but I really liked your first-round query better. I enjoyed the suspiciously specific denials (we’re not secret agents, nuh-uh, no way). They really added to the humor of the query. This version is still strong and I’d keep reading, but I miss that element from the original.

    250 – Can we skip the critique and just get to the part where you email me this manuscript? Seriously, this is the book I would punch a baby seal to read. It sounds amazing. Probably my favorite entry in the whole competition. No matter how this round turns out, I’m sure you’ll do well.

  6. Kaza

    I adore your first 250. I’m drawn in instantly and can see the world you’ve created. It’s a beautiful, haunting picture. The hints at Russ’ memories bring the character to life. I think your query is good, but it left me wanting more details. What makes your tournament and world unique? I don’t understand what Willed is and I really want to know, especially since there will be a battle of wills. I assume it’s magic of some sort. Your first 250 would definitely make me by the book.

    Boy Band Ninja Assassins

    I mean seriously, can your query and 250 be any more Derrick-voicey? It’s fantastic! I laughed many times reading your entry. Derrick must be so much fun to write. I like him instantly, but near then end, when he pretends he doesn’t know how someone get’s Derricked, I don’t like him as much. It takes the cocky one step too far, in my opinion. You want Derrick to be likable too, especially for readers who may not be fans of this personality. You have so much voice already, it couldn’t hurt to tone down his narcism a little, teeny bit. Regardless, I can’t wait to read this book!

    Good luck to both of you!

  7. KAZA:
    Query: I liked the query and thought it was well constructed. The main thing that stood out to me was why the Tsar picks a talented beggar as his champion. Without any further context, it made me wonder why. But maybe that’s a good thing?
    First 250: I like the imagery you use. Confused about why he’s described as a beggar in the query and appears to be something else in the first 250.

    Query: Loved the voice. Nits are: I don’t know if I get the first “(with a silent 5)” But “At least his hair’s still on point” is brilliant.
    First 250: Again, amazing voice. If I had to pick something I would think about, maybe the first line of dialog feels a little like you’re trying to pack too much in? But that’s just me trying to find something constructive to say.

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