Title: Paper Seeds
Entry Nickname: Book Boys Gone Wild!
Word Count: 109K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy


When seventeen-year-old Harlow Jackson gets dumped at her grandma Minny’s wake, she’s devastated, pissed as hell, and without an escort for the debutante season starting the very next day. But then Harlow finds something Minny left her: paper seeds. Minny always told her that if you place a magical paper seed in a book, and plant it in the ground, you can grow anything you desire from its pages.

In a fit of desperation, revenge, and, okay fine, a little too much funeral punch, Harlow grows teenage versions of Mr. Knightley, Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, and Dracula to be her and her friends’ debutante escorts. Because everyone knows there’s only one thing better than a handsome, well-groomed, drawling Southern beau… an English gentleman. Harlow is tired of feeling second rate in her small Southern town, and vows to use the boys to beat her ex, and the mean-girl debutantes, at their own game. Frankly, she’d love to burn their perfect curls off their pretty little heads, but that would just be gravy. Instead, she’ll settle for winning the debutante crown and the accompanying cash scholarship prize, which she badly needs.

Harlow passes the boys off as four rather eccentric foreign exchange students, and everything goes according to plan until the book-boys discover their own origins and run amok. At the same time, the town witch, Madame LeRoux, comes after Harlow for the paper seeds, claiming that planting them will have dark consequences for Harlow and the people she loves. Harlow must uncover the origin and twisted history of the paper seeds to discover a way to undo what she’s grown. But as generations of town secrets and lies begin to unravel, Harlow discovers it was her beloved grandmother Minny who may have been hiding the biggest, ugliest secret of them all.

First 250:

If I hadn’t been standing in the middle of my grandmother Minny’s wake, I would have whacked that boy in the man parts so hard, people would be looking at pictures of his children in years to come and say—see the funny ear that kid has? Harlow Jackson did that.

But Jonathan took my hand and squeezed it, like he was bestowing some sort of warm comfort on me. He wore the gray shirt I’d saved up a week’s wages for, the one that was the exact color of his eyes.

Now, I wanted to rip it off him.

And not in a good way.

I took a deep breath and tried to be civil. “Your parents will get used to the idea of us. I have a way of winning people over, you know.” I smiled my most becoming smile and flashed my dimple. Jonathan loved my dimple. Everyone loved my dimple.

He closed his eyes. “It’s not that, Harlow.”

“Then what is it?” I said, too loud.

Madison Pace cocked her ear in our direction as she scooped bean dip onto her plate at the food table. Nosey was not an adjective in this town, it was a given.

I tugged Jonathan’s hand, and he followed me out onto the front porch. The sky was gray, just waiting to burst open, the air heavy and thick. October in Georgia was not a cool, crisp autumn. It’s more like standing over a pot of boiling pasta. Or maybe more like being the pasta.


Entry Nickname: Boy Band Ninja Assassins
Word Count: 80K
Genre: YA Adventure Comedy


When Derrick Dominick and the other members of the world’s hottest boy band stumble into a coffee shop robbery in progress, they easily thwart the crooks with killer choreography. They didn’t name the band ‘Leth5l’ for nothing. Audiences, fangirl hearts, bad guys—they can slay just about anything thanks to their training for the Special Intelligence Network for Global Espionage, Recon and Security. (And dance class.)

Due to a misunderstanding with the barista, Derrick ends up in the back of a cop car. Roughly six seconds after he leaves the station, photos, videos, and internet rumors spread faster than a bullet leaving a gun. 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.

Things get dicey when, to protect his cover, Derrick is forced to take a dangerous new drug called Rewind. It turns out that reliving the moment your biological mom abandoned you can sting just as much at seventeen-years-old as it did as a baby. Rewind, his butt, he’d rather erase that memory completely. Now, on top of his mission, and the two nosy (and hot!) bloggers up in his business, he’s got one mother of a mother issue to deal with before he makes a mistake that might be lethal (minus the five) to one of his bandmates.

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, strolling out of W-IDK television station after singing our asses off at six-freaking-thirty A.M. on “Wake Up, Whichever-City-We’re-In!

They’re awake now.

I learned—foster situation number two, specifically—my dimple has that effect on people. Thank God it stayed with me beyond the chubby-cheek baby phase. I can wield it like a sword, but that’s only for my second job. Other times, like today, I use it to give the people what they want. Because giving the people what they want is the best part of my day. Even if it’s at an unholy hour.

Four steps outside the studio, Jay starts in on me. Again. “Do you think that you could, for once, turn your thousand-watt smile down some? 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 .


    • Congratulations to both of you for making it so far! Both of your queries and first pages are fantastic.

      Paper Seeds: my only suggestion is to tweak your stakes so they're more personal to Minny by showing us how her grandmother's secret will impact her.

      LETH5L: I think you need a little more clarification about how the drug, Rewind, increases the stakes in your book. You're missing the connection between him taking it and endangering his band members.

      Now, to vote. This is a tough on. Both of these entries are excellent. But …

      Victory to PAPER SEEDS!

    • You both have stellar first 250's! A few notes on your queries…

      Book Boys Gone Wild!
      Just a nit-pick: The "okay, fine" in this sentence: "In a fit of desperation, revenge, and, okay fine, a little too much funeral punch" is just a little bit off to me. I'm not sure what feedback you've gotten about it in the past rounds, but personally, I'd prefer to have "okay, fine" within em-dashes.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins
      I'd really like to see how the drug plays into the stakes of your book. Does the Rewind drug have anything to do with the mistake he'll make that might endanger his bandmates? Or is it a totally different thing altogether like the misunderstanding with the barista or his mission?

      Ah. Another tough one! But, as always, I need to choose only one 🙁


    • Both of these have terrific YA voice. Love it!

      PAPER SEEDS: This is a great premise. I have two comments on the query. First, in the second paragraph your MC reads a little petty. I'd focus more on Harlow's main goal: the cash scholarship prize. Second, the town witch plot line feels buried in the third paragraph, especially since this is a major part of the story's stakes. I'd suggest thinking about a way Madame LaRoux can be introduced sooner.

      For your First 250 I like the voice, but I stumbled over the first line a couple of times. You may want to think about how to streamline that sentence.

      LETH5L: I like this premise, but I have to admit your query is confusing. It wasn't clear to me what the trouble was between the barista and Derrick, especially since he and his group just foiled a robbery. Also, your second paragraph feels like it veers of course from the real storyline and doesn't add anything to the characters or stakes. Last, what does REWIND have to do with Derrick's story arc? It feels a little unrelated to the overall story.

      My suggestion would be to focus on one story thread. The introduction of the boy band, their secret lives, the bloggers on tour, and Derrick's reaction to REWIND all feel like too much for one query.

      Your First 250 has great voice. I like from the start that we get a sense of who Derrick is and how the other band members react to him.

      Really great stories here! Victory goes to…


    • PAPER SEEDS: I remember your query from round 1, and I think I like some aspects of the original query better. This one is definitely solid, but it feels a bit rushed. I think you should mention the witch earlier, and also I'd like to know a little more about how Minny's secret is going to impact the story/Harlow.
      Your first page is great! Love the voice.

      BOY BAND: I really like this premise. I'm not clear on how Derrick ends up in the cop car after thwarting the robbery, did the barista think he was the one robbing it? I like the idea of REWIND, but it feels tacked on. I don't understand how it relates to the main plot. Your first page, however, is SPECTACULAR.

      This was an extremely difficult decision, I loved both of these. Since they won't let me pick both, it came down to which first page pulled me in more.

      Victory to: BOY BAND

    • Wow, these are two great entries, EXCELLENT concepts. Also, it's the battle of the dimples, here, and Book Boys vs. Music Boys.

      Boy Band, I get confused about how taking Rewind is helping him protect his cover…there's a couple things confusing to me here. I think with a revamp of the query to connect some of these ideas you'll do better.(Tell us how a misunderstanding with the barista leads to his arrest, for instance…and why a boy band would make good undercover assassins, anyway…I get the feeling that's just sheer ridiculous humor, which is fine, but you should give us more of a taste of that brand of humor in the query, if so.)


    • Book Boys
      I love, love, love this premise but I think your query is on the long side. I wish you could get to this line quicker: “Harlow grows teenage versions of Mr. Knightley, Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, and Dracula to be her and her friends' debutante escorts.” Then, when you get to this line, the tension dies down: “Harlow is tired of feeling second rate in her small Southern town…” It picks back up at, “At the same time, the town witch, Madame LeRoux, comes after Harlow for the paper seeds…” Overall, it’s nicely done but too long and you don’t want to lose readers because they might only give you 5-10 seconds to be hooked. Hook them at the beginning. I would definitely delete the last sentence. It just brings up another sub-plot. The line before it is much stronger.

      The first phrase is great but then I really don’t get what hitting him in the man part’s has to do with his potential kid’s ear. Confused! Then, who is Jonathon? I’m a little disoriented by this opening and it reads a bit bumpy to me.

      Boy Band
      I love that this is an adventure comedy. It sounds really fun, but I’m not sure what your MC really wants…and, conversely what he needs. This risks sounding episodic (one thing after another happens to the MC, but he doesn’t have a hand in moving the plot forward). What is this story really about? His abandonment from his mother?

      Your writing is great and has a strong voice. I’d read on because of your writing, but I would stop if my above questions weren’t cleared up in the first few pages.

      VICTORY: As with another entry, I’m going to vote based on the query since this is *Query* Kombat. My vote goes to Book Boys.

    • I still think these two are fantastic entries, each in their own way.

      For PAPER SEEDS, in the query, I still think we could stand getting a better grasp on the scholarship prize and why Harlow needs it. I think it would help us better connect with her as a character, since she does come across a little petty (wreaking havoc and messing with things she doesn't understand just because she's been scorned). The first 250 are fine, from my perspective. They do pose a lot of questions, but each seems to be answered almost right away as we read, which I think is a very good thing.

      For LETH5L: DEEP CUTS, the only thing that's been bugging me in the query (I mentioned it in Round 1, but didn't in Round 3, because I thought it might be just me) is the inclusion of Rewind and the mother stuff. From the query, I'm not understanding how the drug, Derrick's backstory and everything else meld together. I'm probably being terribly picky now, but dare I suggest you consider leaving the Rewind subplot out of the query altogether? Derrick and his pals do seem to have enough going on as it is, and IMHO, the bit about his backstory only distracts from the rest of the story and premise (which, by the way, I think is fantastic).

      I really love both premises here, so it's with a heavy heart that I must choose only one…


    • Both of these entries are excellent and it was hard to choose between them. Paper Seeds query was very clear and unique, and Boy Band's first 250 was well written and entertaining.

      Since I can only choose one, VICTORY TO PAPER SEEDS!

    • WOW, what fabulous entries!

      BOOK BOYS – Your concept manages to feel fresh and charming, even though the Pride and Prejudice Darcy thing has been well-traveled, so congrats! Bringing the heroes into contemporary YA, and then watching all the hijinx ensue, is simply brilliant to me. I really don't have much constructive feedback to give, sorry. I thought your 250 has great voice, and that your MC comes off as strong and witty.


      Definitely a fresh concept, that's for sure. The tongue-in-cheek humor really came through in the best way. So is the idea that having such high profile assassins provides the perfect cover because no one would suspect them of being anything of substance? I'm wondering if you can somehow work in a phrase explaining that a bit, just because I'm used to assuming that in these kinds of situations, anonymity is using preferred. I love that you have a lot of subplots going on that are ripe with conflict — the abandonment history, the bloggers. It sounds like a rollicking ride!!

      UGHHH. These are both SOOOO good. 🙁 But I have to choose one, so…..


    • Two of my favorites! Such great concepts and voices. However, I have to go with the one that's a little tighter. VICTORY TO BOOK BOYS!

    • Dimple vs Dimple! SOOOO hard to decide! Great job to both entries on revisions – you've both got some solid queries and first 250. I love the voices and humor in both, and how unfair to have to choose between two such fun, unique hooks. Since I've already made specific suggestions about these entries in previous rounds, I'll get to voting.

      VICTORY (by such a super slim margin) TO PAPER SEEDS!

    • Book Boys Gone Wild!

      Query: Ah, I see–Minny might have been hiding the biggest secret… I want to know more about this. Good stuff! Is there a risk she can’t undo what she’s grown?

      First 250: There’s a lot of anger in Harlow. She’s feisty, which I like, but maybe soften it at the start so we can connect with her. I love the fact that nosey is not just an adjective but a given–made me smile!

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins

      Query: I love the voice and little bits, like (and dance class) (and hot!) to add personality. I’m not sure about comparing the spread of rumors to the speed of a bullet—what about his favorite footwork/dance move? Or faster than it takes his hair gel to dry? And I’m still not understanding the stakes. Did his band mate take Rewind? Is he at risk of addiction? It’s very unclear.

      First 250: Man I love to hate Derrick. The voice is so delicious I’m sucked in.

      Two more FANTASTIC queries. I was pulled just a little bit more in the direction of one though—

    • Book Boys Gone Wild–

      Love it, love it! Voice, setting, premise–there is so much that shines in both the query and the 250. In the final paragraph of the query, when the town witch comes after Harlow claiming that planting the paper seeds will have dark consequences, that makes it sound like Harlow hasn’t planted the seeds yet. But she clearly did, otherwise how did she get her four book boys? Just clear this up, and you’ll be in great shape.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins–

      I’ve loved this entry from the beginning and I really have nothing constructive to say. I especially love the humor in this.

      Oh, man, this is the toughest vote I’ve had to make so far!! I love both of these entries so much! It’s going to have to come down to which one I’m DYING to read verses which one I'm just super excited to read, because I feel both queries and 250’s are equally strong.

      So … I'm cringing as I say this because I really do wish I could choose both. But Victory to Book Boys Gone Wild!

    • Book Boys:
      I really love the atmosphere you have going here, both in your query and in the first 250 words.

      Boy Band:
      I feel like there's just a little too much going on in your query. I want to know what the main conflict is about, and your several subplots make it difficult to distinguish that.

      While I think both entries are incredible, I feel like Book Boy's query better defines the stakes and conflict.


    • BOOK BOYS: I'll be frank with you: while I didn't see much wrong with the writing in either your query or your first 250 words, I had a hard time developing empathy for a character who is so self-absorbed that she is at her grandmother's wake and all she can think about is the debutante ball. I would have liked her better if she had been upset about her grandmother's death, and then her boyfriend decides the wake is the perfect time and place to break up with her, and then she decides to get revenge with the seeds. Making her revenge circle around no date for the debutante ball made her seem petty and unfeeling.

      All of this may sound subjective but it really isn't: if a character is so unlikable that the reader can't form a connection with her, then the story isn't going to work for the reader either. I'm speaking to you from experience, because I had a novel that was rejected by several editors, and they all said the same thing: they did not like, or could not connect to the protagonist.

      I would strongly suggest reworking the query so that Harlow's redeeming qualities are more evident in both the query and the first 250 words so that she is a somewhat more sympathetic character.

      BOY BAND: Your voice shined in your query and it was delightful. A couple of suggestions:

      We need to know what the misunderstanding is: "Due to a misunderstanding with the barista, Derrick ends up in the back of a cop car."

      I don't understand how the drug Rewind will help protect his cover and inquiring minds need to know.

      "Rewind, his butt," I read as Rewind his butt and it made me wince. I don't think it is a matter of comma or no comma but the name of the drug that threw me.

      This is great: "At least his hair’s still on point."

      I laughed out in places. That's hard to do with me, so


    • From CatAttack

      These entries show such fresh ideas and writing and I wish I could vote for both!



      Second paragraph of your query…wow! I did not see that coming. Overall, a very strong query. One small clarification I'd like to see. At the end of the first paragraph, when you say "you can grow anything you desire from its pages" does that mean anything you desire will grow from the pages of the book you plant, or you can grow anything that is written in the book? I'm guessing it's the latter, but it caused me a moment's confusion and I think it would be a good idea to clarify. In the second paragraph, I'm a little concerned about the line, "Frankly, she'd love to burn their perfect curls off their pretty little heads, but that would just be gravy" because it doesn't paint Harlow in a very flattering light. And while I get that Harlow isn't necessarily making the best choices here (which is fine), I think maybe this line goes a little too far for the query. Readers will need to be able to connect in some way with Harlow, and this makes me worry that she is going to be too unlikable to connect with. Seriously though, great concept and great query! The first 250 are engaging, have a great voice, and I love that you get right into the conflict. I am having a bit of a hard time connecting with your protagonist, and maybe front-loading more info that she's at her grandmother's wake and is already upset/grieving and now her boyfriend is dumping her, go a long way toward making her more sympathetic.


      Your query made me laugh right away, which I loved. The last paragraph feels disjointed though. I was confused as to how the drug connects with the rest of the plot, why taking it protects his cover, how it endangers the other band members, and how his mother issue fits with any of it. I think you could use some clarification here. I loved your first 250. You have a strong voice and a great writing style. Even though this is not one of my genres of choice, I would absolutely keep reading this.

      This is a tough choice. I think these both have great potential to go far. I absolutely adore the concept of BBGW, but the first 250 of BBNA had me completely hooked.

      Ultimately, victory to BOY BAND NINJA ASSASSINS

    • You both have made tremendous progress with your updates. I am so pleased to see the changes and clarifications.

      Book Boys: I am still a bit confused with the timing (contemporary vs. old-fashioned) — some of the language feels old fashioned to me. Specifically "week's wages" just sounds old fashioned. paycheck? I think that as a northerner, debutantes in general evoke a old fashioned feel to me, and if this is supposed to be 2017, I'm not getting that. Could just be a personal thing for me.

      Boy Band: I'm still stumbling on the logic of taking the drug to protect his cover. I am not sure how reliving a memory would help protect his cover? Is there a way to elaborate on what the drug does in just a few words on why that is the logical next step? Right now to me it still feels a little bit outta left field. (also, I don't know that the mother back story does anything for me in a query setting. Is there another aspect to the drug that is immediate vs. backstory? that may play stronger with the stakes — like his reaction to the drug piques the interest of the bloggers?)

      This is a really, really tough choice. I think you will both have a lot of success with querying, as you both have strong concepts and GREAT voice. As both queries are killer, I'm going to have to decide based on the first 250… and for me, one of them just pulls me in a bit more. (But it is honestly so, so SO close between the two!)

      Victory to BOY BAND

    • Book Boys Gone Wild: Both the wry tone and the intriguing magic are brought into the query right from the get-go, which is well done. While the pitch is a bit on the long side, the punchy 1st paragraph drew me in, and the comical convolutions of the plot promise a fun ride—the story seems very well thought out. The 1st 250 indicate that things are about to get wild pretty quickly and have a very strong narrative voice.

      Boy Band Ninja Assassins: I have to admit—I really miss the sidebar comment "the 5 is silent" from the earlier version of the pitch! It's a fun, wacky premise that promises a lot of action, and the pitch carries that sense of humor. The narrator's voice is fun and flip, and the 1st 250 establish the setup pretty quickly—although for me, there could have been more concrete real-world details to balance out the humor.

      Really tough choice—I would pick up both of these books!—but victory to Book Boys Gone Wild.

    • When I have trouble deciding between two entries based on the query alone, I always default to the first page, and Book Boys Gone Wild has a voice and angle of entry that makes me immediately sit up and take notice, with a strong balance of character voice and memorable visuals. I'm less engaged by the personality narrating Boy Band Ninja Assassins, and that's why my vote is for BOOK BOYS GONE WILD.

  1. Just going to offer one piece of critique on this one, to BOOK BOYS. In your final paragraph you use four to be verbs in a description paragraph. Consider your word (verb) selection, and I think you can do a lot more to bring that hot, sticky feeling that you're going for to life.

    With that said, I'm still voting:


  2. For PAPER SEEDS, the scholarship goal is kind of buried in the query. If that's the MAIN focus, I'd focus more on that and drop they revenge aspect. If the revenge aspect is more important, I'd focus on that (even if it makes her sound petty–I didn't get that feeling, but I know another did). Right now, it kind of sounds like two stories, and I think focusing on one would be better.

    For NINJA ASSASINS, I see you've tried to clarify the drug aspect in the query by at least showing us what it does. The problem for me is that I don't understand how taking that drug would have anything to do with protecting his cover. Sigh. I know it's tough to get the info just right in a query. I'm wondering about dropping the drug entirely for query purposes and just stick with the other plot points, but it's hard to know for sure given I haven't read the book.

    The 250s in both are strong. Congrats to both for making it this far and good like querying!


  3. Bad Boy: The voice in the query is great and you set up an interesting premise, but I still think a few important details are missing. For example, explaning the understanding with the barista and how it ends up to MC being in the back of a cop car will help make the transition between paragraphs 1 and 2 less jarring.

    Book Boys: I love this premise every time I read it.

    Book Boys gone wild has my vote!

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