Entry Nickname: Delicious Vicious Cycles
Word count: 74K
Genre: YA Contemporary, Own Voices (Jewish and sexual assault survivor)

Seventeen-year-old entrepreneur Vera Davis starts a business to sell revenge in VERA WITH A VENGEANCE, a 74,000-word young adult contemporary novel.
When a car accident paralyzes Vera’s older brother and kills her parents, she’s suddenly in charge of the medical bills, the mortgage, and her own anger and helplessness. Vera’s always been good at getting back at people who hurt her, but she can’t exactly get revenge on the curve in the road where her father lost control of the car. 
Meager insurance payouts leave Vera desperate for money, so she starts a business: when the traditional justice system fails her clients, Vera wrecks wrongdoers’ careers and cars, relationships and reputations. She revels in taking down racists and sexual assaulters, but her crush–her brother’s best friend–thinks her style of vengeance is morally wrong. 
Then, while helping a client get payback for a leaked nude picture, Vera finds new evidence about her family’s “accident.” Turns out there is someone for Vera to blame, but the perpetrator had her own very good reason to seek vengeance. 
Now Vera must decide whether getting even is worth getting blood on her hands. 
First 250:

This creeper keeps staring at me with this little half smile, like he thinks I want his eyes undressing me. His face, all chin and cheekbones, reeks of always getting what he wants—women, money, free drinks in first class en route to Ibiza. I want to walk away, but his wife is shopping for an evening gown, and I need the commission to pay the energy bill.
I focus on her, and hold up a green dress to hide my body. “This would look great with your eyes.”
Her eyes are blue, but the green dress sells well, and if she buys it, I’ll hit the monthly quota for a higher commission percentage. I can only work so much after school, and I have to make the hours count.
She turns to Creeper. “What do you think?”
“I’d like to see more.” His eyes flicker down to my calves and back up to my chest. For all his wife can tell, he’s checking out the dress, but his gaze burns my skin.
I hold the dress higher to cover my chest and look at my boss for rescue. He mouths work it. If I didn’t need this job so badly…I force myself to smile.
Creeper’s gold smartwatch buzzes, and he glances away from me. Those watches cost three grand. Three grand would keep the lights on and pay for a month of the mortgage. Three grand could keep Levi and me from losing the house our parents raised us in.

Title: The Mortal Coil
Entry Nickname: Hero by Default
Word Count: 80K
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
When Covington Academy’s basketball team is found comatose during practice, seventeen-year-old Aiden Milligan goes from top of the class to top of the suspect list. His extensive disciplinary record and recent altercation with the team’s captain make Aiden the obvious culprit. Worse, his combination of brains, boredom, and bad attitude marks him as a possible member of The Orphion Circle, the rumored anarchist group being investigated by police. Guilty until proven innocent in the principal’s eyes, Aiden knows he’s one misstep from expulsion — or worse, a prison cell. Losing his academic future, the one thing that separates him from every other parentless screw-up, is not an option.
Teamwork is torture for Aiden, but classmate Jessie Rivas is his only help in clearing his name. A crackpot journalist determined to make her big break, Jessie drags Aiden into a mystifying investigation of the rising coma incidents around the city. When bloody symbols appear at the scene of one the attacks, Aiden begins to believe Jessie’s theories about the mysterious Orphion Circle are true. The Circle isn’t an anarchist group. It’s a coven of dangerous witches.
Stopping The Circle and clearing his name become one and the same for Aiden. A detective hounds his steps, though, hell-bent on locking him up. With every step of his investigation implicating him further, salvaging his reputation and his academic future may be impossible. But if he can’t uncover the truth behind the mounting coma victims before The Circle silences him, he won’t have a future at all.
First 250:
Aiden Milligan sat in the principal’s office. Again. And for once, he wasn’t sure why.
Aiden reviewed the usual complaints. No skipping classes — this week, anyway. Not like he couldn’t afford to when he was so far ahead of the rest of the class.
No disrespecting any teachers. Correcting Ms. Maynard’s electron assignment during Chemistry didn’t count. Eye-rolls were reflexive at this point.
No refusing to cooperate with others. …Okay, guilty as charged. But was that such a crisis?
“Mr. Milligan.”
Aiden straightened up. Principal Hadley entered the office and sat behind his impenetrable oak desk.
“Sir,” he muttered.
In the two years he’d attended the prestigious Covington Academy, Aiden and Principal Hadley had grown very familiar, in the way a lion gets familiar with a straggling wildebeest. Aiden was a problem that didn’t want to be solved, and Hadley took that as a challenge.
Hadley ran a hand through thin, graying hair. “Thank you for coming, Aiden.”
Aiden raised an eyebrow. Like he had a choice?
Here it comes. Slap on the wrist and hollow lecture. Then set me loose, ’cause you can’t risk losing your highest GPA student. Rinse and repeat.
“To business.” Hadley folded his hands on his desk. “Last night, campus security found Coach Singer and the entire basketball team collapsed in the gym. The police were called in to investigate.”
Police… Aiden’s stomach twisted.
Hadley’s eyes locked onto him. “They suspect foul play.”
Foul play? Now his stomach plummeted somewhere around his feet. Damn, not good
Posted in Blog.


    • Okay, I don't have anything to suggest for these two. I love them both! I agonized so much on this decision, I skipped it and voted on others before going back here. I really wish I didn't have to pick one between you two, but this is Query Kombat, soooo…


    • Fantastic entries! I don't have anything to add, these both seem very polished and ready to go! I would choose both if I could but…

      Victory to: MORTAL COIL

    • Wow. These are great entries. Yowza.

      Mortal Coil: I'm confused as to how the administration thinks he knocked out a whole basketball team to begin with, and why he's such a target of this detective. Those are the only details that seem a bit off to me in the query, and if they can either be minimized so we understand them in context of the pages, or made more relevant, that would help.

      Vicious Cycles…this concept is a serious gut-punch to me, and one that really needs explored. There's so much relevancy going on here.


    • Man, another tough pairing…

      For VERA, I like how you've clarified a few things in the query, but I'm still not understanding HOW Vera manages to ruin the lives, reputation and/or careers of her clients. I really think we could benefit from a better understanding of what skills or personality traits she's got that make it plausible for her to turn this into a lucrative sideline. Other than that, I think it's a great premise with a very intriguing twist.

      The first 250 are polished to a shine and do a good job of introducing the MC's motivation and stakes right away.

      For THE MORTAL COIL, I really don't think I can say anything that hasn't already been said. I still think the query is fantastic, and I love that the MC maybe troubled and have a bad attitude, but he's still brilliant enough for the principal to actually suspect him of putting an entire sports team in a coma. And I still love the voice in the first 250.

      I think each of these entries could be very successful in their own right. But since I must pick only one…

      Victory to HERO BY DEFAULT (because, IMHO, the writing is just that wee bit tighter.)

    • These are both very polished. Well done! Since I have to choose, I'll go with the one I find most unique.


    • Both excellent entries with great characterization and compelling stakes.

      VICIOUS CYCLES: I like the premise behind your query but was thrown off by a few places where you've added unneeded commas which breaks up the flow of the query for me. As for your First 250, while I enjoyed the voice, I'm not sure why the story begins here. It feels a little like backstory set-up to explain Vera's current circumstances.

      MORTAL COIL: This is an excellent query. Everything is here: characterization, plot and compelling stakes. The First 250 has a great voice and I immediately get a sense of foreboding. My only suggestion is to look at the transition in dialogue from "Thank you for coming, Aiden" to the following response from the principal "To business". I had to read it several times as it didn't feel like a natural segue to the conversation.

      Both AMAZING entries but victory goes to…


    • From CatAttack

      I've already critiqued both of these and don't have anything new to add. It's a tough call — they're both terrific entries — so I'll have to go with the one which spoke the loudest to me…


    • Honestly, these are my favorite two entries left. You are both EXTREMELY talented. Your entries are tightly written, sing with voice, and the stakes are super high. They both read as extremely polished. WELL DONE. Seriously, I'm jealous of these. The only thing I can find is that one's stakes felt the tiniest bit clearer, and so I give victory to


    • This is a tough call. They're both in really good shape. I think the query for Mortal Coil is just a tad bit more clear in terms of stakes. But other wise it's a total toss up. I'm sure they will both find agents soon 🙂


    • Delicious Vicious Cycles

      Query: This first sentence doesn’t grab me. I’d really like to be pulled right in with a connection to Vera and her plight. The second sentence has way more punch. Consider reworking this opening.

      First 250: The creeper makes me squirm and her boss needs to be punched! 🙂 It’s clear she needs the money but it’s mentioned quite a few times with the energy bill, how she can’t work more hours after school, and how the watch would pay for a month of their mortgage. Consider tightening and revealing her brother’s injury or parents’ death sooner.

      Hero by Default

      Query: Tight query. I remember this one from the first round and it seems more polished and the stakes more defined.

      First 250: I’m so glad you pulled the incident more into the first 250—maybe reword collapsed to knocked out? And perhaps even have the principal accuse him instead of ‘suspect foul play’— something like 'where were you?' or 'everyone knows you had a problem with the team' Or something that makes it clear Aiden’s the suspect.

      Victory to: HERO BY DEFAULT

    • Delicious Vicious Cycles–

      I gave some feedback on this in round 2, and that feedback still stands. (Repetition of ‘this’ in the first line of the 250, and her boss coming out of nowhere). But other than those two details, I really enjoyed this entry. I especially love the premise of the book and the way you’ve set it up in the query.

      Hero By Default–

      Query: You’ve made some excellent changes in this since the last time I saw it. I liked it before, but you’ve cleared up some confusing bits and streamlined it. Great job.

      250: You’ve done a good job in the opening of clarifying how the MC can be a slacker who skips classes, but also have a stellar academic record. I’ve now got him pegged as one of those people who are too smart for their own good—they test really well and remember things without needing to study. Or go to class. 🙂

      The line about eye rolls being reflexive threw me off. So, did he actually correct the teacher, or was he just being disrespectful by rolling his eyes? And if it was just an eye roll, then he didn’t really correct her.

      Also, the line that begins with ‘no refusing to cooperate with others’ is confusing. In that line, he’s stating that he hadn’t refused to cooperate with others. But then immediately after making that statement, he adds, ‘okay, guilty as charged.’ Instead, reword to something like: ‘There was the complaint of refusing to cooperate with others. Okay, I guess I could be guilty of that,’ or something along those lines.

      I’m not wild about the line, ‘now his stomach plummeted somewhere around his feet’. It’s a bit clunky, and you don’t really need it. You already mentioned his stomach twisting, and then his words show the freak-out going a step further.

      Okay, that sounds like a lot of crits, but really, I enjoyed this.

      Tough choice, but one of these entries, for me, had a slightly tighter query and a very unique premise. Victory to Delicious Vicious Cycles.

    • Delicious Vicious Cycles:

      Here, the only thing I question is Vera's age (17), which I would pop up to 18. I think that would still leave it in the YA category. The reason is that in her circumstances, a guardian would have been appointed for a minor. That was the ONLY problem I had. I liked the query and the first 250 very much.

      Hero by Default:
      This was unintentionally funny: "When Covington Academy's basketball team is found comatose during practice" because of the word "during." I just imagined them all practicing and then suddenly they fall down comatose, which is–I'm sure–not what you intended.

      Otherwise the query and first 250 are fine. This choice boils down to the originality of theme and the voice of Delicious Vicious Cycles' protagonist:


    • Two very strong entries! Congratulations and best wishes to both of you.

      Because I love the voice and premise, victory to DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES


      I don't have much to add from my previous feedback, but I will say that I still think you should be more specific as to what "getting blood on her hands" means at the end. It's too vague. Otherwise, great query, and the first 250 are excellent.

      HERO BY DEFAULT: Fantastic query and I love the premise. I just had a few nitpicks. One is calling Jessie a crackpot journalist. Is crackpot the word you really want (crackpot meaning something along the lines of foolish, crazy, eccentric)? Or did you mean crackerjack? Either way, I'd reconsider since she's a high school student, and go with "promising" or "aspiring" or something more like that, which would seem more in line with the age. The other thing I think should be clarified is why (beyond his altercation with the team captain and his disciplinary record) anyone would think a high school student could be capable of causing an entire team to go comatose? Is he a chemistry whiz? Does something in his family history point to this? I need something more to make me believe he'd be a serious suspect here. The first 250 are solid. My only issue there is a suspension-of-disbelief issue. If the entire basketball team is missing from school, wouldn't there already be rumors? Wouldn't someone have heard something? It seems surprising to me that Aiden could be called into the principal's office the next day and not have a clue about what is going on at the school.


      Wow–these are both amazing entries. This is a tough one. I wish both could advance.

      Ultimately, victory to DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES.

    • Hmm. I do really, really like the combination of urban fantasy, juvenile delinquency, and Artemis Fowl going on in Hero by Default. But the idea of a character who has a bad past being set up for a crime seems very thoroughly covered ground in YA, and I can't quite figure out how the school would think this kid could realistically put the entire basketball team into a coma.

      I continue to be excited by both premise and presentation in Delicious, Vicious Cycles, and so since I haven't been talked out of love with it by the competition…

      Victory to Delicious Vicious Cycles.

    • Awesome work by both of you—congrats on reaching Round 4!!!

      Delicious Vicious Cycles: Great one-line description in the first paragraph of your query. The rest of the story promises to be action-packed and full of interesting ethical quandaries. I think you could bring the conflict about her family into that last line/paragraph of the pitch and complicate it just a tad bit more—right now, it reads a little like a movie tagline, which isn't bad but also doesn't do the story justice. In the 1st 250 you make the stakes clear right away, which is great, and show that Vera is willing to cross ethical lines—well done. (Quick note: you use "this" twice in the first sentence and that jumped out at me.)

      Hero by Default: The second 2 paragraphs of the pitch are tightly written and move quickly, showing us a plot with a lot of action. The first paragraph strikes me as a little wordy—I think you could easily drop the last sentence and it would read a lot more smoothly. With the 1st 250, I still think you can start a little further in to Aiden's encounter with Mr. Milligan, without Aiden reviewing the possible complaints in his head. For me, their actual interactions and Aiden's reactions in the moment are what shine in this section.

      Victory to Delicious Vicious Cycles!

    • At this stage in the contest it's really down to subjective taste, for me, because the query and 250 are so strong in both of these entries. Fantastic job – I'm sure both books will get snapped up right away!

      Victory to HERO BY DEFAULT!

  1. Two more excellent entries! This is my (?) third year judging in QK, and I dread the final match-ups, because I always want to pick them both. Such is the case in this round, too.

    Vera: I love your premise and the voice. I think this entry will go far.

    Mortal Coil: Your entry also has a unique premise and intriguing voice.

    I don't have suggestions for query or 250 improvement.

    Which leaves me with nothing left to do but vote. I declare . . .

    VICTORY to . . .


    • These are both great. But the first 250 for VERA are just superb.


  2. I've read and commented on both of these entries before. Both are great with strong 250s.

    For clearer conflict and stakes . . .


  3. Vicious Cycles
    I’ve already commented on this a couple of times…nothing new to add.

    Hero by Default
    This is the first time I’ve read this. It’s really well-written but I feel like something is missing. That big hook. I take it from the query and the 250 that the reader knows that Aiden is innocent in the end. I wish I didn’t know this. It takes out a huge potential thread of tension. If this question wasn’t answered for me at the get-go, I would be much more intrigued. Also, there isn’t really any indication why Aiden is a suspect, let alone the prime suspect. There’s a disconnect going on there.

    As with the query, I don’t feel a huge pull toward this story. Your writing is great, but nothing really grabs me and makes me NEED to read this. I think it’s a lack of tension as with the query. In the first line, Aiden isn’t sure why he’s in the principal’s office, but the reader already knows why…and if we know that he’s innocent in the end, what’s the point of reading? However, I may be totally wrong on this and reading into it, assuming he’s innocent. But if you made the reader question his innocence at the beginning, it would add a great deal of tension and be more compelling.

    Vicious Cycles for having a bit more of a compelling premise.

  4. I've got nothing new to add to either entry. My vote is for Vicious Cycles! Both entries have great queries and first 250. But Vicious Cycles has a more unique premise and the writing is just a tad bit tighter.

  5. Sorry my comment is late! I've been traveling, so getting to a computer to comment was tricky.

    Delicious Vicious Cycles:

    Query: Very strong! The only thing I would suggest is taking out "her brother's best friend" after her crush. It's just a little wordy and I don't think it's necessary info for the query.

    First 250: I love it! Nothing to comment on here.

    Hero by Default:

    Query: I was a little confused in the first half of this because I needed some more details on the whole basketball team being comatose. How long were they comatose for? Was it a few seconds? A few minutes? Days? Longer? Other than that, this is super strong. I think just a few words to clarify the first line would be perfect.

    First 250: I LOVE THIS! Great voice. Great descriptions. I love the "impenetrable oak desk" and "Aiden was a problem that didn't want to be solved, and Hadley took that as a challenge." You've got a lot of good stuff here and I have no suggestions.

    Great job to both of you!

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