Friday, February 5, 2010

Mystery Agent Revealed

The winners have been named! Before we get to that (stop scrolling down!) I wanted to thank our first Mystery Agent for his most valuable help and the generous donation of his time to make this a successful contest with great prizes. Also a thank you to the great writers who entered. And here he is... 

Chris Richman is an agent at Upstart Crow Literary working on middle grade and young adult fiction. Chris is primarily seeking works with strong commercial hooks, standout voices, and plots that grab him and refuse to let go. Titles he has sold due out in summer 2010 include Jacqueline West’s THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE: THE SHADOWS (Dial), Shaun Hutchinson’s THE DEATHDAY LETTER (Simon Pulse), and Matt Myklusch’s JACK BLANK AND THE IMAGINE NATION (Aladdin).

A good query has to be many things: succinct, tantalizing, clear, and above all else, a fit for what an agent/editor is seeking. I realize because of my anonymity, you weren’t able to target your pitches as you would when sending these out into the cold, gray world. Please view my selections with that in mind, as my choices are based just as much on personal preference as the strength of the pitches.

“Before I get to the winner and the two runners-up, let me commend each of the entrants for putting their work on display for others to view, poke, and dissect. You’re braver than I am, that’s for sure. I’d also like to say that each entry had its own merits and, even if it didn’t win, please don’t be discouraged. It’s a contest, after all, which means only a few may win.”

Okay! Without further ado, here are my selections:


Why I liked it: The project sounds very commercial and the setup left me wondering if the author can pull off what sounds like a compelling premise. Also, I like the title.
What concerned me: The somewhat stiff language. Phrases like “renders herself unconscious,” “life is in peril,” and “one pertinent detail” make me worry that the manuscript itself will be filled with similarly stilted language.
Best line: “It will take all of her courage and intellect to unmask the traitor who threatens the integrity of this elite CIA training program.” Just sounds like compelling stuff.

Runner-up: FRIED LIVER

Why I like it: Great title, some unique elements at play (chess, military family), and it sounds like it’s firmly a middle grade. We get the age of the protagonist, the main conflict, and all the key players laid out quite well.
What concerned me: The details became somewhat murky at the end of the third paragraph and the author repeated a few pieces of information. I also worry that the work may focus too much on adult characters (Dad, Mom, Carma’s mother).
Best line: “Then Carma shows up, claims the house used to be hers, claims the dog still is, and claims to be the state's top female chess player.” Despite an overuse of the word “claims,” this twist in the story feels like it’ll propel the action forward.


Why I liked it: Great voice in the query, commercial idea, and it just sounds like a lot of fun.
What concerned me:: Low word count for YA and a title that sounds similar to I KISSED A ZOMBIE, AND I LIKED IT.
Best line: “But then, in her Mortally Challenged Support Group, she comes to realize that being dead has a couple of perks.” The idea of a Mortally Challenged Support Group is enough to completely draw me in.

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who participated. Keep working on perfecting your pitches and I wish you all success with these projects. Good luck!  
NEXT STEPS: If you are a winner or runner up, please contact me at for next steps.


  1. Thanks for doing this! It was fun and informative. And thanks to Chris Richman, as well, for donating his time.

  2. Thanks for judging this contest, Chris Richman, and congrats to the winners and runners up! :D

  3. What Sonja said. This was fun and a great learning experience. It's so valuable to get feedback from those who have absolutely no reason not to be completely truthful. We all love Aunt Gertrude's enthusiasm, but we know, deep down, it's completely biased.

    Thanks so much, Michael, and please pass on our thanks to Chris Richman for his generosity.

  4. Oh, yeah, and congratulations to the winners!

    (sorry about forgetting to say that)

  5. Congratulations to the winners, and thanks, Michael, for a great competition.

    Thanks for spending time with us, Chris Richman, and giving us all a chance. I'll keep submitting to you until you like one of my stories. I still love that you were sent to the principal’s office when you were a kid, and the reason is hilarious.

    Thanks all the critters that commented on my query. After receiving great feedback, I've not only revised the query, but the whole manuscript. I like it much better now.


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