Thursday, July 22, 2010

32 Line-by-line Contest Winners with Agent's Comments

First congratulations to ALL the entries in our Line-by-line Contest. They were fantastic right from the beginning, and our guest judge, Natalie Fischer, has admitted how difficult it has been to choose in all the rounds. The wonderful work done in the critique clinics with our guest authors and Natalie’s comments have made things even better. In fact, the entries are so good that Natalie is inviting the top 25 entries to submit to her with a query, synopsis, and the first 15 pages. (Send entries to nfsubmissions [at] dijkstraagency [dot] com). Of course, each of the top ten also wins a critique from Natalie or one of our guest judges. (See below for details.)

And now for the WINNERS!
  1. #11 L.J. Boldyrev (Lacey) - first place!
  2. #57 Sheila - second place!
  3. #47 Margaret Nichols - third place!

 As she did with entries 11-25, Natalie has also provided comments for each of the top 10. They are in italics below the entry.

#11 L.J. Boldyrev (Lacey)

There's a dead girl in the trunk and all I can think about is how white the trees are. There ain't no street lamps on this stretch of road, but still the trees glow like they're lit from the ground up.

"Not much farther," Jack says.

I want to tell him he's driving too fast, to slow down so I can get a better look at the trees, but I know we got to hurry. This dead girl won't stay dead for long.

***NF: I will say that, though this is my #1, I am worried about the "ain't"; words like this can be really jarring if used too much.

#18 Jenn Fitzgerald

Madame Bhut's Finishing School in the town of Whut was known across Amalthea as a respectable place to send your daughter if you were hoping to marry her to a gentleman; not for producing evil queens with ideas of world domination. That is, until Priscilla Martin escaped.

Even before she escaped, Priscilla was less than a model student. Miss Birch, the embroidery teacher, had been horrified to find that during her second week at the school Priscilla had started embroidering skulls and crossbones, instead of flowers, on all her projects. Miss Ash discovered that not only had the girl never had any drawing instruction before (which she considered a horrible oversight on the part of the girl's parents), but Priscilla was also partial to drawing dreary forests and populating them with monsters.

***NF: I'm feeling that the narrator is omniscient, and I really don't like omniscient narrators. I like characters/POVs I can connect to. It's also a little slow, though I'm definitely intrigued! I'm wondering, is it going to go into Priscilla's POV? Whose story is this? The school's or hers?

#28 Cambria Dillon

Whoever said cell phones made life easier was full of BS. If it were true, then I wouldn't have spent the past fourteen minutes sitting on my bed, half-naked, wondering why my thumb couldn't do something as simple as press a button.

Girls did this sort of thing every day. Probably every minute at Pembroke, which meant I'd just wasted fourteen-no wait, fifteen-opportunities to prove to Tommy that-damn it Kendall, just do it already.

Grinding my teeth, I lifted my arm and pointed the viewfinder at my chest.

***NF: This was tough for me; I really love this. It's well-written, BUT, in the end, I had to go with my gut: I connect the most with sassy, fearless characters that really FLAUNT sexuality instead of hide from it (in older YA -- younger YA and MG, no). I'm also thinking, is she in college? If so, too old.

#47 Margaret Nichols

The bonfire in the middle of the grand plaza of New Tikal sent sparks up to greet the low-hanging stars; the stars Mau B'ah-Pakal hoped were still speaking to him, because no one else was. He had failed his friends, offended the Emperor, and worst of all - he could barely think it - had he really shoved his grandmother?

The plaza was full of people celebrating the equinox, but Mau couldn't hide in the crowd. Although he had the chocolate skin and thick black hair of his people, his forearms and the back of his hands were covered with tattoos.

Unable to see his way through the close-packed multitude, Mau looked up to the stars and, hovering over the temple-pyramid like a thundercloud, the dark bulk of the Emperor's starship.

***NF: a little wordy, but the last word: starship, really caught me! I'm looking for a good sci-fi, and I'd thought this was historical fiction!

#54 S. L. Bynum (Shanika Leiann)

There was no mistaking the darkness on the eastern horizon; they were coming.

Malaysa clutched the balcony railing as she stared out over the land in the predawn glow from the sky. The tinkling of metal tubes continued to ring out in the air; they were what had woken her up.
Her mother, standing by her side, bore a terrified expression. "Those are the alert chimes--the day we have been dreading has finally arrived."

***NF: I would have loved to see more of this, but the dialogue and wording is a little awkward; doesn't seem to "flow" quite right. There are two ; and very formal writing: bore, we have been, mother.

#57 Sheila

Jacob shook the bamboo bars of his cage again, but they held fast. I couldn't look at him; not even when he whispered, "Blake, please."

I focused on Will, leaning casually against the cottonwood tree, a smile twitching the edge of his mouth as he watched Jacob. I wanted to feel as relaxed and confident as he looked. I had to convince myself that this experiment would work, that it would fix Jacob.

***NF: My only comment for this one is that I can't tell the sex of the speaker...but see the below for more expansion on this!

#58 Tracy

Dearest Mother;

I know you've been wanting to hear the latest gossip from this end of the underworld, but the truth is, that there hasn't been much going on since his Evil Lordship succumbed to death by piano. Hopefully you'll be pleased that I've been trying not to complain about the piano not landing on Grok instead (and that I've only been taunting him in the gruel line at breakfast). Also, no matter what you've heard, I was not the one who gave him that atomic wedgie.

As for the new guy - it's not right to speak ill of the heir to the Evil Lordship, but the kid is hopeless.

I don't usually want to give up on the new evil overlord this quickly, but I'm telling you, I've spent several weeks observing him and I don't think this kid has a mean bone in his body!

***NF: Not going to lie, I loved this entry, but I really can't encourage starting a novel with a letter. Honestly, I skip over them in submissions.

#61 Ara Burklund

Homo sapiens sluttiwhen drunkus--the subspecies to which I apparently belong.

My best friend Ani handed me a tall, clear-glass cup of Armenian coffee, the kind her mom used for readings down at the Psychic Connection. "So did you at least use a condom?"
I shrugged. All 4'11" of her was going to kick my ass if I told the truth, that I was stupid and didn't use anything.

***NF: Again, loved the entry, but in the end, the narrator sounded less sophisticated than I'd originally thought. I don't want to read about the average slut; I want to read about the thoughtful, sassy one (and maybe with more, she is, but from this, it teetered off).

#66 Christine

Dragons are actually more curious than cats.

They proved it now, in the darkest corners of the Dreugan caves where the clan pretended to sleep.

It was fairly difficult - the pretending - because of the human baby that was trying to wiggle her chubby hand into the black dragon's mouth. Concerned about the burning acid that seeped from his tongue, he tightened his lips and gently nudged the toddler toward the blue dragon by his side, the one whose saliva was just cold and wet.

Obliging, the blue dragon pretended to yawn and left his mouth open so that the child could climb inside it.

***NF: I'd love to have a dragon book, but again, I'm seeing an omniscient narrator, and aside from having dragons, I'm not sure what's exciting here. But well written; I'm really just not sure who the main character is, or what's really going on?

#79 Renee Pace

I am suffocating inside my plastic lined steel barred cage; dying with the thickening silence and quiet sobbing coming from the other room. Locked inside for more than half of the day, my body twitches for the feel of the brisk air that causes my drool to freeze to my face. Big footsteps lumber down the stairs and instinctively I cower as far back inside my cage as possible, lowering my body to the pee-stained blanket in an attempt to make my big frame small while keeping my eyes downcast. A whine slips from me when he kneels in front of the cage, as I fear he is going to haul me out and give me a good beating. He stands, glaring at me with eyes full of hatred but then turns away, and just when I think I am in the clear he gives my cage a good hard kick, forcing it to almost roll over.

***NF: This one was also very tough. I was really tense while reading, and it sounds very interesting, but the lack of formatting made me worry the manuscript isn't formatted either. I also didn't have any sense of the sex of the main character, which was also a problem with #57, BUT with this one, the story changes 100% if I know the sex, whereas #57 would still intrigue me either way/stay the same.

And the winners get.... Drumroll, please!
  • 1st Place: A 25-page critique by Natalie Fischer plus books by a Sandra Dijkstra agency author
  • 2nd Place: A 10-page critique by Natalie Fischer plus books by a Sandra Dijkstra agency author
  • 3rd Place: A 5-page critique by P.J. Hoover, author of the MG Forgotten Realms Novels, plus books by a Sandra Dijkstra agency author
  • 4-10th Place: A 3-page critique from one of the debut authors who has recently battled through the submission process and won. These generous authors are: Tahereh Mafi, Kirsten Hubard, Cole Gibsen, Michelle Hodkin, Michele Corriel, Robin Mellom or Tracy Clark.
To claim your prize, please email your material (include your contact information!) to kidlit [at] writeedge [dot] com. Along with your submission, please tell us if you are willing to share your critique with our readers. (Sharing is not necessary, but provides a learning opportunity for other writers. Feel free to say no.)

Congratulations to everyone! This has been so much fun for us to watch!
Martina & Marissa

Natalie M. Fischer is a Literary Agent and office assistant at the Dijkstra Agency. An honors graduate of the University of San Diego, California, Natalie holds a B.A. in Literature/Writing. She started as an intern at the Agency in 2007, after which time she left to write author profiles and book reviews for the San Diego Union Tribune. Finding that journalism was just not for her, she returned to work full-time at the Dijkstra Agency in April 2009, and started building her own client list in September of that same year.

Natalie is actively seeking new clients, and is especially interested in talented, hard-working new authors with a fresh, unique voice and hook. Her specialty is commercial fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature (from picture book-YA/Teen), romance (contemporary and historical), historical fiction, multi-cultural fiction, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy in YA or romance only, fairy-tale/legend spin-offs, and “beautiful dark” novels. She will also consider select memoir (has to be really unique) and that amazing project she never even knew she was looking for! She is always drawn to an open and positive attitude in an author, good grammar, and fantastical, engaging and sexy plots.

The Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency is one of the most respected literary agencies in the United States. With over 150 authors based around the world, SDLA represents an impressive client roster, which is both selective and eclectic. The Agency has helped guide the illustrious careers of many best-selling authors in several genres, including: on the fiction side, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, Lisa See, Melinda Long, Janell Cannon and Diane Mott Davidson and on the non-fiction side, Peter Irons, David Landes, Mike Davis, Chalmers Johnson and Susan Faludi, among others. Read more about the agency at, and follow Natalie on Twitter @Natalie_Fischer!

Want additional info on Natalie?
Here's Natalie's cheat-sheet of tricky grammar (so you don't blow your contest submission!):

And here are the bios for our fantastic author critiquers:

  • P. J. Hoover grew up visiting museums and dreaming of finding Atlantis. She eventually married and had two children, shifted her dreams to reality, and began a writing career. PJ enjoys writing fantasy for middle grade and teen readers, boys and girls alike. Her middle grade fantasy novels, The Emerald Tablet and The Navel of the World, chronicle the adventures of a boy who discovers he's part of two feuding worlds hidden beneath the sea. Prior to writing full time, PJ worked as an electrical engineer designing chips in Austin, Texas. PJ is represented by Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
  • Riley Carney is seventeen years old and has written seven MG/YA novels. The first book of the five-book Reign of the Elements Series,The Fire Stone, was released January 2010, and the second book, The Water Stone, will be released August 2010. Riley is passionate about promoting global literacy through the nonprofit corporation that she founded because she believes that the way to help children break the cycle of poverty and exploitation is through literacy.
  • Tracy Clark has completed two YA novels and is currently working on her third. She is represented by Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. She’s a wife, mother, lover of words, private pilot and irredeemable dreamer. Tracy was mentored by bestselling author, Ellen Hopkins, in the NV SCBWI Mentor Program.
  • Award-winning journalist, freelance writer and book reviewer, Michele Corriel's debut middle grade novel, Fairview Felines: A Newspaper Mystery, comes out this summer and her debut picture book, Weird Rocks, will be out this fall. Michele is also the Regional Advisor for SCBWI's Montana Chapter and conducts writing workshops throughout the year.She is represented by The McVeigh Agency.
  • When Cole Gibsen isn't writing she can be found shaking her booty in a zumba class, picking off her nail polish, or drinking straight from the jug (when no one is looking). Cole's debut YA paranormal, Katana, is due out from Flux in spring, 2012.
  • Michelle Hodkin is a lawyer and YA author represented by Diana Fox of Fox Literary, LLC. Her debut novel, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in Fall 2011.
  • Kirsten Hubbard is a San Diego-based travel writer and young adult author who is always running away to exotic places, or at least imagining them. Her debut YA novel, Like Mandarin, will be published by Delacorte Press in March 2011. She's represented by Michelle Andelman of Lynn C. Franklin Associates.
  • Tahereh a.k.a. T.H. Mafi works as a graphic designer. Her blog Grab a Pen consistently entertains the masses. She writes YA novels and is represented by the ever-fabulous Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency.
  • Robin Mellom has a Master's degree in education and has been a middle school teacher and social worker for children with autism. She is now a full-time writer and her debut novel, Ditched, will be published by Disney-Hyperion in spring 2012.
  • Lisa Green is not a demon, ghost, vampire, fairy or shape-shifter*. She has, however, enjoyed reading and writing about them since the age of seven. Her short stories and poems have been featured in several online magazines and her manuscripts are represented by the amazing Rubin Pfeffer of East-West Literary. *Please note that the exclusion of werewolves above is strictly coincidental.


  1. Great job, girlfriends. This was a lot of fun. Keep up the terrific work on your blog. Lovin' it!

  2. Many Congrats!! They were all so wonderful. And thank you to Natalie, who took the time to sift through them. Also, thank you to the authors giving critiques. So helpful.

  3. Congrats to all the winners. Your submissions are great. And thanks Natalie for reading all the submissions and commenting for us.

  4. *Squee!* Thank you, thank you, thank you(and I promise, I don't over use the redneck slang)!!!!

  5. Congratulations to the winners!

  6. YAY! Congrats!!! Natalie is truly made of awesome:)

  7. Congrats to the winners and to all who entered. These were amazing entries! And thanks so much for participating, critiqueing, cheering. You are a wonderful group of writers!


  8. Congratulations to everyone. I'm just sad I've been away while this contest was going on, it looked amazing. :)

  9. Congrats to the winners, thanks to Advent Crew for putting this together, and Natalie this was way cool of you. Hope to see big success with one of these picks.

    The comments at the end were excellent and they really turned this fun contest into a great lesson.

    Thanks again!

  10. Congrats to the winners, and to all! This was so much fun to participate in. Good luck with your writing, everyone. Hope to see all of these opening lines in published books one day.

  11. For Martina and I, this was a thrill. Not only did we get to see excellent first lines, we were privy to wonderful advice by the generous participants. Of course, working with Natalie was at the top of our *squee* list! Congratulations everyone. It's not easy putting yourself out there and exposing your writing for the masses. We've loved reading these entries as they've grown each week and we can't thank you all enough for being a part of the experience!


  12. Congrats to the winner and to the entire top ten! This has been a fun contest to follow. I especially enjoy reading Natalie's comments at the end.

  13. Congrats, Sheila and Margaret and everyone who entered!

  14. MAJOR CONGRATS to the winners! These opening lines were so good and kept me wanting more. And a big THANKSTHANKSTHANKS to Marissa, Martina, Natalie, and all the writers who've invested their time and advice. You ladies ROCK!

  15. Congrats to all who entered--you are all brave and are incredible writers. Lacey and Sheila, I'm honored to take third to you two!. M and M -- this has been such a Generous contest; thanks to you and all the authors who are critiquing. Natalie--you have been so helpful and awesome (!) with your comments and willingness to go WELL above and beyond!

  16. I've loved following this contest, reading the comments and the short critique notes from Natalie. So much good work by everyone and lots to learn. Congrats to the winners!

  17. Congrats to the winners!! It was awesome of Natalie to do this (and of Martina and Marissa to host it). Also, as I've read Lacey's entire ms for Greyskin, I can say the entire book rocks!

  18. This was so much fun, thank you for putting this on Martina and Marissa. Huge thanks to Natalie for judging and sharing her insight, and to all the authors who commented. I learned so much.

    I hope I get a chance to read Greyskin someday soon!

  19. woo hoo!! congrats to all the winners!!!!

  20. Congrats to the winners!!! L.J. especially. I told you I wanted to see more of that too!! Yeah for everyone. The entries in this contest were phenomenal. There are a lot of good writers out there!

  21. Yay! Congrats to my CP Lacey and all the winners! Thanks so much for this great opportunity and such a fun contest!

  22. Congratulations Lacey! And Sheila and Margaret too :) It's been an honour to be in such great company.

    M&M, thanks so much for putting on a fun contest, and to Natalie for her generosity!

  23. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to Martina, Marissa, and Natalie for making it all happen. A great contest that revealed lots of talent!

  24. Thanks, Martina, Marissa, and Natalie! I really appreciate your taking the time to host and judge the contest. It's been a blast! Congratulations to Lacey, Sheila, and Margaret! : )

  25. Major congrats to the winners! It was a great contest for feedback. I had to laugh because my opener is the voice of a male dog and my entire story centers around the dog and a young boy coming of age and I wasn't sure about starting with my dog but then thought what the heck! Great contest.

  26. Congrats to the winners! Love the feedback Natalie gave.

  27. Congratulations, everyone! Thank you for hosting this contest, I've learned so much from it!

  28. Congratulations to the winners! Even though I didn't enter, this has been a fun and interesting contest to follow.

  29. Huge congrats to all the winners. You guys did a fantastic job! Big thanks to everyone who made this contest happen, and for all the time and knowledge they put into it. :)

    All the best,

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  30. Congrats to the winners. I've enjoyed reading through the list. Very informative.

  31. Renee, your dog is making me weep. (In a can't-put-down-the-book-way.)

  32. Congrads to all the winners. Excellent job and thank you for making this contest so awesome. =)


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