Welcome to our Query and 1st Page Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected writers to participate in our query and first page workshops. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or 500 word opening from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting four critiques per day (except weekends) through July 7. Our hope is that these samples will help shine up your query and first page and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors. We appreciate our mentors for giving up their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.
First up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Kim Long …
Kim Long is an attorney in the Chicagoland area, where she spends her days expressing her clients’ (always true) stories to judges and juries. She writes MG contemporary fantasy that contains a sprinkle of science. When not managing her fantasy baseball and football teams, she can be found biking along the numerous trails in Illinois, watching Star Wars for the zillionth time, or teaching her nieces about the importance of choosing the correct racer (Toad) and vehicle (magicruiser) in Mario Kart.
Kim’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Middle Grade
Twelve-year-old Anya Kozlova desperately wants to be good at something. Her mother is a gifted farmer, able to use magic to sing sweetness from her onion crops. [Not sure what this means or how this contributes to the household. Is she growing onions? Is she a singer? It sounds like the family’s farmers, so maybe she’s using magic to sing sweetness to the onion crops?] Her father has a magical bond with their goats—or at least he did, before he was conscripted and sent to fight in Tartary. Even her blind grandmother and crippled grandfather are useful contributors to the household, leaving Anya as the dead weight. [A touch too vague. Either say what their magic can do or leave them out entirely—which would probably be fine—the parents are good enough.]
But all that’s about to change. Anya discovers the corrupt village magistrate’s plan to evict Anya’s family from their farm unless they can pay the enormous sum of 250 rubles in thirty days. [I’m wondering if this would make a good start to your query. Considering the plot centers around the dragon, I don’t think you need that top paragraph at all. I’d start here. Something like, “When twelve-year-old Anya discovers her family’s about to be evicted from their farm, she knows exactly what to do to get the money to pay off the debt—capture the recently discovered dragon terrorizing the town. Problem is, she has no idea how to catch a dragon.” Then you can lead straight into Ivan!] As Anya reels from this discovery, a possible solution gallops into town: an Imperial herald announces a dragon has been spotted nearby, and the Tsar is offering a thousand rubles for its capture.
Anya has no idea how to catch a dragon—but her friend Ivan does. He’s the son of a legendary hero, and this is his opportunity to prove his worth to his family. As they hunt the dragon, a Viking warrior arrives as competition. Tired of their interference, [and by cutting out the above paragraph, here you can offer a couple of details. Maybe a glimpse into how Ivan and Anya are trying to catch the dragon or how they’re interfering with the Viking] the Viking lays a trap for the children and sinks them in the river. Just as Anya is certain she and Ivan are going to drown, they’re pulled from the water by an unexpected hero: the dragon.
Now Anya faces an impossible choice. Helping the dragon means abandoning her family to homelessness, but surrendering the dragon for the bounty will result in his execution. As events spin out of control and those old choices literally burn up around her, she instead must decide how far she’ll go to do what’s right. [Spin out of control is a bit vague. Same with old choices. Not sure what you mean here. I think you’re good with just adding a wrap-up sentence to this paragraph that highlights Anya’s difficult choice or hints at what she must to so neither of these happen.]
ANYA KOZLOVA AND THE DRAGON is a 57,100-word middle grade folklore retelling. [If it’s a retelling, I think you might have to list the folk tale it’s a retelling of, i.e. its genesis. Also, just put 57,000 words. Always round to the nearest thousand.] It’s a standalone novel with series potential.
So overall, I LOVE the sound of this book! I really like the hint of magic and dragons, and it sounds like you’ve got inner struggle/outer struggle down and your query nicely tells us the conflict. The voice here is also spot-on for middle grade, so I think the actual pages will read fantastic. The only thing I’d caution about is the desire to put in the world building in the first paragraph. Entice the agent with action and that plot, and you are good to go. Good luck!! (Oh, and I hope you sub to me when it’s Pitch Wars time! Lol.)
Thank you, Kim, for your critique!
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Carlie Sorosiak …
From Carlie: Although I grew up in North Carolina, I split my time between the UK and the US, hoping to gain an accent like Madonna’s. I have two polydactyl cats (Google it!) who are my writing companions, but I don’t let them type on my keyboard. Somewhere in my parents’ attic are all three of my degree certificates: one from UNC-Chapel Hill, one from Oxford, and another from City, University of London.
Carlie Sorosiak is the author of If Birds Fly Back, forthcoming from HarperTeen US/Macmillan UK in June 2017.
Love is what happens when you’re looking for something else.
Linny has been fascinated by disappearances, ever since her sister Grace ran away in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.
Sebastian can tell you how many galaxies there are, and knows how much plutonium weighs. But the one thing he can’t figure out is the identity of his birth father.
They’ve never met, but Linny and Sebastian have one thing in common: an obsession with famous novelist and filmmaker Alvaro Herrera, who went missing three years ago and has just reappeared. As they learn more about the mystery of Alvaro, Linny and Sebastian uncover the answers they’ve been searching for.
With humor and heart, debut author Carlie Sorosiak weaves a story of finding people who leave and loving those who stay, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson and Emery Lord. Publishes in June 2017.
Carlie’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: YA
GENRE: Science Fiction
I could hear myself breathing. [I like this opening! J] Wet and loud wheezes echoing in the silence while my skin tingled with a foreign numbness like a limb that had fallen asleep and was trying to come back to life. [This sentence seems a bit too long to me. I would suggest taking out “with a foreign numbness.”] Only I wasn’t coming back to life, I was dying. And I was ready; completely and totally ready. [Great lines! However, I would be mindful of your grammar—where you need a semicolon versus where you need a comma. For example, your third sentence needs a semicolon instead of a comma, the forth needs a comma instead of a semicolon.]
Not in a hospital bed smelling of disinfectant and old urine with people telling me to try this and think that. [The transition feels slightly unclear to me. Perhaps change to something like: “The beds at the hospital smelled of disinfectant and old urine, and people always hovered over me, telling me try this and think that. I was glad I wasn’t there anymore. Instead, I was in my room.”] I was in my room. The music of Adele was softly playing in the background and my ever-present best friend Buster lay beside me. His nose probably nudging [Could the MC not feel it or see it? Why not? I think we need to have a bit more information here, instead of later.] my hand while he waited for a pet or scratch that would never happen. It’s all [The tense changes here, from past to present; make sure to keep consistent.] I could do to breathe, but I knew because I knew him. It was exactly as we had planned it, and everything was perfect.
Until it wasn’t.
“I know what she wanted Joe. I know!!! Jesus, I know. You think I forgot? You think I don’t remember what my baby wanted when she died? But what about what I want?” [I like the emotion in your dialogue, and I can feel the mother’s pain. This doesn’t need to be in italics. I’d also introduce the speaker first. For example, move the next line before the dialogue. I.e., “My mother was losing it. ‘I know what she wanted, Joe…’”]
My mother was losing it. I wished I could move my lips, my finger, anything, to make her feel better but it was just too much. I wish I could at least shed tears so she knows I can hear her and I understand. This—this is the part that isn’t fair. This is the part I didn’t plan on. [This whole paragraph really gripped me.]
“Shhh. Marci. It’s ok. It’s going to be okay. We knew this would be hard. I’ll give her some more morphine. It’s ok. We promised.” [Again, introduce the speaker first. Otherwise, I read this as the mother is still speaking, and the MC’s name is Marci.]
My dad was always my rock. When I had my first heart attack at ten, after the flu left me weakened and bacteria hopped in to attack my heart like a consolation prize, he kept me fighting. When I had open heart surgery for the third time at sixteen, he pulled me forward. He was always the calculating calm one in the room. I knew he could handle this. He was in charge of an entire government funded company with hundreds of employees. He could handle my hysterical mother. [Really great description of the dad—I like him already! J]
“Stop saying that!! It’s not going to be okay. My baby is dying. My baby is dying. Screw you, screw the doctors! I want one more day. Please, Joe. Please. Forget the plan. We made the plan watching a movie Joe. A movie!! Some stupid Hollywood director made it up. There was no real dying girl, no parents moving on. It’s not okay! I’m taking her. You can’t stop me unless you kill me. Kill me if you want. I’d rather be dead.” [Again, great emotion here. I’d stick to one exclamation point each, not two.]
I feel her hands clawing at me, my body tilting and being dragged. This is so screwed up. I went through so much preparation. I even made her sign a contract to let me go this time. I made her swear. I showed her The Fault in Our Stars three times. I knew she was the weak link. I should have worked harder. [Lovely sense of struggle. In this paragraph and the one prior, make sure to watch your spacing: only one space after the end of each sentence, not two.]
The thing I liked most about this piece was its depth of emotion. There’s a lot to unpack here, and I thought that the familial tension was wonderfully portrayed. It definitely left me wanting to know more about the MC and her situation.
Thank you, Carlie, for your critique!
Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting critiques through the first part of July. Hope you’ll read on. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 19 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 2.