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, Hayley Stone . . .
Hayley Stone has lived her entire life in sunny California, where the weather is usually perfect and nothing as exciting as a robot apocalypse ever happens. When not reading or writing, she freelances as an editor and graphic designer, falls in love with video game characters, and analyzes buildings for velociraptor entry points. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in German from California State University, Sacramento.
Her debut novel, MACHINATIONS, released from Hydra/Random House and was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Sci-fi and Fantasy Books of 2016. She loves interacting with fellow readers and writers on Twitter (@hayley_stone).
Hayley’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy romance
Exiled Charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep shit. [Fun first line! Simple, yet it makes me believe the story will have good voice, and even a sense of humor. My only question—what is a Charmer?] Wanted by the Charmers Council for selling rare and endangered creatures on the black market for profit, they’ve hired an assassin to kill her. [Good introduction of the story’s conflict, but I’m still unclear on what a Charmer is or does. Is the Charmers Council an animal defense league of some sort, or are they upset because she’s encroaching on their own black market profits?] With the realm’s most talented murderer for hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse—a handful of rare beasts in exchange for her life. [When you said “rare and endangered creatures” earlier, did you mean mythological or paranormal? Because at first I assumed you were talking about ordinary animals. Perhaps add some clarity here.]
For sarcastic assassin Noc, knows that murder comes easy and pays well. when detachment and sarcasm are default settings. So when Leena’s life falls into his capable hands, he never imagined he’d falter. But only fools pass up the chance to own a beast—let alone one for each of his closest friends. Agreeing to Leena’s terms, Noc quietly keeps the bounty live on Leena’s head until the beasts are his. There’s honor among thieves, but she isn’t one of them. Two paychecks, one job, no sleep lost. [I cut and tweaked several lines here to improve the flow of the paragraph, eliminating extraneous words, info, etc. You don’t need to spell everything out in a query; it’s okay to tantalize, as long as the key components are present (character, conflict, stakes).]
Securing the beasts means embarking on a hunt across the country. Grounds mapped and creatures tracked, Leena, Noc and his trusted band of assassins follow the trails. [This threw me off because I assumed Leena had the beasts in her possession already. You might want to note earlier in the query that isn’t the case.] But traps capture more than beasts, and ensnared hearts are hard to untangle—no matter how badly Noc wishes to be free. [The language here is a little too sentimental and vague. Alternatively, consider something along the lines of: But the beasts aren’t the only ones in risk of being caught. As Leena and Noc face the dangers of the trail, their attraction for one another builds.] Chained by a curse from his past […that does what exactly?] love is the last thing Noc can offer—yet the very thing Leena inspires. As she continues to bait his emotions [This sounds more taunting than playful, and undermines the romantic tone you’re going for. Maybe consider instead: Just as Leena and Noc begin to explore their wildest feelings], the ever-watchful eye of the Council calls for blood. And with Noc’s heart caged, no manner of beasts or money will protect Leena’s hide. [Leena seems to take a far more passive role in this final paragraph when you should be emphasizing her agency, and how her actions will ultimately influence the turnout of the story.]
J.K. Rowling’s FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM meets the adventure and romance of Kristen Ashley’s FANTASYLAND series in DANGEROUS BEASTS, a fantasy romance complete at 90,000 words with series potential. [This is a little convoluted, and I’m not in love with having the title of your own book and its genre come last—that’s the important bit! I would consider reorganizing the sentence so that Dangerous Beasts comes first.] I am a copy editor and author of several small business articles with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature.
Thank you for your consideration.
Overall, this query did what good queries do: it sparked my interest and made me want to know more about the characters and setting. That said, I recommend adding a few points of clarification to distinguish what is truly unique and different about your story, rather than generalizing or leaving the reader to guess. One thing you could also work on is conveying the chemistry between your hero and heroine. It almost feels like an afterthought slipped in at the end. I’ve suggested some alternate phrasing, but you’ll likely be able to do better, knowing the exact dynamics of their relationship.
Also, I’m not sure why, but I never got the impression this was a second world fantasy—is it? I just assumed it takes place in our world, probably because of the Fantastic Beasts comp title. So consider elaborating on that as well.
Best of luck with querying!
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Amy Trueblood …
A devotee of reading and writing from a very young age, Amy Trueblood grew up surrounded by books. After stints working in entertainment and advertising, she began writing her first manuscript and never looked back. Her debut YA historical, NOTHING BUT SKY releases Spring 2018 from Flux. To learn more about Amy, check out her blog, Chasing The Crazies, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr.
Amy’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: YA
Skadi wasn’t fazed by the fact that she was lost. Getting lost was part of the fun of exploring the caves around Treimar. But Anva looked more and more annoyed by the group’s excursion and Skadi knew they would have to give up and take the easy way back if the light in the distance they were walking towards [recommend cutting “walking towards” – “in the distance” infers they are moving toward something] didn’t turn out to be a main corridor.
She [Who does this she refer to? Skadi or Anva?] gave Geon a meaningful look and he nodded. He fell into step with Anva and struck up conversation in a low voice. Skadi smiled to herself as Anva perked up. Always the peacemaker, Geon could smooth any situation with his soft voice and friendly smile.
“You and Geon know where we’re going, right?” Tav asked Skadi, eying Anva warily. Beads of sweat glittered against his dark skin as they caught the dim light. He wore a plain linen tunic and hose like most people in Treimar, belted at the waist with a small purse for coins and sundries, and soft leather shoes. Cotton didn’t grow well in the cave farms and alpacas needed room to graze, so they made do with what fabrics could easily be smuggled in. [My recommendation here would be to slowly introduce characters and their connection to Skadi. We are only three paragraphs in and have already met four characters which may confuse the reader]
“Not exactly,” Skadi said ruefully. “I haven’t recognized any of the formations we’ve passed in a while.”
“Excellent,” Tav replied, chuckling. “Exactly what I want to hear.”
“It’s not that bad. I have ingon powder to get us back.”
Tav threw his hands in the air in mock horror. “That’s cheating!”
Skadi bit back a grin, her stomach fluttering. She made a mental note to thank Geon later. He had invited Tav and Anva along swearing he could maneuver things so that Skadi and Tav were alone together, despite Skadi’s protests that she didn’t need his help. She hadn’t protested very hard anyway. Geon’s boyfriend Ebvosi recently broke up with him and letting him meddle seemed to be the only distraction that worked.
Skadi was asking Tav which of the formations they had encountered he liked best when Geon and Anva abruptly halted in front of them, [This reads a little awkward. Perhaps think about streamlining your phrasing and cutting out passive voice – “was asking” and “had encountered”] inhaling sharply and covering their eyes. Skadi turned forward to see what was the matter and gasped. The light was blinding as the passage opened into a cavern. [By this point as a reader I’d like a hint at their goal. What are they looking for? Just a sentence or two would clue me in to why the story should begin her and encourage me to keep reading]
Skadi murmured “motbisuvimik” and a dark film formed over her eyes allowing her to see. Blue and purple and yellow glittered everywhere. Crystals spilled out of every crevice, some stopping short, others stretching to the floor below in a still waterfall of color. In her five years of living in Treimar Skadi had never seen anything like it. She’d encountered lava lakes and bizarre stalactites, but this was different. This was unnatural.
They were standing on a ledge about fifty feet up. A dozen other passages opened off at varying heights around the walls. Looking down, [you can cut this and start here] The cavern floor appeared to be three hundred feet across at its widest, with an unfamiliar rune carved into the center that unsettled her. It was similar to eifih, the rune for water, but not quite.
Hello! Great job on this opening. I like how you’ve hinted at the characters’ relationships and quickly created a sense of real friendship between them. One thing I feel is missing is the characters’ reasoning for being in the cave. What is their goal? Just a hint of this in a sentence or two will move the story forward.
Thank you, Hayley and Amy, for your critiques!
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 2nd.