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 Claribel Ortega and Kat Cho . . .
Claribel Ortega got her start editing student’s often times hilarious ads and ramblings on the back page of SUNY Purchase’s Independent Newspaper. From there, she became a small town reporter, where she enjoyed going to board of education meetings and texting the town mayors about the line at Starbucks. Today she’s busy turning her obsession with eighties pop culture, magic and video games into books. She lives in New York with her motorcycle-riding poet boyfriend & her suspiciously intelligent yorkie, Pancho Villa. She is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary. You can find her at claribelortega.com & as @claribel_ortega on Twitter.
Kat Cho used to hide books under the bathroom sink and then sneak in there to read after bedtime. Her parents pretended not to know. This helped when she decided to write a dinosaur time-travel novel at the tender age of nine. Sadly, that book was not published. She loves anything that encourages nerding out, including reading, blogging, K-dramas, K-pop and anime. Currently, Kat writes YA sci-fi and fantasy and is represented by Beth Phelan at the Bent Agency. You can find her at katchowrites.com & as @KatCho on Twitter.
Claribel and Kat’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
GENRE: Contemporary Mystery
I read that you’re searching for a young adult mystery with diverse characters, so I hope you’ll enjoy my 80,000 word YA Contemporary GIFTS TO THE RIVER. [ CO: I would move this to the last graf and open with something more engaging. KC: Since we’ve heard advice both ways on where to place this information. We’d recommend paying attention to anything specific an agent says in their query preferences. Otherwise, format it to your preference.]
When bodies keep appearing in the local river,[ Instead of “bodies keep appearing,” I would just start with the first body being found to make more of an impact.] seventeen-year-old- Ellie Garcia has to team up with the obnoxious coroner intern in order to find the killer. [Not 100% sure how this hook is different than other YA contemporary mysteries. If it’s not providing something that distinguishes your MS over other books then I wouldn’t include it as the hook.]
Ellie Garcia may only be seventeen, but she knows she wants to be a police officer. She livesher life by a strict code of wrong and right, and may or may not even snitch on her classmates from time to time[confusing wording. Consider revising.]. Ellie pours all of her energy into the Pathfinder’s program, where teens learn what it’s actually like to be an officer through volunteer work, ride-alongs, and competitions. Seeing a body dumped in the river during a ride-along is just another day for Ellie[This makes it seem like bodies washing up on shore are no big deal which takes away from the stakes. I’d eliminate this line.]. When Ellie is put on probation for poor grades right before a competition, she is determined to do everything she can to get back in [I understand that this is an event that affects Ellie, but the transition from the past sentence about bodies to a sentence about bad grades is confusing. Consider revising.].
Between catching up on homework and figuring out what to do with letters from her estranged grandparents[CO: Is this significant to the plot? If not I would leave it out. KC: agreed. Even though it might add to character development, it’s something to leave in the MS. The query is to provide why we’d want to open the book (so the big components not small details that are better explored in-text)], Ellie realizes there might be a connection between the body in the river and a previous case. But no one will listen to her, not even when a second body is found[why would a second body being found make her theory more or less correct?]. Frustrated, she turns to the last person she wants to ask for help; Quinn, the smartass coroner’s office intern. Quinn is hesitant to help, until a third body appears[This detail seems superfluous. We only need to know that she doesn’t like Quinn but she must turn to him for help. Also, what forces her to turn to him if she dislikes him so much?]. And besides, he owes her after that whole “she saved his life that one time” thing.[ Love the voice here.]
Ellie and Quinn team up, and quickly uncover a scandal at the local college- Ellie is sure they’ve found the killer. However, Quinn’s boss realizes he’s been looking into files he shouldn’t be, and threatens to take away everything. Alone, Ellie must find the killer and stop them from taking their final victim [This graf is a bit confusing and there seem to be a lot of elements overall without a clear connection. Quinn’s boss finding out what they’re up to and “taking away everything,” is a bit vague. Consider changing to something like “When Quinn’s boss discovers what the duo have been up to and threatens to fire him, it’s up to Ellie to find the killer before they strike again.”].
GIFTS TO THE RIVER is the first novel in a trilogy, but can stand alone. I believe it will appeal to fans of The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting, This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston, and The Christopher Killer series by Alane Ferguson [You provide a good foundation for the character of Ellie. It’s good to know what her main motivations are starting out in the story. I think I’d be intrigued to know what happens that “changes up” her world (e.g. an inciting incident). And if that is being kicked out of the program, then tie all of her subsequent actions into her desire to get back in. (e.g. is she trying to figure out the murder to prove herself?) I am already into the idea of an enemies-to-allies relationship between Ellie and Quinn. And I have a feeling Ellie is a strong female character, which I’m always down for as well. I think with some clarification of motivations/goals in the query it can be a much stronger letter.]
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Kate Foster …
Kate is an award-winning middle grade author, a freelance editor, and the editorial director of Lakewater Press. Although originally from the UK, she now lives with her clan on the stunning Gold Coast in Australia. She has Monica Geller tendencies.Tom Hardy, dogs, and tea.
Kate’s recent release …
Living on Winell Road is hardly fun, not when your neighbors are weirder than your own parents.
But the road has a secret that few people know.
And Jack’s about to uncover it.
Mystery, action and adventure. This award-winning sci-fi series is “highly recommended” for middle grade readers.
For fans of Men in Black and Zac Power, Winell Road is jam-packed with “loads of twists and turns” that will keep you guessing to the end.
Kate’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: MG
Hamish’s instincts kicked in before his brain had even registered what was happening. His upper body swung left and arched backwards at the same time [perhaps delete “at the same time” as the “and” does the job just fine], frozen in an unnatural position for a nanosecond he sprung back up into an upright position [perhaps delete “into an upright position” to avoid the repetition of both “up” and “position” in the same sentence]. The football had missed him by the tiniest of margins. [Are Hamish’s instincts important to his character? Are they attributes which are going to be pivotal in the story and help him save the day? If not, I would suggest beginning with something more relevant to the story and to Hamish, an important point that will come into play later on and begin his character arc.
Although in action, the opening paragraph reads a little too heavy with some repetition that could easily be removed. Consider revising. Maybe: “Hamish’s instincts kicked in before his brain registered what was happening. The football was sailing through the air, hard and fast—his head the target. With a body arch and a swerve, leaving him in a contorted position for a nanosecond, the ball grazed by, missing him by the tiniest of margins.” or similar.]
“Oi! Watch what you’re doing! You nearly took my head off there [perhaps delete “there” for smoother flow]!” His shout was directed at his sister Bernie who looked completely unconcerned. [This last sentence is telling. Can you show both Hamish and Bernie here by drawing the perspective closer to Hamish? Maybe: “Hamish swung his head and scowled at his sister. But Bernie responded with her usual shrug.” or similar.]
“Ach well, it didn’t even touch you, so stop whinging! Anyway, I didn’t know you were going to come round the corner. Pass it back then!”
Hamish tutted loudly but he was already getting the ball, which had rebounded off the garden wall, under control with his feet. He flicked it up and bounced it a couple of times of on his knee before letting it fall and kicking it powerfully with the inside of his foot so that it flew past Bernie and into the goals a few feet behind her. [Again this paragraph is a little telling with perhaps too much detail, such as the mention of the ball bouncing off the garden wall. Perhaps allow the reader into Hamish’s mind, how he feels about his sisters, and let the reader hear his thoughts. Maybe: “Hamish tutted loudly. I’ll get you back. Despite not wanting to do what Bernie asked, he could never resist an excuse to kick a ball. He flicked it up…” and so on or similar.
The final sentence seems rather long, so perhaps break into two. Maybe the second sentence as: “It flew past Bernie and into the goal a few feet behind her.”]
“He shoots! He scores!” heHe dropped his school bag to the ground, pulled his tee-shirt up over his face and raced towards his sister, twirling and jumping in an exaggerated display of celebration [perhaps delete “in an exaggerated display of celebration” as this will likely be obvious to a reader through Hamish’s actions].
“And Hamish Bee has scored a hat-trick in the Champions League for….” His enthusiastic commentary was brought to an abrupt halt when he realised, through the somewhat restricted view of his tee-shirt, that his other sister was almost upon him. He yanked his top down to get a clearer look and leapt immediately backwards as Callie came tumbling past, spinning rapidly in a dizzy-making display of cartwheels, just a pink and yellow blur as she whizzed past [watch out for the repetition of “past” in this sentence.] Hamish, eventually coming to a stop as she ran out of garden. [The sentence following the opening dialogue is a little telling and there is some avoidable repetition. Perhaps tighten these sentences and show what Hamish can see so the reader can see it too. Maybe: ““And Hamish Bee has scored a hat-trick in the Champions League for –” Through the thin cotton of his white tee-shirt, Hamish caught a movement far too close for comfort. Yanking down his tee, he leapt back just as his other sister’s legs tumbled past. Callie spun by in a dizzying pink and yellow blur of back-to-back cartwheels.” Or similar.]
“Hello Hamish!” she trilled at her brother as she bounded over towards him. [perhaps replace “as she bounded over” to simply “…brother, bounding towards him” for smoother flow] “Are you glad it’s the holidays? I’m so glad they’re finally here! I’ve just about had enough of Mrs Campbell, you know, and I am exhausted trying to deal with all her drama.”
“You’re exhausted dealing with your teacher?” Hamish snorted with laughter. “Don’t you think it might be a teeny bit difficult for her, having to deal with the pair of you?” He stood still for a brief [perhaps delete “brief” as and the reader is likely to realise the moment is brief] second, enjoying watching Callie’s expression change as she absorbed his words and realised she’d been insulted. [This last sentence is telling. Can you show Callie’s expressions, blending in her appearance, so the reader can see it as Hamish can? Could Hamish be backing off, showing the reader that he’s deliberately winding up his sister and now preparing to flee?]
“Why, you…Bernie! Bernie, did you hear that? Get him!”
It was not clear to Hamish whether Bernie had heard what he said or not, but the rallying cry from her twin was enough to spur her into action. He sped off at full speed, darting round the garden, zig-zagging between his sisters as they gave chase, determined to catch their impertinent brother and make him pay for is cheek. [This paragraph is again a little telling. Perhaps revise to bring the perspective closer to Hamish and to show the reader what he can see too. Maybe show Hamish glance at Bernie, and then her reacting immediately to her sister’s rallying cry. Maybe then show his sisters’ determined expressions, their hands on their hips as they stomp over, etc. Show Hamish lifting his hands in surrender, before darting off and zig-zagging between his sisters, and so on.]
“Hamish! Bernie! Callie!” It was their father’s voice, booming out from the direction of the back door [Perhaps revise to avoid telling. Maybe: “Father’s voice boomed from the back door” or similar]. Hamish stopped in his tracks [This might now be considered cliché], his [Begin a new sentence here with “His father…” for dramatic effect and to show the reader something game-changing is coming] father wasn’t usually home at this time of day.
“Come in here now; we need a word!”
[Overall, this opening is certainly fun and we meet our protagonist as well as get a glimpse into his family and personality. I do feel that there is a little bit too much telling and the page is heavy with a string of character movements and redundant words. By perhaps reducing the action and showing it with strong verbs and in tight sentences, and then blending this with the dialogue, more of Hamish’s thoughts, and drawing the perspective closer to him, and letting the reader share his emotions, the opening will be stronger.
I also wonder if perhaps the inciting incident needs to be brought forward. Although we hear his father calling him and learn that he’s home from work early, by simply adding more of Hamish’s reaction to this might allow the reader to understand that things are definitely not normal.]
Thank you, Claribel, Kat, and Kate, 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.