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 Katherine Fleet . . .
Originally from Newfoundland, Katherine Fleet gave up the cold winters of Eastern Canada for the year round warmth of the Caribbean. The slower pace of island life has given her time to pursue a long-time goal—becoming an author. When she’s not writing, she spends her time baking, chauffeuring her three amazing, talented kids around, and having sun-filled adventures with her husband and wonderful friends in Curaçao. She is also a very thankful breast cancer survivor. In 2007, she joined RWA and has enjoyed the support and camaraderie of the YARWA and OIRWA writing communities. She’s participated in NaNoWriMo since 2012 and is an active supporter of the associated Young Writers Program. She is represented by super-agent Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency. The Secret to Letting Go is her debut novel.
Katherine’s recent release . . .
One summer can change everything…
Haunted with guilt after his girlfriend’s death, Daniel Hudson has no interest in committing to anyone. At the end of the summer, he’ll be leaving Florida for a new start in college. If only he could avoid the mysterious new girl in town, who seems every bit as naive and eccentric as she looks. Trouble is, she’s hard to ignore, with her beautiful piercing eyes, pitiful-looking dog, and unsettling tendency of finding trouble.
Clover Scott lived her whole life off the grid and arrives on the Gulf coast in search of her grandparents. She never expected to nearly drown, or get caught in a hurricane, or fall in love with the boy who rescues her. Now, she has a chance to rewrite her life’s story, to finally fit in somewhere, but Daniel wants answers about her past. When the police start asking questions about the disappearance of her parents, she must make a choice: go to jail or confess her secrets—even if they might destroy her chance at a happily-ever-after.
Katherine’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Contemporary Young Adult
I am writing in response to your agency’s [interest/twitter/website] in YA Contemporary [suggest concentrating on the specific interests of the agent, rather than the agency – read the bio/wishlist of each agent to see which one most closely aligns with your story]. FREE FALLING is a YA contemporary coming-of-age [“coming-of-age” is a little generic – I suggest deleting or coming up with something else here] novel that will appeal to the same readers of Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL [might want to give a couple of comp titles]. When seventeen-year-old Christine Sawyer and her wild group of friends are busted by the police for under-aged drinking at a house party, her parents decide to send her away to live with her grandmother in a tiny town called Moraga almost 400 miles away [This is an extreme reaction to one police bust. I suspect it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It would make us feel more for Christine if we knew why they’re sending her away – out of desperation, or concern, or they just can’t be bothered with her trouble making anymore]. Torn away from her high-powered social status, it’s a fate worse than death for Christine. [This is a strong beginning! Maybe infuse a little more voice in it – instead of a tiny town, it could be a southern town or hick town. Instead of telling us how many miles away it is, tell us something about it that Christine hates, like it doesn’t even have a decent coffee shop or a real mall. The way Christine describes the town will tell us a lot about her mindset and personality. Also maybe a word to describe her grandmother, like strict or eccentric, so she also stands out.]
Living in denial [of what], Christine refuses to make any new friends in Moraga. But when an incident [generic – can you be specific?] forces her to spend time with a Caden, a classmate [Ah, is she actually attending school in Moraga? I assumed she was there for the summer. Suggest clarifying this in the 1st paragraph], everything changes [generic – can you be specific?]. [From this point on, the query starts to read like a mini-synopsis, rather than teasing the reader and hooking their interest.] As soon as she discovers the seemingly good-natured boy-next-door recently experienced the tragic and sudden death of his mom, Christine lets her guard down and opens up to him [How? About what? Also, this sentence is a little wordy]. Though their circumstances are vastly different, they have a common bond in feeling alone and misunderstood [what does this look like – what do they do together? You need some action in the latter-half of this query].
Christine helps Caden find some normalcy in his life drowning in sadness [How? Can you give the reader a sense of the story and what these two characters are doing, other than talking/sharing?] and Caden helps Christine confront her issues with her parents. When Caden reminds Christine not to take her parents for granted, the truth she had buried deep inside finally comes out. Uncovering the secret behind her bitter resentment to her parents, she confesses to Caden that not only had she been bullied in high school, her own parents didn’t believe her [If this is the big secret driving Christine’s behavior, you don’t want to straight out reveal it in the query. You need to hint at it]. With her time in Moraga coming to an end [If there is a clock running down on her time in Moraga and this is the main external conflict, you should mention it in the beginning, so the reader has a real sense of time running out and why this is a dire thing], she can’t imagine leaving her confinement turned sanctuary to go back to live with her parents who broke her trust [this sentence is similar to the next, so I’d suggest combining them]. Knowing what it’s like to finally fit in feel like she fits in for the first time in her life with Caden, she can’t go back to living with her parents and her toxic group of friends.
[While the writing in this query is solid, it needs more tension and conflict. Once Christine arrives in Moraga, she meets a great guy, they bond and help each other accept their pasts. The only conflict is leaving Moraga in the end. I’m positive that there IS much more tension and conflict in your story, but it’s not coming through in your query.
Some ideas on how to boost the conflict: Is there a romance between Christine and Caden? Is it a slow-burn or hate-to-love relationship? What is the conflict between them? YA readers want to swoon over the hero and the love story! Also, I assume that Christine has a powerful character arc throughout the story. I assume that at the beginning, she also has a “toxic” personality and is maybe a ‘mean girl’ herself. Give us a hint of this and how her personality evolves, so Christine is a character we want to know more about. Also think about the unique elements of your characters and plot. What makes them stand out from other books? You may also consider writing a paragraph or few sentences from Caden’s perspective, so we can get a sense of his motivation/ conflict/stakes.]
I am an active member of SCBWI and have attended several conferences including [insert any relevant ones specific to this agent] [I wouldn’t worry too much about the conferences. Add any other publishing credits, writing awards, etc, that you have and if not, just leave it with your SCBWI membership]. FREE FALLING is complete at 70,000 words. As directed by your website submission guidelines [Not needed – as long as you have followed the submission guidelines, you don’t need to say that you have. Just keep this short and sweet], I have included [xx pages/chapters/synopsis] in the body of this email. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
[Grace, your writing is technically strong, so I know if you focus on increasing the tension, conflict and personality in your query, you will have a killer letter! I love contemporary YA, so this one is right up my alley!]
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Kara Leigh Miller and Meredith Ireland …
Kara Leigh Miller began her venture into the publishing world as a wet behind the years author back in 2010. Since then, she’s navigated the rough waters through some high times and some really low times, but she’s never once given up. And she doesn’t intend to anytime soon. Now, represented by Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency, Kara has penned and published several novels / novellas in a variety of genres.
Being an avid reader of all genres and categories, Kara has a soft spot for books that will knock her legs out from under her and gut punch her with emotion. She strives to evoke that sort of emotion with her own books.
Kara’s recent release …
He’s fighting to forget his past while she struggles to remember hers…
Doctor Josh Parker lives with guilt about his wife’s death every day. He believes himself incapable of ever loving again, but when a mysterious woman arrives in the Emergency Room, brutally beaten and left for dead, he starts to feel something he hasn’t felt in far too long: hope.
Alessandra Matthews has no memory of the events that led to her being hospitalized. Worse, she has no idea who hurt her or why. Although she’s uncertain of who she is, she is fully aware of one thing — she’s falling for her doctor.
Sometimes, what you don’t know can kill you…
As Josh and Alessa work to solve the mystery surrounding her past, she soon realizes just how much danger she’s really in, but Josh refuses to let her face the darkness of her memories alone. With each of them struggling to put their pasts behind them, theirs is a DANGEROUS LOVE.
Meredith Ireland is a Korean-American attorney and writer, born in Seoul. She is a Rollins College and University of Miami School of Law alumna. Meredith met her husband while bartending in Saratoga Springs, New York. She graduated Order of the Coif and with magna cum laude honors before practicing law in Albany. She resides in Saratoga with her husband and two children and a goldfish named Emo who has lived freakishly long.
Kara and Meredith’s First Page Critique . . .
Age Category: Adult
Genre: Cozy mystery
They [Who is they?] keep telling me there is beauty in the desert, but I don’t see it. Everything is brown. Mountains, grass, cacti, all of it gasping for water and a bit of shade. As I watch the dust circle around the state highway in the rear view rearview mirror of my minivan, I mentally count the days left until we can leave. Technically, I’ve been gone for five months while Steve’s been deployed, but I’m already wishing I was back at my parents’ house in Colorado. [I would suggest trying to find a stronger opening paragraph. Unless the setting itself becomes a character within the story, it’s cliché to open with a descriptive setting.] [agreed- your writing has a nice flow, but you need more of a hook to have the reader invested in continuing]
“Where’s the trees, Momma?” Isabel asked for the umpteenth time. I’ve mostly ignored her, [I’m not too sure about this… This is our first introduction to the heroine, and the first real thing we get to see is her ignoring her daughter. I’m not sure this makes her very likable. If this is integral to the plot, or it’s a character flaw that changes throughout the book, then it’s probably fine, but if it’s her ignoring Isabel just because, then it won’t endear her to readers.] [you may not mean ignore, but you could note that the character had already answered] but as we passed the few dusty shops along the highway, I couldn’t help but break the news to her.
“They’re back in Colorado. There aren’t trees in this part of California.”
I took another swig [Maybe use drink here instead? Swig conjures the image in my mind that she’s drinking alcohol.] from my water bottle and turned off the highway onto Main Drive. They call it Main Drive instead of Main Street. Who knows why they do anything here. [This is where having more of a hook would pay off- I’m waiting for something exciting to happen]
“We don’t live at Nana and Papa’s anymore,” Isabel said, turning her attention back to the television screen. [Curious: How old is Isabel?]
“No, we do not.” After Steve’s unit left right after Christmas, I packed up and told the few friends I had on base in Palm Valley that I was going home until the deployment ended. But Colorado hadn’t really feel like home anymore, either. [This is all telling. Try to show this to readers so it’s more engaging. Dialogue is always a great tool to show vs. tell.]
“Momma! There’s Max and Eli!” Isabel kicked a foot into the back of my seat. [My kids do this all the time. Lol. Drives me crazy! Does Mom have any sort of reaction to this? Showing how she responds can tell us a lot about her character.]
Sure enough, my friend Kate’s forest green Suburban blocked the drive between the PayDay Loan shop and Griffin’s optometrist’s office. Kate’s two boys stood at the back bumper, throwing rocks at the street in between the passing of cars. [This implies they are throwing rocks into the street once the cars have passed and there’s no moving traffic, but below Molly says they were throwing rocks AT cars. This is inconsistent.] I pulled into a parallel parking spot on the street, leaving the car and AC running since heaven knows it’s a thousand degrees even in the shade. [The kind of detail in this paragraph is slowing the pace- first pages are all about giving the reader the essentials/what they must know. Do we need to know that it’s forest green? That it’s Griffin’s optometrist office? That she parallel parked?]
“Eli! Max! What are you doing?” They scrambled back to into the Suburban at the sound of my voice, but just as I touched the handle, Kate called out.
“Molly! You’re back!” She wore one of her gypsy [this is a slur- flowy skirt would be fine] skirts with blue-green swirls and a navy blue, sleeveless, gauzy top. Stacked bangles clicked as she walked. I stepped into her hug.
“Your boys were throwing rocks at traffic. What’re you doing in a payday loan shop? Did Rich give up the debt-free seminars while he was overseas?”
She flinched. “Just dropping off a scorpion. [A scorpion? This is intriguing!] Meet you at your place?”
Before I could reply, she hopped in her Suburban and cranked it into reverse. Her boys were bouncing around, clearly not even in their seatbelts yet. I used to have safe friends. Now I have Kate. [This makes it sound as though Molly is both judgmental of Kate and her lifestyle, and ungrateful for her friendship with Kate. Is that intentional? Is their friendship not all that it seems?]
I pulled my minivan back onto the road and headed home, hoping no cockroaches or scorpions had moved in while we were away.
Overall, the writing is tight and the pacing is quick. I’m certainly left with a lot of questions, which is a good thing because it would make me keep reading to find out more. You’ve done a great job creating and portraying Molly’s melancholy. Just keep in mind that this is the readers first introduction to your heroine, so be sure it’s a good first impression 😊
I think you need to make sure this is starting in the right place. I agree that the writing flows nicely with good detail, but in places you may be telling us a bit too much and that slows pacing. There are nice instances of voice, but be careful to portray her correctly as stated above.
Thank you, Katherine, Kara, and Meredith, 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.