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Day 2 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query and First Page Workshop with Mentors Nikki Roberti and Jami Nord

Wednesday, 10 May 2017  |  Posted by Heather Cashman


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 Nikki Roberti …

Twitter | Website

Nikki Roberti Miller is a young adult author, a professional journalist, and marketer with more than ten years of published writing experience. She currently works full-time writing feature articles and marketing copy at the international relief non-profit, Samaritan’s Purse,  while also freelancing for various magazines and sites such as WeTV, Engagement 101, Parents magazine, and NBC’s iVillage.com. She was also the founder and editor-in-chief of REALITY Check Girl Magazine, which was featured in the Washington Post online.

Before writing novels, she was a seven-time award winning playwright with her short pieces performed around the country, including The Kennedy Center in D.C. She is also an avid young adult/middle grade author and was selected to be featured in the 2014 Pitch Wars for her young adult contemporary, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO-SHOES  and mentored by author Rachel Lynn Solomon.

But also in her spare time she enjoys cooking, making balloon sculptures and blogging about her author adventures and attempt at living a happy, healthy married life at www.MrsHealthyEverAfter.com.

Nikki’s Query Critique . . .



GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy

Dear [Agent’s name here],

Fifteen-year-old Lucy Nightingale has always suspected that the world hates her, from her parents’ divorce to the stupid freshmen who keep sticking gum all over her bike handlebars. But then the world goes and proves it [This reads awkward to me, and for a query it should be very quick and streamlined. I’d recommend shortening it to “but then the world proves it” or something], when her own dreams start trying to murder her in her sleep.[THIS IS AWESOME. What a great line.]

Every night, Lucy must face her Dreamon – a shapeshifting physical manifestation of all her darkest thoughts. Not only that, but she must come to grips with the new rules which govern her dream world, such as the warped laws of physics, the random explode-y things [loving the voice in here. “Explode-y things” might be my new favorite phrase], and the fact that she can’t wake up until dawn. Not that real life is much better [you’ve already started a sentence in this paragraph with “not.” May be stronger to simply say “Real life isn’t much better”]. After the Dreamon’s influence causes her to attack her best friend at school, Lucy is confined to her room, with no outside contact. [I want to know a little more about this. Why is she confined to her room? Her parent’s choice? Did the school try to punish her or her friend try to press charges? Obviously don’t gum up the query with too many details, but this leaves a little more to be desired. Just add a little more for clarity. If we understand how bad her personal life is, it raises the stakes a bit more.]

Then there’s Uri, another being in her dreamscape who claims to know all about Dreamons. He refuses to answer personal questions, lies by omission, and talks in riddles, but he’s good at keeping Lucy away from danger. That works fine for her. If she can’t stay away from the Dreamon, she’s screwed. [This paragraph slowed me down and pulled me out of the story a little bit. I think you can cut most of this paragraph and insert it later on in the paragraph below. Something like, “her only help is Uri, another being in her dreamscape who talks in riddles and lies by omission, but is good at keeping Lucy away from danger” (or something like that)…But boiling down this paragraph to one line could help a lot.]

But Lucy can’t keep running from her nightmares forever [Love this]. As the line between dreams and reality begins to blur, she must venture into the deepest corners of her own psyche to defeat her Dreamon before it takes over for good. Otherwise, she’ll never wake up again. [I love most everything about this paragraph. It’s very sharp. My only question is…is the worst thing that she’ll never wake up again or that it’s taking over her real life? I feel like there’s a disconnect between the friendship attack and the never waking up again part. If you could bridge that gap, this will be a very solid query].

THE DREAMON is a 65,000-word YA contemporary fantasy. It is a standalone with series potential. [BOOM! Concise and to the point. Good job. Only suggestion would be to combine it…. “THE DREAMON is a standalone YA contemporary fantasy complete at 65,000 words with series potential”]

When I’m not writing, I work in the children’s department of my local library, swim, and (of course) read. I do have nightmares sometimes — this book was inspired by one — but thankfully none of them have tried to eat my soul yet. [LOVE ALL OF THIS].

Thank you for your time and consideration.


[Hi Ellie! This is really a dynamite query. Your voice shines through, and you have some very hooky elements. My main suggestion would be to streamline it a wee bit more and fill in some missing details. But overall, this is outstanding and your book sounds fantastic! Good luck]

Thank you, Nikki, for your critique!


Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Jami Nord …

Jami Nord 1st Round ReaderTwitter | Website

Jami Nord is frequently accused of having a TARDIS, because she gets so much done. Between a day job as a phone monkey, freelance editing at Chimeraediting.com, and the rest of life, she’s really just an expert at time management, hyper organized, and a very fast reader. She grew up reading mountains of scifi and fantasy, cut her professional chops on romance novels, and has a weak spot for GLBT*, disabled, and racially/ethnically diverse characters told with enrapturing style, where their identities are part of who they are, not just a plot thread. Someday, she’ll become an agent, or an editor, and help make dreams come true. In the meantime, she’ll settle for trying to make the industry just a bit more transparent, or at least her tiny corner of it. She tweets at @JamiNord and blogs at jaminord.wordpress.com. She lives in Philadelphia, having finally escaped the clutches of south Texas, though she still favors margaritas and good queso. #Pitchmadness reader and industry advisor, #pitchwars mentor to several wonderful writers, and former intern.

Jami’s First Page Critique . . .


GENRE: Romantic Fantasy

Chapter One

Maera watched as a flake of ash settled on her outstretched finger. [This is a pretty image, but too passive/abstract versus what comes later.]  It crumbled under the pressure of her fingers, leaving a streak of soot on her tanned skin.  She drew her hand through the cell bars and watched as the ash floated past her small window. Therlon was on fire and had been for three days. [So if it’s been on fire for 3 days, why is she just now poking at the ash? Seems like she has bigger problems to worry about, like not starving to death.] There was an eerie silence from outside her window, as if the world were hushed and waiting to see what would happen. There had been no news or gossip from the palace guards to give her any idea as to what was going on in the city. Inside her prison, the palace guards were silent. In fact, Maera had not hadn’t been fed in three days. [Passive-Maybe something like, Maera’s stomach clenched, three days without food not enough yet to quiet the pangs. Also, don’t be afraid to use contractions in the narrative to boost the flow.] She sat on her [thin, scratchy, some sort of descriptive word here.] cot, pulling her legs up against her chest [Why? What is this motion meant to convey? If it’s that hot, I tend to sprawl out as much as possible to try to cool off. Hugging knees is more to keep warm, or for comfort. This also is a move that is typically only done by really skinny people, so make sure that fits with the rest of your story!] It was peak growing season in Therlon, which meant it was sweltering outside.  Inside her cell, it felt like an oven.  Sweat trickled down her back, making her filthy shirt cling to her skin.  She wished desperately for some water [No food for three days is one thing. Water, however, is far more important. In a hot environment, she’d have less than the standard rule of thumb for surviving. If you want her to not have severe disorientation, headaches, and confusion, you’re probably better off giving her at least some water supply. Maybe there’s a slimy rock that water can trickle from?].  From outside her door came the thundering of boots and the clash of swords.  [Boots thundered and metal clashed against metal, echoing in the hallway outside her door. (for example. Feel free on all these examples to turn them more to what you envision, but notice the active words versus distant/passive ones.) This is a high tension place to really start, and I’d probably start at this line and weave the burning city outside and that everyone’s abandoned her for the last three days in as you go forward.] Maera jumped from her bed and moved to the door.

“What’s happening?” she shouted. The feeling of uneaseUnease, coupled with no food and the heat was making her lightheaded. She heard screams, the kind men make when they realize they are about to die and the terror sets in.  As she squatted down and peered through the tiny slot in the door, two figures moved in her line of vision blocked it.  She fell back in surprise as one slumped heavily against the door, his head obscuring her view.  Blood seeped into her cell from the small space where the door and floor did not didn’t quite meet.

“Five hells!” The cry escaped her lips and she hastily backed up. she cursed and scrambled back  The blood made its way the length of oozed across her small cell and pooled in the corner.  Maera crouched against the wall adjacent to[beside] the door, her fear paralyzing her. A part of her was angry that she felt so scared. Fear left a an all too familiar taste in her mouth that was all too familiar.  A series of loud blows came from the other side of the door and it splintered, before falling into the cell.  Maera threw her an [Unless she only has one!] arm over her eyes and felt wood chips rain down on her.  A large hand seized her shoulders and started to hoist hoisted her to her feet.  She kicked out wildly, feeling her feet connect.

The man looming in front of her was huge.  Her kick, which should have at least made him double over, had only made him wince.  He had His wild, reddish blonde hair that was long and hung to his shoulders, and was matted with ash.  His nose was large and strangely crooked.  His mouth twisted into a snarl and he yanked her onto her feet.

“You can walk or I can carry you.  Yer choice, woman.”  His was voice was harsh and had an unfamiliar accent.

[This has a lot of potential to really hook readers, especially if you start just a bit closer to the action. There’s a good sense of tension here, and the feeling of a fantasy world with a dark edge. Once the action starts, it catches on really quickly. Just cut out the passive words in the lead up, and use a bit more description to ground the story, and you’ll make this really sing.]

Thank you, Jami, 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.

We're thrilled at the different ways those in our Pitch Wars community are giving back—and we encourage them to do so. However, please keep in mind that Pitch Wars is not affiliated with any of these various contests, promotions, etc., including those of our mentors and mentees. Promoting any such opportunities via our social media channels doesn't imply endorsement or affiliation. We encourage you to do your research before participating.

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