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 Mentors Kristin Bartley Lenz & Heather Smith Meloche
Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker from metro-Detroit who fell in love with the mountains when she moved to Georgia and California. Now she’s back in Detroit where she plots wilderness escapes and manages the Michigan Chapter blog for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Her debut young adult novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was a Junior Library Guild Fall 2016 Selection and was chosen for the Great Lakes Great Books 2017-2018 state-wide literature program. She is represented by Carrie Pestritto at Prospect Agency.
Heather Smith Meloche has had the honor of winning the Katherine Paterson Prize and the Writer’s Digest National Competition for her children’s/Young Adult writing. She studied video production and poetry at Michigan State University, and then got her Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language at Bowling Green State University. She spends her days in her home in Michigan sampling a wide variety of chocolate, letting her dogs in and out constantly, and writing and reading as much as she can. Heather is the author of of RIPPLE, released Sept. 20, 2016 by Penguin Putnam and represented by Compass Talent Literary Agency.
Kristin and Heather’s Query Critique…
I am looking for representation for my Women’s [Lower case “women’s”] fiction: [Use a comma here instead of a colon] FOUR WOMEN TALKING. [Choose all caps or italics, but not both, and keep it consistent throughout the letter] It is complete at 88,000 words.
Monique Magloire, Haitian socialite wants her father to respect her even though she is not the son he had “demanded.” Monique has a few demands of her own.
Cecilia Peterson of St Thomas longs for her mother’s love although she has the “misfortune” of looking like her Negro father. Cecilia has a void to fill.
Lanei Perez of Guam prays that her father chooses her over his inheritance. His suicide on her thirteenth birthday smears Lanei’s strong Catholic faith with guilt. Lanei wants redemption.
Ella Dorevil born in rural Haiti yearns for her father’s forgiveness for her mother’s death in childbirth. The youngest of seven, Ella seeks love and acceptance.
[These character bios are interesting and caught our attention. They show that you’ve developed your characters and know what they want, but we suggest you begin with your hook and short summary instead. Your character information could be woven into the summary, such as “Born in the 1950’s, Monique, Cecilia, Lanei, and Ella…” Or, if you decide to keep the bios, they could come after your brief summary and strong hook, which is the idea of four women coming from their native islands and struggling to find themselves and their place in the U.S. Also, ideally, you want to keep the query short and sweet – not more than one page.]
Born in the 1950’s, the women struggle to overcome cultural challenges from their native islands. They pack dreams along with mementos when they come to America in search of financial independence through higher education.
Trapped in abusive relationships, they must find ways to protect the people they love and plan their escape in order to “unpack” their dreams. In group therapy, the women forge a bond that puts them on the path to success.
Thank you for this great opportunity.
[Give a sign-off to close the letter out as is done in business letter format, which is how a query should be structured. Choose your favorite one. Our favorite is “Best,” but here is an article with a whole list. https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/09/27/57-ways-to-sign-off-on-an-email/#751f3a3225d0]
Your book absolutely captured our interest, and we want to keep reading! The market is currently focused on strong women and diversity, and you’ve got a great chance for publication. Your query is well-written and intriguing, but if you tighten your focus and keep it to one page, it will be even stronger. Best of luck!
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentor Jenny Lundquist
Jenny Lundquist is a MG & YA Author. Some of her titles include Seeing Cinderella, The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby (9/17) and The Carnival of Wishes and Dreams (Spring 2019). Jenny painted an orphanage in Mexico, taught English at a university in Russia, and hopes one day to kiss her husband at a café in Paris. She lives in northern California with her wonderful husband Ryan, our two sons and Rambo, the world’s whiniest cat. Jenny is represented by Kerry Sparks of Levine Greenberg Agency.
Jenny’s First Page Critique…
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
Whispers danced through the harbor, drifting away with the sea wind. The squawks of seagulls and the bells of incoming ships were familiar sounds that greeted Lorelei on her daily, morning stroll to the docks. But the whispers were not. [I’m already completely hooked! In just a few sentences you’ve set a great stage. I’m wondering about the whispers and I am really loving your sensory details. Excited to see where this is going. If I picked up a book with this opening in a book store, I would keep reading.]
The further she pushed through the bustling crowd, the more she understood the source of their gossiping. Lorelei nearly dropped the fresh wheat rolls her mother had made to sell to the docked sailors, and she didn’t dare waste a single one of them [From this sentence I am assuming they are short on money/resources]—her mother would bust her hide. [This is reading as “younger YA” to me. That’s not a criticism, my own YA is considered younger, it’s just as an FYI] Gripping the handle of the basket tighter, she dug the toes of her boots into the wooden planks below her, trying to see over the heads of the surrounding harbor-folk.
If she could just glimpse the colors of the sails, she would know. Anything other than white would mean the whispers were true, that pirates had come back to Port Barlow. [I love how you’ve gotten right to conflict right away within the first few paragraphs. Also, as a reader, I would LOVE to see some YA pirate stories on the shelves. Agents and editors take note!]
Red sails belonged to the Scarlet Maiden, the swiftest ship on the Sister Seas. Lorelei once heard a sailor say that the crew’s founding Mistress had dyed the cloths with her victims’ blood over a hundred years ago. [Great world building here, and I love the idea of female captain. After reading this sentence I am expecting/hoping that the Scarlet Maiden and her Mistress will figure prominently into the story]
Blue sails belonged to the Anaphine, named after one of the Sea Sisters, the goddesses of Old. Lorelei had never seen a ship with guns, but perhaps today was the day.
But as she finally was given a glance at the ship, her stomach dropped, the basket of rolls almost falling with it. The rose left her cheeks, leaving her face pasty and white as snow, she was sure. [I had to read this sentence twice. The phrase “she was sure” threw me off. Consider revising, maybe?] Lori, you look like a ghost, her mother would say. [Again, references to her mother read as MG/younger YA to me]
Sails black as night, wood as dark as shadows. The Iron Jewel. Why the fresh hell are there still harbor-folk out milling about? [While I’m getting a great idea of what the different colored sails mean, I feel like the picture of everyone milling on the docks is now a little hazy to me. Would like to see a little more in the way of action/dialogue/description]
Lorelei’s heart thumped quicker in her chest as she took a step backward, her eyes still connected with the sails she’d heard so many terrors about. This crew wasn’t like the others she’d fantasized over as a child, staring out at the sea, waiting for her day when she would one day have a ship and crew of her own. [Love it, and you’ve given us a good indication of where this may be going]
This crew was different. She’d heard stories of men with hearts so dark that their blood ran black through their veins. Whispered tales of the fierce brutality they wrought with their swords were the reason why Lorelei’s mother kept her sheltered the whole sixteen years of her life. [I would like to know more about her as the main character besides this detail and the fact that she dreamed of having her own ship] Living up on the hill above the harbor, all she knew was the farm, her mother and Port Barlow. [This is all really good, but I think you’re veering into too much telling, not enough showing at this point. Would like to see the story begin to move along]
She didn’t know much about the rest of the world, aside from her mother’s tales and the stories she heard on the docks, but it didn’t take much to know good from evil. When Lorelei looked upon those sails, it was if evil had reached out and touched her with its scaly, dirty fingers. [Fantastic way to end the selection!]
I am definitely interested to see where this story is going. You’ve done a great job with sensory details and world-building. As I mentioned above, I’d like to see a little less telling and a little bit more of moving the story along. Additionally, I’m not really seeing Lorelei emerge as a character. All we really know is that she’s been sheltered. But is she tough, fearful, wounded? I would definitely like to get a better sense of who she is, through action, dialogue, etc. I would LOVE to see a book like this hit the shelves! Good luck, and keep writing!
Thank you Kristin, Heather, and Jenny, 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.