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 Kelly Hopkins
Kelly has a Bachelor’s degree (Magna Cum Laude) in English/Secondary Education from Marywood University and a Master’s of Education degree in School Library and Information Technologies from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. She’s a Creative Writing teacher and school librarian.
She has lectured at Keystone College on Celtic Mythology and will be presenting a workshop on Perfecting Query Letters and Pitches at their Gathering Conference in July 2016.
Kelly lives in NE Pennsylvania with her husband, two children, and three rescue horses.
Kelly’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
Sixteen-year-old Azrielle Grave is [Changed font to italic.] one of the things that goes bump in the night. Except this cockatrice [Is she a dragon? A cockatrice is a mythical creature. If so, you will want to make sure the reader understands her duality.] isn’t a hunter anymore, she’s the one being stalked [by whom? Or what?]. The exposed [How] supernatural world is at risk of extinction thanks to special agencies created by humans to terminate the threat [Why is the supernatural world a threat to humans?] . A semi-voluntary recruit, Azrielle trains to infiltrate behind enemy lines [Who is the enemy?] in an underground academy. But the death toll [Humans or supernaturals?] is rising too fast and she is being sent on an undercover assignment [What is the assignment? Who is sending her?] now, years before she’s ready. . [Think about the basics of good query design: character, conflict, and stakes. Another thing to consider is your genre. If this is urban fantasy, where is this story located? It feels more straight fantasy here especially if most of the story occurs below ground or in an alternate Earth.]
Raid Ameen is determined to do his part to save humanity. A weapon’s expert at seventeen, he enjoys putting bullets into things without a soul [Is Azrielle one of these things? Does she have a soul?] and has the growing kill list to prove it. But the new girl on his squad is more distracting than he anticipated [Is he human? Is it Azrielle on his squad?]. If his focus on the mission [Make sure the reader understands what the mission is] slips, he might lose his life in the process or the life of someone else [that he cares about?] , and ruin everything he has worked for [What has he worked for? What is he risking?], a chance he won’t take.
Azrielle is supposed to be surveying the enemy, not falling for one of them. She’s terrified he’ll figure out her real identity. [Okay. Here we begin to understand the conflict. Remember that agents read thousands of query letters! You need to put the conflict in the beginning of the letter. Hooks! It’s all about the hook!] The secret will shatter both of their hearts. But it doesn’t matter because if she and the rest of the supernatural community are to survive, she needs to do her job, which means leaving no evidence behind, or witnesses, not even Raid.
HUNTING LEGENDS is a 75,000 word YA urban fantasy told from dual perspectives with series potential. [Do you have any personal details to add here? Creative writing classes, writing organizations that you belong to, publications?]
I like how you’ve divided the query into both of your character’s voices. It’s very important that we understand what the mission is from both perspectives and what both of your characters are risking by potentially falling in love. Make sure your final paragraph shows how their opposing interests clash and that the reader feels concern for the truth that may tear them apart.
This query sounds like you’ve packed a ton of action into 75,000 words!
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentor Neal Chase
Neal Chase lives in San Antonio, Texas with his wife, two children, two dogs, and a bird, which strangely has the same name as his his dad. He is a member of SCBWI and the Writers’ League of Texas. When he is not writing and reading, you can find Neal coaching basketball or adventuring with the help of his PlayStation.
Neal’s recent release …
Twelve year-old Stian’s plans to be The Greatest Viking Ever appear to be over before they even begin. He’s captured by Dahlia–a dark elf and a girl. If that wasn’t bad enough, he discovers he may be the son of Loki, the greatest enemy of the Viking gods and the one foretold to bring about the end of the world.
Knowing he is meant to be extraordinary, Stian decides to discover the truth for himself and free Loki from the clutches of Odin. Only then, will he discover who he is and what he is meant to do.
Stian must out-think, misguide, and defeat Thor’s children. To do this he will need the power of Gram–a sword with magical powers. There is one catch, only one pure of heart with the desire to help others, is worthy of wielding it. If Stian succeeds, he will become the world’s most famous Viking, but if he fails he will fall victim to the gods’ merciless justice.
Neal’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: MG
GENRE: historical realistic fiction
The restaurant was quiet and the tiles were cool against my bare feet. The place smelled like the fishy ocean breeze that blew in through the windows, with a touch of garlic and simmering tomatoes. [Great description of the restaurant. However, you may want to move this later. You really want to catch the reader with something right away.] If I hadn’t been so nervous, it would have made me hungry. I hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s stale donut found in a bag tossed under a park bench. [This sentence grabbed me. I wanted to know why a kid had not eaten in more than a day, and then, only a stale donut.] I fingered my trumpet keys, clicking them softly, while I waited for Salvatore’s answer. He rubbed his shiny bald skull and gave me a squinty-eyed look with his head cocked to one side, like a shady character from an old black-and-white gangster film.
“You sure you’re up to it, Scoob?” he asked me.
“I know all your songs,” I said, lifting my head as thought that would somehow stretch out my eleven (going on twelve) year-old frame and make me taller. “By heart. You know that, Sal.” I’d practically grown up inside Salvatore’s Trattoria Italiana, listening to my dad play trumpet for the jazz band. I’d learned to play the trumpet before I was big enough to hold the thing in my hands. Dad had fashioned a little stand out of some driftwood when I was three so I could hit the keys without having to hold the weight of the metal instrument myself. [This is a lot of backstory for an opening chapter. If the backstory is important, it may be best to work it into the story later. The first chapter is really important and you do not want to distract the reader/agent/editor with anything non-essential] Now, even though I was still a kid, I was better than most of the other musicians I heard on the Santa Monica pier. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying. [Great voice. FYI, some people, not me, are sticklers to time appropriate slang. “I’m just saying” seems modern. I am not sure what time period the story takes place, but it is labeled historical fiction.]
Sal chuckled as he fished out a cigarette from his shirt pocket. He fumbled for matches but kept his trap shut. Then, he smiled at me.
“Prove it,” he said, and I grinned. This [“That”? “This” is normally present tense.] was what I’d been waiting for.
Sal jerked his chin at my trumpet, giving me the signal to begin. I raised the instrument to my lips.
“Moon River,” Sal announced around the cigarette dangling from his lips. [The last three paragraphs could be combined.]
Bo-ring! That was a fave of the old geezers who came to the trattoria just for the band. [Great voice with the boring and old geezers] I began the song, letting the notes fall softly, blending them seamlessly into one another, with a nice, almost sobbing vibrato to color the melody.
“A Taste of Honey,” Sal barked. I immediately punched out the short, staccato notes and the trills. This had been one of Dad’s favorites, and I loved it because it reminded me of him. Sal folded his arms and closed his eyes while I played.
“Mas que nada,” Sal said, opening his eyes. “Start out with the traditional tune and then add your own stuff.” I’d only played for a minute or two, improvising and really getting into a groove when the man waved his hands to stop me.
“You got the job, kid,” he said, shaking his head. “Ah, Madonna, I never knew you’d gotten this good. Your old man would be proud.”
My smile practically split my face in two. “Thanks, Sal! You won’t be sorry!”
I was in! Sal’s band played in his restaurant every night, and they got salary and tips! I’d be rich! I couldn’t wait to tell my brother. We might be able to get our own place again. My hands shook as I stuck my trumpet back into its battered case.
You do a great job with the detail/description. I had a really good image of Sal’s restaurant and of Sal. You also raise a lot of questions, why does she not have food, what happened to her dad, and where is she living. All of these grab the readers attention.
Without seeing more of the story, it is hard to tell if you are starting in the right place. You may want to start a little earlier. Possibly with her looking for food and not finding any, or her brother crumpled up in a ball crying from hunger. An earlier start could help raise the stakes of the audition.
Regardless of where you start, the voice is very good. Some of the phrases just scream middle grade, which is awesome.
Thank you, Kelly and Neal, 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.