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Day 6 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Mini Workshops with mentors, Sabrina Kleckner and Léonie Kelsall

Friday, 24 August 2018  |  Posted by Lisa Leoni

Welcome to our Mini Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2018 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query or first page critique from one of our mentors. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or first page from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you all get an idea on how to shine up your query and first page.

We appreciate our mentors for giving their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. Our comments are set to moderate, and we will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones before approving them.

First up we have …

Pitch Wars Past Mentor Sabrina Kleckner …

Sabrina Kleckner

Sabrina Kleckner is an editorial intern at Page Street YA, a Creative Writing major, and an aspiring author. In the past, she has worked as a literary agent intern, and written for The Barnes & Noble Teen Blog. When she’s not writing or editing, Sabrina likes to play with her three cats, live in different countries, and force her friends to read her favorite books.

Mentor bio | Twitter | Instagram

Sabrina’s First Page Critique . . .

Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy

Chapter 1

The palace halls are far too serene, which should have been the first warning. The second warning should have been the clear lack of staff in their designated areas.

The third warning isn’t so much a warning as much as it is a battle cry.

Matilda Elise Tomlinson! What do you think you’re doing, young lady?” a shrill voice screams from down the hall. A harried woman is hopping towards the royal staircase, the laces of her shoes tied together.

Elise grins wickedly, tossing her thick, curly brown hair over her shoulder before blowing a kiss to the palace handler, Jiao Li. “Sorry, love!” she calls before turning back towards the stairs. This would be a great place to add in some internal narrative. How does Elise feel about ignoring her handler?

At the base of the stairs, her partner-in-crime, best friend and adopted sister Katherine Stamatis is shaking her head, grinning at her. “Elise, you’re going to hurt yourself.” she teases.

Elise laughs another great place for some internal narrative. Is she worried about hurting herself? Is she annoyed at Kat for worrying about her? and then without any more preamble, she climbs onto the staircase railing. Jiao is still hopping towards her, eyes wide in outrage and worry, but there isn’t any time to focus on that.

“Engage, bucket list number seventy-two!” she shouts, cupping her mouth to elevate her voice while Kat snorts. A small crowd has formed at the base of the steps, some shaking their heads fondly and others cheering her on. Who is in this crowd? If it’s made up of palace staff, should they be trying to stop her?For England!

She quickly lowers herself onto the metal tray that she stole from the kitchens, grips either side tightly and propels herself forward before Jiao can catch up to her.

A rush of power runs through her, her telekinesis carefully keeping the tray straight against the railing. “Take that, America!” she screams, her hair whipping against her face as she skids down.

Hi! Thank you so much for trusting me with your words! I love how action-packed this first page is, and already find Elise super amusing.

In terms of critique, the first thing I noticed was the number of characters mentioned on this page. We meet Elise, Jiao, and Kat—and Elise and Kat are initially introduced with different names (Matilda and Katherine), which makes it feel like there are even more people in the scene. That’s a lot of names for the reader to remember while they’re getting used to/immersed in the world, so I would try to cut down to one—maybe two—characters in this first scene if you can.

The second thing that sticks out is a lack of internal narrative. We meet Elise from an outside perspective. We see her interact with her sister and handler, and climb onto the staircase railing, but we aren’t in her head. What is she thinking when she climbs onto the railing? On the outside, she seems excited, but does her tone/dialogue match her thoughts? Is she at all nervous to be attempting this feat? Similarly, why does she have a bucket list? For example—is she leaving the castle soon and trying to do everything that she wished she did as a child? If we have an emotional understanding of why Elise is engaging with this activity, we’ll be able to understand—and sympathize—with her a lot quicker.

A few other points: I was a bit thrown off by the first three sentences. I really like the details, but I’m not sure who is being “warned” about what. I also don’t understand why the palace is so quiet, and why there is a lack of staff. Where is everyone? Did Elise create a diversion to draw everyone out of the hall so she could slide down the railing? If so, I would either add in that explanation, or merely start the chapter with the third paragraph: “Matilda Elise Tomlinson! What do you think you’re doing, young lady?”

I was also a bit thrown off by the England/America reference. While I like that it grounds the reader in a place (we now know this story takes place on Earth—specifically, England), what does sliding down a railing have to do with America? A quick sentence explaining this would go a long way.

Lastly, the voice, character, and action on this page felt a bit more middle grade than YA to me. Because I haven’t read more of the manuscript, this might not be an issue through the rest of the story. But it might be something to keep an eye out for.

Overall, this first page definitely intrigued me! I like how we learn about magic that will appear in this book (and we learn a lot about the MC by the way she chooses to use it). I hope my critique is helpful, and I wish you all the best in Pitch Wars!!

Thank you, Sabrina, for your critique!

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Léonie Kelsall …

Leonie KelsallLéonie C. Kelsall is a Professional Counsellor, Léonie (Lee, because no one can pronounce her name!) lives in the wilds of Australia. Okay, not so much the wilds, as in a country town…but it is inhabited by a generous mix of bitey, stingy, poisonous varieties of Australian wildlife, as evidenced on her Twitter feed. Lee writes historical and contemporary YA, along with adult romantic suspense and erotic romance, and is very big on extensive research, including archaeological digs and…ah, other stuff that shouldn’t be listed here, given that last genre. Being an Aussie, her spelling can be a bit off. A finalist in the YARWA Rosemary Award ’17, and WisRWA Fab Five ’18, she swears she duz no how too rite gud, though.

Lee is a co-mentoring Adult in PitchWars ’18 with the fabulous Marty Mayberry (who will be in charge of correcting all Australianisms).

Mentor bio | Author website | Twitter | Instagram

Lee’s Query Critique . . .

Dear [Name],

Thank you for your participation in Pitch Wars. [Insert personalized info if applicable]

When two sisters are orphaned, they move to a small town with their veterinarian Aunt. But Aunt Claire has a secret – she’s involved in complex genetic engineering research and someone is after her work. When Aunt Claire is kidnapped, and her animals are stolen, the girls must choose between protecting her secret and helping her.  (I’m really not sure what the choice is, here, needs clarification)
How far will Isabel and Maya go to protect her and the animals, the only family they have left, in AUNT CLAIRE’S PET CARE?  I’d tighten this a little, so it reads more like a back cover, and perhaps open with a log line. Current wisdom is not to end with a hypothetical, though I can’t say it bothers me.

This science fiction story gets a touch of humor through some unique animal characters. Isabel is a disgruntled pre-teen trying to find her way, This needs working into the query organically, preferably to give us an idea of Isabel’s voice rather than being ‘told’ she’s disgruntled. And does Maya have a personality? Is it dual pov? and learning that she has a lot to offer, even if it isn’t being a varsity athlete. I’m unsure whether she’s happy or relieved about this? If it’s that she finds the science aspects of her aunt’s work more intriguing than a previous passion for athletics, I’d make VERY SURE to highlight that

As a former newspaper and magazine writer, my publication history includes breaking news and feature stories. I participated in the 2017 and 2018 Writers Games and my short stories have been published in the corresponding anthologies. I am a member of SCBWI. I have a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications, with minors in business and political science, and a master’s degree in public policy administration.  I live in Palm Springs, CA with my family and our dog Benny the Jet, who is available for stepping on my keyboard during Skype session if you’d like to discuss my work.

AUNT CLAIRE’S PET CARE is a 42,000-word middle grade, science fiction story I could be wrong – happens more often than I care to admit – but the query doesn’t read to me as though the story fits the science fiction genre. If it does, you may need to incorporate elements in the query that make this clear perfect for animal lovers and budding scientists.

Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions or would like to discuss any additional details, please contact me.

Hi! This story sounds like fun! I’d make sure to highlight the STEM aspects, as that is very popular at the moment.

Please keep in mind that any suggestions I make are only that – suggestions. There is no ‘right’ way to do queries, but there are ways that yield a higher success rate. Take any suggestions that resonate with you, discard the rest.

So, in summary, my suggestion for your query would be:
 “When two orphaned sisters move to a small town to live with their veterinarian aunt, the last thing they expect is to find themselves in the midst of a world of quirky animals—and embroiled in mystery and intrigue.

Dealing with the death of their parents, Maya and Isabel figure life with Aunt Claire will be dead boring—though, at least if it doesn’t involve her having to try out for the varsity athletics team, Isabel will be happy. And Maya? All she wants is xxx

What they don’t expect is to discover that their aunt is involved in complex genetic engineering research—and someone is after her work. Someone who will commit any number of crimes to get what they want.

When Aunt Claire is kidnapped and her animals stolen, the sisters must choose between rescuing the only family they have left, or fighting to protect her secret research.(this choice does not have a big enough wow factor, needs work – what would exposure of her secret do to the world?)

As a former newspaper and magazine writer, my publication history includes breaking news and feature stories. I participated in the 2017 and 2018 Writers Games and my short stories have been published in the corresponding anthologies. I am a member of SCBWI. I have a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications, with minors in business and political science, and a master’s degree in public policy administration.  I live in Palm Springs, CA with my family and our dog Benny the Jet, who is available for stepping on my keyboard during Skype session if you’d like to discuss my work. 

AUNT CLAIRE’S PET CARE is a 42,000-word middle grade story perfect for animal lovers and budding scientists.

Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions or would like to discuss any additional details, please contact me.

Good luck with your PitchWars entry!
Lee

Thank you, Lee, for your critique!

Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting them until the Pitch Wars submission window opens on August 27. Hope you’ll come back and read some more.

Filed: Workshops

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