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 up 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 Emma Wicker …
Emma Wicker is an Irish girl with a big heart made to tell romance stories. Born in Dublin, Ireland, she moved to England when she was nine years old. It was here she discovered her love of writing as she began to win school literary competitions. With an undergraduate, and graduate degree in Psychology, she uses her knowledge of human nature to craft interesting characters and emotional relationships. Twenty-eight years after she first arrived, she still lives in England with her husband, two children, and four cats, as well as her old faithful Labrador, and her bouncing German Shepherd.
Check out Emma’s recent release …
After losing the love of her life, Ilia Rose will do anything to feel Nathaniel’s presence, even if it means freezing or drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
When she learns that Alex is tracking down the remnants of Sol’s army to deliver his own style of justice, she rushes off to find him.
On an alcohol induced killing spree, Ilia and Alex receive information that sends their hopes soaring, thus beginning a race to discover the truth about Nathaniel’s death.
Unfortunately, for Ilia, the truth may prove far more dangerous than any enemy she has ever faced.
Emma’s First Page Critique . . .
She <It would be really helpful if you could give the character’s name at this point. Always the sooner the better.> dropped the resignation letter lightly on Rick’s desk, like it was too hot to touch. He looked at the letter, then at her expectantly. She <There’s a lot of SHE/HE in this paragraph and each sentence is also beginning She, he, she. Mix this up a bit and restructure your sentences to add variety.> looked back with as neutral an expression as she could muster, trying to keep from fidgeting. She wasn’t really nervous, but she’d been dreading this conversation and all the ones that would follow it. <At this point I’m feeling quite distant from your character. I don’t yet know her name which can easily be corrected, and I don’t feel close to her. You can really tighten up your POV by ensuring that you remain inside your characters head at all times, so, rather than saying what’s going on, show through your characters eyes, for example – when she drops the resignation letter on the desk, what feelings flow through her? Resigning always brings about emotion. Does she feel a tether loosening? Or perhaps her stomach bubbles with uncertainty with just a dash of excitement at this bold move.
“What are you going to do,” he asked over the top of the paper as he read through it.
Harry had practiced this answer in her head a million times. At first, she planned to give a generic “to pursue some personal interests,” but the ambitious, competitive part of her just couldn’t leave it at that. She considered saying that she was taking on some freelance digital entertainment work, but she was pretty sure that her boss would think she was starting a members-only porn site <This is really good (love it) and I’m feeling much closer to Harry. I would attempt dropping ‘was’ as much as possible as you have 3 in one sentence here and often you’ll find there are much stronger, active verbs you can use in its place>. She had stewed on this answer for hours while she wrote the letter last night and agonized over it for days before that. In the end, the plain, unvarnished truth spilled out before she could second-guess herself.
“I recently tried out for and was signed with a pro gaming team. I play DPS in Threatwatch.” <I came back to this because as a gamer (and always a DPS player) I read it, understood it, and then moved on. But then it occurred to me that not everyone would. Is it explained later on? If not, you could (and this is just an example and in no way me telling you what to have – this is your book and everything is always your decision) have him just say “DPS?” and then when she answers damage per second it can lead in nicely to the blank stare.
The blank stare her boss gave her wasn’t unexpected, but she felt herself wincing. He didn’t get it. No one in her day-to-day life ever did.
“I didn’t know you were into sports, Harry…” he tried. <Consider sticking with ‘said’. Readers filter it out, so it really is the best dialogue tag you can ever use, but also dialogue tags are rarely necessary when writing a conversation between two individuals as we usually know through thoughts and/or actions.
“Well, it’s not exactly sports, but it is called eSports. Teams of gamers play a video game together against another team. It’s usually streamed online, but there are live events too. They fill whole arenas with fans,” she rushed out. <This is another tag you can avoid, and the fact that she clamps her mouth shut after she says it almost shows that she said it in a rush.> She clamped her mouth shut when she saw his slightly glazed, yet skeptical look.
Just once couldn’t someone, anyone get it? “People go to arenas…to watch other people play video games? <It might be really cool if you drop in a description of his incredulous look here and then you can drop the dialogue tag at the end (after ‘even pay?>’ Harry, how are you going to get by? Does that even pay <Add question mark” he asked incredulously. <Rather than saying ‘he asked incredulously’ show the look on his face or his movements that bring to life the incredulous look, for example his brows are turned down, his mouth twisted in confusion. There are lots of alternatives to avoid descriptive adverbs.
He’d gone from confused to full on patronizing at mach speed. It was the response she expected, but she was so done with that reaction from…well, everyone.
“It does Rick, pretty well in fact. There are risks, of course, but that’s true for most things worth doing,” she took a deep breath and drew herself up to her full, meager height, “Listen, I’m going to give this a real chance and see where I can go. So, March 15th is my last day. I’ll have most of my outstanding projects wrapped up by then. If there is < consider contracting this for smoother flow> anything else I’ll pass it off to Kelly until you can find someone.”
“Sure Harry, that all sounds fine, but if you rethink this, don’t feel like you can’t talk to me,” he said in his best fatherly tone. <I give you full permission to side-eye me now for banging on about dialogue tags. You could perhaps add that she scowled AT the fatherly tone in his voice in the para down, then you’d be dropping the dialogue tag and further showing how patronizing he seems.
Harry tried not to scowl, but it was a near thing. She knew he was trying to help. That he was earnestly worried about her, but she was just done justifying her decision. She could feel her blood pressure rising. Why did this bother her so much? Her signature was on the team contract. She was going to do this. Why care what people like Rick and her coworkers thought? She tamped down on< can cut this extra word if you wish> her emotions.
“Thanks, Rick, but I thought long and hard about this before I came in here with a letter of resignation. I’m certain this is the right decision for me. I’ll set up a meeting with Kelly to talk to her about transitioning some of my work. Did you want me to add you to the invite?”
“No, that’s ok, just send me your plan after you two have it worked out.”
Rick turned back to his email, her <perhaps ‘a’ instead of ‘her’> clear signal that she was dismissed. She turned on her heel and walked out of his office back to her tiny cubicle, second row down, third cube on the right in the rabbit warren of the cube farm where she worked. She flopped down in her chair, closed her eyes against the glare of the florescent lights and suppressed a huge sigh. I love your work. I feel connected to your character at this point. I feel her turmoil and I really want to read on. Awesome!
Thank you, Emma, for your critique!
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars past mentor and prior Managing Director, Heather Cashman …
With a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, the lab reports always lacked the fantastical element Heather’s imagination demands. Hypotheses turned into taglines and novels that range from Epic Fantasy to Contemporary Speculative Fiction. Editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. Agent Intern. Prior Managing director of Pitch Wars and #pitmad. Previously an editor for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, Heather now freelance edits queries, synopses, pages, and full novels for middle grade, young adult, and select adult fiction. Member, SCBWI.
Check out her editing services here.
Heather’s Query Critique . . .
Dear (Agent name),
I’m hoping to interest you in ‘Title Withheld’ – my contemporary YA fantasy novel of 90,000 words.
Your font should be Times New Roman or something similar.
Your first sentence should be personal, why you think this agent will love your manuscript. Some ways to do this are: Because you represent X Author (or X Book), Because you said on #MSWL that you love X Genre (or themes or content), I think you’ll love TITLE OF BOOK, my 90,000 word Young Adult Fantasy.
Be confident, don’t hope.
The last line of this should be comparable titles. They can touch on style, characters, world, or any aspect of another novel that will give a clearer picture of where your novel will fit in the market.
15 year old Eden is used to looking after herself. She lives above the comic shop with her younger brother, Luke. When Luke goes missing, Eden learns he’s not the only teen to have vanished. Eden uncovers the dark world of the Lost Ones in the underground canals of Manchester, and suspects Luke has joined them. Michael and his team of Dream Catchers seem to be her only hope of finding Luke. But when she discovers Michael’s family are behind the disappearances, how can she trust anyone?
Kids looking out for themselves is very common. What’s the most unique thing about your character or the world they live in? I think living above a comic shop is great.
Tighten. We don’t need so many words to get us into the story.
Fifteen-year-old Eden lives above the comic shop with her younger brother, Luke. When he goes missing, Eden uncovers the dark world of the Lost Ones in the underground canals of Manchester and suspects Luke has joined them.
Another positive aspect of this format is that it shows Eden as taking charge of her own destiny and being the hero we want to read about.
Questions in a query are 99.9% of the time not a good idea. Anywhere any agent or editor might answer the wrong way or have their interest slack, it’s dangerous. So just avoid questions. Turn it into a statement. She has no one to trust.
Helped by the ghost of Michael’s ex-girlfriend (a 150 year old dead witch), a magical bracelet and her new friends, (the Dream Catchers) will Eden be able to learn magic and decipher the Book of The Lost – and the secret of Michael’s ancient family – in time to find her brother and rescue the other teens?
Take out the parentheses and use commas instead.
It feels inconsistent that the leader of the Dream Catchers is someone she can’t trust but feels the Dream Catchers are her friends. Perhaps you need to state this more as a dangerous liaison rather than friends to up the suspense.
Overall, this part falls a little flat as far as plot goes, because it’s a list of things. Which is useful for picture book pitches but not so much YA. We need more about the how and why and the emotional struggle happening to Eden. If you can hint at her motivations, her flaw, and how she’s going to overcome all that while finding her brother, that would be so much the better. I know—it’s a tall order.
Use the Oxford comma: …a magical bracelet, and the Dream Catchers…
The last part needs to be a stating of the journey she must go on and the stakes if she does or doesn’t. And hopefully, neither will be easy. Eden must learn magic, decipher the Book of the Lost, and discover the secret of Michael’s ancient family or… Tell us what will happen if she doesn’t. For her, her family, the world. Those are your stakes.
I have a Masters degree in English Studies and a post-grad diploma in journalism. When I’m not writing, I love spending time reading, enjoying amateur photography and art.
Master’s in English Studies
…reading, and enjoying amateur photography and art.
Thank you for your time,
No period after your name. You have two closing statements here. I’d eliminate one.
Use your full name. This is a business letter and you want to look professional.
Include your website, your phone number, and your social media handles after the signature, and link them so the agent can click to your pages.
Thank you for trusting me with your query! Good luck in Pitch Wars and beyond!
Thank you, Heather, for your critique!
Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting them up until the Pitch Wars submission window opens on August 27. Hope you’ll come back and read some more.