Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2021 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query and first page critique from one of our mentors. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the Pitch Wars submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you in shining up your query and first page.
We appreciate our mentors for generously dedicating 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.
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentors Amy Lea and Alicia Thompson …
Amy Lea is a Canadian bureaucrat by day and contemporary romance author by night (and weekends). She writes contemporary romance/romcoms featuring strong heroines, witty banter, mid-2000s pop culture references, and happily ever afters.
When Amy is not writing, she can be found fan-girling over other romance books on Instagram (@amyleabooks), eating potato chips with reckless abandon, and snuggling with her husband and goldendoodle.
Her debut romantic comedy SET ON YOU is forthcoming from Berkley Romance at Penguin Random House in Spring 2022. Amy is repped by Kim Lionetti of BookEnds Literary Agency.
Alicia Thompson is the author of the forthcoming romcom LOVE IN THE TIME OF SERIAL KILLERS (Berkley/2022). She has also written a YA novel, PSYCH MAJOR SYNDROME (Disney Hyperion/2009), and a four-book middle-grade series co-authored with Dominique Moceanu (Disney Hyperion/2012). She lives in Riverview, FL with her husband and two kids. Alicia is repped by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary.
Amy’s upcoming release, SET ON YOU …
A gym nemesis pushes a fitness influencer to the max in Amy Lea’s steamy debut romantic comedy.
Curvy fitness influencer Crystal Chen built her career shattering gym stereotypes and mostly ignoring the trolls. After her recent breakup, she has little stamina left for men, instead finding solace in the gym – her place of power and positivity.
Enter firefighter Scott Ritchie, the smug new gym patron who routinely steals her favorite squat rack. Sparks fly as these ultra-competitive foes battle for gym domination. But after a series of escalating jabs, the last thing they expect is to run into each other at their grandparents’ engagement party.
In the lead up to their grandparents’ wedding, Crystal discovers there’s a soft heart under Scott’s muscled exterior. Bonding over family, fitness, and cheesy pick-up lines, she just might have found her swolemate. But when a photo of them goes viral, savage internet trolls put their budding relationship to the ultimate test of strength.
Amy and Alicia’s critique . . .
Category: Adult Rom Com
Dear (Agent Name),
Abby Lalumandier may have been named school librarian of the year [love that she’s a librarian and obviously great at her job!], but her love life is a shambles [should this be in a shambles?]. When the latest in a string of douchey boyfriends dumps her because she’s not upwardly mobile enough for him [Is “upwardly mobile” the latest douche’s own words? This might be a nice place to insert a little voice], she starts to think maybe love just isn’t in her future. What’s worse, due to budget cuts, her school’s new dream library lost its funding mid-build, and no bake sale could possibly cover it.
[This introduction does a nice job of outlining up the stakes and giving insight into what your main character needs. This paragraph sets up a tension between her professional life and her love life, and suggests that maybe she might prioritize one over the other. The way it’s worded, though, it’s not clear which way that goes. For example, she was named school librarian of the year, but her love life is in shambles; while love isn’t in her future but worse, the library lost its funding.]
Wealthy hotel mogul Brandon Gibson, the world’s most eligible bachelor [maybe cut this – it could read as hyperbole, and the rest of this paragraph demonstrates his eligible bachelor-ness in other ways], was just named Tempus magazine’s [Tempus Magazine’s if the “magazine” is part of the name a la New York Magazine] sexiest man alive–in or out of a kilt [love this kilt detail, but not sure how it connects – is Brandon Scottish? Is he known for his kilt-wearing? Either way, yes please. 😊]. But if his last date’s any indication, he can only attract women who want him for his money, his looks, or the 15 minutes of fame a date with him can bring. [It might be cleaner just to state one reason in the query letter and let the book itself provide more detail regarding why women tend to use him.] He’s sick of being hounded by the media about his nonexistent love life, so when he meets a beautiful librarian with a problem, he proposes a scheme to help them both—he’ll bankroll the remainder of her school library if Abby pretends to be his girlfriend to keep media and moochers alike off his back. [Love the rhythm of “media and moochers alike!” Maybe this sentence could be combined with the previous one in some way to more concisely state his motivations for wanting to fake date?]
[Overall, so far you’ve laid out their individual reasons for wanting to fake date (love this trope!!!) in a really clear and compelling way. She needs a self-esteem boost after being dumped and money for the library, and he needs an excuse to be left alone by everyone who wants something from him. Perfect.]
Publicly faking a grand love affair gets complicated when they start to fall for each in private, each doubting how the other really feels. [The trope of fake dating is so good, but this sentence feels like it’s just describing the dynamics of that trope in general. This could be an opportunity to make it more specific to your book to show how it’ll stand out.] But if Abby had felt out of place among her last boyfriend’s world of local wealth, being in Brandon’s circles is astronomically harder; and when she tries too hard, he worries she’s with him for the wrong reasons. They’ll both need to overcome deep-seated assumptions about themselves and each other to find their happily ever after together. [This last sentence falls a little flat – is there a way to punch it up, maybe with a play on words or a zinger that would lead nicely into the details of your book? Looking at the back copy of published books is a great way to study examples of this!]
[You did such a nice job of showing the internal assumptions that pose a conflict to them being together – and so relatable, especially on Abby’s end. Is there an external conflict that’s also preventing them from being together? If so, you may want to include in this paragraph, as well.]
TITLE is an adult contemporary romance complete at XX,000 words and will appeal to fans of COMP and COMP. [Your title is so great – love a good pun! Without seeing the comps, it’s hard to make any suggestions there, but just make sure that you’re presenting a consistent view of your book. For example, if it’s a romcom, you may want to specify that, and then your comps could be relatively recent romcoms that are in a similar vein (writing style, themes, angst-level etc) or you think would appeal to the same reader.]
[Obviously there’s no bio paragraph here, but since they can be such a pain to write! – we would recommend you include any relevant writing experience, publication credits, etc. If you don’t have any, that’s totally fine and not a problem at all! This paragraph can be a really fun way to insert some interesting details about yourself, especially anything that relates to the book – if you’ve worked as a school librarian, for example.]
I didn’t make a peep when the server at the crowded [maybe “show” the reader the ballroom is crowded somewhere below as she makes her way through the crowd, as opposed to “telling” us] law gala cleared away my half-drunk soda. [Right away, you do a nice job setting up her character – as someone who goes along with things, could be more assertive, etc.] I’d only just sat [set] it down, just for a second, [the word “just” is every writer’s nemesis!! Try to avoid two in one sentence if possible] and now I had to trek across the ballroom full of wealthier, better-dressed people to get another. [This is more good characterization that sets up the main character as someone who feels out of place among this wealthier crowd – which will be important to the story since the love interest is such a part of that world. It would be nice to get a little more detail of the room/people here – is this a gala for law professors? Employees of a white shoe law firm? What’s an example of how they’re dressed and how is it different from what she’s wearing?]
I should’ve been more assertive in keeping my glass. Holding onto that watery drink for the past hour was the only thing I’d had to do with my hands, besides repeatedly pulling up the neckline of this stupid, borrowed cocktail dress. [wow – so relatable!] Where did Robert go?
He’d said [maybe promised or assured, or a word that’s a little stronger to give a sense of Robert here], I’ll be with you the whole time, and I won’t leave you alone for a second, but he had a bad habit of disappearing at these things. I don’t know why he bothered bringing me. [This last sentence is switching tenses – it should be “didn’t know why he’d bothered…”]
[From reading the query, we’re assuming that Robert is the douche boyfriend who brought Abby to some work function as his plus-one. But a little more context might be helpful here – how they’d been dating for x months and he always dragged her to these kinds of events or something similar.]
A stylish older couple passed with arms linked, the woman in a beaded gown that likely cost more than I was worth. [The use of the word “worth” here implies either that she has fairly low self-esteem, or that she’s prone to melodrama, or perhaps some combination of the two. That gives her a lot of room for growth in the story, but be careful of this strong word choice if those aren’t the impressions you’re looking to give.] She ignored the smile I gave them while her husband stared down my plunging neckline. Gross. [Ugh, so gross. This could be a good opportunity to add a little more to help the reader really feel what Abby is feeling. For example, how does she react? Does she hitch up the neckline of her dress again? Slouch her shoulders? Look around for Robert? And how is the husband staring? An extra descriptor, such as gawked, mouth open down her plunging neckline, for example may elevate this sentence.]
Normally I just felt invisible, but tonight I felt simultaneously like the shabbiest person in the room and a sheep wearing the Halloween costume of a wolf. [These two descriptions are a little difficult to reconcile together. This might be a good opportunity to tell the reader a little more about Abby – what would she rather be doing instead of this? What’s her natural habitat? The library? At home reading a good book? What does Abby the “sheep” look like versus the “wolf” she’s pretending to be tonight?]
My stomach rumbled. Because I was such a picky eater, there was nothing at the gala for me to eat but cheese and crackers. I could only get those from the buffet so many times before people started to think I was crazy. Thank God it was a buffet. A sit-down dinner would’ve been excruciating. [Has Abby had a particularly awful experience at a sit-down dinner before? This could be a good opportunity to add a zippy line or two to give the flavor of one of those, both for some humor and also to give the reader more insight into Abby.] Unfortunately[,] nearly every social event in life revolved around eating, and no one—including myself—ever understood my eating habits.
[We love that this first page opens right into the scene, immersing us into this cocktail party world where Abby feels like such a fish out of water. You have done such a wonderful job at starting with action and avoiding bogging the reader down with backstory and excessive detail. It also gives a lot of great hints as to who Abby is as a person – that she’s self-deprecating, not always comfortable in her own skin, willing to “go along” with things, etc. Our main suggestions would be to add some more detail and specificity in a few places just to help the scene come alive even more. For example, the ballroom could use some description upfront. Thanks for sharing – it was so much fun to read!!]