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 mentor Adrianna Cuevas …
Adrianna Cuevas is a first-generation Cuban-American originally from Miami, Florida. A former Spanish and ESOL teacher, Adrianna currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and son. When not working with TOEFL students, wrangling multiple pets including an axolotl, and practicing fencing with her son, Adrianna writes humorous and heartfelt middle grade novels with a touch of magic and a large dose of cubanity. She is represented by Stefanie Von Borstel of Full Circle Literary.
She is co-mentoring in Middle Grade with Arianne Costner this year.
Adrianna’s First Page Critique . . .
Henry J. Little knew that his father would have a heart attack if he saw it. I like this first sentence, but you don’t resolve the ambiguity of ‘it’ until several sentences later. So this first paragraph reads too much like an info dump with the background information about Dad’s heart condition. It had only been ten weeks since his dad’s heart bypass surgery so this was an actual risk, not him just being hysterical. He hated it when his older sister told him to stop being hysterical with that sarcastic roll of the eyes she was so good at. But this was a real and present danger! As quickly as he could he jumped on top of the molehill to squash it flat. This is the action in this paragraph and I would recommend focusing on this in the first paragraph and not all of the extraneous information you give. Put the reader in the moment right away. For four weeks, ever since he’d been allowed up out of bed, Henry’s father had been waging war on this mole. Cute! I can see you being able to have a lot of fun describing this particularly quirky animal He’d tried traps and even poured water down all the holes to try and drown the poor thing. Henry had been having vivid nightmares in which the dying beast cried out to him for help and he just couldn’t bear it anymore. He had mentioned to his Mum that he was thinking of calling the SPCA and she had given him a clip on the ear and told him to be quiet. She seemed to think that anything that distracted Dad from his frustration over being stuck at home with his family was a good thing. You have a lot of conflict in here, which is good! Henry has a soft heart. He is different than his father. His father wants to kill a mole, and he wants to save the mole. His father doesn’t seem to enjoy spending time with the family. Now, take all this conflict and SHOW it to us with an action scene straight off the bat. Maybe start with him flattening the mole hills–draw out his process, perhaps and give it fun details–and then throw in little details about his home life as the action progresses. Maybe he’s peeking nervously over his shoulder for Dad. Maybe dad calls from the kitchen and he jumps ten feet high. Just an idea.
Henry stamped morosely Perhaps not an MG word, especially if there is not sufficient body language to hint at the definition of the word.towards the back of the garden. Nobody in his family understood him. When he was younger he used to dream that Britney Spears Asked my 10yo if he knew who this was and he said no. Since she’s not really in the public arena anymore, I’d suggest using someone different. Also, keep in mind that elements such as this date your work arrived at his door one day and claimed him as her long lost son. Then the travesty of trying to fit in with his own mundane family would be over and he would be swept off in a trail of glitter to Britney world. Is there something about Britney in particular that shows us something about Henry’s character? We haven’t seen enough of Henry or his family yet to make a paragraph like this be ‘showing’ instead of ‘telling.’ The reader doesn’t have any evidence yet that Henry’s family is mundane and Henry is not. As such, this paragraph feels out of place.
A sudden movement snapped him out of his distraction. The neighbour’s cat often chased the lizards which hid amongst his mother’s climbing roses. Henry loved the small reptiles We can get more inside Henry’s head if the prose is written more through his “lens”–for example, instead of “Henry loved the small reptiles,” We could say. “The invader needed to be stopped. (An actual thought that Henry is no doubt having right now.) The difference is subtle, but if you utilize it more throughout, we feel more connected to Henry and so he ran over to the bed to chase the invader away. But as he approached comma no grey blur leapt hissing and spitting over the wall. In fact everything seemed unusually still amongst the plants. The lizards all seemed to be hiding and even the butterflies, which were normally drawn to the flowers, were absent. It felt very much like the silence of someone holding their breath. Fantastic imagery in this paragraph. Good blend of action, description, and information. This should be the standard for all your paragraphs.
“Hello?” he whispered, feeling slightly silly. love the mystery!
To his utter shock, a small lump half hidden behind a bush whirled around and presented him with a view of a very small and immensely cross face. A pair of large, purple eyes was glaring glared at him fiercely. Henry had never seen actual purple eyes before. These were not some darker shade of blue but a true, glowing, rich, purple. Also, the face was tiny. Not small like any other child’s but tiny, inhumanly tiny, like a doll version of a person.
The perfect face scrunched up and the creature hissed, “Stop staring at me!”
Henry fell over backwards, landing gracelessly on his bottom.
“You’re staring at me too, you know,” he volunteered to try and cover his embarrassment.
The small girl We only have descriptions of a face up to this point. What else about this creature leads Henry to the conclusion that it is a small girl? Weave in descriptions into your dialogue rather than having a dedicated paragraph to her appearance so as to keep the scene moving. responded haughtily, “I know. I’ve been observing you and trying very hard to figure out why you keep stamping on our watch holes.”
Henry was utterly confused. All he’d been doing was flattening the……“Molehills? Do you mean the molehills?”
“Yes,” she replied. “The moles make them but they’re called watch holes, stone brain.”
Henry’s brain indeed seemed to have turned to stone. It was buzzing with a million thoughts and questions but he just couldn’t seem to get any out. Thanks for sending in such a clean entry! I didn’t catch any typos! What a fun adventure! I’m already very curious as to where this story will go. Lots of mystery to hook a reader. Who is this girl? What are the watch holes?
Thank you, Adrianna, for your critique!
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Rebecca Enzor …
Rebecca Enzor is an analytical chemist in Charleston, SC, where she lives with her husband, two dogs, three cats, and sometimes chickens. Her articles on writing science in science fiction can be found in the upcoming “Putting the Science in Fiction” anthology, out October 16th from Writer’s Digest Books. Obsessed with everything ocean, she studied fisheries biology in college and electrocuted herself collecting fish in a river, which inspired several key scenes in her novel. She’s represented by Eric Smith of P.S. Literary. Speak the Ocean, a Blackfish meets The Little Mermaid retelling, will be published by Reuts in 2019.
Rebecca’s Query Critique . . .
Word Count: 60 000 words (This is on the low side for an adult manuscript, almost bordering on novella)
Genre: adult paranormal-romance/adventure
Eva was an accountant. Now she’s a vampire, part of an elite team sent to rescue modern vampires from the city VRU, Vampire Restriction Unit’s, offshore holding facilities. It’s not the perfectly mapped out life she envisioned for herself, but the perks are alright. (After reading the next paragraph, this one sounds more like a twitter pitch. I think you can delete it and expand the rest of the query more)
Eva Rigley’s a driven, organized, focu
ssed woman with her future planned out. That is, until her roommate vanishes. Eva suspects it’s the work of the newly exposed vampires in society’s midst (We’ve just gone back in time compared to the first paragraph. This is what you should start with to set up the character, then move into conflict (the rest of the paragraph), then the stakes), and as she searches for her missing friend, she meets Marc, an immortal, who offers her a place to stay. [Eva’s perfectly planned life goes awry as she wakes one morning, aching, reluctantly turned vampire, reluctantly so, and on the run as the city’s Vampire Restriction Unit track down errant immortals (If you can break this sentence up it’ll have more punch).] She ditches accounting, to be ing trained in combat and weaponry as she’s recruited to save the captive immortals from the VRU. What she and the rescue team find at the lab on their first mission leaves her questioning everything (You have more space in the query, and as long as this is in the first half of the book, you can specify a bit more on what they find that makes her question everything). Is it the immortals, or VRU who are to be feared more? (These are the stakes, so if you clarify what they found, this is good. If you don’t want to (or can’t) then you’ll want to expand on the stakes a bit more here. What happens if she trusts one group over the other?)
I’ve written five novels, released with a micro-press: two in a modern universe, one in historical, one erotica, and one Alternate History, all centering around the vampires I’ve created (You need to make sure you have the rights to continue using this universe with someone other than the micro-press. Often publishers will add a clause that you can’t publish in that world with anyone else until your rights revert back to you. Also, having published parts of this world with a micro-press, another publisher may be wary to take on this book depending on your sales numbers). I’ve sold two short stories, “Our Blood Like Rain” for the Blood in the Rain 2″ erotica-horror anthology, in 2016 and “Desert Blood” with Kacey Ezell, an alternative history-vampire-mormon-steampunk adventure short, publication details still to be formally announced, and a non-fiction article in Lapidary Arts Jewelry Artist magazine in 2016.
I reside in Amsterdam, Netherlands (from Canada), with a young son and my husband. I work by day in gem sales and jewelry design, which sometimes influences my fiction work, as do my travels. I have also spoken on numerous panels at Dragoncon, Libertycon and Concarolinas regarding jewelry and metalwork, alternative non-victorian history, and two raucous and hilarious “Steamy Steampunk Reading Hour” events. (You spend as much time talking about yourself as you do about the book. While you are trying to sell yourself, and this all looks relevant, your query is specifically to sell This book, so you’ll want to cut back on specifics in this section and add more specifics to the book section)
Thank you, Rebecca, 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.