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 Sandi Ward
Sandi Ward grew up in Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts. She went to Tufts University, and then received her MA in Creative Writing at New York University. She is an advertising copywriter and lives on the Jersey Shore with her husband, teenagers, dog and a big black cat named Winnie.
Sandi is represented by Stacy Testa of Writers House.
Sandi’s upcoming release …
THE ASTONISHING THING, the story of a broken family seen through the eyes of their cat, will be available from Kensington Books on October 31, 2017.
Sandi’s Query Critique…
AGE CATEGORY: New Adult
GENRE: Paranormal Romance
I noticed you’re seeking supernatural and paranormal fiction, so I’m happy to submit DEFINING LOVE, a 67,000-word [New Adult] Paranormal Romance with crossover appeal [Crossover to which audience? Young Adult readers, or adult readers?], which should interest readers of Patricia Briggs and Richelle Mead. This is a strong stand-alone but has series potential.
[Very good use of comp authors. Word count is on target. I like that it is stand-alone but with series potential.]
Rejection made her stronger. [You used the word “strong” 2 sentences in a row. Maybe replace one?] Loss kept him isolated. If they can overcome their deepest regrets, together they can save the future of the Blood Moone pack. [This is a little vague. I think your 2nd paragraph below is more powerful and more specific.
When Lucinda Raven, a twenty-three-year-old wolf shifter, seeks refuge in the Blood Moone territory, she puts the Alpha and his entire pack in jeopardy when her controlling and psychotic ex-lover finds her there. [Great one-sentence hook with crisp details! I might start with this paragraph. It gives me an immediate sense of the MC, and the urgent stakes involved.]
Hunted by her ex-lover who plans to claim her as his mate and perform the mating ritual that will bind them together forever, Lucinda is on the run and turns to a friend for help. But sparks fly and emotions explode when she stumbles upon a childhood acquaintance, who happens to be the one single-handedly [might not need this word] responsible for her becoming a rogue five years prior. And he has managed to weasel his way into the high-ranking position of Beta in the Blood Moone pack. While Lucinda navigates her way through pack politics and struggles with the desires of her heart, she forms an unlikely kinship with the pack’s fierce Alpha. Lucinda must stop running and face her past, or risk losing not only her freedom but the lives of those she’s come to care about.
[PRIMARY PLOT: Is there anything else at stake other than males fighting over Lucinda and the Blood Moone pack? Is the pack facing any challenges from outside forces (humans or other creatures)? In what way does the ex-lover put the pack at risk? Is he trying to kill them all, and if so, why? (Is he just psychotic? Or is he traumatized from a past event? etc.)]
[CHARACTERS: I was a little confused, because you mention a lot of characters: a) the psychotic ex-lover; b) the friend she turns to for help; c) a childhood acquaintance she stumbles upon (the Beta); and d) the Alpha. From this query, I’m not sure who the love interest is, the Beta or the Alpha. “Sparks fly and emotions explode” with the Beta, but he’s also described as “weaseling his way up to a high-ranking position” (sounds sneaky/unattractive). The fact that you mention the Alpha very early in the query made me wonder if he’s actually the love interest. Are we supposed to know? If so, make it clear. Also, we aren’t given the name of any characters other than Lucinda, which puts them at a distance. For a Romance, I think an agent (or reader) would want to learn the name of the love interest(s) in the teaser summary, because he is a critical character. I might simplify this by eliminating mention of any character that isn’t necessary, and spend another sentence explaining what makes Lucinda so special/interesting. We don’t need to meet every secondary character in the query. Keep this focused.]
I am a Wattpad Featured Author with more than 5k followers on the platform. I am also active on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads. [I think it’s a good idea to mention your platform.]
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
[This is a great start! I feel like there may be more specific details you can drill down to in order to make this query stand out. If an agent reads 100 paranormal romance queries today, what makes this story the MOST compelling? What makes this story different, and what about this world is unique?]
[PROTAGONIST: I want agents to love Lucinda, and in order to do that, they may need to know more about her. Does she have a special power/strength, or a unique challenge to overcome? You may want to look at the summaries of books by Patricia Briggs and Richelle Mead again and make sure your summary is just as compelling as any of theirs. For example, in the brief teaser for Patricia Briggs’s first Mercy Thompson novel, we learn that Mercy has a talent for fixing cars and runs a one-woman mechanic shop, and was banished from her pack for having a forbidden love affair. Those details reveal that she must be a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners type of character, right? What about Lucinda is equally strong, exciting and fascinating?
Thanks! And good luck with your query!]
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Julia Nobel …
Julia is a writing coach and middle grade and young adult author. Her childhood obsession with The Babysitters Club turned into a lifelong passion for reading and writing children’s literature. She offers writing masterclasses and courses for writers in all genres, and is a 2017 Pitch Wars Mentor. Her 3-year-old daughter likes to help her write by throwing apple sauce at the keyboard and pressing the escape key.
Find out about Julia’s writing coach services on her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/JuliaNobelBooks/ and check out her upcoming classes schedule here: http://julianobel.com/for-writers/.
Julia’s First Page Critique . . .
TITLE: FLY THE GOLDEN CAGE
GENRE: Historical/Magical Realism
They had finally come for her, just like her parents said they would.
Tembre was put on a pedestal in the middle of her family’s shabby den. [The voice in this sentence is more distant than the previous one. ‘Was put on’ and ‘shabby den’ are pretty generic and don’t give us much of a sense of what Tembre is actually experiencing in that moment. I think you could draw the reader in more by bringing it closer to what she is seeing and feeling. Are her knees shaking? Is she staring at the scuffed floor? Be more specific.]
“Open your mouth.” The assessor, a stodgy elder, stuck his finger between her lips and ran it across her teeth. His skin tasted salty and Tembre nearly gagged. [I like the description here, but it slips into a more distant and generic voice again. It tells us what she’s experiencing—that his skin tastes salty—but it doesn’t actually help us to experience it with her. Does it reek of dried sweat? Does it make her think of day-old fish scales? Go deeper and pull us closer to her experience.] But her parents stood across the room, catching her eye with nervous glances that told her to stand straighter and smile pleasantly. She couldn’t disappoint them.
“Thick hair and good teeth. That’s what we like to see. Her eyes are too large, but I’m sure she’ll grow into them,” the old man said.
“The villagers say she looks like a cherub,” her father added, grappling his cloth hat which was fraying at the corners. [This is a pretty long dialogue tag. I think you could cut ‘her father added’ and replace it with something simple like, ‘Her father grappled his fraying hat.’]
“Amal, you can finish the inspection in the bedroom. The mother can go too.”
His companion, a tight-faced woman with a severe mouth, led her to the back of their home and drew the curtain across the bedroom’s entryway.
“You need to remove your clothing,” Amal said. Her expression was void of emotion, her voice harsh and direct. [This is another good description, but with a distant voice that tells instead of shows. Show us more of Tembre’s actual thoughts, like ‘There was no emotion in her voice. She must have done a thousand of these inspections’.]
Tembre struggled against tears, her delicate face wrought with fear and confusion. [Tembre can’t see her own face—consider showing us how she feels by describing an internal reaction, like her stomach lurching or her hands starting to shake.] Adults weren’t supposed to ask such things of children. Girls received beatings for defying their modesty. She looked up at her anne for help.
“It’s okay, Tembre.” Her mother’s tone was gentle, her eyes soft and warm like honey.
As much as a seven-year-old could, she remained somber and well behaved, not complaining as she undressed for the woman. Amal circled her, scouring every inch of her body to ensure everything was flawless.
“We’re done,” she said and walked out of the room, leaving Tembre alone, unclothed and trembling, with her mother.
Her anne wore a heartsick expression and Tembre wondered if she’d done something wrong. Regretfully, she dressed. When she came back into the den she noticed that the assessor seemed satisfied. He handed her father small velvet sack of coin. He clutched it, a silent tear falling from his cheek.
“You can say goodbye now,” the assessor said to her. He nodded to Tembre’s parents, then he and the woman went outside. The air was so dry and stifling, Tembre thought she was going to choke. [This description is great! It brings us right into Tembre’s head and helps us get close to her.]
Her mother dropped to her knees and grasped her tightly. “You bring honor to us, my little robin,” she said, her face sunk in gloom.
Tembre tried not to cry. Her father had asked her to be brave. [This is another great example of a close voice that shows us how she’s feeling and what she’s thinking.]
He scooped her up, as if she were a toddler, and breathed in her scent. [That feels so real and genuine, and brings me closer to the heartbreak in this scene.] With a kiss on her forehead, he gently placed her inside the assessor’s caravan. He removed his prized nazar necklace, a talisman of pure stardust, and lowered the silver chain around Tembre’s head. “You are the brightest star. When I look at the sky, I will think of you,” her father whispered. [You don’t need this dialogue tag, because the dialogue itself is tagged onto a paragraph about her father.]
It was the last thing he ever said to her.
[I think you’ve got a really great beginning here. It pulls the reader into an emotional scene, and you clearly have some great writing skills. I think you can pull the voice and point of view a bit closer to have more of an emotional impact. It’s not quite consistent yet. Sometimes we’re seeing what’s in her head and feeling what she’s experiencing, but other times there’s a bit too much ‘telling’. Look for any generic words or descriptions, and replace them with something that shows us more of what Tembre is thinking/feeling/experiencing. Use all five senses, and vary physical responses (i.e. a queasy stomach when nervous) with internal thoughts. Since this is a historical novel, those non-generic descriptions will also help to root the reader in Tembre’s culture, as that will help us get a sense of the world around her. Good luck!]
Thank you, Sandi and Julia, 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.