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 Jeanmarie Anaya
Jeanmarie is a YA Contemporary writer represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. She’s a University of Michigan grad (Go Blue!) who somehow missed receiving her Hogwarts letter and has never gotten over the disappointment. You can find her on a beach in NYC, with a book in hand, wishing she could surf as well as her daughters.
Jeanmarie’s Query Critique . . .
I am seeking representation for a young adult novel called Power Surge. [Title should be in ALL CAPS.] <Insert personalized line based on agents bio or wish list > [Your introductory sentence isn’t technically a problem, but I think you could save some space by jumping straight into the personalized second sentence (based on the agent’s wishlist). That first sentence sounds like filler. I think you’d grab the agent’s attention faster by saying something like, “Hey, I saw your MSWL tweet about XYZ and thought you’d enjoy my manuscript, POWER SURGE.”]
Erin comes from a long line of hunter-elf hybrids, but when she is diagnosed with ADHD, her family decides to hide their true nature from her. As she grows older, developing depression and a cutting addiction, some family members question their decision while others become more convinced she is too disabled to hunt. [You lay out the main character and her initial internal conflict very well in this first paragraph. I wonder, though, if you could inject more voice into it? Right now it reads a bit like a synopsis and is missing the feel you’d get from a query that comes alive with the main character’s voice. I think the query would benefit from a different spin on the opening. Something that’s a bit more enticing. Try to rewrite the opening from Erin’s perspective. Really let loose so your writing skills shine here. Show us what Erin’s like. Let her personality come through in the writing. I also found myself wondering—does Erin know that she’s a hunter-elf? Is her family special or prominent in that world? And who are these hunter-elf hybrids? What’s their role?]
When the hunters become the hunted, they can no longer hide the truth from Erin. [ß–This sentence has the potential to have a big impact because it illustrates the stakes. It’s a perfect ‘Dun Dun Duuun’ moment. So I think you might be better off ending your first paragraph with it, almost like how you’d end a chapter on a powerful moment. Place it as the last sentence there, and it compels the reader to keep reading on to the second paragraph to find out what Erin does about her situation.] An incubus is stalking her with the intention of recruiting her to the “dark side” and impregnating her with his spawn as part of a plot help the rulers of Hell conquer Earth. [The previous sentence is packed with a lot of information, and it sounds like it’s an important enough part of the novel that it should be fleshed out. This is the core external conflict of the novel. Spend some time on it; show us how this makes things impossible for Erin. Also, this is a great opportunity to build the word a little bit. Inject a few key facts in here so that we know what’s going on in Erin’s world. Who is this incubus? Why does he want to conquer Earth?] Despite the warnings, Erin persists in her quest to learn the truth about her heritage and abilities. She rejects her Grandpa’s effort to protect her, and as a result, defeats the demon that threatened to destroy her family, prevents an apocalypse, and discovers that fighting demons is rather therapeutic. [You’re definitely going to want to scale back on this last sentence. The rule of thumb with query-writing is to leave the ending a mystery. Don’t tell us that Erin defeats the demon and prevents the apocalypse. Tease us in the query so that we want to read the novel to find out whether or not she succeeds in the end, but stay clear of outright giving away the ending.]
Complete, 78,000 words, Power Surge [Just to reiterate, put the novel’s title in ALL CAPS. Also, change up that first phrase so that it says, “Complete AT 78,000 words”] is an #ownvoices, YA novel that blends elements of contemporary fantasy with dark/psychological thriller and literary fiction. (The Darkest Part of the Forest meets Sharp Objects). [I love this pitch mashup you came up with! Maybe try working it into the very first sentence of your query?] Erin’s struggles with mental illness are mostly drawn from my own experiences. She learns to deal with her inner demons by fighting literal ones. I exorcise mine by writing stories. I was the second place winner of Women on Writing’s Winter 2016 Flash Fiction Contest. My short fiction has been published by dozens of magazines, e-zines and anthologies including Helios Quarterly, Women Write About Comic’s Secrets of the Goat People, Ability Maine’s Breath and Shadow, Spaceports & Spidersilk, Youth Imagination, Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers and Robots, Hermeneutic Chaos and The Lorelei Signal. [Your accomplishments are fantastic (GO YOU!) and you’re right to include them. However, this is a long list, and it takes up quite a bit of room. If I were you, I’d cut down the publications a little. Pick maybe 2 or 3 that illustrate your writing prowess in the same specific genre as POWER SURGE. That way, the agent sees that you’ve won a contest and that you’re an accomplished published author in the genre in question, but at the same time we keep the paragraph trim and neat and not too overloaded. Also, I’d break this paragraph down into two. The first part deals with the novel, and the second part deals with your bio. Split them up.]
Thank you for taking the time to read my query. Per your guidelines, I have included ____ in the body of the email. I look forward to continuing my conversation with you about my work. This project is being simultaneously submitted to other agents. [You can ditch the last sentence. Nowadays, it’s a given that queries are being submitted simultaneously, unless stated otherwise.]
Thank you for the honor of critiquing your query! Your story sounds like it’s filled with the high stakes battles that the publishing industry loves so much! I’d love for your query to more sharply illustrate this so that you have the best chances of getting your book widely read by agents.
The main take-away from my suggestions is this: focus on injecting your query with as voice as possible. As it is now, the pitch portion of your query reads a bit formulaic, like a synopsis would. And you give away the ending. (Definitely don’t do that. You want the agents reading your pitch to be so intrigued by the conflict that they immediately request the manuscript to read and find out the ending for themselves.) An exercise I’d suggest for beefing up the voice (and one which I myself do) is to rewrite the query from your main character’s perspective. Literally. Approach it as if you’re writing a diary entry as Erin. Think about how she speaks, her rhythms, speech patterns, the way her internal thoughts form. Then try to take some of those and add it to the pitch. The general plot framework in the pitch works, so infusing it with voice would enhance the building blocks that are already there.
Also, a little more world-building would add some color and depth to the query, too. Focus on giving us some more information about this incubus stalking her and what his presence means for the hunter-elf hybrid world. (I’m assuming it can’t be a good thing? He sounds horrifying!) This is the core external conflict, and it packs a tremendous punch when it comes to the story’s stakes. Right now there’s only one (long) sentence about it. I’d cut that sentence up into two or three and add more details that enhance the risks and consequences Erin’s facing. Of course, an incubus hoping to help the rulers of Hell take over Earth is a great concept on its own. But show us how this relates to Erin, so that her own personal stakes are heightened. Why her? Show us why she can’t avoid getting into this battle with the incubus. If she bails on the fight, what will happen? If she takes the risk of protecting Earth from the incubus, what is at stake? I think ending the query with this kind of powerful conundrum will really pull agents to request the manuscript and read on.
You’re off to a good start with this query. It needs some massaging to draw out the pitch and really make it shine, but the bones are there, and it sounds like a truly awesome story. How can you not want to read a book about an incubus plotting to take over the world? Am I right? 😉
Best of luck with your revisions! And, of course, I hope your inbox is packed with requests!
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Rachel Lynn Solomon …
Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of the upcoming contemporary YA novel You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone (out early 2018 from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse) with a second book slated for 2019. She is represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency. You can find her online at http://www.rachelsolomonboo
Rachel Lynn’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: YA
GENRE: Dark Fantasy
It was summer; it should not have been snowing. [I love this first line. A great first line should make the reader ask a question, and this one absolutely does—I need to know why it’s snowing in summer!]
If only the courthouse hadn’t kept us so late. Ben craned his neck to stare at the bruised sky, watching the flakes dance. He and his fiancée had just left their arranged engagement, but the road crowded with foreign beggars. [This sentence is a bit confusing, and it makes me wonder whether the story is beginning in the right place. Arranged engagement meaning they just got engaged? I could use a bit more information here.]
He kept his arm linked in Risha’s to keep her safe as he dodged the poor, reaching hands lining the streets. Scents of oily bodies filled Ben’s nostrils, making him grimace. [You have so many great sensory details, and your writing is beautiful! I’m unsure why the bodies are oily, though. I don’t know if I’d associate poor with oily. Wonder if there’s a better descriptor.]
Ice-coated cobblestones lay in rows before him, every crack in the road filled with snow. Risha stumbled to keep up with him.
“Please. Food. Just a coin.” The cries grew as more beggars arrived. Their blood-shot eyes stared at him through tears. Where Yri’s citizens usually strolled prim gardens and homes were overrun with crowds of ailing foreigners. [I’m a bit confused by this sentence as well. Is it unusual for the streets to be overrun with foreigners? And could you clarify how it compares to the rest of Yri?]
Ben squinted in the summer-snow and blocked out the cries, torn. He had to obey his father’s instructions and avoid the foreigners, despite their needs. His father’s leadership made Yri one of the last cities in Sejiavin ruled by anything but chaos. This flock of migrants reminded him that places beyond Sejiavin’s borders were wild and many struggled.
Risha whimpered to her patron saints, cowering from the poorer people. [I don’t quite have a handle on their relationship. Since this engagement was arranged, was it something Ben wanted? Is he happy with her? What does she look like—could we get a little description? And does Ben not have the same patron saints? Are they from different places? Were they arranged to cement a bond between two different nations? I want MORE!]
His skin tingled where the hands grazed him, but Ben forced himself to ignored them and obey his father’s wishes. He blinked to stay focused. This is for Risha’s safety.[Again, this makes me wonder about their relationship and whether he has genuine affection for her despite the arrangement.]
Risha’s grip tore from his hand and she shrieked. A disheveled man jumped onto her, grabbing her by the shoulders.
Risha kicked at her captor’s legs, biting his fingers. The vagrant howled then tore at her hair. Ben bailed into the beggar, ripping Risha from the tramp’s hold and wrapping his own arms over her. [This is frightening! I’d love to feel more of Ben’s reaction here—so, again, it would help to understand his feelings for Risha. And is he scared? Frustrated? Running on pure adrenaline?]
The man collapsed with a grunt and scampered into an alleyway, his threatening shouts trailing behind. Risha clung to Ben as they watched the attacker vanish into the shadows.
The beggars closed in on Ben and Risha, pleading louder. Saliva smeared on his clothes as ragged children closed in to touch him.
“Get out of here!” Ben swatted at the mob, guilt pinching him as he drove them back. [Great, I love that we feel his guilt here. Does he feel guilt for pushing back Risha’s attacker earlier, or no?] “Leave before I call my father’s guards!”
The beggars scattered, their hoots and cries bursting through the air and tugging his heartstrings. Their noises deafened the city as they disappeared. [The “they” here is unclear. They meaning the beggars, or Ben and Risha? And if it’s the beggars, where are they going?]
Ben swallowed back his mixed emotions of annoyance and shame, shifting his feet in the snow as he held onto Risha. I couldn’t do anything.
Silence shattered as the winds screamed against the houses where the citizens had taken refuge. Ben and Risha were alone and the city of Yri felt dead.
Risha slipped her hands in Ben’s. Her shoulders tightened as she stepped back.
“Are you alright?” Ben stroked his thumb over her knuckles. Please, don’ be hurt.
“Are you sure?” [I want to feel a bit more emotion in this exchange. So sorry for being repetitive, but again, I can’t tell what their feelings are for each other, despite being engaged! Does he love her? Does she love him? Is one or both of them being forced into this?]
“Let’s just get away from here,” she said. “I’m worried about the Dark Carriage.” [Where exactly are they going? I’d love to have that established earlier so we know what Ben’s goal is for this scene. I like to think of scenes as little mini-books: your character should want something in each scene, and during the scene, they either get it, or don’t, or have to changed their mind about what they want.]
“It’s a myth,” Ben said.
[Your writing is lovely, and you have some beautiful descriptions in here! You also use precise verbs and nouns; nothing in here feels overwritten, which is great. And I love your first line so much! This is definitely a compelling and action-packed opening, but my two biggest thoughts are (1) I want more definition of the Ben-Risha relationship so we can understand how they feel about each other, as that will color their actions here, and (2) I’m wondering whether it begins in the right place. I wonder if beginning at the engagement could solidify Ben and Risha’s relationship so that we understand their emotions during this interaction. I’m sure this will be explained later, but of course I’m wondering why their marriage has been arranged. This sounds like an intriguing book—good luck!]
Thank you, Jeanmarie and Rachel Lynn, 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.