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 …
Kylie Schachte is the author of the YA noir mystery YOU’RE NEXT (Jimmy Patterson Books/LBYR), which was her own Pitch Wars novel in 2017. Kylie’s been a writer since she could hold a pen, but for many years resisted her destiny, insisting that she was an actor instead. That journey brought her all the way to Moscow, Russia, where she learned such useful skills as how to walk on walls and the Russian hand signal for “blame it on the alcohol.” Now that she’s moved on from theatre, she lives in Portland, Oregon, where she spends her days refereeing between her tiny cat, Matilda, and giant dog, Clementine (the cat always wins).
Kylie’s recent release, You’re Next
Kylie’s critique . . .
YA Romantic Comedy
*Book Title* (61,000 words) is a young adult romantic comedy novel told in a similar structure to Heartbreakers and Fakers by Cameron Lund [Love this comp! It’s so great to see people referencing recent releases in their genre, and would indicate to me that you’re acquainted with the current YA contemporary market. That said, I just read this not too long ago and I had trouble thinking of what “structure” you might be referring to until I tracked down my copy to check, so I would recommend saying something like “told in a dual timeline structure similar to Heartbreakers and Fakers by Cameron Lund.”]. It is best described as High School Musical meets To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han and Sunkissed by Kasie West. [Re: my previous note — Alternatively, this is quite a few comps, so you could consider cutting Sunkissed and doing something like “BOOK TITLE (61,000 words) is a young adult romantic comedy best described as High School Musical meets To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before with the dual timeline structure of Heartbreakers and Fakers by Cameron Lund.” 4 comps isn’t egregious, but just worth considering if all four are adding something new and meaningful to your pitch!]
[I think I might like an extra sentence or two at the beginning of this next paragraph to give me a better sense of who Olivia is BEFORE this awful, humiliating thing happens to her. I feel like I have a pretty good sense of the plot/conflict/stakes type stuff AFTER the breakup, but I’m less clear on who Olivia is before the start of the story—what her life is like, what she wants before her plans are derailed by the plot, and (most importantly) what makes her a unique or compelling character to follow through a whole book]Olivia Hunter is unceremoniously dumped at senior prom after she finds her best friend, Jenna Carson, making out with her boyfriend, Jake Donnelly. [And if you take my note above^, I would start a new paragraph here] Humiliated over their betrayal, she applies to be a counselor at theater camp, Camp Perfect Harmony. Liv expects a drama-free summer, but she’s forced to face her heartbreak, including the one that got away, Charlie Walker [This sentence is a little confusing to me—“face her heartbreak” makes me think you’re referencing the whole Jenna/Jake situation, but then I don’t really see how “the one who got away”/Charlie plays into that? I guess it’s worded like it’s all one thing, when in fact we’re talking about two separate problems, right? I might try something like “Liv expects a drama-free summer, until she comes face to face with The One That Got Away: Charlie Walker.” I don’t really think you need the whole facing her heartbreak bit, since that’s kind of implied by everything we’ve already heard] When Jake shows up to camp unexpectedly with Jenna and he assumes that she’s back together with Charlie, Liv doesn’t correct him, letting Jake believe her and Charlie are the perfect theater couple. To her surprise, Charlie agrees to continue their fake relationship after they’re cast as the understudies to Jake and Jenna. [These last couple sentences feel a little awkward and convoluted—which is understandable, because this whole scheme Olivia and Charlie are trying to pull is kind of awkward and convoluted (that’s not a dig—I’m already rooting for these crazy kids!) I think it just needs a little simplifying. Maybe something like “And things only get messier when Jake and Jenna show up at camp unexpectedly and assume Liv and Charlie are dating. Caught on the spot, Liv doesn’t correct them, and Charlie seems weirdly okay with letting everyone think they’re the perfect theater couple. But the real kicker comes when the cast sheet is posted: Charlie and Liv are Jake and Jenna’s understudies.” I took a little poetic license just to show how you might even play up the ridiculousness of Olivia’s situation, but you’ll come up with something even better and more original in your own voice!]
*Book Title* is told in alternating timelines of then, and now, showing how [You’ve already established the alternating timelines thing in the first paragraph, so I would just cut everything before this point] Liv [may have chosen] Jake over Charlie in the past[,] but [now she] finds herself falling for Charlie again in the present. When a twist of fate leaves Jake and Jenna unable to play the lead roles, the understudies [must] take the stage, and Liv is forced to decide between bending her and Charlie’s fake relationship rules so they can finally be together [I’m not really sure what bending the rules so they can be together means? Is there a simpler way to say it? Maybe something like “Liv is forced to decide between ditching the fake relationship so she and Charlie can be together for real”?], or to open the curtain back up to her relationship with Jake. [Just a thought, but I wonder if there’s a more “theater-y” pun you could go with for that last part about Jake? “Open the curtain back up” doesn’t land as well for me, since it’s not like a play on a well known phrase or anything. Is there a riff on encore or curtain call or something that you could do? This is such a minor thing so really feel free to disregard if you’re like NOPE]
I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and International Relations at the University of Redlands in 2019 and a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction at The New School in 2021.
This is a stand-alone novel with series potential. [I would work this into your “housekeeping” paragraph—the one where you do all the word count, comps, etc–so in your case that would be the opening paragraph]
Before I started dating my boyfriend [cut “my boyfriend”—it’s implied when you say she’s dating him, and it feels less natural for her to be referring to him as her boyfriend in her own thoughts] Jake Donnelly [similarly, would cut “Donnelly” here; it feels a bit odd for her to refer to someone she knows very well by their full name, and as a reader I don’t need to know Jake’s full name this early in the story] winning prom queen wouldn’t have been a possibility for a drama geek like me. I got shoved into the spotlight of the high school social hierarchy, going from being completely invisible to being voted as one half of this year’s high school power couple in the yearbook, just by dating the quarterback of the football team. [Start new paragraph here] Now, all I have to worry about is trying not to be my typical klutzy self by tripping over the long train of my red dress in front of the entire senior class [would do a little cutting so that this reads “Now, all I have to worry about is trying not to trip over the train of my red dress…etc etc” The fact that she’s worrying about tripping is enough for now to imply her klutziness, and presumably we’ll get to see more of that firsthand as the story goes on. You don’t have to spell everything out for us on page 1!], and deciding whether or not fake tears during my prom queen acceptance speech are really necessary like all the prom scenes in teen romantic comedies insinuate [this is phrased somewhat awkwardly, would simplify the syntax a little bit like “and deciding if fake tears are really a necessary component of the prom queen acceptance speech, as every rom-com seems to imply]. Me and my best friend, Jenna Carson, have been dreaming of senior prom night for the past four years [Similar to my note about “my boyfriend Jake Donnelly”: I would simplify this to “Me and Jenna have been dreaming of this prom night for four years”—it’ll sound more natural to how people think inside their own heads, and it’s enough to imply Jenna is her best friend for now. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to verify that as the story goes on] and the completion of [cut “the completion of”] my perfect prom bucket list is well within my reach: limo ride, perfect red dress, dreamy date, matching best friend corsages, tiny golden tiara.
Jake and I are taking our prom pictures in front of the enchanted forest display at the front of the hotel ballroom, featuring a giant sea of trees and twinkle lights. [Coming back to add this now that I’ve read the whole page: it wasn’t until I got to the end of this paragraph that I realized they are actually already at prom! There’s something about the phrasing of the previous sentence that feels sort of distant/abstract, so I thought Olivia was still talking about how things WILL BE when she eventually gets to the prom, rather than describing where she is RIGHT NOW. I would recommend taking some more time here to really ground us in the present moment and physical space. Give us some more precise physical details—the feeling of Jake’s arm around her back, the feeling of the makeup Jenna did for her on her face, the way the twinkle lights make everyone look softer and more romantic, whatever! I’m sure you’ll come up with something awesome. And this could even be a way to subtly hint that all is not right in the world, that her “perfect prom moment isn’t as perfect as she wants to think! Maybe Jenna glued one of her false eyelashes on a little wonky, and it’s impeding her vision, or she’s suddenly remembering she hasn’t eaten since lunch and she’s starting to feel kind of woozy, or her dress zipper is a little janky and keeps sliding down, no matter how many times she tries to fix it. Because the first paragraph is so deep inside Olivia’s internal thoughts, you’ll want to contrast that with more physicality her to help clue the reader into the fact that we’re transitioning out of pure internal monologue into the present moment where PLOT is happening.] I’m convinced enchanted forest was [only] chosen as the prom theme [cut “prom”—it’s been used a lot on this page and you don’t need it here!] to have an excuse to re-use our tree [cut “tree”] set decor from [the] spring musical, Into The Woods. [Just a thought, feel free to take or leave, but I found myself wondering if there was a way to reframe the previous sentence to feel more immediate present moment (in keeping with my previous comment). Like what if instead of just telling us this, we see Olivia coming to this conclusion in real time. Like she’s standing there with Jake, trying to smile pretty for the camera but also gazing all around, trying to take it all in, trying to burn every image into her brain to remember this perfect moment forever, and then she’s like hey….wait a minute…that’s our set piece! Whatever, it’s still magical and perfect and right etc etc] The abundance of greenery reminds me of summers at Camp Perfect Harmony. [I see what you’re doing here, but it feels kind of a random for her to be thinking about camp right now. More like the author is trying to hint at the premise of the book than something she’d genuinely be thinking about in this moment, with so much else going on. I would just cut it—we’ll have plenty of time to get introduced to Camp Perfect Harmony later] Jenna comes running up to us and seductively third-wheels our last photo by kissing Jake on the cheek. [What does it mean for to “seductively third wheel something”? Like what does that look like? Even the kissing on the cheek part is iffy for me, because it’s not an inherently sexy thing, so I have to stop and think for a sec about what a seductive cheek kiss would be. I’m really not one of those people that’s opposed to all adverbs all the time, but I think in this instance you’d be better served by actually taking the time to be more specific in your description of what Jenna is doing, to show us how she’s being seductive in this moment. PLUS, that will help address some of my previous comments about taking more time on the physicality and description in this scene.]
[Thank you so much for letting me read—I love a good fake dating scheme! Your premise seems really fun, and I can tell you’ve been paying attention to the current YA contemporary market both through your comps and Olivia’s voice, which feels really personal and human! As I noted in some of my comments, I would just work on balancing Olivia’s more internal/abstract thoughts with physicality and description that helps us to feel really present in the moment, living this experience alongside Olivia rather than simply being told about it after the fact. I have SO MANY THOUGHTS on that subject, more than I should probably get into for a one page critique, but I did a mini blog series on “show, don’t tell” on my site if you want more advice on this subject!]