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Day 11 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query & First Page Workshop with Mentors Laura Heffernan and Tracey E. Wood

Tuesday, 23 May 2017  |  Posted by Heather Cashman


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.

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Laura Heffernan

Laura Heffernan Website | Twitter

Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off: AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR, the first book in the REALITY STAR series, is coming from Kensington’s Lyrical Press in March 2017. When not watching total strangers participate in arranged marriages, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.

 Some of Laura’s favorite things include goat cheese, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, the Oxford comma, and ice cream. Not all together. The best place to find her is usually on Twitter, where she spends far too much time tweeting about writing, Canadian chocolate, and reality TV. Follow her @LH_Writes.

Laura is represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary.

Laura’s Query Critique…


GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy

Dear [Agent]:

Hazel Blackmore knows everything there is to know about magic: from what essences are needed to enchant her way to the perfect cup of coffee, to solving complex potioning equations. [Enchanted coffee? You’ve got my attention already.] The only thing stopping heoiyor from being the most competent practitioner the world has ever seen is her complete lack of magical ability, without with she can’t even begin to pull magic through the Veil. [I’d recommend breaking this into two sentences. It’s a bit long.] The best she can do is to work her ass off at her aunt Enid’s Essence Distillery to prove herself. [I’d delete the last 3 words. Also, from the opening paragraph, Hazel sounds young, which makes me wonder if this is YA. Are there details you can add to show she’s an adult?]

When Enid disappears and several of the essence brews start unraveling, Hazel has to rely on her own wits to find the solution to her problems. [To find the solution? Or to save her aunt? Framing a missing loved one as a “problem” makes Hazel seem a bit uncaring.] With the help of Leo, a charming courier with a dark past, they have to find Enid before an anti magic terrorist group and a black market gang do.

Only, Leo has an agenda of his own, and Hazel is in over her head. [This is so vague as to read as a bit cliched. Give me details! What’s Leo’s agenda? What does Hazel need to do.] If she can’t find the solution to this problem [You used this exact phrasing earlier. Definitely change one of them – or both. This could be more specific.], things might get worse than just losing some business. [I get it, but be more specific.] The Veil that holds magic back could tear and flood Denver with raw magic. And you know what they say about too much of a good thing…  [While I appreciate the voice in this last sentence, I’d recommend rewriting it and giving some stakes. What does Hazel have to do to save the day? Then personalize the stakes. Does poor Aunt Enid die? If you tie the stakes to losing a loved one, it packs more of a punch.]

ESSENCE is a 75,000 word Contemporary Fantasy that should appeal to fans of Seannan McGuire’s October Daye series.

Thank you for your consideration,

I realize that I made a lot of comments here, so I want to start out by saying: this story sounds awesome. I love stories with magic, and I’m interested in the squib running a magic shop, so to speak. But in a query, you really want to give enough detail to show what sets your story apart from other, similar stories. When writers try too hard to be mysterious, it comes across as vague. Just give a bit more of why Hazel and ESSENCE are unique, and I’m sure you’ll get plenty of requests.


Good luck!


Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Tracey E. Wood

Tracey E. WoodWebsite | Twitter

Tracey Enerson Wood has always had a writing bug. While working as a Registered Nurse, starting her own Interior Design company, raising two children, and bouncing around the world as a military wife, she indulged in her passion as a playwright, screenwriter and novelist. She has authored magazine columns and other non-fiction, written and directed plays of all lengths, including Grits, Fleas and Carrots, Rocks and Other Hard Places, Alone, and Fog. Her screenplays include Strike Three and Roebling’s Bridge.

Other passions include food and cooking, and honoring military heroes. Her anthology/cookbook Homefront Cooking, Veterans share Recipes, Wit, and Wisdom, will be released by Skyhorse Publishing in spring, 2018, and all profits will be donated to organizations that support veterans.

A New Jersey native, she now lives with her family in Florida and loves to travel, so be careful giving out casual invitations, she will show up anywhere. Ms. Wood can be reached on twitter @traceyenerson, on her blog at traceyenersonwood.blogspot.com, or website homefrontcooking.org.

Tracey’s First Page Critique…

Age Category: New Adult

Genre: Contemporary LGBT Romance

According to a cursory Google search, the terminal speed of falling bird shit was 26.8 meters per second, or 60 miles per hour. [Wow, first sentence has voice, and we haven’t even met the MC yet! Good use of humor to pull the reader in.] Fast enough to generate the force necessary to crack a windshield, or more feasibly, ruin someone’s day. [Good, already see some conflict. Someone is having a bad day. Intrigued, now need to know who this is about.]

In Oliver’s [Yay, MC has appeared in the nick of time.] case it was the latter, though ruin might have been a little melodramatic. He had just stepped out of his new apartment’s management office, keys in hand and pep in his step, when a crow decided his shoulder was the best place to drop a whopper of a deuce.

It was a crappy start to his day, pun one-hundred percent intended. [Voice is nailed, which is one of the hardest things to do.]

Also included in his online search- as if he could refrain from Googling the probability of being shit on by a bird as he wiped the very crap from his shoulder- was that bird shit was supposed to be good luck. Like he was supposed to be thankful for being crapped on. [Here I was expecting to see a bit about why his day was crappy.]

If there was ever a moment for that luck to kick in, it was then and there, standing on the sidewalk as he grimaced at the sagging rear of his beat-up purple Accord that was ironically free of bird shit. Seven heavy boxes, two flights of stairs, and one random roommate Oliver would meet for the first time smelling like bird droppings. Countless reasons to procrastinate via a little Facebook stalking.

He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out the sheet he’d been given in addition to his keys.

Halfway down the page, printed in bold type-face [unnecessary to describe, you show in bold face] just below APT 325- 2BR, 1B was O. Matthews/ J. Edwards.

“Damn it.” He folded the paper into a tiny rectangle and shoved it back into his pocket.

He was an internet sleuth, sure, but there was only so much he could do with a first initial and a last name as common as his own, and that was nothing. So much for feeling out his elusive roommate before they met face to face.

The elevator had a sign on it declaring it out of order, [makes me think of Big Bang Theory] an omen best not to focus on, so the stairs were his only option. Oliver cracked his knuckles and stretched his neck from side to side, limbering up in preparation to haul his boxes to the third floor. [Would a twentyish guy really do this?] The last thing he needed was to greet his new roommate with an awkwardly located muscle tear in addition to reeking.

Speaking of awkward, the sooner he got the meet-and-greet over with, the sooner he would know if he’d need to put in a room change request.

Not that he was a pessimist, but it was a possibility. He’d been on Reddit. He’d heard the college horror stories. Sure, he’d [conjunction here makes for confusion. He had would indicate that college was in the past, and he is moving into his post-graduate phase, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.] missed out on the joys of dorm living, but an apartment couldn’t be all that different. And after the day he was having? [Here, you could put some action that hints at who he is and what happened, He adjusted the bandage over his right eye/tossed the sheriff’s warrant/burped up bad kimchee] He’d hope for the best, and expect the worst.

Tracey’s comments:

This title and opening show much voice and humor, two things that are most difficult to attain, so kudos for getting hard stuff right. There are some easy fixes that will promote a more fluid read. For example, one-line paragraphs can be useful to bring emphasis on an important point. But, if overused, this lessens the impact. The read would be smoother if you combined a few paragraphs, such as #2 / #3 and #7 / #8.

There are scant setting details, so it is a bit difficult to envision. Is this a big city? Small city? Ramshackle hovel or trendy N.Y. loft? The beat-up car gives us a small clue, I would like to see a bit more. Oliver is worried that he will reek of bird poop, but what smells is he experiencing? Is it a bright sunny day, or is gray drizzle matching his mood? Put us in the scene, in his skin. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but saying he slipped his sweaty/frostbitten/chapped/handcreamed and manicured/blistered/swollen or whatever hand into his pocket, shows us much more about him, and would make us want to know more, than describing the type-face on the note. In an opening page especially, each detail is critically important, don’t waste any words.

The biggest concern is that there are many references to bird poop, (The first 9 sentences are about bird shit) and no inkling of why this is such a bad day. Indeed, he comes out of the management office with “pep in his step” (cliché, by the way), which seems in opposition to his supposed bad mood day. If we are to be drawn in and care about this MC, we need to know more about him than his obsession with bird poop and who his roommate will be. As it is, he seems humorous, but shallow, self-absorbed and uninteresting. The bit about him wanting to immediately put in for a roommate change if he is not to his liking does not make this reader feel sympathetic toward him.

Dialogue is a wonderful tool to show character, and judiciously impart information. As Oliver is alone for the entire excerpt, it lacks dialogue, except for his one expletive. Not a problem, as long as we move into a scene with dialogue fairly quickly, or you will be missing the opportunity to introduce conflict and world building, without the dreaded info-dump.

Small reminder: It may be due to the nature of entry forms, but ensure your pages conform to standard paragraph format: indent first line .5 (except first paragraph) no spaces between paragraphs, etc.

Good job in creating a character with voice and conflict. Just give us more hints about his environment and what the conflict is, so that we have to keep reading to find out. In other words, what is the HOOK that makes us turn to page 2? Cutting down the sentences on bird poop will give you the space to do this.

Thank you for the opportunity to read your first page, and good luck with Oliver’s story!

Thank you Laura and Tracey 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.

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