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Day 12 (Part 3) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Taj McCoy

Wednesday, 9 September 2020  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2020 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 …

Pitch Wars Mentor Taj McCoy …

Oakland native and law grad, Taj McCoy, is committed to writing stories championing Black and biracial women of color, plus-sized protagonists, Black love, and characters with a strong sense of sisterhood and familial bonds. Taj started writing as a small child, enjoying the success of her first publications in elementary school. Since then, her dream has always been to become a professional writer. As a law student, she attempted her first novels and joined the Twitter writing community. Though Taj has spent more than ten years working in higher education administration, she continued to pursue her goal and ultimately finished her first novel in 2018, securing her agent in 2019.

When she’s not writing, Taj may be on Twitter boosting other marginalized writers, trying to zen out in yoga, sharing recipes on her website, binge-watching her favorite reality tv, or cooking private supper club meals for close friends. Catch her producing and co-hosting the Fat Like Me Podcast, which celebrates body diversity in publishing and entertainment, or watch her join forces with several writer friends on Sundays for the Better Than Brunch video podcast.

Website | Twitter| Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

Taj’s critique . . .

Category: Adult Contemporary Romance


Dear {agent name}:

What do you do when a photograph of yourself is suddenly plastered all over the city– on the street, the subway, in a gallery, and on a magazine cover twenty-feet high in Times Square? If you’re lawyer Mikaela Marchand, who is living her dream life in New York City, the answer is absolutely nothing. Her energies are better spent securing a deal she hopes will garner a partnership offer from her firm and managing her boyfriend’s recent demands to move-in together. Besides, she is hardly recognizable as the same insecure girl who appeared in it over twenty years ago, when her then-boyfriend Cameron Murphy was on the other side of the camera. [Reading this, I’m curious about the nature of the photo – is it compromising, could it mess with her partnership aspirations? Is it merely a nuisance?]

It’s got nothing to do with her.  

Until Cameron, a successful photographer, needs her to defend him in a lawsuit brought by his ex-wife, Mikaela’s former-best friend, Julie. Their reappearance threatens to throw Mikaela’s curated life into chaos, particularly when Cameron tries to rekindle their past relationship. Now, Mikaela must weigh whether a second chance at true love is worth the risk to her professional goals and, far more importantly, her heart. [You have the space add another line about whatever it is about Cameron that makes him irresistible to Mikaela before you get to her having to weigh her chance at love against her professional goals.]

AUTHOR wrote pop culture critiques for a now-defunct online urban lifestyle magazine in the early-aughts. But she still loves movies, TV, and foisting her unsolicited opinions about pop culture on the unsuspecting. This is her first novel. Title is a single-title standalone second-chance contemporary romance complete at 110,000 words. [I recommend sharing this part about yourself in first person.] 

The story sounds really interesting! I love a second chance romance, and I think it’ll be interesting to learn why Mikaela’s photo is being plastered everywhere, and why Cameron would go to Mikaela for representation. 

The word count feels long for romance. You may want to think about what you can cut to be closer to average word counts (85K-95K is closer to where you want to be). 

First page:

Mikaela Marchand took a deep breath and held it.

One of the doors to the gallery stood open as an invitation[comma] but the frigid air that escaped from inside was actually more enticing. Mikaela stood on the bottom step for a moment, hesitating. She looked up and down the street, watching the various city dwellers go about their Saturday afternoon. This art gallery was more nondescript than the others that lined the street tucked in between ultra-high-end fashion boutiques. A single large plate-glass window next to the door was adorned with a poster advertising the photographer. From the size of the gallery, however, she guessed most of the exhibit’s budget must have gone into the poster alone. [Give me a little more on the gallery—is it devoid of color while these high-end store fronts are brimming with vivid textures and textiles? Does the poster have a photograph on it, or just information about the photographer and the exhibit? I really like the street view – this may be a great opportunity to mention the cobblestone streets and really paint the picture.]

She pushed her sunglasses up off her face and peered through the dim doorway. The sun made it hard to make out what lay on the other side.

“It’s okay,” A voice said coming from behind her. “We’re open. We’re just putting the final finishing touches on everything but it’s all in there.”

Mikaela turned and saw a young girl with a nearly white-blonde ponytail standing below on the cobblestone sidewalk. The young woman [I am picturing two very different ages when I read young girl and young woman—is she a teen? College-aged? Younger? Older? Consistency will help your reader see what you see.] smiled and squinted simultaneously without the benefit of her sunglasses which still hung neatly on her dress between her breasts. Her one open blue eye appraised Mikaela.

She took one step up onto the old wooden steps and paused.

Mikaela stepped aside to let her pass. [Is she holding the door open for the girl since her hands are full? Is the girl pausing and giving a hopeful look that seems to request some assistance? Feels a little choppy without more detail.]

“Is the photographer in?” Mikaela asked as the girl continued past her.

“Yep, should be. This is for him.” She raised one of the two large iced coffees she held in both hands up. [Since the girl continues talking, I’d bring the next statement up here.]

“He tries to come in for at least a couple hours every day; he’ll probably be coming in more often in the lead up to the opening.”

Mikaela nodded as they changed places, backing down the steps as the young woman ascended. [These moments feel a little empty – what is Mikaela thinking about this response? Does she have any sensory reaction? Is the girl/woman matter-of-fact, suspicious, or friendly?]

The young woman paused again at the top, just at the threshold. “Do you want me to get him?”

“Oh no, that’s not necessary.” Mikaela was standing on the cobblestones again, her resolve faltering. The full glare of the sun forced her to shield her eyes with a palm.

The young woman turned then to look at the photo in the window then back at Mikaela. The beginnings of a smile curving the corners of her mouth. [This feels ominous!]

This is a great start! I recommend setting the scene a little more, help the reader to picture where Mikaela is and what she’s thinking/feeling. She’s got some nerves in seeing this mysterious man, but as the reader, I want you to draw me in a little more. You can’t tell me everything about Mikaela on that first page, but give me a juicy detail/thought/comment that pulls me in and turns the page. 

Thank you for sharing, and I wish you the very best on your submission! 

Thank you, Taj, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2020 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more.

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