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Day 13 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentors, Michael Mammy, Léonie Kelsall, & Marty Mayberry

Thursday, 25 May 2017  |  Posted by Brenda Drake


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 Michael Mammy. . .

Michael Mammay

Twitter | Website

Michael Mammy writes Science Fiction, and sometimes fantasy, usually revolving around military characters. A lot of the ideas that go into those books come from having served in the Army for quite some time. There will also probably be explosions. On the page, not necessarily in real life. He’s represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency.

Michael’s Query  Critique . . .


GENRE: Psychological Suspense

Like every other actress in Chicago, Kira Rascher is well aware of the rumors about Malcolm Mercer. But for the career-making chance to be the leading lady in his theater company’s next world premiere, she’s willing to put up with pretty much anything, including Mal’s bullshit. This is a great opening paragraph. It defines the character and really sets us into where the story starts. Love the voice in it, too.

Kira figures she can handle the guy; after all, she’s worked with more than her fair share of creeps and tyrants over the years. Once rehearsals get underway, though, she realizes that nothing could have prepared her for Mal. There’s no mind game he won’t play to provoke the performance he wants, and whenever Kira thinks she’s winning, he changes the rules. He’s manipulative, mercurial, infuriating—and also the most thrilling scene partner she’s ever shared a stage with. Another great paragraph. It describes the conflict and tension between the two characters, and it really does a great job of showing us where the story is at. You could potentially add a line at the end that gives us a set-up – But when xxxx happens, she realizes yyyyy. It could go either way. The paragraph is good without it, but it might help further define the story.

The closer they get to opening night, the more the lines start to blur between offstage and on, truth and delusion, staged violence and real danger. And as Kira sinks further into character, it becomes clear that the thing she should fear most isn’t what Mal might do to her, but what she’s capable of doing to him. Here’s where you could use some work. For starters, your query is short, so don’t be afraid to use some more words. What we need here is some specifics. This comes off as somewhat generic. Can you give us an example of how the lines blur? I really like the last line, with the exception of the phrase ‘it becomes clear.’ So I’d keep that. But maybe add something before it that helps define with specifics the fear and the escalation between them. It could be as simple as giving some specifics about Kira sinking further into character.

VICTIM CONTROL is an adult psychological suspense novel that will appeal to fans of Jessica Knoll and Sophie Jaff. The manuscript is complete at 75,000 words. With this word count you’re at the very bottom of the comfort zone for the genre. Probably okay…but barely.

I live in Chicago and have a master’s degree in theater, which seems slightly less useless now that I’ve written this book. Thank you for considering my work. Overall this is a really solid query. I do think you can add more to it, but I also don’t want you to screw up the tone, because I feel like it really sets a great mood.


Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentors Léonie Kelsall and Marty Mayberry . . .

Léonie Kelsall Twitter

Léonie is a professional counsellor. She writes upmarket adult, new adult, and young adult fiction and is represented by Amanda Barnett of Donaghy Literary Group.





Marty Mayberry?

Twitter | Website

Marty writes adult and young adult fiction. All with a touch of romance. When she’s not dreaming up ways to mess with her character’s lives, she works as an RN/Clinical Documentation Specialist. She has a BA in International Affairs in German and an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. She lives in New England with her retired Seabee Chief husband, children, and three neurotic cats. She’s a member of SCBWI, YARWA, and a PRO member of RWA.

Her young adult sci-fi thriller, PHOENIX RISING, won the YARWA’s Rosemary Award for speculative fiction.

She’s represented by Jessica Watterson of the Sandra Dijkstra Agency: http://dijkstraagency.com/

’17 will be Marty’s third year mentoring in PitchWars.

Léonie and Marty’s First Page Critique . . .

GENRE: Magical Realism

I regret my promise to meet Karen at O’Malley’s when (<change to as) I enter the bar and see hundreds of threads sway in a random dance. I forgot how bars attract the broken. (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this opening, the idea of threads of the broken!) The swirling fibers themselves never alarm me, seeing them twist on others is as natural as breathing air,  (<Consider a period here-these seem to be independent thoughts, and the long sentence slows your pacing-capitalize B>) but the dense cluster of so many at once knocks the wind out of me. I only manage to navigate through this fraying cloud by looking down (Perhaps ‘focusing on’ – to avoid filter words) at the checkered tile floor on my way to the bar. I order a shot of scotch on the rocks, the way I like it. (consider tightening this last bit to make it punchy: Focused on the checkered tile floor, I navigate the fraying cloud, making my way to the bar. Order a shot of scotch on the rocks. You probably don’t need ‘the way I like it’ because we’d assume she’d order it that way)

O’Malley’s feels familiar (feels or is familiar? Try for a stronger verb), a local haunt for urban professionals and college students living (‘living’ unnecessary word) in this hip Providence neighborhood. I never minded bars back when Karen visited from New Brunswick where we grew up. Hell, we’d stay until closing. Back then, (<could cut ‘back then’; second use of ‘back’) more than thirty years ago, I could forget the threads in the company of my free-spirited friend.

A rush of cold air chills the bar and I turn to look. Karen steps through the doorway (period) She wears a hip-hugging red leather skirt and spiky heels at least five inches high. She’s someone (<could delete “she’s someone” to tighten) my father would have described as a tall drink of water, and easy on the eyes. (LOL) She’s cut her waist-long blonde hair since our last girls’ (excellent way to introduce that the MC is female) night out more than a year ago. The shoulder-length layers soften her heart-shaped face. She almost looks kind. (I’m curious about this last sentence because it implies she isn’t usually kind; a line or two more could give us insight as to why this fact is mentioned.) I wave from across the room before ordering her usual. She weaves between the closely spaced tables and grins when the bartender plants the dirty martini on the bar. When she hugs me, her cheek feels icy against my own. (you could cut the filter “feels” and pull the reader even further into the scene by just stating it as if we’re the MC: When she hugs me, her icy cheek brushes mine.) She’s wearing a fragrance of citrus and sandalwood smelling more like a holiday candle than an undercover cop. (If you want, rather than telling us—was—you could make it vivid with: Her fragrance of citrus and sandalwood reminds me more of a holiday candle than an undercover cop.)

Prickly threads bundle near her heart as if someone pitched a wiry ball into her chest. (I love these worldbuilding details!) Loose silky strands wave in unison from side-to-side from her shoulders like dune grass on the beach. Two translucent threads, darker than the others, creep down the low v-neckline of her satiny black blouse. They first appeared when her mother died three years ago, but seem to have grown thicker since Karen transferred to narcotics.

We order dinner and another round of drinks. Conversation slips into the comfort of days long gone; we were two kids knocking around a neighborhood doing ridiculous stunts to amuse ourselves. I remind her of the the (extra “the”) day she doused the Blake twins with a bucket of water.

“Deserved it,” she said. “Couldn’t keep their identical hands off my ass.”

I laugh, almost spit out my scotch.

Two stools over a bartender soaks glasses in soapy suds. His pasty white skin and dark curly hair reveal his Irish descent. He looks familiar like someone I know. (Not sure you need both ‘familiar’ and ‘like someone I know’ in the same sentence, because they say the same thing. You could eliminate one or use something like, ‘I know him from somewhere’ instead.) When he smiles and his two deep dimples appear, it hits me, he’s someone we both know.

“Remember Father What-A-Waste? The one we had in twelfth grade?”

Excellent start! We really enjoyed this. Thank you for sharing your work with us. We hope you find our comments helpful.

Léonie  & Marty

Thank you, Michael, Léonie, and Marty, 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.




Filed: Workshops

  • Sabi Scrive says:

    (What genre was this first page from?) Thank you for the critique. This one in particular really helped me see/understand changes to make it even stronger. I really enjoyed the pages, as well! Intriguing with the threads.

  • Sharon says:

    Is there any way to post “clean” copies of the first 500 under/above the critique in the future? I’m having a really hard time reading them with the comments injected into the prose. I don’t know if it’s a space or formatting thing, but it would be helpful to be able to read w/o comments first and then see what the judges had to say (and if we had similar thoughts!) Thanks!

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