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Day 13 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Janet Walden-West

Thursday, 10 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 Janet Walden-West …

Janet Walden-West lives in the southeast with a pack of show dogs, a couple of kids, and a husband who didn’t read the fine print. A Weird Dog Show Chick in her downtime, she’s also a founding member of The Million Words craft blog, a 2X PitchWars alum, and a Golden Heart® finalist. She writes intersectional sexy-times romance and boss-girl fantasy heroines.

Her debut multicultural contemporary romance, SALT+STILETTOS, is out now from City Owl Press, and her urban fantasy short stories are available in multiple anthologies.

She is represented by Eva Scalzo of Speilburg Literary Agency.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

Janet’s latest release…

Brett Fontaine learned early that appearance matters and not to count on anyone but yourself. Trading her red-dirt roots for the title of Miami’s go-to image consultant, she refuses to let anything jeopardize her new life.

Not an influential client-turned-stalker who’s up for parole.
Not post-kidnapping panic attacks.
Certainly not the stubborn, attention-phobic chef she’s challenged to transform into a celeb in ninety days.

Will Te’o can almost taste the dream he sacrificed American Samoa, culture, and cherished family ties for—opening a four star restaurant in the most cut-throat culinary location in North America. Unfortunately, that requires navigating it’s equally cut-throat social scene. When his first public performance ends in a social media spectacle, his only option is turning to the stiletto-wearing nemesis who’s invaded his kitchen.

Neither expected to share anything but barbs, yet somewhere between accidentally bonding over comfort food and office-wrecking sex, they’re named South Beach’s hottest pairing. Until Brett’s stalker engineers a reputation-shattering reveal. She may be going down, but she’s not taking Will’s dreams with her. Now Will’s pulling out all his new skills and cooking up a last-ditch event. He’ll prove to Brett that relying on the right person makes for the perfect recipe—or be left heartbroken in the spotlight.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | Kobo | Bookshop

Janet’s critique . . .

Category: Adult Cozy Mystery


Rule-loving college sophomore Ulyssa Slate is crushing her new job as a dorm desk receptionist at Stateside University in Washington, DC. It’s great she’s crushing something, because she still hasn’t declared a major, and the deadline is creeping up faster than her shorts on a sweaty summer day. [Great example of voice here.]Unfortunately, finding the captain of the wrestling team murdered in the dorm throttles [I’m on the fence with “throttles.” Action words are always preferable, and this one is a play on wrestling, but I still stumbled over it. Any point where the reader is tossed out of the story is enough for many busy agents/editors to also stop reading.] Ulyssa’s search for the perfect major, especially when the police put her roommate’s boyfriend on the top of the suspect list.

With her boyfriend in danger of a criminal record, Ulyssa’s roommate, Shay McKinley, begs [Consider rearranging the wording here. It’s taking some of the emphasis off Ulyssa. Even though the roommate’s boyfriend was referenced in the previous sentence, my first thought her was that we were talking about Ulyssa’s boyfriend.] Ulyssa to use her access to the spare room keys and the dorm’s security cameras to find the real killer. While she’s willing to ask questions around campus, Ulyssa balks at breaking the rules for her friend. Getting caught would land her in major trouble, and the last thing she needs is to lose her job or get expelled. But when another wrestler winds up dead and death threats appear at her door [This is impactful and I’d like to see a bit more specificity as to the threat.], Ulyssa has to decide whether breaking the rules is worth saving her friendship and staying alive. [I’d suggest steering away from vague stakes. It’s kind of a given that she will most definitely break a few rules in order to save her life. You could go with something that shows breaking rules to not only save her friendship but her life or breaking rules will put her academic career in jeopardy but may be the only way to save her life.]

TITLE, an adult cozy mystery, is complete at 72,000 words. It has the millennial feel of the Hollywood Homicide Series by Kellye Garrett and will appeal to fans of the charming southern lead in the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. [This is an especially effective use of comps—explaining how they relate to your ms is A+. ]

I graduated from American University in Washington, DC with a major in film studies and a minor in creative writing. The things that I saw living on campus and working as a dorm desk receptionist inspired this story. I am also a member of Sisters in Crime.  

[Again, thank you for sharing and best of luck.]

First page:

Chapter 1

Loaded down with four enormous cardboard boxes, the wheels on the industrial hand cart squeaked and cried as Ulyssa Slate shoved it into the elevator. She pressed herself against the slick gray wall and waited for her best friend and partner for the day, Jeffrey Alolo, to follow. The boxes had turned up to the wrong dorm, and Ulyssa and Jeffrey had the super-fun job of transporting them to their correct destination.  [The voice here is appealing and on-point for the genre.]

“I signed up to be a desk receptionist, not the UPS man,” Jeffrey said as he pushed the button for the fourth floor. “You told me I could sign up for [this “signed up/sign up” phrasing may be a deliberate repetition but I did stop for a second so replacing one or the other with different wording is worth considering.] late night shifts and do my homework.”

Ulyssa looked at herself in the shiny mirrored doors and fluffed out the bow on her headband. Sliding a hand down her light brown hair, [I would leave out the light brown description. The fly-aways and straightener feel organic, where as noticing color feels forced.] she tried to tame the fly-aways. It didn’t work. She’d have to stop over at her room before lunch to take a straightener to them. She would have killed for the knowledge of how to maintain perfectly sleek hair. Okay, maybe not killed but quite possible maimed. Especially if the person she could maim was her university advisor, who was on her rump to declare a major. “You don’t even have homework, yet. Thank the Lord. Why did you think we got to come to campus before school started? Just for us to stand around and look pretty”. [Question mark needed here too.]

“Yeah, but why’d we get stuck with this job?” Jeffrey pulled his dreads into a ponytail revealing a fresh fade. “We’re not even in our dorm. We’re working on the Northside of campus, and I want to be back in Potts Hall on the Southside.”

Ulyssa took a ponytail holder off her wrist and handed it to him. “Would you rather sit there and catalogue the old security recordings? [Love this bit of foreshadowing with the casual mention of her potential access to security feeds.] At least doing something mindless like this is letting me think about my major.”

[This is a cute opening that fits genre expectations. The author has done a good job with setting, voice, and introducing the framework for a major plot point. Thank you for sharing!] 

Thank you, Janet, 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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