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 …
Pitch Wars Mentor Regina Black
Regina Black writes diverse love stories with big emotions, passionate connections, and unexpected humor. Regina was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2020 and her debut novel, The Art of Scandal, will be published in 2023 by Grand Central. She currently resides in the southeastern United States with her husband and daughter. When she’s not writing or reading, she can usually be found in the kitchen, trying out recipes from her growing cookbook collection.
Regina’s critique . . .
I’m seeking representation for my manuscript TITLE, women’s fiction with a romantic subplot, complete at 80,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Kelley Harms, Sophie Kinsella, and Camille Pagan. [With these comps, I would be expecting a light, fun tone in your query that would hint at your voice in the manuscript. Right now, the tone is a bit too serious.]
When Lottie loses her longtime boyfriend and new dream job at the famous Modern Museum of Art, [Tell us why they broke up and why she lost her dream job. It will make the position at the happiness museum even more ironic] she wonders if she’ll ever be happy again. It’s no consolation that the only job she can find is as director of a new museum, the (ridiculous) New York City Museum of Happiness. [I like the way you contrast her misery with her new job. It’s a good hook. But why is this the only job she can find?]
As the “Director of Happiness,” Lottie faces one humiliating and hilarious crisis after the next [Like what? Here’s a chance to show off your voice. It’s better to show us that the crises is humiliating and hilarious than just telling us]. With the sting of embarrassments piled on top of her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal, she also faces a more shocking pain—the father she always counted on is not as perfect as she thought. [This is vague. Give us more of an idea of the specific betrayals she’s facing to make her dramatic decision never to trust again more believable] Facing betrayals from two men she loved, she pulls back from a promising new relationship [If there’s a significant romantic subplot, introduce the character here. Tell us their name, and brief idea of why they’re such a “promising” as a new partner.] and vows not to trust men anymore. [You’re setting up a strong inner conflict based on her recent betrayals and unwillingness to be vulnerable again. But this reads as “two men hurt me, so all men are terrible. If it’s hyperbole, it reads as overdramatic and unrealistic. If she’s serious about never trusting another man, then it reads like a stereotype. Maybe focus more on her reluctance to have her heart broken again, instead of the gender of the person who broke her heart.]
But through the hard work of launching the museum and the insight of quirky co-workers Lottie finds genuine happiness in an imperfect life. She may even be willing to trust again. [I love the hook and set up of your book. Working at the happiness museum during what (I assume) is one of the worst points of her life feels like it would create lots of opportunities for irony and introspection. I do think you could give us a better idea of who Lottie is instead of just what’s happening to her. You don’t have to include much. Two defining characteristics (i.e., fierce optimist or hardcore romantic curator) can tell us a lot about a protagonist. Your inciting incident is clear (being dumped and getting the job) but character’s goal, conflict and stakes could be stronger. Right now, it reads as though her external goal is to be happy again, which feels a bit too vague and undefinable to propel a plot. Is she passionate about the new job? Is the museum launch a huge step towards her dream? If so, that would be a clear ticking time clock on accomplishing a goal that she believes will make her happy. Also, while the internal conflict is clear (Lottie’s reluctance to trust is in the way of her happiness) the lack of a external conflict makes it difficult to picture the plot. It seems like everything around her (her new job, her love interest) is helping her accomplish her goal instead of hindering it. Her boyfriend and father appear to serve as catalysts, but there’s no hint that they continue to be obstacles to happiness in the book. This is usually what I call the “but,” portion of the query. “But then SPECIFIC DISASTER strikes, Lottie must [DO A SPECIFIC THING] or lose her chance at happiness.”]
My first novel, TOWARD THE CORNER OF MERCY AND PEACE, will be published by Regal House Publishing summer of 2023. I have been a writer and editor for 30 years, primarily for newspapers and magazines, and was the recipient of the Kentucky Press Association’s Best Feature Writer and Best Column awards. My middle-grade biography, TO BE GREATER THAN MARCONI: THE NATHAN B. STUBBLEFIELD STORY, was published as part of the Kentucky Hero series by Motes Books. I also received a national award for dramatizations I wrote for the City of Paducah.
Thanks so much for taking time to read my submission. Of course, I’ll happily send along the full manuscript at your request.
I stand up so fast I’m dizzy. “There you are!” [I think you could open with a stronger first line. This is your opportunity to hook the reader and introduce us to your character’s voice. If this is a single POV 1st person, you really want it to be a signature moment.]
“Hey.” He’s rumpled and has a bit of a wild look to his eyes, but that’s Emmett. My sweet, smart, intense, geeky man. [I love this description of Emmett. Concise and gives us a clear idea of the type of person he is.] Who I now get to be with every day. I’m so happy my cheeks ache with a super-sized grin. [It seems like this is hinting at an engagement, but it’s not clear. Since you’re introducing us to these characters it’s better to give us more specific details to anchor us in the scene.]
“Sorry,” he says. “I couldn’t get away.” He sits across from me and bursts out with an unfortunate word, which I won’t repeat. I have this thing about cursing. I don’t like it. [This would make an excellent opening line.] My mother drilled that into me. It’s the one habit Emmett has that I don’t care for. Otherwise, he’s perfect.
Well, except for this. This is not the greeting I imagined. No kiss. Not even a peck on the cheek. [We’re getting more of her voice here which is good. Go a step further and tell us what she expected.] I mentally recalibrate. “Everything okay? You seem a little tense.”
“Just a long day. But now you’re here.” He smiles—finally—and reaches for my hand. “How was your trip?” He squeezes my hand then lets go so quickly my arms flops onto the table. [There are a few too many of these lines that read like stage directions. Give us more internal dialogue and emotion instead of describing every movement] Awkward. But he’s already holding the menu. “I guess you’ve already eaten, but I’m famished.”
“No, I haven’t. I thought you probably made reservations somewhere. To celebrate my first night in New York as a real New Yorker.” [This is a good place to insert backstory about how she ended up moving to NY and why.]
Without pausing to look up from the menu, he says, “Oh, let’s just eat here.” He waves at the waitress, and I nibble at the inside of my cheek. “Friday nights are the worst at restaurants in the city. We’d have to wait forever.” [You have a great set up for a compelling first chapter. But at this point I’d like more anchored into the scene. I should feel grounded in the setting relatively quickly instead of having to infer where this is taking place from the mention of the menu pretty far down the page. Also, when using a close POV like 1st person, there should be a more distinct voice. If you add a combination of inner dialogue and sensory details filtered through your main character’s perspective, the reader will become invested in her plight more quickly.]