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 E. Latimer . . .
E. Latimer is a young adult fantasy writer and literary intern who was born and raised in Victoria, BC and recently moved to Vancouver. She`s had her work published in Chicken Soup For the Soul: Reboot Your Life, and most recently, the Imagines anthology, published by Simon and Schuster.
In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the YA Word Nerds about writing and reads excessively. She`s also one of the hosts of the Wattpad4, a weekly twitter chat which features awesome guests like Lauren DeStefano, Leigh Bardugo and Victoria Aveyard.
Her middle grade gothic fantasy, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray is coming out from Tundra Books in Spring of 2018.
Frost by Erin Latimer …
Megan Walker’s touch has turned to ice. She can’t stop the frost, and the consequences of her first kiss are horrifying.
When her new powers attract attention, Megan finds herself caught up in an ancient war between Norse giants. One side fuelled by a mad queen’s obsession and an ancient prophecy about Ragnarök, the other by an age-old grudge. Both sides believe Megan to be something she’s not. Both sides will stop at nothing to have her.
Fire or frost. It’s an impossible decision, but she’ll have to act soon, because the storm is coming.
E. Latimer’s Query Critique . . .
Dear Ms. Orr,
I am excited that you are seeking middle grade historical fiction books, and am pleased to share with you my manuscript The Diary of Asser Levy. It is based on the little known, but very consequential, true story of the first group of Jewish refugees to arrive in America.
In 1630, Holland conquers part of the Portuguese colony of Brazil. For almost 25 years, the town of Recife, under the tolerant Dutch rule, is a haven to thousands of Jews escaping the horrors of the Inquisition in Europe.
But in 1654, the Portuguese army recaptures their territory and forces the Dutch to flee. Crowds of people frantically board sixteen ships to Holland. Fifteen of those ships make it back safely. One, carrying a young man named Asser Levy along with twenty-two other Jewish men, women and children, does not. [Since Asser Levy is our main character, I would find a way to start with him. Also to get more into his head, since it’s his diary. IE: 1630, Asser Levy watches with horror as the Portuguese army marches on his town – something along those lines. Make the character front and centre.]
After being attacked by pirates and shipwrecked in the Caribbean, the twenty-three passengers are rescued by a French captain who transports them to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Incredibly, the odyssey of the refugees is just beginning. [This last line doesn’t really add anything and this query is already running long. I’d suggest cutting]
Director-General Stuyvesant does not want the Jews to remain in his colony, and tries to expel them and take away their religious rights. [Guessing Director-General Stuyvesant doesn’t get a POV in the diary, so again, I suggest turning this on its head a bit so it’s filtered through Asser’s narrative.] But Asser Levy and his colleagues fight back. The court battles that ensue represent the first cases in the New World in which religious freedom and equal rights for immigrants were won.
When New Amsterdam becomes New York City following the British take-over, the tenacity of this community to maintain its cultural and religious identity not only shapes the story and character of that town, but of America itself. [This isn’t a bad line but is it possible to end with a little bit more of the stakes of this story? It should make us REALLY want to find out what happens to Asser.]
There are no titles currently in children’s literature focusing on this story. In fact, there are very few about New Amsterdam at all. Themes and subject matter that are a central part of The Diary of Asser Levy align nicely with some of the concepts taught in the New York State Social Studies Framework. Fourth grade curriculum includes colonial New York. Kids study how New Amsterdam was home to a wide range of immigrants with different lifestyles. They learn about the relationships between Native Americans and Dutch settlers, and the transition from the Dutch to the English colony, making note of lasting Dutch contributions. In seventh grade, they revisit New Amsterdam as a regional center of trade, the Dutch West India Company, and transatlantic trade. Students examine Dutch contributions to American society, including acceptance of a diverse population, religious tolerance and the right to petition.
Though told in diary form in approximately 8,000 words, I see The Diary of Asser Levy as being a bit of a cross-over book between the illustrated The Boy Who Fell off the Mayflower, by PJ Lynch, Candlewick, September 22, 2015 and current non-fiction Some Writer: the Story of EB White, by Melissa Sweet, HMH, October 4, 2016. [While these are great comp titles, one is a novella and the other is a full novel. When agents see MG, historical fiction they’re going to expect a full length novel about a middle grader, which this isn’t. I would look into pitching it as a chapter book for school curriculum.]
I love the idea of side-bars complementing the story with interesting historical facts, photographs and prints. I am also very excited about the idea of having a back matter section with timeline, bibliography, and pictures and locations of places kids can visit, right in the heart of Manhattan (and a few other urban spots) where parts of the story actually took place. [This can be cut unless you have actual material you plan to pair with it.]
I myself am a Brazilian Jewish immigrant in this country, since arriving to complete my degree at Brandeis University. I have written and illustrated two picture books in Portuguese, and a non-fiction science article which I researched in the Amazon for Muse Magazine (“Super Soil, the Mystery of Terra Preta”, Nov. 2014). Over the past two years, I have contacted historians and studied primary sources about this story extensively. I have travelled to both New York and Recife for research. It is a very relevant time to be telling the story of the first group of refugees to arrive in New York, and I’m passionate about making their stories and voices heard. [Your pitch for the actual story is short and sweet, but the query actually runs into about 600 words. I think you can condense a lot of the above paragraphs to get this down to 350-400]
Thank you so much for your time, [All and all, this is very close to ready. It’s already fairly polished, and once it’s condensed a little and the pitch is changed to reflect the content a bit more, this is ready to go out.]
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Kelly Siskind . . .
Kelly is the author of CHASING CRAZY, MY PERFECT MISTACE, A FINE MESS, and HOOKED ON TROUBLE, the latter three being part of her Over the Top series, all published through Grand Central’s Forever Yours. A small-town girl at heart, she moved from the city to open a cheese shop with her husband in northern Ontario. When she’s not neck deep in cheese or out hiking, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head. She laughs at her own jokes and has been known to eat her feelings—gummy bears heal all. She’s also an incurable romantic, devouring romance novels into the wee hours of the morning.
Kelly’s recent release …
Hooked on Trouble (Over the Top series, Book #3)
“Add this to your TBR and experience the romance, the sexy times, the heartbreak, and the swoons…you can thank me later!!” ~ The Book Hookup
Reality bites. Hard.
The last time Raven did “real” was sixteen months ago, when she spent one unforgettable night with the tattooed, impossibly sexy Nico, and then he disappeared the next day. Since then, she’s kept her guard up and her feelings to herself. She doesn’t have time for relationship drama when she’s busy searching for her long lost sister.
Nico hasn’t stopped thinking about Raven—her sultry curves, inked skin, and the fact that he ditched her after their night together. Now that they’re living in the same city, he knows this is his chance to make things right. What better way to prove to Raven he’s for real than helping her find her sister? But when the lines between right and wrong start to blur, putting his job on the line, Nico has to decide if the risk is worth the ultimate reward.
Kelly’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
GENRE: Legal Thriller
There is something good and honest about the feel of a wooden handle rounded smooth by years of use lying across your shoulder with a chunk of some metal on one end balanced on the other by a hand or the crook of an elbow. (This opening sentence reads a bit run-on and lacks the punch of a grabbier start. I would be inclined to throw the reader into the action. Something like: It’s tough to shovel xyz when the butt of a shotgun is slammed into your back.) It brought back memories of childhood in Indiana, carrying an axe out to work on the woodpile, or a hoe to weed the tomatoes. Good memories.
This particular day, in the frigid Michigan pre-winter, I was carrying a shovel.
My achy, cold right hand grasped one end of the handle, and a rusty spade with dried dirt still clinging to a corner of it hung on the other. (I’m having trouble picturing this. I think the MC only has one shovel, but the description “rusty spade hanging on the other” end makes it sound like two shovels, or one shovel and one spade. I assume you mean the blade itself is on the other end of the shaft. If so, it is generally attached, not hanging off of it, and watch your terminology. A spade is a type of shovel. If his hand grasps one end of the handle…and there is a rusty spade (shovel) at the other end…it reads awkward.) The momentary brightness of the memory dissolved quickly into the bleak reality of the present. (I would move this directly after the memory, leading into the description of the current atmosphere.) Apparently, I had slowed to reminisce, because the gun butt of a shotgun chucked me in the lower back. (LOVE this unexpected turn, but as I mentioned, I think it would be a great punch right from the start.) Reminded me to keep moving.
There were two of them, one with the shotgun and one with just an axe handle (Meaning he only held the wooden handle and there was no blade on the end of it? If it’s a full axe, just say axe.) We were in a part of the Manistee National Forest somewhere near Baldwin. We might as well have been on a deserted continent. It was after hunting season and before snowmobile season, so even the normally sparse local population was at its lowest ebb. (Lovely description. Really sets the surroundings and mood.)
Axe Handle (Again…not sure if he’s just holding a handle, which would seem odd if the other dude has a gun.) shoved me forward and chuckled as I stumbled. It was clear they didn’t want to spend more time outdoors than necessary. At least they had jackets and gloves. I still wore the now harshly tested charcoal grey suit I preferred for motion days in Kent County Circuit. (I would make it clearer here that he’s a lawyer, for us non-lawyer types. I actually first read it thinking he was a prisoner in Kent County jail.) They had scooped me up on the walk back to my office from court almost as easy as a taxi picking up a fare, (Great description!) with about the same amount of notice taken by the other sidewalk passengers, their heads down against the harsh, biting wind that tunneled through the buildings of downtown Grand Rapids.
It had taken a beating for them to get the information they needed from me. But they got it. I’m sure they would be ransacking my office as soon as they were done with me.
Too soon we came to a tree-enshrouded clearing with a crude fire pit at its center (I would cut this next part of this sentence since “crude” seems to do the job, as does the bit of dialogue that follows: that had been used for bonfires in some distant past.) Shotgun, pointed at the fire pit and said, “All right, clear that old wood and start digging.”
He shook his head. “You know why.” Then he hit me in the kidneys again with the butt of the shotgun (Conserve your words by writing “shotgun butt” instead of “butt of the shotgun”) (I would remove this part since it’s clear they are talking about the fire pit: and pointed at the fire pit.) Sharp, hot pain took my breath. I gasped and doubled over clutching with my free hand at my lower back. (I would swap the order of the two previous sentences.)
Axe Handle then got into the act by laying the end of the handle against the side of my head and then drawing it back into a batter’s stance and waggling it like a dead red hitter anticipating a fast ball. He motioned with his chin toward the fire pit. “Start digging, meat.” (Meat should be capitalized, since he’s intending it as a proper name, even though it’s an insult.)
I love the sense of mystery you’ve created with the nefarious characters and stark scenery. It gets the mind going right away and leaves me interested to read more. I do think you need to rework your intro so it’s punchier, but otherwise, great start!
Thank you, Erin and Kelly, 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.