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 …
Shannon A. Thompson and Sandra Proudman
Shannon A. Thompson is the bestselling author of the Bad Bloods series and the Timely Death trilogy. Represented by Katelyn Uplinger of D4EO Literary, Thompson’s work has appeared in numerous poetry collections and anthologies. When she is not writing, she is climbing rooftops, baking cookies, and watching KDramas in the middle of the night, often done with her cats by her side. During the day, she works at The Story Center for Mid-Continent Public Library, where she manages storytelling programs and teaches writing courses. Thompson graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing. Visit her blog for writers and readers at www.ShannonAThompson.com
Shannon’s recent release, BAD BLOODS: JULY LIGHTNING
Sixteen-year-old Caleb has been called many things: a patient, a musician, even a prostitute…now he has a new name―son. After his identity is uncovered, Caleb bands together with the family he once rejected in order to save the city of Vendona. But it won’t be easy. Enemies wait around every corner―and so do harsh realities. With Violet and Kuthun by his side though, nothing seems impossible. As Vendona sits on the verge of an economic collapse and a massive hurricane threatens the city, Violet and Caleb must show its citizens how to overcome decades of hostility and division to save themselves.
Standing or not, a sea will rage, a wall may fall, and all will depend on immortal pain and sacrifice.
Sandra Proudman is a Mexican American writer of stories with unabashed Latinx protagonists. She grew up in California where she studied journalism and creative writing. She is a Pitch Wars and DiverseVoices, Inc. mentor, was a Marketing and Publicity Intern at Latinx in Publishing, and is part of the #LatinxPitch team, a yearly Twitter pitch event geared toward connecting emerging Latinx voices with agents and editors. In her free time, she enjoys helping marginalized creators with their submission materials and mentoring writers of color. With a background in all things marketing and graphic design, she is currently the marketing and project manager for a top, multi-million-dollar real estate group in the nation.
Shannon and Sandra’s critique . . .
Do you ever wish you could be literally anyone else? [Is there a way you can work this in without starting with a rhetorical question?] In the last four months, Alice’s mother died of cancer, she graduated high school [does she have plans yet? Maybe here if not, she graduated high school without any idea about her future or something like that might be stronger], and began group therapy.
In the last four months, [Not to mention,] her father has retreated into a hole of depression, lashed out at every attempt Alice has made to move forward, and nagged Alice to stick around the tourist town they live in a little while longer, when all Alice wants to do is get out and get gone[leave the memories of her mom while she was sick behind].
After months of pressing down her own grief and skipping quite a few steps of what her therapy group calls “the healing cycle,” Alice is wary of Shane, the tourist [are there any other words you can add on to describe Shane? The hot tourist? I’m also wondering where they are? Can you set the scene so that we get a feel for the setting? The idea of someone grieving in a tourist place is a great juxtaposition.] who keeps finding her. On a misguided trip to one of the town’s nightly pier parties, she is finally introduced to Shane properly, except she’s introduced as Ally, not Alice. And suddenly, she gets exactly what she wanted: to be someone different. [In general, would Ally instead of Alice let her be someone different? I wonder if they names are too close for Ally to not just be a nickname?]
Just as Alice is given the chance to reinvent herself in the eyes of Shane, showing him the town to which she wishes she was saying goodbye, her group members are given an opportunity to share the tragedies that landed them in therapy in the first place. Each of them seems more healed than Alice sees herself, only compounding the grief Alice carries with her. But when tragedy strikes the group [how does tragedy strike? I would be more specific in this last sentence since agents won’t have the text to answer what happens and it might be what hooks them!], it will become clear which of the group members are able to cope. [What is at stake if Alice can’t come to terms with her grief? And what happens if she does succeed; what is the story’s stakes and how does Alice grow from the start of the manuscript to the end?]
TITLE is a [contemporary] young adult,
realistic fiction novel complete at 81,350 [you can round down to 81,000] words that explores the themes of grief, family, and moving on. The book will appeal to readers of Sarah Dessen (Just Listen) and Jenny Han (To All the Boys I Loved Before). This is my first completed novel although I have been writing stories since childhood. For the last five years, I have worked as an elementary educator in Massachusetts. Attached, please find the first 250 words as requested. [I think you can remove your bio on this one, it is completely okay unless the agent specifications request for one. Usually bios are for anything that would lend itself to the story, so if you were an expert on depression or something of that sort, but in this case I think it’s okay to just let agents focus on the story!]
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
[Sandra’s Query Comments: Hi Kaeli! Thanks for sharing your query and first page! This sounds like a very heartfelt story that would mean a lot to many young readers who lost a parent at an early age. In terms of feedback, I always recommend every querying writer to go back through their query and modify any statements that are vague or that an agent would need to read the manuscript to fill in the details. Since this is the time to hook agents, don’t leave any of the juicy details out! Additionally, I would make sure to include your character’s stakes and how they grow throughout the story. Best of luck while querying and with Pitch Wars!]
[Shannon’s Query Comments: Thank you for sharing your story about grief with us! I lost my mother at a young age, so I know how important this topic is, and I appreciate how you’re molding that story here. Grief is such a powerful topic, and I was really intrigued by the idea of a girl grieving in an area where tourists want to be. That is a great juxtaposition that I wanted to see explored more: Alice’s feelings of grief/depression vs. Ally’s beautiful world she’s showing Shane and how those two feelings intersect. I wanted more detail about the therapy group and maybe a little bit more about Shane, too. What’s at stake? What are the decisions she has laid out before her, and what does she have to lose in the choice? Good luck!]
CRACKLE!! BOOM!!! Then the sound of whooping and cheering.
Somewhere, someone was setting off fireworks. This barely registered with me [it seems like a pretty significant boom, would it make more sense for it to super register with them and they get mega peeved about it? – Also, if the sound is barely registering with her, why is the book starting with it? Start with what Alice is focused on.] as I smiled at the customers, wiped my sweating hands on my nice black pants, and grabbed the menus from the podium. “We have you at a wonderful table, with a view,” I explained, leading them to a booth that looked out over the pier and the water and, sure enough, a group of crazed, drunken teenagers [would a fellow teen refer to other teens as teens? Similarly, she refers to them as “girls and boys” below. It sounds a little older.] setting off probably illegal fireworks.
The couple looked at each other [What kind of look was this?], then at their young son whose hands were hovering over his ears, staring out at the window into the dark night sky, tainted with smoke, watching for the next explosion. The man leaned closer to me, “Do you have anywhere else that may be a little further away from the,” he, too, glanced out the window and I followed his gaze down to the girls and boys throwing their cheap red cups in the air and falling all over each other. I honestly didn’t blame him for his request.
“Not a problem, sir,” I said with another smile [is this a fake smile the MC has perfected for work or anything of that sort that gives us an insight to their personality?], making my way across the restaurant to the other corner, to a table without the novelty view nor the raucous youths [also wondering about this reference; does she not see herself as a teen? If she has disconnect, is there another way to show that?] it showcased on this particular night.
Once the family was seated, I returned to that corner and lowered the shade [halfway], as if somehow that would keep the sounds of the party that had, by now, developed below from reaching the sophisticated ears of our patrons.
[Sandra here with comments to your page—Thanks for sharing with us! I think this is a great set up to get the inside scoop to your character, one thing that I think would make it stronger is to really give us an insight into this first page of how your character feels about all of this? Are they like, ugh, these damn kids, which would make them seem older than they probably are? Are they wishing they were out there with the others but they need to work in order to make money for a sick parent? Why is your MC working here and how do they feel about everything that’s going on? This will give the reader an early idea of what’s at stake, what your MC wants, and how they’re not able to get it because they’re at work instead.]
[Shannon here—I definitely want to see more of Alice’s emotional mindset in your opening. Similar to what Sandra said, is she working here because she has to help pay bills after her mom’s death and therefore has a hard time relating to her peers? If so, how does she feel about that? If she’s counting down the days before she leaves, can we see a hint of that? Ex. “Three more weeks of weekend tips, and I’d be able to afford that plane ticket”] Seeing those personal stakes will help us connect and draw us into the story that is to come]