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Day 16: Pitch Wars Query & First Page Workshop with mentors, Clarissa Goenawan & Lindsey Frydman

Tuesday, 30 May 2017  |  Posted by Heather Cashman


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 Clarissa Goenawan



Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. She studied novel-writing with Curtis Brown Creative and was formerly a mentee on the WoMentoring Project. Her first novel, Rainbirds, won the 2015 Bath Novel Award for best unpublished novelists across the globe and since then has been acquired by 10 international publishers. She loves rainy days, pretty books and hot green tea.

Look for RAINBIRDS releasing March, 2018 from Soho Press.

Clarissa’s Query Critique…

GENRE: Fantasy / Romance

Superhuman strength and healing aside, Rackan Snow’s skill lies in avoiding personal conversations while navigating the whims of the power hungry King [Grammatically speaking, it should be ‘king’. Titles of people are only capitalized when they are followed by someone’s name.] whose emotions he inhabits. [The sentence reads a little clunky because of the length. Do we need all the information to be out in the first sentence? ‘whose emotions he inhabits’ also doesn’t sound smooth—consider rephrasing?] It’s a lonely life of pain and regret. Although maybe there’s not as much regret as there should be. [The two sentences that follow come across as too much telling. The reader should be able to deduce it after they learn about the circumstances of the MC]

Rack inherited his more unusual talents from the only soldier the government managed to modify before the asteroid hit four hundred years ago. Rack [He?] is rich, strong, handy [skilled?] with a sword and mentally bonded to the King he was designed to protect. He’s also busy because some days there are more people trying to kill his King [Can we say ‘trying to kill him’ instead? Raise the stake!] than there are women banging on the door. [cheeky 😉 ]

There’s no point in meeting a girl who matters because he’ll never let her become a higher priority than King Dragan. [Decide if you want to use the king’s name or not and keep it consistent. Also, consider rephrasing the passive sentence to an active sentence.] Not that such a girl will give him the time of day when she knows the things he’s done. [Be specific, what has he done?] At least [insert comma] not until he meets Tsunia Blue.

Tsunia’s found a chink in his armour [Might be better to split the sentence here, to give emphasize on the previous sentence] and through it [insert comma, or perhaps better, take away ‘through it’] she’s slipped doubts about whether Dragan [decide if you want to use Dragan or King Dragan] deserves Rack’s protection. He can’t afford to be distracted by her because if he lets Dragan die [insert comma] he’ll follow his father on a trip via self-loathing and onward [perhaps cut ‘via self-loathing and onward’?] to insanity. [I think the next sentence should be in the same paragraph, because you’re still talking about Tsunia.] It doesn’t help that Tsunia’s dating the man who’ll stop at nothing to destroy Dragan and his council of sycophants. So maybe [insert comma] if Rack treats her like dirt [I’m not very fond of ‘treats her like dirt’… because it might cast a negative light on your MC. Can we substitute it to something else?], she’ll run as far away from him as possible. [I think you should add one more sentence to tie up the query nicely. Perhaps you can sum up the conflict and the stake?]

[I prefer to put ‘BLUE is a…’ paragraph here, and make the self-intro paragraph the last]

For over a decade I’ve worked in an exciting array of corporate roles [perhaps a few quick mention, just to be specific]. I spend my days pretending to listen to my colleagues while writing books in my head [haha].

BLUE is a 90,000 word post-apocalyptic romance which stands alone or is the first in a completed 260,000 word trilogy. [I would split this sentence into two. BLUE is a 90,000-word post-apocalyptic romance. It can be a stand-alone or the first in a complete 260,000-word trilogy.]

[Hi Emma, I think you’ve got a good base for a query, though a little bit of polish could make it stronger. Your novel sounds fantastic, and I get good vibes from Tsunia. Pitching it as a stand-alone or a trilogy is a smart move. I’ve made some suggestions on how to improve your query, but ultimately, the decision is yours. I wish you the best of luck!]

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Lindsey Frydman


Twitter | Website

Lindsey has been writing since she was nine years old, when she discovered the awesomeness that is Harriet the Spy. Her books always include a romance, though sometimes there’s an added sci-fi or magical realism twist. She lives in Columbus, Ohio (where the weather is never quite right). Her BFA in Photography and Graphic Design has granted her a wide assortment of creative knowledge that serves as inspiration (and not much else). When she’s not crafting YA and NA stories, you’ll likely find her spending waaay too much time on Pinterest, playing a video game, singing show-tunes, or performing in a burlesque show—because she enjoys giving her introversion a worthy adversary. (Plus, it’s the closest to Broadway she’ll ever get.) Lindsey was a proud 2016 Pitch Wars Mentee and thoroughly adores being a part of the wonderful writing community. THE HEARTBEAT HYPOTHESIS is her debut novel.

Lindsey’s recent release …

The Heartbeat Hypothesis by [Frydman, Lindsey]

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Audra Madison simply wanted to walk in the shoes of Emily Cavanaugh, a free-spirited teenager who died too young. After all, Audra wasn’t supposed to be here.

Thanks to Emily, Audra has a second chance at life. She’s doing all the things that seemed impossible just two years ago: Go to college. Date. Stargaze in the Rocky Mountains. Maybe get a tattoo. You know, live.

Jake Cavanaugh, a photographer with mysterious, brooding gray eyes, agrees to help chronicle her newfound experiences. She makes him laugh, one of the only people who can these days. As they delve into each other’s pasts – and secrets – the closer they become.

But she’s guarded and feels like she can’t trust anyone, including herself.

And he’s struggling with the fact that his beloved sister’s heart beats inside her.

Lindsey’s First Page Critique…

GENRE: Fantasy

Blood arched into the air as the knight’s head snapped back, falling like iron rain.(GREAT opener! But I feel like a slight rewording of this sentence will pack a little more punch: The knight’s head snapped back, and blood arched into the air, falling like iron rain. Plus, I think this wording makes more sense – at first it read as though the head was falling like rain, which isn’t what you mean. =P)

The brunt force [of the what?) tilted the silver helmet from the crown of the knight’s head, (So, I’m not quite sure this first part of the sentence makes sense. I think the word ’tilted’ is throwing me. Try replacing it with something like ‘slit’. I’m imagining this guy slicing a dude’s head off, which is a pretty awesome beginning. (Though I see later on that the guy doesn’t get his head cut off.) The wording just needs a little tweaking in this paragraph.] sliding [I think it should be a new sentence here, maybe starting with ‘It slid] down his sweat-covered back before colliding with a thud on the hard ground. A crowd watched [Is there a stronger word you can use to replace ‘watched’?] the helmet roll in a death spiral across the sand until the rusted thing fell to a complete stop, upturned and gleaming in the hot sun. Specks of wet blood painted on the surface. (This is a fantastically nasty visual! My only thought: Consider adding ‘of the metal/silver’ to the end of this last sentence.

The crowd cheered (Do you need the rest of this sentence? I think you could lose it.) as their eyes fell back on the knight. From every direction, twelve hundred men and women pressed forward in tandem, crushing their desperate bodies against the wooden rails of the makeshift arena, jeering, demanding for more. More blood. More pain. More reasons to stay. This is awesome.

But why did any man stay? <3

They called it a whisper. It was the best way to describe the feeling—a curiosity tugging on your sleeve, making you stop and come back, making you forget the reason you came.

It’s because of this, Adelaide stayed, to watch a man rise above his means.

So it came as no surprise when a child’s hands appeared beneath the guard rail, reaching for the damned thing waiting in the dirt. Many had failed to pay attention as the crowd waited for the counter-move. [I thought the knight’s head was sliced off!? That’s how it read until now. Now I see it’s just the helmet that fell, right?] The helmet disappeared under an endless sea of feet. Adelaide watched the silent thief, one of many orphaned children crawling on their bellies, reaching out their [I’d use ‘his’ or ‘her’ here.] greedy little hands as they [And again here with the pronoun.] searched the ground for loose coins buried in the sand.

The knight roll [Rolled?] onto his side and recovered to his feet. Squaring his shoulders and rolling [his] neck to work out the kinks [I’d cut ‘in the muscles’, as it’s implied.] in the muscles, [He appeared unconcernced is mostly telling, and I think you could lose it for that reason plus you already show us this by the statement below: “…he smiled. “Was that the best you could do?]he appeared unconcerned by the missing helmet as he faced his opponent again. His opponent…they called him the Fury for reasons unbeknownst to her [I’d use her name instead here.].

Then the [consider adding ‘helmetless’ here so we know which knight you’re referring to.] knight did the unthinkable, despite the blood pouring from his nose, he smiled. “Was that the best you could do? Impressive. For a poor man.” The knight taunted his opponent, spitting more of his blood on the hard ground. Despite losing his helmet, he was in relative good spirits. “But let’s see how well you manage with a sword.”

It was difficult for Adelaide to see the opponent’s reaction, [cut the comma] when his back was turned and the…. [I see what you’re trying to do here (I think), but it’s more confusing than anything. I’d simply end the sentence with ‘turned.’] And then,[I’d lose this comma.] the two men separated and Adelaide could finally see. A sliver. [Extra space here.] That’s all she was granted. But it was enough. Such intensity, such rage. [Is the intensity coming from her or the knights? I think it’s important to know and if I think about it, it could be coming from the knights or Adelaide.] Her veins began to shiver. Adrenaline released in waves [Again here, is the adrenaline releasing from her or the crowd? By grounding the reader with these small things, it’ll do a world of good in setting up your character and scene.] as the men abandoned their fists in favor of swords. Iron by iron, two swords winked into existence, the gleaming twin blades catching the light. When held at the right angle, the mast of the blade would blind their opponent.

At an alarming rate, the crowd was forever growing and expanding. [Personally, I think you should rearrange the first sentence so it starts with: The crowd was…] It was a miracle she’d managed this far, fighting and pushing against the current, without getting trampled in the end.

I think you’ve got a great opening – visual and impactful. You’re literally throwing us into the action! My major concern about the scene is that we don’t get a sense of who Adelaide is. She’s the MC, right? With third person, it’s especially important (at least it is to me) that the reader feels connected with the character. It’s easier to do in first person. (Again, at least for me. Deeper POV is easier to achieve with first person.) So right now, Adelaide is merely watching this fight, and we don’t know how she’s truly feeling about it. Or even why she stays to watch? Is it the same reason every man stays? Does she know one of the knights? I think if you give us a little more of her inner character, a reader will connect with her quicker. 🙂 A little tweaking and you’ll have a fabulous opening! 

Thank you, Clarissa and Lindsey, 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.



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