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Day 16 (Part 3) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Samantha Rajaram

Tuesday, 10 September 2019  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2019 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query or first page critique from one of our mentors. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or first page from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you all get an idea on how to shine up your query and first page.

We appreciate our mentors for giving 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, Samantha Rajaram … 

Samantha Rajaram is a historical fiction writer focusing on stories about colonialism and people ignored by the history books. She was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2018, mentored by Carrie Callaghan, and is thrilled to be a 2019 Pitch Wars mentor. Her opinion pieces and short fiction have been published in India Currents, and her novel THE COMPANY DAUGHTERS is currently on submission. She is represented by Carrie Pestritto at Laura Dail Literary Agency, and is a former attorney and now full-time college English professor. She lives in the California Bay Area with her three children.

Website | Twitter

Samantha’s query critique . . .

Adult: Western

Dear [Agent]

[No tab/indent here; I would move paragraph 4 up to your introduction—provide title, word count, comps and your connection to the agent. Also, insert some description about the mc—”slightly paranoid bounty hunter” Sana Hajjar [is “unexpectedly tasked to investigate a crime in Fallon, Texas, where the body count is growing day by day”—you want the first paragraph to be short and punchy] knows that she can be a little paranoid, but instructions from her handler have been suspiciously obscure of late. Sending her not to collect bounty, but to investigate a crime is…odd, to say the least. When Sana arrives in the dusty, West Texas town of Fallon, hoping to track down the person who commissioned her hire, she finds that her job has been made even more difficult: the crimes she’s supposed to be investigating have a body count that’s growing by the day. 

[In this paragraph, you want to show us the inner conflict and summarize the story—keep the focus on your mc—”While deep in her investigation, Sana meets Luis”] Luis Jannick didn’t arrive in time to save his nephew and his family from the arson that took their lives a few days ago. He’s barely begun to mourn when he finds a very nosy young woman claiming to be a private investigator poking around his nephew’s old family home. Demanding to know what the hell she’s doing, [A lot of this section can be cut—focus on the tension between these two characters—why does Sana want to help Jannick?] Jannick promises to help her find her employer if she’ll help him find out who murdered his family in cold blood. [Good concluding sentence—it tells the reader how these two characters connect].

One job’s just as good as another, right? And if Sana can help the reclusive old man who’s just lost everything while doing her job at the same time, all the better [why? Why would she bother? What’s in it for her?]. Jannick and Sana gather evidence and dodge the shadowy, possibly inhuman agents who have begun to stalk the residents of Fallon. To make sense of it all, they need to rely on the reluctant assistance of a white-collar ex-junkie with connections to the oil corporation threatening to decimate Fallon itself, learning to trust each other and themselves in the process. [So is this the conflict—that both of these characters are innately distrustful? The third paragraph can be combined with paragraph 2 and shortened a lot—300 words is a good goal for a query letter!] Things get spooky quickly, as the two skeptics combine their wits to confront both the corruption and the occult forces haunting the town. [This paragraph is usually your biographical information—you can take your credentials and publishing successes from the last two paragraphs (below) and put them up here!]

I am seeking representation for TITLE, a 55,000-word Adult Weird Western Fantasy set in modern-day Texas. TITLE is TRUE DETECTIVE meets NEVERWHERE. [as mentoned earlier, move this first sentence to your first para.] It is a standalone novel with crossover potential.[I don’t recommend adding this line—let the agent judge such potential] I’m submitting my query and pages to you both because of our recent conversation at FlameCon and because you’ve expressed interest in SF/F centering diverse, queer voices. [great connection to agent—mention this up front!][ book, initially born from my interest in occult influences in mainstream culture, has grown into an exploration of found family and survival in the face of corporate greed. Please find my first XX pages included below.

I am a co-writer and co-producer on the successfully Kickstarted visual novel TITLE (2021), and I have a story upcoming in the anthology Behind The Sun, Above the Moon (2020, Ninestar Press). Having graduated from Boston University with a degree in Art History and Archaeology, I’ve also worked as a freelance editor and script writer as I build my literary practice. [I suggest combining this with the paragraph above to provide a shorter bio on you as the author—very impressive!]

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

[Insert your closing]

Additional comments: This sounds like a really promising project! I love the specificity of location, which promises a lot of local details that will undoubtedly enrich your book. I also liked that your mc is a bounty hunter turned investigator—though I am wondering how she made that transition? Is that typical of bounty hunters? I don’t know much about that profession (though I’m intrigued!). The main thing to focus on here is the central tension—what’s your mc’s false belief or weakness or place of growth? How does Jannick connect to that? In general, the structure of a query is as follows: (para 1) one sentence pitch for your book, comps, word count, connection to agent; (para 2) very brief synopsis of the book; (para 3) author biographical information and/or area of expertise and how that connects to your book (if applicable). I think if you trim this down and follow this outline, your query will really shine! Best of luck and well done!-Samantha

Thank you, Samantha, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2019 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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