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Day 16 (Part 3) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Sonia Hartl

Sunday, 13 September 2020  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2020 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 Sonia Hartl …

Sonia Hartl is the author of Not Your #Lovestory (Page Street) and Have a Little Faith in Me (Page Street), which received a starred review in BookPage and earned nominations for the Georgia Peach Book Award, YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year, and ALA’s Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, as well as the forthcoming The Lost Girls (Page Street) and Heartbreak for Hire (Gallery). When she’s not writing or reading, she’s enjoying pub trivia, marathoning Disney movies, or taking a walk outside in the fall.

Website | Twitter | Intagram | Facebook | Goodreads

Sonia’s recent release, NOT YOUR #LOVESTORY…

#PlaneBae meets Gilmore Girls in this hilarious and heartfelt story about the addictiveness of Internet fame and the harsh realities of going viral.

Macy Evans dreams of earning enough income from her YouTube channel, R3ntal Wor1d, to leave her small, Midwestern town. But when she meets a boy named Eric at a baseball game, and accidently dumps her hotdog in his lap, her disastrous “meet-cute” becomes the topic of a viral thread. Now it’s not loyal subscribers flocking to her channel, it’s Internet trolls. And they aren’t interested in her reviews of VHS tapes—they only care about her relationship with Eric.

Eric is overly eager to stretch out his fifteen minutes of fame, but Macy fears this unwanted attention could sabotage her “real-life” relationships—namely with the shy boy-next-door, Paxton, who she’s actually developing feelings for. Macy knows she should shut the lie down, though she can’t ignore the advertising money, or the spark she gets in her chest whenever someone clicks on her videos. Eric shouldn’t be the only one allowed to reap the viral benefits. But is faking a relationship for clicks and subscribers worth hurting actual people?

Sonia’s critique . . .

Category: Adult Thriller


I enjoyed meeting you last week on zoom at Virtual Thrillerfest, 2020. Thank you for liking my pitch and requesting my manuscript. 

Title is a 90,000-word psychological thriller that fans of The Last Flight and The Drowning may enjoy.

Sometimes when you leave an old job your clients follow you—literally. [I’m not usually a fan of the logline style of queries, but this is intriguing enough to pique my interest]

Twenty something [can you be more specific here? Just because there is a big difference between 22 and 29] Mel Green has everything she ever wanted. Married to an international financier, with a mansion on Long Island and an apartment in Manhattan, her homes are elegant, her days filled with important business meetings, and her future bright. But not all is as it seems. [this sentence reads a tad cliché, I’d cut this line, start the next sentence with “But beneath a well-crafted…” It packs a bigger punch] Beneath a well-crafted façade she’s a thief, a sophisticated thief, a Wall Street con. And she has some misgivings. [I love where this is going, but this is a bit too vague to really hook me. Can you be more specific here? What kind of thieving on Wall St is she doing exactly? Is she involved in a Ponzi scheme? Selling fake stocks for a broke company? Fudging the credit ratings on junk bonds? And what misgivings? Does she feel bad that she’s ripping people off, or is she literally stealing their watches and jewelry off the trading floor?]

Her husband, Sid, is a fake too, another con artist among the elite with a terrible temper he hides behind closed doors. Also, he won’t let her leave him unless it’s in a pine box. [This line feels a little repetitive when the previous line implies the same thing] Still, [I’d cut ‘still’ and start with ‘she’] she keeps looking for a way out until one September morning she finds her escape. When tragedy strikes on 9/11 Mel walks out of Manhattan and her life. [maybe condense these sentences into one, so they don’t sound repetitive, and more specific on how she’s able to walk away after 9/11]

Twenty years later her regrets are piling up [this is a little cliché and vague, being more specific on what regrets are piling up will add some depth to your character] including leaving her stepdaughter with Sid. Seeking redemption, she comes out of the shadows only to be found by her ex. [How does she come out of the shadows? If you can be more specific, your query will stand out stronger and highlight what makes your story unique] He’s not happy. [I’d cut this line, since this can be assumed] Sid wants his secret client list back—infamous people wanted for certain misdeeds—and he’d like Mel to stay dead this time. [This hasn’t been set up in previous paragraphs, so this comes a bit out of left field, but it’s really interesting details! If you can find a way to weave in the secret client list and your MC faking her death sooner, those kinds of details would make your story stand out]

Except it’s Mel who finds Sid murdered and the client list is her main clue. So, she must reexamine the past to save her stepdaughter from a killer and herself from a lifetime of shame. [These stakes aren’t quite hitting home for me, just because I’m not entirely sure how the client list works into Sid’s murder if she’s had it for 20 years, and how her stepdaughter is in danger, and why she’s facing a lifetime of shame. Maybe being more specific sooner will help inform these stakes, but as of right now, they aren’t really landing because I’m not sure how they connect to the main plot]

BIO: Three-time, RWA chapter contest finalist in 2018 and 2019, my other writing credits to date are scholarly. Professor Emeritus of the Management Department of New Mexico State University, currently I’m at work on my next thriller.

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

First page:

Chapter 1

How do you tell someone you love you’re not dead? [Great opening line! I’m already intrigued]

“A tip, always be authentic.” The commencement speaker taps his chest. “In the end, you won’t regret that.” [Maybe set the scene a little bit here first? I’m not sure where your MC is or who this person speaking is and why they are relevant. Setting the scene a bit first helps readers picture the speaker in a setting, rather than as a floating head] 

Seriously? The irony almost makes me laugh. I haven’t been myself for years. Obviously, I’ve made some mistakes. But when you’re young, you don’t think of consequences. You don’t think about staying up all night, engaging in random hookups, telling your boss off, or even breaking the law. Still, little by little, regret sinks in. And as the wrinkles appear, you begin to realize you won’t live forever. Maybe you should’ve made different choices, smarter choices, choices that don’t come back to haunt you. [Great internal narrative here!] 

Forty was my tipping point where all those little regrets descended. I felt compelled to do the thing I never wanted to—look back. My history’s not a pretty thing. No, I wasn’t America’s sweetheart. I was a thief, a sophisticated thief, a Wall Street con, but I stole just the same, not only from rich assholes, but from little old ladies. [This is starting to dip a bit into ‘telling’ and info dump territory here. Maybe put your MC in motion, have them acting and doing something, then slowly add in these details as they become relevant in the story]

Yet, somehow over time, I grew a conscience. How did that happen? Now, I’m wondering, is it too late to change? Well, I’m about to find out. That’s why I’m here, on a folding chair in the middle of the Old Yard at Yale, on a miserably hot, overcast June day. [Getting the setting in sooner will allow readers to picture it in their minds, and giving little details of what the Old Yard at Yale looks/smells/sounds/feels like will help bring the reader into the scene]

The speaker finishes. “Thank you and congratulations!” Cheers go up, not for that tired speech, but because it’s time. Students line up, eager to march across that stage that’s draped with colorful banners and college crests. Rows of crammed-in onlookers block my view, so I scoot forward, elbowing the snooty woman next to me. She clutches her pearls and looks back aghast. I don’t care. I’ve waited this long, come this far. I’m going to see. [Putting your MC in motion like this is what gets the story moving. I would suggest saving the backstory for later, and not revealing it all at once, just sprinkled in as needed]

Thank you, Sonia, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2020 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more.

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