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 Mentors, Anne Raven & Janet Walden-West …
Anne Raven was born and raised along the windy coast of South Africa, and can assure everyone there are no lions roaming the streets—unless you count the feral cat next door. When not reading or writing, you can find her spending time with Luna, her giant Boerboel aka South African Mastiff puppy, taking freshly baked goods from the oven, or drinking too much coffee.
Anne loves writing in multiple genres, but her stories always tend toward darker themes with gritty edges. Her books often feature found families, resilient heroines, non-toxic alpha heroes, and vivid settings. Her romantic suspense IN THE NAME OF THE MOTHER was showcased in Pitch Wars 2017.
Anne is represented by Amanda Jain at BookEnds Literary Agency.
Janet Walden-West lives in the southeast with a pack of show dogs, a couple of kids, and a husband who didn’t read the fine print. A card carrying Crazy Dog Show Lady, she’s easily distracted by great cars and bad coffee. A founding member of the East Tennessee Creative Writers Alliance and The Million Words craft blog, she is also a member of Romance Writers of America. She pens Urban Fantasy that escapes the neat confines of the city limits in favor of map-dot hillbilly towns, and inclusive Romantic Suspense and Contemporary Romance.
A 2X #PitchWars alum and Golden Heart® finalist, her debut multicultural Contemporary Romance, SALT+STILETTOS, is due out Spring 2020 from City Owl Press, along with two unapologetically feminist Urban Fantasy shorts from Prospective Press out Fall/Winter 2019. She is represented by Eva Scalzo of Speilburg Literary Agency.
Anne & Janet’s first page critique . . .
It was cold. [The author seems to be going for impact with this opening—which is great! The importance of an opening hook can’t be overstated. However, this skirts opening with a melodramatic movie voice-over narrative. ]
Not the normal chill associated with winter, not even the severity of such a low temperature that highlights the fragility of the hardiest of mankind. No, this was a deep and bitter cold that went beyond any meteorological phenomenon. This was an ancient chill from a place that had never felt the caressing warmth of the life giving sun. It was a frigidity that cut deep through the skin, bone and flesh to the very soul.
[Be careful not to fall into the “telling” trap. Where possible, try to show the reader and use telling in moderation. I.e. have your character shiver against the frigid air to show the icy temperature.]
It was dark in this place and the intense darkness was almost a physical thing, deep dense and all around, an ancient and powerful shadow. It was as if a fantastic primeval tomb, sealed before the beginning of time, had been opened against all warnings and had allowed this oppressive gloom to escape.
[I’d love to see more of your character. While your opening has a great eerie feeling, and I definitely get a sense of the cold and dark tomb-like surroundings, it would really help ground the reader if we were introduced to your character. We need to connect with them in order to connect with your story and not just the surrounding atmosphere. All of the above you could show through your character.]
There was no weather at all here, there was the heat of the molten core of the planet and the cold of the ancient rock but that was it and it was unchanging, as it had been since the beginning of time. The air in this place was completely still but it was not stale although there was not the slightest breath of wind to alter it in any way. The smell could only be described as Earthy, perhaps musty, almost mouldy but there was a refreshing quality to it, like the rejuvenating affects of freshly cut grass or the uplifting influence of a pine forest.
[These are good descriptions, but while you give the reader a clear FEELING of the place, there is no sense of the place itself, meaning I have no idea where we are. At first, I suspected your character was trapped inside a box buried beneath the ground or inside an actual tomb, but in the next paragraph he’s walking around, so that can’t be right.]
At first there wasn’t even any sound and Peter [We have a character name! I’d love to see Peter introduced sooner.] was beginning to wonder if he had any access to that sense at all here, the deprivation he was feeling due to lack of initial stimuli. But after a while as he marched on, he could hear the sound of his breathing and the quiet padding of his own footfalls, even though the noise they gave away was minuscule and seemed as if they were a million miles away. Peter wasn’t sure if her [Typo: he] could actually hear or just feel his own heartbeat but either way, it was also there with its own constant regular throbbing.
[Often, the use of “was” can be a sign of passive voice, and it really creates distance between the reader and the action. Try to use this in moderation as well.]
[Formatting: I notice you have this in bold and italics. I’m unsure if your whole MS is formatted this way, but if it is, I strongly suggest removing the bold and italics. There should also be no extra lines between your paragraphs, and the first line of each paragraph should be indented, with no justification. Most agents prefer this format.]
[This opening has some evocative imagery and does a fantastic job of setting a larger-than-life/man-against-the-elements tone. Combining that feel with a deeper dive into the MC’s point of view will create a compelling opening. Thank you for submitting and we hope our notes were helpful.]
*PW Note: We removed the bold formatting from the MS to make it easier to differentiate between the author’s words and the critique, and some line/spacing formatting is automatically adjusted for the blog.