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 …
Courtney Kae writes the sweet and steamy happily ever afters she wants to see in the world. She lives in Southern California with her husband, child, and thoroughly spoiled Shiba Inu. Some of her favorite things include: family movie nights, breakfast for every meal, devouring romance books, and attempting to keep her succulents alive. Courtney Kae’s debut novel, IN THE EVENT OF LOVE, will release in fall 2022 with Kensington and Headline Eternal.
Courtney’s critique . . .
New Adult Contemporary Romance
We all know how everyone has crazy, stupid, things they do to protect themselves from getting hurt and no one knows that more than burlesque performer Sunday Valor. 23-year old [I’d suggest opening with: Twenty-three-year-old burlesque performer] Sunday [Valor] travels from city to city baring her skin in glitter and gold while trying to hide the scars from a fire that tore through her life. [This second sentence is the one that hooked me! The glitter, gold, and fire caught my attention and made me want to know more about Sunday. For those reasons, I would suggest replacing the first line of your query with your second line. I’d also love to know a little more about this fire, just a few words would draw a crisp picture of her background (ie: the fire that burned her family home and stole her parents’ lives, etc.). Sunday Valor is SUCH an intriguing name!] When Sunday finds herself out of money and no where else to go, [Before we head into this conflict, can we see a bit more about Sunday’s internal and external goals? Ie: is she a burlesque dancer because it’s her passion, or is it a means to make money? Does she want to achieve a certain goal with her dancing, does she want to become rich or overcome the trauma of the fire? Does she want something else? By showing us what she wants and what motivates that want, we’ll feel the stakes of what losing this money means to her. I’d also love to see just a word or two about how she lost her money. Was it her own doing, or was it stolen, etc.?] she lands a job at The Lounge [I’d love to know what city we’re in so we can get a really clear picture of the setting. I’d also love to know just a few details about The Lounge. Does working here conflict with her goals?]. There, she is swept up in the drama and intrigue [Can you state what specific drama and intrigue she is swept up in? These sound like incredible stakes, and I’d love to see them summarized here.] and to her chagrin, Cohen Rook, the son of the property owner who wants nothing to do with the arts. [Helloooo, Cohen Rook! Another incredible name! It sounds like Sunday doesn’t share Cohen’s disdain for the arts–that would be a perfect trait to add in with her goals above. Is Sunday invested in the arts, and is the art specifically burlesque dancing?
It’d be great for us to get a clear picture of her goals, how her goals are impacted by taking a job at The Lounge, and then how Cohen Rook is in her way. I’d also suggest adding a final line to this paragraph showing how Sunday plans to work around Cohen.]
Four years earlier, Sunday made a promise to someone she loved and then ran away. Fourteen years earlier, someone made a promise to Cohen Rook and then broke it. [Is this book dual POV? If not, it’s okay to keep the focus on Sunday and let us find out Cohen’s background on the page.] He has the power to threaten all of Sunday’s hopeful dreams and promises. If he does, she’ll have to face the music back home and not the kind she dances with. [This is a really fun play on words and shows great voice!] Sunday has the power to shatter Cohen’s carefully constructed and stable life. If she does, she may expose everything Cohen’s been trying to protect. The trouble is, sometimes the things we do to protect ourselves from getting hurt end up hurting us even more.
[There are some GREAT stakes at play here! Drawing out specifics will help us see what those stakes are and give us a clear picture of the plot. For example, what promise did Sunday make years ago and how specifically does Cohen threaten that promise? How exactly can Sunday wreak havoc in Cohen’s life, and what is Cohen trying to protect? What exactly is Sunday trying to do to protect herself, and what is the specific consequence if she fails?]
Your structure is spot on! You have everything set up for a killer query! Generally, the first two paragraphs of a query follow this structure:
- Intro character by showing us who they are and what they want.
- Show us what is going to stop them from getting what they want and then how they plan to work around that obstacle.
- Show us the stakes they are up against while they overcome their obstacle.
- Show us the consequence if they fail.
You have this all set up here! Now, drawing out specifics will show us what to expect from your story. Don’t be afraid to get super specific—those details are where your story stands out and your aesthetic shines.
This book is a new adult [Based on the age of your protagonist, I would suggest pitching this as Adult so agents can clearly see where it would fall in the traditional publishing marketplace.] contemporary romance novel complete at 89K words. It is a standalone but has spin-off potential.
This is a novel that is partially inspired by my own experiences and close relationship with mental health and trauma. When I was 16, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and later, unwanted intrusive thoughts. At its core, it is a story about courage and forgiveness. Each character in the novel speaks to some aspect of the theme. There are LGBTQA2S+ characters and people of color that have important roles. Fans of K.A. Tucker, Colleen Hoover, Emily Henry and Christina Lauren will love this book. [When citing comps, it’s great to call out specific traits that relate to your book. It could be phrased like this: “. . . will appeal to fans of the high stakes plots and strong character chemistries in (comp book title).”]
I am currently completing my Bachelor in Communications while working in video production and branding. I am passionate about mental health awareness and have spoken at schools to educate youth. I did perform burlesque for a time – you couldn’t pay me $1000 to reveal what my terrible stage name was. [This is a really interesting fact and I love how it relates back to your story’s plot!] My favourite genre of books are fantasy and romance.
“Letting someone in to see all of your darkest places, that’s the most naked you’ll ever be.”
If this story speaks to you in any way, I would love to send you my full manuscript for consideration.
[The ideal query length hits between 250-300 words. While you have a lot of wonderful info in these closing lines, I would suggest summarizing to keep the main focus on your story and making your closing one paragraph long, following the general query format. The nice thing is that when you speak with an offering agent, you are then able to share a lot of the background of the story during that phone call. For the query, we want to keep the focus on the story pitch. I would suggest summarizing these closing paragraphs like so:
Complete at 89, 000 words, BOOK TITLE is a stand alone Contemporary Romance that would appeal to fans of (insert comp here along with what similarity/ies your story shares with the comp). (Insert brief personal note here, if desired). The full manuscript is available upon your request.]
The sparkly tits hit me like a million blinding diamonds. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. [I love this hooky image right up front! It’s also full of great voice! I can tell this is a character with some grit!] A girl with straight dark hair and black lacquer claws twists and sashays on stage with a feature boa to an invisible audience. Dark walls and buttery lights hang from the ceiling. There is a stage at the far end of the room with a small runway into the first few rows of tables. Around the sides of the mirrored bar are velvety cushioned booths. [These are really great descriptions, and I’d love to see them tied into some action to ground us in your character’s point of view. Could she describe the setting as she moves through it? How is she experiencing the setting? Ie: “I strain to see in the buttery light and nudge past velvet booths toward the mirrored bar”, etc.]. This is The Lounge, in the heart of Chinatown. It’s a place that everyone feels welcome and you can be whoever you want to be. Good for me. [There’s that voice again! Love it!] I wander my way through several tables towards the bar. My shoulder-length cherry red hair is curled and brushed out to make my signature retro waves. [Love this description! How can we experience it with her naturally? Could she catch a glimpse of her red retro waves in the mirrored wall, etc? Maybe she could nervously pat her hair into place, etc., giving us an idea of the importance of her visit?]
The bar is empty save for a man leaning against the polished wood, typing away furiously at his phone. [The man leaning against the polished wood is a great example of tying the setting into the action! We see it so clearly because we’re experiencing it from your MC’s POV.] He’s dressed in a light blue button-down shirt and dark slacks.
“Excuse me, are you Pender Novak?”
He looks up from his phone, his short wavy black hair moves like he’s dropped in from a mountaintop.
“Definitely not,” he says.
He returns to typing something into his phone. [How does the man’s dismissive behavior make her feel? Is this meeting important? Showing us some of her internal emotions here is a great way to get us invested in her goal, even if we don’t fully understand what this meeting is for yet.] I open my mouth to see if he knows where –
“I’ve been waiting for you.” [Is this the man speaking? A dialogue tag would be great here.]
“I said, you’ll be waiting for a while. I’ve been here 20 minutes waiting for him to come out of his office so I can get back to mine.”