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, Sabrina Lofti & Carrie Allen …
Sabrina Lotfi is a nationally published makeup artist with over a decade of experience in fashion and film. She writes contemporary books for young adults and has a deep love for history, horses, characters with a dark side, and kickass retellings. She lives in Texas with her vampire kitty and bat pup, is a pro at pep talks, and loves making new writer friends. She is repped by Dr. Uwe Stender of Triada US Literary Agency.
I grew up in the Colorado ski town of Breckenridge, which means I have excellent ice-scraping, snow-shoveling, woodstove-lighting skills. Like all Breck kids, I spent my free time on the ski slopes and frozen pond. And shoveling more snow.
My undergrad degree is in Biology and my masters is in Sport Science, clearly setting me up for a career in fiction writing. I’ve held every position on a hockey bench: player, coach, referee, athletic trainer… yes, even Zamboni driver. I worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer, first at the high school level and then at my alma mater, Colorado College. Eventually, I semi-retired from sports medicine to become a fully-tired mom.
I live in Colorado Springs with my husband, two kids, and two furry kids with tails. Hobbies include books, dogs, dessert, and anything outdoors on a gorgeous Colorado day. Combine all four and you’ll never get rid of me. Website | Twitter
Sabrina & Carrie’s query critique . . .
Young Adult: Thriller
Seventeen-year-old Georgie insists she’s a normal girl. She goes to school, plays sports, and hangs out with her friends. She also happens to have the title “Her Royal Highness” as the spare heir to the throne of Cambria. From the outside, her life seems like a fairytale, [First paragraph is valuable real estate– keep it strong and concise. Paint us a brief, specific picture of this fairytale to hook us to the character, and then crash it all down]but everything comes with a price, [Look for phrases like this that could apply to any manuscript and make them stronger and specific to your manuscript]and after her dad dies in a mysterious plane crash, she wonders if the cost is too high [See above note about price]. As her brother prepares for his coronation, she contemplates [There’s a lot of thinking going on in this paragraph (contemplates, wonders)– make your MC act, not just think about acting.]leaving the country and her family’s legacy behind. [We’re not sure you need this line. Get to the inciting incident quicker and keep your focus on the end goal—finding a killer and not getting dead!]Then, two weeks before the ceremony, on the same night her disgraced uncle returns [We both went, “Ooh, it’s the uncle!” Whether or not we’re right, we’re not convinced you need uncle in the query. If you do, then add it in as conflict in your second paragraph.]she receives an email from her dad’s account [Every word in your query needs to pull its weight. We don’t need to know the email is from dad’s account]telling her the crash wasn’t an accident and the killer is going to strike again. [1. There’s a lot going on in this sentence. Can you break it up? End this first paragraph by dropping the mic: Dad’s accident wasn’t an accident. Boom! 2. Killers strike again A LOT in queries. We’re more concerned about WHO the killer is going to strike again. Is Georgie’s life in danger? Her family? Give us focused stakes, get us close to the danger. We need some chills!]
No one believes the threat is real. No one, that is, until her former best friend, Will Isaacs, returns from America. As Georgie and Will become closer,[Getting closer sounds promising—we’re rooting for kissing! Which means we might be disappointed if they’re just-friends-getting-closer. Can you be specific on which kind of getting closer it is? (at least hint) And since Will is her former bff, we would love to know if they have to overcome old conflict between them while catching a killer. Even a small bit of information here will help endear readers to the characters and then the agent will HAVE to read to make sure they don’t die!] they resolve [They don’t RESOLVE, they INVESTIGATE! Avoiding passive verbs gives Georgie more agency.]to take the investigation into their own hands [Again, “take” is passive, and “into their own hands” is vague. Choose active words specific to your story.]But the more they search for answers, the more questions they have and the more dangerous it becomes. [Ooh, good—danger! But this is a thriller, so prove to the reader that you truly bring the goosebumps!]When she learns the killer may be someone close to her, she’ll have to decide how far she’s willing to go to get revenge and expose the truth. [Get us closer to the goals and action here. She doesn’t DECIDE, she DOES. The reader doesn’t want a story about deciding to get revenge. They want a story about revenge! Also, there is a lot of “how far she’s willing to go” in queries. Look for common phrases like this and turn them into strong phrases unique to your manuscript.]
POISED TO FALL is complete at 85,000 words. Told in dual POV,[We are assuming Will has a POV? You can go either way with a 2-POV or 1-POV query. We suggest drafting it both ways before you decide which you like best. It absolutely works here as a 1-POV query—but if Will is important enough to have his own POV, that needs to be reflected in the query. The agent needs to know that he has his own story arc, goals, and stakes.]it features a diverse cast of characters, complex families, found families, a friends-to-lovers subplot, and has series potential. [Instead of this list of components, use agent wishlists to tailor your query to each agent you submit to. For example, “Because you like diverse casts of characters and found-families…”]It’s a feminist re-telling of Hamlet, but with the gender roles swapped in a Cinderfella twist. [These are fun and clever descriptions, but we could use clarification with all the swapping and twisting! Is it a mash-up of the Hamlet and Cinderella stories? Or is the gender-swapped aspect (Cinderfella) only meant to explain that Georgie is royal and Will is not? Which means it’s also gender-swapped Hamlet?]Readers who enjoyed [You have two “enjoys” in this sentence. We suggest “Readers of Ally…” or “Fans of Ally…”]Ally Carter’s Embassy Rowseries and Maggie Hall’s The Conspiracy of Uswould enjoy POISED TO FALL for its international setting. [Great comps! Delete “for its international setting”—the readers will enjoy it for more than just one aspect of comparison.]
I’m a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a Juris Doctorate; a Bachelor of Arts in English-writing, fiction; and a certificate in children’s literature. From 2014 to 2016 I was the articles editor for the Pittsburgh Journal of Technology Law & Policy. I currently write decisions for a judge.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
All the best,
Thank you, Sabrina & Carrie, 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.