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Day 18 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query and 1st Page Workshop with Brenda Drake and mentor, Micheal Mammy

Thursday, 1 June 2017  |  Posted by Brenda Drake


Welcome to our Query and 1st Page Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected writers to participate in our query and first page workshops. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or 500 word opening from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting four critiques per day (except weekends) through July 7. Our hope is that these samples will help shine up your query and first page and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors. We appreciate our mentors for giving up their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.

First up we have …

Pitch Wars Brenda Drake . . .

Brenda’s Query  Critique . . .

Age Category: Adult
Genre: Romance

Dear Agent,

[One personalized sentence]

[So I’d like to say that this is an amazing query already. You’ve done such a good job at clearly setting up your world and characters. Really well done! So everything I’m going to say is a bonus. Nitpicking here.]

Helen, an aspiring philanthropist who recently acquired magic from a shaman ceremony, casts a spell to stop the epic dating fails and make the universe manifest her soul mate—but her choice unleashes occult forces that could break her heart or strike her dead.

Brian, a mega-famous English rocker, makes a mixed first impression on Helen. [This switch to Brian makes me think your book is in dual POV. If it is, great! But mention that in the TITLE paragraph. If it’s not, keep it in Helen’s POV. For example: When Helen meets a mega-famous English rocker, Brian, he makes a mixed first impression.] He’s arrogant and his pick-up lines are spawns from hell, but his insights on fame and music intrigue her. Brian wins Helen over, but the problems don’t end. A dangerous secret makes him distrust all things occult, so he withdraws when he learns of her mystical abilities. When a spell to save her faltering philanthropy organization nearly turns deadly and the lovers’ troubled pasts threaten a delicate bond, Helen must figure out how to contain the menacing energies she’s unwittingly summoned—and decide whether her and Brian’s love is worth fighting for. [Your stakes here are good. Can you connect them back to the first paragraph? Or possibly leave “break her heart” in the first paragraph and then amp up the stakes here with “strike her dead.” She has to decide whether her and Brian’s love is worth fighting for or what? We know she’ll be upset about breaking up, but we’re still missing the higher consequences you’ve promised with how she might die. And maybe Brian will too and the world will be bereft without his music like “Bill and Ted’s.” Or maybe his fans will find out about her and come breaking down her door. Whatever the case may be, tie it up here with what disasters are in store for Helen if she makes the wrong choice.]

MAGICAL THINKING is a 93,000 word contemporary romance with blended fantasy and paranormal elements in the Neil Gaiman tradition. It combines Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s paranormal quirkiness with irreverent characters that could populate Judd Apatow’s critically acclaimed show Love. [I think these are amazing comps. They help us understand your characters and world. Some would say it’s too many comps, but I think it’s okay.]

I work as a literacy tutor. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Michael Mammy …


Twitter | Website

Michael Mammy writes Science Fiction, and sometimes fantasy, usually revolving around military characters. A lot of the ideas that go into those books come from having served in the Army for quite some time. There will also probably be explosions. On the page, not necessarily in real life. He’s represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency.

Michael’s First Page Critique . . .

GENRE: Supernatural Thriller

[Comments by Mammay]
Moments before the car accident that would leave him in a coma, Lee Young had a conversation with his father about baseball. Baseball—or, to be precise, the standing of the Washington Nationals in the East Division of the National League—was the topic the Young family had been held hostage by during the holy months of April through October for the past six years, ever since Lee turned five. [Two things jump out about this paragraph. First, it’s immediately head-hopping, as you have ‘JON’ at the top of the chapter, indicating it’s his Point of View (POV) but you open specifically talking about Lee, making it seem like it’s from his point of view. Lee had the conversation with his father. Since it’s Jon’s POV, Jon is having the conversation with his son. Second, you’re telling us instead of showing us. You tell us he’s going to have an accident, which eliminates the tension and really renders what happens next moot for the reader. Because we already know. You can do that, but if so, you’ve got to really make the way it happens jump off the page to keep us interested. To know for sure if it worked, I’d need to read more pages.]

“Do you think they can win the pennant this season, dad?” Lee asked from the backseat of the sedan.

Jon glanced in the rearview mirror. There wasn’t much to see in the darkness, but he could just detect the ghost-white rise and fall of the baseball that always danced in his son’s hands. “Who do what?”

“The Nats, dad,” Lee said, oblivious to his pretended ignorance. “What about the World Series?”

“It’s only mid-April,” Jon said as he turned onto the Accotink Parkway, mystified as always that he and Sarah had produced such a fanatical child.

“Why are you going this way?” Sarah asked from the passenger seat. “It’s slower.”

“Shorter though,” Jon said. But the truth was that he just felt good, and the parkway—wooded, winding, and yes, slow—reinforced that feeling. [We could use more, here. We need to be closer to Jon so that we care about what happens to him. Maybe why he’s feeling good.]

“You just like to remember what you did here with your girlfriends when you were a teenager,” Sarah said, a hint of laughter in her voice.

“That’s not true,” Jon said, glad the darkness hid his flushed cheeks.

“What did you do here with girls?” Lee asked.

“Nothing interesting,” Jon said, and Sarah convulsed with suppressed laughter.

“What’s wrong with mom?”

“Allergies,” Jon said, and Sarah howled.

Well, I suppose it’s a little funny, Jon thought. [Nice sequence of dialogue. It feels natural, and it’s funny.]

“Can you believe that homer I got?” Lee asked, whatever curiosity he’d had about his parent’s lives before he was born already gone. “I really felt like I was Arky Vaughan when I was at bat. Like he was inside me or something. Then BOOM! Smack over the left field fence!”

“Arky Vaughan would’ve taken more walks,” Jon said with mock seriousness. For some reason Lee had become obsessed with Vaughan when he learned the shortstop slugger [Do we need both ‘shortstop’ and ‘slugger’ here? It’s a touch awkward, and one might do.] had drowned not long after he retired from the Brooklyn Dodgers. [Maybe give a year? Not everybody will know that the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 57.]

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Lee said, sounding deflated.

“I was just kidding, bud,” Jon said as he flipped on the high beams to better illuminate the bright yellow caution signs that peppered the side of the road. I like what you’re trying to do here, showing us the caution signs. I might draw this out a bit, though. It’s rushed from high beams to brakes to accident. What if he flipped on the high beams earlier, then the baseball dialogue dialogue, then come back to braking for the corner.  He started to brake for the coming turn and no sooner had his foot touched the pedal then a set of headlights slashed across his own. [I’d maybe draw this out a bit. This is significant. It’s a car crash. We need to feel it, and we need to be able to see it clearly in our mind. Slashed is a great verb here, but headlights slashing across…that doesn’t jump into view for me. Maybe two lines instead of one. Show the car’s lights around the bend, maybe. Build it.]

Jon! Sarah’s fingers dug into his arm at the same moment he realized [‘realized’ is a word to avoid, especially in action scenes. It’s a type of filter, and it pulls us away from the character.] the other car was going too fast [This is telling. Show us the other car going too fast. What’s it look like? Get rid of the weak verb (was) and give us some action verbs. Examples: The car whipped around the corner, careening over the yellow line. It wobbled, tires squealing, but it didn’t slow.] and was heading right for them. [This is also telling. A few ways to work this…you could use italics…it’s going to hit us. Or you could show his actions.]

Better in the trees than broadsided…[My one thought here is that two cars are approaching each other on a road. I don’t see how they can broadside. So if that’s happening, you have to help draw the picture for me. Describe the road more…does it have ninety degree turns? You could do that earlier on, before we get to the action sequence.] it was more an image in his mind than a coherent thought, and Jon floored the accelerator, kept the car pointed straight ahead even as the road bore left. [We could also, in that description of the road, know that there are trees, though I did picture them, so maybe it’s okay.]

[I tore this up pretty good, but despite that, I see promise in the writing. A lot of that is because we get such a short sample, so as an exercise I pointed out everything, which if I had the whole chapter I might have let some of it go. The dialogue is really solid and I think the other things are the type of issues that can be fixed pretty quickly. One thing I’d look at – I don’t get a great sense of who Jon is since he’s the POV character, which, given how you’ve set up these pages could be okay, but it would definitely be something you needed do in the following pages of the first chapter. If I can’t get close to the character, it’s hard to keep my interest as a reader. So we need to know more about Jon, what he wants, and how he’s trying to get it. As this reads almost like a prologue, I understand why it doesn’t happen here. Nice work, and keep at it. This has a lot of potential.]

Thank you, Michael, for your critique!

Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting critiques through the first part of July. Hope you’ll read on. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 19 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 2nd.

Filed: Workshops

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