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Day 18 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Hannah Sawyerr

Wednesday, 15 September 2021  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

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 …

Pitch Wars Mentor Hannah Sawyerr  … 

Hannah V. Sawyerr is a Sierra Leonean-American writer with a passion for people and poetry. For Hannah’s literary and community involvement, she was recognized as the 2016 Youth Poet Laureate of Baltimore, an honor awarded by DewMore Baltimore, the Baltimore Mayor’s Office, Urban Word NYC, and Enoch Pratt Libraries. Her spoken word has been featured on the British Broadcasting Channel’s (BBC) “World Have Your Say” program, as well as the National Education Association’s “Do You Hear Us” Campaign. Her written word has been featured in several publications such as ROOKIE, Sesi Mag, Gal-Dem, and more. In 2020 she was a Young Adult Pitch Wars Mentee and currently, she is earning her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at The New School.

Website | Twitter | Instagram

Hannah’s critique . . .

Category: Young Adult: Contemporary

Query:

Dear Pitch Wars Critique Team,  

TITLE is Taylor Swift’s The Last Kiss meets Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places. [Wonderful comps here! If possible, I would suggest using a song on one of Taylor Swift’s more recent albums. I asked my Pitch Wars partner Olivia Liu for help on this one (I’m not the most versed in Taylor Swift’s catalog, which for a YA writer I know is like a sin or a crime or something!) but she recs Exile!] When seventeen-year-old ANNABELLE’S boyfriend is killed in a car accident the night before his [I’m wondering if this happened the night before just his graduation or both of their graduations? If it’s the latter, I would mention that because it paints a slightly different picture! If it’s just his, please completely disregard!] graduation[,] her perfect life shatters. She needs to stop her pain. She needs something she can control. [I love the utilization of short sentences here! It really does set the stage to make the next sentence (!!!!) hit.] Desperate for something that will last forever, Annabelle jumps [Consider adding a small detail here, whether it be about the time or setting or what she was doing before this. You would only need a few words to do this, but I believe it would elevate your query and make the reader feel a bit more connected and grounded! Example: Desperate for something that will last forever, [the night of x], Annabelle jumps off the side of a bridge. I obviously made that up, but you get what I mean! I would also try to introduce Vance here so that it’s clear that Annabelle is still alive after this event since he played a role in saving her life. I know you clarify this later on the query, but I think it would be best to clarify sooner! Consider: “… off the side of a bridge where she meets VANCE.”] off the side of a bridge. 

VANCE’s mom chose her addictions over her son, leaving him behind with nothing but a sweatshirt and the phone number for her ex-boyfriend. [I love that you’ve included this detail. (I also just really like the way this sentence reads!) Side note: I think it’s super interesting that she left the number of her EX-boyfriend. That alone can make a reader want to know more about her!] All Vance wants is to belong, but leaving is the only thing he knows how to do. He keeps to himself, listening to carefully curated playlists, falling asleep to the sound of a documentary playing on his laptop, and counting the days until he graduates. [I absolutely love everything about this sentence! The rhythm, the details, it’s GIVING what it needs to GIVE!!!!!]

A friendship grows between them as they work side by side at a coffee shop, skip rocks across the river, and dance under a disco ball. [Such a specific and intimate detail. Love it!] But when lies surface [Tell us a bit about how the lies surfaced! Don’t spoil, but I think you have room to give a bit more here!] that Vance had something to do with the accident that killed her boyfriend, Annabelle believes the lies and not Vance, the boy who saved her life. [Here is a perfect opportunity to build tension/suspense. Instead of telling us that Annabelle doesn’t believe the lies, tell us what internal (or external!) conflict is complicating her situation. Make us wonder IF she will believe these lies! I think a simple solution here could be changing the statement to a question: “Will Annabelle believe the lies and not Vance, the boy who saved her life?” but I also think you have room to add a couple more questions here too!]

Annabelle needs hope. Vance needs a home. They both need a new beginning. [LOVEEEEEE!]

TITLE is not a love story. It is a story about love. [I would add a bit more here! It’s a story about love and what else? Let us know! Example: BOOK TITLE is not a love story. It is a story about love and the extent we go in order to find it. TOTALLY MADE THAT UP AGAIN, but still! You get the point!] This dual POV YA Contemporary is a stand alone and complete at 86,000 words. Between feeding my three children snacks and accidentally homeschooling them during a pandemic [Love your use of humor here!] I wrote this novel. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

TW: attempted suicide, cutting [Thank you for using content warnings! I think you can easily add this to the first or last paragraph in your query. Perhaps something like: “This dual POV YA Contemporary is a stand alone and complete at 86,000 words and contains sensitive content dealing with attempted suicide and cutting.”]

First page:

The smell of freshly ground coffee seeped through the cafe. [VERY here for starting a novel with a scent! Way to ground the reader!] It was Annabelle’s favorite scent. [Wonderful way to introduce us to Annabelle! I also think it’s dope that the first thing we’re learning about her is such an intimate detail. I don’t think I even know the favorite scent of most of my friends. (Sorry friends!!!)] That plus the forest after a storm and Trent’s skin. 

She dumped [Consider changing this word. As a reader when I see dumped, I think that she emptied whatever is in her backpack! Maybe “dropped” or a different synonym here?] her backpack to the ground with a thud, pulling her phone from her pocket, thumbs flying over the keypad typing him a message: 

Awake?

Barely

Coming by Murphy’s?

Not today. My eyes are bleeding going

over my notes for Henderson’s final.

He’s trying to kill me

You have bleeding vampire eyes?

Yes. Don’t judge

Meet at the square later?

Yes

Love you

Forever

[Ooooo! Text messages in a book!!! I would suggest either labeling the names and not hitting tab (I want to say “tabbing” so bad here but I also know that’s wrong, haha!) here, or hitting tab a couple more times to make the difference a bit more distinct. Side Note: You do a really excellent job of writing text messages that ACTUALLY SOUND like text messages! That was super hard for me, haha! Kudos!]

She pushed her phone into the back pocket of her cut-offs and freed an apron [I really love the way “freed an apron” sounds!] from the hook, slipping it over her head, walking to the counter. “Morning.”

“Morning kiddo.” Murphy nodded his bald, black [I would cut to just read “bald head”] head to the bag of beans gaping open on the counter and Annabelle hung her face over it. Her honey-blond hair swung forward making a veil as she inhaled. Resealing the bag she slid it into the cupboard and grabbed a too-tall stack [wonderful detail.] of paper cups that wavered next to the register at the release of her hand.

Murphy’s question followed her to the other side of the counter. [This sentence is just beautiful!] “You itching for summer to start?”

Her hand rested on the leg of the chair she started pulling from its tabletop perch. “Yes. But it’s strange. Trent goes to Denver soon and it makes summer feel like it will be short, you know?”

Before leaving her room this morning Annabelle did what she always did, she wrote a list. [Bravo! The language here is beautiful and you do such a wonderful job of incorporating these specific and intimate details. Thank you so much for sharing your query and first page with me! -Hann :)]

Thank you, Hannah, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2021 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

2 Comments
  • Katherine Caldwell says:

    Wow. Great critique of a very strong query and opening pages. I can’t wait until this book is published so I can read it!

  • Asami says:

    That was so good!!! I really loved both the writing and the critique. I’m really curious to know what happens next!! 🙂

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