Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2020 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 Miriam Spitzer Franklin …
Miriam Spitzer Franklin has been sharing her love of reading and writing with her students for years as an elementary and middle school language arts teacher. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and two pampered cats in Charlotte, NC.
Miriam loves to write character-driven novels about friendship, family, and facing life’s challenges, both big and small. Her debut middle grade novel, EXTRAORDINARY, was published in 2015 followed by CALL ME SUNFLOWER (2017), and EMILY OUT OF FOCUS (2019).
Miriam’s latest release…
Twelve-year-old Emily is flying with her parents to China to adopt and bring home a new baby sister. She’s excited but nervous to travel across the world and very aware that this trip will change her entire life. And the cracks are already starting to show the moment they reach the hotel—her parents are all about the new baby and have no interest in exploring.
In the adoption trip group, Emily meets Katherine, a Chinese-American girl whose family has returned to China to adopt a second child. The girls eventually become friends and Katherine reveals a secret: she’s determined to find her birth mother, and she wants Emily’s help.
New country, new family, new responsibilities—it’s all a lot to handle, and Emily has never felt more alone.
Miriam’s critique . . .
Category: Middle Grade Fantasy
TITLE is a humorous 15,000-word middle grade adventure [the word count is on the short side, even for a young middle grade.] in which a snobbish young girl is transported by toilet to national parks around the US and learns to appreciate nature, her family, and a healthy dose of humor along the way. [All of these things she learns are important, but I’d rather get a hint about the conflict she faces where she has to summon up her courage or discovers that things aren’t always what you expect]
Prudence James hates being outside, but especially if she has to endure the hot sun and irritating bugs with her parents. [It’s better to frame this in terms of what she wants. What is her goal in the story?] How could a trip to the Grand Canyon get any worse? [I would avoid rhetorical questions.]By being tossed around to 7 other national parks in a tiny magical port-a-potty. During her less-than-glamorous travels, she meets a treasure-hunting hillbilly, professional hula dancer, and many other fascinating characters that teach her the importance of family and the beauty of nature. [This is very interesting but what’s missing in the conflict. What is she trying to do to get what she wants and what are the obstacles in the way? This is more of a description but a query needs to make the reader want to read the pages to find out what will happen next.]
While this work is currently being reviewed by other agencies, I will be sure to contact you immediately if chosen for representation elsewhere.[I would not include this. Agents assume you are querying others.]
I am an emerging author from the Midwest who passionately writes stories for and about my daughter, Ellee. [I’m not sure this is necessary either. You don’t want to point out that you’re unpublished. You can include where you’re from if it has a bearing on the story. If you’ve traveled to the places that are represented in the setting, that would be something to include, or if your work might relate in some way to the story you are writing.]
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Traveling in a port-a-potty is certainly an imaginative twist! I think you need to rewrite this query and make sure it answers these questions:
1) What does the main character want more than anything?
2) What does the main character do in order to reach her goal?
3) What’s standing in her way?
4) If she doesn’t reach her goal, what does she stand to lose? In other words, what’s at risk? These are the stakes of your story.
If you rewrite in terms of these questions, I think you will have a much stronger query. Good luck!
Pru did NOT want to be at the top of this stupid hole. Sure, it was the Grand Canyon and all, but you could only look at a giant hole full of rocks and dirt for so long before it got boring. [I know that this character is going to grow and change to appreciate nature, but this is a really negative introduction of her. While she could have plenty of reasons to be unhappy about being on this trip, you don’t want to introduce her as someone who just complains and whines. Can you start by giving us something that shows she’s likable, so the reader will root for her?
She kicked a small pink pebble over the edge of the canyon and huffed in the direction of the gift shop where her parents were still looking for a T-shirt.
“How long does it take to decide if you want the blue shirt with a giant hole on it or the purple one?” She kicked another pebble over the side, harder this time. “I HATE NATURE, I HATE THIS DUMB VACATION, AND I HAAAATTTEEEE MY IDIOTIC PARENTS FOR DRAGGING ME HERE!” she screamed at the top of her lungs and had the satisfaction of hearing her voice reverberate off the glowing golden walls. [I like the descriptions you’re including of the setting! But this is continuing to show her negative qualities.]
She’d been having a great summer. Most days were spent swimming in her best friend Lilly’s pool, eating popsicles for lunch, and, every once in a while, convincing Lilly’s younger brother to record videos of the girls dancing to Taylor’s newest album. They were, after all, destined to be TikTok influencers. [This gives us a nice glimpse of her character.]
Suddenly, the wind picked up, knocking Pru out of her reverie. Stinging snowflakes [in the summer? Is she surprised? How are the people around her reacting?] began to pelt her cheeks, and she shivered in her short-sleeved shirt and high-waisted jean shorts. It had been one hundred degrees in Phoenix where they’d just come from earlier that day.
Pru needed to get out of this cold! But where? She was NOT going to the gift shop to listen to her mom waffle between souvenirs for an hour. She couldn’t stay on the edge of this cliff. That only left the port-a-potty standing near a grove of pine trees nearby. Sighing, she trudged to the gray box, hoping it wouldn’t smell too much like a poop-pocalypse.[Clever word choice though I can’t imagine she’d rather stand inside a stinky port-a-pottie instead of waiting in the gift shop!]
I love the setting of this piece and I think there will be some great opportunities to give the reader a glimpse of some amazing places in the natural world. I also can see that you’re going to incorporate humor which is a big plus in middle grade.
While I know Pru was against going on this vacation and may have some good reasons, you have to be careful about how you portray her character. The first page is so important in that it’s the first place an agent or reader will meet your main character. Even if the character is upset with her circumstances, you’ll need to make sure the reader understands why. Otherwise, the character just comes off as a big complainer and it’s hard to hook a reader without a main character we want to follow.
I’d consider starting the book before she’s actually on her journey. Show us a scene where she’s with her best friend and show us some positive parts about her personality. Perhaps her parents have already told her the news of vacation and she shares that with her best friend. Then we can find out why she feels so strongly against going on the vacation. It would be great if you could reveal her fears. If the reason she doesn’t want to go on this trip is because she’s afraid of bugs and storms, then that makes her more vulnerable and it will be part of her character arc- something she has to overcome during the trip. At that point you will have us on her side, a character we can root for!
Good luck with your story!