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Day 2 (Part 1) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Sarah Underwood

Monday, 30 August 2021  |  Posted by Stephanie Scott

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 Sarah Underwood 

Sarah Underwood grew up in the Devonshire countryside and now lives in London. She is a recent graduate of Imperial College, London, where she obtained her master’s degree in Computational Bioengineering, and is an incoming postgraduate student at the University of Cambridge, where she will be studying Population Health Sciences.
Sarah was a Pitch Wars 2020 mentee with her debut novel, which was also longlisted in the Bath Novel Award and the Voyage YA First Chapters Contest, and shortlisted in the Mslexia Children’s and YA novel competition.

Website | Twitter | Instagram

Sarah’s critique . . .

Category: Young Adult: Historical


Dear Agent,

It’s 1962. [I don’t know if we necessarily need this—the rest of this paragraph makes it clear when it’s set (lobotomies, etc)] When butch teen Mickey gets expelled from school for wearing pants, her problems are only beginning. A fight with her father lands her on the psych ward, where they threaten to use electroshock and lobotomy to eradicate her “deviant tendencies.” Rescued by her loving gay Uncle Solly, Mickey starts exploring New York City’s fascinating lesbian world—one that she never knew existed. She soon falls under the spell of Viv, a beautiful girl who introduces her to passion—and heroin.

After a heated argument with Mickey about Viv, Solly ends up in the ICU with a heart attack. When a raid on her favorite lesbian bar lands her in jail, Mickey hits rock bottom [this is completely a matter of personal preference, but I might combine these first sentences into ‘after a heated argument about Viv, Solly ends up the ICU with a heart attack, and a raid on her favorite lesbian bar lands Mickey in jail’]: she can’t give up [on] Viv, she’s going through heroin withdrawal, and the one person who could protect her from herself is fighting for his life. If she wants to avoid a return to the psych ward, she must stop running from who she is and what she wants. [This last line is a little vague for me; what does this actually mean?] 

[This whole pitch is super strong—it’s well written, and I feel like I know exactly what kind of book this is. I have very little critique for it!]

Complete at 77,000 words [make sure you mention it’s YA! The pitch feels quite adult to me and I didn’t realise until I double checked that it wasn’t] TITLE is an #ownvoices historical novel that will appeal to readers of PULP by Robin Talley, LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB by Malinda Lo, KINGS, QUEENS AND IN-BETWEENS by Tanya Boteju and HEROINE by Mindy McGinnis [great comp titles!].

Raised in a Jewish household in suburban New Jersey, and an out lesbian since adolescence, I have drawn on my own experiences to inform this book. I am an active member of SCBWI and the Historical Novel Society.  I’ve published poetry, short stories and non-fiction in both regional and national publications, including Parade, Hadassah, Lilith, The Oregonian and Calyx. Most recently, my short story “XXXX” was anthologized in the book XXXX. [this is a really impressive bio!]

I look forward to showing you the book.

First page:

Chapter One-March, 1962

I’m standing in the lobby of my great-uncle Sol’s apartment on Sutton Place, and I’m wishing I’d worn a skirt instead of slacks, because the doorman is giving me the hairy eyeball. [this is great]

“I’m his niece, Michelle,” I say. “He’s expecting me.”

Niece, huh?” The sneer on his face shows what he thinks of my not very feminine get-up. Shit. Maybe the souvenir baseball cap (Maris & Mantle—Home Run Twins!) is a bit much, but I bet Uncle Sol will get a kick out of it. Or at least, I hope so. I’ve never met him.

“Yeah,” I say. “Solomon Goldbaum, my great-uncle is expecting a visit from me, Michelle Presky, his niece. I’m sure he’ll be upset if I don’t show up. Why don’t you call him on the intercom and ask?” I’m trying hard not to yell.  I know this guy will throw me out if I do.

The doorman doesn’t blink, and for a moment he doesn’t move, either. Then he steps back behind the counter and picks up the telephone.

“Mr. Goldbaum, I hate to disturb you, but there’s a young…person here who claims to be your niece…I see…yes…thank you.”

“Well?” I ask.

The big man blinks, but his look of disdain doesn’t change.

“Go on up,” he says. “Take the last elevator on the left, and press PH.” And he turns his back to me.

PH I guess stands for penthouse. Uncle Sol is rich, but not in a way my father admires. 

[Again, this is… really really good. Your prose is super clean, the voice is clear and humorous while getting across all the information the reader needs. I would love to see this in my inbox!]

Thank you, Sarah, 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. 

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