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Day 3 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Mini Workshops with mentors, Kelly Ann Hopkins and Remy Lai

Tuesday, 21 August 2018  |  Posted by Lisa Leoni

Welcome to our Mini Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2018 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 up 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.

First up we have …

Pitch Wars past mentor Kelly Ann Hopkins …


Kelly HopkinsKelly Ann Hopkins is a librarian and creative writing teacher by day. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Marywood University with a degree in English/Secondary Education and from Mansfield University with a Masters degree in Library Science and Information Technologies. She has lectured at Keystone College, The Cooperage, the Gathering at Keystone, and upcoming at Marywood University.In her writing, she has been published in School Library Monthly and has presented her work at the National Council of Teachers of English and PCTELA conferences. She was also the recipient of the Charitas Medal for Poetry at Marywood, and is a member of SCBWI.

She offers editing and critiquing services for beginning writers and she was a 2016 YA PitchWars mentor, and the founder of the teen writing pitch contest #TeenPit.

Author website | Twitter | Facebook


Kelly’s First Page Critique . . .

Young Adult Contemporary

Chapter  One

I keep my hand pressed to the sleeve of my hoodie, praying the bandage holds. Interesting first sentence! You immediately grab me, and I wonder how this girl has been injured. The air hums around me as (I cut this because it slows you down. Keep up the feeling of tension.) I race out of the bathroom and shoulder my way through the crowded hallway. Panic clamps down on my chest at the sound of the bell. I can’t be late for class again. (I’d like a sense of setting. Using the word class tells me I am in a school.)

I stumble over my feet and catch myself before I somersault to the tiled floor.

“Walk much?” Jess’s flinty voice prickles my skin and sets my teeth on edge. someone asks. (She knows it is Jess, so I would use the action tag here.)


Jess’s flinty voice prickles my skin and sets my teeth on edge.

Heat creeps up my face as I stand and jog the last few steps to my locker, my hair concealing my embarrassment. I don’t have time for her taunts. I can’t be late for class again. (In this one page, we’ve read about her being late a few times. A suggestion would be to indicate her lateness in another way. For instance: she can see the hall clock and have a physical reaction to the lack of time, or have Jess comment on it.)

“Of course with those giant boat feet of yours, I’m not surprised you trip all over.”

(Can you give your MC an action here? Grip the edge of her locker, the latch digging into her palm? Or, she is running through her combination and stops because Jess has gotten to her?) Go away. Find someone else to harass.

She stalks off, laughing, mumbling the word ‘Amazon’ under her breath. With my hand still pressed to my sleeve (Her injury again. Is she cut? Burned? In Pain?), I pull my book out and slam my locker door. Just once, could she leave me alone? What did I ever do to her, except set foot in this school?

I jog (She jogged to her locker. Different verb here?) down the now-empty hallway to the last door on the right. Sweat trickles down my temples. I wasn’t going to be late today. So much for that.  (See late notes above)

I open the door and shuffle into Honors Spanish. Eighteen pairs of eyes turn toward me as I take my seat in the back of the classroom. Keeping my head down, I cross my arms over my chest, wishing I could disappear. Wishing I could disappear. My breath stills. I tell myself as I try to imagine the wave of whispers rolling through the room has nothing to do with me, the new girl who can’t get to class on time.

Love your voice! The character immediately makes connections with the reader: she’s injured, bullied, and late. We’ve all been there, and we immediately empathize.

Minor tweak suggestions:

Plant us squarely in setting by telling us she is late for class. Now we know she’s in school

Give a hint about her injury. This can be what the injury is (cut, burn, etc.), does it hurt, or how she got it. Pain could be shown when she grabs at the bandage and winces or bites her lips. Is she worried it will bleed through if she lets go? To me, the injury has me most intrigued and I’d like to know more.

Give more character development, visually. We know she has a sweatshirt on. What color? Is it new or threadbare? Expensive or consignment store special? What about her big feet? What’s she wearing on them? Does she self-consciously glance down at her size eleven, daisy-printed Vans or are they combat boots? Either choice says volumes about your MC. 😊

What about Jess? Does her look scream entitled? Or is her nastiness surprising because she looks so harmless?

Great first page. I’d keep reading because I already feel connected to your MC. Good luck in Pitch Wars!!!


Thank you, Kelly, for your critique!


Next up we have …

Pitch Wars mentor Remy Lai

Remy LaiRemy Lai writes and illustrates middle-grade books. She lives in Brisbane, Australia, where she loves to explore the woods with her two dogs. Remy’s debut novel, PIE IN THE SKY, will be published in 2019.

She is co-mentoring in Middle Grade with Rajani LaRocca.

Mentor bio | Author website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads

Remy’s Query Critique . . .

Dear Editor,

Calvin Doogan, the great fourth grade detective, is faced with his toughest case yet. What makes him a detective? And a great one? Do his classmates usually go to him to solve cases?  The classroom guinea pig is cursed. From shredded underwear and smashed fingers to a mysterious ghost and a bus accident, there are disasters wherever the guinea pig goes. Is it really an ancient curse, Why ancient? or is there an evil fourth grade mastermind behind the chaos? What makes anyone think there’s an evil mastermind? It’s up to Calvin to find out. Why? What will happen if he doesn’t find out? His reputation as a detective is ruined? Or something else?

You have a max of 250 words (general consensus) to tell an agent what your book is about, not including the housekeeping paragraph (the stuff below). So you have plenty of room to play here. Give us specifics, like those questions I ask above. Maybe instead of listing the list of incidents (shredded underwear, smashed fingers etc), expand on ONE of those incidents. And if you can, give us a sense of the voice that’s in your book. If it’s a funny book, convey a bit of that in your query.

Attached is the early mid-grade manuscript The Guinea Pig Curse. Titles in all caps, no need for italics: THE GUINEA PIG CURSE. It is the first in, what I hope will be, a series. Other titles could include The Return of the Chicken Mummy, The Library Zombies, and The Science Fair Invasion.  Agents like to know if a book can stand on its own because it’s much harder to sell a series. You can write “It’s a stand-alone with potential for a series.” (but you have to make sure this book is able to stand alone!

One big thing that’s missing here is the word count.

I know this is just a mock query for crit, but remember not to attach a full manuscript unless the agent requests (Ignore if you already knew this!).

Readers who enjoy the Cam Jansen series will like this updated version of kid centered mysteries. Other titles that compare are Nate the Great, Ivy and Bean, and a much more human version of Chet Geko. I haven’t read any of these comps, but I Googled Cam Jansen. It makes me wonder how your book is going to be different from that series? What makes it different? The specifics I mentioned above will bring out the uniqueness of your book.

[bio removed for mentee hopeful’s privacy because it included lots of great, specific information]

I hope you will enjoy reading The Curse of the Guinea Pig. Perhaps this line is more apt if you’re sending in the full.

Thank you for your time.

P.S. Oh, I just realised you’re writing to an editor. I’m sorry, but I critiqued your query on the assumption it was for an agent. I don’t actually know how to submit direct to editors. I hope that helps. Good luck!

If you haven’t already, read up queries on queryshark.blogspot.com to give you a better idea.

There’s also the Absolute Write forum where you can look at query letters and get them critiqued.

Good luck!

Thank you, Remy, for your critique!

Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting them until the Pitch Wars submission window opens on August 27. Hope you’ll come back and read some more.

Filed: Workshops

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