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Day 20 (Part 1) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with J.Elle

Saturday, 14 September 2019  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2019 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 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, J.Elle … 

J.Elle is an African-American author and active advocate for marginalized voices in both
publishing and her community. She works as an Editorial Intern at P.S. Literary Agency, where she evaluates manuscripts for various criteria, such as characterization, pacing, plot, voice, writing style, marketability, et cetera. She has served as a R6 mentor for Author Mentor Match and is the founder of #MondayMixer, a Twitter chat to engage writers on the platform with networking opportunities, writing questions, and encouragement. She also regularly provides critiques for peer’s manuscripts in prep for submission to editors.

From growing up poor to being a 1st generation college student, Jess’ passion for tenacity and empowering others dates back to her first career in education, teaching tweens and teens from traditionally underserved areas to fight for their dreams. More recently, as the founder of the Your Story Is Your Power, a creative writing workshop for high-schoolers, she mentors students on the craft and the importance of sharing stories from their perspective.

J.Elle’s debut novel, Wings of Ebony, a YA fantasy about a fearless, magical Black girl from a poor neighborhood, is a lead title in Simon & Schuster’s Spring 2021 lineup.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

JElle’s query critique . . .

Young Adult : Fantasy

Dear Agent,

[Hi! Thanks for letting me take a look at your query. I review queries for format, hook, stakes, and clarity. So that’s the lens I’ll be approaching this from. As always, please keep in mind I am only one person so I could be totally off base with my suggestions. Wishing you so much luck with Pitch Wars!] 

[Right off the top, I want to mention that your word count is good. 250-300 is the sweet spot.] When Prince Charming is found murdered just days before his coronation, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Kitty Fairweather. [Great opening hook with relevant yet subtle world building.] 

Not that she’s happy he’s dead. She’s no Charming fangirl [This lead in to the second sentence “She’s no charming fangirl” confuses me a little because of its proximity to the sentence before it. The two ideas seem to be at odds with one another. Also, I’m not sure it’s needed.] Kitty’s boss is the detective hired to solve the murder, and as his assistant, Kitty gets to tag along. [I am, however, immediately unconfused. (Is that a word?) Lol. This line makes Kitty’s investment in the situation clear. I really love the setup so far. Flows well and has great voice.] Not only will she get to collect autographs from her favourite fairy tale celebrities [While I love this line, it’s not clear to me why solving a murder mystery means she’s going to collect autographs. Make that clearer.], Kitty now has a chance to train as a P.I. [Spell this out. With fantasy you just can’t be sure acronyms will always be clear.], proving once and for all that flunking out of fairy godmother school is not the catastrophe her family believes it to be. [Great paragraph of setup. I am being more nitpicky here because it’s so strong. The best part of this paragraph, in my opinion, is how imaginative your world building is. The tone of the story, though it’s a murder mystery, comes across quite plainly which is a nod to your talent. Onward to the next paragraph!] 

The suspects on her interview list read like a who’s who on The Grimm Report; from Jack of beanstalk fame to Elisa and her wild swan brothers. Kitty is in fangirl [We’ve used this term once already, so I’m going to double down and say the first use really isn’t needed. It has clearer meaning here.] heaven, but every fairy tale has its secrets. Not just fan-fiction-inspiring secrets either, more like possible-motives-for-murder type secrets. Sleeping Beauty is an insomniac who wanders the halls at night with her own agenda against the now dead prince, Beauty is convinced Prince Charming is an imposter impersonating the beast she fell in love with, and the wicked witch has a secret that ties her to another fairy tale in unexpected ways [Loved the other hints at the twists on fairy tale characters, but this one feels a bit vague. This is the meat of your world building, so aim for specificity where you can without giving away the plot.]. Charming has a long list of fairy tale characters with good reasons to want him dead, and as the case grows more and more tangled, Kitty must not only stay objective and find a killer, but safeguard her own secrets [I love that this paragraph ends on the stakes by pointing out what Kitty must choose between. It’s good, but I think we could strengthen it by hinting more at what Kitty’s secret is. Again, it gives us that meat to sink our teeth into.] if she is to protect her job, her future in sleuthing, and the real reason she left [This is me being super nitpicky, lol, but hey, I’m here to help. Earlier you alluded to her being kicked out of fairy godmother school, but here it sounds like she chose to leave. Maybe clarify which it is and reveal a smidge more.] fairy godmothering behind.

Four Dead Queens meets Once Upon a Time, TITLE is a YA fantasy [I personally would like the word “murder” added here. But that’s not essential.] mystery complete at 73,000 words [mention if it’s a standalone novel or part of a series]. [One other thing to consider is adding/clarifying how your story is comp’d to Four Dead Queens. What about it echoes that comparative title? This level of comp detail doesn’t always work well, but at times it does help agents envision the target audience for the story. Don’t force if it it sounds overly specific, but try a few ways to explain it and see if you settle on something you like.]  

When I am not coming up with new fairy tale twists, I am completing a Bachelor of Arts in English and Marketing. I am a member of SCBWI and have previously been published in The Way Through (a Canadian short story anthology), Where Calgary magazine, and 365Tomorrows. TITLE is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours truly,

[Consider adding your Twitter handle here]

Thank you, J.Elle, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2019 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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