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Day 20 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Lyndsay Ely

Friday, 17 September 2021  |  Posted by Erin Hardee

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 …

Lyndsay Ely

Lyndsay ElyLyndsay Ely is the author of GUNSLINGER GIRL, a YA genre-bent dystopian Western that published in 2018. She spent her teenage years wanting to be a comic book artist but, as it turned out, she couldn’t draw very well, so she began writing instead. She is a geek, a foodie, and has never met an antique shop or flea market she didn’t like. Boston is the place she currently calls home, though she wouldn’t mind giving Paris a try someday.

Website | Twitter | Instagram


Lyndsay’s critique . . .


Young Adult Historical


Dear Agent,

I am pleased to present TITLE, an upmarket YA historical novel based on the true story of the island of Tristan da Cunha. I believe you would be a good fit for my manuscript due to your interest in _____. [I like this opening, with the exception of the word “upmarket.” I can only speak for myself, but it comes off a little pretentious to me, which definitely impacts the rest of my read. Maybe “literary” instead?]

In 1961, 16-year-old Mick hates two things; rats, and living on the isolated island of Tristan. When a volcanic explosion forces his community to evacuate to England, Mick spirals into grief for the home he never valued. The trip by boat introduces him to toxic friendships, terrible alcohol, and a night that almost costs Mick his life. He starts school in England depressed—and desperate for anything meaningful. [This setup does a nice job of drawing the reader in. The only thing I might want is something more specific about who Mick is as a person before his life is uprooted. Did he have hobbies or plans? Was he dreaming of escaping the island? Doesn’t need a lot, maybe just one small detail worked in somehow.] 

School counsellor Mrs. Winters introduces Mick to a diverse group of other outsiders. Mick celebrates the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, goes to underground concerts, and supports a friend from homelessness after she comes out. When Mrs. Winters asks for their help to save her community centre from the City Council, he sees it as repaying her for a second chance at life in England.

But when Mick’s community discovers their island survived the volcanic explosion, Mick must choose between moving back to the old life he knows or staying in the new world he’s been fighting for. [There’s a nice story set up in these two paragraphs, but the end falls a little flat for me. Is there a way to tart this ending up a little, and make it sound a bit less like a “one or the other” choice? Are there bigger/more personal consequences or losses that can be hinted at?]

Complete at 80,000 words, TITLE is a coming-of-age filled with the linguistic diversity and cultural school-struggles of PIGEON ENGLISH, while retelling a true event in the personal perspective of THE DIG. It explores privilege in immigration, which I experience as a first-generation Bosnian-American and Muslim. In my free time, I volunteer as co-editor for my university magazine Courier and a journalist for the cultural association “Linguists”. [A nice wrap-up, with good comps.]

Please see my first _____ pages below. I look forward to your reply.

[This reads to me like a pretty solid query, as is. A couple more small details would elevate it further, I think, but otherwise great job!]

First page:

The hearthquake come when I’m stackin’ flat rocks up, one by one, and throw me and my tower down to the dirt like I personally hoffended Gord or something. It ain’t nothing like the little shakes happenin’ all month. This one grab me right in the stomach, my rocks rainin’ down on me, leavin’ me dizzy and blinkin’ up at the grey sky.

My leg hurt. That’s the first thing I notice. I try to loosen my muscles and pain knife its way up my hankle. It’s throbbin’ hot and hangry. If I’ve messed it up, Mum might kill me. Blood and being hurt by rocks is better than Mum cluckin’ disappointment. 

My next thought ain’t no full thought—just a glimpse in my head, a realization as I look to the side. There’s some bush next to me, one of them stubbly dog bushes with red flowers come spring. The hooked fruit catch onto you’s and that’s it, you won’t never get rid of them. Bastards will be in your hair next birthday. But I ain’t thinkin’ about them. I’m thinkin’ how, right hunder the bush, there’s a glimpse of beady eyes.

Gord knows what could happen if I move now. It could jump at me, quick as hanything, chew me out before I scream. Rats are harmless, you’s say. If you’s can say that, never live on an hisland with them things. They chitter at night, paws and ears twitchin’ like mad. Eatin’ your food. Killin’ your crops.

[This is a strong opening, with both interesting action and a strong voice that draws me into the story. I don’t even have any comments on this—other than to say it makes me interested to read more!]


Thank you, Lyndsay, 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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