Welcome to our Query and 1st Page Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected writers to participate in our query and first page workshops. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or 500 word opening from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting four critiques per day (except weekends) through July 7. Our hope is that these samples will help shine up your query and first page and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors. 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. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.
First up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentors Stacey Trombley and Rebecca Sky . . .
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Naked by Stacey Trombley
The best place to hide is in a lie…
I could never fit in to the life my parents demanded. By the time I was thirteen, it was too much so I ran away to New York City and found a nightmare that lasted three years. A nightmare that began and ended with a pimp named Luis. Now I am Dirty Anna. Broken, like everything inside me has gone bad.
Except that for the first time, I have a chance to start over. Not just with my parents but at school. Still, the rumors follow me everywhere. Down the hall. In classes. And the only hope I can see is in the wide, brightly lit smile of Jackson, the boy next door. So I lie to him. I lie to protect him from my past. I lie so that I don’t have to be The Girl Who Went Bad.
The only problem is that someone in my school knows about New York.
Someone knows who I really am.
And it’s just a matter of time before the real Anna is exposed…
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Stacey and Rebecca’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
GENRE: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Fifteen-year old Corey is an Other who can heal any physical injury. The downside? Every bruise and fracture his father inflicts disappears so fast, nobody on the outside believes he’s been beaten. He’s stuck. [Good hooky opening; got me curious about Other’s and feeling sympathy for Corey’s situation. The first sentence felt a little clunky to me. Maybe an em-dash might help break it up, eg, “Fifteen-year old Corey is an Other—he can heal any physical injury.”]
Then Corey hears of a foster family near the edge of town. If the rumors around school are true, they’re Others, so if he went there he’d be safe. Or they could be bounty hunters, in which case he’d never be heard from again. [This was a tad disjointed for me. Also I think a bit more context for the bounty hunters could make that dilemma the hook of this paragraph. I’d cut it down a bit, and draw attention to the bountry hunter: eg. “When Corey hears of a foster family of Other’s, he’s determine to find them. But rumors aren’t always true in CITY, it could be another bounty hunter trap. Hunters do anything to capture Others, and Corey doesn’t want to be their next arrest.]
ButAfter a near-lethal beating, he runs makes a run for it and, holy change-in-luck, the rumors are true. They take him in and, despite Corey’s resistance, he begins to buy in to the kumbayah closeness of his newfound family. Mostly. He won’t share his biggest secret—the raging darkness that takes control when the blackouts come. The only one Corey tells is Luke, his stubborn, self-appointed foster dad. Corey doesn’t want to trust Luke, but he grows on Corey. Like lichen. [This paragraph introduces a whole bunch of new plot. If the blackouts are key to the story, I’d introduce them in the 1st paragraph, maybe something like; “nobody on the outside believes he’s been beaten, and the blackouts make it hard for him to remember.” Also I’m confused why he’s resistant to family, as the set-up has been he’s looking for a safe place/home. I’d tighten this up and only include elements that are crucial to the main plot]
Just when Corey relaxes into his new life, he is ripped away [I’d love to know what happened, this is exciting turn. Eg. “Just as Corey relaxes into his new family life, he discovers that one of his foster siblings aren’t what they seem. After an altercation that leaves his foster dad injured and Corey taken to be sold to the Hunters, Corey’s only chance…][Agreed! This is a bit passive. How is he ripped away? What happens?] and threatened to be sold to bounty hunters [by who? Who’s threatening to sell him?]. Corey’s only chance is that his newfound family will decide he’s worth saving. Considering the hurricane he causes when he’s lost in the darkness, he wouldn’t blame them. [I’d take this last sentence out. I think the “decide he’s worth saving” is a bigger hook ending.] [My problem here is that the plot as explained here is totally passive. What does your character need to do? Sit and wait? Hope someone else saves him? Show us how your character is involved in how this plot unfolds.]
LOST IN THE DARKNESS is a YA science fiction novel in a contemporary setting and is complete at 70,000 words. Think X-Men meets The Fosters. I am a freelance writer, member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and former leader of the Cape Cod Children’s Writers critique group.
Thank you in advance for considering my submission.
LITD sounds like an exciting story. I felt for Corey, you can sense his loneliness and desire to belong. I’m curious about the Other’s, if they all have different abilities, are they’re super heroes/villain personalities, etc. It definitely grabbed my curiosity enough to want to know more—hopefully agents will feel the same! Good luck to you! –Rebecca Sky
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentors Kristen Ciccarelli and Joanna Hathaway . . .
Joanna Hathaway owes her love of books to her great-grandfather. His poignant memoirs about life as a teenage soldier in the First World War inspired her, at a young age, to enter the complex and provocative realms of history—and she hasn’t left since. Born in Montréal, Canada, Joanna grew up on the doorstep of New York City, then spent her teen years riding horses through the forests of Southwestern Ontario. She currently resides in the American Midwest.
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Kristen Ciccarelli hails from Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula where she grew up on her grandfather’s grape farm. She’s made her living as a baker, a bookseller, and a potter, but now writes books about bloodthirsty dragons, girls wielding really cool weapons, and the transformative power of stories. She wrote her debut novel, THE LAST NAMSARA, for the girl she used to be (and sometimes still is). You can learn more at www.kristenciccarelli.com or by following @kristenciccarelli on Instagram.
THE LAST NAMSARA by Kristen Ciccarelli
In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.
These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.
Kristen and Jo’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: YA
We are alone, absolutely alone on this chance planet; and amid all the forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog has made an alliance with us.”
― Max DePree
Day 1, 10:34 AM
Kaylee Crawford believed in love at first sight, for she had experienced it many times. Never for a boy, though. Nor was she particularly attracted to girls. No, the loves of her life always had four legs and wagging tails. [Can you be specific? Which dog was her “first love”? When and why did this special connection begin? Exploring this briefly, with just a sentence or two, could really strengthen the heart of your opening. -JH]
Kaylee was a volunteer at the local Humane Society, and today she was going to meet a dog that would forever change her life. Today would be the last time Kaylee would ever set foot in this building. [Does she have a premonition of all these things? -JH] [Right now the omniscient narration is making me feel very distant from Kaylee. Is that intentional? -KC]
The seventeen year old pulled into the parking lot of the shelter, shivering a little as she stepped out of her car into the brisk fall air. Seasonal change came to the Tidewater area of Virginia with all the grace and subtlety of a plane crash. [Ha!] A week ago temps had still been in the eighties.
She breezed through the double doors of the main entrance of the building and waved “hi” to Ashley, the front desk receptionist, before heading towards the kennels at the back of the building.
As she walked down the hallway, however, something stopped her dead in her tracks. Out of the corner of her eye, through the window of one of the intersection rooms, a massive black shadow rustled. [Is this outside the building, beyond the window? Having read below, I can see that isn’t the case, so I think it would be helpful to slow this down and describe Kaylee’s surroundings a bit more. Where is the window, what is an intersection room, etc. Adding small spatial clues will make this clearer, such as “a massive black shadow stirred on the floor of the room” so we can place where the “shadow” is. -JH]
Kaylee peered through the window. The light was off and she could just make out the huge dark mass curled up in the corner. She examined the tag on the door. The dog was a[n] eight year old male American Bandogge, a breed she’d never heard of. A quick Google search on her iPhone revealed this was a mix of a pit bull and a bull mastiff. His name was Beast, and the card indicated he’d been turned in by his owner just this morning.
She carefully opened the door and turned on the light, before slowly approaching the dog. He lifted his large, wide head, but aside from that gave no other response. She was immediately struck by his eyes. [Great details here. You’re really drawing me into the scene. -KC] They were deep, soulful, obsidian black, and when he looked up at her with a mournful expression, it melted her heart. It was as if he knew he’d just been cast aside like a broken toy, out of the only home he’d probably ever known. Kaylee’s heart ached for him. He was a senior dog, huge, black to boot, and possibly aggressive towards people. [How does she know he’s possibly aggressive? Can she read this on his info sheet or make it clear some other way? -KC] His chances of ever leaving the shelter alive were pretty slim, she knew. The shelter didn’t euthanize for space but a hopeless case was an unnecessary drain on scarce resources. [I love how you’ve slowed down for this introduction and really brought the reader into the moment. I think you’ll hook your audience even more if you took a bit more time getting Kaylee to Beast. Don’t feel you need to rush those first paragraphs—let us connect with Kaylee, learn a bit about who she is through bits of dialogue and interactions with Ashley. Perhaps also plant even more of a question in our minds about what exactly might go wrong today (because we know something bad is going to happen!). You’ve certainly done a great job with their first meeting here. -JH]
Jo’s Final Note: I can tell you have a lot of exciting twists to share here, and I hope some of my questions are helpful! I love to focus on going “deeper” in the first round of critique, asking questions, making observations, and hopefully sparking you to explore more of the world you’ve created. Ultimately, you (the author) know your story best. Sometimes a few well-placed nudges in critique can help you see where the scene is not coming through quite as clearly on the page as it is in your head. We’ve all been there. Don’t be afraid to share too many details – you can always scale back once the words are there. Giving yourself material to work with will bring this intriguing story to even greater life!
Kristen’s final note: I would love more glimpses into the inner workings of Kaylee. The humane society is a very interesting (and emotionally loaded) setting, and combined with the (again, emotionally loaded) interaction with the abandoned dog–you have such great material to play with and help reveal Kaylee’s character. What, deep down, compels her to volunteer her time at the humane society? And why is she not afraid of this potentially aggressive dog? Do they have something common? Does she have her own feelings of abandonment? Or is she there because she wants to be a hero? And if so, what in her history makes her want to be that–to help creatures that have been abandoned? If you can hint at these things, at what’s going on under the surface of Kaylee, it will really help your reader relate to her and want to follow her into the rest of the story.
Thank you, Stacey, Rebecca, Joanna, and Kristen, for your critiques!
Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting critiques through the first part of July. Hope you’ll read on. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 19 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 2nd.
I love gingersnaps!
I’m loving reading everyone’s queries and first pages–and the critiques. Looking forward to seeing mine. I didn’t get Day 20, Part 1 (but did get Day 20, Part 2). Could you send it again? Thanks so much!