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Day 22 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Fiona McLaren

Sunday, 19 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 …

Fiona McLaren

Fiona is a full-time, freelance editor of eight years with her clients publishing both traditionally and indie to much success in the US, UK, and further afield. She has previously interned with two literary agencies, freelanced with a literary consultancy, and written multiple published articles. In addition, she has taken part in an #ownvoices anthology alongside NYT bestselling authors (UNBOUND: Stories of Transformation, Love, and Monsters.) She writes spooky, mysterious, fantastical stories with diverse characters, and she has a passion for lush prose and a story she can get lost in for days.

Website | Twitter


Fiona’s critique . . .


Young Adult Contemporary


Dear Agent,

Relationships don’t last, at least according to Stella March. Her parents’ failed marriage prove[s] they aren’t a long-term investment, and getting too involved can leave behind scars. [I really like how you start with a strong emotional slant as it highlights the character arc right away.] Meaningless flings are the way to go – [I would suggest having long em-dashes with no spaces on either side when you use them throughout your work.] earning her the nicknames[:] Slutty Stella, First Base Ace, and Satan March [the last nickname feels awkward] – and when she’s inevitably dumped for being noncommittal, Stella never wallows in heartache. Instead, she puts on some Billy Joel [this makes me assume that this is a near-contemporary historical as Billy Joel’s music was mainly from the 80s upward] and writes a note about the boy, purging herself of any leftover feelings so she can move on to the next one [Personally, I’d love to have a hint about what she does with these notes—burn them? Hide them in the attic? Bind them in a book? Etc.? Quick details like this can really help characterize a main character and make them super unique.]. However, there’s one guy – Clark Singh – she can’t stop writing about, even though he moved away four years ago. [How old is Stella in the book? As this is YA, it’s important to know so the reader can gauge what feelings she had prior—for example, the feelings of a 19-year-old MC four years previously (at 15) would be very different from a 16-year-old MC four years previously (at 12.)]

So, when Clark’s back for the summer, Stella is determined to figure out why he’s plagued her heart all these years and, hopefully, get him out of her system. She volunteers to help with his project – a blog dedicated to recording people’s life stories – and as it gains momentum, so does [change does to do.] she and Clark. Soon, the barrier she usually keeps with boyfriends begins to weaken as the two of them share their own stories, and Stella realizes her attachment to Clark might run deeper than she possibly imagined. [This is all great. However, I think that you could work in a more personalized detail. What makes Clark different from everyone else?] Will she follow the familiar routine of her relationships to protect herself, or find the courage to be vulnerable and give him her heart? [I would suggest not asking questions in a query—it can leave room for the reader to fill in the blank with their own answer, and it might not be the one you want them to come to! It might be better to frame that line in this format: “if she follows the routine of her relationships” x could happen, but “if she gives her heart” y could happen. This shows both options have a downfall and an upside. That way, you build even more intrigue to see which one she’ll choose.] After all, a relationship, like a story, only exists if it’s shared wholeheartedly. [A wonderful ending line!]

Complete at 74,000 words, TITLE [I adore your title!] is a young adult contemporary novel that would appeal to readers who enjoyed “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han and “If I’m Being Honest” by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberly. [A great use of comparative titles. I especially like that one of them is a current release in the last few years. It shows you know your market.] My writing has been published by Home Furnishing News and Safavieh Home Furnishings. I majored in technical writing and minored in creative writing, and I blog about creative writing on typewritersounds.tumblr.com.

Thank you for your attention and consideration. My full manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you. [All in, this is a great query. Just a bit of spit-polishing needed. I like it!]


First page:

Isaac Wicks is breaking up with me. [I love this as an opening line. It complements your genre and sets the right reader expectations. Well done!]

Well, he hasn’t actually said so yet, but I can tell it’s coming. I feel the stiffness in my joints. [Feeling the stiffness in her joints makes her feel a lot older than her projected age range. I would consider swapping this out for something else.] The prickle along the nape of my neck. Sense the charged molecules zipping between us, a tension so thick and strained, it’s moments away from snapping. I dialed into this frequency long ago; cracked the code of the male pre-breakup behavior. When you’ve been dumped as many times as I have, you become an expert on body language. [A very solid opening all in.]

Boys are always afraid to look at you, and Isaac doesn’t disappoint. He’s avoided eye contact since we sat down at our booth; unusual, since his intense, unblinking gaze loves to hold mine, just toeing the line of inducing skin crawls. He hasn’t attempted any small talk – an ugly quality of his; I despise casual conversation [be careful that your main character doesn’t come off as unlikable here. Words like “ugly” and “despise” are quite harsh so use them sparingly unless you want to characterize in this manner. Sometimes, the words someone uses can tell us a lot more about them than the person they are describing.]– and his clammy fingers drum against the clear plastic tablecloth, skin peeling off the covering with fart-like squelches as the suction is released. Also, this isn’t my first time being broken up with at Meatball’s. [I like the realism of this being a setting often used this way.] These decommissioned and plastered-together Long Island Rail Road cars are a very poetic setting for conversations that involve decay, death, or metamorphosis. Even metaphorical ones.

But Isaac did deviate from the norm, possibly out of cowardness: he waited for our food to arrive. I actually placed my order of seasoned waffle fries and they were delivered to our table without a disruption. Greg Mathers called our relationship off before he even finished parking the car. [A good line at the end of this paragraph. It’s got plenty of voice.]

[Overall thoughts: I really think you’ve got something good to work with here. Lots of potential! The writing is smooth and the character arc very clear. However, I’d suggest working on making sure your main character comes across in the way you want them to and that they remain relatable to the reader, especially at the start of the book. That’s not to say characters can’t or shouldn’t have these ugly feelings; it’s more about knowing when you place them what effect they will have. In this case, for me, it would be better to build more empathy as opposed to couching her feelings in such a judgmental way. But I do think this is a wonderful example of strong first pages.]


Thank you, Fiona, 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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