Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2020 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 …
Pitch Wars Mentor Meg Long
Meg Long was born and raised in Louisiana and originally wanted to be a spy. Instead she somehow found herself teaching overseas in China and Malaysia before ending up in Colorado, where it snows entirely too much. She taught middle and high school for eight years before jumping to the tech industry as a content writer. Her debut novel, COLD THE NIGHT, FAST THE WOLVES, will be released in 2022 from Wednesday Books. When not reading or writing, she’s kicking things at her Muay Thai gym with her boyfriend, playing video games, or obsessing over Sailor Moon fanart.
Meg’s forthcoming release, COLD THE NIGHT, FAST THE WOLVES
Meg Long’s debut COLD THE NIGHT FAST THE WOLVES, pitched as a sci-fi reimagining of the Iditarod sled dog race meets Mad Max, following a 17-year-old girl as she races to survive a dangerous sledding competition across the wilderness of her frozen planet with nothing but her skills and a feral wolf-hybrid she must learn to trust in order for either of them to survive, for publication in winter 2022 by Wednesday Books.
Meg’s critique . . .
Category: Young Adult Fantasy
I am seeking representation for my 80,000 word coming of age fantasy novel, TITLE. Set in an alternate reality, it is a story that draws inspirations from African American folklore, Black mysticism, and magic. If you enjoy titles such as Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, this book will pique your interest! [These are strong comps but what does your story have in common with them more specifically? Ex. the magic of Children and Blood and Bone and the world building of The Belles, etc. Comps can be tricky and using really popular books can set up agents for disappointment if the manuscript pages and concept don’t really match the comps. I would also move this last sentence to the end of your query so we get to your story faster.]
The protagonist [A query letter is similar to the back cover of a book. It wouldn’t say ‘protagonist’ but rather start off with the character’s name. “Seventeen-year-old Maëlle LeBlanc is the only member…”] of TITLE is seventeen-year-old Maëlle LeBlanc, the only black member of the religious colony, The Children of the Light. Living with her family on a secluded island, the rules and customs of The Children are all that she knows. All her life she has followed the rules and kept in line, too scared to stand out in a world she struggles to find her place in. Even if she doesn’t exactly agree with all the customs. [These three sentences should be combined and condensed down to one sentence.] One of there [their] biggest [replace ‘biggest’ with ‘most’] sacred laws: Don’t cross the levee. And no one ever has. But when she encounters [Encounters how? on a walk? sneaking around? an added detail would be nice to paint a picture of what Maëlle’s life is like. I’m also unsure what sort of time period the setting is so some mention of that would be helpful too.] a mysterious boy with similar skin as hers, [‘with skin similar to hers’ or ‘skin as dark as hers’] standing on the other side, Maëlle can’t help but be intrigued. [‘Intrigued’ isn’t a strong enough action. This sentence should match what Maëlle does in the book. If she breaks the rules and crosses the levee, then say that. This part of the query is when you show the protagonist taking action that leads to the meat of your story.]
Uncovering magic and power she didn’t know she had, Maëlle goes against everything she knows and everyone she loves to find out her true heritage, uncovering secrets and mystery’s [mysteries] she could have never imagined along the way. [This part of the query should show us what is at stake for Maëlle as she goes on this journey. Right now, the agent has no idea if there is strong conflict in the story or what Maëlle stands to gain or lose to discover her true heritage. Take the main conflict of your story and boil it down to a few sentences here. What choice is Maëlle faced with by uncovering secrets and her true heritage?]
TITLE is my first full-length novel and I have been working tirelessly to make it the best version of the story it can be. I have my BA in psychology and a minor in English, where I have experience writing at both an academic and creative level.
I look forward to your reply and thank you for your time and consideration,
[This is a good start for a query. Remember that the goal of a query is introduce the main character, their goals, and the conflict/stakes at the core of your story. Fantasy is also a little tricky because you’ll need to make sure the agent also understands how the world works. Once you find the balance of those details, you can make Maëlle really shine and pop off the page. There are a lot of query resources on the internet but the best thing that really helped me was reading lots and LOTS of query letters from successful authors in my genre. I would borrow their format and plug in elements from my own story and then tweak it to be unique. Doing this a lot of times really helped me nail down the essence of my story for a succinct and hooky query letter.]
Maëlle stood staring down at him [I think using Papa here rather than just ‘him’ gives a stronger image], waiting for an answer. The clawfoot dark wood desk was covered in different pieces of parchment, some blotched in ink from the fountain pen. She was looming [‘looming’ makes her seem really tall and imposing. Is that accurate for Maëlle’s character? It seems contradictory when the father has the power over her current actions.] over the desk, as her Papa peered up at her through the lenses of his glasses.
“You know I can’t let you do that.”
She looked at her father with pleading eyes, adjusting her sleeping baby brother in her arms as they tired [I would also move this detail up to the first sentence so the reader can picture Maëlle more clearly right from the get go]. She would have taken a seat in the chair in front of the desk, but she wasn’t planning on staying for long. [Why wasn’t she planning on staying long? Letting the reader know why Maëlle wants to go to the river would help us understand and empathize with her character more.]
“Just this once, Papa. I promise I will be back in time for the ceremony.”
“Yes, little dove, but Père Guidry is expecting us all for lunch.”
“Can’t you tell him that I’ve come down with something, a terrible cough or fever?”
Lionel LeBlanc gave her the same look he had given her since she set foot into his office. His golden eyes shone in the early morning light streaming through the window. She knew what he would say before he said it.
“Yes, I know. It is not the right of man to lie to those that are superior.” She said, quoting The Dux. [Punctuation note: if using ‘she said’ as a dialogue tag, the punctuation is: “…those that are superior,” she said.] Maëlle sighed, rubbing her toes together against the plush carpet. She had hoped that, just once, she could avoid going to see Père Guidry, but to no avail. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the Father, it’s just sometimes the way he looked at her made her uncomfortable. [Oh, I’m very worried for Maëlle after this line!]
“Can’t Jules come with us? I know his mother-” [Punctuation: use an em dash (—) to show interruptions at the end of a line.]
“Maëlle, please,” Her papa looked up from the parchment, [Punctuation: here, you use an action rather than a dialogue tag so the punctuation should be: “Maëlle, please.” Her papa looked up from the parchment, setting the ink pen down. Maëlle could just barely make out a drawing of a map of La Chaîne de Lumière. When Papa speaks again, his dialogue should go on a new line.] setting the ink pen down and she could just barely make out a drawing of a map of La Chaîne de Lumière, “This lunch is very important, and the Father specifically asked for you to be there. You can go to the river with Jules another time. Go get ready and set Leon in his cot. He is much too old for you to carry around.” He took his glasses off, rubbing his hand over his face. The side of his pinky [‘pinky’ seems a little informal compared to the other language and setting. Maybe use ‘little finger’ instead.] was painted black and she could tell he had been hard at work all morning.
[This is a great first draft. You did a good job of establishing the characters and showing us what’s happening in the scene. If you dig in a little more and show us more of what Maëlle wants, that will help strengthen her character and the reader’s interest. The punctuation stuff is minor. I often have to look up rules that I forget but it’s good to check / review the rules so your MS looks polished and professional.]