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 …
Pitch Wars Mentors Jenny Perinovic and Kyrie McCauley …
Jenny Perinovic is a writer and middle school librarian. She has degrees in Medieval Studies and Library Science. Once upon a time, she wrote papers about monsters in Medieval French literature. Now she writes books about magic, ghosts, and girls who are braver than they know. She is a graduate of The Ohio State University and Drexel University, has studied Fiction at The Johns Hopkins University, and is an alumna of Blue Stoop’s 2019 YA Novel Intensive & the 2021 Tin House YA Workshop. She lives in Philadelphia, PA with her family and is represented by Amy Giuffrida of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.
Kyrie McCauley spent her childhood climbing trees in dresses and reading books during class. She is the author of If These Wings Could Fly, recipient of the 2021 William C. Morris Award, and We Can Be Heroes (releasing September 2021). Kyrie holds a Master of Science in Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania, and has worked in advocacy and development for non-profit organizations. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her family, three rescue cats, and a dog that eats books and is never sorry.
Jenny’s recent release, A MAGIC DARK & BRIGHT …
She meant to help a ghost, not unleash a curse…
Amelia Dupree hasn’t seen the Woman in White since the night her brother died.
The ghost seems to have disappeared from the woods surrounding Asylum, Pennsylvania—that is, until Charlie Blue moves into the creepy old MacAllister House next door. Amelia can’t help liking him, even though she spent her childhood thinking his grandmother was a witch. And she definitely can’t ignore the connection between his arrival and the Woman in White’s return.
Then Amelia learns that the Woman in White is a prisoner, trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead. Devastated by the idea that her brother could be suffering a similar fate, Amelia decides to do whatever it takes to help the Woman in White find peace–and Charlie agrees to help her.
But when Amelia’s classmates start to drown in the Susquehanna River, one right after another, rumors swirl as people begin to connect the timing of Charlie’s arrival with the unexplained deaths. As Charlie and Amelia uncover the dark history of Asylum, they realize they may have unleashed an unspeakable evil. One they have to stop before everything they love is destroyed.
Kyrie’s recent release, WE CAN BE HEROES …
Beck and Vivian can’t stand each other, but they do their best for their mutual friend, Cassie. When Cassie is killed, Beck and Vivian finally find common ground: vengeance. But they’re keeping secrets, like the 3rd passenger riding around town with them: Cassie’s ghost. The three of them, one only mostly dead, face off with grief, love, and the currency of vengeance in a world that tells girls they shouldn’t be angry. We can be angry. We can be vengeful. WE CAN BE HEROES.
Please visit kyriemccauley.com/books
Jenny and Kyrie’s critique . . .
Category: Young Adult Fantasy
MANUSCRIPT TITLE, a gothic YA historical, peppered with fantasy, romance, and a hint of horror, tells the story of aspiring artist, Alida O’Connell, who is haunted by the sound of beating wings that only she can hear. [Starting here with the story pitch is more impactful – could you save the book information for the final paragraph?]When feathers begin sprouting from her shoulders, Alida is certain she’s under an evil spell, one she must break before it’s too late. At 98,000 words, MANUSCRIPT TITLE is SLEEPY HOLLOW meets MEXICAN GOTHIC, and should [will] appeal to readers who enjoy strong heroines like those found in books by Libba Bray and Jennifer Donnelly. [These comps should do a little more work here – Sleepy Hollow feels old and Mexican Gothic is adult lit, and Jennifer Donnelly writes both YA and Adult. Better comps can help clarify what the age category actually is, especially since Alida’s age isn’t stated]
It’s 1847 in gaslight Manhattan. Irish famine refugee, Alida, finds herself in debt to the orphanage that provides her shelter. To repay what she owes, Alida must leave the city and paint birds for a twisted taxidermist who lives on a ragged hook of land in the Hudson River. Yet if Alida doesn’t return to Manhattan soon, her only brother, hell-bent on joining a dangerous whaling voyage, may be lost to her forever. Stricken with guilt for causing her father to become a fugitive back in Ireland, Alida made a deathbed promise to her mother that she and her brother would stick together like rabbit glue and, one day, have a farm of their own in America. [Is the backstory necessary here?] Unbidden, other forces tug at Alida [We would love to see Alida be more active in this query – where is her agency? What does SHE do to drive the plot?]: Asher Wilde, a dashing young artist with indigo eyes and a bear claw tattooed on his cheek, flirts with her and begs to paint her portrait; but Asher seems smitten with the pretty artist, Eliza [how does Eliza connect to Alida? How does Alida feel about Asher?]. When girls start turning up murdered and the beating wings grow too loud to ignore, Alida isn’t sure whom she can trust. [We aren’t really sure what the story is here – is it the curse that causes her to sprout feathers, her guilt over her father, her promise to her mother, or the murdered girls, or the danger to her brother? You mention the ‘twisted taxidermist,’ but what is his role? There is a LOT going on. Can you focus on the main plot and give us only the details that are important?]
Haunted by dark secrets from her past and threatened by otherworldly powers [where do the powers come from?], Alida must not only choose between art and love, [these stakes feel vague, especially because the last paragraph set up Asher Wilde to feel like a potential villain, not a love interest] she must escape Riverhook and the strange taxidermist whose mysterious power over her is growing, before she loses her only brother—and her life. [It feels like THIS is the meat of the story – we want more specifics here!]
[You could move the book information here – “At 98,000 words….”]
Like Alida, my roots run deep in the Hudson Valley, and I am continually charmed by its natural beauty and sense of mystery. I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Historic Novel Society. I participate on Instagram and Twitter. [You probably don’t need the social media sentence, but the rest of this paragraph is lovely!]
Thank you for reading this query.
The sound of beating wings began as a gentle whir that day, so soft that if I hadn’t been holding my breath, trying to add just the right amount of shading to my drawing of a herring gull, I might not have heard the fluttering. [This sentence feels a little awkward – are you sure it’s the right place to start?]
I stopped and listened. The wind twitched and the thrumming grew a treble louder. Below the docks where I sketched, a covey of bank swallows silently skimmed the water’s surface. Putting my drawing aside, I climbed atop a dock piling and looked out over the Hudson, past the ferries, sloops, and paddlewheels and spotted two shags [Would it be possible to have more description/detail on the birds here? We want to be able to picture them! Even just a word or two would help – what color are they? Size?]. They circled, intent upon finding a juicy eel for their supper, but their wings were soundless. I then lifted my gaze to the lowering sun, where a flight of passenger pigeons, splattered ink against a fiery sky, winged beyond earshot [watch for filtering in these sentences – “spotted”, “lifted my gaze,” etc, feels a little superfluous, since we’re in first person POV. But those details – “splattered ink against a fiery sky” are absolutely stunning]. Try as I might to convince myself otherwise, I knew the fluttering didn’t come from the birds or from the sound of the wind snatching at waves or waffling the sails of packet ships as they cut through the river.
No. I knew the wings beat only for me. And like some ancient augury of long ago, their unearthly flapping foretold of darker days to come. [This is lovely!]
A flock of skirling gulls suddenly shattered the air as they flew out to greet the New World, steaming into port from her last run of the day. My herring gull, eager to join in, swooped skyward and sent my sketch skittering across the cobbled stones of West Street. [The cadence of this paragraph! Amazing!]