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Day 23 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query & First Page Workshop with Mentors Layla Reyne, Victoria De La O & E.B. Wheeler

Thursday, 8 June 2017  |  Posted by Heather Cashman


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 Layla Reyne & Victoria De La O

Layla_ReyneWebsite | Twitter

2016 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist, Layla Reyne, was raised in North Carolina and now calls San Francisco home. She enjoys weaving her bi-coastal experiences into her stories, along with adrenaline-fueled suspense and heart pounding romance. When she’s not writing stories to excite her readers, she downloads too many books, watches too much television, and cooks too much food with her scientist husband, much to the delight of their smushed-face, leftover-loving dogs. Layla is a member of Romance Writers of America and its San Francisco, Kiss of Death, and Rainbow Romance Writers chapters. She is represented by Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency.



victoria de la oWebsite | Twitter

Victoria De La O is the 2017 RITA®-nominated author of the Tell Me romance trilogy, including Tell Me How This Ends. A California native, she spends time hanging out with her family, arguing about films, and practicing Wonder Woman spins.But mostly, she enjoys making her readers cry. Victoria belongs to the Silicon Valley Romance Writers of America chapter and is represented by Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency.


Layla and Victoria’s Query Critique…

[INSERT: Brett Fontaine doesn’t go out after dark.]

Brett Fontaine’s goals are simple—keep growing her image consultancy business in trendy Miami, make sure her stalker stays in prison, and convince her friends she has a handle on her post-kidnapping panic attacks.

[Consider this revision to the above paragraph, which provides a stronger, punchier opening. Also, her goals aren’t simple, so let’s not sell her short.]: Instead, she focuses on growing her image consultancy business in trendy Miami, ensuring her stalkers stays in prison, and convincing her friends she has a handle on her post-kidnapping panic attacks.]

Even if she hasn’t been out after dark in over a year, much less opened her little black book dating app. [Remove this sentence and move first part to the first sentence.]

When her best friend dares her to create a hot brand image for his new business partner and turn the attention-phobic chef into a celebrity, the challenge sparks an interest Brett hasn’t felt since…before The Incident.

[Consider this revision to the paragraph above, for clarity.] When her best friend dares her to create a hot celebrity image for his new business partner, an attention-phobic chef, the challenge sparks an interest Brett hasn’t felt since before … The Incident.]

William Te’o has goals, too. Finally [Remove “finally”] get out of other chefs’ kitchens. Open Khalli, his flagship restaurant, to acclaim in the demanding South Beach culinary scene. Keep money flowing to his mom and sisters back home in Samoa. And avoid the downright scary, stiletto-wearing [Add “image”] consultant bent on trying to change him into someone he’ll never be.

As for dating? Not even on his radar. He hasn’t so much sworn off dating—more like dating gave up on him first. [Consider removing these two sentences, given you’ve already referenced Brett above and his beat-up heart below.]

His kitchen heats to scorching when Brett turns out to be exactly what Khalli, and Will’s beat-up heart [,] need. He’s willing [decides? Stronger verb choice] to put the same effort toward gaining Brett’s trust that took him from an island kitchen to a James Beard nominee, until career ending rumors, and a stalker on parole, threaten their romantic [and kitchen] collaboration. [Consider breaking this last sentence into two.]

Island Time [cap the title of the book], a gender-flipped Miss Congeniality [Reconsider this comp as it indicated law enforcement and beauty pageant subplots. Find another makeover comp instead.] meets Top Chef, is a contemporary romance complete at 90,000 words.
[Add bio here.]

[All in all, this is a good, strong query with some interesting variations on standard tropes. Just needs tweaking to punch it up. Nicely done!]

Next up we have . . .

Pitch Wars Mentor E.B. Wheeler

EB WheelerWebsite | Twitter

E.B. Wheeler grew up in Georgia and California and has graduate degrees in history and landscape architecture, which are only loosely related to her first love, writing. She is the author of THE HAUNTING OF SPRINGETT HALL, NO PEACE WITH THE DAWN (with Jeff Bateman), and BORN TO TREASON, a 2016 Whitney Award finalist. When she’s not writing or chasing her kids around, she teaches history and consults about historic preservation.


E.B.’s First Page Critique…

Age Category: Young Adult

Genre: Fantasy

The King is dead. The King is dead. The King is dead.

The words of doom [“doom” borders on melodrama] echoed across the plains of Alfheim in the sound of a charging horse and its rider. Panting[,- cut] and foaming[,] the horse pressed on, their two day ride still not finished. The clods of dirt thrown behind the horse’s hooves mingled with its master’s blood.

The King is dead. The King is dead. The King is dead.

The rider was still alive. Barely. The left side of his face had been slashed open by the enemy’s sword. It’d taken his eye and claimed his consciousness for a time, but not his life. A mess of bloody bandages, frantically placed and tied across his face[,] did little to hide the vicious wound. The rider was only twenty. His youthful face was lost forever.

The King is dead. The King is dead. The King is dead.

Rorik, twenty-seventh of the Chosen Line of Kings[,] died while defending his wife and child. His wife, Queen Halla, fell soon after. The Domir that could fight[,-cut] were found dead around him [I can infer what the Domir are, but be careful not to drop too many unfamiliar names and titles on readers all at once]. All of bodies [missing word? the bodies?] left in the sticky dark pool of their demise, save for one. [The young princess] Brynhilde was gone.

King Rorik’s heir and child, Brynhilde, was born in exile. She was a beautiful little girl with deep hazel brown eyes and childlike kindness as warm as sunshine. She’d been oblivious to all the darkness and war that existed outside her safe haven. [This paragraph crosses into too much telling/backstory for a first page. For now, what we need to know is that the heir/princess is missing, and this rider is on his quest for her. We can even get a glimpse of what she means to him, but knowing that she was born in exile and innocent regarding the war can wait for later when we have more emotional investment.]

It was for her the rider made his vengeful quest.

The tracks were easy enough to follow, even to a man with one eye. They showed The [– “the” would probably be lower case] Usurper’s forces had ridden off to the final battle. Did the last of Rorik’s forces know what they were marching towards [“toward” is standard in American English]? Did they know that their cause was lost? Perhaps the horse’s hooves would relay the cry.

The rider could warn them. He could tell them to turn back, to run. Instead, he had a different mission, viciously branded into his heart. If he cut off the head of the serpent, if he killed the enemy, the rest of the body would fade into dust [“Fade into dust” is a little cliché – try for something stronger like “wither” or “bleed out”].

The King is dead. The King is dead. The King is dead.

Death rode towards Oflar the Usurper.

The Usurper’s [Camp – camp should be lower case unless it’s an official name, like a town] was perched on a crest overlooking the Field of Orrosta. The clash and cries of both armies drifting upwards as the last of Rorik’s Folk fought to the death.

The Usurper’s tent, decorated in his signature colors of scarlet and grey [“gray” is the standard spelling in American English – ignore if you’re elsewhere 🙂 ], sat in the center of the camp. The sun was too high to cast shadows of the inside inhabitants, but the rider knew. Oflar was a dishonorable man, just the sort to let his general lead his armies until it was time for him to swoop in, victory in hand. He would still be here.

The rider, now hunter, [I like this change in descriptions – it says a lot in a few words] kept close to the trees. He flitted between shadows, drawing close enough to count the tents. There weren’t many at the camp.

[The writing in this piece is punchy and has a nice feeling of movement. The point of view character has a clear goal and motivation, which creates interest, and clear obstacles, which creates tension. Just focus on finding that sweet spot between too little information and too much.]

Thank you Layla, Victoria, and E.B., 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.


One Comment
  • Thank you so much! Both for the excellent critique from E.B. Wheeler and for everyone else involved in this workshop! I appreciate all the time and effort you put in to help growing writers. 🙂 -Beverly Twomey

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