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Day 26 (Part 1) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Sabrina Lotfi

Friday, 20 September 2019  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2019 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query or first page critique from one of our mentors. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or first page from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you all get an idea on how to shine up your query and first page.

We appreciate our mentors for giving 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, Sabrina Lotfi … 

Sabrina Lotfi is a nationally published makeup artist with over a decade of experience in fashion and film. She writes contemporary books for young adults and has a deep love for history, horses, characters with a dark side, and kickass retellings. She lives in Texas with her vampire kitty and bat pup, is a pro at pep talks, and loves making new writer friends. She is repped by Dr. Uwe Stender of Triada US Literary Agency.


Sabrina’s query critique . . .

Young Adult: Contemporary

[Before I dive in—thank you so much for trusting me (and Pitch Wars) with your query! All notes are my personal thoughts and suggestions, so feel free to disregard anything that doesn’t resonate with you and Penelope. <3<3<3]

Dear [agent’s name], [Start this paragraph on a new line separate from your salutation.] I read on your manuscript wish list that you are interested in contemporary young adult novels with a summer camp setting, so I have included the first few pages of my 45,000 word manuscript TITLE in accordance with your submission guidelines [I typically see this information at the end of a query (what you’ve included in your submission based on their guidelines) so you can focus on hooking agents at the beginning. I think this is fine, but if it gets longer up here, consider moving this to the end, after your bio—Not the entire paragraph! Agent personalization is great up top!]. 

When [Try to vary your sentence starters so they don’t get repetitive: When…So when…When…Then, are how your first four sentences kick us off now.] the song that her boyfriend writes about her becomes a sudden smash hit, awkwardly average Penelope is not [“is not” = “isn’t” – You’re using contractions elsewhere. Stay consistent.] comfortable with being cast into the spotlight [This is great, but it feels clinical, like a news report. The fancy facts. It sounds like you’re telling me Penelope’s story. Stay in 3rd person, but bring Penelope’s voice out by letting Penelope tell her story through you. As you bring voice out, deepen those feels and be as specific as possible. Is there any fear or anxiety connected to this uncomfortableness? Does it affect her physically like sweats or throwing up? Can you use that to show this and bring in some humor?]. So when Justin leaves to go on a concert tour, Penelope decides to take [“decides to take” = “takes”. Stay active!] a job at a summer camp [What kind of camp? Zoo? Space? If it’s themed, you can give us a glimpse of your setting here in a single word.] hundreds of miles from home, where no one knows that [delete: that] she’s dating a semi-famous pop star. [What are Penelope’s stakes here? What might she lose or gain? Is this a good move for Penelope? Does she enjoy her new job and like her fellow counselors? When she and Justin separate, does that help or hurt their relationship?] When her fellow counselors learn the truth [How do her fellow counselors learn the truth? Does Penelope let it slip? Is someone at camp a Justin fan? Little details will help this shine and make your query unique to your story, so anywhere you can, get them in.], they’re not too [Do you need this ‘too’?] happy about being lied to. [How does their unhappiness affect Penelope? Is this connected to your next sentence (social media and the paparazzi)? Are those the repercussions of this secret coming out to her fellow counselors? If so, try to be clearer in tying them together. If not, what brings the negative social media and paparazzi to her now?] Then there’s all of the negative commentary on social media [More fancy facts! Let’s bring that Penelope voice in again here, but also those details! Is Penelope being targeted specifically (but not Justin), or about something specific, or is their relationship the target?] plus a scary encounter with the paparazzi [This is great, but take it a step further: in what way was the paparazzi encounter scary? Is it stalkery? Is there a Princess Di car chase with an almost (or actual) accident? Without details readers will fill in those blanks on their own, and that can both help and hurt an author, depending on which details are left out and how big or small we readers take things in our heads.]. Frustrated by all the unwanted attention [Watch your repetition: At the beginning of this paragraph you say Penelope “is not comfortable with being cast into the spotlight.” You don’t need both.], Penelope breaks up with Justin, but it’s a decision that [delete: that] she quickly regrets [Why? The song is adorable but who are Penelope and Justin, aside from awkwardly average and semi-famous? Do they have history and are in love, or is their relationship new? I suggest dedicating a line at the beginning to Penelope and Justin with a focus on their relationship: who they are and why they’re perfect for each other—or at least the little nugget that they are, in fact, perfect for each other!—before we drop the hit song bomb and all these external forces start working against them.]. Sure, he’d take her back in a heartbeat [You’ve got her goal in great: win Justin back! But if he’ll take her back anyway, what are Penelope’s stakes? If she fails in her own eyes, will their breakup stand?], but Penelope vows to win Justin back with a grand gesture in order [delete: in order] to prove to herself that she deserves him, [delete: ,] and that she [delete: that she] can handle his celebrity status. But how do you top writing a hit song about someone? [I don’t think you need this last question. Instead, tie her stakes and fears or flaws into your closing.]

[Whew! That looks like a lot! It is a lot! But I promise it’s not as intense as it looks! You’ve got this!! You’re getting the plot in great! What I’m missing are character and stakes, and how these plot points connect on a deeper level. I’ve asked a lot of questions because I haven’t read your story to know the answers or what will have the most impact, but you don’t need to answer every one of them in your query. That’d get really long! A character with a goal. Conflict. Stakes. A hint at that happily ever after or a will they/won’t they tease. That’s all you need. You don’t have to unpack your whole book here, just enough to tickle their attention and make them ask for more.]

TITLE explores teen romance in a light-hearted way, through humor and fun characters [I don’t think this is necessary in a query. Get your genre in when you give your word count: contemporary romance (above it just says contemporary YA); reflect the rest of this—the fun characters and humor—in your query by bringing Penelope’s voice and those details in!], in a writing style that is similar [Is it only your writing style that’s similar to these badass ladies?] to Kasie West and Stephanie Perkins [Are there any other good comps you can think of? Books and authors are great, but you have other options—movies and shows work really well too, and given what your novel is about, I’m really into the idea of a song comp :)]. While I have only recently begun to delve into the YA market, my picture book … won an International Reading Association Award in 2013. I have also had numerous poems published in children’s magazines.

Thank you for your consideration. 

Thank you, Sabrina, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2019 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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