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Day 26 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentors, Natasha Razi & Kelly Hopkins

Tuesday, 13 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 Mentor, Natasha Razi …

natasha razi

Disability in Kidlit | Twitter

It’s been half a year since Natasha Razi has stayed in the same country for longer than three weeks, so who knows where she is at the time you’re reading this. Probably somewhere with less vegetables than she wants there to be. When her health cooperates, she works as an environmental consultant. She spends the rest of her time writing fantasy novels, playing Broadway songs on endless repeat, and staying up way past her bedtime.


Natasha’s Query  Critique . . .

GENRE: Epic Fantasy

Dear Pitch War Mentor:

Thank you for this excellent Pitch Wars critique opportunity! [You’re welcome. ;)]

Impulsive teenaged [I like that you start with a character trait; gives us a sense of her right away. For YA, I always recommend writing the character’s age rather than just identifying them as a teenager] Aunia always knew her dad was keeping secrets[,] but it wasn’t until the Bogeyman abducted him before she began to find out why. [I love the structure of status quo –> inciting incident –> what happens now, but the phrasing doesn’t quite make sense to me; maybe replace ‘before’ with ‘that?’ I also think “keeping secrets might be too vague — can you say anything more specific?] To rescue him, she’ll need help from her first crush, a pegasi flyer, in order to navigate through her deceased mother’s lands to the cloud-castle of Tatia located on the doorway of Faerie and win the means to a magical window — if, of course, it still exists. [This sentence is too long and contains way too much information. “To rescue him, Alia and her first crush must travel to the cloud-castle of Tatia to win a magic window — if, of course, it still exists.]

[On another note, don’t include too many terms that the reader won’t understand. We have some cultural context to understand Bogeyman and Faerie, but loading up new terminology — even if some of it’s familiar — is going to confuse the reader and detract from the central goal]

Her most immediate dilemma will be reaching her destination while the Bogeyman’s dark faeries and a cult of human soldiers try to capture or kill her. Then, of course, she’ll also have to figure out how to contend with everything she had always assumed was honest and good! [You already ended the last paragraph with the “[word], of course, [clause] construction. And this again seems too vague — what do you mean by contend with? Does she have to fight against it? It’s also an odd structure to go from the far-off conflict (the window) to the immediate conflict (the soldiers.) I’d start with the immediate and shift to the long-term.]

A WINDOW INTO HAZEL TRUTHS is a complete 97,000-word YA Epic Fantasy and, while can stand alone, is the first in an intended series. [Again, the phrasing doesn’t quite make sense. Maybe try “A WINDOW INTO HAZEL TRUTHS is a complete 97,000 word YA epic fantasy that can either work as a standalone or as the first in a series] Fans for Wicked Lovely meets Throne of Glass will find it appealing. [Strange phrasing again — I would replace with “It will appeal to fans of WICKED LOVELY and THRONE OF GLASS.]

I have been fencing with rapier and dagger in 14th -16th century styles for the last six years which gives me intimate knowledge for dueling and battle scenes. Studying mythology and history, and working in the social services field has provided me with insight into the human psyche. [The first sentence is useful information, assuming you include dueling and battle scenes, but the second doesn’t seem relevant] I’ve also served on the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group board of directors in a variety of positions, including conference chair and president. Currently, I am revising my second book.

Thank you for taking the time to review my query. [Good luck!]


Next up we have . . .

Pitch Wars Mentor, Kelly Hopkins …


Website | Twitter

Kelly has a Bachelor’s degree (Magna Cum Laude) in English/Secondary Education from Marywood University and a Master’s of Education degree in School Library and Information Technologies from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. She’s a Creative Writing teacher and school librarian.

She has lectured at Keystone College on Celtic Mythology and will be presenting a workshop on Perfecting Query Letters and Pitches at their Gathering Conference in July 2016.

Kelly lives in NE Pennsylvania with her husband, two children, and three rescue horses.


Kelly’s First Page Critique . . .

GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Chapter One

The Reaper watched the last [doomed] soul of his shift [from a] distance; hands in his pockets, invisible and untouchable to anyone passing by.

It was hard to see her from where he stood on the street, across from the shop where she shopped. [People buying last-minute presents for Christmas crowded into the Fifth Avenue game store.] [Red, green, and white lights colored its window], and a tall samurai statue wield[ed] its katana at passersby, the Christmas hat perched on its head eliciting giggles from anyone who walked past.  [Great visual scene here and I love the hat on the statue. Be aware of passive voice. Seek a strong verb to strengthen your voice!]

Aside the statue [Not sure what you mean by this. Is the shop far from other shops? Think about how you can make this paragraph clearer.], that shop wasn’t even close to the other stores on the street, the lights on their façades so bright they were almost blinding. One hundred different Santa Claus [should be plural] called and waved in front of each shop, cursing whenever ignored. [Can we hear this happen? More effective!] The trees on the edge of Central Park gleamed with faint yellow lights. [You have some great visual elements here but this paragraph is slowing you down.]

The girl came out of the game store a minute later, her dark hair whipping [in] the cold wind [the Reaper] didn’t feel in his immaterial form. Her lifetime reduced [with] each passing second. Fourteen minutes now. He wondered what would kill her.

A plastic bag hung between her gloved hands. She [glanced] over her shoulder at the shop’s façade. [Her reaction to the samurai statue is repetitive. My suggestion is to let her giggle at it here, but not to mention it earlier.]  

[She wiped away the snow falling on her hair and shoulders. Lead with the action here.]  He rubbed at his his dark overcoat and hair, forgetting for a moment the snow had gone through him.

She raised her eyes, and they found his across the street, as if some mysterious force had driven [her to see him]. He stared back at her, holding her gaze. It was quite impressive she could already see him, having more than ten minutes left of life. Most soon-to-die souls would see Reapers when the time wound down to five minutes or less.

She shifted her position under his gaze. Her free hand slid to something on her neck—a blue pendant. She hissed, recoiling her hand in one quick motion, as if the stone had burned her fingers. Her other hand removed the glove, and she inspected her fingers, closing and opening them, then tugged  it back on her hand.

Weird. Was it so cold the stone actually burned her?

Her eyes returned to him, as if remembering he was staring at her. She frowned, challenging him to keep holding her gaze.

And so he did.

She turned on her heels and started walking down the street. He went after her. Their eyes met again when she looked over her shoulder, checking if he was still there. Her expression turned into a grimace, and she [hastened] her pace to grow the distance between them. She turned a street corner [and disappeared].,.. [This is a swap of POV to her thoughts and feelings. Pull back into the Reaper’s head]

He stopped.

You have a suspenseful scene here! I like the Reaper’s detached attitude as he watches the girl, and we know he’s about to collect her soul. I’m interested to know how she’s about to die, and worried for her. It’s so important to make the reader care for your characters on the first page and you’ve definitely caught my interest. I hope my suggestions help you with your revisions!


Thank you, Natasha and Kelly, 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
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