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, Miriam Spitzer Franklin …
Miriam Spitzer Franklin is a former elementary and middle school teacher who currently teaches homeschooled students, freelances for an educational company, and fills in for teachers on maternity leave. Her hobbies include coaching her daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind team, figure skating, and being passionate about environmental and animal rights causes. Miriam lives with her husband, two daughters, and two pampered cats in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Miriam’s recent release …
Twelve-year-old Emily is flying with her parents to China to adopt and bring home a new baby sister. She’s excited but nervous to travel across the world and very aware that this trip will change her entire life. And the cracks are already starting to show the moment they reach the hotel—her parents are all about the new baby, and have no interest in exploring.
In the adoption trip group, Emily meets Katherine, a Chinese-American girl whose family has returned to China to adopt a second child. The girls eventually become friends and Katherine reveals a secret: she’s determined to find her birth mother, and she wants Emily’s help.
New country, new family, new responsibilities—it’s all a lot to handle, and Emily has never felt more alone.
From the author of Extraordinary and Call Me Sunflower, Emily Out of Focus is a warm and winning exploration of the complexity of family, friendship, and identity that readers will love.
Miriam’s first page critique . . .
Middle Grade: Horror
Izzy Ayala hated gerbils, especially today. Why had she agreed to feed her little sister’s stupid pets? Her phone buzzed as it vibrated on the desk. Izzy scrambled to pull on her t-shirt and pick it up. (I’m not sure this is the most intriguing opening. While the first sentence is interesting, it actually has a humorous tone. So if this is supposed to be horror, not humor, then your opening isn’t doing its job. A horror story should grab readers from the start, sending chills up their spine. The tone here reads more like contemporary middle grade so I think you’re going to have to do more to hook readers in this genre.)
WHERE R U? the text on her screen demanded. It was from Max. Izzy groaned. She was supposed to meet Max at the skate park early this morning to help recruit other girls for their roller derby team, but now Izzy was running late.
Her thumbs flew across the screen as she texted back, OMW. She grabbed a pair of striped socks as the phone buzzed again, almost immediately. “I know,” she said to it, hopping around the room, shoving her feet into the socks. Music blared from the phone’s speakers. Izzy fell over, scrambling to pick it up.
“Hello?” (The above paragraph also has a humorous tone. I’m not an expert on horror, but this certainly reads like contemporary MG at this point!)
“Are you still at your house?” Max asked. Her voice was shrill.
Izzy cringed. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I’ve gotta feed Fi’s gerbils.”
“What?” Max demanded. “Why?”
“Because I promised I would so that we could skate to school together,” Izzy said with a sigh. There was silence on the other end of the line as she wandered down the hall. (I don’t understand what she means by her answer. What does feeding her sister’s gerbils have to do with skating to school with her friend? Why does her sister get to decide who she skates to school with?)
“I’m coming over,” Max announced.
“You don’t have to. I’ll be right there,” Izzy said, but Max had already hung up. Izzy shoved the phone in her back pocket, pushed open the door to her little sister’s room, and padded inside.
She froze in front of Brownie and Cupcake’s cage, her eyes wide with horror. Cupcake was nibbling at Brownie’s face, and not in a nuzzling, cuddly way. (The last 2 lines of the first page are the first time we get a hint of horror. A horror story about a gerbil? This sounds like a unique premise! But it would be better if you don’t actually use the word “horror” when you describe her reaction.)
There may be a great horror story here about a vicious gerbil, but I think you’ll have to do a lot more at the opening to set this up to fit the genre. It may even be that you’re starting at the wrong line. If you started with her seeing what was going on in the gerbil cage, really zeroing in on that moment, slowing down the action and giving us a great description of what she sees and feels, then we would get pulled into this story faster. I want lots of sensory details to set the tone. We need to feel the fear the MC feels. The reader should be able to figure out the genre by the first page. You’ve got to hit us with some creepy details, starting with the first line, and hook the reader so they’ll stick with you until the last page.
Good luck! Thanks for sharing!