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Day 29 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query & First Page Workshop with Mentors Tabitha Martin & Kelly deVos

Friday, 16 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 Tabitha Martin

TabithaWebsite | Twitter 

Tabitha Martin writes contemporary and fantasy YA. When she’s not writing, she can be found with her nose in a book, her head in the clouds, her mind on a video game, or eating chips and salsa. She lives close to the beach and doesn’t go enough, but she longs to live among the stars like Darrow and Mustang. *bonus points if you know who they are and you ship them too*




Tabitha’s Query Critique…

Desiring true love, friendship, and a fulfilling adventurous career, Karina has to rebuild every aspect of her life when she moves to a gritty yet burgeoning artistic neighborhood in Brooklyn. [This takes away from your query, because it reads more like a pitch + your query, so I would cut this all together]

Twenty-six-year-old [This doesn’t seem necessary for an adult manuscript] Karina [add last name] has been playing by the rules her entire life [also if you keep the age, this makes her sound extra naïve, because 26 isn’t that old], expecting that by the time she graduates from a prestigious law school in New York, she will have everything she has [cut HAS and change to she’s for better flow] ever wanted: the perfect life, the perfect career, and the perfect relationship. Instead, she finds herself dreading the day she becomes a lawyer, and her relationship with a guy she thought might be the one goes awry [this second part is a bit wordy and takes away from your query. Make it more concise, like, “and things with her boyfriend go awry”]. To make things even more complicated, she is an immigrant from Slovakia whose ability to stay in the United States depends of her employment, and the countdown to her visa expiration date has begun. [to me, this is more important than anything you’ve listed above. This should be Problem Number One in your query, so I would move this up closer to the beginning].

To save on rent and buy some [cut “some”] time to think, Karina moves to a formerly gang-ridden Brooklyn neighborhood called Bushwick, which in 2010 is an undiscovered haven for artists and quirky locals [for a query, this is too specific and not relevant, just say, “gang-ridden neighborhood.” The 2010 part confuses me, because is the book set then? For the query, it really doesn’t matter, so I would shorten this sentence extremely, and if you felt you needed to keep “artists and quirky locals,” you could say “moves to a formerly gang-ridden neighborhood known as a haven for artists and quirkly locals”]. Accompanied by her best friend, Gabi, Karina begins to explore the neighborhood, which leads [change “which leads her” to “leading her”] her to obscure literary readings, art shows, and warehouse parties. Smitten by Bushwick’s [change to “the neighborhood’s”] creative people larger than life [switch the words here to say “larger than life creative” or “creative people” so it doesn’t sound congested], Karina starts a blog about the neighborhood that quickly gains popularity. But not everybody is happy to see her succeed. Fighting to be able to stay in the country, to mend her broken heart, and to be able to do her authentic life’s work, Karina has some tough choices to make.

Complete at 90,000 words, GIRL IN BUSHWICK is a contemporary coming of age novel about a modern-day immigrant that will appeal to fans of HBO’s Girls, Emily Gould’s Friendship, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings as well as Sophia Amoruso’s Girlboss.

My name is Katarina Hybenova,[if you want to include a bio in your query, you don’t need to put your name in it here, because you’ll sign the query as your name] and I am an award-winning New York-based journalist, media entrepreneur, and the founder of popular Brooklyn websites Bushwick Daily and So Williamsburg, which jointly attract over 300,000 readers monthly. I was born and raised in Slovakia, and obtained my degrees in law and journalism in the Czech Republic, Belgium, and New York. If I don’t write or read, I tend to the needs of my four cats, take pleasure in doing hot yoga, and dream about my next hiking adventure in tropical forests and volcanic mountains. [I would cut this last sentence. Eyes tend to graze over anything that isn’t specifically relevant to the query at hand].

I think your query is pretty solid in the format you have it. I would suggest cutting that first paragraph as I mentioned before, because it’s too pitchy for a query. My biggest suggestion is that you have a lot going on in the query. Karina has a lot things going on in her life, which is great for the book, but it’s a lot for this one query. I would take the most important problem she has to face, which in my opinion from reading this query would be the visa issue, and focus on that for the query. Your query is kind of long, so read through to cut adverbs that don’t really add much other than an extra word. Also, as I advised earlier, stay away from specifics, like naming your neighborhood in the query. From the title of your novel, it will become obvious where Karina has moved to, and it just takes up space in your query.

But it sounds like a great novel, and you’re off to a great start with this query! Can’t wait to see what the final product ends up looking like!

Next up we have . . .

Pitch Wars Mentor Kelly deVos

Kelly deVos Website | Twitter

A third generation native Arizonan, Kelly deVos can tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about cactus, cattle and climate. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Her debut novel, FAT GIRL ON A PLANE, will be published in 2018 by Harlequin Teen and her work has been featured in Normal Noise and 202 Magazine.



Kelly’s First Page Critique…

Age Category: YA

Genre: Contemporary

I stared at the door with my hand poised over the knob. My heart thrummed in the silence. Yesterday, I swore it was the last time. But here I was, late again, unable to make it to homeroom without a detour.

I blew out a breath, pulled on the doorknob and poked my head in.

“Come in, Lexi,” said Mrs. Conti.

Eighteen pairs of eyes turned towards me as I took my seat in the back. Lowering my head, I crossed my arms over my chest and sank into my seat. I steadied my breath and tried to imagine the wave of whispers [KD: Nice description!] rolling through the room had nothing to do with me, the freak-girl who was late again. Could they see through me? See my scars? I patted my sleeve, making sure no blood seeped through my bandage.

I wasn’t going to be friends with anyone, but I had to get through my time here. I’d made a promise and I had to keep it [KD: This is an intriguing detail], even if it meant relying on the blade in my pocket.

I sat with my head bowed for twenty agonizing minutes, counting the seconds to the bell.

At the end of the period I jumped up, but before I could run out, Mrs. Conti appeared at my desk. “Tomorrow, can you be on time, Lexi? I don’t want to have to make a phone call.” [KD: There’s elements of this scene that come across as a bit old-fashioned. This might be an issue of the fact that we don’t know when the scene is taking place. I was wondering why attendance calls aren’t automated, why parents don’t get e-mail notifications, etc. That’s not to say that some schools don’t operate as you describe, but it might help to drop a hint if this is an older school or not in the current time.]

I dropped my hand into my jeans’ pocket, curling it around my penknife. “Yeah.”

Mrs. Conti tilted her head to the side, her sympathetic eyes searching my face. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah,” I lied. I had to be on time tomorrow. I couldn’t risk a call home.

“Okay.”  Mrs. Conti smiled and walked away.

I blew out the breath [KD: This is the second time in this short selection that this is expression is being used] I’d been holding in and scooted out the door, my pulse racing. What if Mrs. Conti did call? Or notified the front office? My stomach clenched as panic swirled through me. No, no one could find out.

Keeping my head down, I pushed through the crowd, my grip tightening on my knife. I needed it again.

I shouldered open [KD: I like this description] the girls’ bathroom door and stopped. What? No one used this bathroom.

Two girls leaned over the sinks. Jess Martin, touching up her mascara, turned and looked me up and down. “Gosh, what are you, like, six feet?” She screwed up her face, setting her perfectly manicured hands on her hips. “Don’t you have class?” [KD: Whoa – these are some mean girls!]

I clutched the penknife in my pocket, and glanced away. Leave me alone.

“C’mon, Jess, let’s go,” said her friend, smacking her freshly glossed lips together.

Jess swung her hair over her shoulder. “Right.”

They whirled around and headed out the door, their shrill laughter piercing the air as they walked away. [KD: For me, this reads a touch melodramatic]

Tears threatening, I tucked into the last stall and shut the door, craving relief. Just one. That’s what I’d said a half hour ago and here I was again. My head spun. My insides screamed in pain. I had to make it stop.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to check out Kathleen Glasgow’s incredible GIRL IN PIECES, I would definitely do so. Thanks again for letting me learn a bit about Lexi’s story. Best of luck on your path to publication. J

Thanks so much for letting me check out your first page! As always, comments are highly subjective and only represent my own opinion. Take anything that resonates and ignore anything that doesn’t.

The writing here is highly polished and well-done. There is clearly a seasoned hand a work here! The comments that I have tend to relate to big picture issues. Generally, I’m wondering if this is the exact right place in which to begin your story. We’re immediately put in a self-harm scene (an intense, difficult issue) without a lot of reference points in terms of Lexi’s character or where/when the scene is taking place. This created a couple of issues for me as a reader. First, we’re exposed to Lexi’s self-harm before we know much about her. Second, since we don’t have much of a connection yet, some of what happens in the scene (for me) feels overblown or melodramatic.

Thank you Tabitha 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
  • Susan Dalessandro says:

    Hi Kelly: Thank you very much for critique. First, it’s funny you should mention where I started my book, because right after I submitted this piece, I had it critiqued by an editor from a Twitter contest I was in and she suggested starting it earlier, before I go right into the cutting scene. She said the same thing about giving insight into who my mc is, connect the reader to her, make them care. So, I changed it and now this first page is my second scene. Hopefully, I’m on the right path.

    I have indeed read Girl In Pieces. It presented a rougher, grittier picture of a self-harmer, but the issues that drove her to cut are similar to my mc’s. It was a fascinating read and I couldn’t put the book down once I’d started reading.

    Thank you again for taking the time to read through my work and make your comments and suggestions. I very much appreciate it.

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