Welcome to our Mini Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2018 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 up 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.
First up we have …
Pitch Wars mentors Renée Price and Alex Reda …
Renée A. Price is a Brazilian lawyer and author passionate about South America, its people and cultures. When she isn’t writing awesome Latinx characters, she’s reading, walking her dog, or trying to convince her husband to spend the rest of the weekend eating popcorn and watching movies with too much special effects. She is a gif and emoji addict, a romance fanatic, and a strong believer that shipping is an art form. If you can’t travel to Curitiba/Brazil, the best place to find her is on social media. Renée is represented by Tricia Skinner at Fuse Literary.
Alex Reda is a Romanian author obsessed with the eerie beings hiding in the mountain forests and is currently persuading them onto her own pages. One of her goals is to create someone’s future OTP. When she’s not glued to her keyboard, she makes sure her cat doesn’t eat her PhD thesis, writes articles about animals and all things science, daydreams about her plot bunnies and nibbles on dark chocolate. She shares all the creepy places she finds on Instagram (@Alex__Reda) and is represented by the fabulous Natascha Morris at BookEnds.
Renée and Alex are co-mentoring in Young Grade this year.
Renée and Alex’s First Page Critique . . .
New Adult Romance
Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap.
My fingers twisted nervously (Don’t need the adverb here, twisting fingers already imply the main character is nervous), straightened, then went back to their rhythm against my leg. Tap tap tap. I stilled my hand, forcing it to lay flat against the wooden bench as Ruth’s (We don’t know who Ruth is at this point and she’s not mentioned again in your first page, might get confusing) voice rang in my head: “You must control your urges and not let them control you. You can do this, Violet.” (This first paragraph could be placed lower, to add depth, but it isn’t grounding us in the now and sparking as much conflict as a first paragraph should. First paragraphs should place the reader in the moment, and we don’t have a good idea of where your main character is right now).
If the woman (maybe replace “the woman” with “Ruth”) was as smart as all her patients claimed she was, she would know I was a hopeless case and stop trying to fix me. (You could make this your first sentence. It’s stronger than the onomatopoeia and adds voice to the start of your story + makes the reader ask a question from the start)
I was pretty sure the term for people like her was “glutton for punishment.”
Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. Now my right foot took up the beat, as if offended by my hand stopping. I didn’t bother trying to stop it this time, instead taking in my surroundings as my ballet flat tried its best to stomp a hole in the concrete walkway. The tall buildings rising around me should have felt intimidating but they didn’t; instead, I welcomed the feeling of obscurity and knowing that not a single soul on the campus knew who I was or cared. (A lot of your first page is dedicated to her movements, and while we’re guessing it’s important to her character arc, we need to know more about Violet. The most important information in this paragraph is that she welcomes the obscurity on campus–that raises a question and adds conflict)
My left foot joined its mate in tapping now. To a casual passerby I probably just looked like nervous college kid on their first day of a new life. Still, I stretched both legs out straight and practiced the breathing exercises Ruth (We still don’t know who Ruth is. Specialist? Family? Friend?) had encouraged me to do to control the stress-induced tic. I could do this. Probably. One, two, three. One, two, three. Breathe in, breathe out.
Nodding to myself slightly in encouragement, I stood and started walking (can replace with “walked”) toward the big glass and brick building labeled Knight Hall. It appeared to be the newest structure on the elegant campus (you could use the opportunity to show us her surroundings. When you use adjectives like “elegant”, you miss the chance to expand on description in a way that shows instead of tells. Give the reader a feel of the place) and I couldn’t help admiring the design. It was sleek and modern while somehow still fitting in with the older buildings that surrounded it.
My fingers were tapping again (It’s okay to add small bits about her movements, but too much can feel repetitive) and I didn’t even realize it until I heard the ringing phone in my pocket and was forced to stop walking entirely to focus on controlling the tic. Seeing the name on the screen, I immediately hit the green accept button and lifted the device to my ear. (The industry standard for manuscript formatting is double spaced. So with that formatting this is where your first page would end. – Here’s a good resource: https://larawillard.com/2014/10/24/formatting-your-novel-manuscript/)
“Sissy? Hey, it’s me. I couldn’t wait to call you. How was your first class?”
She (Who is she?) sounded weak, probably a cold.
“Lily, are you OK? You don’t sound so great,” I ignored her question and asked one of my own (her dialogue already tells you that, you don’t need the extra explanation).
Heavy breathing, then, “I’m fine, just a little cold (We already get this info from a previous sentence). I already called my doctor. I’m fine, Vi.”
“Maybe I should call him, just to make sure-”
“No, Violet, last time you spoke with Dr. Patel you called him an idiot and asked if he had a valid medical license. Do not call him.”
Though slightly hoarse and weak (Already mentioned she sounded weak), my sister (You can add that it’s her sister when you first introduce her) still sounded forceful.
“I didn’t call him an idiot, I asked him if he was one, there’s a difference.” (Good voice here).
I could hear the smile in her voice (You could end the sentence here, we don’t need the rest, since we know she’s speaking) as she spoke this time. “I’m fine but I love you for worrying about me. Now tell me about your class.” I could hear (be careful with all the filters, because that’s a sign of telling instead of showing. In this paragraph alone, you use “I could hear” twice) rustling on her end as she moved around, no doubt trying to get comfortable on one of the hard-as-rock couches in the overdone living room.
“I’m on my way there now,” I said, sidestepping a group of squealing girls and forcing myself to walk faster (You can take out the ‘I said’, so it becomes ‘I sidestepped…’ Action tags are more powerful than filters like “I said”, “I asked”, etc). I was pretty sure all the seats in the back would be taken first and no way was I going to be stuck on the front row. Not in this class, which I hadn’t wanted to sign up for in the first place, and not on my first day of college.
“I’ll let you go but call me later. I’m really excited for you.” This time a cough followed the sentence.
I frowned. “Lily, call the doctor again. Or have Mom call him. They need to look at you, maybe run blood cultures to make sure this isn’t more than a cold.”
(We get a feeling that this is a story about a girl who has some hurdles to overcome, who cares deeply about her sister, and is starting college, but we believe you can shorten the first page so we can get to the heart of the story a bit faster.)
Thank you, Renée and Alex, for your critique!
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars past mentor Kip Wilson …
Kip Wilson is a young adult author represented by Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Her debut YA novel-in-verse, White Rose, a historical about anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl, will be published in Spring 2019 by HMH’s new Versify imprint.
Kip’s Query Critique . . .
In 2015, you told Midwest Writers Workshop that you are, “very passionate about helping young boys read, as they are falling behind girls in almost every category, so books geared towards younger male readers are very much on my want list.” I have been a high school English teacher and wrestling coach for the past twenty years, and I may have a book that matches your passion. I would cut this entire paragraph and start with the Jake. I personally wouldn’t include the 2015 MWW quote even to that particular agent because 2015 was a long time ago in publishing, but for a general query to any agent (or PW mentor), you’ll want to keep the focus on your book. Your bio is perfect for this book and I would definitely include it, but because I’d recommend cutting the rest of the paragraph, it makes more sense to do so at the end instead of leading with it.
Add age Jake Fredrickson is a high school wrestler from the wrong side of the tracks who has to learn to let go of his anger This is interesting—more about this, please! Also, is anger the right word, or perhaps resentment? in order to win the big match, get the girl, and handle the high school bully. These all sound quite vague. It would be good to include specifics about each of these. Without any details, “bully” has more of a middle grade than young adult feel to me, so be sure to show how it’s a teen sort of bullying. Jake’s mother left the family when he was in elementary school and his father chose the bottle over parenthood Is this ongoing? Is he still in the home or in rehab or something else? leaving Jake and his Add: older or younger brother to blindly maneuver through teenage life and all that encompasses. This sounds too vague to me. One or two specific details of what he’s facing and what the stakes are would help. General note: these two sentences are all we get about your book in the entire query. I’d strongly recommend expanding on this to include more specifics about the conflict(s) and the stakes. The Arena is a 68,000-word young adult novel directed toward encouraging high school boys to read. Instead of telling us what you envision as the book’s purpose, consider giving us an emotional reason to spark our interest in the story itself. Think Karate Kid meets The Outsiders. These are both very old comps. You could probably get away with one of them, but I’d recommend including one recent title. Books by Jason Reynolds and/or Brendan Kiely are great examples for teen boys today.
Schools across the country are placing a strong emphasis on encouraging young adults to read, which is a great thing. However, most modern YA novels are focused on female audiences. I have found that boys will read if the stories capture their attention. Books like Breathing Underwater, The Outsiders, Painting the Black, and most Carl Duecker, Walter Dean Myers or Gary Paulson novels have been commercial and literary success. I think you can assume that agents you’d query will know and understand the market for books for teen boys, so I personally wouldn’t include statements like this. The Arena is the first of five young adult or middle grade novels I am going to write that will offer aggressive, “bad ass” This can be one word without the quotes: badass. characters that speak their minds and stand up to bullies. I wouldn’t mention other novels at this point, especially if they’re not yet written and would instead keep the focus on this particular project. I also have several marketing ideas that could help place these books into readers’ hands. I think you could safely cut this entire paragraph and use the real estate to describe your current book.
I’d include a sentence or two with your bio and any relevant writing background here. I have attached the first ten pages Most agents request sample pages pasted into the body of the email. and a brief synopsis of the manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration You could probably end the letter here., and I hope to hear from you soon. I wish you luck in your pursuit of the next great book in your slush pile.
Sincerely and respectfully Perhaps choose one of these or just close with “Best” or “Best wishes” if you cut the above.,
Thank you, Kip, for your critique!
Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting them up until the Pitch Wars submission window opens on August 27. Hope you’ll come back and read some more.