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Day 3 (Part 3) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Kelly Siskind

Tuesday, 31 August 2021  |  Posted by Stephanie Scott

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2021 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query and first page critique from one of our mentors. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the Pitch Wars submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you in shining up your query and first page.

We appreciate our mentors for generously dedicating 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 Kelly Siskind

Kelly SiskindA small-town girl at heart, Kelly moved from the city to enjoy the charm of northern Ontario. When she’s not out hiking with her husband or home devouring books, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head. To date, she’s published eleven novels, both traditionally and self-published, with translations available in Italy, Germany, and Poland. Connect with her at kellysiskind.com.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

Kelly’s recent release, The Knockout Rule

The Knockout Rule

Siskind’s latest slow-burn romance is stay-up-all-night addictive and proves love hits when you least expect it…

Growing up with an adoring father for a boxing legend isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It looks more like hospital visits, bloody noses, and cracked ribs.

Isla Slade now works as a physiotherapist, helping athletes heal their bodies. Except for boxers. She has no interest in reliving the stress of her teen years. Dating someone in the boxing world? She’d rather snort wasabi powder.

Until she meets Preston Church.

Preston manages heavyweight boxing darling Brick Kramarov. A brute who’s built tougher than his name, with a cocky attitude to boot. She wants nothing to do with either man, but her father begs her to help them prepare for a huge Vegas fight.

She doesn’t expect Preston to recite romantic poems and slowly break her resolve. His fascinating mind gets under her skin, even if his star athlete reminds her how much she hates boxing.

Too bad it’s Brick coaching Preston how to woo Isla, falling for her from the sidelines. Once she finds out, she’ll have to decide if she can risk loving another man who puts it all on the line for the knockout.

AmazonBarnes &Noble

Kelly’s critique

Category: Adult, Contemporary


Dear [Agent],

Phoebe Mays is anxiety-riddled, about to lose her job, and nearly broke. [These are great little nuggets about your MC, but can you use this first line to add more voice and more of a setup for the next part? Something so when we learn she has to go home, we’re cringing for her. I want to know WHY she needed to get away from there. Example: Anxiety-riddled Phoebe has spent X years trying to escape *quirky or heavy details here*, only to find herself *more specific job/life details here*. You’d then have to alter the next part, streamlining it since you state here how long she’s been away from home.] Upon hearing her estranged father has passed away and left something in his will to her and her siblings, she immediately hops on a plane [to face xyz – specifics here would be great!][ to a hometown she hasn’t been to in five years in hopes of coming back with the money she needs to continue staying far away, forever.

Upon arriving [This opening “upon” is an echo of the second line of the query. I’d try switching it up!], Phoebe realizes that [“That” is often a garbage word that can be omitted, like in this case.] her time away hasn’t erased the ghosts of her past. Noe Turner, the boyfriend she dumped before leaving town [Why did Phoebe dumb her boyfriend? Can you add a few words to show more angst or depth to their former relationship? Something to make me eager to see these two face each other again?], is showing up everywhere she goes. Her mother, who hasn’t forgiven her for leaving in the first place [Can you be more specific here? Add more emotion so we feel for your MC and her painful family dealings? Agents read hundreds of queries a week. Giving unique details are what will set your story apart. Example: Her mother, who’s still furious Phoebe chose X over Y…], is making life for her in her childhood home miserable. Worst of all, her father did leave a fortune in his will to his children, but they are required to do one thing to get it: attend family therapy. [Instead of writing “one thing to get it,” can you add more voice here? I can’t tell from this query the exact tone of your novel. Is it funny? Heavy? Sad? Using stronger words and adjectives to inject voice (everywhere, not just here) would really help set the tone. Example: …but he has a stipulation that’s as painful as XYZ: attending family therapy.] 

As Phoebe and her siblings test the ties that bind them and attempt to heal from long-open wounds [Can you be more specific here, since most families have trauma and sadness? What makes this family stand out so an agent will desperately want to read about them?], she and Noe begin to get close again. [Exciting! I love the tease of a love interest.] The possibility of stability and a place to call home could bring Phoebe the peace and family she craves, but it also could leave her stranded in her hometown in a way she swore she would never be again [Great start at building the stakes here. Again, I’ll suggest you get more specific. Why did she need to leave in the first place? What scares her the most? Currently, this could describe a ton of different people.] Phoebe will need to decide if her hard-fought freedom is worth closing all the doors to the home she once knew. 

TITLE is a contemporary novel complete at 83,000 words that should appeal to readers of Rebecca Serle and Sally Rooney. 

[Excellent start on this query! The bones are really strong. The main concerns for me are upping the voice and adding more specific details so we connect better with your MC and her struggles. You don’t want to give away the ending in a query, but you want to make your story shine. Details and voice/tone are the polish that will take this to the next level.]

First Page:

“Oof!” I felt a sharp pain in my left knee, and I frantically looked down to see what stopped my internal panic spiral. The man whose seat I just accidentally ran into was giving me a soul-withering glare [Love this description!], and I mumbled an apology in return. 

I totally intended to hurt myself just to make your day harder, man in 15E. [Great voice. I adore this whole intro to your MC.]

I continued my progress to my seat, while the [by stating “the,” it implies we’ve already read these thoughts once. I would omit that word.] intrusive thoughts restarted their path back to the forefront of my brain. The chance of someone dying on a commercial flight is one in seven million. The fact that anyone could die mid-air while they are [with the voice you’ve set up, “they’re” works better for me here than “they are.”] just trying to enjoy a tiny packet of pretzels and blockbuster movies from a few years ago was just a miserable thing to think about.

The one time I was forced to go to therapy, I learned my brain’s mechanism for trying to alleviate anxiety was by trying [You used “trying” twice in this sentence. I’d rework so you use it once.] to learn more about what was making me anxious. Rather than the intended effect of settling my mind by knowing the chances of horrible things happening were so low, my brain malfunctioned further and ramped up the fight or flight response. Sheer panic, but this time, backed up by data! [Hahaha. Love this!]

I tried to give myself something else to focus on while moving down the aisle. What would I be doing right now if I was back at the apartment? [I would be more direct here with these last two lines. I’d also describe the actual visual she experiences before she sighs wistfully. Think of it as having an action and then a reaction. Example: I continued down the aisle, imagining myself back at my apartment, not XYZ. *insert actual fantasy here*] I sighed wistfully, feeling my heart lift at the image it brought to mind.

[This is a fantastic first page. The voice was strong and vibrant. I have no doubt you can up the fun in the query to match the snark in this opener!]

Thank you, Kelly, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2021 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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