Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2020 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 Kylie Schachte …
Kylie Schachte is the author of the YA noir mystery YOU’RE NEXT (available now from Jimmy Patterson Books), which was her own Pitch Wars novel in 2017. Kylie has been a writer since she could hold a pen, but for many years resisted her destiny, insisting that she was an actor instead. That journey brought her all the way to Moscow, Russia, where she learned such useful skills as how to walk on walls and the Russian hand signal for “blame it on the alcohol.” Now that she’s moved on from theatre, she makes her home in Portland, Oregon, where she spends her days refereeing between her tiny cat, Matilda, and giant dog, Clementine (the cat always wins).
Kylies’s recent release…
Kylie’s critique . . .
Category: Young Adult Fantasy
How to Train Your Dragon meets O Brother, Where Art Thou? in TITLE. When Fran’s father dies, she uses his steam engine and enchanted coat with bottomless pockets to transport magic contraband. But when the dragon egg she’s supposed to deliver hatches early, she becomes the target of a malicious woman and her own dark dragon. [This is a good pitch, but you don’t actually need this paragraph in your query letter—all of this information is rehashed again below. I would cut the whole thing and start your query with the next paragraph, then find a place to work your comps in later on in the letter. Save this paragraph in a new doc though, because with a little tweaking it would make a great pitch for #PitMad or something like that!]
After the trade of magical objects is outlawed, Fran, a sixteen-year-old steam engine conductor, makes her living smuggling illicit [it’s not egregious, but you technically don’t need “illicit” in this sentence—you’ve already told us this stuff is outlawed, and that she’s a smuggler] enchanted items. It seems like business as usual when she receives a mysterious box for a rush delivery, but the dragon egg inside hatches before she can complete the job. Soon after [don’t need “after”], Fran becomes the target of a dangerous woman from the government and her pet dragon, who plot to steal the hatchling. [the end of this sentence tripped me up a few times, because at first I thought “and her pet dragon” was referring to Fran and her dragon. I also find “woman from the government” a bit clunky. Maybe try “a dangerous government official with a dragon of her own, who’s plotting to steal Fran’s hatchling.” Honestly that still sounds a little awkward to me, and I wonder how important it is to know that this woman has a dragon? It doesn’t come up again in the rest of the letter, so could you just say “Fran becomes the target of a dangerous government official plotting to steal the hatchling”?]
Still determined to finish her delivery, Fran is able to hide her dragon cargo, named Sniff, in the pocket of her enchanted coat. Sniff’s rapid growth puts them both in increasing danger and makes him more difficult to hide. In addition to putting her life on the line, Fran is at risk of becoming too attached to the first companion she’s had in years. [What I’m missing here is a sense of stakes. What are Fran’s goals—is it just to complete the delivery? Do her goals change as the story goes on? What happens if she fails in any of those objectives? Good queries often read like the summary on the back of the book, or the inside jacket. I would take a look at a few of those you really like, and see if you can write something in the same style for your own story. You’ll notice a lot of them end on a really dramatic note, like “But if she can’t return the amulet to its crypt before the eclipse, an army of undead soldiers will descend upon the earth and blot out the sun for good.” I just made that up out of thin air, but do you see how it establishes both the objective AND the big picture consequences if she doesn’t succeed, without giving away the actual ending? Like those back cover summaries, the point of a query letter is to get the reader (in this case an agent) excited to keep reading, so it’s great if you can end on a note of suspense & tension.
Another thing I would like to see in this paragraph is more about the companion. Who are they, and how are they relevant to the story? How did Fran meet them? Fran is super vivid to me, and I’d like a similar quick sketch for this other character.]
[I started a new paragraph for this part] Featuring an asexual protagonist and other characters from the LGBTQ+ community, this inclusive [It’s matter of personal taste, but I don’t think you need to say inclusive here. What makes it inclusive? Is it that you have LGBTQ+ rep? You already told us that. “Inclusive” is a pretty broad term that gets thrown around a lot, so if there’s something specific & important to your story, I’d rather just see that spelled out explicitly] Young Adult Fantasy novel [this is where I would say it’s a standalone, rather than the last paragraph, ie: “this standalone YA Fantasy novel”], TITLE (70,000 words), is perfect for fans of whimsy and adventure. [Don’t think you need “whimsy and adventure” because it really doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the story or your writing—I can think of quite a few very different books that could be described the same way, and all of them are be very different! Instead, this would be a perfect place for your comps, as in “perfect for fans of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU.” I have more thoughts on your comps, so see my note at the end.]
I have an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing from Salem College and a master’s degree from the Mountainview Masters of Fine Arts program, where I had the opportunity to work with award-winning authors like Robin Wasserman and Jo Knowles. I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the North Carolina Writers’ Network, as well as a board member of the Winston-Salem Writers. In addition to running my own blog for writers and readers at www.sarahfoil.com, I’ve had book reviews, non-fiction, and articles published with Assignment Magazine and theThe [I assume this is a typo?] Poetry.
I’ve attached the requested sample of my manuscript, and the full work is available. This is a stand-alone novel [I would cut this sentence here and include in the genre/comps paragraph, as I noted above]. Thank you for your time and consideration. I’m looking forward to talking to you soon.
Fran didn’t mind sitting alone in train stations. She’d been told before [don’t need “before”] how unsettling people found an empty. The dark corners and cobweb-covered light fixtures [Is there a more specific detail than “dark corners” that could really ground us in the scene? Nothing wrong with this sentence as is, but I’m always keen for details that I, as a reader, could never have imagined myself. What’s something highly particular to this train station that you could call out as a creepy little detail?]. The eerie silence [Same as my other note. Nothing wrong with this as is, but I wonder if you could get the same point across in a more interesting way. Like if instead of just telling us it’s eerily silent, you could say something about the way the stationmaster’s movements echo through the massive, empty terminal, we get that the quiet is eerie but in a more precise, imaginative kind of way? That’s just a random example off the top of my head, and I’m not at all suggesting that you should replace every one of these details with some elaborate description—sometimes just saying eerie silence and moving on is a nice, concise way to get your point across. But I might take an eye to each of your descriptions and make some strategic choices about where you want to keep them simple like this, or put in something more elaborate or imaginative]. But Fran preferred it that way. She couldn’t stand the hustle and bustle of people during the busy hours. The loud conversations, sniffling noses, and hacking coughs [sniffling noses & hacking coughs are kind of doing the same thing as far as description, is there another detail you could include that would add more dimension to the crowd? Crying babies? Luggage rolling over people’s feet? The shouts of conductors? Or something even better only you could think of!]. She preferred to focus on the chugging of the trains as they passed through the railyard and watch the steam billow out of the engines from the other side of the soot-coated windows.
She did mind being made to wait. The clock on the wall told her [would just say “said”] that her customer was five minutes late for their three o’clock appointment. Fran had picked this time not only for her personal preference but also for privacy. The only other person in the station, the stationmaster, Mr. Lowe, was sequestered behind his ticket booth, counting the money in his till. By three-thirty the passengers for the four o’clock train would be coming in to buy their tickets. There’d [be] prying eyes on every side of Fran [reads a little awkward, might just say “There’d be prying eyes all around.”].
Fran looked at the clock once more. It would be best to wait ten more minutes and leave once the crowds arrived to avoid looking suspicious. Though she doubted Mr. Lowe cared. She wasn’t costing him any money or attention. Fran glanced over her shoulder at the middle-aged man to make sure he was still focused on his coins. Satisfied he was distracted[,] she reached a hand into the bottom left pocket of her coat and gripped a handle hidden in the darkness. She pulled on the handle slowly [don’t think you need this sentence]. As [would cut “as”] she pulled the handle up, [and] a walking stick materialized from the pocket bit by bit until it cleared the opening and Fran could lay it flat across her lap [is this meant to show off the magical qualities of her bottomless coat pockets? I think you could put a finer point on it by adding some hint of just how long the walking stick really is, like “The walking stick had been a gift from Fran’s father, and it was nearly a meter long.” Or whatever, I just made that up, but some kind of sly aside to really make it clear there’s enchantment afoot.]
[Thanks so much for letting me read your work—it’s a ton of fun! Your writing is clean & sharp, and even just from one page I feel I have a good starting sense of who Fran is & this world. Most of my suggestions are aimed at continuing to bring this whimsical, magical world of yours to life. As I mentioned above, what makes so many of my most favorite fantasy stories shine are those ultra specific details that feel totally particular to that world and that author. One of the ways I know I’m really loving a fantasy story, for example, is if I’m hungry while I’m reading, because the food of that world feels so real I can practically smell and taste it. And I think that applies beyond food too! I made some comments above where I thought you could use more specificity in that vein. I don’t mean to suggest that you should jam pack every sentence with overflowing detail, but rather to take a critical eye to each scene and make some precise, deliberate choices about where you want to give the reader a clearer window into your world. Likewise, I would keep a sharp eye out for any unnecessary words. I marked a few on this page, but I think you could do to check your whole manuscript. Being super ruthless about extraneous words will help the more whimsical, magical bits of language feel all the more sparkly & impactful.]