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Day 30 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Workshop with mentors, Kristin Smith and Beth Ellyn Summer

Monday, 19 June 2017  |  Posted by Brenda Drake


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 Kristin Smith & Beth Ellyn Summer 

Kristin Pic

Website | Twitter

Kristin Smith is the author of the best-selling young adult novel Catalyst and its sequel, Forgotten. When she’s not writing, you can find her dreaming about the beach, beating her boys at Just Dance, or belting out karaoke (from the comfort of her own home). Kristin currently resides in the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina with her husband and five sons. To read more about her obsession with YA novels or her addiction to chocolate, you can visit her at kristinsmithbooks.com.

Kristin’s recently release …


Too pretty.
Too smart.
Too perfect.

In a crumbling, futuristic Las Vegas where the wealthy choose the characteristics of their children like ordering off a drive-thru menu, seventeen-year-old Sienna Preston doesn’t fit in. As a normal girl surrounded by genetically modified teens, all of her imperfections are on display. But after the death of her father, everything she’s ever known and loved changes in an instant.

With little skills to help provide for her family, Sienna clings to the two things that come easily—lying and stealing. But not all thief-for-hire assignments go as planned. When a covert exchange of a stolen computer chip is intercepted, she becomes entangled with a corrupt government official who uses her thieving past as leverage, her mother as collateral, and the genetically modified poster boy she’s falling for as bait.

In order to rescue her mother, there may only be one option—joining forces with the Fringe, an extremist group, and their young leader who’s too hot to be bad. Problem is, these revolutionaries aren’t what they seem, and the secrets they’re hiding could be more dangerous than Sienna is prepared for. In the end, she must be willing to risk everything to save the one thing that matters most.

Catalyst is a thrilling adventure of danger, romance, intrigue, and deception.


Website | Twitter

Beth Ellyn Summer writes contemporary young adult fiction that always includes the following elements: fame, makeup, and television. She graduated from Long Island University with a degree in print and electronic journalism, but the real highlight of her college years was interning for Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon.

Beth’s recent release …

Who would have thought that a teenager could have a successful career creating makeup tutorial videos on YouTube? For Lacey Robbins, this dream has been her reality. An up-and-coming YouTuber, she has thousands of fans and can’t wait for the day when her subscriber count reaches the one million mark. And when she is offered a high school internship at On Trend Magazine, she figures that this could be the make it or break it moment.

But sometimes your dream job isn’t all that it seems. Her editor is only interested in promoting junk products, and her boss in the Hair and Makeup department introduces her to the larger world of makeup artistry, making her wonder if making tutorials online is all she is meant to do. To top it all off, when the magazine’s feature subject , musician Tyler Lance, turns his broodingly handsome smile her way, falling for him could mean losing her fans, forcing her to make a decision: her YouTube life or her real life?

Fans of Zoella’s GIRL ONLINE will fall right into the world of this YA DEVIL WEARS PRADA and stay hooked from the first blush to the last glossy kiss.


Kristin and Beth’s Query Critique…

Dear <insert Agent’s name>,

Porters: Trinity is a young adult, sci-fi fantasy novel complete at 62,500 [I’ll be honest, this word count seems a bit low for the amount of world-building you would need for a YA sci-fi fantasy novel. Is there any way this could be considered MG instead?] words with series potential.  I chose to query you because —.

[It would be great to add a hook right here. Doesn’t have to be long, but something that immediately catches an agent’s attention. Here’s one that might get the creative juices flowing: Not all worlds are created equal. And if you ever find yourself in the wrong one, it may be impossible to get home.]

After arriving through a new portal technology, fourteen-year-old Jacoby [Does Jacoby have a last name? If so, you’d want to put it here.] can’t wait to find out all of what summer camp has in store.  [This opener didn’t grip me. You want the first sentence to instantly grab attention. A possible suggestion could be something like: “Fourteen-year-old Jacoby has been counting down to summer camp, but after arriving through a new portal technology, it’s nowhere to be found.”] But after hours of searching, the promised camp is nowhere to be found, and it isnt long before the entire surrounding forest is intentionally set ablaze. [What happened to the portal that brought them. Was it destroyed? Sealed? If the fire destroys the portal, you might want to mention that. Perhaps something like this: “Soon, the entire surrounding forest is intentionally set ablaze, destroying the portal and any chance to return home.”] Although Jacoby and his new friends [wait, where’d he meet these friends so fast? Did they bond searching for the camp?]escape the flames, they are now lost on a strange planet, Trinity, [End the sentence here.] with Their only guidance being are the words of the man behind it all:  “Seven portals.  Seven worlds.  Find them if you ever want to get home.”

With no other options, Jacoby and his group leave the ashes of their camp and set sail across the ocean, hoping to find the first portal that will lead them home.bring them one step closer to home.  But it isn’t long before they are abducted by the pirate captain, Gehenna, who has a high interest in this Earth planet the kids come from.  [this sentence feels clunky. I wouldn’t end with the word “from.” Maybe try something with more voice, like: “But then they’re abducted by the pirate captain, Gehenna, who is fascinated with this “Earth” place the kids call home.”] When he finds no more use for them, [what use did he have for them to abduct them in the first place? Just to learn more about Earth? Was he interrogating them about Earth?] he sends the children to auction and sells them into slavery.

Now separated from the group, Jacoby must find a way to escape his cruel owners and reunite with his lost friends. [you could cut “lost” because needing to reunite indicates they’re lost] But with no knowledge of the land and a culture that sees him as property, only passage through the portal promises the freedom he desires. [This is great! Clear stakes and makes me nervous just reading it! Well done!]As Jacoby and his friends search for each other in this harsh new world, the hidden portal lies in wait.  But can they get there without any blood on their hands? [I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of ending the query with a question. And questions in queries generally don’t go over well with agents. Plus, this second sentence kind of repeats the first sentence in this paragraph. You could rephrase/consolidate this last line. Maybe something like: “If Jacoby can’t reunite with his friends and find the hidden portal without getting blood on his hands, he may never get home.”]

I have a BA in Communication Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and am currently serving as a student pastor in Mississippi.

Thank you for your time.

This sounds like such an interesting book! We know what the story is about and the stakes are clearly outlined. But we feel like your query is a bit wordy and repetitive in spots. You could cut a lot, leaving plenty of room to expand on the important points.

As for your opening, we would love to see a brief hook first, then re-work the opening line completely. Play with some openers and make it gripping/full of voice. ☺

Another thing: We both got such Middle Grade vibes from your query. Between Jacoby’s age and the word count, we would strongly encourage you to consider pitching this as upper MG.

Also, portal stories are a hard sell right now, so you want to make sure yours is able to stand out from the rest. Draw on what makes yours different. The mash-up of the portal and the pirate captain is a really cool idea. I think that’s what makes your story unique.

Overall, this is a great start and with some tweaks, it will be a stellar query!

Thank you, Kristin and Beth, 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.


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