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 Derek Chivers
DEREK CHIVERS was born and raised on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. He spent a wild childhood wandering through woods where winter winds drifted snow deeper than he was tall, and the midnight sun stretched summer days and stories to extremes. Now he shares his life’s adventures with his wife and daughters; he can still trek through tracts of trees tucked between snowcapped summits, or choose to lose himself instead between the covers of his favorite authors’ stories.
An alumnus of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, Derek received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, wrote opinion for the campus newspaper The Northern Light, and was published several times in the annual undergraduate fiction showcase Understory. He is a founding member of Anchorage writing collective The Life Partners, and an infrequent contributor to their Tumblr, which features fresh fiction Mondays and Wednesdays. Derek’s creative nonfiction “Gunshots on Dogfish” took top prize in a statewide writing competition and was published in F Magazine. He is represented by Becky LeJeune of Bond Literary Agency.
Derek’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
After researching your agency website and the authors that you represent, I believe that my completed 75,000 word Contemporary Romance manuscript, Off String, would be a good fit for you. [Personally I would move this whole paragraph down into the body and lead with your hook.]
Jane Thomas wasn’t planning on meeting the love of her life while covered in puke, but she’ll wear the stains with pride if it means spending the rest of her life with single dad, Nate. [While the vomit bit is unique and catchy, I don’t think this is your main conflict. A successful hook isn’t just catchy, but also provides a glimpse of the larger, overarching conflict. Maybe mention the throw-up in relation to something else, like how she would later wish that was her largest hurdle.]
After a student throws up all over her favorite scrubs, School Nurse Jane is ready to declare the day officially ruined. Her luck starts to turn when the student’s father, Nate, comes in looking all kinds of nerdy hot and not wearing a wedding ring. Unfortunately, Jane’s day goes right back to terrible the second she realizes that she’s still covered in vomit in front of the most attractive man she’s ever met. After a misguided attempt to flirt, Jane goes home with nothing more than a reason why she should consider becoming a crazy cat lady.
Later that night Jane and Nate run into each other at the grocery store and are able to exchange numbers without any embarrassment. Even though their first date has to be rescheduled, the couple manages to hit it off and despite a very unfortunate case of upset stomach in a bar, an angry baby mama, and a beloved child that, technically, isn’t Nate’s at all, Nate and Jane fall for each other. [I feel like these two paragraphs could be combined and condensed. You’re giving an awful lot of real-estate to what seems like maybe the first third of your story.]
Not everyone is happy for the couple and when Nate’s son is abandoned by his mother, Nate and Jane have to fight for the boy they’ve come to think of as their own. [This feels like the actual meat and potatoes, and you’re blowing right past it. These are huge conflicts, definitely overshadowing anything that’s come up so far. Don’t downplay these, these are your stakes, this is your story.]
I’ve spent the last eight years as a stay at home mom to four children. In my spare time, as well as my not so spare time, I read any romance book that I can get my hands on and over the last four years I’ve read more than 2,500 books. [I would move this to the end and work it into your conclusion.]
With your interest in romance, I believe that you and your agency would be ideal for representing this manuscript. A full manuscript is available upon your request. [So this is where I would add in the paragraph you started with, giving the hard info on your book like title and word count. Also, I don’t know if your current opening paragraph is just stand-in text or if it’s meant to be boilerplate. All I can suggest is that if you plan to say ‘after researching’ I would definitely insert something from your research, to avoid seeming disingenuous.]
I look forward to hearing from you.
[I can tell you’ve done your query research, because your format is good and you’ve got all the right pieces. I just feel like your ratio is off because you wanted to give more weight to your inciting incident. More than two-thirds of your query is devoted to Jane and Nate’s boy-meets-girl, and I think the puke story would carry just as much weight, if not more, if it’s minimized and placed in context with the story’s larger conflicts. Best luck, I’ll be keeping an eye out for you!]
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentor Caitlin Sinead
Cailin Sinead’s novels, HEARTSICK and RED BLOODED, have received positive reviews from Library Journal, RT Book Reviews, and USA TODAY. Her writing has also earned accolades from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Glimmer Train, and Writers & Artists, and her stories have appeared in multiple publications, including The Alarmist, The Binnacle, Crunchable, Jersey Devil Press, and Northern Virginia Magazine. She earned a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University and is represented by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger, Inc. She lives in Alexandria, VA, with her husband, son, and two cats.
RED BLOODED by Caitlin Sinead
Instead of eating ramen and meeting frat guys like most college freshmen, Peyton Arthur is on the campaign trail. Traveling with her mother, the Democratic pick for vice president, she’s ordering room service, sneaking glances at cute campaign intern Dylan and deflecting interview questions about the tragic loss of her father. But when a reporter questions her paternity, her world goes into a tailspin.Dylan left Yale and joined the campaign to make a difference, not keep tabs on some girl. But with the paternity scandal blowing up and Peyton asking questions, he’s been tasked to watch her every move. As he gets to know the real Peyton, he finds it harder and harder to keep a professional distance.
When the media demands a story, Peyton and Dylan give them one—a fake relationship. As they work together to investigate the rumors about her real father and Peyton gets closer to learning the truth, she’s also getting closer to Dylan. And suddenly, it’s not just her past on the line anymore. It’s her heart.
Caitlin’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: New Adult
Brie clings to Sylvester, her creepy stuffed skunk. [I like the first line!] I yank the skunk, which is missing a black beady eye, throwing him in my backpack. I pull out a large bottle of shampoo before peeling off my sister’s bloody pajamas like an orange peel. [nice] Wet splotches seeped through her clothes onto her translucent skin, dying her pink.
This feels like a dream, or the feeling you get when you read the first few lines of a fairytale. And not the fluffy kind.
The grim kind.
My stomach clenches as a ripple of fear moves through me, looking at Brie’s grayish undertone, beneath her pink dyed skin. [This sentence needs some structural work. “My stomach” is the subject, which doesn’t flow well into “looking…”]
How the hell are you here right now? [Is she asking herself, her sister, someone else? If it’s supposed to be unclear then STET.]
“Why do I have to bathe in the pool?” Brie asks, kicking one of the pool toys, a deflated swan, into the water.
“We can’t travel [I like the set up that they need to travel somewhere] with you looking like that,” [action tag, not dialogue tag, so end the dialogue with a period] I look past the green, rickety fence at our neighbor’s house. The curtains are slightly drawn as a dim light flickers in their kitchen. [Oh, I love this. It’s setting, which can sometimes decrease tension on a first page, but the way you describe it adds tension. So eerie…]
“What if someone sees me?” she doesn’t budge. [Capitalize she, this is an action tag, not a dialogue tag.]
“Brie, if someone sees you like this, there’s going to be a lot more trouble than a neighbor seeing you bathe in the pool,” [action tag] my patience drains [I like the use of “drains” in this watery scene J] as I’m pushing [just “I push”] her towards the pool.
She whines, “But-“ [This should be an em dash, not a hyphen. And if she says “but” but has no real intention of following that up with anything, then it should actually be an ellipses. ]
“Get in or I’m going to throw you in, Brie,” [The use of the name “Brie” feels awkward to me here. I’d leave it out.] the rigidity in my voice falters when tears line her eyes. [Nice internal tension, she wants to be “tough” but is having trouble] She firmly [firmly isn’t needed, the verb “plants” gets it across. You’ve got a nice, strong verb, trust it. ] plants her stained feet on the ground. The puddles milk the blood that’s dried between her toes. [What a cool sentence! I can totally see this!]
With a sigh, I grab her arm and she stomps her dirty heel over my toes. I growl, fastening my fingers around her free arm that’s now flying into my face. She’s sputtering angry five-year-old curse words. [I can really see what’s happening here. Good job.]
“You’re a meanie!”
Great, I love hearing her call me the equivalent to a bitch. I think to myself. [This is already in first person, so you don’t need to put internal thoughts in italics or have the character clarify she is thinking them, just have her think them. Also, “I love” is a filter phrase. I suggest something like this “Great, she basically just called me a bitch.”]]
She flails more, [another action tag] “I hate you!”
She thrashes in the air before the water sucks her under. [As this is just a pool, I’m assuming there are magical forces sucking her down.] Her legs kick [Just “she kicks,” we all know legs are what kick J] vigorously, drawing her closer to the surface. Brie gasps, her arms [again, probably don’t need “arms” here] treading water as her face reddens while the cold water sucks [if you keep the “sucks” above, then remove this one and vary up your verbs] the heat from her delicate skin. [It seems like the water is hurting her? Why would Roma put her in it if it hurt her?]
“Roma!” she cries as her head bobs above the surface. Her strawberry blonde hair drifts in the water as an angry rush of satin red bodily fluid drains from her curls.
There’s so much blood, I think to myself as I reach out trying to grab her. Brie slaps water in my face, how are we going to get through this? What are my next steps? What am I going to do? Where will we go? [See note above on internal thoughts]
I need to focus on one thing at a time, but Brie’s throaty, angry yells make my skull feel as though it’s splitting.
“Stop yelling, come here,” I say sternly. [I’d tone down some of the earlier language that makes it sound like Brie is struggling/drowning/hurting, not just acting up and being a pill, which is the implication here.] I squeeze practically [stronger w/o “practically”?] half the bottle of shampoo on her head. Her hair slowly lathers to copper smelling suds. My hands are shaking as I work my discolored fingers through her hair.
Take a look at your action tags vs. dialogue tags and how you handle internal thoughts throughout your MS. Also, where you can, use a strong verb instead of an adverb + verb. However, overall, you set up some really wonderful tension quickly and you have some great language and a nice voice here. Good job!!
Thank you, Derek and Caitlin, 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.