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 Destiny Cole
Destiny Cole is a YA writer and digital marketer who loves books and words almost as much as she loves chips and salsa. Destiny is rep’d by Kirsten Carleton at Prospect Agency.
Destiny’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
Cade Hightower is about to go to jail for a crime he didn’t commit—in other words, business as usual for a professional body switcher. For his best client and double his normal fee, he’s willing to take on the occasional illegal job like this, but mostly he tries manages to keep on the right side of his own moral line, no pranks, no lie detector tests, and no switching bodies without permission.
But magic doesn’t just run in Cade’s blood. His Cade’s sister Daphne is an Arcanist, a practitioner of the art of injectable magic. She can give a politician a shot of Charisma or help a perpetually dieting starlet with a syringe-full of Will Power. Her clients are rich or powerful or both, and they count on Daphne’s discretion.
Brother and sister haven’t lived together since Cade was twelve and Daphne was sixteen, when Daphne left home for her Arcanist training. That’s when their mom got sick, their dad disappeared, and Cade was left with only his uncle to rely on. He never told his sister how bad it was, and he’s been shielding Daphne from the truth—and resenting her ignorance—ever since. This whole paragraph lost me. It drags. We’re two paragraphs in and there’s no stakes or plot mentioned yet.
When Daphne decides to repair their estrangement by moving in with Cade, he isn’t sure how long he can keep his bitterness hidden. At the same time, they discover that not all body switchers are as scrupulous as Cade. Someone’s using that rare talent to swindle rich old people out of their fortunes and their lives. That someone is the uncle Cade hated, Daphne loved, and they both thought was dead. Now Cade and Daphne need to clean up the mess their own family has made without destroying their fragile relationship in the process. This is buried too deep in the query. You need to move up and clarify the stakes of the book. The need to mend their relationship is the internal motivator, but what we need to see more are the external motivators. WHY do they need to clean up the uncle’s mess? What is their uncle doing that will destroy their worlds? Since it’s dual POV, each character needs to have its own reason (which you kind of set up with the Cade hating/Daphne loving), but it has to be more than just emotional. They need those external stakes that keep us turning the page. In the first paragraph, you talk about Cade about to go to jail, but then never mention it again. Then you talk about Daphne’s clients (very intriguing FYI), but then never tie it into the plot. We need to know the urgency. Clarify the stakes for us and you’ll have a great query!
THE SWITCHER CHRONICLES is a 95,000-word, dual-POV Urban Fantasy. It combines the body-switching hijinks of Freaky Friday with the dark magic and strong sibling relationship of Supernatural. Your comps are amazing! I’d request based on the comps alone J It stands alone but has series potential.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentors Austin Siegemund-Broka, and Emily Wibberley
Austin Siegemund-Broka cowrites YA contemporary with Emily Wibberley. A former journalist for The Hollywood Reporter, where he covered the courts and, yes, met a couple celebrities, he graduated from Harvard in 2014 with a degree in English and a focus on Shakespeare.
Emily Wibberley grew up in Southern California, but instead of working on her nonexistent tan at the beach, she spent her time reading, making music and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She attended Princeton University, where she graduated in 2014 with a degree in Psychology. She and Austin now live and write YA contemporary together.
Their debut, UPSTAGED, publishes from Puffin in 2018. They live in Los Angeles.
Pitched as a modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, about a teen girl who always winds up playing the Rosaline in her off-stage relationships – the girl before he finds “the one” – but when cast as Juliet in her school play, she begins to notice the Romeo she never expected.
Austin and Emily’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: YA
Chicago. December, 2015.
The boy first appeared right after fifth period gym; [Cut the semicolon. You want your opening sentence to be declarative, iconic] I noticed him as I was leaving the girls’ locker room. [You’ve referenced locker rooms and fifth period gym, two very everyday details that give the reader the feeling this will be a contemporary, realistic story. Sprinkle in some more fantastical language or description—similes with a dark, mysterious edge, or rich and ethereal environmental details—that foreshadow the coming fantasy] It was there, in that fleeting moment, I should have recognized fate was about to mess with me, because (a) I usually skipped gym, which, on any other day, would have placed me well outside the trajectory of his path, and (b) I was boy blind. [This is great voice! It’s great you’ve created a concept for the scene—the “boy blind” idea—that goes beyond just the plot events]
I could see boys; I knew they were there. I just failed to perceive any great difference between them.
Not so with this boy. Though I didn’t catch a glimpse of him until he’d already passed me and his back was to me, what I did see held my undivided attention. He was simply right-place, right-time, [instead of this vague right-place, right-time idea, give us one description that catches our character’s eye] and when he walked by, something inexplicable happened. I followed him. One minute I’m heading to calculus, happy to be free of the odor and aggression of teenagers in uniform shorts, and the next I’m trailing an unknown figure down a packed hallway.
It was a nice figure from behind. At least, I assumed it must be [Assume? Assume makes me think she/he can’t see it, which contradicts the previous sentence], considering I had completely changed course to go after it. Just to be sure, I picked a different guy out of the crowd at random, tilting my head as I examined his lean body [Maybe change the first sentence to “It was an unusually nice figure from behind,” otherwise the comparative angle is not immediately clear]. Then I chose another guy, chewing my bottom lip as I studied his perfect skin and sleek hair.
The second guy caught me and he smirked, all arrogant vanity, and gave me an upward nod.
Baseline established, I took another long look at the guy I was following. I was right. Nice. Watching him move I almost felt … not nothing. And that in itself was unusual [This is interesting characterization, really engages the reader].
He had roughly six inches on me, putting him around six-one or six-two, and he carried himself with a confidence most guys my age didn’t have. He wore dark jeans, black utility boots, and a navy T-shirt. I squinted at a small graphic centered right below the crew neck on the back of the shirt; [three semicolons in the first page and a half is possibly too many] I couldn’t make it out. I could, however, thoroughly make out how the shirt hugged him in interesting places.
I almost groaned. Not now.
“I know you can hear me, Rowan!” It was a warning. One I was expected to give heed to.
Already regretting it, I lifted my hands to clutch the backpack straps on my shoulders and turned my head to search the sea of faces for the one I knew as well as my own. Harper Boyd was thirty feet behind me and gaining fast.
Harper and I went way back. Way, way back. Free agents at birth, otherwise known as sad little orphan babies, we’d been hustled in and out of foster care facilities our entire lives. We currently lived in a group home in Norwood Park, where we were placed there within weeks of each other during freshman year. I called it The Layover: another pit stop on the way to somewhere better.
You have a human, humorous voice, but work on a descriptive register with more of a fantasy “feel” and economy of language—pare down sentences of five words where you could use three. You’ve done the hard part! This represents the fine-tuning. While we haven’t reached the fantasy content yet, it’s great you’re blending the humor and relatability of YA contemporary with a fantasy story. Rowan has a distinct voice and a real personality, which is refreshing to read, and you’ve picked a compelling place to begin your story. Wonderful job!
Thank you, Destiny, Austin, and Emily, 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.