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 Samantha Joyce
Samantha has wanted to be an author since she picked up her first book and realized authors get to create new worlds with just a pen and paper (or laptop, if you will). She loves to write about romance because, as someone who married her high school sweetheart, she absolutely believes in true love. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC.
Her debut, FLIRTING WITH FAME, is published by Pocket Star/Simon & Schuster.
Samantha’s Query Critique…
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
GENRE: soft science fiction
I’m delighted to see on Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity that you are looking for new clients and are intrigued by off-the-page characters and secrets. Keeping trade secrets, family secrets and personal secrets is key in my novel, Essential Path ESSENTIAL PATH (always put your title in all caps), soft science fiction with neuropsychological and erotic elements.
Michelle Brower, my nonfiction agent at ZSH, is not representing my fiction because, in her words, once a story leaves the planet, it leaves her area of interest and expertise.
Great introduction! I love that you’re telling us why you’re interested in this particular agent and also giving us insight into your present agent situation.
Concept: In an attempt to communicate with human settlers, the sentient planet Path evolved a strain of yeast that influences the human brain. Humans discovered how to use this yeast to distill Essence, a unique form of alcohol that creates telepathic bonds and amplifies sexual pleasure.
World-building: Everyone wants Essence. Because Essence can be distilled only on Path and only by those who inherit distiller family secrets and distiller’s DNA and microbiome, the interplanetary government sends a military occupation force to use any means necessary to control Path and convince distillers to cooperate.
I can tell you have a lot of experience querying non-fiction by the way you’re breaking down the concept/worldbuilding/and premise. J For fiction queries, however, you’re going to want to blend all of this into the main body of your query and not break it into different subheadings. I’d cut the above two subheadings completely and begin with “Stubbornly…” Below, I’ve tried to integrate some of this into the main premise of your story so you can see what I mean.
Premise: Stubbornly self-sufficient Peregrine Bird just wants to be left alone to distill Essence, a powerful alcohol that creates telepathic bonds and amplifies sexual pleasure. Bbut when her daughter, Katylily, is captured by a military torture squad, Peregrine is forced to sacrifice her pride and face her guilt about her failings as a mother. rescue the daughter she reluctantly forced into hiding years ago.
Ignoring her yearning for family connection, Peregrine sent her daughter into hiding years ago. Just when Katylily is old enough to learn the distillers’ secrets and carry on the family’s sacred trust, she is captured. We don’t really need this here. The necessary bits we can move up.
Peregrine is caught in the cross-fire of the military’s ever-increasing threats and a local insurgency leader who is more interested in taking over Bird Distillery than rescuing her only heir. Peregrine enlists an unlikely ally – Trooper Jaxson Purdell, a soldier fighting to break his addiction to emotion-numbing, battle-enhancing drugs and escape the military that got him hooked. Oooh! He sounds interesting! I love this! Only Purdell can find Katylily, (Why? He has the proper intel? The expertise? What makes him the one for this job?) and only if Peregrine is willing to risk risks exposing the secrets of Essence to follow what she believes are Path’s prompts to do what no other distiller could or would. (Why does she need to reveal the secret of Essence in order to get her daughter back? Is that the ransom? What has put her secret at risk? What happens if it comes out?)
Peregrine and Purdell risk their lives to pull Katylily to safety and begin to break the military’s hold, but Peregrine is only partially redeemed in her daughter’s eyes. This sounds like the ending, which you don’t want to give away in your query. Leave them wanting more! J
Essential Path explores the tension between mothers and daughters, the conflicts of duty between self, family and community, and the relationships possible between humans and the planet they inhabit. We don’t need this. You don’t need to explain what it’s about beyond the plot.
The novel is ESSENTIAL PATH is a light sci-fi novel (give us your title again and genre here), complete at 120,000 words. The second book in the series is partially drafted. As you request on your website, my bio, the first ten pages and synopsis are below. Instead of saying partially drafted, let the agent know if this book is a stand-alone with potential for a series or if it is only book one in a series. (Note: It’s better if it is a stand-alone with series potential, as that opens more doors in case agents or publishers are only willing to take on the first book.)
Author Bio: I’m the author of two nonfiction books, Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance (Tarcher/Penguin/Random House, 2012, in its second printing) and Dancing in the Dragon’s Den: Rekindling the Fire in Your Creative Shadow (Nicolas Hays/Red Wheel Weiser, 1999). The WriteLife.com named my blog BaneOfYourResistance.com one of the 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2016.
Again, delete the subheadings for a fiction query. This is an impressive bio! But you only need to keep your writing-related bio in your query. You can cut the words below.
Although I rarely drink alcohol, extensive research for my novel gave me deep appreciation for moonshiners, the nuances of distilled liquors and the art of distilling. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that my Scotch-Irish ancestors were among the people who kept “cooking mash” and “firing the stills” to make “runs that never broke the worm” long after it was against the law. In some ways, my main character, Peregrine, is homage to my predecessors.
I know this probably looks like a lot of strike-throughs and red, but that’s mostly because you gave us too much instead of not enough. Like I mentioned, I can tell your niche is non-fiction querying. I definitely recommend taking a look at some querying websites for fiction to get a better feel for the differences with querying the two (Query Shark is one of my go-to sites to read query breakdowns and critiques).
I find the concept of Peregrine’s business fascinating, and the idea she brews a type of alcohol and has to enlist an addict to help find her daughter is awesome. What I’m missing is the reasons it has to be Jaxson for the job, and why Peregrine must give up her secrets. Also, what is the outcome of her not giving it up? Will her daughter be killed? But if she does give it up, what is the downside of that? I need a clearer feel of the stakes in here. What does Peregrine have to lose? Her daughter or a secret recipe that might destroy the world if it got out? (This might now be the actual reasons, I’m just giving examples). I think you have a good start. Just taking another look at the structure of fiction queries and clarifying the stakes and you’ll get there. You have most of it here already. Good luck! J
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentor Lindsey Frydman
Lindsey is a YA & NA romance writer. She lives in Columbus, Ohio (where the weather is never quite right). Her BFA in Photography and Graphic Design has granted her a wide assortment of creative knowledge that serves mostly as inspiration. When she’s not crafting stories, you’ll likely find her spending waaay too much time on Pinterest, gaming, or performing in a burlesque show—because she enjoys giving her introversion a worthy adversary. (Plus, it’s the closest to Broadway she’ll ever get.) Lindsey is represented by the amazing Naomi Davis. THE HEARTBEAT HYPOTHESIS is her debut novel.
Lindsey’s First Page Critique…
Age Category: NA
Luke Daniels pressed his face against the window as the plane descended, staring in shock at what appeared [“what appeared” could be replaced with something stronger – especially since it’s your first sentence. Maybe something like “what could only be deemed a dragon” or “what must be”. Or…since your next sentence clearly states it is, in fact, a dragon (fake or not), you could save the dragon revelation until that next line and change up your first sentence a bit and craft a suspenseful line of something unreal down on the tarmac.] to be a dragon down on the tarmac. It was difficult to make out through the smoggy Los Angeles air, but against all laws of nature an enormous scarlet dragon lay in the midst of the airport. [Love this line! It could even be your first line.] Ant-sized humans scurried around it, unloading people and luggage from it as if it were a plane. [Unloading makes me vision the dragon having a door of some sort where people are filing out – if that’s not what you mean (and I’m assuming it’s not) then I’d change up the wording. Are people climbing off of it? Are they unloading luggage from its back? Or from underneath – where it might look like they’re literally unloading from the dragon.]
Despite living mere miles from the Los Angeles airport for all of his eighteen years, this was only his second time on a plane. [Is the fact that it’s his second time on a plane truly important? If not, this paragraph might work better if you rearrange it to something like “Despite living in Los Angelos for all his eighteen years, he’d never seen adragon.” I think something along those lines would be a better segway into the remainder of the paragraph.] It looked so real; it had to be a big-budget Hollywood prop. Did they film elaborate movie scenes at the airport? The plane hit a bump of turbulence and shook. Luke’s forehead smacked against the window with a thud. Ray, Luke’s step [hyphenate]brother, laughed. As usual, he only noticed when Luke did something stupid. Ray’s fist reached out to punch Luke’s shoulder [but Luke smacked his hand away. – I think this tightens the two sentences and eliminates using Ray’s name 3 times so closely together.]
Luke smacked Ray’s hand away. They glared at each other for a moment until Luke turned back to the window and pointed. They were closer now [insert comma] and his eyes traced a whirling pattern of black scales [You said it was scarlet above – so is it scarlet and black? ] spanning its back. “What do you see out there?”
Ray leaned over Luke to peer out the window “Los Angeles? The airport?” He pulled back and rolled his eyes. “I’m not playing your dumb game.”
“No, look.” Luke took a deep breath and steeled himself against the inevitable ridicule. A glance out the window confirmed that the dragon was still there, laying in a relaxed manner as airport vehicles whizzed by yards [away] from the tip of its spiked tail. “There’s a dragon down there, at the gate by the green plane. They must be filming a movie or something.”
“Punk.” Ray leaned back in his seat and put his cheap headphones back on.
“Lisa.” Luke reached around Ray [I’d use “him” here instead.] to poke his younger step-sister. “Look out the window, there’s a dragon.”
Lisa scrunched up her face, but shrugged and leaned over Ray [I think you could cut the remainder of this sentence – Luke asked her to look out the window, so we know why she’s leaning over her brother.] so she could look out the window. “Luke, you know I’m twelve, right?”
Luke [I’d use “he” here instead.] sighed. “You don’t see it, then [I only think you should cut “then” in this sentence because it rhymes with “again” in the next sentence – and something about the rhyming plays with my brain. Haha.] ?”
“Do you want to play make-believe again? Did you win the lotto? Can you do magic?”
Luke shook his head, blushing at the litany of his childhood dreams she wouldn’t let him forget. [Love!] Of course dragons weren’t real. And yet, there it was. The plane was so close to the ground now he could see the facial expressions of five people strapped into the harness [on the dragon?]. The dragon had its face down into a barrel, eating or drinking. Luke shuddered to think what a dragon that size might eat. [At this point, now that Luke sees he’s eating or drinking, wouldn’t he also be thinking the dragon must be real? Props don’t need food. ] Was he dreaming? If he was dreaming [insert comma] why was he thinking about logistics like food?
The plane landed with a few bumps. Luke, more experienced now, pulled back from the window before his forehead could knock into it again. A few minutes later the plane finished taxiing [“taxiing” threw me off. Not that it’s incorrect, but maybe a simpler word/phrase here is better – like “finished its descent”. This is definitely my personal opinion, by the way.] , but Luke barely noticed.
This is a great opener! A dragon on the tarmac? Is it real? No way! But wait…it is. I love the play on the “real or not real” – as it makes total sense for him to assume it could be a prop, but question that maybe it is real. The interaction between his step-siblings is realistic and fun, giving us a little insight into their relationships and Luke’s childhood dreams. Most of my edit suggestions are nit-picky because you have a great story forming here! I SO want to know why there’s a dragon on the tarmac and if there were more, I’d keep reading to find out.
Thank you, Samantha and Lindsey 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.