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 Lyndsay Ely
Lyndsay Ely (pronounced “eel-y”, as in those eels are looking very eel-y today) is a writer who currently calls Boston home. She is a geek, a foodie, a feminist, and has never met an antique shop she didn’t like. Her favorite color is crimson, and her favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo.
Gunslinger Girl is her debut novel.
Lyndsay’s Query Critique…
Age Category: Adult
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
In a ruthless and vampiristic society that strips their citizens of emotions at birth, a young woman finds herself hunted as she is the only citizen that still, illegally, feels. [Great first line; very intriguing.]
In Virtok, where humans are considered meals and emotions are forbidden, Penbly Hartson lives with the knowledge that her nights are numbered. Born with the rare gene that allows her to feel emotions, she is marked as an anomaly at birth. [Alone, I like this line. But I’m starting to get a little confused because before you say that emotions are stripped at birth. But here they are related to a gene? Can you clarify?] Hidden and protected by her older brother, she stops at nothing to find him when he disappears. [Good stakes, though I think it may read better as “she will stop at nothing.”]
Until her secret is exposed. With a target painted on her back, Penbly knows she has two choices: leave her world or give herself up. [What are the consequences to giving herself up?] When she crosses paths with a human, they strike a deal; she offers him protection and he helps her cross to his world, Earth. [This is where I get thrown. Until now, I didn’t realize that Penbly wasn’t human. And if not, is she a literal vampire? Or some other kind of creature? I also didn’t realize that this is a portal fantasy which, while not crucial, I wouldn’t mind a hint of earlier. And are humans common? Do they exist in Virtok all the time, or only when they wander over from Earth?]
But Penbly is a creature of destruction, born to bathe in blood, to kill humans like the one she has unwillingly befriended. How can she trust herself, especially when her own world has marked her as an abomination? [I like this, but I think a stronger, clearer thread of who and what Penbly is throughout the query will help it pop.]
Combining elements of the paranormal with fantasy, BANISHED is an adult story complete at 107,000 words. This is my first novel. [Maybe consider some comps here? Such as “[COMP] meets [COMP], BANISHED combines elements of the paranormal with fantasy.” Also consider “novel” instead of “story.”]
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to consider my work. I look forward to hearing from you. [As this sounds a little like it might be Equilibrium with vampires, I’m intrigued. Interesting twist on the genre!]
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentor Erin Foster Hartley
Erin Foster Hartley writes young adult fiction. She is the author of the first two volumes of ZOMBIE HIGH, a choose-your-own-adventure gamebook app available through Delight Games. Her day jobs include teaching film studies courses and Jazzercise. In her free time, Erin enjoys cross-stitching portraits of drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race while binge-watching Netflix shows and podcasts, hanging out with her two adorable dogs and her adorable spouse, and volunteering at the local food bank. She is represented by Melissa Nasson at Rubin Pfeffer Content.
Erin’s First Page Critique…
Age Category: YA
The shards of the shattered mirror glittered like falling stars. If only they were, for I had plenty of wishes I desired. But there were no wishes in the Fae Queen’s Realm. Not for the thing I had become. I kicked away the remains of the mirror, turning away from the monster reflected inside. A weeping, blackened, hideous thing that I refused to admit was me. [I love this opening. From the alliteration in the first sentence to the haunting imagery, I’m hooked. I would end the paragraph here, as the rest of it feels redundant.] My face. What was left of it after the Consort’s tender mercies. I dared not speak his name, not even think it, for that would give him power and more power, draw his eye, and the thought turned my stomach and my breaths into a dying man’s gasps. Sinking onto the stone floor, I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. Even now, weeks after the attack, I can’t bear to face the thing I’ve become. [The rest of this paragraph feels draggy. Everything I need to know about your opening image was in those first few sentences. Your character has been turned into a hideous creature and is upset by it. Who did this and why can remain a mystery for now. I want to see this character act, not continue to reflect.]
Nothing remained of who I had been.
Who I never would be again. [Stand-alone sentences need to pack a dramatic punch. A WTF realization. A twist. But these are just continuing reflection on what we already know/assume. I would prefer something about her goal here. Is it revenge? Reversing the curse? What must she do?]
No Fae glamour that I used could hide from the mirrors. They mocked me, reminded me of when I sought them out. When I would catch the wave of my hair out of the corner of my eye and stop to touch it. Or watch the flutter of my skirt around my legs and pause to twirl. My beauty was all I had. A bastard daughter of Her Majesty and a human who caught her fancy one Beltane night, I had to be kept low. Out of sight, out of mind, for I was a constant reminder to His Lordship that his Queen didn’t always love him. She had found a mortal more worthy of her affections than him and that couldn’t stand. [While it sounds like this character has an interesting backstory, your first page is not the place for it. I’m intrigued enough by your opening sentences that I don’t need to know who she was before, or why she’s been turned hideous, quite yet. Weave this in later. A little mystery is good. Basically, the character hasn’t done much but smash a mirror, cry, and think about her own appearance. You want your first page to move—show action, suck your reader into the story. She wants revenge, I imagine, or will she attempt to reverse the curse? Give us some insight into her goal.]
I couldn’t stand.
No, that was my twisted leg. [I’m confused by this sentence. She couldn’t stand because of her twisted leg, right? (It’s also the third “no” paragraph opener.)] The agony that shot through as I knelt numbed to a dull, throbbing ache. I learned to live with it. [This sentence, too, is confusing. I assumed she’s talking about sudden pain, since “I couldn’t stand” is given its own line, but the “learned to live with it” contradicts that. The numbing and the learning to live with it are not immediate actions and are continuing to slow your pace.]
But I couldn’t live with mirrors. Not anymore. [You’ve gone back to reflection here. I’m getting antsy for action, so it’s time to dig into the plot!]
Footsteps from the end of the hall echoed across the marble floors. Though this particular corridor [Where is the character? Imprisoned in a cell? In her own bedroom? Snooping around the antagonist’s lair? Give us a clear setting so we know what we’re supposed to feel about these approaching footsteps.] was open to the outside, with magic to keep insects and the like out, it was still paved in opulent, gold-veined marble. The gold was the exact color of Her Majesty’s eyes. Mine were that color once. Slowly, my fingers reached out, trailing over that sparkling, pure color. The color of the sun, of hope and warmth and light, and it had been mine. [This paragraph starts out promising action with the footsteps, but then the focus shifts on the color of the marble, which seems like a really superfluous detail. At this point, your reader may start to worry your story is all description and no action—that is, not a story at all. Approaching footsteps signal potential tension, and I want to see you build on that. Ramp up the pace rather than slowing it down. Make something happen!
Right now, your first page has some strong things going for it. Your first six sentences are beautifully crafted. In just those first few lines, your main character’s inner turmoil is clear and sympathetic, and the voice is sophisticated without being overwritten. What’s lacking after that is action, tension, and conflict. The approaching footsteps and whatever happens after should be your second paragraph. Be sure to clarify her goal and the setting here, too. Then toss us right into the fray and let us see this intriguing character interact with her world and the other characters.]
Thank you, Lyndsay and Erin 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.