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 Monica M. Hoffman …
Monica M. Hoffman is a Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy author represented by Laurie McLean and Tricia Skinner of Fuse Literary. She is an active member of SCBWI, RWA, and the writing community. She dislikes getting up early, but a good cup of coffee can usually motivate her. She enjoys any movie/book (particularly fantasy and Sci-fi) that can make her cry, laugh, or gets her blood pumping from an adrenaline rush. She’s a Trekkie, Dr. Who, and Star Wars fanatic, and a PC gamer when she’s not writing or reading. You can find her tweets about all things YA lit & entertaining GIFs on Twitter (@mmhoffman14) and Facebook.
Monica’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
GENRE: Romantic Suspense
Strength, at times, comes from odd places in unusual situations; the power of the addict pushing through to recovery, the cry of the mother in want of her child, or the ability to move forward when death rips the hope of a future from your grasp. Lilly has seen [or experienced?] them all and is determined to rise. [Rise to what? I would define what she’s trying to overcome right off. At this point I’m not sure if she’s the one that has had to go through all of these issues. Reading this the first time, I felt the hook was missing. I would start off with your MC, Lilly. For example: Lilly (insert last name) found strength comes from odd places in unusual situations; an addict on the road to recovery, the cry of the mother in want of her child, or the ability to move forward when death rips hope of a future from your grasp.] Her child depends on it. [This makes me think she has experienced this. I would be very clear upfront what’s going on in her life.]
Bryce [who is Bryce to Lilly? We need to know why he’s important.] warned her. [Watch out for your spacing between sentences. Should only be one space.] He told her she was a fool to go chasing a child that didn’t exist. [I would reword this sentence to make it more precise. Ex: He told her she was a fool for chasing a child that didn’t exist.] [“to go” is a filter word which muddles the sentence.] The child that [In many instances, “that” can be cut, thus making the sentence again more precise. I would search and destroy as many “that” in your MS. You will notice a huge difference in your prose.] she sees locked within the tiny shards of [her] memory that are now haunting [haunts] her. But Bryce has always had his own agenda. He thought she hadn’t noticed the panic that surged, albeit briefly, through his eyes when she told him what the memories contained. Once the insults and humiliation escalate to violence, walking away from her façade of a marriage will be the easy part. [This last part is a bit confusing. What we need to know is Bryce the person standing in Lilly’s way in finding her child? Focus on the core elements of your story. We have an idea what Lilly’s motivation is. But what are her stakes and what is standing in her way?]
Ty, [You don’t want to have too many named characters in a query, it can get a bit jarring. You could refer to Ty as “Lilly’s twin brother, and sheriff”] Lilly’s twin brother[,] and the most unlikely sheriff of tiny Rock Hollow, Kentucky has vowed to do whatever it takes help her find her child. Enlisting the help of his best friend[,] Ben [last name], a decorated FBI agent, Ty [they] begins to unearth secrets that Bryce thought would never again see daylight [I would try to reword this so it doesn’t sound so vague and on the side of cliché]. Backed into a corner, Bryce, whom Ty has pegged the ‘pretty little rich boy,’ [this information isn’t vital in a query. Keep it simple.] is coming unwound as the body count rises. [Ohhhhh creepy!]
Lilly has to make the decision to allow Ty and Ben into parts of her life she is desperate to hide or risk her child being lost forever. [Not quite understanding why she wouldn’t want to let them in? Maybe clear this up a bit here.] The deeper they dig, she fears, the harder it will become to look her brother in the eye. [Why? If you can give a hint as to why, that would go a long way in defining her stakes.] But is saving face worth never knowing the truth? [I would leave out rhetorical questions. Instead tell us why by keeping her secrets hidden, what does she have to lose.]
Riddled with guilt and exhausted from the weight of her sins, she does the unthinkable; she begins to fall for Ben. He isn’t backing away and the closer he gets, the more she wants. [Okay, I think is comes a bit late in the query. I would focus more on this since this is a Romantic Suspense. If the romance is the core of this story, that’s what you should focus on.]
She was warned. [By who?]
[You also need a paragraph with the title of your book, word-count and a sentence or two about you, especially if you have publishing experience. It should look something like this:
TITLE OF BOOK is an Adult Romantic Suspense and is completed at XX,000 words.
Thank you for your consideration.
If you have any comps, you should add it here as well. Your story sound intriguing, and I think once you narrow down the core premise, this will really pop! Good luck!]
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Natasha Raulerson
Natasha grew up as a tomboy hanging with the guys, getting skinned knees, and swimming in the South Florida sun. Tattoos, Jack Daniels, and books are three of her favorite things. By day, she’s a fulltime mom, wife, student, and author. By night, well she’s still all those things, often sacrificing sleep to create stories, hang with the family, and get snuggle attacks from her two spoiled pups. She is represented by the amazing Laura Bradford of The Bradford Literary Agency.
Natasha’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
THE FALL OF SORCERY: AN ABRIDGED HISTORY
. . . and so the king was blinded by the sorceress’s beauty, entrapped by her enchantments, and never saw the vain evil glinting beneath her red curls and mucking her sea water eyes. Only her promises to serve him faithfully as wife and queen. Yet the daughter birthed by his first bride saw past her pretty masks and spells; suspected treachery before her father’s murder and knew it for truth when her wicked step-mother took the crown from his corpse and began her reign as the Red Witch . . . [This almost feels like a mini prologue. I’m not sure I would start with a history lesson. A good rule is, if I can understand chapter one without backstory, then cut it. Put the backstory as necessary instead of all in one spot.]
If this were a fairytale, it would begin with a spell or a curse. But the kingdom’s sorcerers burned years ago, and fairytales were quick to follow their flames. [I like this opening, but I don’t see how it connects to the next paragraph. Is this omniscient? The first two lines seem distant from the narrator.]
Still, the queen’s niece, all sunlit hair and sprout smiles, ran through a garden fit for one such tale. Rosebushes and apple trees and gerbera daisies bloomed along her path. Buttercups and strawberries [small and tart, their juice teased her tongue] and ivy-trimmed walls too. [This is beautiful imagery, but it’s telling. I would love to see her running through it, feel the daisy petals brushing along her arm, or have her pick a strawberry as she runs along and let the juice tease her tongue as the red stains her lips.] Lavinia had always fancied that she could walk for days about that garden, picking flower after flower, only to find newer and brighter beds; sampling berry after berry, only to come across another patch; [You have two sets of semicolons in this sentence. I’m not a fan of them at all, but I would restructure to at least get it down to one] playing and playing, only to find new herbs hiding among new corners and crevices; only to find her feet ready to keep wandering. [So, while this is beautiful, I don’t feel the story has started, so much as we’re being told about Lavinia.]
A girl with dark brown eyes and dark brown hair ran just behind her. A princess, a cousin, a friend, Winifred, Winn. [All telling, and I would have Winn chasing after her to begin with, ex: Lavinia ran through the royal garden, her cousin Winn, the princess, just behind her.] Her chubby, childish fingers [This especially makes me think 10-12 in age] twined warm through Lavinia’s as the two ran through the palace gardens. A bulbous amethyst pendant hung against her heartbeat, pounding a beat of its own for each careless step.
“Lavinia!” The words ‘wait up’ [This threw me because it’s been so formal till now.] jittered on the pink [This could just be me, but tongues are generally pink, so unless it’s a weird color, I think I would just say tip] tip of Winn’s tongue as their bare soles darted across the damp grass. The gardeners’ careful work frowned after their footprints. [This implies the work, not the gardener frowned after them—I’m not sure how that can be. I would clarify]
Giggling, Lavinia tightened her grip and kept running. [This first scene makes this feel more like MG as opposed to YA. I’m not quite sure the point of it, except to paint a portrait. It almost feels more like a movie intro than a novel intro. Movies are visual and move faster than novels, so portrait scenes are fine, but in a novel you want to grip your reader and make them read further. So, ask yourself, where does your story start? That’s where we need to be as opposed to scene setting and giving backstory.]
* * *
The sunroom sported arrangements of soft pink daisies, white wicker furniture, and well-fluffed cushions. A governess sat in its center, her voice tapering on with the sun’s languid beams.
The library, Lavinia believed, would have made for a better lesson room with its ample desks and thick draperies. Yet the sunroom had always been Winn’s favorite, designed and colored just for her, and they would have their lessons within its nest of tall windows if she wished. [Is Lavinia pointing this out, or did we head hop here?] Winn crossed her legs in a perfect mirror of their governess’s, tucking her toes against the floor and pressing her knees together. [Very nice visual!] Sprawled like a mermaid in the chair beside her, Lavinia doodled her fingers across her armrest, watching their governess’s ever-moving lips and hands.
“And who can tell me,” Governess Beth chimed [I would use ‘said’ as opposed to chimed. Chimed makes me think wind chimes or someone chiming in, but with the ‘and who can tell me’ I get the feeling she was already talking].], “how many days our queen spent in her cursed sleep?”
Winn’s slim fingers tensed against the peach skirt of her day dress. Lavinia reached out to squeeze her cousin’s hand, as she did whenever Winn blanched at mentions of her mother’s bewitchment. [So why would it be taught by the governess?]
The second scene feels more like we’re getting somewhere. The governess going into the lesson, the tension, and the bewitchment all let me know something is about to happen. I feel like here would be a better place to start. You have some beautiful writing going on, but I think you can bring it in closer. Right now the psychic distance of the character is pretty far away since we’re getting a lot of description. You can work on that by bringing us closer to Lavinia, letting the reader see the world through her eyes, her emotions. What’s going on in her head when her cousin blanches? I also feel like this is very young, more MG than YA. It makes me think of Heidi with the governess, the running around, etc, so if these girls are young women in their teens, make that known. As it stands now, I feel like they are 10-12 years old.
The first page is hard. I always start in the wrong spot, and until you know the voice, it can be a bit stiff. I think if you start it in a different place, and bring us in closer, it’s going to be great! It’s something that is very intriguing and I would pick up to read!
Thanks for letting me read and good luck!
Thank you, Monica and Natasha, 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 2.