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Day 37 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentor, Sharon M. Johnston

Wednesday, 28 June 2017  |  Posted by Brenda Drake



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 Sharon M. Johnston

Sharon Johnston


Sharon M. Johnston is an author from sunny Queensland, Australia. She writes YA and NA fiction across a range of genres. In her spare time, she makes bookmarks and jewelry, and enjoys time with her family and fur babies.

Website/blog: http://sharonmjohnston.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/S_M_Johnston
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorsmjohnston/<
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sharonmjohnston/


Sharon’s recent release …

An Open Heart Novel, Book 2

Healing a battered heart will risk her last link to humanity.

Mishca needs to save her sisters, but only Ryder can save her.

The truth about Mishca’s past shattered her heart. She deals with the pain by focusing on a new mission: saving her newfound family from their creator. With her sisters scheduled for termination, Mishca and her friends set out on a journey up the North Queensland Coast to save them before someone else dies.

Ryder understands the need driving Mischa. It’s in her DNA. But he’s not giving up on the chance they can still be together. She’s the only one to have seen him levitate. The only one to watch the sparks dance across his skin. The only one he trusts enough to know what is in his heart. And now, he might be the only one who can stop Mishca from losing her humanity.

Driven apart by secrets, will they come together in time?

Don’t miss Book 1, DIVIDED, available now.


Sharon’s First Page Critique . . .

GENRE: Contemporary


I can’t believe I packed my car charger. In the big suitcase. In the trunk. [I would prefer to see an opening line with a bit more oomph. Something that grabs me and pulls me into the story more.]

What was I thinking?

My phone blinks at me. Low battery. Connect to power. As if the message isn’t already clear, which trust me, it is, the backlight dims and the battery symbol turns red. Warning, it tells me. Finish those retweets, it tells me. Send that email. Text Nash your TBR, Hurry, Halle. I’m dyingggg

The screen cuts to black at eighteen-percent. [For a phone to drop out at 18% would indicate to me that there’s a faulty phone. Maybe have the percentage as lower to be more realistic, or to highlight there’s an issue with the phone.]


I drop my phone into the cup holder console at my feet and look toward my brother, Ollie.

He’s out cold. Head back, mouth open, legs spread. His iPhone is on his lap, face down. I could swipe it. Check my accounts. I mean, it’s not like he’s using it.

My fingers twitch with the thought.

Except, that’s a bit much. Even for me.

Instead, I slide my headphones down so they’re around my neck. Car music is cranked up to Pink Floyd’s The Wall album.

“She’s aliiiive,” Dad says, like he always says when I come out of a Phone Zone.

It’s 1:13. Which is exactly two hours and twenty-two minutes too long, according to Helene, our GPS.

“Stay. On. I-95. For the next. Fifty miles,” says Helene.

“Thanks, babe,” Mom says to Helene. For a second, I’m glad they’re going to Africa if only because it means I get a break from their perpetual weirdness.

But mostly I want to burst into tears whenever I think about it too hard. Like now I’m thinking about how Helene is probably going to Africa with my parents and how I’m not. How a job is more important than me. How they promised, they promised, that I’d graduate in Charlotte, that they wouldn’t sign onto a new project until I was settled into a dorm.

[I really enjoyed this section. I love the back and forth emotions.]

How this time, I was stupid enough to believe they’d keep a promise.

Mom’s bare feet are crisscrossed on the dash and she’s flipping through Variety. [Nitpicky here, but you can look for opportunity to tighten up your writing by having something like: as she flips instead of and she’s flipping. It’s a strong wording.] I swear, canceling her subscription was the most painful part of this whole process. Dad bops his head along to the music, singing in a pseudo-British accent.

Mom twists to look at me. “Hungry?”

My stomach constricts. “Nope.”

“We can stop if you are,” Dad says.

Like this is a normal Levitt Family Road Trip to the next something new, the next something exciting, the next location with Oscar potential. Like we’re not two hours and sixteen minutes away from our heart-breaking, earth-shattering goodbye.

Like they don’t even care that we are.

Because they may just be my mom and dad, but to the rest of the world they’re Madeline and Ari Levitt, aspiring Academy Award Winning directors. Seriously, my parents are the Leonardo DiCaprio of the BEST DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE) category. Six nominations. Six ceremonies. Six and the Academy Award goes to [Insert Name that’s Not My Parents]. Zero Oscar Dude Statues.

Leo had to eat raw bison liver for his.

My parents have to spend a year in Gambia for theirs.

I absolutely love the voice in this excerpt. It’s so strong, relatable and real. Your writing is so strong, it’s a fabulous read. My main feedback is not to neglect the senses for the reader. What is the MC hearing, smelling, seeing, feeling with touch? We also don’t get any idea of the parents’ state. They are a bit vanilla in their discussions with their daughter. Be careful of potential crutch words. Look is a word that often presents as a crutch word, and you used it twice in a short space of time. But wonderful work.


Thank you, Sharon, for your critique!

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.



Filed: Workshops

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