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 Shanna Rogers …
When she wasn’t reading as a kid, Shanna was acting out something she read in a book: starting a babysitters’ club, spying, searching the house for a secret passage, and convincing a neighbor she had an identical twin (she doesn’t). She’s still twelve at heart, so writing middle grade was a natural choice.
After receiving her B.A. in journalism, Shanna spent several years acting in Los Angeles before becoming a teacher. You can catch her in the background of dozens of shows, including as a dead body on The Closer (Kyra Sedgwick massaged her feet!) and sporting a spray tan on old episodes of The O.C. She once beat Woody Harrelson in a thumb war.
Shanna is represented by Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. You can find Shanna on Twitter at @ShannaRogers29 and on her website…as soon as she stops writing long enough to make one.
Shanna’s Query Critique . . .
I’m submitting to you because I enjoyed attending your class at (conference).
[Include age for YA] Maddy’s a good girl [I’d find a more interesting way to describe her. If you want to keep the flow with the liar part that follows, you could replace “good girl” with something more specific. Star student? Great juggler?] , but she’s an even better lier [liar]. When she lies her way into the only interesting building in her small town, a Lab [don’t capitalize unless this is its official title], for a high school dare, things go sour [Vague. What specifically goes wrong?] and her almost-boyfriend’s dad, who works there, has to step in to stop her from accidentally stealing a new man-made virus. [How could she “accidentally” steal the virus?]
The good news is Maddy doesn’t get in trouble. The bad news is her crushes [crush’s] dad gets infected by the virus and dies, and it’s all her fault [How is it her fault?]. Worse, his youngest son get’s [gets] the virus too.
Now Maddy’s sworn off lying, but she’ll have to break that promise, follow clues left by a long dead scientist, help an undercover U.S. government agent [Why would an undercover government agent need help from a high school student? I know you only have so much room in a query, but I need a hint as to why she’s the only one who can help. High-level hacking skills?] , and stop the Lab from infecting everyone in town with the new virus so they can make money on the antidote. [I’m having some trouble with the plausibility of this] And they don’t even know if the antidote will work. It doesn’t help that her “friends” now think she’s a total loser, and spread rumors that she’s dating the new English teacher, which, gross, of course she’s not. At least her parents are on her side. Thanks Mom and Dad. [This shows voice, but it comes out of nowhere since her parents haven’t been mentioned at all up to this point.]
MADDY LIES is a young adult [include genre. Sci fi?] novel complete at 51,000 words.
As a young girl I was very good at lying and wanted to be an undercover agent, because who would suspect me? No one. [I think this is cute and voicey, though some might say cut it.]
Thank you for your consideration.
Hi, Author! This sounds like a fun story—I love anything to do with undercover agents! I’d just focus on making sure the story comes across as plausible as possible, and make sure the stakes are clear. Right now it reads as: everyone in town could die…and her friends are mean and spreading unrelated rumors. You may want to cut the part about the parents and the English teacher and focus on the main conflict and how that affects Maddy. Thanks so much for letting me take a look, and best of luck!
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Katherine Fleet …
Originally from Newfoundland, Katherine Fleet gave up the cold winters of Eastern Canada for the year round warmth of the Caribbean. The slower pace of island life has given her time to pursue a long-time goal—becoming an author. When she’s not writing, she spends her time baking, chauffeuring her three amazing, talented kids around, and having sun-filled adventures with her husband and wonderful friends in Curaçao. She is also a very thankful breast cancer survivor. In 2007, she joined RWA and has enjoyed the support and camaraderie of the YARWA and OIRWA writing communities. She’s participated in NaNoWriMo since 2012 and is an active supporter of the associated Young Writers Program. She is represented by super-agent Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency. The Secret to Letting Go is her debut novel.
Katherine’s recent release . . .
One summer can change everything…
Haunted with guilt after his girlfriend’s death, Daniel Hudson has no interest in committing to anyone. At the end of the summer, he’ll be leaving Florida for a new start in college. If only he could avoid the mysterious new girl in town, who seems every bit as naive and eccentric as she looks. Trouble is, she’s hard to ignore, with her beautiful piercing eyes, pitiful-looking dog, and unsettling tendency of finding trouble.
Clover Scott lived her whole life off the grid and arrives on the Gulf coast in search of her grandparents. She never expected to nearly drown, or get caught in a hurricane, or fall in love with the boy who rescues her. Now, she has a chance to rewrite her life’s story, to finally fit in somewhere, but Daniel wants answers about her past. When the police start asking questions about the disappearance of her parents, she must make a choice: go to jail or confess her secrets—even if they might destroy her chance at a happily-ever-after.
Katherine’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: YA
Malik wasn’t ready to see the sun again. [Suggest deleting this. Next sentence is a stronger beginning – just incorporate Malik’s name into the following sentence]
After two weeks of near complete darkness, the sudden brightness of the afternoon sun stung his eyes. Splotches of purple and green danced across his vision as Hassan barked, “Everybody out!” [I’d delete “as” and make Hassan’s dialogue a new paragraph]
Malik had no idea how the smuggler expected them to follow this order. He and the other refugees were packed so closely together within the confines of Hassan’s wagon that it made even breathing difficult. Moving was not an option. [These sentences are all telling versus showing. As these first few pages are so important, I suggest you try to get deeper into Malik’s POV here. He’s been cramped into a small space for two weeks. Have they even been let out to eat, drink, or take care of bodily functions? It must be hot, stinky, and they’d be weak from lack of food and water? That’s a lot of great sensory experiences to draw from.]
When nobody followed his orders, Hassan grabbed Malik by his shoulders, lifted the boy him [as we are in Malik’s POV, you can’t say “the boy”] from the wagon bed, and tossed him onto the dusty ground. The metallic taste of blood and sand exploded in Malik’s mouth. He scrambled to his knees, clutching the strap of his worn leather satchel tightly to his chest.
“Everybody get out,” Hassan yelled again.
His sister, Nadia, jumped out of the wagon bed and ran to her brother’s his side [recommend these changes as we are in Malik’s POV. Your original sentence had hopped into Nadia’s POV], grabbing onto his pant leg as he coughed. Their mother, Rahila, followed after her, shooting Hassan a glare as she dropped to her knees beside her son him. [If you are in Malik’s POV, you should stay in it. He wouldn’t be thinking that his mother is dropping to her son’s side. His mother would drop to his side. Also, I assume these people would all be very weak from the way they’ve been treated for the last two weeks.]
“Are you okay?” Nadia asked, her dark eyes wide. Fighting the pain, Malik gave a small nod.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine, I promise.”
Rahila’s eyes narrowed, her hands clenching into fists. Malik forced a smile on his face, anything to let her know he was fine. They had enough to worry about without adding his wellbeing to the mix.
After double–checking Malik was not injured, Rahila turned to the smuggler and demanded, [recommend deleting “and demanded” as dialogue tag is not needed here.] “What is the meaning of this? Why have we stopped?”
Hassan spit a glob of phlegm onto the ground near Malik’s feet before replying, [Again, dialogue tag is not needed here. So, recommend deleting “before replying,”] “Sentinel checkpoint.”
The knot of anxiety in Malik’s stomach tightened, and he glanced around as if one of the aforementioned warriors would come at them with a scimitar at any moment. [second half of this sentence is a little wordy] If the Sentinels were to discover their motley group of refugees and the man who had smuggled them halfway across the desert, death would be the most merciful option waiting for them.
“But you said when we left Talafri that this route had no Sentinels on it!” cried Rahila.
“Shut your mouth!” Hassan glanced over his shoulder, his hand hovering near the hilt of his dagger. He was by no means a small man, and in the short time Malik had known him, the smugglers had never shown uncertainty of any kind. The fear tinging Hassan’s words now only added to Malik’s own nerves.
Hassan continued, “Are you trying to summon every Sentinel patrol between here and Mahashe?”
Rahila grumbled but did not reply, much to Malik’s relief. His mother may not have feared the curved dagger that hung at Hassan’s hip, but Malik did.
They had stopped beside a large stone outcropping a little ways away from the main road, and as Hassan maneuvered the camel-drawn wagon deeper into the shade, Malik dared to look around. The golden sands of the Odjubai desert stretched out in every direction.
[Your writing is strong and definitely painted a picture of Malik’s situation. With a few tweaks, I think you’ll be in good shape. First, be careful of POV. You are in Malik’s POV, so think about what he is experiencing, feeling and seeing. As I mentioned above, you have a fantastic opportunity to really show us what two weeks of captivity in bad conditions have done to them. Second, I am confused about the genre. You’ve indicated that this is YA Fantasy, but my impression of Malik from these first pages is that he is a younger boy (maybe 12 or 13). If he is older, you may want to give hints about this. I assume that he is the protagonist. Third, and this is my main comment about these first pages – right now there is a lot of action, but very little character development for Malik. In order for the reader to care about Malik’s plight, we need to know something about him to make us care. Right now, he is a blank slate other than being afraid and trying to hide his pain from his mother. I’m not suggesting that you add a lot of back-story, but his reactions to situations can tell us a lot about his personality. If he imagines rising up and killing Hassan because he’s normally a kick-butt kind of guy, or if he feels uncharacteristically defeated and hopeless to do anything about their situation, or if he’d normally be the protector in his family and now it’s his mother, this would make me wonder “why?”. What happened to make him feel this way and then I’d be hooked! Best of luck with this story. It’s a great beginningJ]
Thank you, Shanna and Katherine, 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.