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Day 38 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentors, J.R. Yates, Kate Karyus Quinn, and Mindy McGinnis

Thursday, 29 June 2017  |  Posted by Heather Cashman


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 J.R. Yates

JR Yates

Website | Twitter

J. R. Yates is a word nerd through and through. When she isn’t writing or reading, she practices as a pediatric speech-language pathologist (SLP) and herds her three bilingual children. She often jokes that she spends all day at work trying to get kids to talk, and the rest of her time at home trying to get her kids to stop! Married to the love of her life, her favorite moments are quiet evenings with her husband sharing a nice glass of wine at their home in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Time alone, hiding out in a café, writing about sexy heroes that shred her heart is her bliss. She is represented by Stacey Donaghy with Donaghy Literary Group.

J. R. is a member of the Alexandra Writers’ Centre, the RWA and this year she will be a #Pitchwars Mentor.

J.R.’s Query Critique…

Learn to control the weather. Fall in love. Elude a serial killer. Ella’s going to need a lot more coffee. [I love the voice is in this opening line. To me, this is a great hook.]

EYE OF THE STORM is an urban fantasy novel, with elements of romance, thriller, alternative history/mythology, and a healthy dose of humour. [Know your genre. Narrow it down. Is this an adult fantasy romance? If this is an urban fantasy, the thriller, mythology and humor aspects are commonplace and saying it has those elements can be redundant. Agents need to know that you know where this fits in the market. An “adult urban fantasy with romantic elements” would work here. Oh, and use conventional US spelling. Some people think the extra “u”s are spelling errors rather than a different spelling convention. And high five to a fellow Canuck ;)] Best of all, the heroine saves herself. At 86,000 words, it has multiple points of view, and is intended for adult readership [I’d delete this clause, “adult” (the category) should be stated with the genre]. It also has series potential.

Ella Grayson has one goal: to white knuckle her way through her first major art show, anxiety be damned. She can do this. She just needs to get through a few hours without vomiting, hearing voices, or creating another terrifying painting. No problem. With enough caffeine, anything is possible. [This has great voice, and I’m intrigued with the hearing voices aspect. I feel that you don’t need to say “anxiety be damned” and “She can do this” The next lines shows all of this on its own].

When Sebastian Baldasarre barges into her life, the story of his pursuit of history’s most notorious serial killer, combined with extraordinary abilities [Who has extraordinary abilities? Sebastian or the serial killer? And be specific as to what those abilities are.], makes her wonder if he is as crazy as she’s terrified of becoming [becoming what? I think there’s a word missing here]. Things don’t improve when she accuses him of being a vampire, either. [FYI, vampire stories are a tough sell. If he isn’t a vampire, I would not use this term in your query, an agent may stop reading.]

Dragged into a new reality [what is this new reality? I’m not grounded into what is going on. Be specific. I’m not sure about what your characters want and what the conflict is yet. What are the stakes?], armed with equal parts snark and caffeine, [You’ve used caffeine twice already. Too repetitive.] Ella is caught between two rival clans [Rival clans of what? I see you trying to show stakes and conflict, but again, you need to be more specific earlier.]. She must place her trust in Sebastian in order to stay alive when a traitor sends the serial killer after them, turning the hunter into the hunted [This line. This is what we need. You could have gotten to this earlier]. On the run, Ella spends her days training to gain control over her powers [what are these? The voices she hears?], and her nights in Sebastian’s arms [is she resisting this attraction, because that would create conflict, which you want]…after all, all work and no play would make Ella a dull girl. Unfortunately, those stolen days are really just the EYE OF THE STORM…

[You have a great start here, with terrific voice. Focus in more on being specific and show the goals, conflicts and stakes earlier. Her goal can’t be to get through an art show. This is not what is driving your plot. The body of your query should elaborate on your opening hook. What does Ella want? (goal) What are the choices that Ella has to make? Show us how this story is unique. This has tons of potential. Thanks so much for sharing!]


Next up we have . . .

Pitch Wars Mentors Kate Karyus Quinn & Mindy McGinnis

Kate K QuinnWebsite | Twitter

Kate Karyus Quinn is a chapstick addict with a love for live theater and a BFA from Niagara University to prove it.

After growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY, Kate left her hometown for Southern California and film school, where she earned an MFA in Film and Television Production from Chapman University.

After finishing her degree, she moved with her husband to Knoxville, Tennessee. However, she recently made the move back home, with her husband and two children in tow. She promised them wonderful people, amazing food, and weather that would… build character.

Kate is first and foremost an avid reader and unapologetic booknerd. Although, she mostly reads YA and romance, she often samples different genres in her constant search for the next great read.

Kate is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.  


Mindy McGinnis Website | Twitter

Mindy McGinnis is an Edgar Award-winning author and assistant teen librarian who lives in Ohio. She graduated from Otterbein University with a degree in English Literature and Religion, and sees nothing wrong with owning nine cats. Two dogs balance things out nicely.

Mindy runs a blog for aspiring writers at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire, which features interviews with agents, established authors, and debut authors.

Kate and Mindy’s First Page Critique…


GENRE: Psychological Thriller

Fear had overtaken my life. Everywhere I went, anything I said or did, the only thing that constantly held my hand was fear. [Is there a way you can show this, rather than just telling the reader?]

Letting out a long breath, I slammed my dresser drawer closed, rattling the ballerina figurines on top. [Love the specific description of the ballerina figurine] “Who would do this?” Every inch of my overly pink room had been searched. [This is confusing. I first read this as she’s trying to figure out who searched her room. But then I realized she’d misplaced something and thinks it’s stolen. Clarify?]

Oh, Pandora-Cora. Noah sighed. Maybe you misplaced it.  [Can you give us some insight into who this person talking is and why they are italicized instead of in quotes?]

I glared at the stuffed elephant sitting on my bed, right between two pink pillows in the shape of flowers. [Again, great specific descriptive detail, but need more on characters and what is actually happening here.] “I’ve searched everywhere. It’s gone. Someone took it.” Panic bubbled up inside. Losing it meant exposing my secret. If anyone found out … I smashed the panic down, squishing out the fire before it could start. [It’s hard to feel and share the narrator’s urgency and panic here, since the reader doesn’t know what’s she’s missing or why it’s important. It’s not really helping to build suspense at this point, because the reader doesn’t even know enough to care. Maybe back this scene up a bit and establish what’s missing, before going into the panic about needing to find it.]

Have you searched your backpack? Noah asked. You brought the journal with you to school today.

My pink backpack sat near the foot of my bed, leaning against the white, wooden bedpost. Husky, my Beanie Boo keychain on the zipper of my backpack, judged me with his huge eyes. [Ha. Funny. Again, great descriptions – now apply that to characters and situation he/she is in.] “I’ve searched it five times already.”

I told you to never bring your journal to school, Noah said in a sing-song voice.

“I know!” I screamed. Closing my eyes, I took slow, deep breaths. I couldn’t lose control. “I have to write, though. It’s my outlet. My only thing to do at school.”

Maybe it’s time you made a friend, Noah said, his tone saturated with sarcasm to the point it practically oozed from his cotton.

My gaze snapped to his blue, sparkly eyes. Whoever manufactured the stuffed animal didn’t bother with getting the facts straight. I’d never seen an elephant with eyes that sparkled. Daddy had bought him for me when I was eight. He said the elephant’s eyes matched mine. “Noah, you know I can’t have friends. They ask questions and will want to come over.” Someone being in my room would definitely reveal a flaw in me.

Just a thought, Noah said. Now, what are you going to do about your missing journal? [Okay, Noah is the stuffed elephant then? This is a fun reveal, but I think you could do it without the italics.]

I sat cross-legged on the bed and closed the canopy curtain, the swish a comfort sound. Warmth and safety embraced me and I hugged it close. I breathed in my room, letting the smell of old books, lilac, and paper calm my soul.

“For starters, I need to find out who took it. Then I can decide what to do from there.” Since I’d had it during lunch, it had been lost between fifth period and the end of the day. It all depended on who knew I had a journal. One that was worth taking.

Maybe it just fell out, Noah said. Is your name in it? No one will know it was yours.

“I wrote my name in the front and back,” I said. “Why did I do that?” My name shouldn’t have been in the journals. But I wanted to be remembered after I died. People needed to know what had happened to me that night and where I’d been in the years that followed.

[You have some really nice descriptive writing here and several bits that are rather funny. However, as a whole I think you’re spending too much time using dialogue to convey information that would be better given in a more straight forward manner. As this is a psychological thriller, I can say that I was drawn in by the whole talking stuffed animal thing and I’d read more to see how that plays out.]

Thank you, J.R., Kate, and Mindy, 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.

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