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 N.K. Traver
As a freshman at the University of Colorado, N.K. TRAVER decided to pursue Information Technology because classmates said “no one could make a living with an English degree.” It wasn’t too many years later Traver realized it didn’t matter what the job paid—nothing would ever be as fulfilling as writing. Programmer by day, writer by night, it was only a matter of time before the two overlapped. Traver’s debut, DUPLICITY, a cyberthriller pitched as Breaking Bad meets The Matrix for teens, was named one of the ALA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers in 2016. She is also a developmental editor for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.
Author links: http://www.nktraver.com (website), https://twitter.com/nktraver (twitter), https://www.goodrea
N.K. recent release …
A computer-hacking teen. The girl who wants to save him. And a rogue mirror reflection that might be the death of them both.
Pitched as BREAKING BAD meets THE MATRIX for teens, DUPLICITY follows seventeen-year-old Brandon, a computer expert who hacks bank accounts in his free time, through a downward spiral of events after his mirror reflection starts moving on its own.
N.K.’s Query Critique…
Dear Awesome Agent,
I’m hoping to interest you in my YA novel, THE TIME BENDER, a 73,000 word sci-fi/fantasy adventure. [Short and to the point. Perfect! I’d also add one or two lines here about why you chose to query this particular agent.]
Sixteen-year-old Selina can bend time, though she doesn’t realize it yet. She also has a rare disorder [which one?] which makes it next to impossible to socialize and find what she wants most: a boyfriend. Of course, there’s always super-loyal family-friend Alex, who’s been by her side like a seizure alert dog every time she’s had an “incident.” [What do you mean by “incident”? What happens and what help does Alex provide?] He’d like very much to fill the position of boyfriend. [I feel like we’re miss a “but…” here. He’s a close friend of Selina and cares for her – if Selina’s greatest desire is a boyfriend, what keeps her from seeing Alex in this role?]
When a couple of aliens arrive on Earth in search of a time-bender [this jarred me a bit. The first paragraph sets your world up to be rather realistic, with the cool addition of time-bending – now suddenly there are aliens. Can you weave this into the first paragraph better? For instance, are aliens a common thing in the world of your book? Are they always coming and going? If not, I’d ease us into this less abruptly], they awkwardly flirt their way through Selina’s defenses and try to convince her she’s their only hope to defeat their planet’s enemies, whose next target is Earth [Long sentence. Also, if they’re flirting with Selina, I assume that means they look human? Clarify for us. I’d also be more specific about who their shared enemies are, why those enemies are targeting Earth, and how Selina’s powers can help them. And, since even Selina doesn’t know she has these powers, how do the aliens find out she has them?]. Now Selina is avoiding the truth: she not only has fallen for one of the aliens, she also loves Alex. [When did this change happen and how?] If she leaves Earth she’ll never see him again. If she doesn’t go, she dooms Earth. [Why would she have to leave Earth to save it? Also, I’m not sure these are the right stakes. Not seeing Alex again would be sad, but that hardly holds a candle to Earth blowing up (or whatever is going to happen to it – you need to specify that too). Why couldn’t Alex go with them? Why couldn’t Selina come back later?]
For fans of Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME and OF POSEIDON by Anna Banks, THE TIME BENDER deals with the inelegance of being a teenager, the social stigma of looking different [I thought her disorder affected her socialization, not her looks?], and the difficulties of falling in love, no matter where you are in the universe.
I have a Masters of Arts in Teaching English. I self-published my first novel, a psychological thriller called XXXX. It was discovered by XXX in Germany and published through them in German (titled XXXX). I have also been indie-published.
I’ve pasted in XX pages per your guidelines. I hope to hear from you soon,
OVERALL COMMENTS: Great voice in the query and I love the hint of humor that’s trailed throughout – I’d love to see that pulled out even more, as that will help this stand apart. My main concerns with this are two-fold: one, that we know little about the kind of person Selina is beyond wanting a boyfriend and having a rare disorder, and two (which might also fix #1) – it’s missing some crucial details. Give us a stronger sense of who Selina is, of who Alex is to her, of who the aliens are and their plight, of what Selina would really be sacrificing if she left Earth. The stakes also need amping, as the only thing Selina stands to lose from not choosing Alex is that she’d never see him again. But if she’s in love with one of the aliens too, then even that isn’t much of a loss. Other than that, the core of the story is here and I think you’ll start to see this shine as soon as you start adding in those details.
I hope my comments can be helpful – best of luck with this!
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentors Jessica Bayliss
Jessica Bayliss is a fiction author who loves all things reading and writing. A clinical psychologist by day and a writer all the time, her genre-bending fiction holds a little something for everyone. She has been a lover ghost tales and horror since her days scanning VHS rental shelves—admittedly with eyes half-averted from the gory covers—so a touch of the mysterious always finds a home in Jessica’s work. Romance with a dash of supernatural. Horror with a bit of humor. You get the gist. Jessica also writes across age groups, whether young or not-so-young. Because one cannot live on writing alone, Jessica also spends a great deal of time with friends and family. She is a lover of all animals especially one very special Havanese. She also loves to eat, cook, and exercise—in that order—and is a firm believer that coffee makes the world a better place.
Jessica’s First Page Critique…
AGE CATAGORY: MG
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
Victor jammed the china doll into the freshly dug grave, determined to bury her properly. He forced himself to breathe the chilly night air—in, out, in, out. Rain made his clothes stick to his skin and weeds brushed against headstones, making the Old Jewish Cemetery look like a scene from his horror movie collection. Hopefully, he wouldn’t end up being one of the characters that died.
Victor jammed the china doll into the freshly dug grave, determined to bury her properly. The doll screamed and swung her arms like a tantrum-throwing baby. Scrambling to hold her down, Victor wanted to scream, too. China dolls creeped him out even when they weren’t possessed and half-as-long as him. The doll lurched up and sank two sets of teeth into his wrist. He jerked, pain shooting up his arm. His knees slid through the mud, and he almost tumbled into the grave. [Right off the bat, your voice is great, and I really like the action here, but I’m noticing your sentences all have a similar length and rhythm. Any way you can vary it up just a hair? Perhaps combine two sentences to create a new flow?
Also, I have a question: what has prevented the doll from attacking him up to this point? We have to assume that he’s carried her to this grave yard and she hasn’t attacked. Or, maybe she has attacked and he’s injured already. Or, maybe some spell became activated or the magic in the doll sensed he was about to destroy her, and it woke her up. Something as simple as “Victor jammed the china doll into the freshly dug grave. And, of course, she chose that moment to break the binding spell.” Or something. My point in raising this question is, this doll needs to seem formidable, maybe even unbeatable. A true foe. It’s all about tension.]
He forced himself to breathe the chilly night air—in, out, in, out. Rain made his clothes stick to his skin and weeds brushed against headstones, making the Old Jewish Cemetery look like a scene from his horror movie collection. Hopefully, he wouldn’t end up being one of the characters that died.
[As you can see, I moved most of the first paragraph down so it’s now the second paragraph. Your original second paragraph, with the doll attacking, felt like a more compelling and dynamic start. Plus, now that he’s got two sets of demon doll teeth in his arm, he should need those calming breaths to keep his head. Why have him take breaths before anything really scary happens?]
For a moment, Victor wasn’t so determined anymore. [This line doesn’t seem to fit. He’s got a doll stuck to his arm, so wouldn’t he e MORE determined to bury it?]
He couldn’t ask his mom/mentor, Mia, for help. She wouldn’t hesitate to rescue him if he did, but she’d be disappointed he hadn’t managed it on his own, and that thought made Victor’s stomach twinge. Worrying a lip between his teeth, Victor desperately tried to think up a plan. [Instead of using the adverb here, is there any way to show some of this desperate thought process? Can he cycle through some ideas? Maybe consider one or two things he’s tried before with other foes? Or, can the struggle intensify again? At this point, I’d love to know what the doll is doing. Is she just hanging there like a tooth-wielding porcelain pendulum? How does that feel for your MC, that pain and weight? Or, is she flinging mud or screaming around the flesh in her mouth? You get the picture.] He leaned forward, white curls pasted to his face. [Are these Victor’s curls? Just remember, he wouldn’t be able to see his own curls unless his hair is long enough.]
“Focus,” he whispered, heart bouncing, vision getting fuzzy. Now would be a horrible time to have an anxiety attack.
All he had to do was remove the doll’s teeth from his wrist, preferably in a way that didn’t involve cutting off his arm. He slid one combat boot into the grave, pressing it onto the doll. She sank deeper into the mud, cutesy dress bunching up around Victor’s sole. Good. Now the doll couldn’t flail around. [Ah, so perhaps she was flailing around. Show that.]
The doll’s teeth sank deeper into Victor’s wrist, making his skin feel too hot and too tight. [I love the teeth, but can you show her doing anything else to vary it up and intensify the sense of peril?] “Good heavens,” he grumbled, biting back the swear words. Mia had forbidden saying those.
“Do you need assistance, Victor?” asked Mia, who stood beside him.
Hearing his mom’s voice made the fear in his gut a little smaller. Sure, she could be scary, like when she adjusted her glasses and gave him the you’re-in-big-trouble stare. But Mia was the only person who didn’t tense up around him. [So, for me, having mom/mentor show up immediately reduces the tension. We need to believe that no one is coming to rescue Victor and that he MUST figure this out for himself or ELSE. I’d consider removing her OR having her reveal herself when the action is over, which would give your character a moment to think about his embarrassment/shame/annoyance in light of her tailing him while keeping his agency the primary focus of the scene.]
“Don’t worry. I’ve got it,” Victor said, hoping his voice didn’t squeak too badly. If only he hadn’t been reading manga under the table, half-listening to Mia’s lecture about possessed toys, he’d remember how to destroy them. [This is a little nit-picky, but technically, I’m assuming he’s burying her in order to destroy her. Is there something else he should be doing? That line sort of negates his burying her to begin with. A simple change of wording to “…in order to paralyze (or freeze, or whatever)…” would do it.]
Victor grabbed a fistful of the doll’s orange curls. As the trees shook, sending an extra shower of raindrops down [Do these raindrops do anything to Victor? Make his grip slip a little? Get in his eyes? If stuff in the setting is happening, why not make it another barrier your MC needs to overcome?], he yanked as hard as he could, ignoring the pain. Her teeth slid free, red with blood. He stood and took a moment to get his breathing under control. [Again, don’t pause here for a breather. This doll needs to be a huge threat, fighting to get her teeth into him again, or doing something else. Keep the tension going by not stopping the struggle until she’s good and smashed.] Then he dropped the doll into the grave, lifted a heavy shovel, and swung it.
Crack! The doll’s porcelain body shattered. [I’m totally getting your fun voice-y vibe here, so I could see him hitting the fragments again. Just in case. Then maybe doing something silly—rude gesture, calling them a name, or something. Especially b/c he then goes on to perform the respectful, formal bow. I can see it playing very humorously if there’s that contrast. But perhaps that’s not the vibe you’re going for…] Victor bowed twice and recited a Japanese prayer, banishing the evil spirits that had possessed her—luckily, almost dying had jogged his how-to-defeat-possessed-toys memories.
This is great! I love demons and possessed dolls, and I love the incorporation of Japanese culture here. As I mentioned, I’m getting a fun, voice-y vibe, which would put a book like this right in my wheel-house. I love a good horror with humor (like Buffy or JOHN DIES AT THE END). Your chapter was well-conceptualized, starting at a good point in your story. I have a feel for this character—an important, weighty job, but maybe he’s a little lax at times, still a kid at heart, maybe doing this out of obligation and not wholly from his own free will). My suggestions are really about keeping that tension going until the demon is truly destroyed so the reader won’t even think of putting the book down or even blinking.
Thank you, N.K. and Jessica, 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.