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Day 40 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentor, Dawn Ius

Wednesday, 5 July 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.

Today we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Dawn Ius


Twitter | Website

DAWN IUS is a short-story author, novelist, screenwriter, professional editor, and communications specialist. She is co-founder and senior editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Assistant Managing Editor of the International Thriller Writers’ e-zine, The Big Thrill, and the author of ten educational graphic novels published by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. Her first contemporary young adult novel, ANNE & HENRY, will be published Fall 2015 from Simon Pulse, and her yet unpublished novel HEARTLESS was recently optioned for development of a TV show by Verite Films.

Dawn also writes young adult thriller and paranormal fiction under the last name DALTON. Her short story, THREAD OF THE PAST was included in the SPIRITED anthology (Leap Books, 2012), and her novel, KILLER’S INSTINCT (Leap Books, 2013), co-written with Judith Graves, was nominated for the Silver Falchion award. As well, her short story DRUNK was published in an Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired anthology, FALLING FOR ALICE, April 2015, by Vine Leaves Press.

When she’s not slaying fictional monsters, she’s geeking out over fairy tales, Jack Bauer, Halloween, sports cars, and all things that go bump in the night. Dawn lives in Alberta, Canada, with her husband, Jeff, and their giant English Mastiff, Roarke.

Dawn’s recent book …

anne and henryAmazon | Barnes & Noble

In this wonderfully “clever and compelling” (Kirkus Reviews) retelling of the infamous—and torrid—love affair between Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, history collides with the present when a sizzling romance ignites in a modern-day high school.

Henry Tudor’s life has been mapped out since the day he was born: student body president, valedictorian, Harvard Law School, and a stunning political career just like his father’s. But ever since the death of his brother, the pressure for Henry to be perfect has doubled. And now he’s trapped: forbidden from pursuing a life as an artist or dating any girl who isn’t Tudor-approved.

Then Anne Boleyn crashes into his life.

Wild, brash, and outspoken, Anne is everything Henry isn’t allowed to be—or want. But soon Anne is all he can think about. His mother, his friends, and even his girlfriend warn him away, but his desire for Anne consumes him.

Henry is willing to do anything to be with her, but once they’re together, will their romance destroy them both?

Inspired by the true story of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, Anne & Henry beautifully reimagines the intensity, love, and betrayal between one of the most infamous couples of all time.

Dawn’s Query Critique . . .


GENRE: Fantasy

Blood dripping from tiny golden curls. (While I’m not opposed to using this kind of first sentence to draw an agent in, I think it could be a bit more visceral for maximum impact. Instead of just seeing it, you might consider adding in a bit of sensory detail, if not here then within this paragraph to make it really resonate.) It’s an image that seventeen-year-old Beryl has never forgotten. (Again, I think you could use stronger language here—image haunts him, etc—or maybe the coppery scent lingers, he can taste it on his tongue, or something like that) (It) That image makes him burn with hatred against (for) the dragons who have  rule the cities of The Circle for a thousand years. His Beryl’s new friend Rick, a refugee on the run for reasons of his own, stokes Beryl’s rage (I get what you’re saying here, but on first read, I thought that Rick made him mad too), offering to help him kill one of the dragons. Unfortunately, they face a couple of serious problems.

Problem number one: Killing a dragon is pretty much impossible.

Problem number two: (And) the last time anyone rebelled against the dragons’ rule, thousands of people died in retaliation.

Beryl and his friends (is there more than Rick? Even if so, I’d keep it to just them in the query because you mention Rick above) concoct an ingenious plan to bring down a dragon and transform the destinies of a million people, but they are hunted by a terrifying half-dragon with strange powers (I love the mystery of the strange powers—to really drive this home for the agent, I’d consider stating what it is. The power itself might be a great hook.) Aided by a cybernetic implant he received as a child, Beryl will explore forbidden technology and unravel shocking truths about the nature of the dragons themselves. Along the way, he might also discover there are some motivations stronger than hate. (This last sentence is a great encapsulating theme!)

(I do like the idea of drawing the agent in by getting right into the story, but I wonder if you aren’t burying some the juicy stuff too far down—even in fantasy, the character should stand out, and to me, what makes Beryl stand out is the fact that he has a cybernetic implant. I’d consider moving that up to the top somehow so we get a quick snapshot of what makes him unique.)

(My) The YA fantasy novel, VIRIDIA, is complete at 81,466 words. (Round off at 81,000?)  (This) fast-paced story of resistance against impossible odds , it should appeal to readers of titles like Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners trilogy. This is a stand-alone novel that could be the start of a (with) substantial series (potential).
I’ve been writing speculative fiction stories since third grade. My heart and imagination have always belonged to other worlds. This is my first novel. (I like this little gem about you!)

Thank you for your time and consideration. (I look forward to hearing from you)

(This is a great start, and I truly love the premise of this book. I’m a bit conflicted as to whether you should begin the query with a quick intro to the agent about why you chose them, or dive in with the description above. I’ve seen both work, but if you go the description route, make sure your writing is tight and visceral, so the agent gets a really great sense of your writing. I’d also consider adding in a brief statement at the end (if not at the beginning) that personalizes it for the agent. Ie: I’m querying you because I read “X” book about dragons, and this has similar themes. ß That’s perhaps not the strongest sentence but you get what I mean!)

Thanks! Good luck with querying!

Next up we have . . .

Dawn’s First Page Critique . . .


GENRE: Magical Realism

Chapter One

            “Can anything be better than this?” Mom asks. The breeze here on top of the Empire State Building gusts her soft hippie skirt behind her, her black and silver hair intertwining with mine.(Unless the dialogue is really poignant, I’d avoid starting with it—here, I really love the description of Mom and would consider reversing this. Ie: The breeze at the top of the Empire State Building gusts Mom’s soft hippie skirt behind her, her black and silver hair intertwining with mine. “Can anything be better than this?” she asks.)

            We pose like figureheads on a ship (love this metaphor), our arms outstretched, hugging all of Manhattan, the car lights streaming like rivers far below us.

            I laugh. “When did heights stop bothering you?”

            Mom wraps her arm around my shoulder, pulling me close. “When I died, my sweet. (I actually got chills here, and I think you could almost cut this dream sequence here and then launch into the present.) sweet. All my fears left me.”

            “But, Mom….

            “I know.” The wind takes her next words with her. “I can’t stay. I love you, Ellie.”

            And I am alone. Alone on top of the world.

My alarm went off. I hit it, needing to smack something. (How does she feel? Is she waking in a panic, heart racing? When she hits the alarm, does it hurt? What does the alarm sound like? Does it screech or chirp or play a Justin Bieber song?)

Another Mom dream where she leaves me! (Be wary of exclamation marks 😉

It wasn’t even a true dream. Aunt Jane and Joe took Cassie, Serena, and me when we were fourteen to the top of the Empire State Building after a full day in Manhattan. Mom’s fear of heights was her excuse not to come with us. Later, she admitted that she was in too much pain and exhausted.

That day, as Aunt Jane told Joe to take pictures of us, Cassie, Serena and I pretended we were Jack and Rose from Titantic, laughing like demented witches as the wind blew our hair into each other’s face, our arms open wide. (There are a lot of names thrown at us here, which might be confusing. I had to read it twice to follow what was happening. Could it be simplified with “cousins”?

I took those pictures off my bulletin board a year ago, my face unbearably happy with Cassie and Serena. (Why? Do they make her feel guilty? Consider expanding this thought a little…)

I curled into a ball under my comforter. I didn’t know which was worse—these great dreams where Mom is herself, or the ones like last night’s where she sat next to me at her funeral, skeletonally thin, accusing me of forgetting her, and preferring Aunt Jane.

Waking up was crap no matter which kind of dream. I just wanted to be with her whether she’s nightmare Mom or real Mom. Real Mom—pushy, loving, funny, mush under impatience—would know how desperately I missed her, that I’d do anything to get her back, to have her open the door and tell me to rise and shine. To hear her say my name. (I think you could cut this sentence / thought after missed her or get her back.)

“Ellie, you up?”

            Wrong! Wrong! Wrong person! (I am a bit confused here—who is the wrong person? The one waking her? The transition is a bit abrupt.)

The door creaked as it opened. “Ellie, answer so I know you’re awake.”

Every morning we did this. Every morning (Consider restructuring this or previous sentence to avoid two instances of “every morning”) she sounded like Mom but every morning she wasn’t. Instead, she was Aunt Jane, Mom’s younger sister.


I pulled the comforter off my face but didn’t look at her. “I’m up.”

She sighed, paused for a few beats, and then said, “Chinese, Thai or pizza tonight?”

            Every morning she asked this and every morning (I think you are trying to demonstrate a monotonous routine by using “every morning”—I think there are other devices you could consider to show this) I answered, our words echoing that night.

“Chinese.” I, too, delayed for a few beats and added—for the memory and the pain, “I’ll order.”

We both had so much more to say to each other. Those beats of silence weren’t empty but filled with words not spoken.

There is a lot to admire about this opening scene—we really get a sense of the character’s “want” (her Mom), her struggle (living without Mom), and some of the obstacles. Great job!

Starting with a character waking up can be tricky—it’s been done so often that many editors / agents shy away from this. In your case, I can see why you’re doing it. You can probably get away with this if you hone in on how these dreams impact the character. You have Ellie waking up and smacking the alarm. Great start, but tell us how she is feeling so we can feel it too. If the dreams are not integral to the story, consider if there is another way of opening the book.

My other concern is the backstory, which takes up a good chunk of the words here. Is it possible to condense the part about who all went to The Eiffel Tower and get us quickly back to Ellie’s current problem?

Your ending to this sample is strong—I like the mystery of unspoken words through the silence. Consider using the words before that end to really demonstrate the tension between her and her aunt. You’ve got a good start here, but with some tightening and tweaking, I think it could be even stronger. That will make your last sentence even more impactful, in my opinion.

Awesome start! Good luck with your manuscript.


Thank you, Dawn, 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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