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 Mentors Austin Siegemund-Broka, and Emily Wibberley
Austin Siegemund-Broka cowrites YA contemporary with Emily Wibberley. A former journalist for The Hollywood Reporter, where he covered the courts and, yes, met a couple celebrities, he graduated from Harvard in 2014 with a degree in English and a focus on Shakespeare.
Emily Wibberley grew up in Southern California, but instead of working on her nonexistent tan at the beach, she spent her time reading, making music and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She attended Princeton University, where she graduated in 2014 with a degree in Psychology. She and Austin now live and write YA contemporary together.
Their debut, UPSTAGED, publishes from Puffin in 2018. They live in Los Angeles.
Pitched as a modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, about a teen girl who always winds up playing the Rosaline in her off-stage relationships – the girl before he finds “the one” – but when cast as Juliet in her school play, she begins to notice the Romeo she never expected.
Austin and Emily’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
Not even Razsha the Ruthless is surprised when nobles call for her death. What does surprise her is the accusation of killing two chieftains. Now she must keep her wits as sharp as her swords to get the elimination order rescinded. [Great opening paragraph. Tension, character motivation, a little wit, and immediately comprehensible conflict]
Since a noble can roam a person’s mind the way tall ships roam the sea, Razsha approaches a noble to barter for his mediation with the clans. [Mind-roaming is a very cool idea—clarify though the connection to mediation. Is it mind-reading or mind-manipulation?] Krovdan’s not just any noble; he’s the enforcer of the most powerful clan. [Why does Razsha go to him? Because he’s the enforcer? Is there another reason that makes her pick him out of all the nobles?]
Krovdan has been waiting for someone to help him uncover a secret noble faction. Razsha’s relentless pursuit of the people who had her shipmates slain shows she has the skills for the scouting. [What’s the secret faction’s agenda? That might provide a little clarity and a sense of stakes] After he determines her spirit is strong enough against the abilities of the nobles, he knows he’s found his way to the truth. [This paragraph would be enlivened by a sense of conflict between them, i.e. “But Krovdan’s aid comes with a price. He wants her to…” Does she resist? Have no choice?]
They soon discover that the conspiracy is larger and darker than either imagined. Keeping the secret will destroy them both, [inserted comma] and revealing the truth might just destroy Selutenlan.
Infinity’s Discovery, a 102,000-word adult fantasy, appeals to readers who enjoy immersing themselves in the rich realms of R. A. Salvatore and being shaped by might and mind similar to Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. [We love that you have voice even in your comp titles!]
Thank you for your time and consideration.
[In just the first couple paragraphs, you’ve introduced us not only to the details of your world, but to your characters and their motivations. That’s a huge accomplishment in a genre as complex as fantasy. You do a great job of introducing stakes—if you embellish your third paragraph a little, you’re going to have a really strong query.]
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentors Kristin Smith & Beth Ellyn Summer
Kristin Smith is the author of the best-selling young adult novel Catalyst and its sequel, Forgotten. When she’s not writing, you can find her dreaming about the beach, beating her boys at Just Dance, or belting out karaoke (from the comfort of her own home). Kristin currently resides in the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina with her husband and five sons. To read more about her obsession with YA novels or her addiction to chocolate, you can visit her at kristinsmithbooks.com.
Kristin’s recent release …
In a crumbling, futuristic Las Vegas where the wealthy choose the characteristics of their children like ordering off a drive-thru menu, seventeen-year-old Sienna Preston doesn’t fit in. As a normal girl surrounded by genetically modified teens, all of her imperfections are on display. But after the death of her father, everything she’s ever known and loved changes in an instant.
With little skills to help provide for her family, Sienna clings to the two things that come easily—lying and stealing. But not all thief-for-hire assignments go as planned. When a covert exchange of a stolen computer chip is intercepted, she becomes entangled with a corrupt government official who uses her thieving past as leverage, her mother as collateral, and the genetically modified poster boy she’s falling for as bait.
In order to rescue her mother, there may only be one option—joining forces with the Fringe, an extremist group, and their young leader who’s too hot to be bad. Problem is, these revolutionaries aren’t what they seem, and the secrets they’re hiding could be more dangerous than Sienna is prepared for. In the end, she must be willing to risk everything to save the one thing that matters most.
Catalyst is a thrilling adventure of danger, romance, intrigue, and deception.
Beth Ellyn Summer writes contemporary young adult fiction that always includes the following elements: fame, makeup, and television. She graduated from Long Island University with a degree in print and electronic journalism, but the real highlight of her college years was interning for Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon.
Beth’s recent release …
Who would have thought that a teenager could have a successful career creating makeup tutorial videos on YouTube? For Lacey Robbins, this dream has been her reality. An up-and-coming YouTuber, she has thousands of fans and can’t wait for the day when her subscriber count reaches the one million mark. And when she is offered a high school internship at On Trend Magazine, she figures that this could be the make it or break it moment.
But sometimes your dream job isn’t all that it seems. Her editor is only interested in promoting junk products, and her boss in the Hair and Makeup department introduces her to the larger world of makeup artistry, making her wonder if making tutorials online is all she is meant to do. To top it all off, when the magazine’s feature subject , musician Tyler Lance, turns his broodingly handsome smile her way, falling for him could mean losing her fans, forcing her to make a decision: her YouTube life or her real life?
Fans of Zoella’s GIRL ONLINE will fall right into the world of this YA DEVIL WEARS PRADA and stay hooked from the first blush to the last glossy kiss.
Kristin and Beth’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: YA
GENRE: Magical Realism
If Von were here, he’d make a sarcastic comment about the irony of the Youth Clinical Rehabilitation Center releasing me on Halloween, a night when almost half of all car crashes will involve a drunk driver, but I haven’t seen or heard from my boyfriend since they locked me up against my will four weeks ago. [this feels like too much of a run-on sentence for an opening line. You could end it after “drunk driver,” and start the next sentence with “But.”]
Dad’s here, waiting. The car idles, little puffs of silver [Great imagery!] smoke polluting the crisp almost-November air. [would love to see imagery here to show it’s almost November. Maybe contrast the puffs of smoke against the changing leaves on the trees?] He loads the last of my things in the car, staring past me as I pad down the cracked, concrete steps. His neck is stooped and tired. His gaze, defeated. There was so much paperwork. So many reminders.
A flaming orange moon hangs in the sky like a ripe piece of fruit. It’s cold outside now that October is almost over. [We want to be completely hooked at this point and describing weather and the moon takes us out of the story. You don’t need to mention the month since you already said it’s almost November. You could cut that sentence completely, since it’s implied it’s cold with the way she rubs her shoulders in this following sentence.] Shivering, I hug my arms together and rub my bare shoulders. I’m in an impractical sleeveless dress Mom picked out for the center’s formal occasions like Family Day. Instead, I chose to wear it on my Release from Hell Day. [Love this line!] My name is written on the inside tag in tight, block letters. Reese Stoneburner. It’s weird seeing my name in someone else’s handwriting. All caps, like I am somehow important. Or my crime was, at least. [love that line! In fact, love it so much we think it could be a killer opening line!]
The dress is loose around the armpits but too tight in the chest. I wish I had the comfy hoodie I came in with, but it still has blood on it.
It started with this party. Not a big, sprawling party like in the movies, where people screw in the mansion’s seventy-five empty bedrooms and virgins dance on table tops and people push other fully clothed, expensively costumed people into an Olympic-sized pool. [This is lengthy. You could cut ‘expensively costumed’.] This was just a run-of-the-mill, average, let’s-soak-up-the-last-few-remaining-days-of-summer party.
Mellow. Low key.
The party was my best friend’s idea, but it took place in the woods behind my house, on Stoneburner land my dad owned but mostly forgot about. I live in Rokeby, Missouri, four and a half hours southeast of Kansas City and a million years from St. Louis. It is the city no one has ever heard of in a state no one visits. [Great voice] There isn’t much to do in Rokeby besides tip cows and play corn hole. But there was a field, mowed for hay for the last time of the season, that we parked our cars in. My brand new Jetta. Von’s vintage Olds with the sagging roof liner. [Love the image of the sagging roof liner!] Amanda-Lynn, my best friend since grade school, tumbled out of her older brother’s pickup truck, her dirty blonde hair swept up in a bun embellished with tiny whimsical braids. [another lengthy line. The words “embellished” and “whimsical” drag the sentence down.] Her pothead but-college-enrolled brother did donuts in the grass before pealing out onto the road, covering a couple of Von’s football buddies’ non-descript Hondas in clumps of mud and shredded grass.
We stacked brush and dead limbs into a pile and used too much lighter fluid to ignite them. Von got soot on his magenta THE BOOK WAS BETTER t-shirt. We skewered sausages so juicy they hissed fatty drippings onto the fire’s smoldering coals. [love all the details. We feel like we already know Von and haven’t officially met him yet.]
This is a great first page. It pulls us right in, makes us want to know what happened to land her in that Rehabilitation Center.
It’s obvious you’ve got such an interesting story here, so the intriguing stuff needs to hit the reader in the face right off the bat. We think “It’s weird seeing my name in someone else’s handwriting. All caps, like I am somehow important. Or my crime was, at least” could be re-worked to be your opener. It’s such a fantastic line!
You could work on cutting some of your lengthy sentences down for clarity.
Overall, this is really great. Just a few things you can cut to tighten it up, but overall, well done! We love the voice and descriptions, and how the voice of her memory of the party is different from the present day. Like something’s clearly shifted and we want to know what, why, and who’s involved. You definitely made us want to read more! J –Kristin and Beth
Thank you, Austin, Emily, Kristin, and Beth, 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.