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Day 43 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query and First Page Workshop with Mentors Gabrielle Byrne and Lisa Amowitz

Monday, 10 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.

First up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Gabrielle Kirouac Byrne …

Gabrielle K Byrne

Gabrielle lives in the rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where she writes fantasy for middle graders. Gabby studied opera in Philadelphia, medieval studies in New York, literature in Scotland, and marine biology in the Pacific Northwest, but writing stories is the common thread that ties all her interests together. She has a degree in literature and another in environmental studies. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her fishing spineless critters out of the Salish sea with her husband and two daughters. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management.

Gabby blogs at www.thewingedpen.com 

She tweets at @GKByrne, and posts on instagram at gabriellek.byrne

Gabrielle’s Query Critique…


GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Dear Agent,

NADIA AHMADI is a successful CEO of a not-for-profit organisation in New York. His Royal Highness PRINCE CARLOS is the crown prince of Aragon. While on an official visit to New York, Carlos notices Nadia giving a speech at the United Nations headquarters. He’s struck by her self-assuredness and passion. He asks to meet her again, with Nadia assuming it’s related to her organisation. The two of them meet up again and Nadia’s shocked to learn the prince is more interested in her than a business meeting.

Nadia’s quick to judge Carlos as a rich billionaire who doesn’t care about anyone but himself, but she soon realizes there’s more to this prince then she first though. Carlos finds Nadia’s honesty refreshing and wants to get to know her more. Carlos persuades Nadia to give him a chance and their mutual attraction soon leads them spending the limited time they have before Carlos must leave the United States getting to know each other.

When Nadia is given the opportunity to travel to London for work, Carlos arranges to meet up with her. But with paparazzi following their every move will a relationship with a prince jeopardise her organisation, something she’s worked so hard for?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

{Thanks for sharing your query with me!

This is a good start, with all the right elements. I’d re-frame some, and flesh out her character a little. I think you need to start with what’s at stake for Nadia. Cut out Carlo’s POV (I assume the book is not dual POV). You summarize the stakes nicely with the last line, “Will a relationship with a Prince jeopardise her organization, something she’s worked so hard for?”  Consider beginning by building our sense of the stakes, so that by the time we reach the last line, we feel the punch. It could be something like, “Nadia Ahmadi has struggled for years to build a successful non-profit to cure/fix/help X.” Build her character by showing us what she’s sacrificed for this work, and if you can do it in a few words, give us what’s motivated her. Why is it so important to her? e.g.; Ever since Nadia was a child and [had this experience] she promised herself she would cure/fix/help X. It’s taken her ten years (or however long) to build her organization, but now that she’s finally making progress, she’ll have to work twice as hard [or something] if she wants to [succeed at X].

Now you’ve set us up. Whoever’s reading your query can feel what’s at stake and has a sense of what makes your story unique. Then, in the second paragraph, give us the complication first. “When the crown Prince of Aragon hears Nadia giving a speech,” etc. The next sentence is good. It should juxtapose her assumptions about him against what she feels is at stake. He’s a rich billionaire who inherited his money. She’s worked hard for years trying to make a difference for X. You have a typo at the end of the sentence (should be thought). Cut the sentence about Carlos finding her honesty refreshing and give us one about her. Keep the focus on Nadia.  Here’s where she starts to develop feelings for him. Maybe the long hours and lonely work are finally catching up with her. Maybe she thinks, surely a couple dates won’t hurt, especially since he’s leaving the US again soon. End this paragraph with the same sentence, “Carlos persuades…”, but tighten it up. You could just say, “The mutual attraction is irresistible, and Nadia decides to give Carlos a chance before he leaves the U.S.”

The last brief paragraph is the right place for the London trip, and for the additional complication of the paparazzi. Everything is on the line now, and then give us the punch. She’s falling for him, and it’s threatening everything she’s built and sacrificed to get there. Don’t end with a question. Make it a strong statement. The stakes—POW. The relationship—POW. Dating a Prince is a full-time job. Now, Nadia may have to choose between the dreams she’s built and the man she’s learning to love (or something).}


Next up we have…

Pitch Wars Mentor Lisa Amowitz

Twitter |  Website

Lisa is an award winning author of three fantasy/thrillers for young adults, UNTIL BETHVISION, and BREAKING GLASS. She is also a cover designer and Professor of Graphic Design at Bronx Community College. She is represented by Shannon Hassan of Marsal-Lyon Literary Agency


Lisa’s recent release . . .

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

She doesn’t just play, she kills it.

Talented rock guitarist Beth Collins has been barely holding herself together for months, ever since her boyfriend and bandmate became the latest victim in a string of suspicious disappearances. When her brother is injured an accident and she sees something dark billowing around him as he hovers close to death, she’s convinced her sanity is collapsing for good.

Then she’s accepted by a boarding school for the musically gifted. All of her new friends are bursting with talent, but they’re also keeping secrets. Can she trust Vincent, who’s so sweet that his very touch makes her fears melt away? Or Xavier, who’s trying to tell her something but is hiding even more?

And will anyone be safe when her true Talent comes out?

Lisa’s First Page Critique . . .


GENRE: Fantasy

“Dwana,” my mother calls from outside my bedchamber. “Come now, it’s time.” Her voice hitches on the last two words, turning the summons into a lament. Mere bossiness wouldn’t have worked, but the sadness in her voice does.

At a nod from me, my attendant Sala opens the door revealing my mother’s shapely form, sheathed in an indigo wrap studded with silver stars, her body transformed into the night sky. Beautiful Her eyes are dry, but I read the signs of mourning in the slight downturn of her mouth and the tremor of her hands. Today she will lose me. This is so evocative and spare. Love it.

“Ama,” I say, as tenderly as I can manage, and hold out my hands to her.

My mother takes me into her arms, pressing my face against her chest, cradling my head, careful not to disturb my painstakingly arranged hair. Sala spent hours on it. I breathe in Ama’s scent, the fragrance of honey and hyacinth, which carries me back to our garden back home, the one we had before Father brought us to this flowerless, treeless desert. He traded home and hyacinths for conquest and riches.

Ama finally pulls away and holds me at arm’s length, surveying Sala’s work. Her eyes shine with pride, despite her grief. I have never been a beautiful girl, but I can pass as pretty on a good day, and Sala’s clever fingers have made me something better than pretty, better even than beautiful. She has made me fit for a god. Sooooo good! My hair is braided and shaped into elaborate designs, my eyes lined with liquid black so the green of my irises shines like polished jade. She scrubbed and oiled and powdered my skin until it glowed with a deep amber richness. Heavy silver earrings dangle from each ear. But it is the gown I wear that transforms me.

I look like the sea in high storm, bands of green and blue and white swirling into waves. Awesome, deadly, like life and death in thread and dye. The gown starts at my throat, its high collar studded with green gemstones that match my eyes. Its sleeves go all the way down to my hands, revealing only the tips of my fingers. If I lift my arms, the sleeves billow like waves. The fabric falls exactly to the level of the floor, like the tide called back just before it strikes.

I do not recognize the woman in the mirror. I am no longer Dwana, princess of Krelek. I am no longer my mother’s daughter.

I am the bride of the god of water, the creator and destroyer of worlds. In mere hours, I will give myself to the temple as his chief worshiper, high priestess, and honorary wife.

I love this SO MUCH—it’s perfect. I’m sorry I can’t find anything constructive to say except, why is she supposed to marry a Sea God, yet she’s been marooned in a dry desert exile? The writing is clean yet full of lyrical emotion.

I do hope you sub to me—and also, if you ever want a CP, give me a holler!!


Thank you, Gabrielle and Lisa, 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.

  • Judy says:

    Oh, this first chapter is amazing! I’m looking for the rest of the story….and I’m not a fan of fantasy. GORGEOUS writing! I just had to say….

  • Sabina L. says:

    Question for Lisa: In a case like this where the pages (if you could keep reading) are really polished and work for you, would you still pick that MS? (I saw you said ‘sub to me’ here, so I don’t mean this MS specifically). Do you tend to work on pacing and tightening, or line edits in cases where the plot and flow are already on point? Just curious about what type of stuff one works on in PW with a more polished MS that might not need complete rewrites? Hopefully my question made sense! I loved this first page too!

    • Lisa Amowitz says:

      Hi Sabina–Absolutely yes. I am seriously hoping this writer will sub to me. I was so taken with her writing and the story that I begged her to be a CP. We have exchanged mss and I am happy to say that what I have read so far is as good as the first chapter. I’m ready to ditch my paid reads to read hers instead. And this is VERY unusual for me. It’s very, very rare to read anything this polished–ever–even from published CPs. I’m pretty certain I will be fighting over this writer in the very near future! *waves to Erica and winks*

  • Zoje says:

    Wow! I love this! I’d love to keep reading!

  • Lisa Amowitz says:

    A note here, in case anyone thinks this critique is the norm for me. It is NOT. There is usually tons of red ink, comments, questions–and that’s when I love something. This is a very unusual situation!

  • Tess says:

    This author’s writing style is photographic–her colorful words form perfect pictures in my imagination as I read. I would love to read this book! Congratulations on a successful MS and query. You have set the bar high.

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