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Day 44 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query and First Page Workshop with Mentors Amanda Rawson Hill, Cindy Baldwin, & Sarah Nicolas

Tuesday, 11 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 Mentors Amanda Rawson Hill and Cindy Baldwin …

cindy baldwinWebsite | Twitter

Cindy Baldwin is a Carolina girl who moved to the opposite coast and is now gamely doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book.

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin . . .

Add it to Goodreads

HarperCollins has acquired Where the Watermelons Grow, a debut by Cindy Baldwin. In this middle-grade novel, 12-year-old Della will do anything to cure her mother’s schizophrenia and keep her family together – even if it means asking for help from the eccentric Bee Lady, and making up from her worst-ever fight with her best friend. Publication is slated for summer 2018.

amanda rawson hillWebsite | Twitter

Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in Southwest Wyoming with a library right outside her back gate (which accounts a lot for how she turned out.) After graduating high school, she attended Brigham Young University where she recieved both her MRS degree and her bachelors degree in chemistry. Today, Amanda lives in the central valley of California with her husband and three children. She loves to homeschool, garden, knit, play the piano, sing, and embarrass her family when she dances.


Amanda and Cindy’s Query Critique . . .

Cindy is in red. Amanda is in blue.

GENRE: Fantasy

When unrepentantly single programmer Hammond falls in love with a woman named June July August, he learns that Summer is a place where magic still lingers. I’m torn on the efficacy of this logline. I don’t really feel like it is doing the work you need it to and that it’s creating confustion later on in your query.

June enjoys sketching while naked, loves waffles, and was long ago told she is a witch. [I’m intrigued but confused by the line “was told she is a witch”—does she have any witchy abilities or is she a regular person? A little clarification might be nice. The idea of somebody having been told they were a witch but never having any magical manifestations is really interesting!] With her help, Hammond discovers he can see the truth of things, [This should be something other than a comma—a colon or an em-dash. I also find myself wanting this magic to be described a little more specifically. HOW does he see the “truth” of things? What does it feel like? What’s the mechanism? While this sounds like such a fascinating magical ability, the phrase “the truth of things” is such a colloquialism that I find myself needing something a little more specific to ground me in the particulars of this magic.] Building on what Cindy said, how is this important to the story? If you’re going to put this in the beginning of your query, you need to hint about why it’s important at the end of the query, too. the hidden secrets people and objects have, their histories, their desires. Then he discovers the truth of Summer [Again, because “truth” has such strong connotations already, I find myself needing more here: What IS the truth of Summer? Simply that it exists? I might consider changing up the phrasing a little bit so that it reads more like “When his gift for seeing truth allows him to discover Summer…”], another world hidden beyond their own. Because we all think of Summer as a season, not a place, I think you will have less confusion if you change the order of this sentence. “The he discovers the truth of a world hidden beyond their own, a place called Summer.” Truths have consequences, though, and June falls through the crack between worlds Hammond unlocked to fulfill a destiny that awaits her. [I’m finding myself unsure here the relationship between June and Summer. From the logline at the beginning, and the statement that she’s a witch, I found myself assuming until now that June July August already knows what Summer is and is perhaps from there, so was a bit confused when she falls through.] I think you either need to give us a lot more information in these first few sentences, or a lot less. You could easily sum this up with, “Unrepentantly single programmer, Hammond, does the unthinkable and falls in love. Her name is June July August. She enjoys sketching while naked, loves waffles, and was long ago told she is a witch. But when Hammond discovers the existence of a land beyond their own, a place called Summer, June ends up falling through the crack between worlds that Hammond unlocked.” Again, only put in the “truth” stuff if you’re going to hint about why it’s important in the next paragraph.

Now code-warrior [Does Hammond’s coding play into the resolution of the book? If not, I don’t think it’ necessary to reiterate that he’s a programmer here; it makes it sound like his coding will play a large role in the story. If it DOES play a large role, I might add a few words to explain what that is.] Hammond must follow her into Summer, where magic is real, technology limited, and fortune tellers run the local newspaper. [LOVE that last detail!] The diviners tell Hammond that June may be the Dawn Queen, one of the great goddesses who bring balance to the land. She must marry the King Stag during the midsummer festival to renew an ancient pact that restores the land’s magic. But Siobhan, Queen of the Fay, believes that the role of Dawn Queen is hers to claim, and will use any means necessary to stand among the ancient ring of stones and take the King Stag for her own. Nice and clear.

Hammond sets out to find June, troubled by the thought that finding her means helping her, and helping her means giving her heart to another. If Hammond succeeds in finding June in the vast, strange world, he might lose her to another man. [Your first two sentences here say essentially the same thing; I don’t think you need the first. I might think of replacing it with something that outlines what he must do to get to her. Does he confront any specific tasks or challenges? What poses problems in his navigation of this strange world?] Agreed. If he fails, the power of the land will be Siobhan’s to steal away. And if the magic is not restored, Summer—and Hammond’s world—will die. [Great job outlining the stakes here.] I’m confused, why will Hammond’s world die? Does he feel like Summer is more his home than where he came from? If so, maybe say that earlier. Because right now, I don’t see why Hammond should care about the fate of Summer.

SUMMER is an Adult Fantasy novel that is complete at 120,000 words. It will appeal to readers who enjoy the tone of voice of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and the portal fantasy of The Magicians. [This query is really strong, and the book sounds fascinating and fun! Best of luck!]


Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Sarah Nicolas …


Twitter | Website

Sarah Nicolas is a recovering mechanical engineer, library event planner, and author. She lives in Orlando with a 60-lb mutt who thinks he’s a chihuahua. Sarah writes YA novels as Sarah Nicolas and romance under the name Aria Kane. Sarah has published both traditionally and independently, and has also worked in the publishing industry as an editorial intern, editorial assistant, publicist, publicity director, cover artist, and art director.

When she’s not writing, she can be found playing volleyball or drinking wine. She is a contributor for Book Riot and at YAtopia. Sarah is represented by Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency.

Sarah’s Upcoming Release . . .

keepinghersecretKeeping Her Secret
August 22, 2016 Entangled Teen

All’s fair in love and summertime prank wars

The last person Riya Johnson expected to run into at her new summer camp is Courtney Chastain—her childhood best friend and the girl who broke her heart after a secret, mind-blowing, life-altering kiss. She definitely didn’t expect to be sharing a bunk bed with her for four long weeks.

Courtney has what every girl wants—she’s beautiful, rich, and the object of every boy’s desire at Camp Pine Ridge. Too bad none of them make her feel an iota of what Riya’s kiss did all those years ago. But Courtney needs to uphold appearances at all costs—even if it means instigating an all-out prank war with Riya as her main target.

Neither girl can stop thinking about the other…but that doesn’t mean they can give up past hurts and take a chance on a future together.

Read the first chapter at the Entangled Teen website!

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iTunes | Google

Sarah’s First Page Critique . . .

GENRE: Paranormal

I pushed the door to the library inwards, ready to explore. [Try: Ready to explore, I pushed the library door inward.] As always, I was greeted by the whispers of book pages [passive, try: the whispers of book pages greeted me] as they left echoes of wisdom with every person who heard them. [awkward phrasing, consider rewording] Thankfully, nothing could be heard elsewise. I sighed with contentment, welcoming the silence that embraced me. [here, i’m wondering if the book pages are actually making a sound or is this a paranormal thing? or neither? it doesn’t seem like anyone else is there.]

The cozy yet elegant interior design [I think I would like to see more specifics here that paint a picture] of the book shelves captivated my eyes as my desire for knowledge skyrocketed with every step forward. I hesitantly walked past the the [remove second the] desks that held bulky desktops [I had to read this twice to realize you mean desktop computers. consider rewording] ancient as time itself. As much as I loved the internet, I had work to do. So I instead moved towards the seemingly endless rows of novels, encyclopedias, classics, and other literature.

My fingers brushed against the spine of a rigid history book. [Surely it’s on a particular topic, not a general history book. Is this a specific book s/he was looking for? If s/he has work to do, is this helping them or distracting them? Why does s/he pick it up if s/he has so much work to do?] I greedily took it off of the shelf and brought it to an empty table. While walking closer [confused timing: s/he brings the book to a table in the last sentence, but now is still walking] to where I wanted to sit, I smiled at all of the new and intriguing info under my arms. First I should study for the english quiz, then do my math homework.

For the next few hours, I jotted notes down to my heart’s content. [did s/he study for the quiz or do their math homework? is s/he browsing the history book?] Sometimes a single page had more information than Google could ever offer. [this doesn’t seem correct? it may present the information more elegantly, but to have more information?] That, and the pleasure of nostalgia, were the reasons why I barely scratched the surface of technology. [does s/he love the internet, as stated above, or does s/he eschew technology?]

Just as I closed the first book and slid the next in front of me, my phone buzzed. I quickly grabbed it from my pocket and set it to silent before flipping it open. One missed call from Mom.

She’ll get worried if I don’t respond. So [strike “so”] I texted her that I was at the library and would get home a little late.

After she said ‘be careful’, I sighed. Mom was always such a worrywart.

Returning my attention to my work, I skimmed over the opened pages and continued where I left off. Red herrings are things that distract from an important issue.

Slippery-slopes are―what were they again?

I scribbled their definitions down, highlighting the titles. Teach said these were important to remember. Sounds necessary. [strike last sentence]

Maybe if I was lucky, Ms. Honey would praise me. She always liked how ‘sophisticated’ my essays were. The woman boasted about me whenever she could, blowing my ego up even more. Anyways, back to the present. [<- awkward transition.] Slippery-slopes.

They… I forgot.

I flipped through my notes until I found the answer, then scribbled them onto a note card. After quizzing myself on the definitions, I sighed. Is there a difference between memorizing and knowing?  

Would I use any of this information in the future?

I wasn’t sure.

Still, I needed to learn more. [why? for the sake of it? to do well in school? could use some motivation here] Surely all of this information would be useful later, right?

The next time I tested myself, I looked out the window, [i’m not sure of what’s happening here. does the MC test themself, then look out the window, or test themself at the same time as looking out the window?] then back to my notes. Even though I’ve been here for so long, I haven’t understood a single thing.

Maybe it’s time for a break.


With my math homework finished and english vocabulary memorized, I called Mom, ready to return home.

I’m not sure this is a good place to start the story? Or, if it is, it needs a little more tension and conflict. I need more specifics and clarifications on your MC’s motivations so that I can care about what happens next. Why is s/he so driven to learn? Is their mom normal-protective or suspiciously protective? Is their inability to remember what they just studied abnormal or simply human? I probably wouldn’t read much further if it weren’t for the fact that this is a YA paranormal where a library seems to be an important part of the character/story and I’m rooting for it to get exciting soon. There’s definitely something here, it’s just not yet shining in these first two pages.

Thank you, Amanda, Cindy, and Sarah, 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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