Welcome to our Mini Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2018 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query or first page critique from one of our mentors. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or first page from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you all get an idea on how to shine up your query and first page.
We appreciate our mentors for giving their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. Our comments are set to moderate, and we will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones before approving them.
First up we have …
Pitch Wars Past Mentor Jeanmarie Anaya …
Jeanmarie Anaya is a YA Contemporary writer. She’s a University of Michigan grad (Go Blue!) who somehow missed receiving her Hogwarts letter and has never gotten over the disappointment. You can find her on a beach in NYC, with a book in hand, wishing she could surf as well as her daughters.
Jeanmarie’s First Page Critique . . .
Young Adult Fantasy/Alternative Historical
Rayna knew it was stupid to try and take food from a telepathic guard, but she wasn’t her smartest when she was hungry. At the moment, she was damn near starving. At twelve years old, she knew survival on the streets meant doing whatever it took to get food, even if she had to steal it. I really like the way you’ve set the first page up in this first paragraph! I know who the character is and what she wants (as a general matter) from just these three smart sentences. The only suggestion I have is to remove the “filter words” (“Rayna knew” or “she knew”). Instead of saying “Rayna knew it was stupid…..” you can simply start with “It was stupid to try and take food….” The same thing goes for the sentence that starts with “At twelve years old, she knew…..” You can remove the filter word and rework the sentence to have more immediacy by saying something like, “Survival on the streets meant doing whatever it took to get food…..” Third person POV can sometimes feel distant to the reader. Removing filter words (like “knew, thought, felt”) can help a lot by pulling us deeper into Rayna’s head and making us feel like we’re living the story in her shoes.
The guard sat on a crate, lining up the contents of his lunch: a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, and an apple. When he took a bite of the apple and tossed it, she couldn’t contain her excitement. This is well done! Love the visual of the lunch spread out. One quick suggestion: I think you have a great opportunity here to highlight how Rayna is starving by having her react to the sight of the guard’s food. Not just the apple, but the whole lunch box contents after he lines it all up. Maybe mention that her stomach growls, or her mouth waters. And then have her stare longingly at that apple left on the ground like garbage. Something to that effect. It brings the reader closer to the character and her situation.
It’s not stealing if he doesn’t want it. This inner thought is great! I like how it gives us a glimpse into her personality and her voice. She doesn’t really want to steal. She’s forced to. It’s life or death for her.
The guard snapped to attention and Rayna dropped behind a nearby motor-cart, her skinny frame hidden behind the wheel. She took slow breaths and listened. After a few beats, she eased her way out of her hiding spot and looked.
He was occupied with nursing a pocket flask. This was the moment she’d been waiting for. She stood, inching her way to where the apple had rolled. As soon as it was within her reach, she snatched it up.
Before she could scramble away a strong hand clamped down on her shoulder and jerked her back. I think you can get rid of the first clause (“before she could scramble away”). That clause feels likes filler. It pulls the reader away from the action and suspense you’ve built up. Also, there’s much more of an impact when you just jump straight into the action and say “A strong hand clamped down on her shoulder.” It’s exciting and shocking at the same time.
“What exactly did you get, thief?” the guard growled, spinning her around to face him.
The fruit tumbled away as she winced at the pain of his grip. “The apple… you threw it away.” She whimpered, turning her head away from his cruel piggy eyes.
The guard’s face twisted into a scowl. “What did you call me?” He tossed her to the muddy ground and kicked her in the stomach. “Who’s the pig now, little droll?” I love how this last paragraph highlights the telepathic elements of the story, without actually explicitly saying as much. It leaves the reader hungry to learn more about this world you’ve created and its “rules.” Great job!
I think you’ve done a really fine job setting up the character, her initial conflict, and the consequences in a really neat, tight way. And it’s 110% compelling enough to make the reader want to read more. Something I’d like to mention, though, is the main character’s age. You note in the first paragraph that she’s 12 years old. That’s a little on the young end of the spectrum for YA. I’m not sure where the story takes us in her journey (this scene might be a flashback or a sort of prequel, and she “ages up” as subsequent sense take place) or how intense the subject matter is. However, if she remains 12 years old throughout, and if the tone skews less toward teen issues and doesn’t involve any heavier subject matter, then the story might be better classified this as MG. Just something for you to think about.
Thank you, Jeanmarie, for your critique!
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Kim Long …
Kim Long loves to write stories with a sense of adventure, a dash of magic, and a hint of science. She wrote her first book at age 10, where she combined the best parts of her favorite Choose Your Own Adventures into a single story. (Cave of Time at Chimney Rock in the Bermuda Triangle.) When not writing, she loves playing board games, watching Star Wars movies, and riding her bike along Illinois’ many trails. Her debut novel, Lexi Magill and the Teleportation Trek Tournament, will be released in Fall 2019 by Running Press Kids.
Kim is co-mentoring in Middle Grade with Jennifer L. Brown.
Kim’s Query Critique . . .
Dear Pitchwars Mentor,
When 10-year-old Mac’s father is deployed overseas, Mac comes to live in Brownstone Brooklyn with relatives he’s never met. [Here he discovers a whole world of magic, where mischievous sprites called Brownies exist, but so do terrifying demons that attach themselves to neighborhood bullies to assert their evil influence.] I would say how this happens, and also give a snippet as to what happens when he first gets there. “Things start out normal enough. Mac meets his neighbor, who becomes his new best friend, and the two spend their days biking around the city (Or whatever). But then . . . [insert brownie find]”
With Mac’s new friend’s father facing an unjust deportation, Mac and his friends, Ali and Caity beg the Brownies to intervene. But even the Brownies’ help is not enough to save Mr. Kaouri. In this story of tolerance, friendship, and overcoming of obstacles, the three kids must learn to develop their magical powers so they can defeat the demons once and for all, and rescue Ali’s father before he’s sent back to his dangerous land. Hmm. My thoughts on this are the same for the opening paragraph. I really have no idea what happens in your book. I suggest a middle paragraph of a couple sentences discussing the discovery of the Brownies, who they are, and what they want/how they live and Mac and his friends’ interaction with them. Then, in the third paragraph, tell us the conflict. If it’s to prevent the deportation, tell us how the kids plan on doing that and even how the Brownies would be able to help. Right now, there is a disconnect into how the Brownies would be able to stop the deportation. The last sentence of your third paragraph should state the exact challenge and stakes. “If Mac can’t get the Brownies to help him steal the papers (what exactly do they have to do?) before ICE comes for Mr. Kaouri, Mac’s best friend will never see his Dad again.” (Or whatever it is. Is it the demons, not ICE? Tell us!)
At 74,000 words, my middle grade fantasy BROWNIES OF BROOKLYN combines the magic of THE LOST HEIR by E.G. Foley with the intrigue and tone of K. Milford’s GREENGLASS HOUSE. After some great advice, I cut a couple of subplots and 8,000 words from my story, but I need help determining how else to restructure. I’ve created a 5,000-word chapter-by-chapter summary should you wish to review it.
I studied children’s book writing and illustrating at Parsons School of Design and am a member of SCBWI. With my military upbringing and as a practicing psychotherapist in Brooklyn, bringing together the issues facing both military and immigrant families is close to my heart.
Thank you for your consideration.
Thank you, Kim, for your critique!
Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting them until the Pitch Wars submission window opens on August 27. Hope you’ll come back and read some more.