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Day 5 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Erin Entrada Kelly

Friday, 30 August 2019  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2019 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.

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor, Erin Entrada Kelly … 

Erin Entrada Kelly received the 2018 Newbery Medal for HELLO, UNIVERSE, the 2017 APALA Award for THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS, and the 2016 Golden Kite Honor Award for BLACKBIRD FLY. Her work has been translated in more than thirty languages. Erin also has more than fifteen years of editorial experience and has worked as a professional book reviewer and book publicist. HELLO, UNIVERSE is currently in development with Netflix and her fourth book, YOU GO FIRST, has been optioned for the stage. Her most recent work, LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA (September 2019), sold in five countries before its release and has earned four starred reviews. All her books have been published with Greenwillow/HarperCollins.

Erin teaches in the MFA program at Rosemont College in Philadelphia and has served as a mentor for SCBWI-Nevada. She grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, but now lives in Delaware.

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Erin’s upcoming book releasing September 3, 2019 …

There are stories of extraordinary children who are chosen from birth to complete great quests and conquer evil villains.

This is no such story.

Sometimes, you are an ordinary child.

Sometimes, you have to choose yourself.

This is the story of Lalani Sarita, a twelve-year-old girl who lives on the island of Sanlagita in the shadow of a vengeful mountain. When she makes a fateful wish that endangers her already-vulnerable village, she sets out across the distant sea in search of life’s good fortunes. Grown men have died making the same journey. What hope does an ordinary girl have?

Inspired by Filipino folklore, Lalani of the Distant Sea introduces readers to a landscape of magical creatures, such as Bai-Vinca, the enormous birdwoman; Ditasa Ulod, part woman, part eel; the mindoren, a race of creatures modeled after the water buffalo; and the whenbo — trees that eat the souls of the dead.

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Erin’s query critique . . .

Category: Middle Grade, Contemporary Fantasy

Dear ————- (agent name)

I would be grateful if you would consider representing my work : Bird Girl. [No need for a polite precursor—instead, jump right into the heart of your novel. Remember: Some agents receive hundreds of queries in one week alone. They want as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time.]

It is a Middle Grade novel of 43000 words. The girl of the title is 10-year-old Melissa Perkins, struggling with issues about herself, her family and friends. The bird is Homer, a young racing pigeon she is training to compete in the toughest race in the world, the Iron Bird International.

[One of the reasons query letters are so difficult to write is because you only have a small window of time and space to catch an agent’s attention. For this reason, every sentence—indeed, every word—is prime real estate. You want to be as succinct and compelling as possible. You must be effective and efficient. How can you make the first two paragraphs more of both? Which words are redundant and/or unnecessary? How can you delve right into the heartbeat of your book? A suggestion: BIRD GIRL is a 43,000-word middle grade novel about Melissa Perkins, a ten-year-old girl who struggles at school and home, and Homer, the young racing pigeon she’s training for the Iron Bird International.

Both characters have to face up to challenges. [This sentence doesn’t really tell us anything—all books are about characters facing up to challenges.] Melissa has to deal with self doubt, antagonism at school and stress at home. [Give specific examples. When it comes to your characters or your novel, you DO NOT want to be generic.] Homer faces physical threats from predators, storms and exhaustion as well as jealous opponents who will stop at nothing to put him out of action. [This is interesting. Great examples of specifics; however, I’m a bit confused. Is Homer anthropomorphic? If so, that’s an important detail to include.] He has electrifying speed, acrobatic agility and extraordinary powers of navigation. His survival depends on using these powers to resolve the bigotry which exists between different ‘racial’ groups and bring them together. [How much of the novel is told in Homer’s POV? Is it dual POV? You’ve given lots of details about Homer so far, but very few about Melissa, which makes me think it’s more of a Homer Story than a Melissa Story. Make sure it’s clear what kind of book this is. On a related note, I’m very confused by the bigotry/racial element. Bigotry in the bird community or human community? How does the former reflect the latter, if at all? This is a compelling piece that doesn’t quite make sense without further context.] Both derive inspiration from the past: Melissa from the story of her great great grandmother’s adventures in World War 1 [What kind of adventures?]; Homer from a mysterious ghost bird who acts as a guiding spirit. Their stories weave together in unexpected ways to bring about some surprising outcomes and introduce some fascinating characters. [Like who? Short descriptors here could help bring this further to life.]

I am from the North of England, a graduate of Durham and Birmingham Universities with degrees in English and Education. I worked as a Lecturer in Further Education before setting up a company producing audio-visual training. This involved writing scripts on many varied topics and directing film, video and online programmes. I am currently writing a prequel in the shape of the story of Melissa’s great great grandma (mentioned above) as well as writing poetry. [This can be tightened up a bit. Also, it’s not necessary to mention the prequel.]

I hope my work might appeal to your sphere of interest, as it covers several of the elements in your wish list.  I would be happy to work with you to refine and improve my work. [This can be tightened. Remember, every word counts. Be specific, but succinct. Example: I’m querying you because you expressed interest in MG novels with anthropomorphic characters. There is no need to specify that you are happy to refine and improve your work.]

I am grateful for your time and attention.

Yours sincerely,

Thank you, Erin, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2019 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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