Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2020 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query and first page critique from one of our mentors. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the Pitch Wars submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you in shining up your query and first page.
We appreciate our mentors for generously dedicating 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 Caitlin Sinead …
Caitlin Sinead’s novels, HEARTSICK and RED BLOODED, have received positive reviews from Library Journal, RT Book Reviews, and USA TODAY. Her writing has also earned accolades from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Glimmer Train, and Writers & Artists, and her stories have appeared in multiple publications, including The Alarmist, The Binnacle, Crunchable, Jersey Devil Press, and Northern Virginia Magazine. She earned a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University and is represented by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger, Inc. She lives in Alexandria, VA, with her husband, son, and two cats.
Caitlin’s critique . . .
Category: Adult Fantasy
Dear [Editor Name]:
The Bird and the Bone is a ~[don’t need the ~] 101,000-word, adult fantasy novel in which loss and vengeance bring two queens into a direct confrontation where their lives, and the fate of their people, hang in the balance.
Mareth, young and inexperienced, struggles with her role as the hereditary leader of a tribe on the brink of extinction. Returning home after assassinating the prince she believes responsible for her mother’s death, she receives a hero’s welcome but soon finds herself on the run as a faction within the tribe attempts to overthrow her. Torn between fighting for her position and protecting her people from encroaching enemies to the west, she launches a guerrilla war to defend her territory. When her brother, her only family, sacrifices himself to save her, Mareth spirals into a storm of rage and must choose between her duty, her people, her forest and her all-consuming desire for revenge.
In a land bordering the forest, Rannek is an intelligent, confident queen who has ruled her kingdom with a firm hand for decades. Mareth’s assassination of Rannek’s son, her only child, throws the future of the kingdom into jeopardy, and the only potential heir is a dissolute, sycophantic nephew who cares for the trappings of royalty, but none of its responsibilities. Lonely and grieving, Rannek takes on a talented young girl as her ward — a product of mixed heritage. Out of curiosity, she tasks her steward with discovering the child’s parentage, and a decades old secret is unearthed revealing her to be the illegitimate daughter of the [remove “the”] Rannek’s murdered son. Faced with a desperate decision, her thoughts return again to her lost son as news of the fighting to the east gives a clue to his murder. Rannek enacts her revenge with a devastating effect on the people in the forest leading Mareth to travel once more into enemy lands, determined to kill Rannek or die in the attempt.
[There’s a lot of information in these two paragraphs and it’s hard to keep up with it all. The cadence is very “this happened, then this happened, which caused this to happen” which isn’t as compelling as it could be. You might want to consider focusing the query just on Mareth. Focus on diction to bring her character alive even just in the query. Include the importance of Rannek to Mareth’s journey, and in the intro or closing paragraph note that it’s dual POV (or multiple POV). You only have a little time to get an agent/editor to read the story. Sometimes with dual and multi POV stories it’s best to focus the query on one character’s journey.)
I have completed [“completed” isn’t needed] a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and in 2018, I was the winner of the Sinclair Community College Writing Contest for Fiction. My story was subsequently published in Flights, the college literary magazine. I recently had a story published in The Coffin Bell Journal, and another one has been accepted for publication this fall in Flights. This is my first completed [“completed” isn’t needed] novel.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Enner’s low voice carried across the empty rooftop to where Mareth crouched, peering over the edge. “It is too early in the day for killing princes, little sister.” [nice opening :))
She glanced over her shoulder at him before turning her attention back to the courtyard seventy feet below.
“It will never be too early to kill this prince.”
From her vantage, the inhabitants of the city palace looked like brightly colored ants meandering along the stone paths crisscrossing the gardens.
”[“]The guards are out in force and the heat of high sun gives them all short tempers and quick swords. Be patient. Night will come soon enough. These deeds may be done and our escape made under cover of darkness.”[It might be nice to “see” Enner here a bit more. What are his expressions/body movements when he says this?]
Mareth lifted her eyes, marking that [“marking that” distances us from Mareth unnecessarily. Let us be in her head.] the sun was just now passing its zenith. Her shoulders slumped and she sighed, accepting her brother’s assessment. Tucking a stray strand of pale hair back into her long braid, she stood to face him, and her voice hardened with each word. [I think this last phrase would be stronger as its own sentence]
“He has had thirteen years, Enner. [Be careful using names in dialog. We don’t usually talk like that so it can seem a little contrived] Thirteen years that…that our mother never had, and the thought that he will have even one more hour of life that he does not deserve—” Her hand strayed to the white, bone hilt of her mother’s dagger belted at her waist. Mareth traced a finger along its smooth surface, still cool despite the sweltering heat of late summer [nice]. She noted [another filter phrase that distances us from Mareth. Just get into describing Enner’s posture, we know it’s really how Mareth is noting it as we’re in her head.] the subtle shift in Enner’s posture – [em dash instead of an en dash] how the small muscles around his mouth contracted and the line of his jaw became more prominent before he spoke.
“Would you like his last hour to be yours as well? Is that the tale you would have me take home to the Elders?”
“Better that than to tell them how we crouched above the prince’s balcony while he took his morning tea. How we waited, sweating in the sun, and did nothing as he enjoyed the gardens below us.” [I think this exchange works well.]
Enner rose and crossed to her. His hand settled on her shoulder. His quiet strength comforted her, soothing the knot of tension in her chest. “I know,” he said, and a sad smile softened the hard lines of his face. “Mother would be proud of you. Proud that you have come to avenge her death.” [While it’s nice that it’s clear what’s being set up, this seems just a little too on the nose and expositiony. A little subtlety can help intrigue the reader.)
Mareth met his gaze. His eyes glinted like chips of sea glass in the bright sunlight. The same green as her own. The same as their mother’s in the few memories that remained with Mareth. The thought of Marranek sent a jolt of pain through her heart. “How could I call myself queen, how could I lead the People without avenging her? It is not right that this murderous prince has had so many years.”
Her hand closed around the hilt of the dagger, clenching until her fingers ached. [nice, we see her determination, even a self-defeating determination, in this action.] She pulled away from Enner and looked back down at the gardens, her eyes fixing on the dark-haired figure of the prince, his blue cape trailing behind him as he moved through the crowds below.
“No, it is not. But it is right that you waited until your training was complete. [Again, a little expositiony] How could the People rejoice in his death if it was bought with the life of their queen?” He grasped her shoulder, pulling her gaze back to him. [ There is a lot of looking, meeting gazes, eyes fixing. See if you can trim these down].
[Overall there is a lot to like here! A determined leader with demons that may be her ruin and clear stakes. You also have some nice descriptions. Good luck!]