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Day 6 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Eric Bell

Saturday, 31 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, Eric Bell … 

Eric BellEric Bell is the author of the middle grade novels ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD, which made the 2018 ALA Rainbow List for GLBTQ+ Books for Kids and Teens, and ALAN COLE DOESN’T DANCE. He was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2015 and a mentor in 2018.

Website | Twitter


Eric’s latest release …

To heartwarming cheer, Alan Cole came out to his school. But now what?

In this follow-up novel to Alan Cole Is Not a Coward, Eric Bell deftly explores with nuance and humor how the first step to complete self-acceptance may mean actually putting your feet on the dance floor. This laugh-out-loud and poignant tale is perfect for fans of Gary Schmidt and Jerry Spinelli.

Alan Cole has a problem: Ron McCaughlin. Ever since Alan revealed he’s gay, Ron has been bullying Alan with relentless fury. Alan can’t tell his parents why he’s really coming home with bruises—because they still don’t know the truth about him.

Yet buoyed by the support of his classmates and with his friends Zack and Madison by his side, Alan thinks he can withstand the bullying and—just maybe—break through to Ron.

But all things come to a head when Alan’s father asks that he take June Harrison to the upcoming Winter Dance. Never mind that Alan has two left feet, does not like girls, and might be developing feelings for a new boy at school.

This resounding tale about friendship, family, and the many meanings of bravery will leave readers rooting for Alan and his gang of proud misfits once more.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Chapters | Book Depository | IndieBound


Eric’s query critique . . .

Middle Grade: Contemporary LGBTQ

Dear [Agent],

Thirteen-year-old Dalia is obsessed with roller coasters, even though she’s never been on one. But that’s about to change. She has big plans for the summer before eighth grade: [I’ve seen multiple approaches to queries over the years, but the one I favor starts with a personal reason for querying the agent, something like “I saw on Twitter that you’re looking for…” or “You represent this author, and my book is similar to this book…” (note that you’re not supposed to do this for Pitch Wars mentors). Then follow that up with the title, age category, and word count, then a one-sentence pitch that sums up the hook, the conflict, and the stakes. Based on this query, it seems like the stakes are Dalia’s burgeoning realization of her crush on Rani, and how she has to figure out where things stand. I’d like to know what will happen if she can’t figure it out – that’s a key part of the stakes, and you’ll want to include that in your one-line pitch.

After this intro paragraph, then I’d recommend keeping the plot overview to a single paragraph, highlighting the major plot points. Then the third paragraph can be your bio. Again, there are multiple ways to structure a query, but I’ve found this method to work well.]

  1. Convince her single dad to finally take her to an amusement park.
  2. Figure out how to make a new friend after her best (and only) friend grew boobs, got popular, and ditched her. [I like the voice here, but some agents might be turned off by the casual use of “boobs” in an MG query. Some likely won’t though!]

It seems like Dalia might check one item off her list when she meets new-to-town Rani at swim practice. But both of Dalia’s summer plans are put on hold when her dad tells her the worst news of all time [lots of fun voice in this query. Your writing style really shines through.]: he’s engaged. And to make matters worse, his fiancée has an eighteen-year-old daughter, Alexa, who wants nothing to do with her future stepsister.

With Alexa heading back to college soon for her sophomore year, the grown-ups want the soon-to-be stepsiblings to spend some time bonding. And this means Alexa’s gonna have to cancel the amusement park road trip she’s been planning with her best friend, Dhruv, for months.

That is, until Dalia has an idea: if she can convince her dad to let her go on Alexa’s trip ⁠— and bring Rani along ⁠— maybe she can make both of her summer plans actually happen and get on Alexa’s good side. Remarkably, the grown-ups agree. [You can condense these three paragraphs. Right now the plot overview is a bit too long – you’ll want it to fit comfortably into one paragraph, maybe two at the most. You don’t need to introduce every item as it comes up; what I mean by that is you can slip plot elements into other sentences. So instead of spending a sentence introducing Rani, you could say, “if she can convince her dad to let her go on Alexa’s trip – and bring her new friend Rani along…” The plot overview doesn’t have to cover everything in-depth. You also don’t need “remarkably, the grown-ups agree” – that line made me wonder why they agreed, whereas if you just leave it out, you won’t draw attention to it.]

Once it’s settled, Dalia, Rani, Alexa, and Dhruv set out on their week-long adventure. And even though Alexa basically refuses to acknowledge Dalia’s existence, they actually start to have fun. There are roller coasters to go on, funnel cakes to eat, and Lazy Rivers to laze down. [Nice voice.] But the trip gets complicated when Dalia discovers that Alexa’s hiding a big secret: Alexa’s girlfriend is joining them.

Now, Dalia has to keep Alexa’s secret while also realizing one of her own: she might have more-than-friend feelings for her maybe-friend Rani. [This is a good hook; some variant of this can go in the first paragraph. What I’m not clear on is what’s at stake if Dalia can’t figure out her own feelings. What will she lose? What will happen to her? Is it related to Alexa’s secret and her potential familial relationship with her? You’ll want the stakes to be as clear as you can make them in the query.]

… is a 53,000-word contemporary middle grade novel featuring a found family, a queer first crush, and plenty of roller coasters. [I like the play on words here, since I’m guessing Dalia’s heart will be doing plenty of roller coaster loops!]  It includes own-voices representation of queer Jewish identity, and will appeal to fans of Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell [eh, this book is okay ;P] [real comment: I’m flattered!] and Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow.

I studied creative writing and evolutionary biology (not as different as you might think) at Barnard College, where I now moonlight as a research assistant for a creative non-fiction course. During the non-moonlight hours, I write podcast scripts at ABC News’ FiveThirtyEight. I’ve also produced stories for NPR’s Invisibilia, including an upcoming episode about a man obsessed with collecting pieces of old roller coasters.   [Good bio!]

Thank you for your consideration,

[Thanks for submitting! I think this has a lot of potential. My big feedback would be to condense the plot overview and make the stakes clearer. But you have a solid voice here and a lot of intriguing plot elements. Best wishes in PW and beyond!


Thank you, Eric, 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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