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 Mentor Sarah Hawthorne …
Sarah Hawthorne lives in the Pacific Northwest where she drinks too much coffee, plans a lot of vacations and writes romance novels. Her native habitats include her garden and the local library. Sarah received a Bachelor’s Degree from California State Polytechnic University of Pomona, Los Angeles with a major in history and a minor in English.
She is the author of the Demon Horde Motorcycle Club Series. The series is a sweeter take on motorcycle club/biker romance genre, published by Carina Press/Harlequin. She is represented by Jessica Alvarez at BookEnds Literary. Sarah was a 2016 Golden Heart Finalist (contemporary short) and the winner of the 2015 Heart to Heart Award (erotica).
Rebel Custody by Sarah Hawthorne . . .
A son in danger
The Demon Horde MC are no strangers to breaking the rules, but making a man pay to get his son back crosses one too many lines for Skeeter. He’ll do anything, including play by the book, if it means bringing his son home. Hiring straitlaced attorney Miriam Englestein is meant to solve his problems, not create new ones. One look at her and his good-guy facade goes out the window. He wants to throw his buttoned-up lawyer onto the back of his bike and make her his.
A woman at risk
Miri wants nothing to do with the club. Her father may be in their pocket, but she’s on the right side of the law and she intends to stay there. But there’s something about Skeeter’s plea—something about him—she can’t walk away from. While she’s tempted to let him do unspeakably wicked and delicious things to her, she can’t risk her law practice, or her heart.
A dangerous deception
When Miriam agrees to pose as Skeeter’s woman to get details they need for the case, things heat up fast—and it’s not long before the lines between business and personal blur, and they’re both in over their heads. In the MC world, lies have a way of coming back to you, and they put everyone at risk.
Sarah’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
GENRE: Paranormal Thriller
The dark woods of Northern Wisconsin have harbored a secret for a thousand years; before the white settlers, before the Woodland Indians, before the mound builders. It is an evil brimming with shape shifting, cannibalism and murder; an evil being that needs to feed on young girls to sustain itself and a succession of loyal servants. [The previous sentences are actually the ending. You’ll have plenty of time to explain that in the synopsis. You just want to entice in the query. Suggest cut.] DEAD GIRLS is a paranormal thriller that pits [where] brilliant, unorthodox FBI Special agent Kimberly Watson, against those servants, to [must] solve a growing list of missing persons contained in a file on her laptop titled, “Dead Girls.” [can we jazz this up somehow? I have a growing list of “to-dos” at work too….give it a deadline. Can she solve the fifteen missing persons cases before….somehow indicate time is running out. It will give you more drama and increase the stakes for the heroine.]
Special Agent Watson is a certified genius, an over achiever [redundant], a loner, and a rules breaker. She lives for her work devoting [devotes] every minute of every day to finding an end to the seemingly endless supply of missing people cases. Her idea of intimacy is a one-night stand. [are the previous 2 sentences necessary? Suggest cut] Her specialty is looking for connections in open cases, which might tie the victims together; not routine connections, things no one else would locate. What she finds is a connection between a series of disappearances and the lifestyle of the very successful, ever-youthful rock star, Jimmy Vale and his onetime best friend, the destitute, homeless, Chris Carter. [starting from Her specialty….this is the section that hooked me. I love this group of sentences!!]
Chris becomes Kimberly’s ally and his story takes her back to 1989, when it all began on the cloudless, hot and sunny August morning that Chris Carter and Jimmy Vale began the last sane day of their lives. The two inseparable high school friends were off on the adventure of a lifetime, a cross-country trip in Jimmy’s car that began in New York and would take them wherever destiny called. A fateful decision to go northwest on Interstate 90 instead of southwest on Route 66 would lead them through the North Woods of Wisconsin and into the hands of The Cleaner; the ancient servant of The One. [This paragraph is all backstory. In a blurb, we want to maximize conflict within the story. I would suggest cutting this entire paragraph and sticking to events that don’t happen as backstory/flashback. They might be pertinent to the story BUT in a blurb, you’re working with limited space. Save that space for the conflict that is currently happening in the book.]
The next twenty years give us the rise of Jimmy Vale as a chart-topping rock star/teen idol, who is also a serial killer. At the same time, Chris becomes a successful Wall Street Fund Manager and loving family man, who also must occasionally do some “favors” for the Cleaner. As Jimmy continues to embrace the evil, Chris eventually rejects it and loses his job and his family, and ends up on the streets where [everything previous in this paragraph is backstory and I would suggest cut.] Kimberly finds him. Together they face off against Jimmy and ultimately The One, in a whirlwind mission that takes the reader across the country; Kimberly Watson must trust the research of a man who appears crazy. She must break all the rules, to join with him and help discover the forces at work, find their perpetrators and then understand how to defeat them. [wait…you’re telling me the ending again! If you were looking for a book on Amazon, you would probably be unhappy that the author told you the ending. Try turning it into a question. Can Kimberly find the driving force causing the two murders? You’ll want to hint that it’s paranormal. Your paranormal being isn’t easy (like a vampire, or werewolf) and I think that explaining it in depth will give away the fun. I would couch it as “Using clues, Kimberly realizes what she is dealing with is a paranormal force. Can she find out what it is and how to defeat it?” another option would be “Kimberly is dealing with a mysterious being called The One. Can she find out how to defeat it in time?” Agents are readers too and they need to be intrigued to continue moving forward.]
The 80,000 word, 275-page DEAD GIRLS is the ultimate good vs evil contest with slightly blurred lines on both sides. [couple things…what is the accepted word count in this genre? As a romance writer, my books are around 70ish, which is on the lighter side. Based on the fact that you’re doing pretty serious backstory, world building, and mystery…this seems light. It’s not a deal breaker with most agents, but check out what the standards are. Also, what genre is this EXACTLY? On the bookshelf (if we arranged by genre) what other authors would you be next to? DEAD GIRLS is a who-dunit with a paranormal antagonist and some romantic elements. Obviously, knowing the genre, you can describe it better.] It is fraught with sexual tension [wait, what??? How did I miss the romance? If there are romantic elements, you need to weave them into the blurb] and dark introspection. It has a flawed protagonist who never wavers from her battle but lives an unorthodox lifestyle filled with one-night-stands and a flaunting of every rule she’s ever faced. [Hmmmm sounds like she accepts her flaws and moves on. What does she learn from those flaws?]
Overall: I really really love the idea of a rock star serial killer. Like, seriously. That is gold. I would play up that angle a little more if possible. That is such a cool hook! The image of Dexter and Aerosmith keep running through my mind. I think any agent would sit up and take notice at the originality – I certainly did as a reader. Good luck in your writing, I think you’ve got a great future in publishing! With a little tweaking, I think this will be a very solid query.
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor J.C. Davis …
As a child, J.C. Davis spent her days inventing secret worlds and finding forgotten places. Busy reading her way through the local library, she never imagined writing books of her own until one day, all grown up, she fell in love with a children’s book and decided to rediscover a few of those secret worlds she’d invented. Ms. Davis’s first book is locked in a drawer guarded by attack trolls. Her second, CHEESUS WAS HERE, will be released in Spring 2017 by Sky Pony Press. A programmer by day, Ms. Davis lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, two kids and a pair of hedgehogs with nerdy names. Ms. Davis is an amateur photographer, runs a Harry Potter meet-up group, and is an unrepentant book addict.
Ms. Davis is represented by Mandy Hubbard of the Emerald City Literary Agency.
Cheesus Was Here by J.C. Davis …
Nothing ever happens in tiny Clemency, Texas, until the day a gas clerk finds the image of Baby Jesus inside a Babybel cheese wheel. When more crazy miracles turn up, Clemency turns into a full blown media circus. While everyone else seems ready to accept that God has a dairy fetish, 16-year-old Delaney Delgado hasn’t believed in miracles since her kid sister died. Del’s determined to prove this whole thing is one big hoax and nothing and no one is going to convince her otherwise. Sure her best friend, Gabe, is a pastor’s kid and on the side of the angels, but even Gabe has to admit things look a bit fishy. When Del finds proof the miracles are fake, however, she has to decide whether to disgrace her town and risk losing Gabe’s friendship or support a lie that mocks the miracle her family prayed for and never received.
Buy your copy today!
J.C.’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Middle grade
GENRE: Realistic contemporary fiction
Today we’d be on time. [Your first sentence is your first impression and first chance to really grab the reader. Ideally it should do one or more of the following: introduce character, introduce setting, establish voice or create a question in the reader’s mind. Play with some different first lines and see if you can find one that does one of those four things. Because your novel is first person, voice would be a great area to focus on.] I peeked into Sophie’s room on my way down to breakfast. Mom had already turned on her light, but Sophie was hiding under her blanket on the floor [my first thought wasn’t that Sophie is still asleep, but rather, due the word hiding, that she’s awake and cowering under her blanket for some reason. Perhaps consider a different word?]. My big sister almost always ends up sleeping on the floor even though she starts each night in her bed.
I tilted open her blinds. “Soph! Wake up!”
“Come on!” I pulled the blanket off her face and smiled. “Morning!”
She squinted and threw her arm over her eyes. “Too bright.”
“It’s sunshine. It’s good.” I pictured the sun warming the blacktop at school [Lovely details] where I’d get to hang out with Bella and Lucy before first bell if only Sophie would get moving. [“Pictured” is a filtering word, is there a way to remove that? I’d also challenge you to break this long sentence into two. You could do something like: The sun would be warming the blacktop at school. I’d get to hang out with Bella and… ] I had a fluttery feeling in my chest [One thing to watch out for in first-person POV novels is making sure you limit the number of sentences that begin with “I” as much as possible to it’s not repetitive. You could rephrase this sentence with something like “Nerves fluttered in my chest just thinking about…” in order to avoid “I” at the beginning so that there’s more variation in the sentences in this paragraph.] just thinking about seeing them. I didn’t want things to be weird. [This is intriguing! Now I’m super curious about why things would be weird.] “I’ll race you to breakfast.”
Sophie moved her arm down and opened her eyes. “No fair. You’re already dressed.”
“So I’ll wait for you.” I was wearing my favorite jeans and a top with emojis all over it. Hopefully today would be a smiley face kind of day and not a poop one. [I love this and it’s a great peek into how your MC views the world]
Sophie stretched and stood. I hopped from one foot to the other while Sophie pulled on a black velvet top over pink and yellow leggings. We get most of our clothes from our older cousins, but Sophie manages to put her own flair on things. This morning she added a silver sequined scarf from last year’s Halloween costume. She looked like a fashion designer.
I said, “On your mark, get set–” but Sophie was already out her bedroom door and past me, shouting go [That should be “shouting, ‘Go!’” rather than “shouting go.”]. I didn’t care. As long as Sophie kept moving, I’d get to hang with Bella and Lucy.
“Waffles or eggs?” Mom asked. She was standing at the kitchen counter, dressed for work, drinking coffee and looking at her computer. [There are a lot of details crammed into this sentence but they’re all generic. Can you give us one or two specific details instead? Give a specific detail of her outfit perhaps, or tell us about the mug. Maybe one of the girls made the mug, something specific to bring this scene, and their mother, to life. ]
“Eggs,” Sophie said. “Over easy, pleasey.” She laughed at her rhyme.
“Waffles,” I said. “But I’ll make them myself.” I opened the freezer, took two cinnamon waffles out of the box, and popped them into the toaster. [Focus on details that are important and that move the scene forward. She’s already said what she’s going to do, so you don’t need to show us as well. This last sentence could be dropped.]
Mom raised her eyebrows.
“Mrs. Phillips says fifth graders should be more self-reliant.” I got out a plate and filled a glass with orange juice, feeling very grown up. Mrs. Phillips would be proud. [Nice details]
“I’m all for that.” Mom pulled the fry pan out of the cabinet.
“Wait,” Sophie said. “I want to make my own eggs then.”
“Oh, Soph, not today. Teaching you how to fry eggs is a weekend activity.”
“I can do it.” Sophie got the eggs out of the refrigerator. “After all, I’m in sixth grade.” She said it as if sixth grade was eons past fifth. “Now what do I do first?”
Mom put her hand up. Her nostrils flared in that way they do when she’s annoyed but trying to be patient. [Lovely detail here! I love this little insight into their mother.] “Sophie, I mean it. We don’t have time for a big mess. If you want eggs, I’m making them. If you want waffles, you can make them yourself. The choice is yours.”
[You’ve done a great job showing us the relationship between the MC, Sophie and their mother in a very quick fashion! I love the specific details that bring the scene to life, like Mom flaring her nostrils. The writing is crisp, clean and well laid out. I would like a few more sensory details to really ground the reader and bring things together. Color and texture. Overall, this is a lovely opening and I’d definitely read on to find out why the MC is nervous about meeting her friends at school.]
Thank you, Sarah and J.C., 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.