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, Michelle Hazen …
Michelle is a nomad with a writing problem. Years ago, she and her husband ducked out of the 9 to 5 world and moved out on the road. As a result, she wrote most of her books with solar power in odd places, including a bus in Thailand, a golf cart in a sandstorm, and a beach in Honduras. She is the author of the Sex, Love, and Rock & Roll series, works as a freelance editor, and as a book coach for Author Accelerator. Currently, she’s addicted to The Walking Dead, hiking, and Tillamook cheese.
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Check out Michelle’s recent release …
What could two troubled souls from different walks of life have in common? Maybe everything.
Andra Lawler lives isolated at her family’s horse ranch, imprisoned by the memories of an assault in college. When she needs help training her foals, she hires a Haitian-Creole cowboy from New Orleans with a laugh as big as the Montana sky.
LJ Delisle can’t stand the idea that Andra might be lonely—or eating frozen TV dinners. He bakes his way into her kitchen with a lemon velvet cake, and offers her cooking lessons that set them on the road to romance. But even their love can’t escape the shadow of what they’ve been through. Despite their growing friendship and his gentle rapport with the horses, LJ is still an outsider facing small-town suspicions.
Before they can work through their issues, LJ is called home by a family emergency. In the centuries-old, raggedly rebuilt streets of New Orleans, he must confront memories of Hurricane Katrina and familiar discrimination. And Andra must decide if she’s brave enough to leave the shelter of the ranch for an uncertain future with LJ.
Michelle’s query critique . . .
Adult: Women’s Fiction
Cash strapped office temp, Helen Johnson, thinks she’s been given the wrong handbook to live by; no matter how hard she tries, the Great Australian Dream of family, home ownership and career success is slipping further away. When Helen’s husband is made redundant, can she overcome a system that seems rigged against her and save the family home?
[These are such relatable topics! I also love how you encapsulate both the setting and the conflict in the phrase “Great Australian Dream”. Your book idea looks great! I also love that you included the pitch for the book, the genre and word count, and a bio paragraph. Those are all the major parts you need for a query and you already have all of them, so it’s clear you’ve done your research!
As far as feedback on what to tweak, I would break up the first sentence so it’s not so long. Short sentences make for easier reading in queries. The phrase “cash strapped” also tripped me up when I was first reading. It’s a great descriptor, just not quite smooth enough to start with. I also got confused about Helen’s husband being made redundant, so to clarify, perhaps add the word “job” to that or describe it as laid off or fired. So I’d do something like this (don’t use italics in your query, I just did that to set my example apart from the rest of my feedback):
Helen Johnson is a broke office temp who feels she’s been living by the wrong handbook. No matter how hard she tries, the Great Australian dream of happy family, home ownership, and fulfilling career success is definitely not coming true for her. When Helen’s husband loses his job, she’ll have to find a way to pay her mortgage with temp wages or risk her family being put out on the street.
There are two important principles illustrated in that example: first, avoid rhetorical questions in queries. They have been overused in the past and agents tend to prefer statements. Second, we need to see MORE about your book’s conflict and how it plays out. I usually advise authors to spend 150-250 words on the main body of the pitch that describes the book, not including bio paragraph and genre/word count paragraph. Right now you’ve only got 58. That’s not enough for an agent to tell if they want your book or not. What you do have is super promising- we’ve got a woman in a relatable situation, with a problem that has good stakes. This is a situation facing MANY people today. We just need to know more about the specifics. What does the character need to do? What stands in their way? What will happen if they don’t pull it off (stakes). And in all of these, be as specific to YOUR BOOK as possible. So instead of saying “Helen must fight the system” say things like, “Helen will have to land a huge client in order to get promoted by a boss who hates women and only promotes his golfing buddies.”]
With unaffordable housing and job insecurity, many Australians are struggling to achieve The Great Australian Dream today. … will resonate with them as it is about the lived experience of trying to survive in a system that is no longer working.
[So, some agents appreciate you speaking to what audience will enjoy your book. And some prefer you stick to explaining the book and let THEM decide who the audience might be. If you do use it, put it at the end right before your bio paragraph. I think you can actually drop all of this because it’s already perfectly clear from your pitch. And you’re right! It is absolutely a big part of the draw of this book.]
Readers who have been engrossed and enlightened by “One Hundred Years of Dirt” by Rick Morton, “Islands” by Peggy Frew and “The Land Before Avocado” by Richard Glover, will find it a worthwhile addition to their reading experience.
… is a Contemporary Women’s Fiction novel of 80 000 words and features an idealistic woman living in contemporary suburban Melbourne.
[So, I’ve seen agents who want the genre and word count paragraph up front and those who want it at the bottom. For the most part, I believe in starting with the pitch itself. For THIS book, I might start with the genre paragraph, just because this is the type of story that could be written in a bunch of different genres, so saying it is WF gives it a bit of a frame and a sense of what type of story it will be. I would also, for brevity and ease of reading, slim down your comp titles to just two and add them onto this paragraph. It could be helpful to add a 1-2 word description of WHY each is a good comp title for your work (then, agents who haven’t read those titles will still get some info from the comparison). I think you can drop “idealistic woman living in contemporary suburban Melbourne” because it’s not strictly necessary information. For book title, I’ve seen people use italics or all caps more frequently than quotations. So my example would look something like this:
TITLE is a Contemporary Women’s Fiction novel of 80,000 words. It has the idealism of ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF DIRT by Rick Morton and a family saga similar to THE LAND BEFORE AVOCADO by Richard Glover.]
I live in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne with my family and I work in Aged Care. … is my first novel, and I have not had any other work published. I have previously submitted to The Friday Pitch with Allen and Unwin.
[Great start to the bio paragraph! I love that you mention you live in the setting of your book. It gives you some authority on the topic. In general, in bio paragraphs, I only mention things you HAVE done, not highlight what you have NOT done. For instance, you say you haven’t had other work published, like articles or short stories. That makes sense and is very common, but you don’t have to say it. I’d just leave it out. As for the bottom line, I’m not familiar with those names, I assume they’re magazines or maybe podcasts or radio shows? Any way, I would only include them if you had material accepted and shared by them, and then I’d say that, not that you submitted.]
I have attached a copy of my synopsis if you would like to read more about the …. If there is anything I can do to assist further, please contact me at _____ or ________
[I would leave this above part out. Don’t attach anything they haven’t requested in their submission guidelines. And all your contact info can go below your signature, though most of the time all they need is your email.]
Thank you for your time and consideration.