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Day 7 (Part 1) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Keena Roberts

Saturday, 4 September 2021  |  Posted by Erin Hardee

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2021 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 …

Keena Roberts

A white woman with shoulder-length dark blonde hair looking at the camera, smilingKeena Roberts will be co-mentoring Adult SFF in PitchWars with her 2019 mentee Molly Steen. She has a background in both creative non-fiction and SFF and has worked for several years as a developmental editor and book coach for Adult SFF. Her work has appeared in the SFF magazine Prismatica and she’s a contributor to the upcoming SFF anthology DON’T TOUCH THAT. More generally, her next fantasy book is currently with beta readers and she has the (ambitious) goal of having a draft of her next book done by the end of the year. She lives outside New York in the mountains with her wife, daughter, and several pets and enjoys reading by campfires, wherever she can find them.

Website | Twitter  | Instagram

Keena’s critique . . .

Category:

YA/NA Fantasy

Query:

Imagine the planet Ennea, the ninth planet orbiting the Megalios star in the Churuli galaxy, which is 90% water [I like this opening, but I’d like it even better if it immediately showed me who the MC is and at least a bit of what the stakes are. This is good world building but it’s heavy on terms I don’t know and doesn’t orient me as to why I should care about who I’m going to read about and what their struggle is going to be]. It is colonized by humans for thousands of years and there exist two realms: Tavish- the islands of the humanoid birds and Varuni- the underground caves of the humanoid amphibians, the Makars [same comment – who’s head am I in and why should I care? Really hit me with the MC and the stakes right at the beginning. The setting and its history is less important]

TITLE is the first book of the “Ennea Chronicles” trilogy. It’s a YA/New Adult fantasy (wordcount 60,000 words [this is good but on the short side]) and is a coming of age story of Ila, from the red winged Laalbaaz warrior clan, who wants to be free of her restrictive school and become an elite warrior [why?? I’m glad this information is here but we also need to understand why she wants this and what it means for her]. Her plans are thwarted when the Makar [is this a title or a sub-group?] King Vykrut, his sons and some rebels from Tavish attack Tavish [the rebels attack their own city? Maybe clarify a bit here] to capture the throne of Khagdev Vajra, the ruler of Tavish and become immortal [why would they want this? And how does it tie to Ila’s story? Really draw that connection so we understand]. Can Ila and her friends Eon and Una [who are these characters? Are they from the same community Ila is from? What are their roles in this?] fight the Makars and pay the price of freedom? [Unclear here. Why would they want to fight the Makars? What does this conflict mean for him and for Ila’s journey to warriorhood?]

About me: I’ve lived in four countries, seven cities and 14 apartments. In between I’ve studied biochemistry, tried cost accountancy, wrote code, worked as a project manager, climbed up the corporate ladder and raised children. I write universal stories flavored with the myths and tales of my Indian heritage. [Cool! These personal details are great]

Thank you very much for this opportunity and I look forward to hearing from you.

[This is a good letter! It contains a lot of the key info that you need to convey in a query. I do think clarifying the conflict a bit and tying it more directly to the MC’s journey and why the reader should care about it would go a long way to making this a bit punchier and more engaging.]

First page:

Chapter 1

Janani Island, a week before Birthday [This is interesting! The choice to capitalize “Birthday” tells me this is extra significant. I also like the lead-up!]

Have you ever felt like you were outside your body looking at a stranger? [Definitely a grabby first line]. That’s what I was feeling. Every moment of the last eighteen years kept flashing in my eyes. I wasn’t exactly 18 yet but a week hardly makes a difference. [Okay! The tie-in to “Birthday” makes sense to me here and I’m really getting both the significance and the voice of the character, who does indeed sound like a teenager].

It was still many hours to daybreak. Though it was hard to tell with the din in the forest outside. [Fragment – suggest combining these two previous sentences]. A pair of ullukas seemed to be fighting or mating, it was always hard to tell with them. A flurry of brown and white feathers dancing around. [Dancing around what? I like the imagery but the sentence structure is a little choppy. Also, some more vivid description would help me know what kind of forest I’m in: obviously it’s loud and dark but is it humid? Rainy? Dry? I want to know whether I’m in the tropics or the Arctic or somewhere completely different].

I stretched my arm outside the quilt [Quilt! Okay this clue tells me it’s cold, so I’m guessing the forest isn’t tropical]. The light hitting my red wing [wing? I thought she was stretching out her arm?] from the three moons seemed to make it glow like an ember. I looked around to see if Ma was awake. Her circuits still seemed to be hibernating [circuits? She’s a robot or other kind of mechanical creature?]. She would be awake as soon as I put my leg down on the warm feathery floor. I sat up in bed and uncurled my wings and gave myself a shake. [I am a bit confused here. I can’t figure out what kind of creature the MC and her mother are – a bit of uncertainty is fine, and certainly does leave the reader interested, but it would be helpful to be able to picture who/what the MC is since it’s the very beginning of the book where you need to hook the reader’s attention and investment]. 

“Ila? Are you ok?” Ma was already beside me. She started running her thermal scans all over my body. [Interesting that her first thought is that the MC is in danger, especially because they appear to be sleeping in a safe space. And I would now guess the mother is a robot of some kind?]

“Ma, please. I’m not a baby. I just want to get up. I’m not a baby!” 

“Ila, you need your nine hours of sleep. Your vitals are not normal. Your heartbeat is over a hundred beats per second and your blood pressure is over 150. You need to sleep before you get a heart attack. I may have to rush you to the hospital.” [Whoa, okay. Major stakes for the MC! I’m glad I can already see at least one of the challenges she’ll have to face, as well as navigating this obviously important transition from childhood to early adulthood and how her mother’s treatment of her will change. This is a compelling first page and some minor editing in terms of explaining more world building and context would help a lot!]

Thank you, Keena, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2021 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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