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:
Pitch Wars Mentors Meg Long & Rochelle Hassan
Meg Long is a sci-fi author and content writer who originally wanted to be a spy. Her debut sci-fi novel, COLD THE NIGHT, FAST THE WOLVES, will be released in 2022 from Wednesday Books.
While she never did become a spy, Meg used her political science degree to teach middle and high school for eight years before jumping into the tech and video game industry as a content designer. She was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2018 and a mentor in 2020. When not reading or writing, she’s kicking things at her Muay Thai gym with her boyfriend, playing video games, or obsessing over Sailor Moon fanart.
She is represented by Alexandra Machinist at ICM Partners.
Fun Facts: Meg likes Oxford commas, bossing her Roomba around, and people-watching at airports.
Meg’s upcoming release, Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves
Meg Long’s Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves is a captivating debut about survival, found family, and the bond between a girl and a wolf that delivers a fresh twist on classic survival stories and frontier myths.
Rochelle Hassan grew up reading about dragons, quests, and unlikely heroes; now she writes about them, too. THE PRINCE OF NOWHERE, her first novel, will be released May 3, 2022 from HarperCollins. Her young adult fantasy, THE BURIED AND THE BOUND, is due out from Macmillan in 2023. She lives in New York. You can find her online at www.rochellehassan.com.
Rochelle’s upcoming release, The Prince of Nowhere
A girl and a shapeshifter travel to a mysterious place called Nowhere and work together to save the future from a villain who only cares about the past.
Meg and Rochelle’s critique
Category: Young Adult: Fantasy
Napaz has found joy and freedom in shapeshifting since he was a young child—but he has also learned that this ability is a dangerous secret. When Napaz was nine, Wentanyan raiders led by a mysterious man wearing a silver brooch targeted his family and killed his parents because of his ability. [Since this is a secondary fantasy world (I’m assuming), you might need a short intro to the world at large to better set the stage for readers. Include something about how your current magic system exists in the kingdom where Napaz lives. Add some short context about the raiders – for example, you could call them the “raiders from the neighboring country.” Although we don’t want to overload the query with worldbuilding, providing some context about the world you’ve created can help immerse and engage readers, easing them into the story.] Napaz barely escaped the horrific attack with the help of his sister Lilia—whose own magical ability allows her to hear the thoughts of those around her—[Since Lilia’s ability is not mentioned again, I don’t think it’s necessary to include it here.] and the siblings made a promise to always protect one another.
A decade later, living with Lilia on the grand country estate of their adoptive parents, Napaz is still haunted by the memory of the man with the silver brooch and distressed by ongoing reports of raiders terrorizing the countryside [This could be simplified to: “and distressed by the ongoing raids.” More concise wording can free up space to add specificity later on.]. Although their current home is a far cry from the small peasant farm they fled as children, he can’t seem to shake the fear that he and his sister are still in danger. [This line is not essential and could be cut – you’ve already stated that he’s haunted by the memory of what happened & by the raids, so it’s clear that he’s still carrying this fear.] When the royal family visits the estate to purchase one of their prizewinning horses, Napaz is determined to convince the king to take action to protect his subjects. Influencing the king while guarding his own secret proves to be more challenging than Napaz ever imagined [This is a little vague. Why is it difficult to guard his secret? What puts him at risk of being found out? If this is a source of conflict, we want to hear more about it.], even with the help of an unexpected friend and ally—the king’s daughter. [If the king’s daughter is only mentioned once, it seems cleaner to just leave her out. If she’s a more important character, then you might need to clarify that in the next paragraph.]
But when a terrifying attack close to home suddenly reveals the true motivation behind the Wentanyan raids, [This might also be a good spot to be a little more specific so we can understand the story better. What/Where is the attack? Can you drop a clue about the raider’s goals?] Napaz and Lilia are sent to the royal palace in the far away capital city for their own protection. There, they will encounter a danger far worse than the one they fled from, and the vow they made to one another as children will be put to the test as they fight to protect not only each other, but the lives of all those they hold dear. [It seems like this paragraph is where you get into the core conflict, but right now, it’s a little vague. What does ‘put to the test’ mean? What kind of danger are they facing? If it involves the antagonist, being more specific will create a clearer picture of the conflict.
You might be able to condense the setup in the first two paragraphs to one paragraph, and then you’d have space to provide more details here. Also, if Napaz’s goal has shifted from “get the king to protect his subjects” to something else, that info might be valuable to include. Keep Napaz’s motivations in mind; let the reader know what is driving him. The query should make clear the protagonists’ journey/goals, what’s blocking their way to achieving that, and the ultimate price they will pay if they aren’t successful.]
TITLE OF BOOK is a YA fantasy that should appeal [You could change this to “will appeal” – don’t be afraid to use more decisive language] to readers of Shelby Mahurin and Jennifer L. Armentrout. It is complete at 108,000 words with sequel potential.
[You’ve done a really good job of highlighting multiple interesting sources of conflict here. In the third paragraph, you’ve also started to hint at an escalation in the stakes, which is great. We think that if you can flesh out the details of the central conflict and scale back on some of the background information, you’ll really be able to pull the hook out of this query.]
It was the tone of the voices that gave him [I would use Napaz’s name here instead of ‘him’ so readers immediately know whose POV this is.] pause. Intimate with familiarity, yet purposefully hushed, so as not to carry.
The kind of voices used for sharing secrets.
Napaz hesitated at the top of the stairs, out of sight of the people whose voices drifted up from below. [On my first read, this line made me think that he didn’t know the speakers. If he does know them and recognizes their voices, I’d recommend just saying who they are – because we are in Napaz’s POV, and he would be thinking of them by their names rather than just “the people,” “the voice,” etc. Giving us more details about these characters also helps set a more complete scene.]
“—a farm near Cheswick.”
“But that’s so close to here.” There was a pause. “What are we going to do, Aron?”
“We’ll have to be vigilant, and pray Aldrich listens to us and sends assistance before anyone else is hurt.”
“No, that’s not what I meant.” The higher pitched voice was laced with concern. [Again, I would use the speaker’s name here or even drop in a detail about what they do on the ranch.] “What are we going to do about Napaz? You know how he is. When he hears about the raid…”
At the top of the stairs, Napaz stiffened, his pulse quickening as an old fear bloomed inside him.
“I know.” The voice [Even if Napaz didn’t recognize their voices at first for some reason, the other speaker called this person Aron a few lines up, so there’s no need to avoid their name anymore.] was pained. “Send him down to the stables when he gets up.” There were retreating footfalls on the wood-planked floor. “I want to be the one to tell him, Evalyn.”
“What are you doing?”
Napaz flinched at the new voice that sounded directly behind him, jarringly loud compared to the hushed voices below.
[Our favorite thing about this opening is that, right off the bat, you’ve created questions in the reader’s mind (what happened to the farm, what’s this raid situation about, what exactly will Napaz do when he hears…) which gives us reasons to keep reading. The prose is balanced and engaging, especially the line “The kind of voices used for sharing secrets.” Great intrigue and hook!
A couple of things you might want to consider:
- We think including a few sensory details, the broad strokes of Napaz’s surroundings, would help to ground the reader in the scene and in his POV. Right now, with only dialogue and emotions, it feels very abstract – almost like an interview transcript or like this conversation exists in a vacuum. Or you might work in a little bit of context: Where is Napaz? What was he doing before this scene began? Those sorts of details will tell us more about him as a character and the world he lives in, making this opening feel more concrete/less abstract.
- Is this the best entry point into the story? To us, this feels like a scene that should come later, because we don’t have the context to appreciate it. There’s three named characters (with a fourth name mentioned, Aldrich) that we don’t know anything about, and they’re discussing a different place (when we don’t even know the place where this scene is set) and an event that happened off screen. Rather than giving us a chance to get to know the protagonist, Napaz in this scene is just a window into someone else’s conversation. We realize that with only one page to read, we don’t have a complete picture of the whole scene, and you might have an important reason for starting here. But you might think about playing around with other approaches, especially ones that would center Napaz more.]