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Day 8 (PART 2): Pitch Wars Query and First Page Workshop with Mentors Jenn Brisendine and J.R. Yates

Thursday, 18 May 2017  |  Posted by Heather Cashman



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.

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Jenn Brisendine

Jenn Brisendine

Website | Twitter

Jenn Brisendine, a secondary English/Language Arts teacher, writes middle grade and is repped by Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Trident Media. She currently enjoys writing historicals with magical realism, but loves reading a variety of genres in middle grade. She was a Pitchwars ’15 mentee and can be found at @jennbrisendine on Twitter and @jennbrisendinewrites on Instagram. She’s happy to have recently joined the ranks at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors – http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2017/03/umbrella-raining-overarching-conflict-mg/ . Check out her site https://jennbrisendine.com/ for free teacher printables on great MG novels and for reviews of great books on writing.


Jenn’s Query Critique…

AGE CATEGORY: 7-9 years old

GENRE: young middle grade contemporary fiction

[Dear (agent’s name):]

[I’d put the basics right up front: “After reading of your interest in (genre, age category, style, or comps) on (agent website , article, interview), I’m eager to share my 10K-word early middle grade contemporary, DAISY DIXON, WEATHER GIRL with you.” ] [Love your title!]

I’d like to introduce you to Daisy Dixon. Daisy is in third grade and has already decided on her career path: chief meteorologist for a major TV station. [Save words. Start with “Third-grader Daisy Dixon…” and use the opening pitch to show stronger voice– “…has her career path all figured out: chief meteorologist for a major TV station.”] In fact, everyone in her class calls her Daisy Dixon, Weather Girl, because her aunt is a real chief meteorologist at the highest rated news station in Colorado. [Are there other reasons she’s known as Weather Girl—like she’s gone to work with her aunt, gets special tours, shares facts about meteorology with friends?] But then her aunt comes over for dinner and announces that she’s getting married and leaving the TV station [Is there a more decisive reason for leaving (moving away, extended travel, etc.)?]. Daisy’s world comes crashing down as her plans for her future and her fame at school are suddenly in trouble. [Save words and show voice– “Daisy’s fame at school—in fact, her whole future!—are suddenly in danger.” ] Daisy decides it is up to her to save her aunt’s job. [This reads like the job is in jeopardy, but I think the real problem is changing her aunt’s mind to staying?] How can she still be Daisy Dixon, Weather Girl, if her aunt isn’t chief meteorologist anymore? [This is a great way to cap the first paragraph, but is there a more kid-centered reason that the aunt’s job brought Daisy fame—I feel like we’re missing the bigger connection/stakes that would be conclusively ended/ruined if her aunt leaves the job.]

Daisy Dixon, Weather Girl is a 9.681 word completed manuscript. [Roll this into the straight-up first paragraph instead, and round up to 10K-word.] Daisy Dixon, Weather Girl [Put ms titles in all caps] is unique because of its blend of story with real weather facts. Weather is fascinating, and kids will enjoy learning about the weather as they read Daisy’s story. [Don’t need this sentence—you covered it in previous one.] They [“Readers”] will also identify with her strange quirk of being obsessed with this one thing. [I’m worried that strange, quirk, and obsessed might be negative in connotation, and thing is vague; maybe reword this sentence, or leave it out.] Daisy Dixon is also unique because it is written from a Christian worldview. She and her family are clearly believers and Daisy’s family life reflects a Christian lifestyle. [I’ve seen agents who rep Christian fiction who indicate that queries to them should state directly how a book fits that bill, so mentioning this is logical if you are narrowing your focus to these agents. However, it might be more effective to explain what role her Christian worldview/lifestyle plays as she tries to solve her problem. Otherwise it may come off as just a token mention. Also, if this is an important enough facet of the book to mention in the query, maybe your genre description statement should include it too?]

I plan for Daisy Dixon to be a series of eight books. Two more stories are in the final stages of being polished, and I have plans for five more Daisy Dixon stories. [To save words, cut these and state that this book can stand alone, but has series potential.]

My name is (writer’s name).[Cut this intro; you don’t need it.] I am a mom of three girls, ages 8, 6 and 4, and I have always been an avid reader of children’s literature. I have a B.S. in Communications with an emphasis in writing, and have completed The Creative Way: A Course in Transformational Fiction by Ted Dekker. My first book, Soprano Trouble, was released by TouchPoint Press on February 3, 2017. Soprano Trouble is a middle grade fiction book [change to “middle grade contemporary”], and is the first in a four-book series called The Choir Girls. [Series titles in italics] The second book, Alto Secrets, was released on April 14, 2017. The other two books in the series will also be released this year. [Restructure this paragraph and combine/shorten with next paragraph. Lead with your series being published this year! That’s awesome! Then make the personal details shorter.]

This story is targeted toward 7-9 year olds and their families. [Don’t need this—covered in opening paragraph.] People who have read [“Readers of”; keep focus on younger readers. People sounds a bit old J] The Choir Girls series will like this series [You want to refer to your book here (not the series), and we need the title reference to know you’ve gone back to discussing DAISY.]  for their younger children.[If you are going to mention comp titles, pick something in the age category.] I had a launch team of 120 people for The Choir Girls, and I am confident that they would also be willing to help launch this series as well, by reading and posting reviews, and posting on their social media about the books. I have a website: (link) and an active author Facebook page: (link)  [Combine your links into the next sentence and you can cut this one.] I plan to market this series utilizing my website, Facebook (through posts and sponsored posts), email newsletter and by reaching out to others for reviews, guest blog posts, and guest podcast opportunities. I also plan to reach out to local schools [cut “to reach out to local schools”] to seek out author visit opportunities [“in the classroom”], where I can talk to kids about the story and about writing. [Can you talk weather facts too? Weather/science activities as part of your visit? This would set you apart from lots of other writers who mention author classroom visits.]  [Great to say how you’ve marketed your books in the past; just cut this section down for size.]

This is a simultaneous query; I have approached other agents about this project.[Cut this—simultaneous is generally assumed.]

Thank you for your consideration! I look forward to your response.


[There are many things to love about this query! The title is super catchy and a younger MG (with series potential) with a female, science-minded protagonist is timely and important. Daisy’s interest in weather is sure to be contagious to readers and I love how she sounds like a girl who knows what she wants! Letting her voice and what’s at stake come across more in this query will give potential agents an even better look into both her personality and what promises to be a fun read that generates interest in science. Good luck!]


Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor J.R. Yates

JR Yates

Website | Twitter

J. R. Yates is a word nerd through and through. When she isn’t writing or reading, she practices as a pediatric speech-language pathologist (SLP) and herds her three bilingual children. She often jokes that she spends all day at work trying to get kids to talk, and the rest of her time at home trying to get her kids to stop! Married to the love of her life, her favorite moments are quiet evenings with her husband sharing a nice glass of wine at their home in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Time alone, hiding out in a café, writing about sexy heroes that shred her heart is her bliss. She is represented by Stacey Donaghy with Donaghy Literary Group.

J. R. is a member of the Alexandra Writers’ Centre, the RWA and this year she will be a #Pitchwars Mentor.

J.R.’s First Page Critique…


GENRE: Historical Romance

Hollywood, 1943

If there was one thing that Eleanor Davis learned from her first week in Hollywood, it was that these people loved to talk. They talked when they were bored. They talked when a room got too quiet. But mostly, they talked because Eleanor made them nervous. [I like that your first paragraph grounds us, but you use “talk” quite a bit. An interesting trick with first lines someone shared with me once is to think about the theme and how your ending will juxtapose it. Like in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan start with a line about not picking your friend’s nose, it was funny and unexpected, but it was also part of the theme of the story and at the end, the story finished in the same, but opposite place – you can pick your friends and their noses (but on a far deeper level than that). You want your opening line to raise questions in your readers’ minds or be unexpected to hook your reader. Here’s a nice resource on opening lines: http://www.nownovel.com/blog/great-first-lines-of-novels/


“And, so I says to her, those aren’t bongos!”

They had been waiting on set for-[you want em dashes here, like this —] Eleanor check[ed] the time behind the shattered glass face of her watch- [—]three hours now, and in that time, the gaggle of women positioned around her had not stopped giggling. Even as they plucked her eyebrows or painted yet another coat of polish onto her nails, they tittered away like a flock of jungle birds, never looking too closely at the scars that drew maps along Eleanor’s face. [if they are applying makeup, isn’t it their jobs to look closely at those scars?]

Eleanor focused on the lines she had spent the last week trying to learn. Ext. Jungle. Afternoon. That was how the scene began, and that was how Sound Stage #3 on the Monument Pictures lot was dressed to look. At least, that’s how it was meant to look. Eleanor made note of countless design flaws. [Your character has made lots of judgements thus far. You start with how everyone talks, talks, and with the “gaggle” of women “giggling” and “tittering” and compare them to “a flock of jungle birds” (p.s. lots of fowl references), and now counting flaws of the set, the character is coming off quite judgmental. You can temper it here by framing it differently. e.g., The set was a plastic facsimile of the xx jungle. OR After, spending xx amount of time there, Eleanor could spot the difference between a xx and xx – something with voice. You can show she’s astute, show that she knows the jungle well, without making it sound judgmental. Also, saying she made note, is filtering. It’s saying, hey, my character is looking at this stuff and passing judgment. Filtering words like saw, thought, heard, etc., distance the reader.] The trees were never as dry as they looked here. The coloring of the fake dirt was wrong. The handful of spiders and birds that had been sprinkled around carried none of the distinctive markings of the creatures Eleanor and her fellow nurses encountered. In all, she was not pleased with the onset [on set] environment so far, particularly considering that her scene partner, one Mr. Jim Monroe, was now three hours and seven minutes late. [Nice setup here!]

But, she was here as an emissary for her fellow nurses, and she would make them proud. During a routine prisoner-exchange, the Japanese holding the nurses in The South Pacific had offered seven of them the chance to go back to the United States. [I find this interesting. She was a POW? I want to keep reading.] When they arrived back on their nation’s shore, it was not long before the President of Monument Motion Pictures asked for one nurse to represent them in a big-screen adaptation of their story. It was to be a sort of propaganda film of sorts, a rousing tale of the feminine struggle in a man’s war. Without a husband or family to return to, it was Eleanor who was sent to the Film Colony to step in front of the cameras and talk to the press. For some women, it would have been the chance of a lifetime, but to Eleanor, it was misery. [It was? Worse than being a POW? Why is this misery? Try a different word maybe. Or give us a small detail, (e.g., but to Eleanor, it was misery, having a spotlight on all her scars?? – or whatever the reason.)]

“Miss, I can’t put the mascara on if you don’t stop blinking,” One of the women brandished a small brush as though she wanted to poke the uniformed nurse with it. [Who’s the uniformed nurse? Eleanor? If so, it should be “wanted to poke Eleanor with it.”]
I [She, this is 3rd person] shouldn’t have any make-up on. We [They] weren’t thinking about how big our [their] eyes looked when we [they] were trying to save men’s lives in a field hospital.

“I’m sorry,” Eleanor winced a smile, her first attempt at warmth since being handed a completely inaccurate [this is framed better than then when she judged the set, because here you don’t filter it, but you could show here…e.g., she was handed a white uniform with a xx, a far cry from the xx ones they wore while in xx], uniform in the Wardrobe Department this morning, “I don’t do this very often.”

“That much is clear.” [Ha! I like the voice in this dialogue.]

I find this story intriguing and you have some nice writing here. Overall, I find that you infuse action with some background nicely —you don’t bog it down with too much background info, but I would encourage you to highlight all of your character’s thoughts and background info you have here. You want more action than exposition, particularly in your first three pages. Thank you so much for sharing. Overall, I really enjoyed this first page, I’m interested because she was a POW and we know that her fellow actor is late, a nice set up for conflict (perhaps an enemy to lovers story? Love.)

Thank you, J.R. and Jenn 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.

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