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Day 8 (Part 3) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Sarah Nicolas

Monday, 2 September 2019  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

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, Sarah Nicolas … 

Sarah NicolasSarah Nicolas is a recovering mechanical engineer, library event planner, and author. They are the author of KEEPING HER SECRET. Sarah has published both traditionally and independently, and has also worked in the publishing industry in multiple roles. Sarah’s been a Pitch Wars mentor since 2012. They also write for Book Riot and are represented by Rebecca Podos.

Website  |  Twitter  |  Instagram

Sarah’s recent release …

All’s fair in love and summertime prank wars

The last person Riya Johnson expected to run into at her new summer camp is Courtney Chastain—her childhood best friend and the girl who broke her heart after a secret, mind-blowing, life-altering kiss. She definitely didn’t expect to be sharing a bunk bed with her for four long weeks.

Courtney has what every girl wants—she’s beautiful, rich, and the object of every boy’s desire at Camp Pine Ridge. Too bad none of them make her feel an iota of what Riya’s kiss did all those years ago. But Courtney needs to uphold appearances at all costs—even if it means instigating an all-out prank war with Riya as her main target.

Neither girl can stop thinking about the other…but that doesn’t mean they can give up past hurts and take a chance on a future together.

Read the first chapter at the Entangled Teen website!

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iTunes | Google

Sarah’s query critique . . .

Young Adult: Fantasy

Dear Agent,

Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On meets Victoria Lee’s The Fever King in COUNTENANCE OF A HERO, a YA Fantasy with an LGBT subplot complete at 90,000 words. You seemed like you’d be a good fit for this project due to [insert agent specific interest].

Fourteen-year-old Count Murciélago is nothing more than a rodent with wings, a bat-mage, [This is a bit confusing to me. Is he an actual bat or a humanoid with bat features? Since this is YA, I would assume the latter but this reads like he might be the former.] with the unusual ability to detect powerful mage pressure [I am not entirely sure what “powerful mage pressure” is here. Is the mage powerful or is the pressure powerful? What is “pressure?” Might it be clearer to say something like “to detect the signatures of powerful mages”?] from half a world away. Plagued by bullies in his rural community, Count dreams of attending the prestigious mage-only governing body of society, the Academy, [is it also a school? Is he joining as like an apprentice or … Basically, I’m confused as to their structure. You’re fighting against reader preconceptions here because so often in YA Fantasy, a magic-user will go to a school, but this seems to be something more.]  to become stronger like his missing idol Rogue Lion. After a selection officer for the Academy comes to town, [ßnot sure if this part is needed? Is the selection officer important?] Count is given the opportunity he’s always wanted to start over and define his own destiny. Once he’s at the Academy, though, Count finds himself to be the punching bag for a new pack of bullies and can’t seem to make anything change. [I’m curious as to how far we are in the story at this point. It feels like we might be in the first chapter or two and if so, I would cut down this paragraph quite a bit and get to the core conflict more quickly. I also question why Count is selected for the Academy if he is considered so low-level and they don’t know about his special ability yet. Also consider: everything that happens in this paragraph is something happening TO Count, not something he’s doing. It’s always more powerful in a query to give the impression of a character actually doing something by using active sentences. For example instead of “Count is given the opportunity” you could have “Count seizes the opportunity” and have him being active in his own story.]

When the headmaster finds out about Count’s unusual ability, Count learns of a mage who is leading a human rebellion against the Academy by killing all mages. [ßI do not understand how the two things happening in this sentence are connected. I think what you mean is once the headmaster finds out, he recruits Count to help find Rogue to defeat this murderous mage, which is why he learns about them. I might reorder most of this paragraph: The headmaster finds out about Count’s ability, leading the headmaster to recruit Count to find Rogue, who (they think) is the only one who can defeat a mage leading a human rebellion and killing mages. I’d also hint that maybe there’s a good reason for that rebellion?] Count must use his ability to find Rogue, the only one who stands a chance at defeating the rebellion, and become the Academy’s hero. [ß who is becoming the Academy’s hero? Count or Rogue?] A bat-mage like Count doesn’t have the makings of a hero so Count would rather use his ability to run in the opposite direction. [Then why does he do it? What is his motivation? What does he want out of all this?] His journey reveals the oppressive true reason the Academy was founded. Held under a deadline of ten days [what is creating this deadline? Is it arbitrarily set by the Academy (less powerful) or will something terrible happen in ten days (more powerful)?] to defeat the rebel leader, Count must decide between becoming the Academy’s hero, and earning himself a place of prestige in a broken society, or becoming the people’s hero, a position that puts his life in danger from both the Academy and the rebel leader. [I understand why this places him in danger from the Academy, but am not sure about the interaction between him and the rebel leader]

 [These are the questions I always want answered in a query:

  1. Who is our MC?
  2. What does the MC want? Why?
  3. What stands in the MC’s way of getting what they want?
  4. What happens if they don’t get what they want?

For me, 1 is clear and 3 is there but could be fleshed out a little more. I don’t see 2 answered much at all. I think that’s where this query could be strengthened the most. For 4, I see it on a personal level, but would also like to see what the stakes are on a global level. What happens to the humans if he fails? What happens to the Mages if he fails? And, especially for the latter, why do we care?]

COUNTENANCE OF A HERO is a standalone with series potential. Along with this manuscript, I have many more planned YA projects and have several completed adult manuscripts available on request. [Query one project at a time.]

Thank you for taking the time to consider my manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.


Thank you, Sarah, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2019 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

Filed: Workshops

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