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Day 9 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Lyn Liao Butler

Sunday, 6 September 2020  |  Posted by Stephanie Scott

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2020 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 Mentor Lyn Liao Butler … 

Lyn Liao Butler

Lyn Liao Butler’s debut, THE TIGER MOM’S TALE, will be published by Berkley/Penguin in July of 2021. Lyn was born in Taiwan and moved to the States when she was seven. In her past and present lives, she has been: a concert pianist, a professional ballet dancer, a business owner, a personal trainer and instructor, an RYT 200 yoga instructor, a purse designer, and, most recently, author of multicultural fiction. Lyn did not have a Tiger Mom. She came about her overachieving all on her own.

When she is not torturing clients or talking to imaginary characters, Lyn enjoys spending time with her FDNY husband, their son (the happiest little boy in the world), their two stubborn dachshunds and trying crazy yoga poses on a stand-up paddleboard. So far, she has not fallen into the water yet.

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Lyn’s critique . . .

Category: General Fiction


Dear Pitch Wars,

My based-on-life novel [Who’s life? The wording is awkward. You also might want to mention the genre and age category here so the agent is clear what they are reading], TITLE, opens with a two line prologue.[I wouldn’t mention a prologue right off the bat. While there are agents who don’t mind them, the majority don’t think it’s necessary and you could turn off a lot of agents with this. Just say, it opens with these two lines:] “I was raped when I was ten.  I spent much of the rest of my life self-destructing.”  Set in the late 20th century, in and around New York City, it is complete at 77,861 words. [What’s the hook of the book? What is it about? I’m not getting a clear picture of the book based on this. You want to intrigue the agent in this first paragraph.]

The book covers WILL’s [Name does not need to be in all caps] struggles with school, lack of social connection, hypersexuality, bisexuality, frequent use of LSD, trouble handling money, criminal activity,  managing his explosive anger and periods of deep depression. [Instead of just having a list of vague topics, tell us something that he is really dealing with. How do these things impact his life, what he does about them, what is the stakes for him and what happens if he doesn’t accomplish it? I have no clear picture of what this book is really about, other than a list of his self-destructing. Make us care about Will – whether we like him or dislike him.]

This novel works on two timelines.  One progresses from age 10 in 1965 to age 34, in 1989.  The second timeline starts  in 1989 where Will is hospitalized, [for what? Again, give us real details to hook us] and to which we return periodically for insight and perspective. [Again, this is all very vague. Give us actual events. Why do we return periodically to this?] Ultimately the two timelines come together at this point. [But what happens when they come together? How do they come together?]

This novel has been extensively workshopped at Grub Street in Boston and will appeal to readers of contemporary and commercial fiction as well as genre-bending memoirs. [Instead of saying contemporary and commercial fiction, since that is so broad, actually say, it will appeal to fans of… and list the comp titles you have in the next sentence.] Comparable titles include MY STRUGGLE by Karl Ove Knausgaard, IMAGINE ME GONE by Adam Haslett, MANIC: A MEMOIR by Terri Cheney, and TOO BRIGHT TO HEAR, TOO LOUD TO SEE by Juliann Garey. [I think there are too many comps. Usually you only give one comp, or at most two. It gives the impression that you’re not really sure which book your book is most comparable to]

I look forward to hearing from you.

First page:

Prologue, New York City 1989 [I would really take out the word Prologue. You don’t need it and you don’t want this to be an automatic no from agents who do not like prologues. It works just as “New York City, 1989”]

I was raped when I was ten. I spent much of the rest of my life self-destructing. [Great opener – really gets my attention and now I want to know what happened.]

Brooklyn, 1965

My parents will never let me go camping with guys older than me, who they don’t know and who I only know through my CB radio.  But they made it sound so great: eating over a campfire, playing games, sleeping in tents.   So I tell mom that I’m going with a kid, Billy, and his father.  This is the biggest lie I’ve ever told her, but I really want to go.

As I thought, mom [Mom needs to be capitalized] is against it. “Go with one of your friends who we know,” she says.

“I don’t have any friends.” [Some action here from the MC would really tell us how he’s feeling and draw us into his world. Does he fidget with his fingers, scratch his neck with a grimace, etc? I want to see him and what he’s feeling and doing.]

“Sure you do. You must have friends from class.” [Again, I’d like to envision the mother better. What does she look like? What is she doing while she’s saying this?]

“No, since Bobby moved away there isn’t anyone. The other kids make fun of me because I’m no good at baseball or basketball. [Add action here, maybe a small description of himself so we can “see” him, like “I push my glasses up my nose.” Or something like that.] You’re always telling me to go downstairs and play, but there isn’t anyone to play with. That’s why I wanted the CB radio. And now I do have a friend, and you won’t let me go camping with him.”  I can hear myself whining.

“You’re going overnight?” my mother asks.

“Yeah, it’s camping” [need a period to end the sentence. And you should add action here so we see his mood.]

“Don’t roll your eyes at me Will.  And I want to meet them.” [need a comma before Will. Again, add action from the mom so we “see” her.]

[Overall, I am intrigued by the concept of this book. I want to know what happened when he was ten and how it affected his life. But based on the query alone, I really don’t know what the plot is. What happens to him? What does he want? Does he get it? Tell us what the stakes are, what the MC has to lose, what the hook is, etc. Opening line is great. If you add some action in with your dialogue, it will bring your characters to life, so that the reader will care about them somehow (whether good or bad) and want to read more.

Also, this is a nitpick: check your spacing. Get rid of that extra space in between paragraphs. And there should only be one space after a period. I found a bunch of extra spaces between words and missing punctuation. You want to present the cleanest manuscript you can.]

Thank you, Lyn, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2020 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

  • Jesse Liberty says:

    After edits:

    My novel Sex, Drugs and Bipolar opens with these two lines: “I was raped when I was ten. I spent much of the rest of my life self-destructing.”

    The novel is based on my life and is targeted at adult readers. Set in the late 20th century, in and around New York City, it is complete at 73,861 words. The book follows the life of Will, a bipolar young man who struggles with hypersexuality, drug use and out of control spending, as they tear apart his relationships and result in periods of profound depression.

    This novel works on two timelines. One progresses from age 10 in 1965 to age 34, in 1989. The second timeline starts in in 1989 when Will is hospitalized for suicidal depression. While the first timeline is told from the perspective of young Will, frequent interludes with his psychiatrist in 1989 provide the opportunity for insight and reflection.

    This novel has been extensively workshopped at Grub Street in Boston and will appeal to fans of IMAGINE ME GONE by Adam Haslett and TOO BRIGHT TO HEAR, TOO LOUD TO SEE by Juliann Garey.

    “SEX, DRUGS AND BIPOLAR” draws from my own experiences of being bipolar. I have published a dozen programming books, but this is my first novel. I have a Twitter following of 14,000 and I have extensive experience with creating both web sites and podcasts that can be put into service in promoting this book.
    . I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Brenda Drake says:

      Hello Jesse, mentors aren’t required to answer questions on their critiques. If you don’t get any response to your updated query from other commenters, you should post it to the forum for critique from other writers. That is, if you’re comfortable with doing so. On the forum, other writers critique each other’s works and mentors hop by on occasion to comment or answer questions. Here is the link: https://pitchwars.proboards.com

We're thrilled at the different ways those in our Pitch Wars community are giving back—and we encourage them to do so. However, please keep in mind that Pitch Wars is not affiliated with any of these various contests, promotions, etc., including those of our mentors and mentees. Promoting any such opportunities via our social media channels doesn't imply endorsement or affiliation. We encourage you to do your research before participating.

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