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Day One of the June Query Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … L.S. Murphy & Nikki Roberti

Friday, 5 June 2015  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

B workshop2

Welcome to the June Query Workshop with some of our past and present PitchWars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected many wonderful writers to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query letter for one lucky writer. The writers are anonymous. Follow along all month to view the query critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.

Here are the first two mentors and their critiques …


L.S. Murphy




L.S. Murphy obsesses about St. Louis Cardinals baseball, fangirls over her favorite authors, and watches every episode of Doctor Who like it’s the first time. When she’s not doing those time-consuming things, the former farm-girl turned city slicker turned suburbanite writes sweet romances for teens and adults. Sign up to receive her monthly newsletter featuring exclusive content and short fiction from the world of Clarkton, Iowa and other places… Newsletter

Check out her newest book releasing June 30, 2015 …

Pixelated (2)


Praise for Pixelated:

“In Pixelated, L.S. Murphy weaves a complex web of secrets and lies with a ‘will they or won’t they’ romance that kept me turning pages and holding my breath!” ~ Julie Reece, author of The Artisans and Crux

“Beautifully written, with a full spectrum of emotion and complex characters, Pixelated will tug at all your heartstrings. I easily lost myself in the world L.S. Murphy created and couldn’t stop reading because I needed to see how the story ended.” ~ Kelly Oram, author of Cinder & Ella

“L.S. Murphy brings something for every reader with Pixelated: romance, secrets, mystery, and a main character torn between two choices. Murphy’s writing is sharp and steeped in emotions, deftly hooking her readers from the first sentence to the last.” ~ Sarah Bromley, author of A Murder Of Magpies

Preorder now!

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Senior Year.
Middle of nowhere.
What’s the new girl to do?

For Piper Marks, the answer is simple. She’s determined to have her photography rock the cover of National Geographic someday, and moving to Clarkton, Iowa for her last year of high school is not going to stop her. Even if her usual subjects have changed from bright lights and skyscrapers to fields, cows…and more fields.

But when photographer at the local paper quits in a huff, she steps into his spot. Her new job keeps Piper busy capturing tackles, and zooming in on first downs and end zone dances, not to mention putting her directly in the path of varsity football star Les Williams IV. Her new friends warn her off, but she can’t resist the pull she feels toward this mysterious country boy. But this small town is keeping a secret, and it’s one that could destroy any chance they have to be together.

It’s up to Piper to decide what to do with the distorted truth. Can she risk exposing her heart? It might be worth it, ’cause Les is about to change her world from black and white to fully saturated color.

L.S.’s query critique …

Query #1:

Sixteen-year-old Kittilyn Kite never expected the girl on her front doorstep to be an interplanetary fugitive. (I would revise this to make it more active and to have a bigger impact. Put the conflict closer to the beginning of the sentence and not at the end. Sixteen-year-old Kittilyn Kite never expected an interplanetary fugitive on her doorstep.) As the heiress of a large—but crumbling—estate on the planet (IMO, you can delete “the planet of” as you’ve already stated ‘interplanetary’ in the opening line.”) of Salome, Kittilyn was happy to oblige when a friend of a friend needed a place to stay. (Why? What’s Kittilyn’s motivation? It drives the conflict so put it out there or you may lose the agent/editor’s attention.) But once that friend (Go ahead and give us the name. This ‘friend’ drives the conflict. We need to know who she is.) arrives, Kittilyn discovers that she may have just invited someone very dangerous into her home. Kittilyn is torn between turning the girl in or (and not ‘or’) hiding her f (I would revise this sentence. ‘Discovers’ feels like Kittilyn’s surprised by this and it takes away from the growing tension. But once NAME arrives, Kittilyn realizes she invited someone very dangerous into her home.Kittilyn is torn between turning the girl in or (and not ‘or’) hiding her from the government that has so often wronged Kittilyn’s own family. (The end of this sentence is wordy. Plus, since Kittilyn is an unusual name, it feels distracting. Kittilyn is torn between turning the girl in and hiding her from the government.) What Kittilyn doesn’t know is that this stranger may hold answers to questions about her family’s past and the key to finally saving her estate from financial ruin. The beginning of the sentence is wordy and cliché. I would revise it to make it faster. But NAME may know secrets about the Kite family’s past and hold the key to saving the estate from financial ruin. ADD one more line after this to lead keep us wanting to read more. What is Kittilyn willing to risk to get these answers?

A cross between Downton Abbey and Firefly, A HALF-RISEN SUN is a 71,000-word young adult science fiction novel. It will appeal to readers who enjoyed These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner and Linked by Imogen Howson.

NikkiRobertiNikki Roberti



Nikki Roberti Miller is a professional journalist and marketer with more than ten years of published writing experience. She currently works full-time writing feature articles and marketing copy at the international relief non-profit, Samaritan’s Purse,  while also freelancing for various magazines and sites such as WeTV, Engagement 101, Parents magazine, and NBC’s iVillage.com. She was also the founder and editor-in-chief of REALITY Check Girl Magazine, which was featured in the Washington Post online.

Before writing novels, she was a seven-time award winning playwright with her short pieces performed around the country, including The Kennedy Center in D.C. She is also an avid young adult/middle grade author and was selected to be featured in the 2014 Pitch Wars for her young adult contemporary, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO-SHOES  and mentored by author Rachel Lynn Solomon.

But also in her spare time she enjoys cooking, making balloon sculptures and blogging about her author adventures and attempt at living a happy, healthy married life at www.MrsHealthyEverAfter.com.

Nikki’s query critiques …

Query #2:

Dear Ms. Agent:

Please consider my 50,000-word contemporary YA novel. [I’d recommend you open your query with a very catchy line, like the beginning of your pitch. Also, by opening your email, the Agent is already “considering” your novel, so omit that phrasing. You can easily add the genre, category, and word count to the bottom of the query where your title is]

Seventeen-year-old Kaylee schemes to score her three wants in life: love, money, and freedom. She pulls off the first and second [comma] but two days before she’s to carry out the third, her well-placed plan goes off course, and she’s taken hostage. [HOSTAGE? Now this is some exciting stuff. But it really feels like it’s coming out of nowhere and that there’s a disconnect with the following sentence. Can you make this more showcased? How has she been taken hostage? By mistake? On purpose? Because she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time? A little more details can go a long way!] Now she needs to come up with a ploy [There’s some vagueness throughout your query. You lightly mention accomplishing the first and third goals with plans and now mention that her big “ploy” will rival all her others, but I don’t get a sense of what kind of shenanigans this girl is getting into. If you could weave in some teases and really highlight your plot with some fun and playful voice that matches your manuscript, I think you could have a very very strong query] to rival all her others, so she can stay alive and get out of the mess she’s gotten herself into. [Love this last little bit, but I think you could push it a bit further, especially once you amp up the hostage situation earlier on].

HUSH, LITTLE BIRDIE [insert: “is a young adult contemporary, complete at 50,000 words. It”] is a tale of comeuppance, but one that isn’t black and white like a fable, because Kaylee’s life exists in the space in between, in the gray. [I’m not sure you need this last bit. The black vs. white vs. gray is a bit vague and hard to connect with. Either rephrase to make it more specific or omit entirely].

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your reply. [Nice closer! YAY! I think with some tweaks to the body, this will be a very dynamite query. Good luck!]

Query #3:

Dear Agent Amazing,

Sixteen-year-old [because sixteen-year-old is being used as a modifier, it is hyphenated] Willow Ryan can be in two places at once. [oooo…intriguing opening! I like it!] Trouble is, she doesn’t know it and every time she’s in one place she’s losing valuable time and memories with the mysterious love of her life in one location and her terminally ill mother in the other. [This line got really jumbled for me. I think you have a lot of great stuff going on in this story (it’s very evident it’s going to be super exciting for sure), but too much is going on all at once. I’d recommend shortening it to give it more of a punch. Try starting with “Trouble is, she doesn’t know it.” Period. Then use the rest in a different sentence. It’ll be much easier for someone skimming to process all the awesomeness if broken up into catchier chunks like this.]

While she is attempting her first solo cross country flight[comma] she inexplicably finds herself almost 5,000 miles away in less than an hour after making an emergency landing that will end up changing the course of her life [So this 16-year-old is a pilot? I think that may be an interesting detail to put in the beginning paragraph above! I totally read this like she was a passenger at first, flying without a guardian—not that she was flying the plane herself. Seriously a cool detail. Highlight it a little more by making it a little more clear]. She takes off from Texas, en-route to New Mexico. After making her landing, she finds herself at an airport near the west coast of Ireland, even though she realizes that it simply can’t be possible. She has somehow crossed the Atlantic in just over an hour. It is there that she meets the strikingly gorgeous Liam Tyl, whom she is instantly drawn to. When she is back home, she has no memory of her time in Ireland though. [The past couple sentences read more like a synopsis than a pitch right now. I think you can convey how she starts off in one place but somehow gets across the Atlantic in less than an hour in maybe one to two sentences that are more concise. It would help with the pacing.]Willow can instantly travel from one place to another[This feels repetitive because we understand that now by your examples of her traveling from New Mexico to Ireland], but it is some time [A little too vague. When does she discover this? Or how?] before she discovers that there is always a duplicate of her who stays behind in Texas [This is a really cool detail that makes your story unique! Is this duplicate evil or have its own personality or does she share the memories? How does this affect her?]. She must uncover how this is happening and be able to navigate both versions of her existence without losing the people she cares about most [I’m not sure I understand the stakes. How does all of this connect to her terminally ill mother? Is she trying to use this power to spend more time with her? Is it getting in the way? Maybe move the part about losing memories & time with her terminally ill mother from the beginning to this part of the query just before the stakes. I think once you drive home how this power is affecting her—both positively and negatively—it’ll really make a great impact].

QUANTUM [Capitalize your title] [Love your title!] is a finished [may be more clear to say “is complete at xxxx words.” If you think this is making the genre part seem clunky, you could move that to the next sentence as [It is a standalone young adult speculative fiction with series potential.”] –,— word, speculative fiction, YA novel [spell out young adult]. At present, QUANTUM [You can omit “at present, Quantum” and replace with “it” (or use other suggestion in previous comment)] is a stand-alone novel but it has series potential.

I might be able to associate with Willow easily because I too, am a pilot [OMG I LOVE THIS DETAIL. HOW COOL. Definitely play up the pilot aspect more in your query earlier on because it makes your story unique and connects you as an expert. WAY TO GO!]. When I’m not flying, I’m writing. [<-BEAUTIFUL] I have written a few short stories, and I have also been published in 1998-1999 in El Paso Inc, a weekly newspaper. Most recently, in January 2015, I won the YISD parent portion of a creative writing contest.

I appreciate your time to the extent that you cannot imagine. [Your story sounds awesome and with some tweaking above, I know your query will impress. Good luck!]


Thank you, L.S. and Nikki, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!

Also, there’s still time to sign up on the Rafflecopter for the July First Page Workshop with our Pitch Wars past and present mentors. Go to this post here to sign up.

Filed: Workshops

  • DJ Siciliano says:

    This is super cool! Thanks to the brave souls for posting their queries and the mentors commenting as they did. It’s great to see examples for compare and contrast.

  • Roxanne Lambie says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to set this up, and do these query critiques. You ladies are awesome. There is some really helpful stuff here.

  • P.D. Pabst says:

    Great advice! I love reading critiques in these workshops. They help SO MUCH to hone my own writing. Queries can be so tough!

  • I like the specific reasons given for the changes to the query. The questions posed are those we can ask ourself when we are writing our own query. THanks!

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