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July Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … Brighton Walsh & Jennifer Blackwood!

Thursday, 24 July 2014  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

B workshop

Welcome to the July Query & 1st Page Workshop with some of our PitchWars mentors. We selected many wonderful writers from a drawing held in June to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued either a query or first page for two writers. The writers are anonymous and the titles/genres are hidden. Follow along all month to view the critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.

Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …



Brighton Walsh

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest

Brighton spent nearly a decade as a professional photographer before deciding to take her storytelling in a different direction and reconnect with her first love: writing. When she’s not pounding away at the keyboard, she’s probably either reading or shopping—maybe even both at once. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children, and, yes, she considers forty degrees to be hoodie weather. Her home is the setting for frequent dance parties, Lego battles, and more laughter than she thought possible.

She is represented by Mandy Hubbard of D4EO Agency. Brighton’s debut novel, Caged in Winter, will be published November 4, 2014 from Berkley/Penguin.

You can pre-order it now!



Brighton’s critiques …


Critique #53 – First Page:

Lily Ellis wished her parents had waited until after breakfast for their latest fight. Or chosen to have it anywhere other than the kitchen. She was hungry. More description here. (i.e. her stomach rumbled loud enough to shake the walls.) But knowing better than to walk in on them mid row, she waited at the top of the stairs and stared at the wonky family photo slipped off its nail. Not surprising after all the recent door slamming. Hanging lopsided, their smiling faces looked ready to fall out of the frame and on to the floor. She straightened it up; saving them all and wishing it were as simple as that in real life. Great detail painted in this paragraph!

Milo nudged her hand with his nose. Thank God she had him. Her hero dog, her best friend, rescued four years ago when she was eight, from a shelter when no one else wanted him. Funny, it felt like he’d been rescuing her ever since. Nice—in just a sentence, we see how much he means to her.

His ears pricked up at the sound of his name. This is a little confusing here. Maybe say something about the sound of his name coming from her parents drifted up from downstairs.

I heard that too. What did Milo have to do with anything? More details needed here. How was his name spoken? Why would just hearing it make her anxious to find out more?

Come on. They crept down the stairs and waited at the bottom, listening.

Well at least we’ll save some money,her mum shouted.

I can’t believe you just said that, her dad shouted back.

Look, I’m just trying to find the good in all this.

There is nothing good about this. Nothing good at all. Milo has to go. Tell me how that’s good?

No, no, no. Lily must’ve heard that wrong.

Fine. I know, okay? her mum said. It’s not good. The narrative paragraphs were great, but the dialogue sort of falls off. Tighten it up a bit, and read it out loud to yourself. Does it sound authentic? Don’t forget to add in action to break it up and help lead readers in the direction you want them to go.


Critique #54 – Query:

Dear X,

Personalize why I’m choosing to query this agent. Always good to personalize, but only if it’s authentic. Complete at 65,0000 words, AND THE BAND PLAYS ON great title! is a YA Contemporary from dual POVs set in 2001. Lots of advice says to put this book info at the bottom of the query. Personally, I don’t think it matters either way, but as always, do your homework on the specific agent you’re querying and adjust for their preferences.

Sixteen-year-old trumpet playing Frannie doesn’t have time for boys. She’s determined to give the performance of her life at the state Solo & Ensemble competition. But when Ali, aka tall, dark, and…damn! moves into the neighborhood, she knows she’s in trouble. When she’s near him, she experiences this heart-hammering, skin prickling, need-to-puke thing that makes it impossible to concentrate. So she makes a vow to stay clear of him. Pretty hard to do when he’s hired on at her family-owned pizza shop. But if she ever expects her band director to take her seriously as a musician, the only thing that she’ll let touch her lips is a metal mouthpiece. Love, love, love this paragraph. Really showcases your voice.

Seventeen-year-old Ali is devastated when his Dad’s job relocates them to boring Warrenstown, WV, a town whose. But what would you expect from a town whose claim to fame is being the home to the largest catfish ever caught. They don’t even have a soccer club! This small town is all about high school football. Luckily for Ali, his So things look up when Ali’s soccer experience helps him land a spot on the football team. He makes some great friends, dates head-cheerleader Courtney, and even his relationship with his dad improves. Just as Ali is beginning to think of Warrenstown as home, America is attacked. The September 11th tragedy that unites the townsfolk also alienates Ali, his family, and anyone who befriends them. This paragraph loses me. You lost your voice and your spark—there are too many extraneous details here. Is playing football important? How about dating the head cheerleader? Is his relationship with his dad rocky? Why? With the details regarding 9/11 in this paragraph, I’m wondering if the humor laced through paragraph 1 wasn’t authentic to the voice of the story? Also, the first paragraph shows Frannie’s connection to Ali with mention of her main goal (Solo & Ensemble) and her conflict (hot guy Ali getting in her way). Try to follow that formula with Ali, too. What’s his goal? What’s standing in the way of achieving that?

I’d move the 9/11 information to this paragraph and tighten the rest of it up, getting rid of superfluous details and focusing on the challenges they’re both facing. Just as Ali is beginning to think of Warrenstown as home, America is attacked. The September 11th tragedy that unites the townsfolk also alienates Ali, his family, and anyone who befriends them. Almost overnight, Ali’s girlfriend dumps him and he’s shunned by his classmates. He learns who is true friends are as Frannie’s family stands by him and refuses to succumb to the hatred, even at the risk of losing their business. Many locals disagree with the bullying Ali receives but, fearing backlash, they look the other way during a protest. <–Find a different way to tie this in with the following sentence.–> However, when Ali’s sister becomes the victim of a violent hate crime, silence is no longer an option. It’s up to Frannie to give the performance of her life that might just save Ali’s new home.

My husband is Muslim and together we’re raising two amazing boys in the Muslim faith. I felt I could bring unique insight into the home of a teen with an Islamic upbringing and what they might have experienced before and after the attacks of September 11th. I studied music education and communications in college. I’m an active member of the Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Jen Blackwood author photo

Jennifer Blackwood

Website | Twitter | Facebook

Jennifer is an English teacher and New Adult author. She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, and poorly behaved black lab puppy. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s binging on Veronica Mars episodes and white cheddar popcorn. Blackwood writes about gray area issues with steamy tension and sizzling romance. But don’t worry—her tortured heroes always get their happily ever after they deserve. She is represented by the fabulous Courtney Miller-Callihan from Greenburger Associates. Her debut novel, UNETHICAL, comes out later this year with Entangled Embrace.


Jennifer critiques …


Critique #55 – Query:

Dear Agent:

In Mithos, where white magic is fueled by purity and black magic by passion, True Love is known as the Intolerable Sin. It’s the darkest, most corrupt source of magic in the world. Why? What is it used for? The punishment: a quick death.

Martia is a Love Child, born out of True Love. She spent her entire life in the Academy, isolated from regular society. But now that she’s graduated, Martia is out in the real world, doing what the Academy trained her to do: assassinate those who’ve committed the Intolerable Sin.-So she has to kill people just like her? Is that the punishment for people born out of True Love? Be clearer here.

Then Martia meets Narin, the oldest son of Mithos’s empress. The young man draws her attention like no other How?and when their eyes meet, the world stands still in First Sight This seems very cliché. I’d take this out. Martia refuses to commit the Intolerable Sin. True Love’s Kiss alone could level an army. How? But as Martia draws closer to Narin, her choice must be made—kill Narin So the empress’s son was born out of True Love? How did people not know this before? Why is he now just being assassinated? This isn’t very clear. as she was trained to do, or give into the black magic and risk everything.

Complete at 90,000 words, TAINTED LOVE is a stand-alone fantasy with series potential. I believe it will appeal to fans of the intricate, multicultural world found in THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, the forbidden love in DELIRIUM and the concept of Maria V. Snyder’s POISON STUDY. Pick 2 comp titles. 3 makes it a little too clunky. The XXX has been included in the body of this email. Thank you for your time and consideration.


I know it is VERY hard to do world building in a query, but I think you need to add a bit more here. I was left wondering about the system and why Martia in particular is picked to assassinate these people. Is this common for Love Children? I also think you need to explain more about Narin. As is, we are left wondering if he is a Love Child as well. If so, why wasn’t he banished like her? And why assassinate him now, especially if he is the son of royalty? Also, be more explicit about why she wants Narin as opposed to someone else? What is it about him that makes him different?

Critique #56 – Query:

Dear (agent name spelled correctly),

I write seeking representation for BOOK TITLE a middle grade science fiction adventure with series potential. Complete at 47,000 words, it’s “Life of Pi in Jurassic Park,” the story of thirteen year old Caleb whose shuttle crashes far from home on a planet full of dinosaurs. Your hook is very strong, so I would start with that and leave this for the end.

Two hundred years ago, the great Ark Horizon Alpha left doomed Earth carrying colonists in search of a new home. Caleb was only ten years old when they landed on Tau ceti e, but surviving on a young planet millions of years behind Earth’s evolution meant growing up fast. Thrilled to embark on Slows down the pace of the query. Reword the sentence to say he’s selected to go on his first mission his first mission into the jungle he leaves the electric fences of Eden base, the rookie in a team of seasoned soldiers. In fact, why is he selected for this mission if he’s a rookie and it’s an important mission? Maybe tie in that he follows in the footsteps of his hero dad and that’s why he’s on the mission. Their target is a reactor core lost in the forest when Horizon’s hasty evacuation spilled escape transports across the planet. But when pterosaurs down their shuttle far from the safety of Eden, the survivors must secure the power core and return on foot through a jungle full of predators. The ‘saurs Spell out the whole name pick off his team one by one until Caleb is the only soldier left. This is all very good—straight to the point and clear, although I am wondering how, as a rookie, he’s the only one left? Did his dad train him? Sheer luck?

Eden base has only days of power remaining. Caleb must emerge from the shadow of his hero father and lost older brother to carry the power core back to base before the fences fail This is the first we are hearing about his father and brother. Add in a quick tidbit in the beginning to make this not so random. Did his brother go with him on this mission and die? The last remnant of the human race waits behind electric wire for his return. The dinosaurs wait, too; for the electricity to die and the feast to begin.

Why I chose you to query (love of similar books, genres or possibly snack foods)…I am a veterinarian, cancer survivor, marathon runner and active member of the Cincinnati Fiction Writers. My short story “Ashes to Ashes” will be featured in the forthcoming anthology Catching Shadows (Wordbranch, 2014), and my story “Special Delivery” will appear in Wordbranch’s SciFi anthology in 2015.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

This is an excellent query. See the above suggestions, but overall it was very clear and concise. It definitely made me want to read!


Thank you, Brighton and Jennifer, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!

Filed: Workshops

  • Marlana says:

    Brighton – thank you so very much for your insight on my query. 🙂 Your feedback is spot on. I’ve had a tough time balancing the lightheartedness and seriousness of my characters and story while still establishing each of their unique voices in my query. I’m excited to implement your suggestions. Giant congratulations on CAGED IN WINTER. It looks amazing and I’m adding it to my Must Read list for the fall.

  • Thank you for the critique, Jennifer!

  • Wendy Vogel says:

    Jennifer, thanks so much for the critique! Your observations will help me tighten it up. Now to find an agent who also wants to read it…


  • Mel says:

    Thank you so much Brighton! So helpful and spot on- of course! I’ll get to it.

    • You’re welcome, Mel! Good luck!

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