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July Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentor, Dan Koboldt & host, Brenda Drake!

Monday, 28 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 …



Dan Koboldt

Website | Twitter

Dan Koboldt works in genetics, writes in science fiction, and does his best not to mix up the two. He’s a husband, a father of three, and an avid bowhunter. He hosts #SFFpit, a twice-annual Twitter pitching event (inspired by #PitMad) geared at sci-fi and fantasy authors. He’s written a sci-fi novel about a Vegas stage magician who takes high-tech illusions of magic into a medieval world that has the real thing. He’s represented by Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary Agency.


Dan’s critiques …


Critique #61: First Page

When my grandfather learned I was pregnant with my daughter, alone at nineteen, he hugged me and chuckled near my ear. “You naughty girl.” That total acceptance and lack of admonishment was something I felt so completely, but only from him. (Good line). I certainly didn’t give it to myself. (redundant).

I was a single mother, but not the kind who did things like this. Yet here I was, in a situation where I wasn’t in control. I was in fear for my life. (A lot of telling is going on here. SHOW us the situation, and let us realize the stakes on our own). Again. If I died this night, or if I had to live with shooting someone’s son, my headline would begin, “Stereotypical Slutty Single Mom,” that’s all anyone would remember.

But that’s not who I was.

I was an otherwise good girl. (more telling, but I mind it less here because it’s in character). I’d grown up active in the Protestant church I liked to say my paternal grandmother built, as she held court every Sunday in the front pew.

I was a mom who put her child first. I sacrificed friends and youthful transgression, which frankly I’d done plenty of for my good girl roots anyway.
If I was found they found me dead, and the trail was followed the trail to that bachelorette party, to the two strippers that followed me home, high-fiving each other in my rear view mirror, that’s the only part of my story anyone would remember in the history of our small town. My daughter would be scarred. The headlines would shame my family, as lying paralyzed and naked in my bed—my gun, a large, reassuring pea, beckoning beneath my hips—listening to the pleading, the cajoling, and then the yelling and the bedroom door pounding again, shamed me in that moment. This is a lovely, lovely sentence, though I’m not certain that I’m following. I’m not sure who’s pounding on the door, and whether they want in or out. Did she shoot them, and that’s how her gun “shamed” her?

Thank you os much for sharing your first page! You have a good setup here, and despite some “telling” on behalf of the MC, I’m already on my way to being sympathetic toward her. I really like the “reassuring pea” and that was the bit of action that was beginning to draw me in. Maybe you could even start the book right there, right after the opening paragraph with the grandpa (or even before it). 


Critique #62: Query

Dear Agent,

There’s a lot of money in being a psychopath, if you know how to get it. (Great opening line here. It has a hook and a bit of voice to it). Power and prestige, too. But Dr. Ben Spencer doesn’t know that world, yet. He only cares about curing Killer DNA and preventing others from suffering the same kind of terrible loss that changed his life forever.

The controversy surrounding Ben’s research linking psychopathy to genetics nearly cost him everything (This is vague. Did he lose his job, his wife, his house?). Finally given another chance, he begins working for a family wanting to prove they have Killer DNA. (I’m very confused here. If Killer DNA is bad, why would a family want to prove that they have it?) But it’s not only data they’re after. With Ben’s research, the family can escape the Lineage, a centuries-old underground dynasty of psychopaths organized for profit and power.

Ben is drawn into (PASSIVE) this dangerous world, from studying young psychopaths at the “Hogwarts for serial killers” training facility, to attending lavish parties at Versailles filled with assassins. If he discovers the Killer DNA cure, he can bring down the evil organization and keep the family from joining the next generation of psychopaths. If he fails, the worst of humanity continues. (I like this line so much I wonder if you can put it earlier.)

Complete at 120,000 words THE LINEAGE is a psychological thriller in the vein of Thomas Harris and HEARTSICK by Chelsea Cain. This book could either be a standalone project or the beginning of a series. I was a senior editor at Loose-Id, an erotic romance e-publisher, and THE LINEAGE has won or placed in four writing contests through Romance Writers of America chapters.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

There’s a lot to like about this query: a great opening hook, a clean, polite ending. The in-between part is where you might want to focus your attention if you revise it. It sounds like you have a very interesting story here, but I’m confused. And I’m a genetics researcher! I think that — and this is only my opinion — Killer DNA is not a very good name for the condition that your MC studies. Part of that is because it bothers me to see Killer DNA capitalized. The other part is that “killer” is a loaded word . I think of it first as awesome (killer wave), then as something that kills (killer whale). I think that your intended meaning is DNA that turns people into psychopaths and makes them kill. If this is true, a new name would be useful.

I think your query started strong and then wandered, possibly because you’re trying to do too much. You don’t need to give us the full plot here, just enough of a teaser to get an agent to read your writing sample. Start with that strong voice, show us the character being sucked into the dangerous, alluring world, hint at the dangers, and then get the hell out. Speaking of which, the length (120K) worries me a little. That’s long for a debut. If you can find a way to trim that down by 10K or 20K, it may be an easier sell.



Brenda Drake


My critiques …


Critique #63 – First Page:

Colt Rose Ryder was fixin’ fixing (I’m not a fan of using dialect in the narration. If you have to use it, save it for the dialogue. And even then, I’m hesitant. I choose to use words and arrange them in a way to bring the sound of speech to the reader’s ear. Dropped letters with apostrophes isn’t as popular today as it was in earlier times. Sprinklings of it are okay in dialogue, but don’t use it too often because it’s exhausting to read. Just using “fixing” in that line gives me a sense of her accent.) to lose an eye. (As a first line and your hook, I love it. It makes me wonder what Colt did to possibly lose an eye.)

She Colt stood out as brightly as like bright bluebonnet under the overcast skies, a feathered fascinator expertly stabbed in sticking out of her regally-coiled  hair. The descriptions here feel forced. I didn’t get the visual because I was too busy trying to read over the adjectives and “expertly stabbed” seemed odd to me. This draws away the attention to the fascinator and how her hair is arranged.  I gave you an example of what I would do, but I’m sure you can come up with something better. Also, I would use a different comparison to show how Colt stands out. Using the bluebonnet and then the fascinator might confuse the reader, thinking she’s wearing both a bonnet and a fascintor. This could just be me, but I thought I’d point it out. At least her silly hat (And here, is it a hat or a fascinator. Changing the comparison of the bonnet to the sky will undo the confusion.) featured a camera, mike, and earpiece along with its other flourishes. It lacked only a weapon. And Colt had that covered, thanks to her trusty Flashbang(You don’t need to put this here. Let your editor decide this when you sell your book.) bra holster (“Nothing comes between a girl and her gun”). (This fell flat for me and made me stop to think it over – keep the narration flowing so your reader can stay in the story and not be jolted out of it.) She’d even donned dress her fancy cowboy boots (A little tongue-tying here. Remove “dress” and you could either leave as is or add to it as I have done to make it read smoother.), now clicking her across (Her boots are clicking her across? Watch your imagery. Don’t force things in the efforts to be unique or creative. Something like this would do nicely and bring forth the image you want –> She’d even donned her fancy cowboy boots for the occasion. The sound of her heels click-clacked against the colorless stone floors as she crossed the threshold into Westminster Abbey.<– Sometimes all you have to do is rearrange your sentences.) the threshold of Westminster Abbey, its exterior clad in stone as colorless as the clouds. Everything was grey here, even the tea. (When did she get the tea? I think we need a few more lines here. Like–> She sat at the nearest table and order tea, glancing around to find her prey (or whatever she’s looking for). She hadn’t notice the time pass until the waitress sat down the porcelain tea pot and cup in front of her. She sipped her tea, her eyes continuing to search the area. Everything was grey here, even the tea. <—And everything was cold here, except the tea.

Don’t let all that pink up there get you down. I’m very curious about Colt and her mission. What is she up to? And why does she need the fascinator with all the gizmos and the Flashbang bra. I really like this opening, you just need to tighten it up. And remember economy of words is very important to keep your reader from stumbling over the sentences as they read. Don’t force the imagery – less is more.

Sweet Lord, she missed Texas! (You don’t need an exclamation point here. Just by the interjection, we know she’s exasperated or excited.) She missed the sun. She missed the heat. She missed the sweet iced tea. Everything was hotter in Texas, except the tea. (Maybe use London here instead of tea to put your reader in the setting.–> Everything was hotter in Texas, unlike London’s wet-cold that rattled her bones.<–By mentioning the tea again it seems like you’re setting something up with the tea. Are you? Will it play an important role? Cause right now it’s taking up valuable space in your opening page. Use that space to introduce your character, setting, and hook the reader.) 

But, hot or cold, rain or shine, everyone loves a wedding. Every girl dreams of marrying a prince—even the girl who grows grew up to serve on the security detail of a royal wedding: a Cinderella guarding the ball, assigned all of the circumstance and none of the pomp, all of the crowd and none of the crown. (There is so much to love in this paragraph, but the last part needs clarity. I’d rework that last part to make it clear it’s Colt who is on the security detail. And parts of it is confusing. How is she assigned all the crowd and none of the crown? Maybe you close it with a period after “royal wedding” and redo the other half? Like –> Colt was a Cinderella guarding the ball. Assigned to protect the royals, she had all the circumstances and none of the pomp.<– I’d lose the crowd/crown thing but that is only my opinion and someone else may feel differently.)

I love this premise so far. But I’ve yet to get why Colt is about to lose an eye, which is your hook. I expected her to get into a fight. It might be that I’m not seeing the result of the foreshadowing here in the first page, but when you start with a hook like your first line, it has to tie into the story somewhere, and quickly. So, if you don’t have it coming up, I suggest tying it in somewhere so your reader will think “Ah-ha, she almost lost an eye there!” 

Colt found herself so busy lifting the veil off of (redundant) threats that she wondered if she’d ever have a chance to wear a bridal veil. At the moment, she had no time to dream. She barely had time to catch her breath, let alone a prince. For now, she was wed to the job. Love this! I’m hooked, and your reader would want to read on. 


Critique #64 – First Page:

“The Partition is coming soon, marking us half the way to Liamor, which is not so bad at all,” Sona said. (Starting with dialogue doesn’t work most times. Here it isn’t working. When it does work, it’s something that’s powerful and is followed by narration that grounds your reader into the world your creating and the characters that will populate it. I’d suggest starting your story with a better hook and with something that introduces your main character and the world He/she lives in.)

(I’d make this its own paragraph, since the above is Sona speaking and this is Ralian’s thought) Ralian surveyed the light for a time. Five past noon, he thought. (Since Ralian is doing the surveying here, we know we’re in his thoughts, so just italicize it to show it’s his thoughts and drop the tag.) By cover of full darkness, the Meleloth Festival would begin.

“Think we’ll make it in time to see the surfing – er – drifting, as you say it? I can’t help but think of the ladies wearing white,” Ralian said. The seedy look taking over his face shot away the instant Sona turned to glare. (I’m now confused. Who are we following here? Even in third person we should feel we’re in one character’s story. At this point in the story, which is valuable real estate and should hook your reader, I’m not sure who’s story it is.)

“You may give me a hard time on my English, but I do know what that means.” Grinning, Ralian grinned and patted his horse, and looked looking ruefully at hers.

“These things go any faster?” (Is Ralian still speaking? If this is his dialogue, I’d attach it to the above paragraph.)

“Are you in such a hurry?”

“Well, yeah. At the end of this road are forest women and booze enough for me to like dancing with every one of ‘em. What do you expect by now, Sprigs, having known me for most of your nineteen years? I haven’t turned holy man in the gap I’ve been gone. That would be no way to greet the New Year proper.” Ralian glanced over and showed his handsome grin. (Who’s talking in these last three/four lines of dialogue? I think you have Ralian’s actions mixed with Sona’s dialogue. Make sure that the action in a paragraph matches the character who is speaking the dialogue. And who is Sprigs? He just pops up here. Make sure to introduce each character when they come on stage. I’m still confused at this point.)

“Point taken. Let us get you to your women and me to my show.” Sona leaned forward and spoke in soft tones with her horse Chloe (There’s too many names to follow in this first page, don’t crowd it by giving the horse a name too. Save it for later on and bring it out more organically. Like, Sona speaks the horse’s name in dialogue or something.), who at her words went speeding. Ralian was just behind, with his hair blown past his eyebrow rings, showing the bird tattoos on his right temple.

There are some interesting aspects to this excerpt. Like, forest women, eyebrow rings, and the bird tattoos at his temple. But I have no idea what’s happening here. I feel like I just walked in on a conversation that has been going on long before I arrived. Your story does not start here. It either starts just before this scene or somewhere further into the chapter. Find that starting place and make it clear which character your reader is following. Only have that character start the story, and then bring in the other characters. Give your reader a glimpse into your character’s life before embarking on his journey and prior to the inciting event (the place of no turning back). I hope this helps!


Thank you, Dan, for your wonderful critiques!

This concludes the July workshop with the Pitch Wars mentors. Come back this week for some exciting book reveals, introductions of agents attending Pitch Wars, our blog hop for the mentors’ bios and wishlists, and something we’ve been working on behind the scenes. And don’t forget, the submission window for Pitch Wars is August 18!

Filed: Workshops

  • Anne Lipton says:

    I am honored to have you look at my work, Brenda. Your feedback is excellent and very helpful. Thank you for hosting Pitch Wars, taking the time to critique my opening, and all you do for writers.

  • Dan, thanks so much for the encouraging comments and thoughtful changes you recommended for the first page of my memoir in progress.

    Pitch Wars Workshop is a valuable resource for writers of all levels. You, Brenda, and all the mentors have worked hard. You make our words and our stories shine.

    Reading through the critiques and opening our minds to what’s possible makes the world of story a better place. You people ROCK!

    Again, thank you.

  • Vanessa Lillie says:

    Thank you, Dan, for the query suggestions — SO helpful! Brenda, thanks so much for this amazing workshop as we prep for #pitchwars!

  • Sue O'Connor says:

    Thank you for sharing your expertise Dan and Brenda. These posts are so valuable. I can’t wait for #pitchwars

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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