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Query & 1st Page Workshop with Chimera Editing Services … Day 7

Friday, 23 January 2015  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Query & 1st page workshop

15 critiques for ’15!

My wonderful critique partners have started a new freelance editing business and agreed to sponsor my January workshop. Jami Nord and K.T. Hanna have helped me spruce up my manuscripts and now they’re helping fifteen lucky and brave writers with theirs. The winners have already been picked. This is the last day of the workshop, go back and read Jami’s and Katie’s critiques from the previous days and learn from their advice. Today’s final three were a joint effort by  Jami and K.T.  We aren’t mentioning names or titles. It’s up to the writers if they want to reveal themselves.

If you’re interested in hiring Chimera Editing Services, go visit the website to learn more about their reasonably priced services …


Chimera Editing Services


Critiques by …


Me-150x150  K.T. Hanna        &                Use-this-one-JamiProicon-150x150  Jami Nord


 1st Critique…


Dear (Agent),

(Personalization goes here)

Space, the final chance for true romance:

To Captain Mark(,) life should be an adventure. Opposing the tyrannical Company is not so much a political statement as something fun to do. Sitting around in a more settled life feels like death, so when he wakes from cryogenic sleep the first thing he wants (after a cup of coffee) is to get back to the action. He and his ragtag crew of rebels had gone into hiding because they were low on supplies so the first order of business is to restock somehow. They only have enough energy left in the fuel cell for this one last blastoff, and the solar panels are damaged, so this means tThe next time they land may be their last. The thought of eeking out a living while stuck on some terrestrial rock terrifies Mark, as does getting caught by the Company and being sentenced to an accountant’s life in the pod-farm; so wWhen his ship comes upon an interspace cruiser, though they have never stooped so low before, he decides to go pirate on it. (Watch long run on sentences too close together like that. It feels rambly, though I like the touches of voice this has as well.)

Pilot Brit loves the adventurous life too. She can scrap it up with the best of them, and she flies Captain Mark’s ship skillfully by the seat of her pants, a major source of pride for her. However, when they become stranded on a life-sustaining planet(,) she discovers her desire to play house with Mark and wants to explore these feelings further. Unfortunately(,) her violent past makes her body unwilling to allow close encounters of the male kind, and Mark is anxious most of the time anyway(Anxious to get off the rock? Sure. But what does this have to do with her and sex?). An opportunity to reenergize their ship is realized when a band of the alien Grogon race arrive from the next galaxy over(I don’t see the connection. Is the Company paying them to go find this stuff out? Someone else? What does their arrival have to do with getting his ship back in the black?). Not much is known about the Grogons, such as are they peaceful or warrior-like; but if it means getting back into space Mark is compelled to find out(anything they want to know). For him it’s all about (“)live free or die trying(“).

LIVE FREE OR DIE TRYING is planned to finish (Finish it BEFORE you query.) at 75,000 words of space adventure (Sounds more like a humorous scifi romance. Always be specific with genres, and as much as you can, limit it to two, ) in the Fire Fly way. (This whole thing sounds like a Firefly spoof to me, even before this. While making reference to other scifi is perfectly fine, you might want to focus on how this is unique. If an agent thinks a project is just fanfic, it’s an easy rejection, so it’s key to focus on how it’s more than the sum of the shows it’s derived from. What takes this story from fanfic to something they just need to get their hands on as soon as possible?)

I am a computer programmer working for the ‘Company’, spending my days stuck in the pod-farm and surviving the life Mark could not accept. My body may be tied to a chair, but my mind is free to soar. (I like how your bio ties into your story) My debut novel is an inspirational romantic suspense published digitally by Anaiah Press last September. Working with their editors has been a great experience. (Unneeded.)Thank you for your time.



First page:

There was no life support, that was true, [adds nothing] and no gravity or light either; but Captain Mark was not convinced this derelict ship they had boarded was truly dead. He reminded himself of the story about the Three Bears and Goldilocks. In this situation his group would be Goldilocks looking for some porridge. When she came to the Bear’s house that door had opened way too easily also, just as the air locks on this ship had slid away without much effort. Trouble with this comparison: he knew how Goldie’s story ended, and he didn’t like it.

[This feels needlessly wordy.

There was no life support, and no gravity or light, but Captain Mark was convinced the derelict ship they’d boarded was not dead. The air locks on the ship slid away far too easily. Three Bears and Goldilocks didn’t end well for its protagonist, and he had the distinct feeling that everything just right about this salvage was about to end in much the same way.]

“Something is wrong,” Captain Mark said into his microphone. “Everything looks . . . staged.” He was dressed in [His] full combat armor [,which was] completely sealed against the cold void of space, and he carried a laser assault rifle of the old style, the kind the rebels used because they couldn’t buy from the Company stores, not when the rebels were the opposition against the conglomerate. [Holy 47 word sentence Batman. I would suggest the following: His full combat armor was completely sealed against the cold voice of space. The laser assault rifle he carried was old style. Rebels couldn’t buy from The Company stores – they were the opposition of the conglomerate.] He floated through the dark corridor because gravity was not on in this darkened ship. He breathed through a tube attached to a tank because there was no life support system. [Superfluous – we know this. It’s in the first sentence of the book. Find another way to say this. Before my adjustment above, there were three He sentences in a row. Don’t be lazy. Vary your structure. Example: His breath rasped through the tube to his air tank as he floated along a dark corridor of the salvage] A beam of light shone from his helmet and reflected off the alloy walls. [Perfect example. You don’t mention that there is no light, because he is shining one. Show us things. Create an atmosphere]. The ship was quiet and cavernous, scary at best, and maybe Mark was simply having a case of nerves, but that was ridiculous. [ Last line through is redundant. How is it quiet and cavernous? Are there deserted sleeping quarters? Don’t just tell us – show us! Is food floating around in half eaten fashion as if a meal had been interrupted? Are droplets of blood frozen on the air?] If he felt something, it was real; and right Right now he felt [He felt like a zombie. Try not to use felt or seem] everything was just a little too perfect to be true: like if some video producer said let’s make a dead ship, this would be it, the theme park version and not what Mark had come to know as the gritty reality. [Perhaps here use examples of what might be the final struggle. I would suggest rephrasing to the extent of: This ship could have been the theme park version of dead ships. Come on down and experience the final moments in space. – and then Segway into the explanation that comes next]In real life dead ships showed traces of the final struggle. Once Mark had seen scratches in a metal wall that appeared to come from clawing fingernails. Nail marks [I’d use scratches. There is a LOT of Mark in this] in a metal wall. That was the truth of a ship losing power and succumbing to the vacuum of space. Like the three bears’ house, this ship was simply vacant for the moment, was like a summer cabin left for the winter. Vacant, except for Mark and his two crew members within and Wendy who who had stayed back after popping the air lock way too easily. Mark sensed the owners of this ship remained nearby, maybe even watching them now.

[Here you harp on the same thing. We reintroduce Goldilocks, which is a cool sort of comparison at first, but repetitive in such a small space. Suggestion: The derelict was laying in wait, like a summer cabin left for winter. Mark and his two crew members were the only occupants. And he knew, with spine-tingling certainty, that its owners were watching them even now. You have some nice prose points, but watch being lazy with sentence structure and using too many words where fewer would suffice AND make it better. Be careful of using the name/word Mark too many times. Find other ways to get around this. Try to avoid repetition and telling the reader instead of showing them. Both of these make a great impact in that first page.

Caution: This has some definite unique elements as mentioned in the query, but playing it off in a firefly way, when there is obvious overlap, cheapens it a little. Make it your own, even if it originally stemmed from a love of fan fiction (it’s a love I have too!), make sure to accentuate the parts of it that are purely you and unique and I’m sure this will be a great read.]



2nd Critique…


Dear (Agent),

(Personalization goes here. Good job on that here.)

Thank you very much for the opportunity to have the first page of my debut (It’s not your debut until it’s sold, and it often gives the impression it’s already published. I’d avoid it.) novel The Gathering Place, a 131,455 (130,000) word (which is very long for the genre. I’d suggest trying to trim it down to around 100k, which is already about the maximum length. Most RS novels are closer to 80-90k.) work of contemporary romantic suspense, critiqued by Chimera Editing. This novel is for fans of legal thrillers and murder mystery “who done its” that also love to read romance novels with modern characters who have realistic world views but who still obtain their happily ever after. The pairing of a sexy Brit and a sassy southern belle is my preference as an author. I am southern, but I am an Anglophile, and both cultures make for great banter and tension. I prefer to create strong characters that possess quirks and individuality but who can also come together to create a magical relationship. Lucas Harper and Samantha Cooper are one such pairing.

(At the length this book clocks in at, they want to feel like they’re going to be quickly turning the pages. The more you can entice them with that feeling, the more likely they are to request it. Keeping it concise and focused is absolutely key.)

When The Gathering Place opens, we meet Englishman Lucas as he wakes up confused and not quite sober inside his girlfriend’s bar to find her murdered. He is the prime suspect and hires Samantha as his attorney, a young but successful lawyer who isn’t scared to go head-to-head with a cocky, cynical, and trouble-laden musician. Lucas is unwilling to cooperate with Samantha at first but she doesn’t give up, taming him with her keen intelligence, sharp wit and steadfast determination. He’s never met anyone quite like her. As Lucas becomes more comfortable around Sam, he finds himself unable to deny the mutual attraction they have toward one another. They embark on a tentative friendship that quickly progresses to a romantic relationship as Lucas realizes he never loved Maliha the way he should have. The reader figures out early on that Lucas didn’t murder Maliha, but they don’t realize who the actual murderer is until later in the book, though they are introduced early on to Helena LaMaster and Tara Letum, former schoolmates of Maliha that are consumed with jealousy over her success. When they attack Sam, Helena is arrested and confesses to what she knows: she was Tara’s accomplice, and it was Tara who orchestrated and executed the murder. Before Tara can be arrested, she finds Lucas and Samantha and attacks them, seriously wounding Samantha in the process.

Tara is arrested and found guilty at trial for the murder of Maliha Dawes. Lucas and Samantha lick their wounds, but ultimately survive intact. The novel ends with Lucas and Samantha’s marriage – their piece of happily ever after.

(The ending shouldn’t be revealed in the query, nor the murderer. Grab your favorite romantic suspense book and look at the blurb on the back cover. That’s what you want to imitate. So for example, and please excuse any inaccuracies vs your story:

Ex-pat British rock star Lucas Harper wakes up hung over in his girlfriend Maliha’s bar. Nothing unusual about that, until he finds her murdered body, and the holes in his memory covered by an alcohol induced haze become liabilities. When he’s targeted as the prime suspect, he hires a sassy southern lawyer, Samantha Cooper. He believes the only way to clear his name is to find the real murderer, but with the lead cop with a personal vendetta on his tail at every turn, and the evidence mounting against him, it won’t be easy. Especially since he’s falling for the one person who might be able to get him out of this mess.

Samantha has always been determined to get what she’s after, and this case should be no different, despite the cocky, attractive client. Finding the murderer is well outside of her job description, but the longer she spends with Lucas, the more she’s convinced of his innocence. He might have killed a pint or two, but there’s a gentleman hiding somewhere under all that blustered arrogance and fame. But after a masked assailant breaks into her house, she has no doubts. Whoever killed Maliha is after her and Lucas, but the cops won’t listen. Neither will her heart as the line between personal and professional begins to blur.

As the number of suspects grows, the connection between them does as well, but time is running out. Together, they may walk out of it alive and free, but they must overcome their distrust and get enough evidence to close the case instead of their coffins.)

(Obviously, adjust to fit the particulars of your story, and it’s a bit hyperbolic, but see how that creates tension? The trick is to give them just enough information to let them see how the story fits into their list, without overwhelming them. Make them feel like, YES, this is something I want to devour, and they might not even notice the word count.)


First page:

Most vivid of his memories from his former hometown was the looming gray sky that swathed the entire city in its gloom, the ubiquitous clouds and pervasive rain canopying even the most remote parts of the ancient city. Now, sitting here, in the middle of this strange room, Lucas Harper was stricken with a nostalgic pang to be in London rather than this cold room. [Repetitious. Room twice within two lines. Watch your words. You only have so many to entice. You don’t want to start off with a colorful effort to obfuscate that you’re essentially saying: It was a dark and stormy night.] The rumbling of heated thunder and the crackling of lightning had jolted him from his slumber; hard rain spattering against the windows, the cacophony of the storm pounding like a snare drum in his brain. He propped himself up on his elbows, dazed, staring at the droplets of rain cascading down the large windows. The squall outside echoed through the room, and though he wanted to do more than stare, he couldn’t; his body weighted down, a heavy ball crushing his gut and pinning him to his seat, his tailbone numb, his limbs leaden.

[There is nothing in this first paragraph that makes me feel like reading on. All I can tell is that the writer knows a lot of pretty words. You also contradict yourself. He props himself up but then cannot move and can only stare. Which makes no sense. Either he can move, or he can’t.

Right now, this first page is not doing its job, it’s lending itself to heavy handed prose that beats around the same point. There is a line you need to draw when trying to create a sensory filled experience, and most of all you have to make sure that any efforts to create that atmosphere with pretty prose and lovely words doesn’t obscure the voice of the piece. Up to here. There is no voice. Nothing to pull me in but dry prose.


The roll of thunder jolted him from his slumber. Lucas Harper immediately pushed himself up, blinking heavy eyes to try and orient himself. All he could was stare as the hard rain splattered against the windows, and lightning bolts accentuated the cacophony of noise. It was as if the weather weighed on him, an ominous sense of dread preventing further movement.

This is just a suggestion – but you can sneak the bits about London if it’s imperative, you can hint at other things. These are the bits that seemed repeated. This is far shorter, and packs much more of a punch.]

The hazy room rippled like a drop of oil in water, and he squinted, trying to focus on the dark room around him. Where the hell was he? [I actually don’t mind this – I’m not sure if I desperately want to hear this fellow’s voice, but I like this bit] His feet were tangled into the rungs of the bar stool, his knee twisted and aching from his odd position. He focused on it, the dim early-morning light filtering into the room casting his skin a sallow gray. [Given the first two paragraphs, this confused me. I’ve read it several times and find it difficult to wrap my head around. If he’s on a bar stool, how did he prop himself up, and why can’t he move? It would seem to me, that with his awakening and propping himself up from bed (even though he’s on a stool), wouldn’t he fall off the stool?]

His eyeballs hurt but he scanned the room until he noticed the backsplash [backsplash? Is it glass and reflective? Because the glass is the backsplash – the liquor lining the wall could be reflected in it and give it away, but it needs a better description because it’s off right now. What other senses does he use but his eyes and ears? Think of the smell of a bar? Stale bear, whiskey, fruit juice and vomit, greasy food and sweat. I want to sense more of what is surrounding him and smell? It’s an amazing tool] to what seemed like a bar, hundreds of different liquors lining the wall. A dirty washcloth lay on the bar to his right, an oversized mirror above the liquor angled so that he could almost make out his face in the reflection, covered in what looked like blotches of ink staining his skin. His ears honed in on the sheeting rain brutalizing the glass windowpanes and little by little he realized that his face was not spattered with ink; rather, it was bathed in the replications of the very rain that had awoken him from the most peculiar sleep he’d ever experienced. [So much rain, and the sound of rain…]

Lucas’s gut churned with an unfamiliar sense of dread. Something wasn’t right but for the life of him he couldn’t place what it was. It was as if all happiness had been sucked from the room into a black hole of nothingness and it chilled him to the bone.

[I’m still not quite sure what you mean by replication of the rain? Is his face sort of like a screen with water running down it? Like a green screen showing rain? Do you mean rain drops? I’m a little confused. But I have tried to offer an example of how to deepen the prose a little. Again – just a suggestion.]


He noticed the glint of light against the wall and looked up to see hundreds of liquor bottles reflected in semi-neat rows – staring down at him. The mirror had to be old because it showed inky blotches on his own reflection, as if part of the mirrored backing had flaked off. Lucas barely resisted the urge to grab the dirty washcloth and wipe his face. If the rancid smell wafting over to him was anything to go by, it had never been washed.

But it wasn’t the mirror. The cadence of the rain echoed through his head and the more he focused, the easier it was to see that the splotches on his face replicated the harsh rain exactly.

His gut churned and the rag wasn’t the only thing making him nauseous anymore. Dread sat in his stomach like lead. He couldn’t place what wasn’t right, but he knew that all the happiness was gone. Like it had been sucked from the room into a black hole of nothingness.

[I think this needs a couple of edit passes for clarity and impact. With some work, I’m sure the voice will shine through much stronger.]


3rd Critique…


(Personalization goes here)

Saxons trespass on De Moray land, heading straight toward the dangerous kingdom of the Gaels.

James, the younger of the seventeen-year-old sons of Laird Kenneth De Moray, is ready to stand beside his twin, William, to protect their vast holdings outside the Highland border. That is if their mother will allow her precious William to wield a sword. Not that he trusts his brother with a weapon, any weapon, since his father named both as equal heirs and future Lairds of their bequeathed domains.

None too thrilled about giving up what he deems as half his rightful inheritance, William, with the help of his devoted mother, devises a scheme to claim himself Laird of all De Moravia.

Old Laird De Moray stirs the brother’s feud when he informs his unsuspecting sons of his intent to marry them off on the next full moon, to two of the noble Saxon Lady trespassers.(Wait, they’re girding for battle, and then it’s “Oh, go marry these invaders”? This is confusing here. What does his father hope to gain, and why would the Saxons go along with it?) James is set to thwart his father’s ridiculous plan until he catches a glimpse of his betrothed, the proud and beautiful Alana, who has no qualms about making her aversion to marrying a Scotsman known.

William, unimpressed with his own shrewish bride-to-be, watches Alana and James from afar. His hatred for his brother grows with each adoring smile she gives James. If she bares (bears) an heir it will be William’s(The phrasing here is unclear. If she bears an heir, the child will be William’s heir as well, is, I’m assuming what you meant. But it could also be read that the baby could be William’s, and that’s just awkward.). James must not have Alana, no matter the cost; be it the life of F(f)ather, brother, or even the lovely Alana. (I don’t see how killing their father would prevent this.)

SCRUGGS, A SCOTTISH TALE is a 92,000 word YA Historical Romance set in the 1122 Lowlands of Scotland. It’s the story of a love so great the surname, Scruggs, sprang from it. I am a member of the Idaho Writers Guild and several critique groups. One of my short stories, House of the( )Midnight Moon, won a contest (#31Days of Halloween writing contest – week one, 2013) hosted by Bree Ogden, Literary Agent with D4EO.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

(Great query as a whole. Because so many of the terms and names are specialized to the time period and genre, keeping the sentences very slightly shorter might make for clearer reading. Careful targeting of agents who like both historical romance and YA will be key here.)


First Page:

The stillness lifted as the mist rose from the moor. What little sunlight peeked through at this ungodly hour swirled into the haze. James slowed his steed to a stop and raised his hand, signaling William to hold-up and be silent.

William’s voice rippled with amusement as he taunted, “What is it brother? Are the spirits callin’ again?” He tightened his grip on the reins and with a firm nudge to its flank urged his mount on, quickening his stride. His face contorted into a curled lip expression of contempt as he rode past James. “Be sure to bid them good day for me.”

[I’m a little confused at the time period. I can’t seem to tell when this is. Even here I have no real sense of time. For an historical this is essential. A lot of people ride horses. I ride horses. I know what a steed is, I know what heather is – this doesn’t automatically set me back in time.  Also – the pov? Is it James, is it William?]

“You’d do well to heed the wee voices now and again,” James said and cocked his head, listening. He dismounted the great gray stallion and led the beast toward a bank of Heather [not a person, right? It’s just the plant. Lower case then] covered rolling hills. The scent of the deep purple blossoms grew stronger with each step he took. “William, over here.”

William twisted in his saddle and glanced over his shoulder, jerking the bit harder than necessary to head the bay in the direction James veered. The horse whinnied and vigorously shook its head, sending droplets of blood(-)marred saliva onto its rider. William ignored the splatter and pressed forward, pulling up alongside the gray. [Here for example. How would James know William ignored it? William could have thought about it, so this sounds like it’s William confirming that he ignored it. But from the rest, I almost assume that it’s Jame’s pov?]

James reached up to stop William’s fist from making contact with the horse and grabbed hold of it, locking blue fire eyes with William’s emerald green. “I warned you about mistreating this animal. Lay hand to it and be prepared to suffer my wrath.” James tossed a linen pouch stuffed with cobwebs and frog ash to his brother. [The language is a little telling, but it’s not enough on its own. What are they wearing? How does their hair appear? Do they have beards? Give us more than language and horses as transport to center us in this world.] “Now, tend the bay’s mouth.”

James tethered the gray [Note: the spelling on that side of the pond is usually grey, not gray.] to a bush, and effortlessly made his way through the flowering shrubs up the highest hill. Nearing the top he hunkered close to the ground and peered over the rise at the clearing below. The mist stubbornly clung to the damp land, blocking James’ view. It didn’t matter, faint sounds not normal to this area of the de Moravia land held by Kenneth de Moray caught James’ attention. Be it man or beast, he would discover the source and deal with it.

William slowly climbed the hill, huffing and puffing the entire way. “Good God, brother, what are you thinking?”

“Sit, William, and tell me what you hear. Something’s out there.”

The elder of the twins dropped down beside the younger and cupped his hand over an ear. “I hear nothing.” He made a move to stand. James halted his assent with a tight grasp on William’s knee.

“Be still and listen.”

[Your prose is quite good, but this excerpt doesn’t center me in a different time. It doesn’t tell me anything about oncoming war/invasion, or entice me. Had I not read the query, I’d wonder if they were role playing. Also – already a page in and I discover these two are twins, but I still have no idea what they look like apart from one having blue eyes and the other green. However, I know a GREAT deal about the horses.  I do think with a little shuffling of priorities on this first page, that it will stand out. The premise in the query sounds intriguing and with some tweaks I think this page will measure up too]


Thank you, Jami and K.T.!

And that’s the end of the workshop. Go browse the other six posts to view all the critiques. And don’t forget to check out Chimera Editing’s reasonably priced services.


Check back next for all the details and agent list for Pitch Madness!

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Filed: Workshops

  • Thank you so much, Jami Nord & K.T. Hanna, for taking the time to critique the submissions during this workshop. I read each of the fifteen critiques and came away with a clearer understanding of how to entice readers with my own writing. Hopefully I’ll be able to apply what I’ve learned from you in my revisions. Although I know it’s not needed, I wish you luck on your new joint venture.

    Brenda, as always you are a wonder! Thank you for hosting this fantastic workshop and I look forward to participating in your future contests.

    Have a GREAT day! 😀

  • Wow! Very impressed by all of Chimera’s critiques in this series! A great benefit not only for those whose works were critiqued but for everyone who read them. Thanks to everyone who was brave enough to allow their critiques to be posted, as well as to Jami Nord and K.T. Hanna for their very thorough comments and explanations, and to Brenda for posting these here!

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