Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2021 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 Rochelle Karina
Rochelle Karina is a 2020 and 2021 Pitch Wars mentor and 2018 mentee. A former magazine and newspaper editor, Rochelle is now a freelance writer living in the heart of Baltimore. When not at her desk coming up with new ways to torment her characters, she can often be found in the kitchen, glass of wine in hand, cooking a meal for friends.
Rochelle’s critique . . .
[Trigger Warning: suicide, mental health, mention of substance abuse]
On the trail of a mysterious research institute, journalist Caragh Holloway agrees to join a madman’s dangerous, grief driven experiments with the dead. [Loving the start—though I might like the name of the institute, i.e. on the trail of the mysterious ____ research institute.] When they break the barrier between dimensions, Caragh finds herself trapped inside a labyrinth of her own memories and time as something sinister takes over her reality. Engaged in a fight for her free will, Caragh will stop at nothing to escape her own mind. [Interesting character, compelling situation, and clear stakes. Nice.]
Parapsychologist Ben Howard is a man reeling from his wife’s tragic death, something Caragh can relate with all too well. Determined to give Ben the support and safety Caragh couldn’t accept herself, she puts her own life on hold to ensure Ben doesn’t ruin his. Unfortunately for Caragh, this enables Ben to continue the work that may have driven his wife to madness. Slipping into Ben’s world of experimentation, Caragh soon learns that the barriers between our world and what lies beyond are thinner than she knew. The consequences of playing with these boundaries sends Caragh into a spiral, lost in her own torturous past from which Ben may never allow her to leave. [The opening paragraph grabbed me, but this one backtracks and covers the same ground as the first paragraph, only with more detail. Starting with a punchy hook then going into more details CAN work, but the hook is usually very short—like one line. In this case I feel like we lose that initial punch. I’ve put a suggestion for one possible revision at the end…]
Complete at approximately 118,000 words, [TITLE] is an adult gothic horror
work [delete] that explores women’s persistent struggle to regain control over our [their] minds and bodies as well as the power of self-forgiveness. The book shares elements with the series HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and Stephen King’s REVIVAL [a 2014 comp is getting a little old, but it’s King. If you CAN find a more recent comp novel, great! If not, I’d be inclined to stick with this] and will appeal to similar audiences. In line with these works, please be aware that this book includes topics of a sensitive nature, such as substance abuse and suicide. [I’d smooth this to either: In line with these works, this book… (deleting the “please be aware that”) OR… Please be aware this book… (deleting the “in line with these works” part).
Thank you for your time and consideration.
[One possible rearrangement with minor edits:
On the trail of a mysterious research institute, journalist Caragh Holloway agrees to join a madman’s dangerous, grief driven experiments with the dead. Parapsychologist Ben Howard is a man reeling from his wife’s tragic death, something Caragh can relate with all too well. Determined to give Ben the support and safety Caragh couldn’t accept herself, she puts her own life on hold to ensure Ben doesn’t ruin his.
Unfortunately, this enables Ben to continue the work that may have driven his wife to madness. Slipping into Ben’s world of experimentation, Caragh soon learns that the barriers between our world and what lies beyond are thinner than she knew.
When they break the barrier between dimensions, Caragh finds herself trapped inside a labyrinth of her own memories and time as something sinister takes over her reality. Lost in her own torturous past that Ben may never allow her to leave, Caragh is engaged in a fight for her free will and will stop at nothing to escape her own mind.]
[You could also open with: On the trail of the mysterious Howard Research Institute… or whatever the name is ;-)]
The night had grown cold and silent, even
amid[in] the city that was never supposed to sleep [never slept. – to avoid repetition of “supposed” in the next line and give a punchier start.]. They weren’t supposed to be there. Ben knew that now[delete and combine w/ the next line]. In truth, he [delete], had known it all along, but damned if Cleo hadn’t been right: Ben never did [delete] listen[ed] to his own good [delete] advice. The tread of [delete] h[H]is sneakers slid on the slick sidewalk as he rounded the street corner. He managed to hold himself upright long enough to grasp hold of [delete] the metal handrail [could use stair rail here, but handrail and leading down convey the idea of stairs especially since we see “steps” in the next line] of the stairs delete] leading down [delete to avoid repetition as he glides down next sentence. Also not needed to understand the scene] into Parsons Boulevard station. Ben glided down the first several steps before his ankle twisted at an odd angle [delete], and he tumbled the rest of the way down [delete – repetitive and not needed for clarity here.]. The ligaments holding his joint together screamed, but Ben didn’t have time left [delete] to coddle himself. [Edits made to tighten this opening paragraph… I feel like there needs to be a sense of urgency, and we lose that in here.]
The station was empty, save for him, the rats, and his wife. Cleo was close by; he could feel her weight in his chest. Ben called out her name for the hundredth time. His voice echoed back
to him [delete] from a thousand different angles. She didn’t bother to reply. He picked up his pace despite white hot pain searing through his ankle and up his leg. The tunnel before him seemed to grow longer with each step. With every cry into the concrete underground, the echoes grew louder and more menacing. He didn’t know the train schedule, but Ben was sure it wouldn’t be long now. [I like the tone here! This gives us a good sense of his head space and makes us wonder “what won’t be long…” we’re primed for something to happen, and if the opening paragraph gets us breathlessly to this point, even better.]
They had told him for years now. From family to friends to colleagues and associates, everyone had noted a decline in Cleo’s mental health.
[I’m not an anti-prologue person, but not everyone likes them. I usually suggest editing to avoid if at all possible, just to be safe, but if the story NEEDS it, then let it stay….
I noted in the text that we lose the sense of urgency. We need to feel connected with this man, to be drawn into his experience. Strip it down and pull us into his world. Really make these opening paragraphs count, you can be leisurely later. This scene calls for being dropped right into a headlong rush into the train station.
You use “they” but we don’t see anyone else (that’s ok…if it becomes clear later in this scene). He mentions his wife, and even without the query or reading a blurb, the text gives us the sense that all is not right in Ben’s world. And when he mentions the train schedule, we wonder, is he about to attempt suicide? Is he watching the train because his wife committed suicide and she’s somehow still there?
Either way, the text should reflect the character’s sense of urgency. Desperation. I love that we see this is a man in pursuit of something, driven beyond even physical pain. He is tormented. That comes across beautifully.
I want to know what drove him to this point… and how far will he go… or how far he will drive someone else to go to accomplish his goals. Those are the questions that will keep me turning pages.
One quick note: because this delves into substance abuse, mental health, and suicide, I would strongly suggest a sensitivity read in addition to the warning you have in your query letter.
Thank you for sharing your work, and good luck!]