Day 12 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query and First Page Workshop with Mentors Kit Grant and Laura Brown
Welcome to our Query and 1st Page Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected writers to participate in our query and first page workshops. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or 500 word opening from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting four critiques per day (except weekends) through July 7. Our hope is that these samples will help shine up your query and first page and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors. We appreciate our mentors for giving up their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.
First up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Kit Grant …
Kester Grant is a British-Mauritian writer of color, and debut author of A Court of Miracles (Fall 2018, Knopf, Random House), a Young Adult fantasy reimagining of the Jungle Book and Les Miserables, and the first of a trilogy. She was born in London, grew up between the UK, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the tropical island paradise of Mauritius. As a wanton nomad she and her husband are unsure which country they currently reside in but they can generally be found surrounded by their fiendish pack of cats and dogs. Kes lurks with intent on Twitter, Goodreads, Tumblr,
Kit’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
I’m _MyName_, an American living in the UK, [your bio information ; your name/country of residence/nationality and previous interactions with this agent would be better reserved for a paragraph after your book ‘pitch’.] and seeking representation for my novel, THE TALENT, a contemporary YA book of about 50,000 words [The wordcount can come later, use your first paragraph to grab interest,] . I’ve written to you and two other agents in my early attempts to find representation. [unless this agent specifically asked you to revise and resubmit, or asked to see any of your future work, I’d advise against saying this, also its not important that you queried two other agents, the main focus of a query letter should be your book and what it is about, everything else is fluff. Remember agents are reading a TON of queries daily.] You were __insert specifics to this agent__ [I am assuming this paragraph is personalisation? I’ve talked about that a bit below]. I’m aiming at just my first choices because I know the agent-writer relationship is one that is unique and requires mutual affinity (read that as “I like you already and I hope you like me” but in a British way.) [I personally don’t think this sentence is necessary. Agents take it for granted that you are querying them because you want to work with them = they are your top choices, and they would agree to represent you because of mutual affinity over your work. Also remember that your future relationship with your agent is a business one, so I’d avoid the whole ‘I like you’ bit because its not as professional – they know you like them, you wouldn’t have queried them if you didn’t.]
[Agents can read double digits of queries a day, often skimming so its common advice to start with a strong hook to grab their attention. Consider starting your query with personalisation i.e.: “Since I read on INSERT PLACE that you are looking for INSERT THING THAT YOUR BOOK HAS I thought you might be interested to read my YA contemporary novel, THE TALENT,” and then launching straight into the book pitch.
Or if you don’t have any personalisation/know why your book would appeal to this particular agent, then you could start with; “As a great fan of OTHER PUBLISHED AUTHORS THAT THE AGENT REPRESENTS THAT I ADMIRE, I thought you might be interested to read my YA contemporary novel, THE TALENT,”
Or even the shorter: “I am looking for representation for my YA contemporary novel, THE TALENT.”
It is however generally advised to personalise queries with a reason why you chose this agent check their #MSWL, their wishlist on their website/agency website, their blog, read their twitter, google them + the word Interview and read all of those, check what other clients they have that you admire… This will make your query read like you are querying them specifically rather than just sending out a form query to a whole bunch of agents. Its more personal.]
Annika Li, a mistreated former child-star, must return to acting with her ex or lose her dream of becoming a scientist after Dad’s gambling leaves her penniless; questioning if she knows how to live life off-script. [this is a very succinct pitch which will be useful in the future but a query is meant to be more than just a short pitch. The majority of your query should be about your book, there’s a current imbalance of allotted words in the query, I suggest going deeper into details of the story.] It’s Waiting for Call Back meets Mommy (in this case Daddy) Dearest. [I think these comps might read better at the top of your query, ie: Since I read on INSERT PLACE that you are looking for INSERT THING THAT YOUR BOOK HAS I thought you might be interested to read my YA contemporary novel, THE TALENT which is Waiting for Call Back meets Mommy (in this case Daddy) Dearest]
[You have a great problem here, usually people struggle to cut down the amount of information about their book in a query, but you have the opposite issue of expanding it. Here’s what we need to know about your book. (I put some suggestions/examples of how to expand it, but these are just suggestions…
- the setup who is the MC and what world does she live in and what is the inciting incident and what are the stakes, ie what will happen if she fails/what does she have to lose: INSERT AGE HERE former child-star Annika Li dreams of being a scientist and THING SHE NEEDS TO DO TO BE A SCIENTIST THAT WILL GET RUINED WITHOUT MONEY,
- What is the problem? / obstacles to her dreams: her dreams are shattered when she discovers that her father has gambled away her entire fortune she won’t be able to afford grad school let alone food or rent, she’ll be on the streets in a week unless she can earn some quick cash.
- Why can’t she just get another job other than acting?: No good at flipping burgers or anything else, desperate Annika is forced to return to acting with her ex <why is this a problem? in fact why is returning to acting with her ex a problem at all? its not clear from this pitch. Is this a romance? Are sparks flying? This seems to be a major factor in the book and we’re given no information about it>
- Stakes what must Annika do/ risk to get what she wants?: Annika must attempt to not-murder her insufferable and irresistible ex as things heat up on-screen, and WHATEVER ELSE SHE NEEDS TO DO or risk THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOME WHICH THE MAIN CHARACTER FEARS THE MOST. Whilst questioning if she knows how to live life off-script.
Note the book begins in prose then moves into a modified script format, slowly shifting back to prose [I’d shorten this sentence and also this is the place to talk about wordcount, ie: THE TALENT, complete at 50,000 words, alternates between prose and modified script format] as Annika regains authorship of her life [the next sentence could be condensed ie: this was inspired by the color returning to Pleasantville. ] Much like the color returning to Pleasantville.
[This is the place to insert the bio stuff that was in your first paragraph. i.e.: I’m an American living in the UK. ] When I moved to England three years ago, I joined a vibrant writing group. [I’d put the writing group after the literary accolades as those are more important to list first ie: [I won second place in the 2016 Frome Festival short story competition and shortlisted in the Creative Writing Matters’ Wow competition. ] I won second place in the Frome Festival short story competition in 2016 as well Creative Writing Matters’ Wow competition shortlist. [put writing group here & summarise the rest i.e:I’m part of a vibrant writing group, and am active on Twitter and have had THE TALENT professionally edited] I’m active on Twitter and regularly participate in various chats. Additionally, I’ve had a professional editor give me a report and I’ve made changes accordingly. [this last sentence could be included at the end of the wordcount paragraph ]
I look forward to hearing from you and appreciate any feedback. [consider shortening your sign off to: Thank you for your time in considering my work.] More than anything, thank you for your time in considering my work.
All the Best,
[I think you’ve got good bones, I’d redress the balance of story information making that the majority of the query and trim/adjust the rest and as I said above, you have the opposite problem that most query writers face, your short pitch is excellent, just flesh it out and you’re pretty much good to go! GOOD LUCK!]
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Laura Brown …
Laura Brown lives in Massachusetts with her quirky abnormal family, consisting of her husband, young son, and three cats. Hearing loss is a big part of who she is, from her own Hard of Hearing ears, to the characters she creates. She’s represented by Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency. Her NA, SIGNS OF ATTRACTION, released by Avon in June of 2016.
FRIEND (with benefits) ZONE by Laura Brown . . .
I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.
Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.
When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.
I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.
I guess the only thing we can do is try…
Laura’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
Cradled by wind and sunlight, Hikala spun through the sky, a mirror to her partner’s flight. [Interesting first line. I already get a feel for the world and am compelled to read more.] The air whistled through [her?] blue feathers, sounding a harmonic note to balance the wind-song created with each stroke of Sarwa’s violet wings. Faint shouts of approval for the beauty of their sky dance echoed from the observers scattered across the pale sky. As they approached their last maneuver requiring *exquisite timing* [this feels a bit telly to me, especially in the first paragraph. Show as much as you can, but at this point I want to get to plot, more imagery can come later] of wings and bodies, flashes of color merged, broke apart and merged again, ending their Doubles Sky Dance with a flourish.
Blue wings cupping the air beneath her, Hikala floated on her back and yelled at Sarwa. “What the hell was that? You bumped into me on that final flip.” [Ohhh, nice, they really are performing! Is there a way to get a hint of what Hikala is feeling? Or her reaction to the bump earlier?]
Sarwa hovered at her side, a small frown creasing his intense, brown face. “You cut it too close, but we recovered. I doubt anyone even saw the contact.” His face relaxed into a huge grin. “Come on. We were brilliant.”
Hikala wanted to scream her frustration to the sky—anything less than perfection was not acceptable. [Nice hint at character development here, can’t wait to see more.] She and Sarwa never made mistakes in competitions. Although Sarwa was probably right and no one saw the contact, it still rankled Hikala. She wanted to take back the last five minutes and do it all again, perfectly this time. But they’d finished their doubles routine and needed to return inside for their score, a score that would determine the winner of this year’s Inhikiod Games. [Is there a way to have more emotion here? Show that Hikala is upset?]
Sarwa offered his hand to Hikala and they flew to the King’s landing pad. Despite being visitors to this hive, raucous cheers erupted for Aardee’s top Sky Dancers as they lightly set down on the crescent-shaped entrance platform to the huge hall carved into the mountainside. After the silence of their dance and the whisper of their wings, the inside commotion heightened Hikala’s sense of frustration [another place I’d like to see her frustration rather than be told about it], despite the fact both she and Sarwa had just shown why for years, with their unusual mix of his violet and her blue wings, they’d been the pair to beat in any Doubles Sky Dance event. [This final sentence feels wordy. Also, the only reason given as to why they are popular is their colors, when I suspect more than that comes into play.]
Hand in hand, Hikala and Sarwa strode across the stone floor, their shimmering blue and violet [since you mention their colors above, this feels repetitive. I suggest removing the above and keeping here] flight suits matching the color of their wings. Observers trailed behind them, awe and amazement reflected in their eyes while others touched them as they passed—a story for their children. In all that adulation, no one mentioned their mistake. [Does this mean they are vastly different from the others with their colors?]
Hikala turned to Sarwa and had to shout to be heard in all the noise that ricocheted off the cavern walls. “Guess no one saw your bump. Let’s hope the judges didn’t either since this was our stiffest competition in years.” [Careful here, this line makes Hikala seem bitchy and might make it hard for a reader to connect to her.] Blue wings tucked tight to her back and twitching with excitement, she squeezed Sarwa’s hand as they walked to the awards area to wait the announcement of the winners. “Bump or no bump, we’ll win. I just know it.”
Sarwa nodded. “Hey. I’m not taking responsibility for that bump since you got too close, but I agree,” he took a small bow, “we’ll win. An amazing flight as always.”
[I think this entry has a great voice. I found it easy to read and pulled along. I’ve made a lot of notes, there is so much riding on the first page of a novel that I tend to be extra picky. The world building could use a little more, but I felt like I was starting to get to know their world and eager to learn more. I do wonder if the story is about the dancing? I’m not sure it’s starting at the right place. Yes, I’m interested and would definitely read more, but I’m not sure what the story is going to be about and what the inciting incident is. Is it this dance? Is it the bump that causes something else to happen to them? If this is the right spot, is there a way to alter to get a little more conflict here?
I’ve mentioned this is my notes, but I’d also like to see more emotion from Hikala. You’ve got the introduction to this world set, now strengthen who Hikala is. Why should we cheer for her? What’s her relation to Sarwa? I want to feel her frustration at the dance not going right. But this is also a fine line to straddle, as we don’t want to think she’s too into perfection and therefore feel alienated from her. Make us feel for her.]
Thank you, Michelle and Laura, for your critiques!
Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting critiques through the first part of July. Hope you’ll read on. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 19 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 2nd.