Day 17 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & First Page Workshop with mentors, McKelle George and Jenny Lundquist
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.
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor McKelle George
McKelle George is a reader, writer of clumsy rebels, perpetual doodler, and reference librarian at the best library in the world. She mentors with Salt Lake Teen Writes and plays judge for the Poetry Out Loud teen competitions (but has no poetic talent herself). Her debut young adult novel Speak Easy, Speak Love comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2017, and she currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd and way, way too many books.
McKelle’s upcoming release …
Speak Easy, Speak Love
September 19, 2017
By the end of a summer filled with romantic misunderstandings, witty machinations, and daring escapades, they’ll either all be enemies, or they’ll all be in love.
This sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is an uproarious battle of wits with a 1920’s twist.
McKelle’s Query Critique…
AGE CATEGORY: YA
GENRE: Speculative Fiction
The ideas in this query are great—and incredibly interesting. The sentence-level writing is strong and makes me think the writing in the manuscript would be equally up to the task! The main issue is a structural one—and it’s a bit long, as is. But you’ve made a great start. I would read this book!
Sixteen-year-old Alex dreams of fire and ash every night in a country already controlled by Martial Law. [Modifier issues. Change to: In a country controlled by Martial Law, sixteen-year-old Alex dreams of fire and ash every night.] When those dreams become reality [Word choice here… ‘dreams become reality’ doesn’t necessarily suggest that her dreams told the future, which is I think what you’re trying to imply? Or maybe her parents aren’t hiding her away because of her dreams, but just because the world is awful and dying?], her parents shove her into a tiny safe room and surrender themselves for her protection. Hours later, she emerges to a scorched neighborhood of no electricity [and] lots of dead bodies, and a handful of panicked survivors—none of whom Alex trusts. Her parents have vanished, confirming that Alex’s nightmares are, in fact, visions. [Aha! So I was right the first time. I’d change that to “prove to be prophetic” or something; also, by saying “those dreams become reality” it implies that the world is already scorched and dead which wouldn’t leave the parents time to hide her… and yet they didn’t hide her until after the dreams became reality. Does that make sense? It’s a dichotomy that’s contradicting itself a little.] After days of one-sided conversations with an old radio, a human voice finally breaks through her world of static. Alex journeys to this survivor and stumbles into three others[Alex discovers other survivors like herself], all of whom have special abilities that they believe surfaced during the Fires. Together, the four Gifted teens move towards Washington D.C. to confront the fuel behind the flames, their President. [This is hard to grasp in a query letter, because the first part of your query makes it seem like this was random: hence why her visions were a big deal, but this implies that they knew it was going to happen all along and who was causing it.]
President Lilith, the fortunate Designated Survivor of the 2024 Capitol Bombing sees the Book of Revelations as more of a creative instruction manual in erecting a new country on the ashes of the old. She expects some resistance from her citizens when she commits mass genocide and kidnaps several hundred, but she never dreamt it would come in the form of four teenagers with magical abilities. [Interesting. I’m actually wondering if you shouldn’t open your query with a version of this paragraph instead. After ending with “…in the form of four teenagers with magical abilities” you could lead into “Sixteen-year-old Alex dreamt of fire and ash for years before those dreams turned prophetic. Her parents have vanished….and after meeting three others who have suffered similar fates, they decide to go after the one responsible. (Obviously you’d write that much better than me, but you get the idea.] The peaceful and disciplined halls of her Reintegration Center are thrown into a frenzy when the Gifted arrive on her doorstep. Neutralizing the threats would help her keep control over the country she worked so hard to corrupt, but harnessing four different powers to speed plans along may be too tempting to resist.
The Gifted now have a choice: fight President Lilith and lose what’s left of their families or surrender themselves and their powers to her apocalyptic plan and lose what’s left of their country.
[The other problem for me is that you switch focal points three times. The first paragraph, Alex is the main character. And in the second, President Lilith. And in the third, it’s “the Gifted” as a group. To make your query more effective, I would shorten it by at least a third and I would keep the focus on Alex.]
BLESSED is a YA speculative fiction [“speculative fiction” could mean almost anything; this is a sci-fi/dystopic, I’d say; and so are the two comp novels you use] novel, complete at 60,000 [Eek, that seems pretty short for your given genre. 5th Wave is 115K, and I Am Number Four is 100K, for reference.] words with a series potential. It is best described as The 5th Wave meets I Am Number Four with a unique twist of alternating points of view between the teen protagonist and the unreliable adult antagonist. While this is my first novel, I am a full time high school English and Creative Writing teacher of ten years, analyzing all tropes related to YA literature with my target audience. [You can add something else, but “while this is my first novel…” is too apologetic and makes the rest come off as an excuse of why you still deserve to be published, which isn’t necessary! Lots of people don’t have writing credentials, it’s not as big of a deal as you think.] Thank you for your time and consideration.
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Jenny Lundquist
Twitter | Website
Jenny Lundquist grew up in Huntington Beach, California, wearing glasses and wishing they had magic powers. They didn’t, but they did help her earn a degree in intercultural studies at Biola University. Jenny has painted an orphanage in Mexico, taught English at a university in Russia, and hopes one day to write a book at a café in Paris. Jenny and her husband live in northern California with their two sons and Rambo, the world’s whiniest cat.
Jenny’s recent release …
Izzy Malone, a spunky girl who wants to be part of an elite rowing club, must first attend a very unique charm school in this first novel of a brand-new duology from the author of Seeing Cinderella and Plastic Polly.
Izzy Malone isn’t your typical sixth grader. She wears camouflage combat boots and tie dye skirts; the Big Dipper and Orion are her two best friends; and she’d rather climb trees or shoot hoops than talk about boys and makeup. And after only a month of middle school she’s already set the record for the most trips to the Principal’s office.
The only time Izzy feels at peace is when she’s on the open water, and more than anything else, she wants to become a member of the Dandelion Paddlers, her school’s competitive rowing club. But thanks to those multiple trips to the Principal’s office, Izzy’s parents force her to enroll in Mrs. Whippie’s Charm School, a home-study course in manners and etiquette, or they won’t let her race in the Dandelion Falls annual pumpkin regatta—where Izzy hopes to prove to the Dandelion Paddlers she is more than qualified to be on their team.
When Mrs. Whippie’s first letter arrives it’s way different from what Izzy was expecting. Tucked inside the letter is a shiny gold bracelet and an envelope charm. Izzy must earn her first charm by writing someone a nice note, and once she does more tasks will be assigned.
Izzy manages to complete some of the tasks—and to her surprise, she actually finds herself enjoying the course. But when one of her attempts at doing something good is misinterpreted, she fears her chances at passing the course—and becoming a Paddler—are slipping away. With some unexpected friends there to support her, can Izzy manage to earn her charms and stay true to herself?
Jenny’s First Page Critique…
AGE CATEGORY: MG
GENRE: Contemporary Humor
Alfi looked at the carton of cookies but did not reach. He knew a mousetrap when he saw one. [Right now I’m wondering if Alfi is a boy/or a mouse, and if this is a story where the characters are all mice. If this was a published book, readers would already know because they’d have the benefit of reading the cover/jacket copy. But an agent or editor who is reading it “cold” may not…Also, I’m confused over the word “mousetrap.” I don’t understand Alfi’s thought process with that one. Is he thinking that if he takes a cookie, he’ll be caught/obligated to his mother somehow?]
“No, really,” said his mother, “take a few. We have so many, I don’t know what to do.”
“So,” Alfi said, “if I take a cookie I’m actually helping you out?”
“Take a cookie and your only obligation is to be happy about it.”
Alfi thought it over. “If I won’t have to clean my room after . . . then . . . I’m glad to help.” [Okay, so Alfi is a boy. I’m feeling a little disconnected from the scene, though. Where are they? When is this? Who all is in the scene? I could use a little direction to help anchor the scene. Because right now my visual picture is of two disconnected heads and a box of cookies floating in space…Also, from my perspective, you just communicated a lot about Alfi’s character and his relationship with his mother. When presented with a plate of cookies, Alfi’s first instinct isn’t to reach out and grab them, as it would be for a lot of tween boys, but to hesitate and make sure he doesn’t owe his mom anything—at least, that’s how I’m reading it. Then, he still won’t take one until after he negotiates not having to clean his room. I realize this plays into the theme of reciprocity, but the way it’s written here, it seeps into his character development. Is Alfi a negotiator? Does he have a fraught relationship with his mother, so he would expect something like eating a cookie would result in having to clean his room? These are all things to consider, because in the opening paragraphs of a book, readers are looking for “clues” to how a character works.]
He grabbed a handful from the variety carton on the table and shoved them into his pocket – except for the one he popped into his mouth. The shortbread would’ve been better with milk, but it wasn’t bad without, and Alfi was in a hurry. He didn’t want to waste the moment when the moment was Sunday afternoon, especially because Monday morning and a week of school grew near. [This helps a little.]
His mom said, “Tía Gloria bought a whole case of chocolate bars from Ricky last month for his soccer.”
“She loves her chocolate,” Alfi said.
“Who doesn’t? But that’s why I needed to buy these from her. You understand?”
Ricky, the accomplished chocolate salesman and proficient soccer forward, all at the age of ten, followed Alfi around the table. “I want the ones with coconut.”
“Those are gone already,” their mom said. “Big family.”
Ricky grabbed up some peanut butter cookies. “These will do.”
“Take more,” said mom. “Have a sugar meltdown, brush your teeth after, and then move on.” She clapped her hands like go team, go. “Let’s get these done with”
“I don’t know why you buy them if you don’t like them,” Ricky said.
“I buy from Gloria’s kids because she buys from mine. Gifts come with obligations. It’s a social contract called reciprocity.” [As a parent, I totally relate to this!] (Their mom is a teacher in case you couldn’t tell.) [Instead of telling us this as an aside, is it possible to show it in a later scene? It doesn’t seem to be completely necessary at this point.] “Without it, we would all be like cockroaches, just taking and shoving.” [I like the idea of reciprocity, and, based on your title, I know this is central to the plot. There are so many interesting things you could do with this concept, and I’m really interested to see where this goes. From a plot perspective though, I’m wondering if this conversation is absolutely necessary. In other words, how central to the plot are the cookies? If you got rid of this conversation, but introduced the idea of reciprocity elsewhere, would that change the book at all? If your answer is “no,” then it seems like the cookies are just a device to introduce a concept, and I would recommend starting the story elsewhere.]
“And crawling over each other.” Ricky wiggled his fingers like bug legs. [Cute visual!]
“Exactly,” said his mom.
“Wow,” Alfi said. “That sounds important.” He helped himself to another handful. “I like this reciprocity thing.”
“Yes, it sounds important,” said Ricky. “I like it too.”
Alfi wiped crumbs from his lips, looked at the clock on the stove, and saw that it was nearly one in the afternoon. He announced urgently, [I would consider deleting the adverb. A lot of agents/editors don’t particularly like them. Full disclosure: As I writer, I personally use them, but try to do so sparingly when I feel it’s absolutely necessary. In this case, I think you could delete it and be fine] “I need to go to the mall.”
Ricky sprayed crumbs when he talked [Again, I like your visual cues. I’m assuming that Ricky is the younger/messier brother]. “Me too.”
“You don’t ‘need’ to go there, but if you are done with your homework . . . clear it with your father first.”
They both said, “Awe, ma.”
“He’s in the basement.”
“That’s the thing,” Alfi said. “Can’t you just say yes?”
“I did, but I want you to ask your father anyway.”
“Okay, we’ll ask. But does he have to answer?” [Interesting. Makes me wonder about Dad as a character and what he’s like as a parent.]
The two headed down the creaking basement stairs like descending to the dungeon of doom. [Great way to end the sample! Makes me wonder what Dad is doing in the basement and why they are so nervous about it!]
Thanks so much for letting me read! Keep writing; I think the idea of reciprocity is really intriguing from a MG perspective, and I’m interested to see where this goes!
Thank you, McKelle and Jenny, 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.