Day 7 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query Workshop with Mentors Akemi Dawn Bowman and N.K. Traver
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 Akemi Dawn Bowman . . .
Akemi Dawn Bowman is a writer of young adult fiction. She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. Her novel Starfish will be published in Fall 2017 with Simon Pulse, with a second untitled project to follow in Fall 2018. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.
STARFISH – YA contemporary. A gorgeous and emotionally true debut novel about a half-Japanese teen who grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school. (September 26th, 2017, Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster)
Akemi’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: YA
AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER meets THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH when two teens must stop a weapon that could end their people’s cycle of reincarnations. HOUSE OF ASHES is a YA Fantasy complete at 81,000 words that will appeal to the younger range of YA readers who enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan Series. [This should be the final paragraph of your query letter rather than the opening one. You only get a few paragraphs to hook an agent, and ideally you want to do that in the very first sentence. Think of it as valuable real estate—you don’t want to waste it on comp titles and word counts when you could be introducing your MC and hook! I also want to mention one quick thing about comp titles. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I’m not sure how helpful comp titles are unless they’re familiar and relevant to a wide audience. You’ve written a book for younger teens, and I do wonder if THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH is going to be an intriguing comparison for this age group. And since you later reference Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan Series, I almost think you could do without the comp titles altogether.]
To prove he is a reborn god, fifteen-year-old Kal needs training from a Patron, someone with a proven pedigree as a past god. [You have a lot of “P” words in this sentence, and it’s a bit distracting to read. I also think “proven pedigree as a past god” could be elaborated on a lot more. Perhaps emphasize why Patrons are powerful and what makes them different to humans. Do they have powers? Immortality? And how is Kal going to prove himself? Is there a test of some kind? I think it’s important to be specific in a query letter, and to show how your world is unique and why Kal’s story is going to be an engaging one.] Something the temple he unwillingly calls home is sorely lacking. [Again, this sentence raises more questions than answers. What is “something?” The past gods? And why does his temple lack them? Has something happened in this world? I think it’s important to make the beginning of Kal’s story much clearer here. Who is he, what does he want, and what’s preventing him from getting it? It’s possible to be detailed without being cluttered. It’s good that you haven’t used your query letter for info dumping, but if you’re too vague it will be hard for your story to stand out in a slush pile. You have limited space in a query letter—make sure each sentence serves a purpose!] But when he steals fourteen-year-old Nia’s airship in order to get away, she has no escape from the enemy soldiers who begin rounding up teenagers. [There’s a compelling plot here, with the concept of soldiers rounding up the teenagers, but I’m not sure it works without some context. Why are they rounding up teenagers? And how does this relate to Kal? It feels somewhat random to suddenly introduce Nia and her airship without any background on how the god/Patron storyline and the soldiers/kidnappings are related.]
Fourteen-year-old Nia has never been interested in her people’s belief in past lives. Her only wish is to find the brother who disappeared seven years earlier. But when she discovers him in a desert prison known as the House of Ashes, she learns he’s helping the enemy build a secret weapon that would spell the end of her people. [This paragraph is so much stronger! You introduce your character, her motivation, and the problem she’s about to face. It’s very well done! Though, I do think it could benefit from a short explanation of why the secret weapon would be the end of her people. Even query letters need to show your world-building, and this sounds like a major part of your story. The only other issue I have is that it doesn’t connect with your previous paragraph. Apart from the stolen airship, your MCs feel completely separate from each other. I think it might read better to introduce them in the same paragraph. You could describe how they want different things, and then lead into the stolen airship and how it affects Nia’s ability to save her brother and her people. Right now, it reads kind of clunky, as if the two paragraphs are from completely separate books.]
Destroying the weapon is the only chance Nia has to get her brother back, but when that means working with the boy who got her into this mess, she may have to reconsider her belief in the gods. Because Kal might just be one of them. [Why will she have to reconsider her belief in the gods? Does she need Kal’s powers to help save her brother? If so, I think you should describe Kal’s potential as a reincarnated god, in order to show why it’s so important for him to find a Patron.]
[This is where I think your first paragraph should go.] The first ten pages are included below. Thank you for your consideration.
[Overall, I love your combination of reborn gods and teenagers flying airships. It feels like a unique blend of steampunk and Percy Jackson. I think your query letter would be stronger if your stakes (especially for Kal) were made clearer. You could also consider introducing Kal and Nia in the same paragraph, while showing how they’re different and how they ultimately get tangled up in the story’s conflict together. And really try to make every sentence carry as much of a story as possible. You want to show how your story is different from anything else, and to do that you need to make sure your hook is polished and coherent. You’re on the right track, and I think with a little bit of revising, you’ll have a fantastic query letter!]
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor N.K. Traver . . .
From N.K. Traver: HELLO, MY NAME IS NAT, and I write books about teens who like to get themselves in trouble and then expect me to get them out of it. I am completely incapable of planning anything (books, vacations, weekend outings, lunch). I’d like to believe this incapability makes my work random and quirky because let’s be honest, I had no idea that was going to happen either. I’m represented by Brianne Johnson of Writers House, who can actually turn books into gold.
A computer-hacking teen. The girl who wants to save him. And a rogue mirror reflection that might be the death of them both.
Pitched as BREAKING BAD meets THE MATRIX for teens, DUPLICITY follows seventeen-year-old Brandon, a computer expert who hacks bank accounts in his free time, through a downward spiral of events after his mirror reflection starts moving on its own.
Nat’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: 16-20 (YA)
GENRE: YA Contemporary
It’s Sunday morning, and I’m awakened at a God awful 9:00am by the clinking of silverware and endless chatter of a language I understand but cannot speak. [Great voice in this first line, but it’s a bit wordy. I would streamline so it’s as smooth and enticing as possible. Also, pack a bigger punch here – I go by the rule, “Would I keep reading if all I had was the first line of this book?”] Already I can picture my parents and three much [cut “much”] older brothers eating rice and eggs while my nieces and nephews literally run around the table encircling them in high pitched squeals.
“Is Liv home?” I hear [Go through your manuscript and cut as many instances of “I hear, I see, I feel” etc and reword. It brings us closer to the narrative.] my oldest brother, Vince, ask with that tone in his voice that he’s the only one concerned I’m not at the table.“She’s probably sleeping her life away,” my youngest brother, Vic, says snickering, “again.”
“Just leave her, anak, she’s tired,” my mom says in a way that’s half sticking up for me half too tired for any of this.
“Yeah cuz having a career and family isn’t tiring,” Vic replies without even trying to hide his disapproval.
They’re speaking in Tagalog. But my brain automatically translates every word into English. I’m American after all. That’s what my parents immigrated to become. I hide under my covers and groan. Being the only girl and a good decade younger than my closest sibling leaves me the outcast. Well, a lot of factors do actually.
Screw them! I’m just not feeling it today, I rarely am. Even though I’ve just woken up, it’s time to dream. [This scene shows us the dynamics of Liv’s family, but it doesn’t show us much else, or leave us with any kind of emotion. This information could also be shown to us as, say, Liv leaves the house to go to the library. The first scene is SO important in catching an agent/reader’s eye. Leave us with a mystery or a question we MUST have answered by reading on.]***
I have always daydreamed about being famous, but I never realized how crazy it would actually be. My life can go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye. [What do those two sentences mean? I’m feeling a bit lost after the prior scene.] Today, I sit amongst a large hushed crowd assembled in the public library, hearing [“hearing,” “seeing,” etc – more words to check your ms for and cut/reword] small fits of giggles escaping into the air. A room full of happily fidgety little boys and girls and their mommies and daddies [I’d shorten both of these to “little kids” and “their parents”] await me and Buddy, my beloved plush monkey, to enter into the magic circle and read one of our stories. The Los Angeles heatwave is relentless outside, but in here the room is decorated with paper cutouts of monkeys and detective gear, the kids themselves dressed up in costume like little three foot Sherlock Holmes’s. It’s fake London beneath the whirr of the air conditioning and cardboard displays of streetlamps and a red phone booth. A slight giggle escapes me as I prop Buddy up to my eye level so he can see the kids dressed up just like him. And I am suddenly amused at how polar opposite this scene is from last night, actually just a few hours ago. [The scene from this morning, she means? Be clear.]
I was dragged along to one of Chris’s crazy premieres again. [This reads like a scene change. What does Chris have to do with this? Is he there?] Don’t get me wrong. I love my boyfriend and absolutely support him and every part of his career. I find very little more joyful than standing beside him on one of his many events. [You’ve labeled this a YA novel, but here she has a boyfriend with a career. Is she dating someone much older?]
But the flash of the light bulbs and endless questioning is something I will never get used to. Who the hell cares who I’m wearing? Of course we are enjoying our latest stay in New York. [This also seems old for YA – her mother is fine with her teenage daughter traveling the country with her boyfriend? Also, I thought we were in LA? “The Los Angeles heatwave” is referenced a couple paragraphs above.]
Overall, I love the voice in this sample and the writing is strong. There are a few sentences that could use a little trimming and the reader needs to be grounded better between scene changes. What I’m most missing from this sample is a sense of who Liv is. Share with us something she wants or something she’s afraid of or something she’s good at/horrible at within the first page, and you’ll really sink that hook into your readers. Give us a reason to root for Liv right off the bat. Thank you for trusting me with this, I hope my comments can be helpful!
Thank you, Akemi and Nat, 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.