Day 24 (Part 3): Pitch Wars Query & First Page Workshop with Mentors Kes Trester, Jessica Vitalis & Julie Artz
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 Kes Trester
A native of Los Angeles, Kes Trester’s first job out of college was on a film set, though the movie’s title will remain nameless because it was a really bad film. Really.
As a feature film development executive, she worked on a variety of independent films, from gritty dramas (guns and hotties) to steamy vampire love stories (fangs and hotties) to teens-in-peril genre movies (blood and hotties).
Kes produced a couple of independent films, both award-winners on the festival circuit, before seguing into television commercials. As head of production for a Hollywood-based film company, she supervised the budgeting and production of nationally broadcast commercials (celebrities, aliens, talking animals!) and award-winning music videos for artists such as Radiohead, Coldplay, and OKGO (more celebrities, aliens, and talking animals!).
In an attempt to raise kids who could actually pick their mom out of a line up, Kes turned to writing fulltime. Her contemporary novels for young adults are cinematic, fast-paced, and above all, fun. Add an understanding husband and pack of rescue dogs to the mix, and that’s also an apt description of life in the busy Trester household. Kes is the YA author of A DANGEROUS YEAR coming out in September 26, 2017. She is represented by Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary.
Kes’ Query Critique…
Dear Agents Name,
I’m seeking representation for my project, WINGS OF FLESH AND BONES, which I’d like you to consider [I would cut “which I’d like you to consider” – feels a little clunky]. It’s a YA/Paranormal story with elements of romance and [is complete at] 74,000 words. [it seems obvious, but agents like to know it’s a finished ms and it’s easy to slip it in here]
Outer realmies suck, as any gatekeeper worth their salt will tell you [nice voice!]. Welcome to Rogan’s life, a sixteen-year-old orphan who lives and trains with other misfit angels under her uncle’s roof, keeping Earth safe from non-human realm jumpers. Rogan’s biggest issue concerns her uncle’s short leash with her freedom—that is of course, until she’s taken by a notorious witch, and her life begins to unravel [try to be more specific here – unravels how?]. Soon, the supernatural beauty discovers there’s a reason her uncle kept such a tight lock on her whereabouts [repetition of information – we already know her uncle is protective. You only have a handful of paragraphs to hook your reader; give us new information that goes to building story and stakes], and that she has more than angel blood running through her veins. [good twist, but use this as an opportunity to build stakes, such as “she discovers she’s part demon, a forbidden combination that could mark her for death” or whatever the stakes might be]
Eighteen-year-old Max is an angel, and Rogan’s mentor and guardian. He’s well aware of her tenacious inability to obey orders, though he also knows she’s a fierce fighter. When he’s involved in a scheme that ultimately gets Rogan kidnapped [the kidnapping by the witch you’ve already told us about?], he must battle his way back to her in an attempt to save her from the darkness threatening to possess her. [This paragraph feels like it’s a different book with Max as the protagonist – unless it’s dual POV? If so, establish that earlier in summary. If not, you’re building great momentum with Rogan; this paragraph should be upping the stakes in her story, right to the climax, which is hinted at below. Also, what happened to the threat posed by the outer realmies? That plot thread seems to have disappeared.]
An Angel. A Witch. A Demon. And A Choice. [Love this tagline, but help us understand in the above paragraph what she will be choosing between. Ambiguous stakes won’t capture your reader’s imagination]
WINGS OF FLESH AND BONES has a hint of pixie dust, magic, wizards, and a chilling tale of eclipsing darkness. It also been professionally edited, and I’d be happy to send sample chapters or the full manuscript upon request. As per your guidelines, I’ve added the first chapter and the synopsis. [This is the paragraph where you want to include any relevant biographic info. Have you published? Won any writing awards? Do you have a big following on social media? It’s so easy for agents to say no; give them another reason to say yes to your submission]
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Queries are tough! Sometimes I think it’s easier to write an entire book than it is to distill a story down to a one-page pitch J You’re smart to workshop your query, and you might want to do it one more time with a revised draft, even if it’s just to your CP’s. Look at the back covers of some of your favorite books if you need additional inspiration to summarize your main character, plot, and stakes.
Your book sounds fun and interesting. I think once you have a solid query, you will get a ton of requests!
Best of luck – Kes
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentors Jessica Vitalis & Julie Artz
Jessica Vitalis is a middle grade novelist represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. An active member of the literary community, she volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and writes for The Winged Pen. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found preparing for her upcoming move to Canada (or eating copious amounts of chocolate).
Julie Artz spent her childhood sneaking into wardrobes hoping to find Narnia. Now that she’s older, people think that’s creepy, so she writes middle grade instead. Her stories for children feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. In addition to helping run From The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator, contributes regularly to The Winged Pen, is a mentor for TeenPit and PitchWars, and is the incoming co-RA of SCBWI Western Washington. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Jessica and Julie’s First Page Critique…
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
If I’d known from the start that home was a feeling instead of a place [this is a cliché], I could’ve saved myself years of suffering. But a wise-ass once said—like the stupid prick knew the secrets of the universe [great voice, although if you don’t give us something to root for very quickly, we might be in danger of finding the MC unsympathetic and not reading on] at the ripe old age [cliché] of nineteen— “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” [normally it would be OK to let a few clichés slip by in dialogue—it’s believable that people sometimes speak in clichés, but given the other clichés in the opening, we would consider reworking this opening.]
Uh huh. Sure.
As a fox-spirit who spent the first seventeen years of my life hated by the rest of my kind, who grew up in the slums of Itazura with hunger for a friend and violent street gangs for enemies, I knew firsthand those words were a steaming pile of cow dung. The journey sucked, and from where I stood, the destination wasn’t much better. [This continues the journey/destination cliché and includes a fair bit of information/backstory dump. Cut. You introduce us to Itazura nicely later on in the scene.]
[We suggest you start your story here, with the action, and really immerse us in this fox-spirit’s world and experience.] I scrabbled along the rooftops of the palace, hurling myself from one red, shingled awning to the next. There was nothing elegant or graceful about the way I skittered across the roof like a demented crab [Now that we’ve read on, we think the reason she’s skittering like a crab is because she’s holding the statue, but the reader doesn’t know that here. Either mention the statue here, or start the whole scene with her stealing the statue]. My black fox ears [We LOVE the idea of a fox-spirit, but a fox wouldn’t describe her ears as fox-ears, right? You’ll need to show that she’s a fox in a way that seems natural to a character who has only ever been a fox-spirit. And maybe clarify how a fox-spirit is different than a plain old fox with just a few additional details in this opening that can be expanded in later scenes.] twitched backwards, listening to the pursuit of thundering footsteps, and my bushy black tail lashed to keep my balance [this reference to the tail, for example, works]. It wasn’t exactly easy to scale a five-story palace in the heart of winter, with [Cut this and go straight to the description…]a [A] layer of ice covering [ed] everything, and snow numbing[ed] my face[.], and nothing but a dirty, tattered, threadbare kimono to keep myself covered.[It’s hard to imagine a kimono working with an exposed tail that can lash back and forth freely for balance. Clarify and perhaps consider including this detail in the first tail reference.]
The snowy courtyard blurred twenty feet below me, and my heart rose into my throat [cliché—find something more original and organic to this character] with every jump. Even though I slipped and slid my way across the icy surface, and nearly fell to a snowy death with every other step, I couldn’t stop the wild grin from stretching my cheeks too tight.
I’d just snuck into the sacred palace of Inari Okami, Goddess of Rice, Fertility, and Foxes and stolen a jade figurine worth at least 100 gold kaiki.
I cackled [doesn’t she need to be quiet since she’s just stolen something?] and clutched the treasure to my chest. I didn’t think of it as stealing. I’d simply taken what I deserved, because the Goddess sure as hell wasn’t using it. I mean, the thing had dust on it. Dust! Why did she need a five-story palace filled with priceless works of art that she never saw, while kitsune starved and struggled to survive in the slums of her so-called “blessed city of Itazura?” The lady had an ego large enough to feed all of us homeless orphans [nice detail!] if she ever bothered to notice we existed.
While I cradled my expensive figurine like a babe, the chilly wind tore through me with the force of a thousand blades. My teeth chattered, and my entire body throbbed with shivers, but I felt more alive than I had in months.
Even though I couldn’t count high numbers without an abacus, I’d memorized the currency. Each silver taihei coin was worth twenty copper maiho, which meant one gold kaiki coin was worth twenty silver taihei and forty copper maiho. I had no idea how the exchange rate worked, but it meant [We get what you’re doing here with the abacus reference, but it’s confusing and not really necessary. This next sentence is the key, and establishes what she wants:] I’d be able to live in comfort for the rest of my life with 100 gold kaki.
Summary: You’ve got an eye-catching title and we’re intrigued by the idea of an orphan fox-spirit trying to steal enough from the rich/corrupt powers that be to live out her life in comfort. But this opening scene needs to be reworked so that the focus is on grounding us in her world and experience, and weaving in details that will show readers about the world while the action continues to move forward. Avoid the clichés in the first few paragraphs and instead start with the action. We suggest you start with her actually taking the statue, because she’s leaping from roof-top to roof-top in the opening scene with no mention at all that she’s clutching a precious (and probably fragile) jade statue. Overall, the scene becomes much more vivid in the second half once we know she’s snuck in to the sacred palace and stolen the statue. Good luck!
Thank you, Kes, Jessica, and Julie, 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.