Day 27 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentors, Linsey Miller, Maria Mora, & Jenny Chou
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, Linsey Miller and Maria Mora …
A wayward biology student from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. She is currently an MFA candidate represented by Rachel Brooks of Bookends Literary. Her debut novel MASK OF SHADOWS is the first in a fantasy duology coming in August 2017 from Sourcebooks Fire. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.
Linsey’s upcoming release …
Coming August 29, 2017 from Sourcebooks Fire
A gender-fluid pickpocket named Sal auditions to become a replacement member of the Left Hand – the queen’s quartet of assassins – but must survive the competition while also putting their true reason for auditioning into motion.
“I love every aspect of this amazing book―a gender fluid hero, a deadly contest, and vicious courtly intrigue. Get! Read! Now!” ―Tamora Pierce, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Maria Mora is Content Director at Big Sea, and has worked in digital media for 15 years. In her previous role as Parenting Editor at SheKnows, Maria contributed over 300 articles on topics like feminism and women’s health. She writes YA speculative fiction, loves movie theaters with recliners, and will always take the long way home if it involves a lovely view. She was a Pitch Wars ’15 finalist, and is represented by Erica Bauman at Aevitas Creative Management.
Linsey and Maria’s Query Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
Maria’s comments are in red.
Linsey’s comments are in green.
Eighteen-year-old Fenna “Fen” Morgan can hijack a ship in under a minute, break fingers with a simple twist, and fool an unbeatable lie detector. [Suggest shortening (simple, unbeatable start to clutter this.)] Born to a family of criminals, her skills are the only thing keeping her alive on a planet ruled by the Elysan Imperial Court, the absolute monarchy of aliens [Who calls them aliens? Is this their planet? A conquered planet? What does alien mean in the context of this world and how does Fen fit into that? Or is this shorthand for something else that might provide more info? This doesn’t need a long explanation but is a chance to world build.) that (who? they’re sentient creatures] killed [executed?] her parents for treason. [while not necessarily important, I’m curious as to if they were traitors and would like some deeper knowledge about how Fen feels about this]
When an undercover con goes terribly wrong, Fen fears rotting in a cell for life but the Court offers her a chance for her freedom. All she has to do is traverse a barren planet with a team of fellow prisoners to find the lost Imperial Crown. Unfortunately, Fen’s chances of dying are high. Not only does the planet serve as a penal colony for the worst Elysan offenders, but the crown incites madness in those who seek it and caused the deaths of the last extraction team. To keep her motivated, the Court implants a device in her head capable of melting her into a puddle. As if she needed the extra incentive.
[Take us there — this needs immediacy. Example: When Fen botches an undercover con, the Court gives her two choices: Rot in prison forever, or earn her freedom on a mission to find the lost Imperial Crown. If she chooses to go, she must contend with working alongside Elysan’s most dangerous criminals and the threat of madness that has killed everyone who’s ever tried to get the Crown.]
[Agreed, but I also have questions about the use of “madness” here. What does that mean in more detail and is there a way to expand on this? It might take a while to shift to something more specific but it will help.]
After arriving on the planet, the team gets ambushed by the colonists, who desire the crown to destroy their captors. [wordy but too vague How would they use the crown? Why is it wanted? What is the crown exactly other than wholly negative? Ground the stakes and provide internal world consistency and logic here.] To escape and survive, Fen will have to discover how to trust [trust who? Provide personal info as this is too vague to provide a sense of character for Fen. As it is, it’s just a general quality that many characters have in books.] , a skill she never needed before. Then Fen learns one of the team is foretold to betray the rest. From their secretive Court-appointed guard to a drug-running telekinetic, [This is the first mention of a prophecy and an excellent place for world building. Which cultures believe in prophecies? Prophecies by who? Differing religions? Do the aliens believe in it, too? Is it just Fen?] Fen thinks each her companions equally capable of treachery. But as the team gets closer to the crown, Fen realizes she didn’t consider one suspect.
[You have a lot going on here, and it starts to become overwhelming. Can you hone this down to the most immediate stakes and relationships? For example: To survive, Fen has to learn to trust her companions. Touch on why that’s hard. Make it a little more personal — at this point we don’t get a sense of how this affects Fen on a personal/emotional level. Then close with the final threat, hammering home the stakes. What will happen if she’s wrong about the traitor?]
If the crown drives people mad, Fen herself could be the traitor. [Consider just ending on “Herself.” However, I’m a fan of one-word lines, so take it if you won’t but don’t if it’s not something you like! I.e.: …she didn’t consider one subject. Herself.]
Complete at 90,000 words, THE EVENTIDE CROWN is a young adult science fantasy novel best pitched as “SUICIDE SQUAD meets INDIANA JONES in space.”
[Something personal about the author here?]
[I’m not feeling the stakes yet. She finds and lives, she (believes?) she’s free to go. She tries to run, she dies. She fails, she dies. She finds it, she could still die. And the prophecy part seems overbearing to me. They’re all already untrustworthy, so why add the prophecy unless it’s providing something in the book we can’t see here? Is it the driving force? Could you get away without mentioning it? It’s already highly likely that all of them are going to betray the group. And who is the group at this point? Are they working with the colonist? I feel like focusing down on the basics (who is doing what with who, what is standing in their way, and what happens if they fail/succeed?)
I’m ok with no author bio if there’s no relevant experience or info for the agent, but I’d go with what each agent prefers (so a bio and no bio version).
ALSO, you wrote a book! CONGRATULATIONS and good job.]
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentor, Jenny Chou …
Jenny Chou was a 2015 Pitch Wars mentee and is excited to be a 2017 mentor. A writer of YA mysteries and thrillers, she is represented by agent Steven Chudney. Jenny can tell you how disable a complex cellular alarm system or crack a thirty-year old combination safe, though she swears she learned from Google, not real-life experience. For seventeen years she held the world’s best job (besides writer or jewel thief): Indie bookseller. In the not-so-distant past, she read manuscripts as an intern for a literary agent, but to add intrigue to her life she keeps his name top-secret. Rumor has it she is packed and ready to leave for Hogwarts. If you happen across her missing owl, direct it to Wisconsin, where Jenny is waiting along with with her husband, two teen daughters, and a black lab named Dylan. She is certain she will be sorted into Ravenclaw.
Jenny’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
If you’ve never moved in Arkansas in August, you’re [‘ve] probably living [led] a better life than me. It’s hot and humid and you absolutely feel like you’re going to die. [Delete and merge second and third sentences together. Otherwise, it’s repetitive.] Like your internal organs are boiling inside your body – a slow death from the inside out. I promise, it’s more miserable than you can possibly imagine. Unless you live in Alabama. [Delete I PROMISE. Filler words not needed. Then move UNLESS YOU LIVE IN ALABAMA to the start of the sentence.] Those folks have it bad.
It’s no exception today as I move into my freshman dorm room. It’s [You start two sentences with IT’S, which is repetitive. Try and vary your language to make reading more interesting.] technically 100° but the heat index is 107° and it feels like 110° inside the stairwell of my dorm. [The exact temperature is too technical and dull, unless this character is a scientist or someone who always fixates on numbers. Instead, show the reader how hot it is for the character. Prickly skin. Beads of sweat dripping into her eyes, clouding her vision. Embarrassing sweat stains on her T shirt.] Never have I ever been so covered in sweat. [Think about deleting. If she’s from Arkansas, she has probably been covered in sweat many times. Again, better to show the reader how uncomfortable the sweat is making her feel rather than just tell us that she covered in it. Plus, you focus a lot on the heat, and I’d like to get to your story!]
I grab the first thing I can [I know you’re trying to show she doesn’t care what she grabs, but the sentence reads awkwardly and you show that with the end of your sentence.] out of the back of our minivan, [Move OUT OF THE BACK OF OUR MINIVAN to the end.] the contents of my closet still on the hangers and wrapped in a garbage bag, and take off towards the new twelve by twelve cinder block prison I’m being forced to call home for the next nine months. Or 258 days to be exact. [Add another sentence to ground the reader in your setting. Eg: I weave through the maze of minivans in the parking lot, past a tearful mom holding a laundry basket filled with sickeningly cheerful pink pillows…] I have a countdown set as the background on my laptop. I have no intention of staying at Ozark University any longer than absolutely necessary. [I’m very interested to know why she’s at the university when she clearly doesn’t want to be. Can you give the reader a hint about what she wants to escape from? An ex? Small town life? The heat? Parents who want her to be a doctor when she wants to be an artist? What is making her feel so suffocated?] I need to get the hell out of Arkansas. Really, honest to God, the hell out of the United States.
I’m taking the stairs two at a time, leaving my mom and step-dad behind. Some might take this to mean I’m excited about this new stage of my life, but let me reassure you, excited is not the right word.
I just want to be the first one to see my new home – I want that one second of freedom when I’m allowed to hate every single square inch of this place. One moment when I don’t have to endure my mother trying to talk me into how great this is. The garbage bag sticks to the sweat on my arm, and I shift it to my other arm as I walk down the hallway trying to find room 417. [Shouldn’t be hard since rooms are numbered. Maybe change to I WALK DOWN THE HALLWAY PAST 413 AND 415 UNTIL . . . DAMN. THE DOOR TO 417 IS WIDE OPEN.]
But the door to room 417 is wide open.
I peek inside, thinking [HOPING IT’S JUST THE RA] my RA must be inside. But no. Instead, I find [FIVE PEOPLE WITH] five pairs of eyes staring back at me. [Also, they’re expecting her so what about Josie makes them SO surprised?]
The littlest one’s [This made me think of a small child. Change to something like THE EYES ON THE ONE MY AGE AGE GET EVEN BIGGER…] eyes get even bigger, which I didn’t think was physically possible, and she starts towards me.
“Oh my goodness!” she squeals. [If you want to replace “said”, replacing with a physical action that conveyed how the character is feeling makes writing more interesting. E.g.: Her blaze orange Nikes, which match her running top, squeak against the floor as she bounces toward me.] “You must be Josie!”
Then she hugs me.
A total stranger.
At this point I can only assume this is my roommate, Caroline.
I knew it wasn’t going to be a good fit when she emailed me about getting matching bedspreads. She included a link to the pink polka dotted bedspread she’d already chosen but she was “totally willing to consider other options if I had a different color scheme in mind.”
I never responded.
Now I’m pinned in her arms, gripping my garbage bag for dear life. [How does it feel, physically, to hold onto something so tight? E.g: GRIPPING MY GARBAGE BAG SO TIGHT MY NAILS BITE THROUGH THE PLASTIC.] All I can think is “What if I wasn’t Josie? Is she always this comfortable hugging total strangers?”
[Overall, this is an excellent start. You’ve got a new beginning in Josie’s life, with all the trepidation that new beginnings can bring about. Plus conflict, as she is not excited about this new beginning. Add to that a roommate who appears to be her polar opposite, and you’ve set Josie up for a miserable start to her college experience. As the reader, I’m anxious to find out if Josie doesn’t want to go to college, or if she simply doesn’t want to attend Ozark University. She seems to have dreams beyond Arkansas and a bubbly roommate. I would keep reading for sure. Nice work!]
Thank you, Linsey, Maria, 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.