Wednesday, August 30, 2017


I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential. 

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. Our decision to do this via our blogs, rather than a private email, is so that (hopefully!) everyone can learn a little bit from this feedback. 

And for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here 


Dear Pitch Wars Mentor,

All that high school freshman Daniel Murphy wants is to be normal, but normal seems impossible—he looks nothing like the rest of his family, and he’s the class bully’s biggest target.
I'd consider breaking this up into a few sentences. Maybe after impossible put a period. On your your feels weird here. His? Or Everyone gets a superpower on their fifteenth birthday, you get a superpower; Again, I'd suggest a period here. Daniel hopes his will make him amazing could you be more specific? give us an idea of the superpowers handed out and which ones specifically he'd like to give and/or avoid?, but inexplicably, he gets no power at all, so it’s off to Kimberly’s School for Weakly Gifted Children. Paragraph break here maybe? Before he goes there, his high school librarian gives him a secret book with a map to follow to get to The Doctor, this chunk feels unnecessarily wordy. Maybe just "a secret book that will help lead him to The Doctor the only person who can give him a power. A few days at Kimberly’s school prove that he’s not going to get a power there, so just as the school dean’s about to get what he needs from Daniel to bring his dead son back—which may be what the dean had in mind all along when he admitted Daniel to the school—Daniel escapes with his only two friends. Woh! Say what now? Is the School supposed to help get kids their powers? And why does the Dean think Daniel can bring his son back from the dead? 

Daniel needs to find The Doctor to get a power and thus become normal, and he’s got his friends with him. Colin is a tree that can’t speak but can run and make food, and Lenore is a telepath. Okay, maybe introduce the friends before you get into the thing w the Dean and running away. The map in that book will guide their cross-country trip. But the dean needed Daniel’s help to bring back his dead son, Marcus, You already said this already in the above paragraph. You don't have a lot of space in a query - don't use some of it up repeating yourself! Also I still don't understand how Daniel can help bring back Marcus. and even though the dean and his parents thinks powers are undignified and shouldn't be used, they enlist a man made of dirt, a woman with fatal hands, and a 30-man strike team to try to make sure a few lowly teenagers don’t ruin their best chance to be a family again. Who's chance to be a family again? Daniel's parents and the Dean? Those plans will be ruined if Daniel gets a power and Marcus isn’t involved. I don't understand what the plans are or how they would be ruined and why Marcus needs to be involved with Daniel getting a superpower. Also this paragraph makes this story feel like it's more about the Dean and Daniel's parents and what's at stake for them, then about Daniel and what's at stake for him. 

I am a copy editor and have worked for two of the largest newspaper publishers in the country. You don't want to specifically name them?

THE POWER OF DANIEL MURPHY is a 103,000-word YA sci-fi novel. Some comps would be nice here. ie: It would appeal to fans of X and Y.  


First page:

The red marquee lights above the power booth flashed 1:00 faintly in his goggles.
1AM? Or PM? I wonder if this sentence might have more punch with a POV inserted? ie: Daniel squinted at the flashing marquee lights...

“One minute,” Daniel said intensely into his word-muffling mask
He's wearing goggles that also cover his mouth? I'm having trouble picturing this. But the sound that escaped it died in the soundproof plastic booth he was sitting in

“Fifty-seven seconds,” he said, watching them tick down. “Maybe I’ll get the power of flight, and it’ll be so strong that I break these straps and fly out of this disgusting seat.”

His cells buzzed with the energy of that genetic trigger.
What genetic trigger? Something big was about to happen.

Fifty seconds.

“I’m going to be so amazing,” he resolved. “Everyone will beg me to help them.”

He’d been waiting for this since he could remember. And after today, nobody--not even Marie Tyler--would ever mess with him again.

“What is taking so long?” he yelled. Forty more agonizing seconds until he became amazing--and until he could again breathe normal air, not the stale, nasty stuff in that decrepit mask. The whole sweaty, beat-up power protection setup--from the mask to the boots--would come off and he'd have the power to shoot firebolts, or teleport, or do some other phenomenal thing.

“Generations ago, under threat of imminent attack, our ancestors were afraid. Would weapons be enough? What more could we do to protect ourselves?

The best minds of the day gathered and called for an era of superheroes--of making every human being a scientific marvel. And so it began.”

Are these last two paragraphs meant to be a flashback or a manual or something like that? It isn't clear. The concept is interesting though. I also like that you're starting the story with Daniel getting his change - right in the middle of the action. The voice, however, feels a little immature to me. More middle grade than young adult. Depending on what happens in the story, you might want to consider aging your MC down a few years.


Monday, August 28, 2017

PitchWars Critique - THE RED THREAD OF FATE

I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential. 

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. Our decision to do this via our blogs, rather than a private email, is so that (hopefully!) everyone can learn a little bit from this feedback. 

And for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here 

Dear Mentor,

Seventeen-year-old Juniper Knox is no stranger to visions. After all, she’s descended from a long line of ancient Seers. Yeah, but having ancestors who are seers means that THEY'RE no strangers to visions - it doesn't mean that she knows anything abou them. But unlike her ancestors, June’s not going to sit idly by while her loved ones are in danger or when adventure awaits. This is too vague. What danger are you specifically talking about? What adventure are you specifically talking about? I'd cut this line. And there’s a whole lot of adventure waiting when June accidentally conjures the ghost of a girl with an identical birthmark to hers. Okay, I like this about conjuring the ghost... but why is the identical birthmark important? 

I put a paragraph break in here. Having a ghost tagging along for the ride for what ride? is bad enough, but when that ghost and June’s actions what actions? attract the attention of the Fates, and they are??? things get really complicated. Now June has one chance to save everyone she loves save them from what specifically?: find the Fates’ missing tools, the rod, the spool and the scissors why are these important? did June loose them? Why does she have to find them?. If June fails, the Fates will raise the dead comma disrupting the balance of life and death okay but what does disrupting the balance of life and death mean to June specifically? And to those she loves? Does raising the dead mean there are zombies walking around? What specifically is happening here?. But if she succeeds, she might finally prove she is the hero of her story. Who said she wasn't the hero of her story? If you're going to end with this line then you need to set it up at the beginning that Juniper is a loser or someone afraid to rock the boat or that she's always the person tagging along and never the hero. Otherwise this sort of comes out of nowhere. Is this book really about Juniper proving she's the hero of her story? Or is there something else at stake here?

THE RED THREAD OF FATE is a standalone YA fantasy complete at 95,000 words with series potential. This novel will appeal to fans of Tera Lynn Childs’ SWEET VENOM and Audrey Colthurt’s OF FIRE AND STARS. Great! Good comps.

I’m a published playwright and have had seven plays produced across the country since 2008. In addition, I’ve won four awards at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival and have been a contributing writer for Smock Alley Theater and the Gaiety School of Acting in Ireland. Awesome bio!

Thank you for your time and consideration.


As you can see, most of my comments her want more details and more specificity. This is really key in queries, while being brief you always want to hit on as many specific details as possible because just like on the page that's what helps us buy into the world of your story.


            I didn’t mean to do it.
            Really, I didn’t. This is grabby, but a little too vague too get me with both hands.
            Okay, maybe I did mean to steal the case file from my mom's office and maybe I intended to use my Affinity No idea what this is. to help my parents, and myself, just a little bit. I think a punctuation change could make this a bit punchier and funnier too. I'd put a period after parents. Then make "And myself" it's own sentence. And then "Just a little bit" it's own sentence as well. Paragraph break after that. 
            The disappearance of Jessica Obderon was the case. The case that got my parents into detective work and had plagued them for years. And maybe I wasn’t thinking so clearly because I finally identified the girl who’d been haunting my dreams for months. Okay, woh. Slllooowww down. You are throwing so much at me all at once and it's too much. Maybe just tell us about the case and how it's plagued her parents. Let the reader know (and care!) what's going on with that before getting into the whole dream thing. As a reader you want to sink into a story, you want to feel like the author has everything under control and is going to give you all the facts as needed in due time.  
            What I did not mean to do was somehow, accidentally, unintentionally conjure a ghost in the backyard. This is funny and the line is great, but again you are just throwing so much at the reader that I don't know what to focus on.
            That had never been the plan. That was a mistake.
            Leading up to this panicked moment was a series of impatience, fear, and bouts of insomnia This sentence reads a bit awkwardly to me. Since my eighteenth birthday, I’d been having a recurring dream about the same girl.
            The dream never changed.
            My eyes are forced open by a slice of light cutting across the room. A streak of yellow splitting the still black of the night. I stare up, witnessing a shadow elongate along the smooth ceiling. It slithers amongst the grooves, growing as the figure approaches. My body twitches like my muscles are foreign and I’m trying to figure out how fingers move. The urge to scream crackles in my throat and I want to call out. Then the face of a young woman fills my vision.
            Her dark hair is ruffled like she’d slept with hairspray in it, her smile tense with preoccupation. Her grey eyes are glassy, the crinkles beside them revealing her stress. She is rather beautiful with her heart shaped face and thin cheeks, hardly my older than myself. I no longer want to cry. Out of everything on this page, the dream is the part I like the least. It's the only part where I'm not going, "oooh tell me more about that." But that response might partially be due to having so many things on this first page, that my the time I get to the dream I'm a little burned out. Overall, the writing here is good. The voice is fun and has lots of potential. I'd slow this way down. Let it breathe a little more on the page. I think there's often this feeling that a first page needs to be a juggling act with a hundred balls and all of them on fire - just to grab and hold the readers attention. But you really don't. There's a good story in here - give the reader more than little glimpses of it and tell it in that great voice - and your readers will want more.