Wednesday, September 6, 2017

PitchWars Critique - AETHERIAN

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 Kate,

Genna Burnstaff is good at being tough. I think you're going for a voice thing here, but with it being the first sentence of the query it just reads as a mistake. She's survived four older brothers and being the weird kid with grandparents for parents. She can take a soccer ball to the face and come back fighting. She doesn't scare easy – but she's scared of whatever is causing her dreams. Okay, I think this is a good set-up, but it could be a lot tighter. First I'd get rid of that first sentence. Maybe start instead with: Genna Burnstaff has survived four older brothers who {insert specific horrifying and hilarious detail here}. She's made it through being the weird kid at {insert specific occasion here} with {specific detail here about grandparents - gray haired, stoop backed, hard of hearing} grandparents for parents. She can even take a soccer back to the face and come back fighting. In short, she doesn't scare easy and she certainly isn't afraid of a couple bad dreams. Except... she kinda is.

It starts with Hal, showing up after years of absentee fatherhood, planning to move her up to New York with him and his new bride. Okay, I think you need to tie the dreams in since that's where you left us in the last paragraph. Something like: The dreams begin when her absentee father, Hal, shows up with his new bride and insists on relocating Ginna to New York. Hal maybe something about how he's a stranger to her? Or something more specific about why she can't handle him? and the snobby private school he sends her to are more than she wants to handle. But And instead of but might work better here. then there's Thera. She can't call NYC another world, anymore, because Thera actually is one. Okay, this whole Thera transition is NOT working for me. I would not put it in this paragraph but try to work it in below when you talk about the dreams.

After Genna begins experiencing traumatic episodes that leave her physically damaged What exactly does physically damaged mean? Be more specific - let me see and imagine the damage? Is she black and blue? Does she have broken bones? Bleeding? Missing eyes? and screaming in her sleep, her brothers reluctantly explain the family trait: a pull to another world that she can neither resist nor control. A pull to another world is not a family trait. I'd reword this. Submerged in new and different world? Missing word here?, Genna finds herself in a war to hold on to the girl in the mirror and to survive the unwanted gifts in her blood. This last bit is mush. What does it mean to hold onto the girl in the mirror? What are the unwanted gifts in her blood and what specifically must she survive? I honestly feel like you wasted way too much time in the first paragraph and then rushed this one which really feels like the meat of your plot.

AETHERIAN is a blend of epic and contemporary fantasy, intended for a YA audience. It is complete at 116,000 words. It would appeal to fans of {insert title of similar YA book published within last five years} and {insert title of another similar YA book}

I am a first-time novelist with an English degree, a couple of Philosophy degrees and a CV full of disreputable jobs (like 'bookseller' and 'writing consultant') to my name.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


First Page

I didn't want to look in the book. Waking up was bad enough without that. This doesn't grab me. I don't know what book she is talking about much less why she doesn't want to look. I don't know why waking up is bad. I'd cut.

The 7:00 am sunlight was weak and gray and yet somehow still too much for my sleep-starved eyes. I leaned on the vanity table – one of Granna's landmarks I don't know if this is the best word here that this room was female territory – and took in the damage.

My eyes were so red-rimmed and dark-shadowed that their odd gray-brown color looked just brown. That felt like a robbery. My weird eyes were my favorite. I glanced up reflexively at the picture in the corner of the mirror. The lovely face laughed back at me, elegant in the artistic black-and-white shot. Apparently I got my eyes from her. A main character looking in a mirror as a way to describe him or herself is a cliche that it's better to avoid. Is the color of the MC's eyes really something you want on the first page? Is this the thing that grabs a reader and makes them want to keep reading?
Not that I would know. That picture was all I'd ever seen of my dead mother. This is good stuff! Tell me more about this!

My gaze wandered down to the little brown Moleskine book on the cluttered surface in front of me. It wasn't one of the pretty diaries Granna bought for me. The things I wrote didn't seem to belong in one of those. It was plain and battered and ordinary, which felt right. You have to tell me more. I'm just not getting enough detail to draw me into the world of the story.

I didn't want to look. Look at what? The moleskin book?

So I got dressed, reminding myself that Blake the Genius had brought Jonathan White home from football practice last night, on top of everybody else. What does this mean, "On top of everybody else"? Physically on top? Or in addition to all the other people Blake brought home? Also who is Blake and who is Jonathan? With all the brothers mysteriously mysterious how? home this weekend, that meant Jon would be sleeping on the couch why? does he not have a room? Where is he home from? and that meant I wasn't about to wander out there in my PJ's. My dark-coppery hair – too dark for red, too red for brown again, the color of her hair - like her eyes - is not something that makes me think "wow tell me more" – was tangled and impossible, so I wrangled it into a ponytail and hoped for the best. My too-pale skin already looked sickly with the early morning and interrupted sleep, so it wasn't like I was going to be winning any awards today anyway.
I glanced at the clock – 7:15. I didn't have long. Closing my eyes I took a single even breath. When I listened I could already hear Granna creating masterpieces in the kitchen.
My eyes turned back to the brown book. I didn't want to open it. I didn't – but I couldn't not look. It had been happening too much lately. I needed to see if there were more words.
I flipped it open quickly, like ripping a Band-Aid, and glanced through the pages, looking for new scribbles. My stomach sank. The page I'd numbered 43 had been blank yesterday. Today it wasn't.
He warned me – I knew – God help me, I knew. But I loved him. And now . . . such a burden of blood. I pray you can forgive me.

I squeezed my eyes shut. Dammit. Like that wasn't cryptic or melodramatic or anything. Who the crap writes that? My breath wasn't steady. I did, was the answer. I wrote that crap.
Not that I ever remembered it. But the leaky pen I intentionally kept next to the book had left its telltale smear on my middle finger, so it had to be me. My fists clenched and unclenched instinctively. Okay, this is interesting. She's writing something at night and it's creepy and she doesn't remember doing it. But you spend the whole page teasing this reveal - but you don't give enough details or hints to draw me in. And why tease anyway? This is the good stuff. Lead with it. Have her fling back the covers and immediately go to the book.

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