Monday, October 5, 2015


My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.


As daughter to the Lord of Galedonia, fifteen-year-old Ida thinks she’s safe from tragedy … until she fails to save her oldest friend from dying in should be "at" I think? the pillory. When her father banishes her mother to the slums for defiance, Ida refuses to fail again. She smuggles her mother food and valuables until she’s caught and banished too.

Thrilled to live with her mother ​once more​, Ida throws herself into the maze of streets, befriending beggars and crypt-dwellers. But slum life is harsh: her neighbors are scapegoated, maimed, and broken, her mother slaves in a factory, and small-time parasites like actual parasites, or is this another bad human move? using the word "devour" here makes me think of silverfish devour their money. Ida must learn to survive if she hopes for a brighter future, and her new friends are the perfect teachers. With the help of Fairfax, a freakishly ugly outcast with a soft spot for her mother, Ida navigates their knife-edge existence.

When Fairfax is arrested on trumped up charges and left to die in again "in"... is the pillory in your story different from the traditional idea of a pillory -- simply a pillar that the victim is tied / nailed to? the pillory, Ida is forced to relive her worst memory in the face of a terrible choice. If she’s caught trying to save him, she’ll be sentenced to death. If she walks away, she’ll watch another friend freeze. And in her dangerous new world, where friends mean survival, letting Fairfax die isn’t just cruel … it’s suicidal.

THE STATUE SAYS SPRING is an 88,000 word YA historical fantasy with crossover potential. It is set in a non-magical world that blends elements of Victorian and medieval England, and combines the style of Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy with the world-building of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse.

I think your query is strong and the genre explanation at the bottom helps explain some questions that arose for my while reading the query. I do think you might need to examine the use of "in" for pillory, and also explain the cause of death at the beginning. If freezing plays into it we need to know a little more about that in terms of the world building - is this a season, or is this a freezing world? 

Overall more world building is necessary since it's a non-magical world that feels historical, why make this a fantasy at all? Get more about the stakes into the query - the plot can build entirely toward helping or not helping one person. Surely there is a subplot - what is it?

First Page:

The pillory would be teeming with spectators by dawn. If Ida wanted to help Mr. Hanson in time, she’d have to leave soon.

Across the room, her mother hadn’t shifted in minutes and her breathing was steady. The phrasing of this sentence feels passive as is. She was finally asleep. Ida crept from bed and collected her bag of supplies, coat, and glasses before sneaking out.

The icy Brimmen sea wind was a slap to the face so Ida pulled her long, lank hair over her ears. It didn’t help. Why was it so cold tonight, of all nights? It was mid-September, but it felt like February, and Mr. Hanson was confined in the pillory with only a thin shirt and breeches. He’d be frozen half to death. Good - you've built the coldness of this world into the first page. Get it into the query.

“Ikshik,” Ida cursed as she passed the Basilica’s blood-red gates. Maybe he was frozen to death. It was cold enoughThis is just echoing something we already know from the above para. She cursed again, blew on her numb fingers, and sped up. Gregor Hanson was like a grandfather to her, always there when she needed him most. He’d smuggled her forbidden books, taught her to ride boy-fashion, carried her to the surgeon when she broke her collarbone. Ida knew he was innocent of what?, she just knew it. There was no way she’d sleep peacefully in her warm bed while he suffered. If the stars had favoured her, she’d already be wrapping him in a warm blanket. But her mother had guessed she’d sneak out and sat up in her room to stop her.

Her mother never listened to reason.

Overall this is a strong start. Get the repeat of the idea of him being frozen to death out of there and you're looking pretty good. Also I think it would be important to build on the idea of his "innocence" - for what crime? Is this government one that pillories people for small grievance like stealing bread? Or did he supposedly do something worse? I'm not saying this needs fleshed out in the first 250, but definitely be sure it's addressed within the first few pages - it's world building and scene building in one.


Stephsco said...

That's awesome you're doing this! I always learn so much from reading other people's critiques.

Mindy McGinnis said...

And I stay sharp by doing them!