Monday, October 9, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: CRYPTOZOO

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. Echoes are highlighted in blue.


Cleo’s life has been unusual, even by cryptid standards, being a blood-drinking Chupacabra adopted and raised by the forefather of all Sasquatch. I think it's a good hook, but you'll have to make sure you're targeting your agents correctly and that you're approaching ones who will know these terms. But Cleo must abandon her life in the wild southwest deserts when her papa vanishes and the powerful Mothman prophesizes his disappearance “into the Lands of Man” threatens not only the entire Sasquatch race, but all cryptid species. Rearrange this sentence a bit. Right now it sounds like the Mothman's prophecy is about the disappearance - which already happened - not the extinction of cryptids. It makes sense when you get to the end of the sentence, but a little tweaking will help. 

Volunteering to start the search, she Cleo reluctantly teams up with JD, the one and only Jersey Devil, an old friend of her papa’s Cleo she has head-butted with before. Setting aside their differences, he teaches her how to adapt to the concrete jungle of Manhattan by using glamour to pretend to be human—the greatest threat to cryptidkind Cleo has already had traumatic experience with. As Cleo struggles to pass as human and hunts the trail of the missing Sasquatch, encountering hidden cryptids, budding cryptozoologists, and closet cryptid hunters, she learns humans are more complicated than she could have imagined—and the cryptids closest to her have dangerous secrets of their own.

Give us a little bit more here - humans are complicated. Does that mean she begins to see a good side of them? Some of the cryptids are maybe not so great? That sounds like your actual plot - you need to elaborate some more.

I was born on a beach where dolphins played, grew up in an enchanted forest filled with deer, and studied Studio Art and Creative Writing at Hollins University, home to many crafty squirrels. My artwork and stories have been featured in literary magazines such as Strangelet and The Cyborg Griffin, art shows, solo exhibitions, conventions such as Illuxcon, and my block print of the Grimm’s fairytale “Godfather Death” won a national contest hosted by Richeson & Co. and Blick Art Materials. That's cool and all, but you're not asking them to represent your art. 

Another of my manuscripts, an upper-middle grade fantasy titled The Dragon Prince, which received an A+ and Honors status as my English thesis, claimed first place in the 2013 Western PA SCBWI First Page Contest, and has garnered editorial interest. I am also a member of Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and the Hollins chapters of Sigma Tau Delta and Phi Beta Kappa. When not hip-deep in writing, reading, or printmaking, I dote on my cuddly rottweilers, wiggly corgi, and squishy axolotl. Mention the shorts that you have placed in lit mags, and your writerly memberships, but other than I think the bio is taking up just as much space as the query. Give your work more room.

1st Page:

Cryptid: (from the Greek "κρύπτω" (krypto) meaning "hide") is a creature or plant whose existence has been suggested but is unrecognized by scientific consensus and often regarded as highly unlikely.
In other words, we’re creatures you don’t think exist. I love the setup you have here of using a definition to educate the reader about terms they may not be aware of, but in the voice of your narrator.

The easiest way I know to find a Sasquatch is to find the Hutch—and the easiest way to find the Hutch is to follow the generator. I think it would be good to explain what the Hutch is? A place where the Sasquatch congregate to hibernate? Also, b/c the generator seems to be easy to locate, can humans find this easily as well? Or is she using her non-human abilities to follow it? I never got lost in the backwoods of the Matilija Wilderness as long as I could pinpoint the gasoline hum through the mountains and the maples. It was still a hike, though, and every sensible critter was slipping into hibernation before the autumn air found its teeth.

Inside the rustic cottage nestled in a copse of velvet ash, I could hear the television murmuring. Of course Papa would be the first one here, and of course he wouldn’t be hibernating during the Steelers vs. Ravens playoffs. Good voice.

I hopped up the rickety porch steps and pawed at the door, adding new nicks over my old claw marks. The whole cabin shook from the heavy footsteps inside and when the door swung open and I was greeted with six hundred pounds of fur, feet, and hugs. Papa hunkered down through the doorframe.

“There’s my Cleo!” He scooped me up, expertly avoiding my spines, and squeezed a healthy dose of love into me.

“Good to see you too, Papa.” I snuggled my snout into the crook of his shaggy arm, breathing in the mossy scent of his russet fur.

I think what you have here is quite good. Watch out for long, unwieldy sentences. You've got a few in your query and bordering on at least one here in the first page. Red flags like that will make an agent think that the manuscript is riddled with them. Read it aloud, and see if you can get a whole sentence out with one breath. If you need to inhale, it's probably too long :)

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