Son of a Pitch Entry

Katie Teller’s Contest

As this is my first time on a publishing quest, I’m looking to the masters and writing gurus to guide me. A great way to to do this seems to be entering pitch contests that also offer feedback. From my own experience and from the word of many who have come before me, querying agents and crafting synopses are some of the hardest parts of pursuing publishing. After many hours of researching, tweaking, and re-starting, I think I’m ready…to get some feedback and keep polishing. This entry is for the Son of a Pitch contest hosted by editor and author Katie Teller .  The challenge begins the week of February 15, 2016!

Without further ado…


Caster’s Flame

Genre: YA/NA Fantasy

Word Count: 89,000


Refugees say the Dragon Stone is dead, but McKenna disagrees. So she steals it.

When 18-year-old McKenna Alder flees the caverns of her refugee city after the theft, she seeks freedom in the upper world. Instead, a traveling circus, active in the legalized trade of sorcerers, snatches her and strips her magic, promising a life of performance.

Running away doesn’t work in the upper world, particularly when the rumored assassin with the king’s ear wields magic and wants McKenna dead. With flames at her fingertips, dragons at her call, and a court murderer on her trail, her mistakes kill at least one. When the assassin kidnaps the shape-shifter who refused to stay away, McKenna must decide if she is willing to barter for his life too.

At 89,000 words, Caster’s Flame echoes the lore of Disney-Pixar’s Brave and Maria V. Snyder’s not-so-damsel-in-distress fantasy Poison Study.

First 250 Words of Chapter 1: 

McKenna never wanted to be a thief. Yet as the torches burned low and her people slept, she ventured to the heart of the underground city to steal the Dragon Stone. A pyramid of light flickered over her open palm as she struggled to sustain the simple magic. She sighed in annoyance, allowing the weak light to extinguish. What was the point of being a caster if she could hardly light her way through the tunnels? She grabbed a torch from the cave-wall and continued down the sloping tunnel.

McKenna crept past guards dozing open-mouthed and slack-necked. She rolled her eyes. She trained far too hard to become one of them. She rubbed her sore bundle of shoulder muscle. So what if she couldn’t win a sparring match if nothing would be expected of her?

McKenna rounded the corner and paused. She stood before the gates of the Crystal Lake. Her stomach flipped. The iron curled and twisted from floor to ceiling and the glassy lake shimmered just beyond. Dreams of stealing the dragon egg plagued her ever since she came to Targaia as a child. No one believed the egg lived, but McKenna could feel the magic trapped inside. She exhaled and bolted into the chamber.

McKenna shoved the canoe into the water and leapt into it, playing out each movement as she had done in so many dreams. Stalactites dipped beneath the surface, while a steady drop of water plunked, echoing in the silence.


If you have any suggestions or tips for helping me improve my pitch (or the first 250 words), please feel free to leave comments!

Please note, I have updated my first 250 words and query since I received my first few helpful critiques in the comments below!

Some of my attempted changes on my query included:

  1. Shortening
  2. Focusing
  3. Varying sentence length



8 thoughts on “Son of a Pitch Entry

  1. The query starts out more like a story than a query and then it becomes a sort of laundry list of events, people and places. It’s supposed to be similar to the back-cover copy on most paperbacks. Ideally it answers at least three questions, Who is the MC, What do they want, What is standing in their way. I’m afraid this only partly answers the first and fails at the second two. Why does McK steal the stone? What’s it for? Why are people trying to kill her? IMO you should focus things better and try to cut as much extraneous detail as you can.

    The story doesn’t start smoothly. The first paragraph is essentially explaining (without actually explaining anything important, like why she wants the stone at all). Then you go into some back-story, tell me her age (which is generally considered a no-no, especially if you’re so blunt about it. After that you’re pretty good about getting the plot rolling, but there’s no context and no real conflict, especially since the guards are mysteriously (and IMO a little too conveniently) missing.


  2. Hi Melissa – I’m going to try to recreate the feedback I left on Katie Teller’s blog. For the query, I love the opening line – the “hook” which definitely hooked me. I also love the last line where you list relevant comps. I almost think this last line can be moved up to the top of the query. The rest of the query needs work – some of it is written in the MC’s voice which agents don’t typically like. I’d stick with introducing the characters and what’s at stake. It’s not clear to me (for example) if going to the surface is forbidden for her or who Nikolas is (and why he’s important to her). I think if these things are clarified, the query will come together.

    I like your first 250 – I’d go through it again and try to banish all passive voice (the bane of my own existence). For example, “McKenna knew the cave would be deserted” is a passive sentence and it’s right at the start of your novel – how can you make it more active? I love your writing which is visual and compelling. I’d love to read this book.


  3. I have to say that I really love the premise you present here! Definitely intrigued!

    As someone else mentioned, the first line of the query is great. The rest of the query was a little hard to follow. There was a lot of information jammed into such a small amount of text. The plot of the story sounds like a good read. Focus on the main aspects of the conflict, and introduce the main characters that will encounter these choices/problems.

    One other thing for the query: some of the sentence structure is quite complex and long. I think a simple sentence here and there can be quite effective in driving home a major point.

    I like how your 250 words starts immediately with action. They also do a good job setting the scene in a magical new world. The one thing I think may be lacking is McKenna’s mood. Is she defiant/scared/desperate/etc. as she tries to escape with this egg? How she’s feeling may reveal some about her motivation for stealing the egg and escaping, without revealing everything too bluntly so early on.

    Love the premise! Good luck!


  4. Wow! You’re new at querying?! I think what you have here is exceptional. I don’t need to rehash the earlier comments. Everyone had valid points. I really enjoyed your query and the first 250. The hook got me. I wanted to know more which is exactly what you want from your readers.

    Oh, and I love the name. My daughter’s name is Makenna, so I may be a slight biased. 🙂

    Good luck in the next round!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Melissa, great query. I do have some tips. Move the last line up to the top of the query for the hook. Your mini synopsis should be shorter and at least 2 paragraphs. So is there a way to get down to the bare bones of your storyline, even for the 2nd version. It does read more like a synopsis to me. As for your first 250 words, nice hook. She was training so hard should be she trained so hard, since was training is passive. So is also passive. Nice start!


  6. Ha, I love the choppy interruption of the second line. Awesome insight into your character, and even though I don’t know what the cheese a Dragon Stone is, I’m stoked. Strong! I felt like you continued strong, too–alright, we have newer problems here for our MC, with being kidnapped and all, okay, doing well–

    But then this sentence! “With flames at her fingertips, dragons at her call, and a court murderer on her trail, her mistakes kill at least one.”

    This is at the same time weirdly vague (what do you mean, kill at least one? Kill at least one dragon? One person? Also is it McKenna who has these flames at her fingertips and dragons at her call, or the assassin?) and terribly detailed (okay, we’ve got dragons and flames and what).

    It might help a lot if the shape-shifter had a name, or maybe just one more adjective of description. Also it’s just pronoun city in this paragraph. I think you mean McKenna’s got to barter for the shape-shifter’s life, but maybe we’re bartering for the assassin’s life, I don’t know. Could we replace “his” with “her friend”? Or, change that flames-dragons sentence and use it to give names? Or something? This is kind of a tough tweak because you’ve made this SO nice and tight, but that one sentence is helluva confusing, and the shape-shifter who refused to stay away is just too much. There’s so much going on! Weren’t we talking about the Dragon Stone? What happened with that?

    I usually say pick one conflict and stick with it. In this case you might be able to get away with the three story lines you’ve got in here, but maybe just in case writer yourself a back-up query with just one conflict and see if it works out for you. I’d definitely fix flames-dragons sentence so I know who is being killed, whose mistakes they are, and what’s up with that.

    For your excerpt, yes, definitely vary your sentence length, like you’ve already had the insight to mention. The first line’s good. Maybe even separate it from the second paragraph, let it stand out a little. I dig your description, but I’m not a huge fan of this voice/word choice. “Yet” and “hardly” and overall it sounds very formal! But that might just be your voice, and formality’s certainly common in high fantasy so take that complaint of mine with a lot of low-sodium salt. It feels like you’re someone who’s worked incredibly hard on revising to take out as many “was” and “had”s as possible–I can see you’re slamming as many strong verbs in here as you can–and that’s awesome. I almost feel like the next step is to just let it go a little. It’s really hard to explain, because “voice” is so subjective, but the lady who wrote Because of Winn Dixie once told me that she revises by opening a blank document and rewriting the new thing next to the old doc, and that really works to let you loosen up and rephrase in ways that really are uniquely YOU. I felt like your voice on your blog is just as correct and well-written, but it’s got a little more feeling. Again, this is 100 percent subjective, because your actual style is about as correct as Strunk and White, so if I’m giving you angst please please just ignore me. There’s nothing worse than an internet stranger putting their mouth where it doesn’t belong.

    You’re going to go far.

    Liked by 1 person

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