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Deb Werksman will Critique Your First Two Paragraphs!

By Deb Werksman
Editorial Manager
Sourcebooks Casablanca

Post the first two paragraphs of your manuscript anytime today--up until midnight--and I will post my critique by next Friday.

Here is what I need from you:
  1. Title
  2. Sub-Genre (Romance & Women's Fiction ONLY)
  3. One Sentence Pitch of Book
  4. First Two Paragraphs

Looking forward to reading your openings!


  1. She Belongs to Me, a romantic-suspense novel exemplifying the triumphs and strengths of love challenged only by the uncertainties of secrets and mysterious pasts suddenly thrusting a seemingly happy marriage into turmoil.

    A loud crack startled Jordan from his sleep, it sounded like a gunshot, or perhaps he was just having another nightmare. Sometimes he couldn’t tell the difference. Years in the military and working as a cop had unquestionably done a number on his psyche, so he always investigated. Usually it was the dog chasing a squirrel in his sleep or the cat moving through the wood shutters as she stalked a lizard from behind her prison of glass and brick. These sounds he knew. A gunshot, though also familiar, didn’t encroach on his daily routine anymore. Nowadays, most of his police work comprised of slaving behind a desk.
    The room was pitch-black, and his alarm had not gone off so it was still early. Absently, he reached to his wife’s side of the bed, empty, though that wasn’t unusual, either. She had been staying up later than him using studying as an excuse and had been falling asleep on the sofa for weeks. But tonight he thought they resolved whatever her problem was. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t willing to take some of the blame but as she pointed out with the age-old “it-wasn’t-him-it-was-her line”, she admitted there was something wrong, just not what that something was.

  2. Deadly Designs(romantic-suspense novel): The story of one woman's encounter with independence, intrigue, and intimacy in the arms of a man who helps her to realize it’s never too late for a new beginning.

    The young woman’s eyes fixed on the ceiling, her face void of expression—vacant—as though she’d taken herself far from the tiny apartment. He stared down at her, pleased with the effects of their latest session. Vivid, red whelps combined with the pattern of purple, black, and blue, mimicking the patchwork quilt draped over the back of her sofa. Leaning closer, he watched for any reaction. “You’re tough, I’ll give you that.”

    He fastened the sturdy, square buckle and threaded his belt through its last loop. Recalling the sharp whack of smooth leather meeting her skin made him long to hear it again. No time for another round with her. Several weeks of painstaking planning had culminated in three glorious days of self-indulgent pleasure. His motivation to maintain the carefully structured schedule had been the same for nearly a decade. Freedom. To play...Without having to pay.

  3. A Private Place:Contemporary Romance

    What’s the best way to survive a horrific experience? By pretending it never happened.

    Max Jackson rested his head against the mullion window, watching the rain drum out its incessant beat. He wondered if he would ever get used to England’s capricious climate. A mundane deliberation. The weather was the least of his worries. What did he know about teaching? So, he wasn’t a total novice but an honors degree was no substitute for experience.
    Tom, ever loyal, had faith in him which was more than could be said for Max’s father.But then, if he had, Max wouldn’t even be here, so no point heading down that long, sorry road, especially two days before the start of term and especially when he hadn’t even downed his first beer.

  4. The Curse of the Dragon's Spell:
    Urban Fantasy Romance

    A witch and warlock are banished to the mortal world, where they have no powers, to destroy demons they inadvertently unleashed during their Duel for Ultimate Dominion.

    “There has to be an enchantment powerful enough to break the damned warlock’s control.” Naomi paced the marble floor of her Spartan apartment. Her boots clicked as rapidly as her fingers swept through the pages of yet another book.

    The warlock had splintered her witch-sisters’ peaceful existence, because his Charm spell held them in an unbreakable grip. As Champion, Naomi was the strongest to challenge his claim to the coven. Her coven.

  5. On Ice has won or finaled in contests in both the RS and Women's fiction categories. Logline: Sleeping With the Enemy meets Fargo. A woman flees from her abusive husband, changes her identity and tries to reinvent her life in Alaska.

    Getting away was easier than she thought. She put the kids in the back seat and headed west on Interstate-Ten. As the Houston skyline receded, Rene took a deep breath and let it out slowly, her damp hands gripping the steering wheel.
    Glancing in the rear view mirror, she flashed a nervous smile at her daughter. Sara chanted in a little sing-song voice. Rene couldn’t hear the words but it involved some sort of finger play. The sweet, pure tone wafted to the front seat to compete with the hum of the air conditioner.
    Seth was another matter. Grim best described his mood. His brows were knit and his form of finger play involved biting his nails until they were pink and ragged. He kept turning in his seat to peer out the back window as though searching for signs of impending doom. Too much pain for a seven-year old who had suffered too much already.

  6. Bound by Blood: Paranormal/vampire romance
    Logline:Until this century, Alex only followed, never interfered with any of his progeny, yet what else can he do when a little girl of his lineage is kidnapped on his watch, and his unlikely ally, the nanny, seems to have captured his heart, as well as have the means to save them all from destruction.

    Alex shoved the rest of the papers in the folder, and stood to stretch. For a whole bunch of reasons, he absolutely detested day shift. What it did to his biological system – if you could still call it that – was insane. He was also tired of the inactivity. He preferred being in the field to being tied to the desk, another non-perk, courtesy of day shift. Dave, the agent who normally had this time slot, needed to be off and had called Alex for the favor. There was no way he could get his vampire clock to let him come in before noon.
    At three o’clock, the sun was already on the wane and it was getting darker. One of the good things about late fall as far as he was concerned.
    “Tired already, Alex?” One of the detectives from across the room called. “Knew you guys did nothing but sleep on nightshift!” There were a few good natured chuckles across the room, especially since it was a well known fact that Alex and his partner were responsible for more than their fair share of collars.

  7. Pink Tiger. Women's Fiction.

    A mother searching for her daughter, a grandmother desperate to keep the one already lost but neither can see the little girl they both love for who she really is.

    It’s moments like these. When a soul is tested again and again. Where the outcome isn’t determined by your actions, but by your reactions. Megan was sick of these moments. She reached for the cold metal handle; her hand shook like an addict on withdrawal. Get a grip woman. She’d faced larger giants than the pint-sized ones beyond the gymnasium door. One. She took a breath. Two. The muffled roar of the crowd as it echoed throughout the empty corridors of the school surged towards her. Tiny black dots clouded her vision as her heart raced. Her lungs contracted. She couldn't breathe. Not now. Please God, not now.

    Over one hundred children waited inside the gymnasium for her. This was not the time for a panic attack to hit. Megan took a deep breath, her nostrils flared as she wrestled to calm herself. She reached for the handle again, only to have her hand slip. It was drenched in sweat. Dammit, her pills were at home and there wasn’t enough chocolate in her purse to still her fears. She pictured Peter’s smug stance this morning when he told her she should just concentrate on being a mom to their own children. Not everyone else’s. Except she was. That’s what he refused to understand.

  8. Title: Diamond Girl
    Subgenre: Contemporary

    Sparks fly when pitcher Cole Martin meets his new manager -- Vickie O'Neill, a girl who just wants to play baseball.

    Cole Martin parks his blue Toyota Tacoma truck and looks up at a sign. Galloway Baseball Park, home of the Livingston University Mariners. He looks into the facility, as amazed as he was when he saw it on his last visit. It was what made his decision for him. The park is more field than park -- but what there is, is fantastic. A red brick ballpark on the outside is a state-of the art facility inside.

    “The decision,” as he called it, was to finish his bachelor’s degree at a four-year college with a baseball program of the caliber of the one he leaves behind – far away from Texas, where he attended a junior college; far away from the only home he had ever known.

  9. Title: Inappropriate

    Sub-Genre: Romantic Suspense

    Pitch: On a cross country train full of mystery, mayhem and romance, Sandra Faire must keep her lips off of homicide detective Lt. Hottie DiMattina and focus on unmasking the murderer before another soul derails.


    Sandra hated discovering dead bodies. As she wiggled her fingers into a pair of purple nitrile gloves, fear crept up her spine. A fishy dead-human stench wafted through the dawn. Waves slapped a creepy cadence. She tread softly through the sand to a bloated young black man clad in a dress-blue United States Navy uniform. “Sir, do you need some assistance?” Please roll over and puke or something. “Hey buddy you okay?” Nothing. She gave him a little nudge in the ribs with her sneaker. He felt squishy. She shuddered and hugged herself.

    The sun rose pink on the horizon. Red sky was good luck for sailors or something like that. Not for this guy. This is so not the way I want to begin my last shift before vacation.

  10. "When Time Stood Still"

    Futuristic romance/time travel romance

    A woman with no past; a man out of place in the present. Could they have a future?

    From the e-journal of Roger Kemp, NASA: "Just this side of the Bootes Void lies Charybdis. Not your usual black hole; it's almost reached the end of its life and has become grossly unstable. That's why it's producing time-space anomalies. My team was lucky to find one wormhole that connected the Charybdis region with just outside our solar system. Guess who was crazy enough to volunteer for the mission to penetrate it. Though it didn't seem crazy at the time. I mean, I'm the only astronaut with no spouse, no kids, no family, no partner of any kind.

    God, what a terrible time for me to meet Beryl."

  11. Hi Deb--I think it's so cool that you do this. Just sayin'....

  12. The Dangerous Miss Hunt is a historical romantic suspense.

    Caught between her desire to prove herself as a female detective in 1922 D.C and the compelling government man investigating the same case, Emma Hunt must call on all her vaudeville resources to survive bootleggers, killers, and a real chance at love.

    The maid must know something, servants always do. Jared Callon examined the woman exiting the swanky Georgetown townhouse, dressed in a modest navy blue frock and wool overcoat that had seen better days. She hobbled her way down the front steps, her limp pronounced as she held onto the wrought iron railing with both hands to descend. Others passed her on the steps without so much as a glance.

    Just the type of servant to disappear into the background; the kind who overheard everything and no one gave a second thought to their presence. Jared knew a few well placed dollars would loosen her lips and get him the information he wanted on her employer, Harold Morgan.

    Thanks for sharing your time andexpertise, Deb! It's much appreciated.

  13. No Expectations
    Contemporary Romance

    A fun, no-strings-attached rebound fling ends with an unplanned pregnancy with uncertain paternity.

    Shopping for the perfect wedding dress was supposed to be a magical experience filled with excitement and girl bonding. Unfortunately, Indy Adams had other things on her mind, like a proposal she hadn’t seen coming.

    This is Quinn’s day, Indy reminded herself for the umpteenth time. This was about her little sister getting married. Her own news bubbled like anxiety in her chest, but Quinn always accused her of trying to steal the spotlight. Well, not this time.

  14. Pieces of Mind, Women's Fiction
    With a father who's living on the edge of psychosis, a sister who's one breakdown away from a psychiatric vacation, and a mother indifferent to it all, it's no wonder that Presley Gordon has a little issue with the concept of love.

    Blind dates were the work of the devil, and Presley Gordon’s best friend was the devil’s apprentice. Oh, she might look innocent enough with those soulful eyes and that gentle demeanor, but Presley knew better. Lori Meade was the antithesis of innocence when she was on a mission.

    She was a demon, pure and simple. A demon with one thing on her devious little mind. Achieving her goal no matter the obstacle presented to her. And for the past six months – ever since she’d entered into a world of perpetual bliss with those fateful words, “I do” – her mission was to pair up all of her single friends so they, too, could live an idyllic life with their soul mate.

  15. "The Fairy Harp"

    historical fantasy romance

    Magic tore them apart. Can love bring them together?

    Rhys peered from behind an oak, and beheld her. The fair Blodwen was plucking the loveliest spring flowers in the forest clearing, a half-hour’s walk from her father’s castle. The sun on her tresses, braided and wrapped around her head, made them seem more golden than gold. A dark red gown, belted with a silver cord, draped her graceful figure. Even at a distance, he could make out the delicate features of her face. The face that Rhys and so many other bards had celebrated as the fairest among the Cymry. Or, as the English on the other side of Offa’s Dyke called them, the Welsh.

    Her two maids chattered nearby. But the heat of the first warm day of the season was making them drowsy. They lay down on the soft grass in the shade while their mistress moved off toward a bank of buttercups. Rhys seized his chance. With the stealth of a hunter, he crept through the tangle of trees to emerge not three paces in front of Blodwen.

  16. Redemption, a dark paranormal romance.

    With the vampire world on the brink of panic after a pandemic vaccine makes human blood poisonous, Aidan Murphy will do anything to protect his small enclave of vampires and unvaccinated humans--even if it means facing his past, jeopardizing his future, and learning to love again.

    1st two graphs:

    Never tick off a starving vampire. With his right hand on the steering wheel, guiding the BMW along the dark county road, Aidan Murphy shook the makeshift bandage off his left hand and watched the last puncture marks heal.

    What a bloody waste of time. Since the pandemic vaccine had made human blood poisonous to their kind six months ago, he’d had dozens of meetings like the one he’d just left. Hungry predators suddenly considered his quiet Alabama community of vampires and bonded, unvaccinated humans the vampire equivalent of a midnight buffet in the Garden of Eden.

    Historical Romance

    A poor Londoner successfully impersonates a missing heiress, only to fall in love with the one person who, in her new identity, she cannot marry.

    “If you’ve killed her, Geoffrey, we will never hear the end of it from Lady Thornborough.”

    Geoffrey Worthington threw a sharp glance at his companion. The man’s flippancy annoyed him, but he knew James Simpson was never one to take anything seriously. Not even the problem of what to do with the young woman they had just struck down with his carriage.

  18. She Belongs to Me: Carmen, the pitch sentence is a mess—you tried to cram in too much. That said, the opening paragraphs are great. The hero is sympathetic, you’ve drawn me right into the world, and you’ve filled in the backstory effortlessly without slowing the pacing down. I wanted to read more. Please send a full submission—make sure you include a para or two about the next two books.

  19. Deadly Designs: Lori, this opening is positively chilling. Unfortunately, I feel like I know this story—there have been a lot of novels lately that start with the psycho and the victim. It’s too predictable. I much prefer an opening that puts the hero and heroine together right away.

  20. A Private Place: Viviane, this didn’t draw me in. There’s nothing happening except weather and rumination. No action. The pitch sentence was intriguing, but then the opening kind of doesn’t delivery. You have to wow me (your reader) from the very first sentence.

  21. The Curse of the Dragon's Spell: Robin, I think the writing here is a little rough—there’s a little choppiness to the wording and the sentence structure. There’s no action, she’s just pacing, and then there’s some backstory. The first sentence has to grab the reader and not let go and I don’t think yours does that. Then you build from there. I would work on honing your craft so you're really getting value out of every single word--every word has to pack a punch.

  22. On Ice: This is a really compelling opening. You’ve pulled me right into the world, and I care about the heroine and her kids. Well done.

  23. Bound by Blood: Tara, the logline confused me—a vampire and a…nanny? But then the opening is terrific. I was drawn right into the world, find the hero compelling already, and wanted to read more. Well done. Please send a full submission, including a para or two about the next two books.

  24. Pink Tiger: Anya, I wanted to like this—I like the title, and the pitch sentence. But the opening kind of lost me. It was too internal, nothing really happening (no action). It’s all internal monologue and it didn’t make me care about the character. She’s too weak for my taste, too much of a victim. I wasn't relating to her, wanting to spend time with her to get to know her better.

  25. Diamond Girl: Carole, the pitch was a little confusing—is she his manager, or is she another baseball player? Something didn’t quite ring credible about it. Then the writing of the opening wasn’t clear either. Present tense changes to past tense, there’s no action. I didn’t know what to make of it.

  26. Inappropriate: Sherry, the pitch had some interesting things in it “keep her lips off” made me laugh. I liked “mystery, mayhem and romance.” Then you kind of lost me with “another soul derails.” I found that confusing. Then, the opening grossed me out. I couldn’t get away fast enough. Maybe a good opening for a mystery, not for the romance category, though, I don’t think.

  27. "When Time Stood Still": Mary Anne, the pitch was intriguing and I liked the play on time with past, present future. The opening paragraph was dense and hard to follow. There are words I stumbled over: time-space anomalies/Charybdis region/penetrate it—I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t care enough yet to do the work to figure it out. I didn’t like the set up (it’s his journal, but why do I want to know what’s in his journal?). And then it’s not written the way I think someone would write in their journal. First person POV almost impossible to sell in the romance category, so that becomes a concern too. You might want to find a way to make this more accessible.

  28. The Dangerous Miss Hunt: Isabel, I really like the title. Set in 1922, you should aim this for the mystery category—the romance category doesn’t seem to succeed with anything post-1900. I liked the pitch, it sounds like fun. Then the opening paragraphs were hard to penetrate. You have some word choices that were hard to read—they slowed me down: swanky Georgetown townhouse (say that three times), or seemed overwritten: held onto the wrought iron railing with both hands to descend, no one gave a second thought to their presence. This slows the pace, and I wanted it to start with a bang.

  29. No Expectations: Shannyn, the pitch makes this sound like fun (although the uncertain paternity is a problem in the romance category) but then the opening isn’t really fun. It’s kind of a down note, and there’s no action. I wasn’t pulled into the world, and it didn’t leave me wanting to know the characters better.

  30. Pieces of Mind: Margay, there’s something unclear here. First, I wasn’t sure whether the pitch was supposed to be funny. You have two characters with mental illness, but the word choices seemed to indicate some intention to be light, so that confused me. And, it made me unsure I want to spend any time with these people. Not sure this will be fun. Then the opening paragraphs also seem to be striving for lightness, but it confuses me that you have so many references to the devil and “soul”. Is this supposed to be inspirational, religious, what? I didn’t get it, and I didn’t get what makes it a must read.

  31. "The Fairy Harp": Mary Anne, the pitch is ok, doesn’t tell me much, but I like the question structure. The opening paragraphs were pretty slow paced. No action, he’s just watching her pick flowers. The descriptions were nice and rich, but “more golden than gold” didn’t make sense. There’s a start to the world-building that I think could be kind of nice, but I wanted you to draw me in much more strongly and much faster.

  32. Redemption: Suzanne, you’ve got the best opening line I’ve read so far. Yes, you’ve got me. I want to know about this vampire, why he’s starving, and how I could have been stupid enough to tick him off (because, really, I know better). I almost don’t even need to read any more to want to request a full submission…but, I’m going to keep reading now…yes, yes, yes, you build the whole world, make me care about the hero and his problems, and set up the conflict. I’m hooked, please send more because now I’m starving! Please include a couple of paras on each of the next two books.

  33. THE HEIRESS RETURNS: Jennifer, very good opening. I don’t know if I believe the pitch (poor Londoner impersonating a missing heiress—class distinctions were pretty rigid, I'm not sure she could pull this off) but I’d like to read more. Please send a full submission including a full synopsis and a para or two on the next two books.

  34. Thank you everyone, for submitting your work for critique. It takes courage to do that, and all my comments are intended to be constructive. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to email me directly at

  35. You are always so generous with your time, Deb! We're lucky to have you here.
    And fabulous entries, ladies!


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