OPENING LINES Results from Kristin Ostby

In Opening Lines, Natalie Yates gets expert advice from top literary agents, editors & publishers to help you tune up your concept, pitch and opening lines to create the strongest hook

OPENING LINES gives you the chance to get professional feedback so you can polish your submissions. This month there were a total of 15 entries and Kristin Ostby gave her feedback on three randomly selected submissions. 

This will unfortunately be my last Opening Lines as I am planning to devote more time to my writing in my spare time in the new year. So, if you fancy taking on the role and building up your professional contacts for just three times a year, then please drop a line to I will be happy to share my tips and guidelines with my successor.

Kristin Ostby - An Introduction

Earlier this year, Chelsea Eberly, the director of Greenhouse Literary Agency, shared her feedback on three lucky SCBWI members' Opening Lines. This month, Greenhouse's literary agent, Kristin Ostby was kind enough to share her expertise.

Kristin represents authors of middle grade and young adult fiction, as well as picture book author/illustrators. She is primarily seeking voicey, character-driven middle-grade as well as literary and contemporary young adult fiction. In particular, she is looking for stories with unabashedly intersectional overtones.

As the daughter of a librarian and a businessperson, it’s really no wonder Kristin wound up in the book business. Kristin moved from Michigan to New York to begin her life in publishing at Penguin Random House and rose to become a senior editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. In her sixteen years as a children’s book editor, Kristin had the joy and pleasure of editing several award winning and best-selling children’s authors and creators. Kristin loves guiding authors and illustrators toward their best work and advocating for them in the service of building successful, sustainable artistic careers.

Kristin lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Twitter at @kristinostby and discover more about her taste on her Publishers Marketplace page.

Submission #1

TITLE Riddles from Yestertime


Five curious riddles and one unbelievable word propel a young girl on an adventure to discover the true meaning behind her father’s extraordinary disappearance.


You have all the right elements here—I appreciate that you make it very clear this book has a puzzle component—though I might reorder things, i.e., “A young girl is propelled on an adventure to discover the true meaning behind her father’s extraordinary appearance when…” and then I might state how the puzzles and the word came her way, or hint at it. I think of riddles being part of a journey, whereas it sounds like here, they prompt the journey, and you might want to avoid it sounding as though this happened apropos of nothing. Otherwise it’s a great start to a great pitch!


Seventeen-thousand-five-hundred-and-twenty hours ago, on a bleak morning in April, Holly 'Star' Shine's father disappeared.

A stupid argument about how to pronounce a ridiculous word had been their last conversation together. But what had hurt her the most was the moment her father had laughed when she had struggled to say it.

‘I hate m-my stammer,’ Holly screamed at the wall. She knew the wall would understand. The wall offered something Holly needed- the wall always listened. Every splintered crack and ashen mould stain made it who it was. ‘Why can’t I t-talk like everyone else?’ Holly asked. 

Leading off with Holly’s father’s disappearance is a great way to kick things off with a bang. There is excellent character development in the following two paragraphs, both of Holly and of her father. We know that Holly struggles with a speech impediment, and that she’s frustrated by it; and we know her father is at least somewhat callous or cruel—and this is all shown to the reader rather than told. I’m not completely sold on opening with “Seventeen-thousand-five-hundred-and-twenty hours ago” mostly because it’s impossible in the moment to do that math, and I wouldn’t want you to disorient your reader right off the bat. I was also unsure of whether Holly was screaming at the wall during the exchange with her father, or if that took place at a later time, so that could use a little clarification. Generally speaking, though, I felt successfully pulled in by these opening paragraphs and I wanted to know more, so well done there!

Submission #2



This lyrical retelling of the Genesis creation story brings fresh interest to a timeless tale, focusing on the power of the Creator’s imagination and expression of love. A poetic journey that leads to personal reflection on our own responsibility as stewards of the earth. 


I think you have all the right details here to tell us what the story is about, but your pitch could use some simplification for clarity and straightforwardness. I might use the word “interpretation” instead of “retelling,” since you’re bringing in such poetic language to describe it. I might also consider rephrasing “brings fresh interest to” to “is a fresh take on” or “brings a fresh perspective to” or similar, since it might be a little hard to argue there isn’t already interest (though I know what you’re getting at). Your second line right now feels a little abstract, and you may just want to more simply say that the story is “a poetic journey that encourages us to reflect upon our own responsibility as stewards of the earth,” or something along those lines.




In the beginning was Love. 

In the silence of the blackest night, Love dreamed. 

These dreams were The Lovely Thoughts waiting to be born. 

At the right time, they stirred up the heart and came out of the mouth. 

And so the first words were spoken. ‘Let there be… 





One Lovely Thought shone white, pearly and bright, 

Scattering darkness to the ends of the universe. 

Evening passed, morning had broken. That was the first day. 


The Lovely Thoughts knew what to do, 

Hovering mid-air they painted it blue. 

Blue became the hue of a sky without limit.

First of all, the writing is lovely, and the line “In the beginning was Love” is a great first line. I like the use of internal rhyme with white/bright and do/blue. I paused a little on the term “Lovely Thoughts,” which I assume mean God’s thoughts for the seven days of creation, but for those words exactly perhaps there’s a Biblical reference I don’t know. But I had some questions about what exactly they were, since they’re described as dreams but are also personified in the third spread with “The Lovely Thoughts knew what to do.” Should it be “Lovely Thought,” singular, in spread 3, for the sky? Overall, though, I enjoyed the opening of this poetic interpretation of the Creation story.

Submission #3

TITLE The Hanging Tree


Sixteen-year-old Lucy Paxton is going to prove a ghost killed her Dad. Then she’s going to destroy it.

This is a very strong start and certainly has us intrigued to know more! But you might want to add a tiny bit more specificity of detail. How is she going to prove a ghost killed her dad, for example, and how is she going to destroy it? Are there other friends involved? Who was her dad? You obviously can’t answer all of these questions in an elevator pitch, but maybe there are a couple more details you can at least allude to.



My name is Lucy Paxton. When I was six years old, a ghost killed my Dad. 

Now, it’s not the kind of thing you can write about in one of those About My Life essays they make you write in school every so often. When you say your Dad died, you’re allowed the occasional Tilted Head of Sympathy or, in some cases, The Full-On Retreat of Awkwardness, but if you started saying stuff like a ghost killed my Dad…well, that’s a whole different reaction.


It's probably how you’re reacting now. 

The opening two lines are great at hooking the reader. You also do a very good job of establishing a knowing, funny voice and characterization right off the bat. It’s interesting, too, to see you speak directly to the reader in that last line, and I’m curious if that’s a device you plan to use throughout, and if so, whether “you” is the reader or someone else. I will say, Lucy does seem quite casual about the fact that her dad was murdered, and I imagine it would have actually been quite a painful thing to experience; I wonder if your main character would be somewhat more relatable in these lines if you could hint at that in the slightest way, to give her depth, without detracting from the humour you’ve established. These are very strong opening paragraphs, though. Nicely done!

Look out for our next Opening Lines opportunity in 2023!


Natalie Yates has been a SCBWI member since 2015. When she is not working as a Teaching Assistant for a local secondary school, she writes for the YA audience. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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