Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 2

Six more critiques from the October 25 workshop on Perfecting Your Pitch. This is really fun, so thanks again to everyone who was willing to put themselves out there. Over the course of the next several weeks I will go through pitch-by-pitch and give my critique. Feel free to comment and give your own critiques, ask further questions, or just tell us what you thought.

7. Caroline Smith
Sometimes white picket fences can turn into iron bars. At 45, Jennifer has everything she's always dreamed of - husband, children and security. Why then does she feel as if her life has been placed on pause? A story of discovery, adjustment and new beginnings.

I hate to do this to you, but snooze. Almost all women’s fiction are stories of “discovery, adjustment and new beginnings.” This is exactly what I mean when I warn against describing your book by using themes. Few readers care what the theme of a book is. We don’t buy a book based on themes. We buy because we’re looking for a riveting plot and engaging characters. Your first sentence is strong. I like that a lot in fact, but now you need to show me how that happened for her or what that means for her or what she’s going to do about it. In other words, now that Jennifer (and the reader) feel that the white picket fence has turned into iron bars, what happens? Does she have a torrid love affair? Does she pack up and leave her husband and kids? Does she dye her hair purple and join a punk band? We know the internal conflict for Jennifer, now we need more action, we need to know what’s going on externally.

8. Aimless Writer
Eyes of My Killer: (Romantic Suspense) Misty reads eyes. She only needs to glance deep within your eyes to see your soul, your past and future. When she comes eye to eye with a serial killer Misty goes to the police for help.

Max Jennings is a by the book cop and he’s on the trail of the nastiest serial killer in Angel Fall’s history. When Misty McAllister walks into his squad room and declares she knows who the Angel Fall’s Strangler is because she met him at the mall, Max labels her a whacko. When the strangler leaves a message on Misty’s door step in the form of a dead body Max labels her a suspect, but Misty insists it’s a warning.

Interesting idea. This is one of those queries that I would close up again immediately after reading. It has me unsure, so therefore I wouldn’t answer right away. It would sit in my in-box for another day or two, I’d open it again, and in all likelihood I’d reject it. Disappointing because you were oh, so close. The idea is good. I like the idea of someone who can see your soul so easily. I think that’s an interesting concept. What doesn’t work here is that I think I can read the flaws in your book through your pitch. If Misty knows who the killer is, where’s the suspense? By revealing the killer so early you base the entire book on Max’s inability to believe her. That’s going to make for an irritating read. Of course, I’m not sure if the book is actually written this way, but what about something more along the lines of, “With just one glance into another’s eyes, Misty can see into a person’s soul. A skill that’s been known to get her in a lot of trouble in the past. But nothing beats the day she comes eye to eye with a serial killer, who knows what she’s seen. Now Misty is in a race for her life and only one man can help her, the one who doesn’t believe her”?

9. Tess Harrison
Every man has a breaking point, even Jonas Pride. So when the visions start again, he has no choice but to face the destiny he’s spent his life fighting against. Because this time, the only woman to break his restraint and make him crave her touch is the one woman his enemy is using to claim him as one of their own.

This is a problem I see a lot in pitches. Authors think they have a really great opening line, but don’t tie it in at all to the rest of the pitch. I don’t get how the breaking point really ties into the entire book. It’s a great setup, but is it only about craving the touch of one woman, because that’s going to be a pretty uninteresting book. I think your pitch is really about the enemy trying to claim him as one of their own. What do you mean by that? Who is the enemy? Why are they trying to claim him and what could this mean for Jonas? That’s your pitch. More along the lines of, “Jonas Pride is a man who lives alone and works alone. He’s never needed the touch of another until he meets Maria—a woman who makes him crave her touch and also promises to be the one person who can destroy him...”? Okay, that wasn’t very good at all, but I think you get the picture. We need to get to the conflict in the plot. The external conflict.

10. tammie
At the Knickerbocker Hotel in Chicago, James meets and falls in love with Mara who is planning her wedding to another man. After a night discovering that the lives they each have planned might not be right, the two make a pact to meet each year no matter the status of their lives. Once A Year is an updated version of the Alan Alda movie, Same Time, Next Year. Alternating points of views Mara and James hit heavy topics that touched each decade from the mid 70’s all the way to 2002.

Hmm. I have to admit that I’m immediately turned off by the fact that it’s an updated movie. I never saw the movie, but let’s face it, even with the biggest Hollywood stars on board, few updated versions of old movies do well. I think a book would be a disaster. In other words, there’s no need to tell anyone that. So on to the real pitch. Is the book really about the fact that they make plans to meet each other each year? Or is it about what happens each year? I have a hard time picturing how this will be written and what the conflict will be. Is it a series of vignettes taking place on the same day in a new year, or do we follow one of the characters and see how she deals with this relationship as well as her own life? As you have this written now I don’t see what the story is at all.

11. antony
(Comic crime)
A bigamist conman dies and leaves behind the score from his last job and a team he hasn't yet paid. When the team make plans to steal the money they're owed, the first question they have to answer is: which wife did he leave it to?

Your first line didn’t interest me at all. In fact I was sort of irritated at how uninterested I was (yes, that can happen), but your second line made me laugh out loud. That’s a good sign. In other words, the pitch should probably not be about the con man, but about the team. What about something like this, “A team of con artists is left with one baffling question after the death of their bigamist leader: which wife now holds the score from the last job? In a series of escapades...”? In other words, I really need to know what happens now and what kind of book this is. Is it a bigamist Italian Job? Or is it The Usual Suspects? What’s the conflict for this team besides finding the wife, because if that’s the only conflict, all we have to do is drive from house to house and search under mattresses (so to speak).

12. elizabeth bemis
Megan Miller is on her honeymoon (sans groom) in an effort to get over the louse who dumped her days before her wedding. So far, she’s met a guy who isn’t what he seems, been shot at, jumped overboard into (potentially) shark infested waters and stranded in the Mayan jungle with nothing but the clothes on her back and a copy of the Girls’ Guide to Hero-Hunting and an undercover FBI Agent named Rey Rodriguez. So far, she’s ignored the book’s every piece of advice, and yet, Rey is proving time and again to be her hero. The question is: will he still be her hero, after their “holiday”?

***Please note: this author submitted a later, updated version, but since I’d already critiqued this one she’ll get critiques on both. You can see if the changes she submitted made a difference.

I hate to say this, but been there done that. There have been many books and millions of book proposals about a bride taking the honeymoon alone. I wouldn’t even bother to mention it. I need to know what makes this book really different. I suspect this is romantic comedy, but we need something more. Does the Girls’ Guide to Hero-Hunting play a huge role in the story? If so, that’s your pitch. Your pitch is to show how that book is influencing her decisions, and not in the best ways. We’ll also need to know a little more about why she might be shot at and stranded in the jungle.

And that’s it for today. Great work! Keep an eye out for the next group.



bob said...

Jessica completely agree.

I was hung up on the fact that I am working it from that movie and not about what the reader would experience.

Back to the drawing board.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jessica! And I agree.

After posting my paragraph I had similar thoughts and made a few modifications. I'm glad to see I was thinking and moving in the right direction.

Thanks again!!

Zany Mom said...

This is really cool to see. A lot of these read fine to me, but when you point out what you're really looking for, it all makes sense.

I'm not ready to write a pitch and query, but this will be in the back of my mind as I do.

They're a lot harder to write than they look!!

Unknown said...

lol--I love your honesty. And I'm looking forward to the next round

Anonymous said...

"Your first line didn’t interest me at all. In fact I was sort of irritated at how uninterested I was (yes, that can happen), but your second line made me laugh out loud."

As I read that my heart first sank and then lifted. Cool, I'm glad I got the funny part right. I'm going to rethink it and use your advice for my next batch of submissions. Thanks!

lainey bancroft said...

Hmm, so enlightening. Seeing a lot of my own mistakes...well, mistakes I didn't see until you pointed them out, Jessica.

Aimless Writer, IMHO you should consider changing the name of your town. I immediately thought 'Nora knock-off.'

Anonymous said...

Jessica, I loved your reworking of #8. But perhaps the book has exactly that in it. With a simple change of pitch, it might be the same book. Then you could pitch it in your better way to editors. I see this as a basic flaw in the pitch system. With a better pitch for the same book, the book could be a winner. So why should the writer be rejected if just for her pitch? The agent could later improve the pitch if she likes the book.

Aimlesswriter said...

Ahhh, my eyes are opened now. I see where I missed some important facts. Although my pychic meets the serial killer face to face she doesn't know him. He's just a stranger in the mall. (where he trolls for victims) She doesn't really know who he is or where he lives, only that he's coming for her. Now, I just have to figure out how to shorten that into quick, easy sentences that convey these facts.
Again, Jessica, you nailed it. Amazing talent you got there.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Because reading a book that an agent has a "blah" feeling about is a waste of her time.

It is the writer's responsibility to advertise that her story is marketable, unputdownable, and the next hot thing through her pitch.

It isn't an agent's job to speculate on what could work if the pitch were better, it is her job to find what will work and sell it.

Perfecting the pitch of a great book is a job for writer's groups, and the writer.

If you see a crappy commercial, do you think, "Well, I should spend my money on that product just to see if the commercial was way off base?"

I don't. I ignore the commercial. It washes right in and out of my ear and I forget that product. I don't buy it. If the product seems good, but the commercial was a little off, I'd give it a try, or I'd save my money depending on my budget and mood, those are the pitches on the fence.

If the commercial is fantastic, I have to go out and try it. Those are the ones that get reads.

Think of a writer's group and a marketing test group. They'll tell you if they're not interested before your product is in front of the consumers.

Let's face it. There are too few good commercials as well. There's the rub.

Aimlesswriter said...

Lainey- this book was started, and I used the name of this town in other stories, for a long time before Nora's book came out. I've struggled with whether or not I should change the name of my town since seeing Nora's book on the shelf. Damn! I don't know what to do now...

Anonymous said...

Chessie, thanks for that explanation! Makes a lot of sense.

Anon 9:04

Precie said...

Just to expand on chessie's explanation, in terms of the publishing industry, everything a potential author writes is a sign of his/her abilities. If a writer can't produce a strong, engaging and accurate, pitch for his/her own manuscript, it probably suggests that the manuscript is flawed as well.

Agents get way too many submissions to take on books they aren't ready or willing to sell.

If the manuscript is Can't-Put-It-Down Fantastic, that writer should be able (with all the help that's available out there...writers groups, online forums, etc.) to hone a strong pitch for that manuscript.

And thank you, Jessica, for this second round. Your observations are illuminating and very, very helpful!

Lauren J and Acid Art said...

I'm fascinated by your critiques on these pitches. Thanks for sharing these, its quite illuminating!

April said...

Man...I'm reading these posts with abaited breath, waiting in terror for my name to pop up! haha - seriously...

Thank you so much for these crtiques! It really is interesting to see what gets ya and what doesn't.

And thanks Chessie for your explanation. I never looked at a pitch as a commercial, but that's exactly what it is. I don't want a pitch that's going to make someone roll their eyes like I do at soooo many commercials. What a job!

Anonymous said...

Since I have no experience with this, I can see that if I am to ever have a good pitch it will be something I approach in iterations. While I greatly appreciate the seminar going on here, a more constant coaching is what's called for (not that I think it's even reasonable to ask you, in this setting, to provide it!).

Thanks again, this is good stuff. I may try to pitch a book or two after all!

Josephine Damian said...

Jessica: thanks so much for the comments. Again, I'm really impressed with how seriously the writers are taking your advice, and are willing to re-work the pitch/idea.

Aimless Writer: My reaction when I read that the character will go to the cops was that they'd dismiss her theory/skill/process on the spot and not follow through.

Cops don't even believe in trained criminal profilers, (something I know too well), and they'd never listen to her. I couldn't suspend my dis-belief enough to buy the premise as it's presented here.


***Please note: this author submitted a later, updated version, but since I’d already critiqued this one she’ll get critiques on both. You can see if the changes she submitted made a difference.

Oh, the horror! I deleted my first pitch in hopes it wouldn't be seen by anyone, let alone Jessica. Guess I'll find out soon if I get critiqued twice - which will be possibly be twice as painful, but therefore twice as helpful as well.

Anonymous said...

Aimless Writer, I admit to having the same thought about your town name. Not that I assumed you knocked it off Nora's book, but it instantly made me think of her book - which I would think is never good for the story presently being read.

I think part of the issue is that Angel Falls is the NAME of her book, and it was the romance Book of the Year at the Quill Awards.

I think you could do yourself a disservice if you don't change the name of the town. (Just one person's opinion.)

Anonymous said...

Aimless Writer, one other comment. If you think about any story (book or movie) in which the main character sees the face of a kidnapper or killer - you know instantly she/he is going to have be killed in order to protect the killer's identity. Perhaps consider that in your pitch - how is your story different from the norm?

In all the pitches I've read here and elsewhere that intrigue me, it's usually because they highlight how the book is different. The fact that your protganist can see into someone's soul through their eyes is pretty darn cool. That's different.

Since she saw him, but doesn't know who he is...where does that leave your story in a way that is different from any other "I saw his face and now he'll have to kill me" theme?

Spy Scribbler said...

Oooh ... I liked Aimless's pitch, too, especially with Jessica's thoughts and suggestions. Sounds awesome!

Christine Fletcher said...

Adding to chessie's and precie's explanations of why the pitch has to be stellar --

Keep in mind that the author's pitch may be used far beyond the query letter. Elements of my pitch ended up in the publisher's catalog copy and on the back cover of the book. Authors know their book better than anyone, and if you can distill that into a smashing presentation, you'll have a great handle on your book that'll help you even after publication.

Terri Hodgson said...

Is it too late to submit a pitch?

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for doing this, Jessica. It's insightful to see why you would reject a query.

... although I have to ask: have you realized that at a rate of six per day, you'll be doing this for three weeks straight (22 days)? Upping it to seven per day knocks off two days, and eight per day puts you at 17 days straight. Just so you know... and there's certainly no ulterior motive of being at the bottom of the stack here, nossir... but I think doing more than eight or so would probably result in less useful comments, so I'm willing to wait. :)

The Grump said...

Thanks for going into such detail on why a pitch does or does not work.

With luck by the time you're done, I might get through my thick skull how to write a proper query instead of a short synopsis.

Sandra Cormier said...

I'm pretty sure Same Time Next Year was a stage play before it was a movie.

I took this from Wikepedia:

"Same Time, Next Year is a play by Bernard Slade which tells the story of a couple, married to others, who develop a relationship in which they meet each year at a country inn and spend a weekend together. The relationship evolves into emotional intimacy over the course of 26 years, and they become much more than clandestine lovers. Though they only meet once a year, they become important parts of one another's lives."

I think there is potential for the treatment of the story, as long as it's not all just dialogue. Also, it's important to check if permission is still needed to do an adaptation of this particular story.

David Ebright said...

I feel like we should all be getting a bill from Jessica for this great assistance. In addition, everyone submitting is helping all to benefit - so thanks to everyone willing to wear the big red targets.

Karen Duvall said...

I've always loved the movie Same Time Next Year. One of my favorite scenes is when she shows up pregnant. Kind of puts the kabash on the hot and heavy, especially when she goes into labor.

I've sometimes tossed around the idea of writing a paranormal version of The Big Chill. That's definitely one of my favorite friendship movies.

MJFredrick said...

VERY helpful!

Elizabeth, I want to read that book!!!!!

bob said...

Chumplet and Karen, yeah I've loved that movie to and I'm not certain about the stage play I'll have to check about that.

But Jessica was right, in the pitch I didn't give a true sense of what would happen.

I did receive some feed back a long time ago when I submitted it to a contest and being that it was a romance contest they liked the over time aspect but not the adultery part. - wrong publishing house for sure on my part.

Oh well. I am still having fun with it and it's not complete but my pitch stunk!

Anonymous said...

Jessica, if you're still open to critiquing pitches, how about this one?

Jackie Flynn, a struggling independent filmmaker, usually leaves sleuthing to her mother and brothers, all LA cops. But when a Hollywood tabloid TV hostess turns up dead, her body posed as if in a movie close-up, and Jackie’s favorite brother becomes the main suspect, how can she not get involved? Especially when she believes an ex-boyfriend who tried to rape her in high school is involved. Jackie’s filmmaking skills soon become survival skills when her ex-boyfriend's corpse turns up similarly staged, and Jackie becomes the killer's new quarry.

Sarah Swenson LMHC said...

Jessica, this is the pitch I've written for my queries, and I'd love to hear what you think of it:

An envious fairy queen sets out to ruin her sister, and human children are caught in the middle. Three ten-year-olds apprenticed at the fairy academy of plants and minerals find a boy kidnapped by bad fairies. Helping him will set the stage for liberating all entrapped children, but failure will bind them to the world of the bad fairies forever. With quick wits and the help of a little fairy magic, they bring about the events that restore balance in fairyland, and guarantee the continued fairy gift of wonder in the hearts of the children of Earth.

Thank you!