Monday, November 12, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 5

I’m baaack. How do you find an original introduction to all of these pitch critiques? You don’t. What I can tell you is that I’m learning how really hard it is to write a good pitch. The funny thing though is that when I look at most of the initial query letters made by the authors I represent, they all had pretty good pitches. In many cases I used those pitches as my own to publishers. This is why agents feel they can judge a book by its pitch. If the pitch has it all there, it’s likely the book does too. Just something to get you thinking. And here’s my requisite link to the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch).

25. jenny
ONE HIGHLAND NIGHT (time-travel romance):

When a meteoritic crystal opens a wormhole on the grounds of ruined Kilchurn Castle in the Scottish Highlands, trapping American physicist Elizabeth Martin over 300 years in the past, her cheating ex-fiancé becomes the least of her worries. Pursued by the politically avaricious Earl of Breadalbane, who wants to use her “Sight” to further his consolidation of power, her only choice is to take refuge with an outlaw clan—a temporary measure until she can find a way to return to her own time.

That’s the plan, at least, until she finds in Alec MacGregor, her handsome protector, a love worth giving up everything she’s ever known.

But it is the late seventeenth century, and while Scotland is torn by the power struggles between supporters of the exiled King James and the English who would seek to rule them, she and Alec are swept into the intrigues of Earls and Kings, and events that could take their lives...or separate them forever.

You do realize this is a pitch contest and not a synopsis contest, right? Way, way too long! And I haven’t even read it yet. The funny thing is that I really know nothing about your book. Do we really need to know how she ended up in the past? Probably not in quite that way. For some reason the fact that it was a meteoritic crystal and wormhole confused me because really this isn’t SF or Fantasy, it’s a fairly straightforward time travel/historical. And of course I’m easily confused. Why not just say, "When a meteorite hits the ruins of Kilchurn Castle, physicist Elizabeth Martin finds herself propelled 300 years in the past"? That’s simpler and helps you get to the point faster. Now, what’s the real conflict? What’s really going to make the reader grab this and read? "Forced to take refuge from a ruthless Earl, Elizabeth..."? I think you can easily get this into just a few short sentences.

26. anon 11:04
(Title) is a portal between the two worlds of mortal Glastonbury Proper and the magical world including the dark and mysterious Wysiwyg Wood (where what you see is what you get). The wood is full of magic, the truths of many legends held within its boundaries. Lionel and Eaglantine Griffin are the gatekeepers of the lake, who have great responsibility in keeping the Seeker of Justice and Retribution, Stormy Reed, safe from the evil Nefarious Nobleman. Stormy Reed is unaware of his magical beginnings or his mystical destiny, and in his dawning of discovery, he finds his world exploding with possibilities he is eager to explore.

Who is your protagonist and what is his challenge? Is it Stormy Read or Lionel and Eaglantine? In reading your pitch I know nothing about the story. I know about the setting and I know about the characters, but I don’t know what is going to be happening, and a pitch should really be about what’s happening. I think the pitch is probably the “possibilities he is eager to explore” as well as “his dawning discovery.”

27. wanda b. ontheshelves
Even in an Arctic ice palace, the initials "SC" in the center of a floor mural might not stand for Santa Claus. So Cassie Novotny, a 28-year-old architect turned wedding cake designer, learns upon encountering Sonya Chloe, a 270-year-old "Mother Frost," at Palais du Nord.

You know, your name alone might be enough to make me request the proposal. Very clever. Unfortunately, name alone doesn’t sell a book (unless of course your name is Seinfeld). So here we go . . . I have no idea what this is about. What is a cake designer doing in the Arctic? And who is Sonya Chloe and what does she have to do with anything? In other words, this pitch tells me nothing. Unless Santa Claus is in the story I wouldn’t bother including him at all. You need to get right to the plot and, of course, conflict.

28. april
(one sentence) Emma Grey and her mother Sylvia must take a chance on love to prevent the past from destroying their future.

(four sentences)Hearts are fragile things and in constant danger. Emma Grey is a ninteen year old dancer with a promising future. Her mother Sylvia is a woman who closed her heart to love after her husband left. When he returns, Emma and Sylvia learn that love is tough, but it may be worth the effort it takes to bring their family back together.

I think your one-sentence pitch is actually stronger than your four-sentence pitch. The problem with both though is that I want to know how their future could be destroyed. Why not make your entire pitch something more like, “Emma Grey and her mother Sylvia must take a chance on love to prevent the past from destroying their future. After ten long years Emma’s father finally returns home, but now he has a secret, a secret that could destroy them all unless Emma and Sylvia can learn to trust again”? Of course I have no idea if that has anything to do with the story, but I think it might give you an idea of what I mean. The true pitch here is the destroying-the-future part. Oh, and I would include more details than I did. Don’t try to be clever and vague. Is the secret that they are all really aliens? Or that they’re living on stolen money? Is it that they are in witness protection? Specifics make a stronger pitch.

29. erik
When you are 3 1/4 inches tall and thoughtless humans destroy your home, you want revenge. One Hopneg's journey in search of payback brings him something bigger, yet smaller. "Downriver" was written for teens but speaks to everyone who wants to be able to see those things we usually can't.

I need to know a little more about the journey. That’s your hook. This little creature in a big world. What is he doing for revenge? What does he face? As part of your pitch I don’t think you need to say who the book is for.

30. anon 11:31
Sara Garcia is a self-employed Dallas auditor, happiest working with spreadsheets, her laptop, and rows and columns of figures. But when her lifelong friend calls in a favor, Sara finds that in order to avoid killing a life-long friendship she could end up dead herself.

I think your opening sentence is great. Nothing revolutionary, but it gives us a really good idea of your character. Now I would assume that your second sentence is going to describe a situation that is totally the opposite of someone who is happiest working with spreadsheets. Therefore I think it could be stronger. “So when Sara finds herself tripping over a dead body, she knows the only way to get back to her spreadsheets is to find the murderer.” Okay, that’s boring too, but I think you know what I mean. What’s exciting? Here’s a sample pitch I made recently for a new mystery series. Okay, to be honest I stole this from the author, but here we go: “Tessa Silver believes she’s buried her past by changing her name and leaving behind a career in high tech to become a glass bead maker. She cannot shake her history so easily, however, and it leads the police straight to her when a competing glassworker is found dead with a copy of one of Tessa’s signature beads in her pocket. Tessa is determined to solve the mystery of the woman’s murder before police scrutiny forces her to reinvent herself yet again.”

And that’s it for today. Great work again. I’m off to continue my critiques. Still about a billion left to go.



Diana said...

Jessica and Kim - at some point, would you consider giving us some examples of real pitches that worked for you?

Thanks again for going through these for us!

Anonymous said...

Eric -- you might want to reconsider the line, "this is a a book for teens but will speak to everyone who..."

No, don't do this. It's a teen novel, period. Publishers want a product for one market, when you try to make it seem like it's a book for everyone it lessens your pitch. It doesn't have to be a book for everyone, if it's gonna get stocked on the YA bookshelf, that's the demographic you need to hit in your pitch.

If it could truly be a crossover type book the marketing people will figure that out, and it very likely won't be a crossover anyway, so few, few books are.

Anonymous said...

I think it's fine for Eric to say who his pitch is for because if you are pitching an agent/editor who represents adult and children's/YA, he needs to make it clear it's a teen book right off the bat.

Also, be more specific what your story is about. Character wants X, but can't get it until he finds Y and then conquers Z. Go to Miss Snark's archives and look up queries, she's got huge stockplies of her comments on them, it's a great resource.

Southern Writer said...

Of course, you're the expert, but I liked that first pitch a lot. I'd read that book.

These are a lot of fun. Thanks for doing them.

Jared said...


Thanks for this service. I think I've perfected my pitch based on your feedback. Now I just need to finish this new draft...

bran fan said...

I have to say that I liked Jenny's pitch, and some agents wouldn't say it was too long. Kristin Nelson gives examples of perfect pitches on her blog that are just about this long.

It doesn't work for you, and that is good to know. However, it might work for others. Query widely!

The Grump said...

I think I'll offer my sympathy to the pitchers at the end of the line.

Thank you again, Jessica, for all your efforts in teaching us. May your future queries be more profitable.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
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Karen Duvall said...

There is a basic framework for the structure of a story. It's not a pitch, but filling in the blanks will help you focus on the important details when you're ready to create your pitch. The following was created by the great late Gary Provost, writing instructor master:

Once upon a time, something happened to someone, and he decided that he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, he learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously, he had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been created by something in his past.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
April said...

Thank you so much for your critiquing! I have to say your critiques have all been fair.

And I get what you're saying. I agree with you, and somehow, after reading all the previous critiques, I knew you were going to say something along those lines. That I needed a little more information. Thank you! I'll be working on this...soon...I'm working on finishing the edit of the novel right now!