Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 6

You haven’t broken me yet, but you’re getting there. Every time I think I can say I’m a third of the way through I find ten more have been added. At this rate . . . well. And here’s my requisite link to the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch.

31. Christine
Little Fish
Peter Dodge fell in love with a woman he was not sure even existed. Fifty years later she came back for him on a foggy cloud, leaving his aged body behind with a dagger in his heart. When Evie, the beautiful coroner, touches the dagger, she catches a glimpse of the watery world Peter's murderess came from, and the beings there could help her understand one of the town's long unsolved cases, if only she gives them the one thing they are fighting for, a child she'll lovingly call Little Fish.

The first line is really good and definitely grabbed me. After that though I was confused. Is the story about Peter Dodge or Evie? Is the conflict of the story Peter Dodge’s love and later death or is it Evie fighting for a child called Little Fish? I think you have some very intriguing elements here, but it feels like two different pitches. Would it be better to say something more like, “When Evie, a small-town coroner, touches the dagger in Peter Dodge’s chest she is somehow able to see the watery world Peter’s murderer came from, and the beings that help her understand one of the town’s long-unsolved cases. To do so she’ll have to give them (who them?) the one thing they are fighting for, a child she lovingly calls Little Fish . . .”? I think it needs one more line about Little Fish and why she’s so important. Otherwise, you’re right on the verge of a fantastic pitch.

32. anon 11:41
Tillie Russell, an acclaimed entrepreneur who became a household name in the late 90’s by designing pet products, suddenly found herself in the doghouse. In an aggressive interview on a nationally televised talk show, Tillie is bombarded with allegations of animal abuse. Although the implications proved to be completely false, it didn’t deter stores from yanking her products off the shelves, costing the young company over one hundred thousand dollars. The financial debacle resulted in the loss of the company and almost devoured Tillie’s eleven-year marriage. Proving that life could go on, one year later, Tillie becomes pregnant and dreams up a new business with a very unconventional business plan. She enlists ten mothers to join in the new venture she ambitiously names Ten Moms and Counting. Their product? Themselves.

The opening sounds like backstory to me. While cleverly written, it’s not all that exciting and doesn’t sound like it pertains to the story you are trying to sell. What does sound interesting is the Ten Moms and Counting venture. I imagine that’s what the book is really about. So, shouldn’t your pitch say something more along the lines of, “When Tillie Russell decides to look for a new career it’s far from her previous life as an acclaimed designer of pet products. Pregnant and out of work, Tillie comes up with Ten Moms and Counting, a company sure to raise a few eyebrows . . .”? We’ll need to know more specifically now what the company is and what kind of problems it causes.

33. Joan
Athena Solomon is a cemetery director who witnesses burials every day, visits graveyards on vacations, and peruses the internet for locations of famous graves. After her father dies, Athena’s grief is interrupted when she learns about her mother’s long-term love affair and family’s connection to the Jewish Mafia. She unearths the truth about her parentage and suspects that by guarding the past, her mother believed she was protecting her children. Athena then shifts a selfish quest for knowledge into a mission to heal her mother’s soul.

Interesting, but another situation where I don’t see how the first sentence connects with the last part of your pitch. What I thought when I read the first sentence is that I was going to be pitched a new take on a thriller or mystery, but then I realized this is probably women’s fiction. A good pitch means that the reader usually knows not just what the story is about, but also the genre without being told. I think your pitch is actually more detail about Athena’s mission to heal her mother’s soul.

34. Mary
Marian lives a content life – at least while Father is away – she enjoys the herbalism training from her mother, and has a good friend in the village recluse. But after her village is destroyed, she lashes out at those responsible in a magic she didn't know she had. Girls born with magic are sentenced to death. Marian would know, she helped birth one recently, and her heart broke watching the Enchanter take it away. She doesn't know who she can trust or how she can learn to control her new skills without revealing herself to the Enchanters Guild.

There’s something missing here. I think that it’s another case of trying to squeeze in too much information. Do we need to have the first sentence? Would it be better to get straight to the point? The point/conflict seems to be that Marian is now forced to learn to control her magic without letting anyone know. My question to you though is how is this different? What makes this special from other books where someone must learn to control magic? It seems like a common theme and plot. We need to know what makes Marian’s plight unique and intriguing and different from all the others.

35. dwight’s writing manifesto
Over 350 living Americans have floated weightless in Outer Space, but less than two dozen men and women have crawled along the muddy bottom of the Mississippi River at its most treacherous depths. DIVER DOWN chronicles the life of Evan, a river construction diver, as he finds himself navigating even more treacherous chasms of the heart.

I love this. The tone, the voice, the comparison to Outer Space. I think this is an incredibly strong pitch (and I’m not just saying that because your picture scares me), until the end. The ending seems like a downer to me, and what I mean by downer is disappointment. I would assume from your opening that things are going to be happening on the bottom of the Mississippi, but from the last line it sounds like it’s a love story. If he’s battling more than possible heartache I wouldn’t request more; if you have something bigger for him, you’re in. In other words, you have a great setup, but slow follow-through.

36. karen duvall
Chalice has a unique gift of sight, sound and scent, which makes her the perfect thief. But not by choice. She's forced to steal charmed and cursed objects for a secret society of magicians, her bond to their gargoyle guaranteeing her complicity. If she doesn't steal for them, she'll turn into a bat-winged atrocity just like the thing she's bonded to. If Chalice can kill her gargoyle, she'll be free. But how do you kill an immortal creature? To learn the answer she must gain wisdom from the remains of a prophetic saint, fall in love with a thousand year-old Turkish warrior from the Crusades, befriend an elf who owns a coffee shop that caters to the people of faery, and find her fallen angel father.

Uff da. A lot going on here and very confusing. I think this is the hardest thing about complicated plots, it’s hard to tell what’s important and what’s not. Even I have that trouble when pitching to editors. It can also be a sign that maybe the book itself is confusing or not tight enough. You need to ask yourself what’s the point? What’s the conflict? It seems to me that Chalice’s biggest conflict is that she must kill a gargoyle to gain freedom and to do that she must....” It still seems like a lot though and I’m not sure any of it feels really exciting. I guess the question is what is the real journey? What is the real issue for Chalice?

And that’s it for today. Great work again. I’m off to continue my critiques. I do think I have fewer than 100 left.



Diana said...

It is possible that I'm starting to make sense of this.

Dwight, I want to know more about the muddy bottom of the Mississippi River. That sounds really interesting.

List of Things Lost said...

Diana said: "Dwight, I want to know more about the muddy bottom of the Mississippi River."


Kate said...

I really liked Karen Duvalls pitch for what I assume is a fantasy novel.

I didn't find it too complicated or confusing at all. It sounds quite exciting really.

Joan Mora said...

Thanks for your comments, Jessica. Sure enough, when I reread the first sentence replacing Athena’s name, I expected the next sentence to be: "But when she stumbles on a dead body sprawled on top of her father's grave…"

I'll revise the pitch for my next query--and consider writing the thriller spin off series!

Diana Peterfreund said...

I also liked Karen Duvall's pitch. I thought she had a good thing going on (though I wanted to know more about what her "unique gift" was), and I can see why she included the "laundry list" thing at the end. It's a common technique in back cover blurbs. She probably wanted to leave it out of her pitch though. I'd tweak the first sentence so we knew WHAT about her gift made her the perfect thief, and then I'd cut everything after "she'll be free" and change it to something more focused -- for instance, what is her CONFLICT about killing that gargoyle? If killing the gargoyle is what is required to get what she wants (i.e., freedom), then there has to be something preventing her from doing it.

Precie said...

Jessica--Please don't give up yet! (Yes, I say that with total self-interest because I'm in the next batch.)

Honestly, your comments are illuminating and much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

This is so helpful! I love reading these each morning.

To #32... anon 11:41, obviously this is minor to the story but $100k is nothing in the business world, even for a small company. An "an acclaimed entrepreneur who became a household name" would definitely not feel that pinch. The number would have to be in the millions. (Sorry, I am an investment banker... these things jump out at me!)

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Thank you. You are most gracious and helpful.

As the Geicko Caveman says, "I'm not 100 percent in love with" that second sentence anyway.

Easy fix. Thanks again.

(P.S. The avatar is Bill Shakespeare under all that Kazinski gear. Bill wouldn't hurt anybody.)

Karen Duvall said...

Thank you, Jessica, for your feedback on my pitch. I suffer from the same "get-as-much-info-in-there-as-possible" syndrome as most of my fellow pitchers. What's frustrating is that I know NOT to do this, but I do it anyway. Sigh.

Thank you, Kate and Diana, for your kind words. I had so much fun writing this book. The basic plot is simple, but as you probably know, most urban fantasies have complex subplots. You're right that I should have left out the list at the end.

Diana, my character's unique gift is her super-charged senses: sight, sound, smell, and touch (her father was an angel). It's probably best I leave that part out of my pitch, too, because it adds confusion. Fantasy elements always do.

I took another stab at what I hope works better:
Chalice is a thief destined to become a hero. Shackled to a gargoyle's curse, she must kill him to free herself, or turn into a bat-winged creature like itself. But killing an immortal gargoyle is impossible. Or is it? Fallen angels and modern knights know the answer, but her freedom won't come free. Everything has a price.

Christine Carey said...

Thanks! That was really encouraging. I knew looking back on the pitch that it had a bit too much in it because I wrote it hyped up on coffee, and that stuff usually needs more editing. =) It should have been centered either on Evie or Old Peter, and I'm going to have to think about which would provide a better attention grabber. And it will probably be best to include the dual information in the synopsis rather than the pitch.

Thanks again!

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


Much, much better. I think it could still use a little tightening and the ending could be a little more specific, but this is much simpler and gets to the point of the action and excitement in a more concise manner. I agree. It sounds like a very interesting book.


Anonymous said...

Okay, reading that you still have 100 pitches to critique, I feel guilty asking this, but...if we've already sent in a one-sentence pitch (that hasn't been critiqued yet), is it very, very bad to now send in a multi-sentence pitch of the same story? And, if it's not very, very bad (as in taking advantage of your generous self), where would we (well, I...) post the pitch? In the comment trail of the original pitch post?

Karen Duvall said...

Jessica, thanks so much! It means the world to know that I'm at least on the right track.

So of course, being the neurotic writer than I am, I'm compelled to improve. I don't expect a response, but I feel better just posting a revised revision. 8^) Then I promise not to clutter up the comments area any more. Really.

Chalice is a thief destined to become a hero. Shackled to a gargoyle's curse, she must kill him to free herself, or turn into a bat-winged creature like itself. But killing an immortal gargoyle is impossible. Or is it? Fallen angels and modern knights know the answer, and from them she learns her freedom won't be free. Everything has its price, and in this case, the currency is death.

feywriter said...

It's difficult knowing what to include and what not to. Back to the drawing board. Are there any rules against quoting from your story in the pitch? I have a ballad that sums up the situation in the story so perfectly...

Anonymous said...

she must kill him to free herself, or turn into a bat-winged creature like itself.

I'd clear this bit up. The "like itself" threw me.

I'd phrase this, she must kill him to free herself, or she'll become a bat-winged creature too.

Of course, my romance writer self wants her to fall in love with the Gargoyle.


I guess it isn't that kind of book. I like the idea though, and the new versions of the pitch look much better.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Chessie. 8^) Good catch! And there is a romantic subplot, and her love interest is also shackled by the gargoyle's curse, so in a sense she does fall in love with a gargoyle. Ha! 8^) By the way, her man plays a big part in the price she pays for freedom.

Vivi Anna said...

Thanks Jessica for doing all of this. It's really helping my query skills.

Anonymous said...

Aurora Young is a famous ex-prostitute who fights bigotry as she begins a new life in Montana. It is a time when there is no tolerance for women’s independence and a place where there is great prejudice upon women who prostitute themselves. Aurora is a woman of action and goes against all who oppose her by liberating ‘soiled doves’. This advocacy brings Aurora success in providing a home for women of ill repute. It also brings enemies of the very kind who once controlled her own life, pimps and madams.

Unknown said...

Hee, you said "Uff da!" You really are from Minnesota!