Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 7

Here we go again . . . critiques as per Perfecting Your Pitch.

37. mary jelinek
One sentence:
Benny Sherman helps a wayward fairy win back his wings and, in the process, finds his own.

In the wake of his parents’ separation, Benny and his mother move from their comfortable suburban home to his Grandma’s overcrowded bungalow. To make matters worse, the sixth grader is forced to attend Catholic school where he’s sure to feel as out of place as he does stumbling through prayers at Christmas Mass. The last thing he needs is, “...to follow some imaginary creatures on a quest to find a fictitious amulet. Not even cool creatures, either. I get sissy fairies.”

LOL! The last line is great. Who can beat that? I think your one-sentence pitch is really good. It definitely grabs my attention and leads me to want more. I also think your paragraph is very strong. Terrific in fact. My only comment might be to limit the quote to, “Not even cool creatures, either. I get sissy fairies.” And explain in a tad more detail (in your own voice) what he’s being asked to do and why. Why is key, I think, because that shows us motivation. Very, very good though! This should definitely get you requests from agents and editors.

38. precie
Urban YA entitled "Tin Man":
A Philadelphia latch-key kid raised on a steady diet of 1980s movies and his mother's urban paranoia, 15-year-old Quentin sees danger everywhere. When his teenage neighbor, Claire, is taken by "the police," his gallantly absurd quest to rescue her evolves into a battle against dangers more powerful and sinister than he ever could have imagined.

Another terrific pitch. I think you all are getting better. My only concern is that there’s a bit of a "show, don’t tell" alert going on here. Make sure your pitch represents the tone of your book. This feels like someone else telling me about your book. What about making it more active? Something like, “Raised on a steady diet of 1980s movies and his mother’s urban paranoia, 15-year-old Quentin sees danger everywhere. When next-door neighbor Claire is taken by 'the police,' Quentin’s gallantly absurd quest to rescue her evolves into a battle against dangers more powerful and sinister than he could ever have imagined”? I think my changes are minor and subtle, but should give you an idea of what I mean by making your pitch more active and more exciting.

39. Julie
....To escape the tyranny of an English King and to fulfill her dying father's wishes for her to seek a free and independent life, Maura McCoveny would have to keep many secrets at a cost almost too high for her to bear....

Snooze. This doesn’t sound any different from any other historical novel I frequently see. This is much too general—focusing on things like freedom, independence, and a high cost. Almost every book should contain conflict that is of a high cost to the protagonist. What is specific about Maura’s battle that will inspire readers to come to it?

40. jamr
Kit Anderson (14) thinks she’s entered hell when her father’s new job forces a family move from plumeria-scented Honolulu to frigid Seoul in the winter of 1974. She decides to channel her energy into escaping Korea, whatever the cost.
This means living by a new set of operating principles such as “Everyone and everything can be used.” Kit’s selfish code of conduct leads her into black-marketing, theft and a life of deceit. It takes a tragic accident and a temporary return to Hawaii to discover that she’s become a person she doesn’t like and to realize that Korea offers adventures that her friends in Hawaii could never imagine.

Granted I don’t know the YA market all that well, but my immediate concern is the date. If your book doesn’t need to be set in 1974, why set it there? It’s not a time period that’s considered historical and not one I’m sure would be of interest to that age group. That in itself might give agents reason to reject unless you can prove a need for it. Overall though I think this is a fairly strong pitch; I’m not sure if I would ask to see more though. It sounds through the pitch like Kit’s a pretty unlikeable character.

41. c.j.
Sitting beside her mother’s deathbed, Annika is awakened to the fact that the man grieving beside her is not her real father. She leaves her family in Kiev and, with the help of long withheld information from this stepfather, retraces the short life of the father she never knew. FLAKES BLOOM follows Annika on her old Voskhod motorcycle as she travels past the government guards and into Pripyat, the now abandoned town once populated by the workers of the Chernobyl Power Plant.

It sounds to me like this is a beautifully written story. How can I tell that? The voice definitely comes through as well as the pace of the book. I think this is a strong pitch, although we still need to know a little more about the conflict Annika faces. A line at the end about what she must come up against once she arrives in Pripyat would be helpful.

42. trina allen
Katharine Taylor has never transmutated into an animal, a dragon or a mountain lion. She has never traveled to the past through her magic quilt, nor faced armies of insects and the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart. All Katharine knows is an unhappy life with an alcoholic mother, but all that is about to change when she learns that she is a wizard and travels to a turbulent time in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the dramatic events that pit the King’s soldiers against their own people, Katharine finds in her new friends the strength to face her destiny.

I like the beginning a lot. I think the first three sentences are terrific. What a great Harry Potter-like book without going straight to telling us that. However, this is another case where the ending lost its fire. I guess I’m not sure I want to read about a wizard who ends up in Boston. Where’s the magic? Where’s the army of insects? The fun of a wizard book, or of any fantasy, is the fantasy. In your description of what’s actually going to happen you neglect to tell us about the fantasy. Since it seems your target is probably a younger audience, my question to you is would a 12-year-old (for example) be interested in reading about the “strength to face her destiny”? or are they more interested in reading about evil wizards and magic quilts? That’s what we want to hear about in the last sentences.

Good work as always. I think the pitches are getting stronger as I go, or I’m getting softer. . . .



Anonymous said...

re: #42. Harry Potter indeed. That pitch is a word-for-word madlibs of the actual back cover copy of the first Harry Potter novel:

“Harry Potter has never been star of a Quidditch game, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son Dudley—a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives announcing that Harry has been chosen to attend Hogwarts, an elite school for the training of wizards and witches…” (front flap, Arthur A. Levine Books)"

At least the querier knows what works, but I think she loses points for originality.

Anonymous said...

I also recognized it as too similar to the back cover copy of Harry Potter. Yeah, the structure of a pitch like that probably works pretty well, the problem is, your story IS like Harry Potter.

You have a magical kid, who doesn't know she's magical until the start of the book, then she gets swept away on a magical adventure where she learns that she must depend on friends to defeat evil.

To draw the parallel through the back cover copy would make me suspicious that this is just a HP knockoff.

What I like about the pitch is the actual time travel aspect of it.

I'd focus on that.

Josephine Damian said...

Kudos to my peeps, Merry and Precie! WTG! I hope Jessica's comments give you the confidence to pitch that "A-list" agent the next time you cross paths with him or her.

May the new year ahead bring agents offers and book deals.

Jessica, glad to see you haven't thrown in the towel on these pitches. Much thanks for keeping at it.

Precie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Precie said...

Edited to expand:

Thank you so much! Your subtle changes make a big difference...I see what you mean about a more active, "more show/less tell" tone.

Thank you so much for doing this!

And thanks, as always, to josephine for the cheerleading! :) I hope your pitch comes up soon!

Anonymous said...

Jessica, thanks for continuing with the pitches. We always love to read them. However, I have a question about your agency. Who would be better suited to darker romantic suspense like Allison Brennan type (rape scenes, violent murders, tortured victims)? Jacky Sach mentions she likes darker fiction. What about you? Thanks.

jjdebenedictis said...

Eeee! She liked it! Great work, #37, Merry Jelinek! (Goblin is an idiot, apparently. ;-) )

I also noticed that the beginning of #42 was cribbed straight from the back of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I thought the pitch got more interesting once the writer moved on to talking about what makes her novel unique--it sounds like a cool time period to toss a modern day kid into. Yay, author!

I encourage you to turn on your creativity and write a pitch that's completely your own. (Especially since I think an agent in your genre would spot the HP plagiarism too...) This blog post might help you. Good luck with it!

Therapist/Writer said...

I can't comment on YA market or on the nuances of the historical angle, but I thought jamr's 14-year old protag sounded interesting. Teenagers are fairly selfish and myopic at that age anyway, and those qualities would be exaggerated during traumatic experiences. Besides, selfish and aggressively ambitious worked for Scarlett O'Hara!

Just my thinks...

Anonymous said...

#42: Yes, I thought the wording was familiar, but I really think this sounds like a fun, interesting book. I like the Boston bit too. Like Jessica said, if you mention more fantasy, this would be a book I'd read.

re: The Kit book... watch out for unlikeable characters. As an editor of an e-zine for teens and an avid YA reader, I've read so many "I moved to XYZ place and hate it, but when I go back it rocks" books. Voice and crazy, fun experiences are going to be your selling point.

eek. i'm around the 150 mark, and excited.


Heather Moore said...


It might be interesting to give us a hint at what the dangers are . . .

Merry Monteleone said...


Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, I've been learning a ton... and am doing a little happy dance because you liked mine.

And thank you JJ and Josephine for the great support and help at the Goblin's (note to self, 'J' names must be good luck)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the critique Jessica!

I know historical YA can be a tough sell, but I wanted to portray S. Korea when it was still a third-world country with lots of stuff for a teenager to find fault with. Maybe this just isn't the best time to pitch historical, Gary D. Schmidt's wonderful books notwithstanding.

As for Kit being unlikeable, I do try to address that on page one of the ms, showing that she starts off as a decent kid who's driven to poor behavior by a desperate situation. I struggle with how much of that to include in a pitch while keeping it short. From your candid feedback, I'm thinking I'll have to show that in the query.

I appreciate all the work you're doing with this. The critiques are very helpful.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and thanks also to Therapistwriter and Gabrielle for
your input!

Merry Monteleone said...


I think that's an excellent reason for your time period and including it in the pitch would eliminate the pause from those of us who the political state didn't occur to... if that makes sense.

I actually thought it read more like adult literary than ya, though ya can be quite literary - the exciting thing about this age bracket is that the readers are eager for meatier prose, some you'll be introducing to more adult fiction some will be wavering back and forth in their reading...

I found a site a while back, Compuserve , that has excellent boards for YA and children's writers. If you go to the YA folder on your left you can look around the threads. In YA they also have an excellent critique group called kidcrit, there are rules to participating, such as critting three other people's work before posting your own. But if you'd like to work on your chapters, pitch, synopsis, or get some insight into the process and particulars for YA writers, it's a great place. To apply to kidcrit, address a thread to Marsha or Rose asking them to wave the magic wand.

Hope that helps some. Good luck with it.

Precie said...

Heather--Thanks! In a query letter, I can expand on what the dangers turn out to be. I appreciate your suggestion!

Anonymous said...

Wow, many of these were really great.
For what it's worth, Jamr, I loved the sound of your novel. To me, it sounds almost literary. I loved this one, because the protagonist and story line sounded a bit more complex. 1974 is a cool time for a lit fic, especially with all the Boomers out there.

All of these were pretty darn good, though, and I loved Jessica's subtle edits.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, I think you're getting softer. I couldn't figure out what half of these stories were about. The Tin Man one was especially confusing. I must be missing what it means to be taken away by "the police." Is it different than being taken away by the police? And the whole ending was so vague -- what in the world did it mean?

Guess it just goes to prove that if you hit the agent on the right day (like today) she'll request things she wouldn't on another day. I thought there were other entries on other days that were a LOT more descriptive and unique than these, and she tore into them!

David Ebright said...

Totally disagree w/ anon 5:46. I think the critiques have been very consistent. Merry (#37) - yours made me laugh - good job & good luck - also thanks for the link. Precie - anything Philly is cool - sounds interesting. Jamr - I liked the sound of the story, a little tightening up here n' there... CJ The title of your story grabbed my attention. Josephine - you are the all time greatest cheerleader - keep it up. It's refreshing. Jessica, maybe you need a break - Take Thursday off!!!

Josephine Damian said...

Anon/Gabrielle and Precie, I'm like #175 on the list because I kept deleting my original pitches as I re-wrote them.

My current posted pitch still needs a re-write, but I'll leave it be.

Could be a loooooong time before Jessica gets to mine. Just happy that you, Precie, got a shot at it - I know how anxious and eager you were for feedback from a higher power.

Precie said...

Anon 5:46 - Here's a more detailed explanation of Tin Man. This story is a modernization/revision of Cervantes' Don Quixote.

In the same way that Don Quixote's understanding of the world is skewed by all the romances he's read, Quentin's world view is skewed by movies and his mother's paranoia. Hence, he "sees danger everywhere."

And that's why "the police" is not the same as the police. When Claire is taken away, Quentin doesn't know whether these are authentic police officers...in his mind, they could futuristic assassins a la "Terminator II" or mobsters in disguise. (And there are reasons in the story line for him to suspect they aren't who they appear.) Like Don Quixote determined to save women he thinks are damsels in distress, Quentin believes Claire needs to be rescued.

The Don Quixote homage is also why I used the phrase "his gallantly absurd quest."

And the end of the pitch means that he encounters Real evils (political and criminal) behind Claire's arrest/abduction that are even more powerful than the Terminator/mobster/movie-based dangers he had imagined.

I'm hoping one of the reasons Jessica said it was a terrific pitch was because she caught the brief Quixote implication. :)


Just a personal observation about the pitch reviews...I think sometimes too much descriptiveness harms a pitch. A one- or two-sentence pitch is ultimately like an ad slogan or marketing slogan. Yes, mine doesn't have much description (and, even then, Jessica suggested removing some of the original details I included to make my pitch tighter and more active), but my goal isn't really to TALK about the story...my goal is to get other people interested in finding out more about the story. Just my $.02.

Anonymous said...


Wow, totally different take on the book now after your explanation. Maybe focus on the whole South Korea thing a bit more-- like "Kit doesn't like tofu, sedan chairs or monkeys in the street" or other verbal pictures. Teens LOVE to do armchair-traveling. Probably more than most adults.

And maybe put Kit in a better light in the pitch, something that showcases her resourcefulness-gone-haywire and falling-in-love-with-Korea-although she doesn't realize it... if that's what happens. As you said, as a normal kid in a random situation.

waiting for the next round of pitches... this is so much fun.


Diana Peterfreund said...

hmmmm, I've read Don Quixote, I've seen Man of La Mancha, heck, I even saw that documentary about the failed Terry Gilliam movie, and I didn't pick up on that reference. And I wouldn't guess that the kid was fantasizing about SF monsters, either. The original pitch was a bit vague, to me, but now that I hear the details, I like it better.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jessica and everyone who wrote with feedback. I am just now reading the post. Family emergencies kept me away.

My story is not like Harry Potter. Yes, Katharine is learning how to use her powers. But, the similarity ends there. Thank you for letting me see how my pitch makes my novel seem similar.

My novel is an historical fiction/fantasy, set in 1775 Boston. I want to remove all parallels in my pitch because Harry Potter is not historical.

Following is the start of a new pitch. I realize it still needs work.

Standing on the Lexington Green, ten-year-old Katharine is oblivious to her own danger. Having traveled back in time through portals in her magic quilt, to a world where electricity, cell phones and bottled water haven't even been imagined, her new friends are dead, or dying, the metallic smell of blood and gunpowder heavy in the air. She must make a choice. She can save her friends or destroy the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose, whether an alligator, dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head she decides.