Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 9

Holy cow! I’m not even halfway there yet! What have I done?! My fingers are tired, but I’m still having fun. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

49. mark terry
CIA operative Monaco Grace flies to Beijing to investigate the disappearance of undercover agent Peter Lee. Soon after making contact with Lee’s American friend, college professor Alan Richter, they find themselves on the run from assassins intent on retrieving information Lee gave to Richter. Trying to keep herself and Richter alive, Monaco makes a devil’s deal with a Chinese crime organization while attempting to untangle a web of lies and deceit that reaches back to the heights of U.S. government and threatens to topple the balance of world power.

True confession first. I’ve been a little nervous about critiquing Mark’s pitch since I know he worked on it, blogged on it, and has an agent. For so many obvious reasons this might make me a little biased going in. It’s so much easier when you’re anonymous. Of course then I worry you’re a client and I totally didn’t recognize the book ;) So here goes . . .

I don’t love this. Of course, I don’t love this kind of book. I think you are still overcomplicating it. Do we need to even mention the name of Peter Lee or Alan Richter, for that matter? I find that in pitches things tend to get confusing the more people you mention. When you are trying to hook someone with just a few short sentences it’s best to keep the characters to a minimum and the suspense/conflict to a maximum. My major concern though is that this doesn’t jump out at me as something that’s really different from other similar books (of course, I also don’t read a lot of other similar books). How about something more like . . . ”In an attempt to untangle the web of lies that threaten to topple the balance of world power, CIA operative Monaco Grace (LOVE this name) has made a devil’s deal with a Chinese crime organization. Now it’s a race against time while she . . ."? (more specifics here on what exactly might be happening?). This was a hard one for even a pitchmaster like me. I find thrillers to be some of the hardest pitches to write since the plots are often very complicated.

50. phammonds
Maggie Allen, recently pregnant, is abandoned by her college boyfriend in small-town Durban, Alabama. Seven years later, Maggie finds herself back in college and back in love. This time it’s with young college professor, Wade Evans. Confined to a wheelchair, Wade became paralyzed in a motorcycle accident that claimed another man’s life. Perhaps Maggie can learn to trust again from a man who knows much about love and loss.

Snooze. This just doesn’t grab me and it really doesn’t sound any different from any other book. I also see too much information and a lot of disconnects. Does it matter that she was recently pregnant or is she recently pregnant? If the book takes place seven years after the pregnancy, it seems that’s really old news and simply a part of her past. My other question is who is this book about, Maggie or Wade? Is this romance or women’s fiction? It reads like romance, but the story doesn’t sound remarkable enough. I think what I’m getting at is that there must be more to your story than love and loss, because almost all romances and/or women’s fiction are about love and loss. What is the true conflict?

51. bernita
Urban fantasy: A Malignity of Ghosts.
Lillie St. Clair is a full-spectrum, mega-Talent, employed as one of the city's official Freaks to remove unwanted apparitions.
She doesn't do zombies, however; her specialty is ghosts.
But some believe that Lillie's exorcism of the disembodied is genocide, and someone re-animated her dead husband for revenge.
And Lillie isn't sure she can trust her black spectral hound, Dumbarton, or the chatty bean sidhe from the laundromat, or even big, ugly psi-crime detective Johnnie Thresher.
She isn't sure she can trust herself.

You’ve got potential, but you’re trying to be too clever. Your title is first. “Malignity?” This word is too uncommon for a title and immediately detracts. What are you really trying to say? Spitefulness of Ghosts? Then say that. You need to think about your common, everyday reader. If they have to look up a word in the title they will certainly never buy the book. What is the point of the zombie line? It’s obviously part of her shtick, but I don’t think it adds to the pitch. In fact, if anything, it confuses. I think you have a series of one-sentence pitches, but nothing connects. What’s Lillie’s true conflict? The reanimation of her husband or the belief that what she’s doing is genocide? Why does she need to trust her dog, the sidhe, or even herself?

52. heidi
Caroline Hayes installs gutters on a house that sees only two inches of rain a year, bubble-wraps her CDs so they won’t get scratched, and scotch-guards her car seats religiously every six months, but the one thing she values most she can’t protect. When a drunk driver careens around a curve on California’s coastal highway, Caroline’s life as she knew it is ripped apart. The secret she’s kept from her husband about that night tear at the seams of their relationship, and she finds herself turning to a stranger who is keeping secrets of his own. Little does she know how deeply her life is intertwined with the drunken woman who died beside her, who left her with scars that would not heal, and a gift beyond anything she could fathom. My novel Ocean Deep delves into the murky waters of secrets, lies, and the ties that bind people together.

LOVE this! Wow. What a great pitch. I see who Caroline is and I clearly see her conflict. This one gives me chills and I would definitely request based on this. In fact, this pitch is so strong it has the potential to get full requests right off the bat. This is the type of pitch that has editors and agents at conferences talking. It also has a great title. I even think the very vague last line works. Why? Because you had very specific opening sentences prior to that. Well done!

53. belinda (worderella)
Tagline for Trentwood's Orphan:
A grieving daughter encounters love and ghosts in Victorian England.
Paragraph: Eight years ago, Mary and her father, Lord Trentwood, were in a riding accident that left him paralyzed. Two years ago, Trentwood died, making Mary promise to go to London and make amends with her guilt. Two minutes ago, Mary broke her engagement to Mr Spencer, and Trentwood isn't going to let her just walk away without an argument.

I’m confused. I assume by the tagline that Trentwood is a ghost, but that isn’t made clear in your actual pitch. I also don’t get the guilt aspect. I think we need to see what is really happening. Don’t try to be too clever here, just get to the point. Does Trentwood’s paralysis have anything to do with the story or Mary’s conflict? If not, delete it. What happens to Mary in London and why can’t she walk away from her engagement? What is Mary’s real conflict, because we don’t see that at all.

54. picks by pat
A pair of FBI agents must hunt down an internet sex predator, not to arrest him, but to arrest his intended victim. A trail of murdered pedophiles leads the FBI to conclude that one young girl is seeking revenge for past abuse by allowing herself to be picked up and then icing her much older suitors.
It's hard to care about her victims, but the latest one just happened to be a close friend of the President, and the sooner this girl is caught (and silenced) the easier for the president's re-election campaign.

I like this concept a lot, until you get to the part about the president. That seems to be pushing the limits for me. If a young girl is killing off pedophiles she’s a serial killer. That alone would put the FBI on the case and it would have nothing to do with the president. Once you throw the president in there you add a level of disbelief for me that makes it sound a little sillier than I would like. However, what a great premise—FBI agents (we should have some sense of who they are if they are the protagonists) hunting a killer they don’t really care if they find. The real challenge for the writer here is that something has to be done so that the reader cares. Books that hunt killers mean that we have to somehow care for the victims or potential victim. It doesn’t sound like anyone here is likable.

55. elizabeth bemis
Holiday – Romantic Suspense WIP
MEGAN MILLER is on her honeymoon (sans groom) in an effort to get over the louse who dumped her days before her wedding. In the past two days, 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 is over?

This is familiar. Must be a do-over. This is fine, but nothing special. Most important, though, the pitch reads like a chick lit/romantic comedy and yet you are calling it suspense. Where’s the suspense? What is she really up against and what is her conflict? It seems her biggest concern is the Girls’ Guide to Hero-Hunting and not that someone might be out to kill her.

Some good ones here. Some I really got excited about. Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .



Charity V said...

Thank-you so much for continuing to do these, Jessica! I can't tell you how helpful and informative they are.

I have a quick question - how fair is it to submit a pitch for critique that has already passed through your e-mail? You requested a partial from me based on it, but after reading some of these, I admit I am inwardly cringing now at all the mistakes I am now seeing in mine. I would love to submit it to the evergrowing pile for crit...

Heidi Willis said...

Holy cow! I am rendered almost speechless!!!!! This has made my week... my life! After posting this I thought, "I am going to look like such an imbecile!" I am rewriting and touching up my book now, but you have given me the incentive to not feel like throwing in the towel. Thank you!!!

Karen Duvall said...

Heidi, I thought your pitch was great, too. Raises lots of fascinating questions, but whenever secrets are involved, I'm there! 8^) Gee, what does this say about me, lol?

I also really enjoyed Bernita's pitch about the necromancer and I can hardly wait til the book comes out! But then, I'm a rabid urban fantasy ran, and I thought your premise was special.

Pat, you rule! 8^) I'm a sucker for a good vigilante story. I didn't see your murderer as a serial killer, but as someone out for revenge. I do concur with Jessica, though, about the president. It seems like an over-the-top complication that overpowers the premise you start out with. As for making the killer likable, I also think it will be a challenge. I just watched The Invisible last night on DVD, and though the girl was a hero in the end, oh, did I ever hate her during the first two thirds of the movie for what she did. I doubt book-readers would be patient enough to hate a main character for most of the story.

Bernita said...

Thank you for your comments, Ms. Faust.
The story is still in progress and perhaps I'll have the query polished by the time the book is finished.
And Karen, thank you for your kind encouragement.

Mark Terry said...

LOL! (Never used that one before!)

I'm gone all day today between my guitar lesson and various circuitous travel for a TV interview promoting my latest novel, finally get back and get an e-mail from a friend about Jessica not liking my pitch.

I have to grin. What a weird business.

For what it's worth, if it had been a real pitch rather than me trying to squeeze everything into 3 sentences, I would have approached it differently. And although I think the name Peter Lee could be ditched, the name of Alan Richter probably shouldn't be, because he's almost as important a character as Monaco Grace.

More detail regarding the devil's deal might be worthwhile--like Monaco has to assassinate the President of China and the visiting King of Saudi Arabia in exchange for her and Richter's life--can she keep them alive long enough to prevent the killings while convincing them she's going to go through with it? And that's the tip of the iceberg there and it would be a shame to not mention it in a query.

Anonymous said...

I loved Heidi's pitch. To be honest, I'm just skimming the pitches, but the voice in Heidi's caught me right off the bat. Good work, Heidi!

Anonymous said...

Can someone please explain to me what the difference is between these pitches and the mini synopsis in a query letter? Also, is it acceptable to have two paragraphs in your pitch showing both the heroine and hero perspectives as often done on the back of romance novels? Thanks for helping a newbie!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous --

A synopsis is a general summary of a novel's events. A mini synopsis summarizes only the major events. The purpose of both is to give a notion of character, plot, and tension. A pitch, on the other hand, has only one purpose, to garner a request for a sample.

For instance, a pitch could be, "Read my novel or I'll kill you!" If this approach worked, there would probably be an immense increase of the number of requests for samples overnight.

Agent Kristin Nelson, in her blog Pub Rants, just did a short series on this. She now encourages writers to come up with as short a pitch as possible. Heidi's for instance, is only five sentences. Each sentence is compound but succinct. She doesn't tell you what will happen or how it ends, there is really nothing about characterization. All it really does is make you want to know more.

Thanks to Jessica and Kristin, I have just cut my third perfect query letter pitch from eleven sentences to six, giving me my fourth perfect query letter this year. Now if I just could finish the damn book.

P.S. Jessica, thank you for your help and hard work. As I just mentioned, I've rewritten my pitch, changing the first sentence and cutting the second sentence that I sent you, so if you want to skip my entry, feel free (it's the one with the orphan and the Dolphins). Sorry I couldn't wait for the critique, but you've already inspired me and it just popped out. Just in case you want to know what I did, the sentence now reads, "Science fantasy without trolls, elves, or sorcerers, Secret Lore of the Dolphins is an epic story of a young woman shipwrecked at the age of seven in the Bermuda triangle, who is rescued, then befriended by Dolphins and taught their language." I don't really think this final query is as interesting or exciting as my previous ones, and it certainly doesn't give you any idea of what a magnificent and complicated job I have done but I'm pretty sure works best.

Anonymous said...

Correction --

It. It works best. Pretty sure it works best. No, absolutely sure. IT works best.

Good night.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I dont get it.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

anon 10:47

There is no difference. These pitches should be able to be used universally in verbal pitch appointments as well as the mini synopsis in your query letter. And as wplasvegas pointed out, they should be short and as succinct as possible. The point of your query letter pitch is to excite an agent enough to want to spend hours reading your entire manuscript, keeping in mind that we are often buzzing through up to 50 queries at a time. That means your pitch actually has to stop us in our tracks and get us to read the entire letter, twice.

A pitch is what your query letter should include not a mini-synopsis. I know the two could be considered one and the same, but they really aren't. A mini-synopsis would give true details from beginning to end about the book. A pitch simply grabs my attention and reels me in.


Anonymous said...

What about this: "Also, is it acceptable to have two paragraphs in your pitch showing both the heroine and hero perspectives as often done on the back of romance novels?" Thanks

Anonymous said...

anonymous --

Go to -- http/ and check out Oct. 23, 'Pitches and All Jazz'. In it Kristin talks about her breakthrough in teaching queries. What follows is an eleven part series on same.

As to your heroine's and heroe's different points of view, I don't see why not to mention them if they're important but because of the demands of brevity try it in one sentence, ie. "She likes chocolate, he likes vanilla, vanilla gives her a rash but it makes him horny," Something like that.

Believe me, it is utterly amazing how much you can cut and still get the message across.

Hope this helps.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

"I find thrillers to be some of the hardest pitches to write since the plots are often very complicated."

Thanks for saying that. Now I don't feel quite so stuipid.

Belinda Kroll, YA Victorian Romance said...

I know I'm way behind on my thanks, but I do want to thank you for taking the time to critique my pitch!