Friday, December 07, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 11

We’re almost halfway! Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary

61. bob duggan
Charlie Justice was a twisted little adolescent. Some of that twistedness could be traced to the chemicals that course through the veins of every fifteen year-old male. If chemicals were responsible for the formation of Charlie's personality, they must have come from that Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Fortunately, he had an unusual head for numbers, which enabled some of the adults around him to excuse his perverse behavior.

R. Clifford Harbaugh was a twelve-year veteran of the FBI. A former Marine 0311, he had slogged through two thirteen-month tours of duty in Southeast Asia. A gruff, no-nonsense professional, Agent Harbaugh, despite his current affiliation with the FBI, was still at heart committed to God, country, and the Corps.

In 1986, Charlie Justice and Agent Harbaugh would meet as part of a special government program that Agent Harbaugh would later describe as "a complete and thorough cluster-fuck". Together, they would thwart one of the most horrendous financial attacks ever leveled at the United States.

Bob! This is not a query contest, just the pitch. Your pitch is almost as long as your entire query letter should be. We don’t need backstory. In other words, the first two paragraphs aren’t necessary. Let’s just get to it. What is your book really about? Is it about the history of Charlie and Agent Hargaugh, or is it the thwarted attacks, or is it the cluster-fuck? I suspect the book is about the lead-up to the attacks—what happens. That’s your pitch. Be careful that in any pitch you eliminate backstory. It’s usually not necessary.

62. v.j. Davis
FBI Special Agent Carly Benson is lost in Hell’s Gate Wilderness and she’s not alone. While playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an unknown stalker Carly solves the riddle surrounding the mysterious disappearance of Steven Younger, one of the FBI’s ten most wanted. Will Carly survive Hell’s Gate to apprehend Younger or will the secret of his location die with her in Hell’s Gate?

Cool. Although a tad confusing. Did she really get lost or was she there searching for clues? I’m concerned that this reads like she is running through the woods from a stalker and thinking about work at the same time. Suddenly she figures out what happened to Steven Younger and now she really has to get out. I imagine that’s not the story you’re trying to convey. I like the idea (but I like FBI books), but I’m not convinced your pitch works. I think you need a revamp that makes it easier to understand.

63. wanderingray
Reluctant Heroes: Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy meets BattleStar Galactica

An instance where it’s dangerous to use comparison. I’ve never read Hitchhiker and I haven’t seen BattleStar since I was a kid. Refer to an earlier critique, but if you’re going to use comparisons you need to then show how the comparison works with your book. What is it about your book that warrants that comparison?

64. anon 5:13
Evil, in the form of a psychotic terrorist known as Dante now resides in the remote mountain community of Pine Ridge, Arizona. Sheriff Gabe Navarro thought he knew his town, yet nothing could have prepared him for the journey he and Department of Justice Agents Shelby Ryan and Carson Billings of the domestic terrorism unit are about to make. Can the trio save Pine Ridge? Can they save themselves?

The opening sentence is fabulous! The rest is bland. What is the journey they are going to take and what does the psychotic terrorist have planned? Don’t end your pitch with questions. You should be answering mine, not asking them of me. I don’t know. I assume they can save Pine Ridge, but from what and why?

65. michelle
Dominion Day 106,000 word SF novel

There’s got to be more to life than being a high paid assassin.
I mean, I am taking peoples lives. That can’t be the best thing.
Even if the pay is good, it doesn’t make up for living around Commander Jensen.
I could resign…
If I resigned, Jensen would still be a thorn in my side.
However, if he thought I was dead....

Antony Danic, the Corps most renowned sniper, and munitions expert has the perfect job. Or does he? Destiny has other plans for him. He fakes his death to get out from under his commander’s thumb. Changing his name and his looks to keep his former identity dead. As Noble Standing, he begins to make decisions that change him from the coarse devil may care bad boy, to the honorable good guy that the prophecies foretell about him.

One man begins to find and fulfill his destiny.

Another case of a pitch turned query letter. Much too long. I would skip the opening lines altogether. They don't endear me to your work. The paragraph beginning with Antony Danic is good. Much better, anyway, and that’s really your pitch. Of course you also need to rewrite that last sentence. Now that he’s changed his name and looks, what is his conflict? It seems to me that’s already solved by the beginning of the book. He hated his job so he quit. What happens next? Oh, and skip your final line. Too vague.

Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .



Anonymous said...


As it is, my "pitch"/"query" is the least of my problems, but I can't address that in a public forum.

I'll email you my dilemma. (bobduggan at easy dot com)

Anonymous said...

So if I may ask, do you sometimes see the gem lost in the poor pitch and ask for more? Or do you reject the query based on the clunky pitch alone? Does a poor pitch strongly correlate with poor writing?

I just wonder if a good story that you might normally be interested in representing gets dismissed because of the pitch.

(And what's the deal with Blogger and the new inability of some of us for leaving a link to our sites?)

Paul Lamb

Anonymous said...

I think your plot is the last Die Hard movie. said...

I think "Charlie Justice was a twisted little adolescent," is a great opening line (I'd also lose the "had" in the second paragraph).

You know what I like about people in the literary business? They don't blink twice at words like "cluster-fuck."

Julie Weathers said...

Nice round of queries. Once again, thanks to our undaunted leader for continuing these.

For me, it's been a course in query writing. Will post more on the queries when I get done challenging the world. There were some lines and plots that really grabbed my attention.

En garde!

Unknown said...

Another very educational round of queries! Thanks again to everyone who's submitting to scrutiny, and Jessica, who's scrutinizing so expertly.

One of the problems with "... meets Battlestar Galactica" is that there's the older series and the current series by that name. And people will have different associations. If someone said to me, "It's like Battlestar Galactica", I'd say, "Oh, it's incredibly dark and involves people wrestling with impossible choices and watching their colleagues die all the time?" (And I'm a huge BSG fan, even.) Other people will think it's about helmet hair and evil robots.

Claudia / PVS said...

I'm with Southern Writer: I loved that first sentence about the "twisted little adolescent." I liked the voice right away. Hope you can find a way to follow J's suggestions and keep the voice at the same time, Bob. Tricky but worth it, I bet.

When I was writing my query -- or REwriting it, I should say -- I had to think so hard to figure out how to condense it that I remember feeling literally sick to my stomach. That was the hardest thinking I've ever done in my life! I don't think I'm actually designed to think that hard. :)

Merry Monteleone said...


I've had the same problem with linking on my blog and comment field on blogger - try taking out the "quotation marks" before and after your address, I don't know why that works, but it does.

Anonymous said...

My problem is I'm not really a writer.

I'm just someone who knows how all of the pieces fit together.

C.J. said...

i was told once in an essay writing class to be extremely careful when using rhetorical questions (like #62 and #64) because they tempt the reader to say "I don't care." Have people had success using them in their queries/pitches? i think i read n. bransford's blog too much to dare using them : )

Anonymous said...

Good point, Jael, and probably equally applicable to all of the incarnations of Hitchhiker's as well. I think the biggest difficulty with this particular "X meets Y" pitch is that it isn't clear which provides the content and which provides the tone. BSG and HHGG are essentially the same story, in which the human homeworld is destroyed and a small number of survivors make their way into outer space. The difference is whether it's approached with a light tone or a heavy tone. HHGG gets some of its humor from the nonchalance of the reaction to the destruction; the new BSG tries to capture the horror and bleakness in a post-9/11 worldview. So if a book is trying to be HHGG meets BSG, what's it trying to do? BSG with the tone of HHGG would pretty much be HHGG, and vice versa.

Phoenix Sullivan said...


Oh my, Jessica. Mine's about 80 submissions down, and it's around 2/3 of the way through the slush.

You're maybe almost 1/3 of the way through, being generous. But if thinking you're halfway there gives you the motivation to keep on critiquing, then yes, indeedy, halfway it is!