Friday, January 04, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 15

Moving right along. . . . Here’s the original post: Perfecting Your Pitch.

83. Brenda
The highlight of C. J. Ellington’s day was his walk to the post office. Excitement coursed through his body as he awakened each morning, eagerly anticipating his two-mile trek into town to check his mail. He never knew what to expect: Information from Publisher’s Clearinghouse? Entry forms for a free trip to Disneyworld or Hollywood? A letter from his cousin in Tiptonville?

But that was before his whole life was turned upside down.

From an agent’s perspective this is a very typical pitch, one that’s meant to entice us, but since we see it all the time it doesn’t. Obviously, to me anyway, C. J. lives a fairly boring life. I go to the post office on a regular basis and I can’t imagine it ever being the highlight of my day. So why would I want to read about this guy? I mean, turning his life upside down could mean they’re out of stamps. Show us how his life was turned upside down. I assume that’s not going to give the book away, so that’s what we want to see.

84. Katherine
Fifteen-year-old Anna has six weeks to come up with a plan. It takes her six days. Traveling across the country to find answers to her past, Anna is prepared for anything. But she isn’t expecting this.

Strange coincidence, this post has the exact same problems as the previous post, and hopefully that gives you a sense of exactly what I mean. Neither really tells me anything exciting or different about this story. And that’s what I want to know. What makes your book both exciting and different?

85. L.C. McCabe
From the dawn of the Middle Ages comes a tale of impossible love between two sworn enemies: Bradamante, the niece of Charlemagne, and Ruggiero, a Saracen warrior descended from Hector of Troy. Both are legendary warriors who meet and fall in love on the field of battle and become separated. They fight to overcome the many obstacles threatening to keep them apart: being sworn to two different sovereigns who are at war with one another, being of different faiths, and magical forces intent on denying them from fulfilling their destiny.

Very, very general, this pitch. I like your opening. I found that interesting. Who doesn’t love a Romeo and Juliet story? But the end feels typical and like it could fit almost any book. Most love stories mean overcoming obstacles, and I’m not convinced that the rest of it really is different enough. What I need to see is action and plot. Not generalizations. What happens when they meet, what is their actual conflict specifically, and what do they have to do to win the fight?

86. reality
Does Virtue Pay? A brothel that offers no sex shall find out.

I like this. This definitely grabs my attention and makes me wonder. Now what I need to know to turn this from a tagline to a pitch is what's next. I also need a sense of what kind of book this is. I guess I need to know why anyone would open a brothel with no sex and how your characters play into it.

87. lainey baincroft
Mouthy meets moral--in the middle of the mattress.

'In The Air Tonight'. 100K romantic suspense.

I have no idea how your pitch could possibly be a romantic suspense. It sounds more like a romantic comedy. Your pitch should always give the tone and feeling of your book, and, most important, we should have a sense of exactly what genre you’re writing without needing you to tell us. I think the real issue of your book better be what makes this suspenseful and not who the heroine and hero are (which is what I assume you’re telling us).

88. anon 8:16
With her older brother Jimmy gone missing in Iraq, a hurricane in the forecast, and her long-absent father appearing suddenly at the front door, twelve-year-old Nadine has her hands full, trying to do it all: She needs to find her brother, save her bottle tree from hurricane-force winds, and make her parents fall in love again.

I like this. I think you have some good elements here, but I think you’ve gone too far and tried to give us too much. Instead of telling us how all three things relate (especially since it makes no sense to me why she would need to save a tree over a house or how saving a tree could even compare to a brother missing at war), why don’t you focus on the most important conflict. What is it that Nadine really has to do? I doubt she can find her brother since he’s in another country, and there’s only so much you can do about a hurricane, so what is Nadine’s true conflict? What is the crux of the story?

89. anchored away
Mari has a reputation for dealing with demons, but stickler Ben needs her help to find a dangerous manuscript before it can be published. Mari jumps at the chance to quash rumors and redeem herself, but working so closely with Ben proves dangerous as her carefully erected walls disintegrate in the face of his HEX APPEAL.

This feels disjointed to me. She “has a reputation for dealing with demons, but....”; that doesn’t work for me grammatically. And does her demon hunting really matter when it comes to finding the manuscript? It doesn’t seem to according to your pitch. If it does, we should know that. And why does she need to redeem herself? I don’t think we necessarily need to know this unless it’s her conflict. I think you need to figure out what the heart of the story is (and it’s probably not working closely with Ben) and focus on that. What sort of conflict are they really up against when it comes to finding the manuscript?

Okay, readers, it’s up to you now. . . .



Josephine Damian said...

"Does Virtue Pay? A brothel that offers no sex shall find out."

The sentence structure bothered me. A brothel is a location, like "the office" - can a location find out anything?

I thought it should say the "brothel's denizens are about to find out" or something along those lines. Thought there could have been a little more added here to tell me or hint about why there's no sex.

Heidi Willis said...

I really love these pitch critiques! It is helping me clarify what is enticing to an agent in such a concrete way! Thanks, Jessica!

Brenda's pitch interested me a lot at first... I loved the feel of character in it, but then I kept hunting for the ending. I want to assume what upends his life is catastrophic or utterly amazing, but without any hint, I'm left wondering, does he win the sweepstakes? get a letter from a child he doesn't know he had? get caught in a hold-up and end up a hero? Does the life-altering experience have something to do with the post office or something else entirely? One more good sentence might make this intriguing for me.

Anon 8:16 - I really wanted to like this... I get that 12 year olds feel sometimes like they actually can do the impossible ( like saving her parents' marriage and rescuing a brother even the military can't find), but how in the world is she going to go about doing this? The last half of your sentence basically reiterates the first half... maybe "With her older brother Jimmy gone missing in Iraq, a hurricane in the forecast, and her long-absent father appearing suddenly at the front door, twelve-year-old Nadine struggles to save all the things that are important in her life." And then add a sentence about how she goes about trying to do this. Again... I really want to like this... it sounds like it would be interesting, but I'm not sure yet if it's believable.

Unknown said...

For a dissenting opinion, I really like anon 8:16's: I like the overwhelmingness of it, that she's trying to do all this at once. And that saving the bottle tree could be on a par with things adults would find far more important, that's very consistent with a kid's worldview to me. I do agree with Jessica and Heidi that finding her brother sounds truly impossible, but it doesn't put me off completely, it just makes me wonder.

"World turned upside down" is now on my personal list of Pitch Nevers. On some level probably half the books out there are about someone's world radically changing. If you tell what the event is, and the character, the reader should be the one to say "Wow! That's going to change everything!"

Another instructive session.

Jeannie Ruesch said...

#83: Brenda's pitch. This reminds me of the movie Stranger Than Fiction - about a man who is ordinary in every way, until he starts hearing a voice in his head that seems to narrate his life and soon begins to control it. I love the idea of this pitch, but to be interested, I'd have to know what started turning C.J. Ellington's life upside down.

#86 reality: I'm really intrigued by the idea of a brothel that doesn't offer sex. It suggests an interesting read. Great tagline. For a pitch, I need something that tells me the tone of the writing and what to expect. The pitch as written could mean any genre, any tone. I'd like to know what to expect a little more. This could be a Stephen King type horror book about a brothel that offers no sex. It could be a romance. It could be comedic writing, serious writing...who knows.

If I've learned anything (and I've learned a lot) from these pitch critiques, it's that general sentences don't work as well in a pitch as specific ones.

Linnea said...

This is the first time I've seen pitch treatments in a group. Very interesting. Probably the most difficult bit to do is to follow one thread and amplify only the main plot. We love ALL our subplots. We also get too vague. In an effort to entice, we sometimes dangle a bunch of loose lines without any real lures attached. Overall the samples shown might think about identifying the real heart of their story and pitch from that angle, without all the side issues. I think that would make the pitches more compelling. Condensing a novel into only a few succinct sentences is probably the most difficult thing a writer has to do. I've found it helpful to write my pitch BEFORE I begin my novel. It keeps that main through plot clear in my mind all the way to the end. Good luck to all the writers who submitted pitches!

Anonymous said...

It's incredibly helpful to hear your comments on my pitch (Nadine and the hurricane, etc.). You got me thinking about what she really wants, when so much is going on around her, and gave me new energy to get back to this book that's been on my way back burner for a few months. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

85. L.C. McCabe. Ruggiero's background seems wildly implausible. Troy was most likely in what is now Turkey, so how does a descendent of Hector become Saracen (Arab)? And why does he have an Italian-sounding name? It's not impossible that his ancestors migrated around the Mediterranean, but if they did it seems unlikely that over 1500 years after the fall of Troy they would be aware that they had once been Trojan. If I were an agent, I would expect the novel to eventually offer some reasonable explanation of his ancestry's transition from Trojan to Arab to however he got his name.

Susan Solomon said...

Thanks. This is very helpful. You rejected my pitch I know why.

Shall try and try again!


Anonymous said...

Jessica, thanks for liking the tagline and doing this exercise for us. I am sorry, I didnt send in the complete, pitch but I am about a month away from querying, in final revision stages [I hope.]
I guess I just query you, when the time comes. :)

Josephine, Thank you for commenting. I was afraid that I would hear this. At the time, I posted, I thought we were to do an approx ten words tagline.

Jeannie, thanks for the interest in my tagline. My WIP on the brothel story, is complete. I am about five drafts down. This is written as a mainstream novel, and is serious writing. I say serious, not because it doesnt have it's moments of humor, because of the overall theme. Thank you for commenting and liking the idea. Just to give a more apt description, the novel is set in present day Pakistan, in the country's only 'official' red light area.
A big WOW to Jessica, for this effort.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

I have to agree on the first two. As I've already stated, it's really hard to distill the essence of a novel into a few sentences. That means they need to be used carefully to entice the reader to want to know more. Stating a person has a normal life and then that life is turned upside down isn't enough for me.

I would offer suggestions on how to make it better, but I honestly don't know.

L.C. McCabe is a fairly standard description of romances, but what makes it different? I think using famous people from history is dangerous. There will be people who probably know a lot more about the subject, who will howl if you butcher the facts. For instance, if I remember right, Charlemagne believed himself to be descended from a prince of Troy. His sister was a nun. One brother died in infancy and the other brother was in a bitter battle with him for power. His nephew most likely would have been serving in Carloman's armies, not Charlemagne. Is having them related to these people crucial to the plot? I used to read a lot of romance and I love medieval history, so this might very well appeal to me, but give me something more to sink my teeth into.

Reality is an intriguing thought, but I'd like to know more. When you explained later the premise, it really caught my attention. This has some serious potential, I think.

Lainey Bancroft is one I also need to know more about. It's a cute tagline, but I need something to give me an idea of the plot.

Anon 8:16 doesn't do it for me at all. I wrote a children's book some years ago, There's A Moose On The Loose, about a boy who works at a zoo and befriends a moose. When a moose shows up at his house, he's afraid he left a gate open and he'll lose his job so he spends the rest of the day going through a bizarre series of adventures to get the moose back to the zoo. My agent loved the story. Unfortunately, most of the publishers felt it would be reckless to encourage a child to get into a dangerous situation with a moose. We were both pretty astonished that was the objection.

This is the first thing that came to my mind. If trying to get a tame moose back to the zoo is dangerous, what are they going to say about a child trying to go to Iraq to save her brother? Maybe times have changed. Aside from that, my son's unit has been to Iraq. He didn't go because he was still in high school, but he is scheduled to go on the next round, so I understand what is involved. I applied for some jobs in Iraq. It's a pretty daunting process to get over there and it would have to be an incredible series of bizarre screw ups for it to happen.

I think I would focus on the father returning and the story of the tree, with her worrying about her brother as added tension. Neither a brother missing in a war across the world, nor a hurricane are things a child can resolve. What caught my attention was the bottle tree. Why is it called that? Why is it important? I can see her worrying about the tree as the adults bustle about trying to weatherproof the house.

Anchored Away caught my attention, but it also left me confused. I think it has some real potential, but it needs to be more focused.

Sigh, it looks like I have developed motor mouth again. Sorry all. ((edit to add some commas.))

Julie Weathers said...

Masha, Saracen once referred to all muslims. During the crusades, it was particularly applied to muslims in Sicily and southern Italy.

Anonymous said...

Apreciate you enjoying the tagline and wanting to hear more about the idea.
I could send in a Pitch to Jessica, but the contest is closed.
At least I know the idea has potential.
Thanks for taking outthe time to read and comment.

Linda C. McCabe said...


Thank you once again for providing your professional advice to us. It is appreciated. I shall show your comments to my critique group and hopefully they can help me incorporate your suggestions to create a stronger pitch.

- -

In reply to questions posed by Masha and Julie Weathers:

Pitches are notorious in their need for brevity and therefore a lot of detail is left out.

I did not want to spend time saying that this story is an adaptation of two classic epic poems in the legends of Charlemagne: Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso. The names of the characters were chosen by the poets, and to pay homage to them, I shall continue to use the Italian variants.

The legends of Charlemagne are as rich in complexity and conflict as the legends of King Arthur, but they are not as well known. Their relative obscurity means that they have not been done to death. However, it appears that there is a revival of interest in these legends as a major motion picture is set to start filming soon entitled Love and Virtue starring John Malkovich, Daryl Hannah and Peter O'Toole.

Heroic characters being descendants from noble ancestors such as Hector of Troy or Alexander the Great was an integral part of that kind of literature. It helped establish their heritage and expected glorious destiny.

As for the historic aspects of Charlemagne's life, it presents a challenging balancing act. I have endeavored to ground the story as historical fiction with an alternate universe having a fictional war between North African Muslims and the Frankish Empire. However, the genre of the book is epic fantasy because there are magical elements such as wizards, enchanted armor, and a hippogriff. No matter how many historic details from the medieval period I include, it'll still be fantasy because there are magical beasts in it.

Bradamante and Ruggiero's love story is classic, and it is similar in tone to Tristan and Isolde, but has largely been forgotten over the years. One of the things that drew my interest is Bradamante rescues her beloved on more than one occasion.

It is hard to encapsulate all the conflict and multiple obstacles that repeatedly separate the lovers into a few words. I used broad themes to describe what makes their union so "impossible" rather attempt to detail any one conflict, because it is a series of conflicts. Both warriors have to kill in order to be reunited and stay reunited with their lover.

For the record: Saracen originally was a term used to denote ethnicity. Saracen meant "not of Sarah" and it goes back to the Biblical story of Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael. The descendants from Ishmael were not of Sarah, so there were "Sara-cens." Therefore the definition predates the advent of Islam. Later, the word became thought of as being synonymous with Muslim, but that is not its original meaning.

To specifically answer Masha's question:

Ruggiero's father was an Italian nobleman, but his mother was Muslim until marriage. They died tragically and Ruggiero was the mythical prophesied child raised in obscurity by a Muslim wizard (and not Merlin.) He did not have ancestors from the Arabian peninsula so he was not an Arab.

Oh and "according to legend," the origins of Paris are due to the diaspora of Trojans who fled before the sack of Troy. It also means that in this story, Charlemagne is also descended from Hector of Troy although he is distantly related to Ruggiero.

I hope I answered all your questions, and I want to thank you for your interest.

If you want to ask more questions of me, I think we should take this off of Jessica's blog.

( pallas.athena3 at



Julie Weathers said...


I get the feeling you are a bit on the defensive side over my comments, so I will apologize.

It's my understanding "Not of Sarah" was used primarily in Christian literature. Referring to Muslims as Saracens was common to all. Especially around the time of the crusades, muslims from the area I noted were called that. I was attempting to give Masha a plausible reason for an Italian character being a Saracen.

I'm also writing a medieval fantasy so I've been doing a lot of recent research into the time period, though it's been a lifetime interest. One of the groups in my current WIP includes some fantastic horsemen and women warriors. Most of their story is based on the Sarmatian culture though I am not calling them that. There have been Sarmation graves uncovered with remains of women warriors, so that is not far off the truth. Even so, I am changing the name of the people because I am going to have to pervert their history too much to do them justice.

Some years ago I started researching the stories of the cattle barons' wives for a series of historical fictions. I was going to start the series with Augusta Kohrs, but Henrietta King kept walking around in my head. I started delving into her story and it was fascinating. I eventually went to the King Ranch, where the historian opened up everything to me. He asked me if I had any ideas about this or that and I had actually solved some mysteries he hadn't been able to figure out. That cemented the bond with him and he gave me carte blanche to anything I wanted. Unfortunately, real life bit me i the butt and I had to shelve the project until I could travel more to nail down the last of the research.

For me, if I am going to write historical fiction, I want it to be as accurate as possible. Even a fantasy using historical people I want to be accurate about the live of the people I am borrowing. I owe that to the people whose lives I am invading and I owe it to my readers.

My personal opinion and opinions are worth what you pay for them.

Good luck with your work.

Julie Weathers said...


Quirky things like what you are writing about catch my attention. That's the bad thing about researching for me. I stumble across something interesting and make note of it for something I may want to write about later. Unfortunately, I will have to live to be a very vibrant 129-year-old to write about everything I want.

So, I will leave that to others like you to bring this story to life. I do hope you continue with it. It has a fascinating premise.