Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 16

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

90. patg
In the summer of 2001, branch manager for a national chain of travel agencies, Prudence Peters’ week begins with a demotion and hears that her office faces closure. By the end of the week one of Pru’s agents is fired and the supervisor who fired her is murdered. Suggestions of a postal employee puts all the offices in Pru’s state at risk of closure to protect the company’s reputation, so Pru sets out to find the missing agent. What she finds is devious company agendas, peers with too many motives and more murder.

This isn’t actually such a bad pitch, but it also doesn’t inspire me. In other words, I would not request this. I suspect you’re going for the amateur sleuth market. The problem is that you don’t have a hook. There’s nothing here to inspire anyone besides a voracious mystery reader to pick up your book. A branch manager for a chain of travel agencies? Not that exciting. What would be more exciting is someone who led a tour group similar to our own Livia Washburn’s Booked for Travel mystery series—a literary tour travel series—that’s something with a hook. I also think you could still tighten things a little more. Get to the heart of the story faster and try not to get bogged down in backstory.

91. Rick Graydon
Can Tricky Dick and Swivel Hips save the world? They'll have to, after Elvis shows up at the White House to accept an F.B.I. crime fighting award from President Richard Nixon and a famous anti-war activist shows up dead in the Lincoln bedroom. The body is just the first domino to fall. The last may be civilization itself. President and rock star are forced to team up and trade places. Will Elvis sing the right tune over the Moscow hot line? Can Dick do "Hound Dog?" If not the world faces Armageddon, J. Edgar Hoover in a mini-skirt, or worse.

Ohmygoodness! Hilarious. I would absolutely request this. I’m not sure exactly what it is or what I would do with it, but I would need to see it. The opening line is intriguing, the hook is there—you can’t go wrong with Elvis and Nixon, and of course we see the conflict—the President and the rock star must team up to save the world. In the end you’ve given me exactly what I need to know, you have a story, and I know you can write, so I’m willing to give this a shot because you’ve grabbed my interest enough to make me want to see more, and that’s the point of a pitch. My one thought on this is that I’m not sure you have a marketable book, but I would want to see more.

92. D. Robert Pease
Fantasy Novel: Crimson Swarm

Aberthuil Nauile doesn’t know that he once led legions in a war that raged since the dawn of time, against an enemy that cannot be killed. He doesn’t know that he rode on a dragon with his father, and saw his mother die while giving birth to him. He doesn’t know that he once saved his great, great, great grandfather by defeating the black enemy on the slopes of a volcano. Aberthuil doesn’t know that he beheld the creation of the world, as his grandfather eight generations before took the planet ravaged by a war of the gods and began anew. All he knows is that he awoke in a coffin in a tomb, and now the whole world thinks he is their savior. All he really wants to know is his name, and why he keeps hearing voices in his head.

Wow! Am I getting soft or is this really two good pitches in a row? Of course now I’m concerned that my judgment is skewed. Maybe I am getting soft. But no, this is good. This grabs my interest. While normally I might say a pitch like this is backstory, it’s not when it’s world building. I clearly see who Aberthuil is and what his conflict is. While he's sure it might be the voices in his head, his true conflict is the story of the life he doesn’t remember. Very, very cool.

93. Edith
- Classic Romance with a Twist -

You never have a chance to alter your destiny. Morgan Ashton is given this chance to go back in time to fall in love with the right man. Two handsome and rakish men fight for her attention, each one having their own way to seduce the outspoken Ashton. As soon as she thinks she has made her choice, her love and her heart demand the truth. But will she be able to discover this truth before her time is up?

You conflict yourself right off the bat, which is a problem. If you never have a chance to alter your destiny, how come Morgan Ashton does? I think you’ll need to reword that. In the end, though, I find this confusing. I think it’s a case of you being too vague. Does she really travel in time, and what do you mean that “her love and her heart demand the truth”? Get more specifically to the point. Is the entire book about choosing between the two men? If not, what else is going on to make the story stand out and be different?

94. poor mouse
A god chooses Norida's ruler, but the young commoner he made Queen doesn't have leadership experience and knows very little about the conditions of the land she now rules. Worse, her high ministers work subtly to keep her isolated and ignorant so that they can manipulate her into doing their will. Did their god pick a ruler destined to fail? Or will those "failings" be the key to exposing the traitors within her government and surviving long enough to bring them to justice?

Hmmm. Is the story about the god or the Queen? If it’s about the Queen, let’s make it more about the Queen and her conflicts. I would suggest you eliminate the questions. I think that softens your message. Making them statements makes them more a conflict: “Queen Matilda wonders why the god should have chosen her as ruler of Norida. She knows very little of the conditions of the land she now rules and every decision she makes seems to mark her a failure....” And then we’ll need a little more from you about what’s happening in the land that she is leading.

95. Shaun
The year is 1959, racism is impacted in society, and Sara Jane Lawrence is missing. When Detective Sergeant John McCourt takes over the investigation of the missing biracial girl, he finds his suspect's journal. Spellbound, as he reads, he finds himself reliving the past few months through the eyes of his suspect, and ultimately finds the bittersweet truth of what happened to Sara Jane.

Warning: The misuse of “is impacted” instead of “has impacted” could warrant a rejection from me. I understand typos happen and can forgive some in the book. But when it’s a clear grammatical error in a one-page query I will worry. It gives me the impression that your book is not going to be well written. A couple of thoughts here. I love the idea of a detective tracking a missing biracial girl in a racist society. For some reason it sounds very Mystic River (although it’s not even close) to me. I immediately think it’s going to be dark, gritty, full of tension and with very, very compelling characters. In other words, the idea grabs me. The writing and overall execution though would force a rejection. Based on your pitch it sounds to me like the entire investigation is done by reading a journal. No one wants to read an entire book (especially a thriller) that’s simply journal entries. The writing also feels sparse to me and I know that’s going to confuse some, but you can write a very short and compelling pitch without making it sound sparse. This sounded sparse, like not enough was really going to be happening.

Okay, readers, it’s up to you now (and no slacking off on me!). . . .



Anonymous said...

You're losing me. The idea that you would reject a pitch on the basis of a typo.

ORION said...

I think it make sense.
The EASY things are spelling, grammar, syntax. The hard things are plot, pacing, structure and characterization. If one awkward sentence and typo remains in a one page query. How many remain in the novel?

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute. I don't think "is impacted" is wrong grammatically. (In fact, the usage of "has impacted" is reviled by some authorities, including Edwin Newman, as wrong.) A tooth can be impacted when it grows in the wrong direction. It is firmly in place, disrupting the teeth around it, and will take a lot of work to remove. Pain and suffering result when a tooth "is impacted." It's a metaphorical expression, but it's not ungrammatical. Sheesh!

Anonymous said...

Crimson Swan.

Intriguing. The whole idea and well written. And I don't even read fantasy novels. Loved the tone.

Aimlesswriter said...

Prudence Peter's confused me a bit. Like it was almost there but missing something.
Tricky Dick-loved the pitch but I've seen Elvis and Nixon and how could they ever trade places?
Crimsom Swarm- Oooo! I want to read this book!
Edith-I need something more. Sounds like a great set up but I think the woman needs more of a challenge. All this just to choose a man? eh. I need to know more.
Poor mouse-I'm sorry but this was a bit confusing. I think tightened up it could be interesting.
Shaun-I'm intrigued but other then the journal-what is this detective up against? I agree it did read like it was all about the journal. I need more facts.
I agree with Jessica on the grammer issue. If we screw up one page what did we do in 300?
Yay! That was fun...lets play some more.

Rachel Aaron said...

The one about the queen being chosen by her god COULD be good if the execution's done right, I think. It sounds very Twelve Kingdoms to me (is she aided by a mystical beast that represent her kingdom?).

I would be really interested if this was an Elizabeth story, where a young queen comes into her own power by overcoming those who think they can control her because she's young and female, and finding the true ruler inside her.

Also, if your queen was chosen by a god, wouldn't people be hesitant to get in her way? I mean, it IS a god. If I had concrete "I saw him right in front of me choosing a queen" proof that god existed, I sure as hell wouldn't get in the way of his chosen ruler. That sounds like a quick trip down lightning bolt road.

Anonymous said...

re: Shaun - "Impacted" is an adjective. (Look it up in Webster's.) He's using it right in his sentence. Seems like he has a broader understanding of grammar than most people.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

After re-reading my own post this morning and before the comments started coming in I realized that I misspoke when saying that Shaun's pitch was grammatically incorrect. After doing so many critiques I'm afraid I've gotten lazy and haven't always revised carefully.

You are all right that grammatically it is correct, but I am still going to stand by my critique that a better word could have been used. While grammatically there are a lot of things that are correct it doesn't always mean we should use them. Usage comes into play as well. Rarely do we think of something like racism as being impacted into something. I think that another word could have made the pitch stronger.

I apologize to Shaun for misusing grammatical when I should have simply said awkward.


D. Robert Pease said...

Thank you much for taking your time to write these critiques. I did worry that the pitch for Crimson Swarm would be too much back story and not enough about what happens next, but I'm glad that didn't bother you. Usman, I love "Crimson Swan". Now I have to figure out how to add a large, red, water fowl to my story. :-)

Anonymous said...

I didn't think you were slacking off. Both the Elvis story and the Fantasy one following it sounded very interesting to me too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jessica, for the critique, and thank you for doing this (project?) at all. It has been a very big help to me and, I'm sure, many others.

Yes, I was using "impacted" to mean ingrained, buried deeply, pervasive - take your choice.

The comments overall were better than I had expected really. I had realized it was not a good pitch after I posted it (and even submitted it as a revised pitch). The pitch even leaves out McCourt's internal conflict with a past death for which he feels responsible. The story is too long for the market (unless your last name is King), and I will have to cut a lot if I ever want to sell it, or have it sit on the shelf until my name is as familiar as the name, King. Well, almost as familiar anyway.

I know I have a good story, but I think I'm trying to do too much in one tale. The journal comes to life for McCourt, and there the story slides too far into the romance genre I think, and out of mystery, although drama still applies I suppose. The journal is not the only part of the investigation, but it's a large part of the story.

Anonymous said...

#90 -- I think one of the hardest things to do is come up with a new hook for a murder mystery, because esentially the "murder" is the hook. But in accordance with the comments, giving the amature sleuth something that makes her stand out will propell the reader along.

(Please take my comments with a grain of salt because mystery slueths aren't my usual reading material.)

But having read Diane Mott Davidson's books I can see how the main character being a "Caterer" and a survivor of domestic violence has separated Davidson's books from others and made them successful.

So what are your character's secrets that can grow/change/haunt her throughout subsequent books (if this is a series).

If this ISN'T a series the whole pitch might be helped by just sounding more intense... what's going to happen if she DOESN'T find the murderer (in addition to her company's reputation being on the line)? She might start out with the investigation because of her company's reputation but then that leads to ... something that ups the stakes tremendously... Her child might be kidnapped? Her husband might be falsely accused of murder? It's got to be something that hits at the heart of her, threatening her life as she knows it so the reader roots for her.

And also, I don't understand why the book is set in 2001? Any significance to that year that pertains to the plot? If not you might want to consider making it present day.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, thanks for the critique. After I posted it, I realized that I really should have worded the pitch more from the Queen's POV and made the conflict less vague. I hope this at least means I'm getting better at seeing the problems in my own query.

Rachel, maybe I should somehow use your summary because it describes the core of the book exactly:

"A young queen comes into her own power by overcoming those who think they can control her because she's young and female, and finding the true ruler inside her."

The additional problem is that my queen wasn't raised as a princess or even a noble, so she starts at a distinct disadvantage. But she can also see some things that someone raised to the role might be blind to, and that helps her succeed.

Yes, people who saw the queen chosen by their god are very careful not to anger her, but not everyone saw the event and not everyone believes there really is a god that chose her...and even if there is, surely he's not always watching.

Thanks for the comments.

Chro said...

#90: The structure of the first sentence tied me into knots. If I have to reread a sentence because I got confused in the middle, chances are an agent isn't even going to try.

#91: Well, it certainly is unique. I'm not sure how Elvis and Nixon could be confused for one another. Also, be careful about saying 'civilization' will fall. It's vague and borderline cliche. Plus it means we'll all be thrown back to the stone age, when I doubt that's what you mean.

#92: I like the concept and the format, but I think there are one too many 'He doesn't know...' sentences. Also, the 'Black Enemy' is a rather lifeless description. Is this the same enemy mentioned in the first sentence? If so, can you find a better adjective to describe it?

#93: Referring to 'You' in a pitch always irks me. It just reinforces the idea that the narrator is talking directly to an agent. And as said by others, you contradict this statement in the next sentence.

#94: You should always have your protagonist be the focus of your pitch, and the first step to doing this is giving their name. In order for us to empathize with the Queen, we need to see the conflict from her viewpoint, instead of from a narrator's with sentences like, "Did their god pick a ruler destined to fail? Or will those failings be the key..."

#95: If this story is nothing but reading of a journal, why didn't you just write a story from the suspect's viewpoint in the first place? Why is the detective there? If the journal gives him clues towards solving the case, then that's different, but it sounds like everything we need to know is in the journal.

DeadlyAccurate said...

I love #91 and #92. #91 had me smiling, and it has such an energy to it.

D. Robert Pease said...

Chro, thanks for your comments. I agree with your statement: "one too many 'He doesn't know...' " from a rhythm standpoint it seemed like I should have only had three. I actually bounced back and forth between three and four and ended up going with four because it covered the breadth of his history better. Your comment about the 'Enemey' was spot on too. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

#90 - It sounds like you have the ingredients of a solid mystery and the pitch is structured well. But I don't get any sense of Pru as a person--and investigating a murder to protect her company's reputation doesn't ring true. I assume she has a personal reason to investigate: Is the fired agent a friend whom she believes is innocent? Is Pru a single mother who's afraid of losing her livelihood? (And you don't mention the agent has disappeared until you write "the missing agent." Came out of left field for me.)

Overall, I think the style could be sexier. I'd look for more dynamic word choices. (Small example: instead of just "murdered," maybe "stabbed to death.") Also, I found the first sentence a bit cumbersome to read through. Shorter sentences would help make this more lively. Best of luck to you. I hope some of this helps!

jjdebenedictis said...

Prudence Peters’ week begins with a demotion and hears that her office faces closure.

There's a grammar error in this sentence. The way it's written, the week hears that her office faces closure, rather than Prudence.

By the end of the week one of Pru’s agents is fired and...

Comma between "week" and "one". I had to read that sentence twice to make sense of it.

Suggestions of a postal employee puts all the offices in Pru’s state ...

"Suggestions ... put ..." or "Suggestion ... puts ..." You have one too many "s"s.

I am sorry, but if I were an agent, three errors would be an automatic rejection. I hope these were only due to the excitement of getting in on Jessica's goodwill! :-)

This sounds like a riot, but if I were an agent, I would worry about the same thing Jessica did--that the story itself might be too crazy to be commercial.

The last line is the hook, and it's an awesome one. Although this is a really strong pitch, I think it would be stronger if you shaved out a few of the sentences. The backstory borders on melodrama (but cool melodrama!) and I think the pitch would be more engaging if you cut back on it just a little.

I found this too vague also. If this story has a hook, you haven't really outlined what it is. (I read science fiction, so time travel doesn't seem fresh enough to me; it might seem fresher within a romance novel.) Do try to get specific about the conflicts, because conflict is what interests a reader in a character's story.

I think I've read a different version of this pitch on Elektra's Crapometer. I like this version much better, but I agree that it leaves the reader feeling distanced from the characters (who have no names, here.) It's a nice summation of the novel's very interesting plot, however.

I stumbled over "impacted" in the first sentence also, even though after a moment's thought I realized it was used correctly. Since you don't want your reader to pause and puzzle out the sentence structure, I agree that a different word would work better there.

I also thought a book about someone reading a journal sounded dull and static. Maybe you could try rewriting the pitch by dramatizing the backstory (which is probably what you did in the novel). Rather than telling the reader that McCourt is spellbound, show us what is so spellbinding.

Anonymous said...

Do lterary agents exist?
I am a professional Canadian writer, publishing prose in two languages.
I am looking for an agent as marquee publishers do not accept submissions from authors.
I obtained the addresses from the Internet and several publications (including the God forsaken Writer's Market as recommended by every major publisher). I contacted more than two hundred agents via e-mail, snail-mail, and telephone. This is what happened:

1. I received four (4 only) negative replies. These were book proposals in strict accordance with the agent’s requirements posted on their website.

2. After reading the summaries and samples of my work, twenty-odd agents offered to represent me for 10% of the royalties plus measly $ 300-500 per month "to cover their expenses". Their glowing comments suggested that I was a reincarnation of Hemmingway and selling my work was a cinch. I fell for one, and he got my book publihed by an unsavoury firm. Now I feel like a starlet having a porno movie in her resume.

3. Forty-two agents hold my snail-mail submissions since more than a year, but despite the proper SASE, they did not reply to date.

4. I telephoned many literary agents, reaching only their voice mail and despite repeated attempts, they never returned my calls.

5. I sent e-mail queries to a great number of agencies (100+) and only two said they do not take any new clients while a few went out of business. The rest just doesn’t bother to reply.

After these frustrating experiences I decided to test a theory: I telephoned some of the agents who did not bother to reply my earlier calls, leaving them a message saying that I am trying to write the biography of General Idi Amin (whom I had the doubtful pleasure of knowing personally and if pressed, I could BS enough about him to create the impression of a close friend), but having some difficulties. Every one of them called within a day asking what they could do to help. In fact, one offered ghostwriting services.

After such experiences I find it difficult to believe that honest literary agents exist at all.