Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 18

Here we go again . . . Perfecting Your Pitch.

101. Ello
Private George Waterson saves the life of his enemy Captain Shiro Kawamoto on the Bataan Peninsula. Two years later, his act of compassion is returned when he finds himself a POW in a prison camp run by the same Captain. For Kawamoto, no amount of assistance he can provide will repay the debt he owes the young American, until he is asked to fulfill a promise that will satisfy his debt, but at the price of his family honor. Sixty years later, Kawamoto’s prison journal is discovered by his granddaughter, Naomi, who learns of her true heritage. It leads her to George, still fighting the demons of the past, and shocked with the arrival of a granddaughter he never knew he had. She is a reminder of the one betrayal he could never forgive himself. But in Naomi and the revelations of the journal, George is able to find redemption.

Interesting. Very interesting. . . . I have to say that I think based on all of my previous advice I really shouldn’t like this. Instead I should be telling you that you don’t have enough details, that it’s too general and too much backstory. I do like it though. Would I request it? I might, but probably not. For one, it’s not my type of book, but that’s something different. Okay, here’s what I think. I think you have a strong pitch here. You clearly give us an idea of what George’s demons might be and you intrigue us with your writing. I think that while you could tighten it a little, you ultimately have a winner.


102. anon 8:21
DAMAGED GOODS is about a ten year old boy who kills his friend.

TWIN NO MORE focuses on Morgan’s struggle to cope with her twin brother’s suicide.


I had read a lot of critiques by the time I got to this and I think I was a little cranky. My concern here is that this is not a pitch. Neither of these are pitches. These are short one-line descriptions of your books. Remember, a pitch is just as important as your book, or should be treated as such. Agents and editors are in this business to sell books and to find books that will sell. To them it’s a business, and if you’re going to pitch you need to remember that you are entering the business world. You need to really put effort into your pitch. Neither of these is intriguing and neither really tells me anything about the books that would make me either want to read them or think they're different from the millions of books out there. My question is, of course: What makes both of these books stand out? A teen coping with suicide is a common plot line. What makes this book different from those? A ten-year-old boy who kills is friend has a little more potential to be different, but doesn’t jump out to me as something that really is. In other words, it feels like a book that’s been done a million times before, and whether it has or hasn’t, feeling that way is enough to garner a rejection.


103. anon 8:54
Astrologer Di Darwin solves with a timed horoscope chart the murder of an old woman who chokes to death on a boiled Maine Lobster.

Susie's amateur sleuth mystery.


The idea of an astrologer amateur sleuth interests me, but the writing would ultimately result in a rejection. Although the boiled Maine Lobster sounds hysterical, so I might consider it again. Nope, I would reject. Stick to the facts: “Astrologer Di Darwin has done a lot of charts in her day, but never has she been called upon to chart a dead woman, not until FiFi McGee is found dead with Di’s best friend as the only suspect.”

104. NancyN
Jill Clemmons hasn't set foot in Adams Grove since she and Ken Malloy split up and she ran away to Savannah. She wouldn't be back now either if it weren't to bury her grandmother, Pearl, who raised her in the small town. In a final matchmaking attempt Pearl leaves her estate to them jointly.

But someone else is interested in that estate too and is willing to stop at nothing in search of a treasure of precious pearls supposedly hidden there years ago. Jill and Ken must put the past behind them as they fight for their lives to uncover who is behind the danger and why.


Unfortunately this is a very common storyline. All too often we’ve seen the tale of matchmaking attempts from beyond the grave. So if that is how you’re going to get your hero and heroine into the same room, my question is: What makes this stand apart from those other books? My concern here isn’t so much your pitch, but that the story doesn’t grab me. If I’m just looking at the pitch, however, I think you could focus more on the treasure hunt and keeping themselves alive. If you’re writing a book of suspense you need to focus on suspense.

105. anon. 4:40
Princess Adeline is determined to become a real fairy tale princess, including handsome prince, heroic rescue and happily-ever-after. But, since nothing interesting ever happens to princesses from stable, two-parent families, Princess Adeline offs her parents, flees the kingdom, and seeks out deadly peril in order to become a proper Damsel In Distress. Unfortunately, the dragon won’t eat her, the wicked witch refuses to cast an evil spell, the woodcutter preemptively removes her from the belly of the Big Bad Wolf and Adeline finds she must rescue herself from the giant when no one bothers to show up. This isn’t how it happens in the storybooks!

I think this is a great pitch. It’s so not my type of book since I have no idea what I’d do with it, but I like it. It was funny, it told me exactly what the internal and external conflict are, and it grabbed my attention. Most of all, though, I had a reaction to it. I actually laughed. A good sign when you can make an agent actually react. Great pitch.

106. Theresa
Silent Echoes, a contemporary Kramer versus Kramer story, set in a wealthy Chicago suburb, is about two young lovers from dysfunctional families rising above youthful mistakes and tragedies to create a strong and healthy love. Catherine Whittemore Boyd will do anything to regain custody of her young son; even reconcile with the husband accused of killing their son’s twin.

My question to you is what is this book about? Is it about a young couple rising above youthful mistakes? Because if it is, that’s not a book that’s probably going to grab a lot of attention from readers. Or is it a book about a woman who will do anything to regain custody of her child, including reconciling with the husband accused of murdering their son’s twin? Because that’s a book. I want to know whether or not he admits he killed the son and if she believes he did it, and I think it’s important in the pitch to allude to why she doesn’t currently have custody. And I want to know what happens next (to a degree). Give this a little more oomph. “Catherine Whittemore Boyd lost custody of her only surviving child after.... Desperate to get her son back, Catherine will do whatever it takes, even reconcile with the husband she thinks killed her child. In a desperate battle....” Something more along those lines will make this stronger.

107. anon 12:20
A lady entrepreneur falls in love with a reclusive surgeon amid industrial intrigue and underworld power struggles. Gianna Donnatelli is a spirited entrepreneur whose two goals are to make a success of her new company, and to aid the underprivileged in the Detroit ghettos. Joe Scarfili is a brilliant surgeon who has isolated himself in a mansion in Grosse Pointe and immersed himself in work since the gang-related murder of his wife. When Gianna is hurt in a strange burglary, Joe, as a close friend of the family, reluctantly assumes the role of her protector. Suddenly everything becomes dangerous and personal.

I think you’re trying to squeeze too much into the pitch. Does it matter to the story that she’s an entrepreneur? Why does Joe have to become her protector? And if you’re going to try to entice me with industrial intrigue and underworld power struggles, then you need to show those in the pitch. What happens to make this dangerous and personal? So far I see an inkling of the possibility of conflict, but I don’t see the actual conflict.

108. JulieWeathers
The king is missing. The infant prince is being poisoned. Guards loyal to the king are systematically being destroyed or exiled. It isn't a good time for a fledgling girl to join the elite Horse Guards, the most loyal of the king's troops. Especially a girl who has caught the eye of a pirate, a demon and the demon caller.

What’s really going on in this story? Is the story about the king and all of his troubles or is it about a girl, a demon, and a demon caller? I have a feeling the king is really backstory, that the true story involves the girl and her desire to join the troops. And why is it a bad time? Wouldn’t a kingdom in distress need as much help as possible? And what does the demon have to do with all of this, or the demon caller? That’s what interests me most. Really I want to know more about the demon caller.


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

Jessica

20 comments:

Southern Writer said...

103 Astrologer Di Darwin solves with a timed horoscope chart the murder of an old woman who chokes to death on a boiled Maine Lobster.

Susie's amateur sleuth mystery.


A book with a main character who's an astrologer always gets my attention, just because I want to see if the author actually knows anything about astrology. With your description of a timed horoscope, I'm guessing not. That would be a horary chart, so you lost my interest already. Sorry. Choking to death on a lobster sounds funny, but I can't quite visualize it.


105. anon. 4:40
Princess Adeline is determined to become a real fairy tale princess, including handsome prince, heroic rescue and happily-ever-after. But, since nothing interesting ever happens to princesses from stable, two-parent families, Princess Adeline offs her parents, flees the kingdom, and seeks out deadly peril in order to become a proper Damsel In Distress. Unfortunately, the dragon won’t eat her, the wicked witch refuses to cast an evil spell, the woodcutter preemptively removes her from the belly of the Big Bad Wolf and Adeline finds she must rescue herself from the giant when no one bothers to show up. This isn’t how it happens in the storybooks!


This one sounds like a hoot. Not my usual fare, but for a light read and some giggles, I'd give it a go.

Julie Weathers said...

Thank you, Jessica. You have no idea how many times I nearly deleted the post.

It is Gentyls' the girl's, story. I have to say I'm a little amazed you saw through that to the demon caller.

The demon caller is the baroness, who is behind the kidnapping of the king and the poisoning of the prince. The demon has taken the guise of a Rasputin-like holy man, who cures the prince and earns his place at the young queen's side.

Gentyl is an accident-prone, young woman and not a heroic type at all aside from a desire to do the right thing. With the help of an elf's spirit, she bumbles through four novels to eventually rescue the king and turn the battle.

I know that probably makes everyone reading cringe, but I have the final chapter in the series written.

I'm just not sure how to condense this convoluted plot into a pitch, obviously.

Once again, my thanks to your for plowing through these and for your comments.

Julie

Chro said...

101. In my opinion, no one should ever fight 'demons of the past' unless there are pentagrams and time travel involved. The story seems sound, I just don't like how cliche your presentation sounds at times.

102. Both of these sound like the whole conflict is about dealing with someone's death emotionally. Since I don't like 'angst stories' I probably wouldn't read either.

103. Not really enough info to go on here. Sounds like a game of Clue: It was Astrologer Anton... in the seafood restaurant... with the lobster!

104. Gee, another book where someone returns to their hometown for a funeral, and discovers themselves in the process. At least this time there's a treasure hunt.

105. This sounds amusing. My one worry is that it sounds episodic. First she does the 'dragon episode', then the 'witch episode', etc. She has the same goal through it all, but does she grow or change as a person? I guess I'd have to read it to find out.

106. The first and second half of this pitch don't even sound like the same plot!

107. The first sentence is pointless -- it summarizes the next few sentences. Better to leave it out and put in something that reveals new information instead.

108. I think you should always mention your protagonist in the first sentence of your pitch. Talk about the fledgling girl (oh, and give us her NAME), and then go into all the problems SHE has, including those that also effect the entire kingdom.

Anonymous said...

You know you've properly immersed yourself in the publishing business when Jessica says something like... (pitch # 104) "... All to often we've seen the tale of matchmaking attempts from beyond the grave." And you nod your head in agreement. Mmm hmm...

Name one other profession that could state that line mean it. I love being a writer.

#104 -- Havign said that, I didn't mind the "matchmaking" stuff in the beginning. I took that as the set-up to the more central (suspense) plot.

#105 -- OMG! I love it. Truly. Love. It. I write YA, and though I don't read much fantasy, I would snatch this off the shelf. Perfect tone to the pitch, I get a great sense of what the voice would be like. Good luck to you.

#106 -- I read this as being more of a suspense or edge of your seat type book, a desperate mother trying to find who killed her son in the midst of family/emotional upheaval. Juicy, juicy, juicy. If the book is suspence I don't think it should be compared to Kraemer VS. Kraemer. That movie involved divorce, but accusations of murdering your own son paint your book as MUCH more intense.

Anonymous said...

Japanese warriors during WW2 were committed to dying for the emperor. They were not social workers out to befriend Amerian soldiers. An antihistorical plot line at the center of this book may not work well in the marketplace if the fate of other antihistorical stories is any clue.

Ello said...

Thank you Jessica for taking the tremendous amount of time to do this critique. I would have been satisfied just reading all of your great advice on the previous 100 and not minded that you got to mine. However, I am really grateful that you did. I will take heart in your words and pull this manuscript out again which I had put away for the time being. I guess it is worth another go!

Dear Chro - you are right about the cliche. I could just never come up with a better phrase in three words that would mean exactly that. But I will keep working on it.

Dear Anon 10:55AM, it's interesting to me that people take some specific facts that they know and then apply it so stereotypically to the whole. I spent 5 years researching this book and reading countless POW books. Friendships did happen, but secretly. In fact, some of the most poignant stories were POWs who returned to Japan and sought out those Japanese soldiers who had befriended them and helped them survive their ordeal. While there may be writers out there who do not care for historical accuracy, I am not one of them.

DeadlyAccurate said...

#105 was great. Really funny and exciting. I'd probably snatch this one off the shelf and walk to the front before I ever even opened the book; the pitch was just that perfect.

#107 lost me at "lady" entrepreneur. What in the world is a lady entrepreneur, and how is that different from a regular entrepreneur? Putting "lady" in front of a job description is unnecessary and mildly insulting.

Christine said...

I really enjoyed number 105. I love the offbeat fairy tales, and this one sounds great!

Julie Weathers said...

101. Ello. This is intriguing to me, but I am a history buff. I don't normally read modern history, but this story would get my attention.

Having said that, it's going to be a difficult story to pull off. If American soldiers were even caught with any Japanese souveniers, they were executed. That gives you very little wiggle room for Kawamoto, but history is filled with strange stories.

I wish you much success with this. It has a lot of potential.

102 anon. I understand trying to sum up the story in a very brief manner, but this is too little.

103 I had to read it a few times to sort it out. I like the concept, but a little more clarity and careful phrasing might be in order. This could be a fun mystery.

104 Nancy N. The treasure hunt and suspense get my attention. For some odd reason, though, I keep thinking of a Scooby Doo adventure. That, I'm quite sure, is my twisted mind.

105. This appeals to my warped sense of humor. I would love to see this in print.

106 I agree with Jessica's rewrite. This isn't what I normally read and I didn't even see Kramer vs. Kramer. However, I think focusing on the reconcilation angle to regain her surviving child is pretty powerful.

107. My first nagging thought is why a successful woman needs a protector. Not that I am anti dashing hero, but what necessitates her being protected? This could be a very intriguing plot, but it's hard for me to get an accurate reading on it.

108. My stars woman give us some--

Oh, nevermind.

Kate Douglas said...

Ello, I find your comment about the relationships between POWs and their captors interesting, because I know it's true. My father was an officer working in a POW camp in the Philippines during the Korean War and I remember his stories about some of the prisoners he'd gotten to know before the war ended. He had a great deal of respect and admiration for many of the men. He even brought home gifts they had made for my brothers and me--I still have a doll made of parachute silk that one of the prisoners made for his baby daughter. (me!)

Merry Monteleone said...

Ello,

I really like this premise – it’s one that I would definitely pick up. I think you might be able to slim down the pitch a bit, but for the most part I think it’s intriguing... most plots that feature a journal or diary tend to make me think they’ll be wandering prose, but yours feels very active.

Congratulations, too, on such a great crit. from Jessica!

(Julie – “If American soldiers were even caught with any Japanese souveniers, they were executed. That gives you very little wiggle room for Kawamoto, but history is filled with strange stories.” – in the pitch, it was Kawamoto’s granddaughter who found his personal journal, which doesn’t indicate anything about the American taking anything... I’m not sure what the comment is getting at, unless I missed something.)

Anon 8:54,

I do like the premise of an astrologer sleuth, but I’m going to echo the commenter who noted the term, ‘timed astrology’... I think with a novel like this you have to have a really good knowledge of astrology to pull it off. The average reader might not notice, but the novel is likely to attract readers who are also astrology / new age buffs, and they’ll pick out the flaws in a second and comment on it... If you do impeccable research though, you can attract both mystery readers and new age readers.

Theresa,

I was a little confused reading the pitch at first, but I think the story of a mother willing to take back a husband who may have killed the twin, in order to have custody of her living child has a very definite pull. Without knowing exactly how it works, I don’t know if I’d pick it up yet... Does he have custody? Is he abusive, does she think he killed the twin or do the authorities? I think this is the portion of the story you should narrow in on for the pitch.

Great work everyone. And thank you again, Jessica, for continuing the series.

Southern Writer said...

I'm baffled by critters who advise an author not to do something because "it won't work." A good author can make anything work.

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

(Julie – “If American soldiers were even caught with any Japanese souveniers, they were executed. That gives you very little wiggle room for Kawamoto, but history is filled with strange stories.” – in the pitch, it was Kawamoto’s granddaughter who found his personal journal, which doesn’t indicate anything about the American taking anything... I’m not sure what the comment is getting at, unless I missed something.)

My point was just an example of the Japanese military mentality at the time. If captured Americans were summarily executed for merely possessing a Japanese souvenir, then it would be very difficult for the Captain to help, or show softness, towards an American.

I further qualified my statement by saying history is full of strange twists and turns so it is possible. Anything is possible. It is just a slippery slope.

I was given a journal written by an elderly man who was in several battles on the Japanese-held islands. It's pretty fascinating stuff and it really drove home how committed the Japanese were to winning and their mentality.

As I said, I think it's a very interesting story and I definitely think it has potential.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Julie,

"My point was just an example of the Japanese military mentality at the time. If captured Americans were summarily executed for merely possessing a Japanese souvenir, then it would be very difficult for the Captain to help, or show softness, towards an American." -

Thanks for the clarification, I really didn't understand the comment, I thought maybe you misread it as the American taking home a journal or something...

I think personal information of this nature is very helpful in historical fiction, and adds to the writer's ability to draw a realistic picture.

I think there are a lot of ways the story can go, the Captain may have a lot more leeway in helping this prisoner, because he is in charge of the camp... it also might be drawn out in the story how great of a risk the Captain was taking in small kindnesses.

Historical fiction is a wonderful read, but it's also tricky to judge how 'realistic' something might be using journal or first person events, unless you're pooling from a wide variety of these type of records. As with all events, there are many views and varied perceptions.

I think we both agree though, that it sounds like a really interesting story. Thanks again for clarifying.

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

#101, I think is a great pitch and I like the material, but the sentence in the middle I think is too confusing. "For Kawamoto, no amount of assistance he can provide will repay the debt he owes the young American, until he is asked to fulfill a promise that will satisfy his debt, but at the price of his family honor." It sort of overexplains the conundrum. I'd go with something simpler like "His debt to the young American can only be paid at the price of his family honor, and he must make a choice." Then break and start a new paragraph with "sixty years later." I'd definitely pick this up! Oh, wait, is Naomi Kawamoto's granddaughter or George's? It gets confusing around "his granddaughter" because the "his" suggests Kawamaoto.

#105 is awesome and fun, but I'm not sure killing her parents fits in with the wacky vibe. It's a little different in nature than the other examples you give with the dragon and the witch and whatnot.

Julie Weathers said...

I think this is too long for a pitch, but it's my second stab at Paladin's Pride.

Gentyl had an odd habit of trading good deeds per day for prayers answered. Her parents paid a sizeable amount of money to get her into the Sisters of Aelina School to try to protect her from the oncoming war. Being accidentally placed in a unit, which might lead to a position in her aunt's fabled Horse Guards instead was worth three good deeds a day.

She was known by many different names during the following years. Daughter to a devoted farming family at risk. Niece to a famous Horse Guard captain. Personal guard to the missing king's eccentric wizard and his shape-shifting wife. Captive to the demon disguised as a humble holy man, who saves the dying infant prince. Enemy to the demon caller, who masterminded the disappearance of the king and the poisoning of the prince. Bladesinger, keeper of the enchanted sword Siren Song that sings to those it is destined to kill. Savior to the rescued king, who rides by her side as she leads her army of death home one final time.

Southern Writer said...

Julie, I know you're going to hate this. You have my empathy, because I really suck at writing hooks, too. You're welcome to dump all over mine when it comes up, okay? Your new attempt still isn't a hook. It's a character sketch. What is Gentyl's problem? What does she have to overcome, and who is going to try to stop her? If she doesn't have a problem, you don't have a viable story.

Julie Weathers said...

"Julie, I know you're going to hate this. You have my empathy, because I really suck at writing hooks, too. You're welcome to dump all over mine when it comes up, okay? Your new attempt still isn't a hook. It's a character sketch. What is Gentyl's problem? What does she have to overcome, and who is going to try to stop her? If she doesn't have a problem, you don't have a viable story."

Phfffft. I never dump on anyone's writing. When I critique I always try to find what I like as well as the things that can be improved. That probably doesn't come across here as I try not to be too lengthy.

Honest opinions are always welcome.

On the plus side, I have until the Surrey conference to figure this out.

Thanks for your comments.