Monday, January 21, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 20

There was a point when I assumed 20 critique rounds would be the end. But no, you kept adding your pitches! So here we go again . . . Perfecting Your Pitch.

117. Deborah K. White
The Queen of Santor is well-protected from physical harm by her god, but agents from Karella are spreading rumors that discredit her rule and threaten to tear her country apart. Queen Serrica devises a plan to force the Emperor to withdraw his agents, but she must confront the Emperor face-to-face for the plan to succeed. Her advisors are convinced that even their cunning, god-touched queen won't return from Karella alive, but that doesn't stop Queen Serrica from her Fool's Resolve.

I think the problem here is it’s all too general. Using the word “plan” doesn’t really tell me anything about what the Queen is really trying to do. I would also caution about calling her two different things. Queen of Santor and Queen Serrica can easily confuse in a pitch. Why not just call her Queen Serrica throughout and get right to the point. "Queen Serrica is facing down rumors that threaten to tear her country apart. She knows she only has one chance to prove herself and save her country, but will meeting the Emperor face-to-face succeed, or will it be her downfall?” Okay, I would need to know more about what happens to really write a good pitch, but I hope this gives you a place to start. What is her plan and what must she do? A lot of queens are forced to save their kingdoms. I want to know how Serrica’s challenge differs.

118. Wendy
Efosa is raped at the age of fifteen, turning her hitherto idyllic life upside down. The perpetrator is Emeka, her brother's rich and handsome friend.

When they meet again twelve years later, Emeka has had a conversion experience and is a Christian, while Efosa is bitter and suicidal.

Can she love the man she blames for ruining her life? And can a former rapist really redeem himself?

I’m sorry. There’s no way I could represent this book. The fact that it’s a love story with a victim and her former rapist is going to be enough to immediately turn off a great number of readers. I think a book about a reformed rapist trying to redeem himself might work, but putting the victim in the position of falling in love with him won’t fly for me. I think for me it becomes a greater issue. Do we really want to glorify people who rape and allow them to think that it’s all okay if you just find religion? So that would be my immediate reason for rejecting your book. As for the pitch, however, I just don’t think it has life. Do away with the questions and show me what Efosa is really confronting. “When they meet again . . . Efosa is forced to confront her own bitterness and anger. In doing so . . .”

119. Marcia Santore
When 12-year-old Carlo’s family loses its orchard to a blight, his father leaves to find work. Soon his mother falls ill—as she lies dying, a strange old woman appears and tells Carlo that it’s up to him to save her life. She sends Carlo to the end of the world in search of a magic seed. Carlo is helped along the way by several new friends: Rolf, an erudite dog; Marguerite, a laconic cow; and Jenny, a pirate girl, looking for a new life. In the classic quest tradition, Carlo must use his gifts—especially his gift for music—to overcome many obstacles. He fights off pirates, crosses the prairie with pioneers, gets swept up into a tornado. Only Carlo can write the song that makes a magical bridge appear. In the mysteriously empty city of Progress, Carlo becomes a cog in a terrible machine, one of countless people endlessly turning inside its gears in the futile pursuit of gold. He is saved only when his friends, waiting outside, try something they already know is impossible. When they at last reach Mount Tallest-of-All, one by one, Carlo’s friends can’t climb any higher—he must find his way on his own. Or does he? Using his last gift, Carlo discovers the hidden route to the seed that will save his mother’s life. Carlo and his friends are ready to return home in triumph, until Carlo learns he must face his greatest fear and return to the factory—to free his father.

This is another case where this feels more like synopsis than a pitch. You could shorten this significantly. Take a look at some of my earlier critiques, but I think you’re trying to fit everything in here and not everything needs to be in here. I think instead of focusing on every single fantastical creature Carlo comes up against you need to look at what his real conflict is. Is the book all about his need to save his mother? Is time ticking? Or is there more to it? What else does Carlo need to confront? What is his greatest fear? I think the problem is that I don’t really understand what happens. It sounds like a great magical journey, but it doesn’t sound like anything really special or different.

120. Kevin
Previously published by PublishAmerica, I withdrew my book from publication. I need not say why. Here's my pitch:

Anna's Blood is a horror-science fiction novel about a homeless woman who takes temporary shelter in an abandoned house in Providence and gets volunteered to help save a gentle race of vampires from another planet.

My first advice is that it’s time to focus on a new book. Whatever credibility a publisher might have, or not have, your book has been published and it’s going to make it that much of a tougher sell. There are obviously rare instances where books that were previously published are picked up. Often though it’s in a new and exciting genre editors are hungry for, or it’s a book that has sold tens of thousands of copies. Since yours is a vampire book it’s probably not different enough to garner excitement that would move it beyond the concerns editors would have because of its background. Beyond that, though, and to the pitch, it just doesn’t sound different enough. In fact, it sounds very similar. What happens in her battle to save the vampires?

121. C. Valentine
It's the puritans against the vampires and Sophia needs to believe she's a puritan as she guards her sister, the chosen one whom the vampires seek to mate with their king. Fighting the powers growing inside of her, that would reveal her true identity, Sophia endeavors to resist the vampire captain, Blake, who leads the search for this chosen one. But in a moment of passion she allows him access to the puritans -- and her heart. Now branded a traitor, only Blake can save her.

Vampires are tough sells these days. As many of you know, they are done, done, and done again. I’m not sure this story really stands out from the pack as being all that different. Beyond the story though, the pitch itself seems a little slow. It’s fine, just doesn’t have sparkle. I guess I’m confused by exactly what’s happening. She’s protecting her sister from vampires, but also gets involved with the vampire captain? And I assume she’s also a vampire. I think we need to know what one night of passion really caused. What the battle is and what she needs Blake for. I suspect that’s the heart of your story.

122. Anne-Marie
Son of a wealthy, successful and famous designer, Ian Harrington was born into the world of the rich and shameless. He blames himself, and his father, for his mother's death, and has run far away to start a new life. Beautifully blond, musically talented, but emotionally troubled, he hides his pain behind pale blue eyes and drinks to numb the guilt that has followed him across the ocean. When he meets Sarah, the fiery-haired singer with all the connections to make their dreams come true, can her love save him from his demons and secrets, or will the burdens of his past destroy everything they have ever wanted?

I like the setup. It sounds a bit like a category romance, though. I would avoid as much as possible ending your pitch with a question. I’ll admit, I’ve done it a hundred times, but it’s not the strongest pitch you can write. What about simply rewording to: “now it’s up to love to save him from his demons and secrets before they destroy everything he’s worked so hard to build.” A little stronger. Ultimately, though, this feels like a very straightforward love story, which is why I say it sounds category. Category romance (Harlequin/Silhouette) is romance first. In other words, while there are secondary characters and often another small storyline, the crux of the book is the romance. The main concerns are the hero, the heroine, and their internal and external conflicts. With single-title romance you create a much more complex story. It’s multilayered with many different characters and a story that often supersedes the romance.

123. Serenissima
Celia Darrell (24) has a father lost at sea, a mother fighting cancer, and a brother who could be burning down the neighborhood. She’s convinced that her fractured family is holding her back from her dreams, and that her best hope of escape lies in decorating the enormous shipping cranes that line Seattle’s harbor. Bringing these creatures to life in a blaze of color could lure her father home, reawaken her mother’s artistic soul, and distract her brother from the fury that consumes him.

Along the way, she stumbles into love, risks her life, discovers the power of forgiveness, and teams with a mysterious East German man, who arrives in Seattle the day after the Berlin Wall falls. In the end, it’s clear the only anchor keeping Lilia tethered too close to shore is herself.

Intriguing, but do I really want to read an entire book about crane decorating? No. I want to read more about teaming up with a mysterious man and her struggles with it all. You do a good job of setting up her internal conflict, but now we need to see more action. What is really happening to Celia in this story? What is she doing besides decorating cranes? What is the conflict? Your last paragraph is a throwaway. I don’t want a general recap of the most exciting pieces of the book. Those are what I want you to focus on.

124. anon 11:31
For Laura Chase, being a god is not easy. After all, she’s trying to graduate from college. It doesn’t help that her family has been kidnapped by a supernatural racial supremacist, not to mention the fact she has the propensity to become evil if she cannot control her power. But above all, being a god is not easy...because she does not yet know she is a god.

The ending line is great and your setup is good. Now we need to work on presentation. Choppy sentences are not going to sell this book or, more important, your writing. “For Laura Chase, being a god is not easy. Graduating from college is difficult enough, but add in the kidnapping of your entire family by a supernatural racial supremacist and your own inability to control the powers that might make you evil, and things couldn’t be much worse. That is, unless you don’t know you’re a god.” Do you see where I’m going with this? More energy. And stronger writing.

Okay, readers, let’s hear it from you. What are your thoughts, opinions, suggestions. . . ?



Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have nothing to say. All pitches were pretty 'meh' to me - neither the writing nor the subject matter interested me (with the exception of 118, which I found repulsive.)

You've pretty much nailed my thoughts. The crane-decorating is something I would love to see more of - mysterious strangers I see all the time, but people awakening giant cranes I haven't seen. Then again, I'm a fantasy reader, so I was taking this literally - if 'bringing them to life' was meant in the mundane sense of making them prettier, I'd be turned off indeed.

Therapist/Writer said...

117. Deborah- I was also confused by the Queen of Santor/Serrica reference. When I went back and read it over, it became clear but you don't want an agent to have to do that. Also, I personally would need more conflict than "rumors". Maybe there is something I'm missing, but if the potential for danger could include Serrica's god's powers failing or something that might raise the issues. Just a thought...

118. Wendy- Boy, I'm sorry but I could never read this as it stands. I'm a therapist and work with so many women who would be devestated at the image of their rapist returning- converted or not- and the issue of falling in love with him is obscene. I think the image of a "handsome and rich" rapist, especially of a teen girl, is nearly impossible to save even if he feels really, really bad after turning to Christ. And here's the thing, I'm a Christian counselor and fully believe in redemption. But that doesn't mean the victim needs to be confronted with it. Years ago, the theme of the woman being forced and (secretely) really liking it or coming to love the rapist was common, eg. The Fountainhead, The Demon Lover and so on. But today's readers are more sophisticated psychologically and I really doubt you will get a good response from the pitch as it stands. On the flip side, the victim finding power in Christ and searching out her perpetrator as an act of empowerment and forgiveness could be a strong statement.

123. Is her name Celia or Lilia? At first I couldn't get into the crane decorating thing, but they sure would make a statement, wouldn't they? She seemed a little old at 24 for the rebellious angst-ridden character though. I could picture someone younger doing this more easily. Good luck, everyone!

Anonymous said...

118 -- There was a Lifetime made-for-TV-movie like this years ago, but the woman that had been raped didn't know she'd married her rapist, and it was a true story. So it's not really that it can't be done, but you do have to be realistic about the market. A book like this might not be "What it's about" but "How it's about it" (a Roger Ebert quote).

I have to say, as a girl, I'd never read a book like this. Possibly if she later tracked the bastard down in revenge, but then decided he wasn't worth going to prison for... But LOVE between rapist and victim. Ick.

120 -- I think he stated that the book WASN'T published. I do find this pitch appealing. Being "voluntered" to help save vampires is a nice turn of character, rather than the gung-ho I'm Gonna Conquer the World character. BUT... if they are "gentle" vampires, how does that advance the plot? In other words, what is the conflict, the stakes that will keep the heroine from accomplishing her goal? You've got to give us a clue or we don't know.

122-- (Take these comments with a grain of salt -- if this book is category romance, then it is a genre I'm not terribly familiar with).

Too much information about a character's "beautiful blond hair", "pale blue eyes" and/or "fiery red hair." I don't care what they look like, I wanna know what happens.

By the way, what happens? The pitch states she has "all the connections to make their dreams come true" but you don't tell us WHAT those dreams are. You mentioned they are musical. What are their goals? To play Bar Mitzvahs? To travel cross country as Wedding Singers? To live on the streets of Nashville camped outside a record producers house until he lets them record a demo?

Aimlesswriter said...

My two cents:
# 117: I like this story but think it could be tightened up. A little reorganization of the facts and I think its a winner.
#118: I don't like that both names begin with an E and are unique. I had to read it twice to see who was who. I don't think you will ever find anyone who will sympathize (sp?) with someone who rapes a 15 year old. Or would anyone agree that she should ever form a relationship with this man. If it were my daughter I'd have to find a shotgun and shovel. (Oops! Was I thinking out loud again?)
#119: Could be a good book but this pitch was too long. I need the facts. He's going on a magical journey to save his mom, gathers a group of friends and overcomes incredible odds. Cut out everything I don't absolutely need to know right now. I believe -and- Jessica, correct me if I'm wrong, the pitch is the lure to make someone request the rest. I don't need to know every nuance here, just make me excited about it.
#120: Gentle vampires? Sounds like a new twist but I'd need more information about what makes them different. (I don't know anything about the marketablity of prepubs so I'd listen to Jessica there)
#121: I like this one but the pitch is a bit confusing. If I found this on the bookshelf I'd put it back because it didn't grab me right away. I think it needs to be tightened up so the facts jump out more. Otherwise good premise.
#122: Sounds like an interesting love story but his there any other conflict other then his past problems? I think I'd need more.
#123:I'm confused as to who would pay to have cranes decorated? Or why? I've worked as an artist so these things blared out at me. (I think I'm missing the point in this one.) I think we need to see what the mysterious man has to do with anything.
#124: I liked this one but thought Jessica did a better job when she tightened it up. Reworded like that it sounds like a great book. I'd read!
Now about Vampire books. I do like them but they have to be really different. So many of them are just like the last one.

Chro said...

117: Too vague. What rumors are discrediting her rule? What's her plan? What threatens her life in Korella? Political intrigue isn't exciting if there's only a lot of talking. What sort of physical and emotional problems does she face? Remember that if your main conflict is "Someone is discrediting her rule", we have to care about her maintaining it.

118. Have to agree here -- did you mean FORGIVE the man she blames for ruining her life? Because I seriously doubt any rape victim (much less one that's bitter and suicidal) would ever be capable of LOVING her rapist.

Also, I think some of your words were unnecessarily long, which makes the query sound heavy-handed. 'Hitherto idyllic' was the most obvious example, but even common words like 'perpetrator' could be replaced with something shorter and more vivid.

119. Yeesh, what is it with people using fancy words in their pitch? Erudite and laconic sound like words I saw on my SATs, or on Novels don't need to be written for as common an audience as newspapers, but they should still hover around a 9th grade reading level.

And yes, this is too long. I read the first half, then scrolled down and said, "Oh... crap, I'm only halfway done?" You're specific in all the wrong places. You don't need to show all the mini-conflicts, like becoming a cog in a machine. If you do, they should be brief previews (like you did with your sentence, "He fights off pirates, crosses the prairie with pioneers, and gets swept up into a tornado.")

Try pitching your entire plot in one sentence. Then give yourself two. Then three. Work your way up to five, and then stop. Beyond that, you're treading into 'too long' territory.

120. Agree with Jessica, for the most part.

121. Yet another love story between vampires and mortals. What makes this thing different?

122. Another story where someone faces their 'demons'. I swear, if all these books had ACTUAL demons, they'd be a lot more interesting.

I'm not much of a romance reader, so this doesn't excite me much. Particularly since the conflict sounds like it could be solved by Dr. Phil. What keeps them apart, aside from Ian's "demons"? If the central obstacle in a book is the protagonist's angst, I don't want to read it.

123. It builds up well, but then the solution to all her problems is... crane decorating? Well, at least it's original. You've developed the conflict, but what obstacles does she face?

124. My first reaction was 'What self-respecting god is named Laura?' Second one was, 'If she's a god, why is college hard? Isn't she omniscient?' Thankfully you answered both these questions in short order.

I didn't like the third sentence, though, it just sounds wrong. Remove some useless phrases like 'the fact she has the propensity to'. Your book definately sounds unique and interesting, which is good. Just work on the actual writing part, and make your pitch perfect.

Anonymous said...

I'll add my "I wouldn't buy that book" as a reader to #118. I'm sorry, I just can't get past it. I agree that the story of a rapist trying to redeem his act, without the victim having anything to do with it, would be interesting. Also a healing story where the victim finds power in an attempt to forgive the rapist would also work. Especially if she discovers that he was a stupid young kid that didn't realize the consequences of his actions for her because he was a self-absorbed teen. Thus allowing her to finally move on in her life and love someone else without feeling like that scar taints it, but rape, even if they were both young kids and stupid is a scar that doesn't lend itself to love.

#119 I'm going to say what I liked about this story. Instead of having a "fantasy" feel, the things that caught my attention that I went "ooh" about were the aspects of the story that made this sound like an old American folk tale, like Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and Pecos Bill. I.E. he's got a mundane farm life, but has to find a magic seed to save his farm, (and mom, but I actually like saving the farm better.) So he sets off on an adventure that has him do fantastic larger than life things, like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill with the help of some strange friends.

I don't know if it is just me longing for a little slice of Americana or what, but I've seen too many uber-fantasies, a down to earth one that reminds me of the old American pioneer spirit would be fun.

Hmmmmm, it gives me some ideas.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and one more thing. I've seen a lot of people trying to use the "But these vampires are good" thing to make their vampires different.

You really want to boggle someone's mind, make them all irredeemably evil. All vampires are good now. It really kind of bothers me as a hemophobe. Really, I'm sorry but I don't get the appeal.

But that is just me.

In all seriousness, do they really have to be vampires? Can you make up some threatening species that we haven't seen before? Like creatures that steal time, or hope, or slowly corrupt people until they embody one of the seven deadly sins. I don't know, that is what getting creative is all about.

Anonymous said...

I thought the 'god but doesn't know it' sounds like it could be a very clever and enjoyable read.

The rape-turned-love is creepy. There's no other way to put it -- creepy and totally inappropriate...but I think some of the comments have given good alternative ideas.

Anonymous said...

I had strong feeling about only two of these pitches:

118 - ICK. Enough said. No one in their right mind would buy this book, much less request to read it as an agent! Horrible!

124 - This sounds like a cute set up. Granted, you didn't tell us a lot about the plot, so I'm not sure exactly where it's going (if it's focusing on her family, her school, finding her powers, or everything), but I like the idea of it!

Karen Duvall said...

I absolutely love the one about crane decorating. I can totally see the symbolism as it ties the other elements together. I'm a hardcore UF fan, but I love lit fic as well, and this one would definitely float my boat. 8^) Good luck with it!

Anne-Marie said...

124 was my favourite of the lot, and like many readers, the idea of 118 was a big turn-off.

I am #122, and I do appreciate the comments made both by Jessica and by the readers. I'm actually not sure whether I've written a category vs single-title romance because I cut out the other characters and bits of the storyline to make the pitch shorter- it sounds like I need to rethink the whole thing if that's the case!

anon 9:44- Thanks for the comments- I do see what you mean about the character descriptions and the need to spell out the dreams more specifically.

Chro- you made me laugh- it does sound lame when you stare at it on the screen.

Thanks for the input, everyone. Back to the writing board.

Anonymous said...

I have a suggestion for #118. Have her fall in love with the rapist's brother. That way you can deal seriously with the forgiveness issues and keep the relationship conflict without turning the readers' stomachs.

Julie Weathers said...

Sorry to be so late posting comments.

117. My first thought on this one is the story of Cleopatra smuggled in to see Caesar. Needing a face-to-face meeting is obviously necessary at times.

I like the premise, but something more specific might help.

118. It's pretty much been said. I can see rape as a valid plot point, but not a love story between. I'm reading a book by Elizabeth Moon now with rape and torture in it, but they are simply facts of life in that time, not the plot.

119. This seemed like a really interesting book to me. My one nagging question is what is his mother dying of? It just seems like it would take a very long time to go through all these adventures if the cause is something at all immediate.

I do hope you can punch this up and get it published. It just sounds too interesting to not keep trying.

120. I agree with Jessica on this one. If it's been published, it's time to move on to a new work. Use this to get your foot in the door with a new book.

As for the book, it sounds mildly interesting to me and it could have a lot of potential. I'm not a vampire fan, but it has an interesting set up.

121. I think being vague about what Sophia is in a pitch probably isn't good. Her sister being the chosen one who must mate with the vampire king has been done to death, but so have many other things and people still make them interesting.

It's lacking something, but I'm not sure what.

122. Wouldn't interest me, but this type of story doesn't normally interest me as I am drawn to death and mayhem like a bee to honeysuckle. However, personal tastes aside, I would bring more of the reason he could lose his dream forward. Why does his guilt threaten to destroy them?

I don't like posing questions in pitches, though some people do it very effectively.

123. I like this premise. I'm not sure how painting cranes will cure her brother if he is the arson, but it's interesting. I think I'd focus more on the mysterious German. Mysterious people always make my ears perk up.

I could see some very touching moments with her ill mother seeing the cranes come to life.

124. I loved this one. It could be a lot of fun.

Good job, all.