Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 21

Continuing on. I vow to end this before summer. So here we go again . . . Perfecting Your Pitch.

125. ASN
Amy never expected to get divorced, let alone sit Shiva for her ex-husband in a house with a Christmas tree, yet there she was. Just two years after her divorce when she had hit her stride having every-other-weekend to herself when her kids and the dogs went to stay with her ex, Amy was no longer a co-parent, she was an only parent. She now had two fatherless children, her ex's pregnant widow, an intimate relationship with probate court, but no weekends off.

Your last line is your pitch, or at least the beginning of your pitch. I think you have a lot of potential to garner interest here, but the key is that Amy’s life has been turned upside down in a new and different way. I think the entire second sentence could be deleted and/or rewritten. We don’t care so much what Amy has done, we care more about the mess she’s in now. “Two years after her divorce Amy has finally hit her stride and life is good. But enter her ex-husband, whose goal always seems to be ruining her life, even when he’s dead. Now with two fatherless children, her ex’s pregnant widow, and . . . Amy suddenly finds that . . .” I think something along those lines is sharper and more dramatic.

126. Ann Hite
Where The Souls Go is the story of three women and their art, strengths, madness and legacies. Can the youngest generation, Leigh, daughter of Grace Jean and granddaughter of AzLeigh, break the cycle of dysfunction passed forward for too many years and survive the insanity knocking at her door?

Great title. That’s really intriguing. Ditch the question. I think it weakens your statement. Also ditch the generalities. What is the insanity knocking at the door and what are these two women going to have to do to stop it? That’s your pitch.

127. anon 2:27
A deadly boating accident took a young boy's life the summer before Lani Jones’s body washed ashore the little island along the Susquehanna River. Small town newspaper publisher, Fay Cunningham scrambles to find the connection between the two when a second recovering heroin addict’s body turns up and Fay’s daughter insist neither died by accident or suicide and she could be the next one dead. When Fay questions how she knows this, she confesses to being in recovery and had spent time with the victims. Stunned and terrified by her daughter’s confession, it doesn’t take long before Fay’s deeply involved in the investigation. Her persistent snooping leads to answers and lands her on a jet ski trying to outrun a killer who wants to permanently silence her before she reaches shore and exposes the truth.

Where an earlier reader needed to watch commas, you could add some. Your first sentence had to be read twice because I found it too much of a run-on and confusing. I didn’t get at first that there were two bodies, and why is a newspaper publisher on the case? This pitch leaves me with more questions than it does answers, and of course leads me to worry about the strength of the plotting of your book. So here are the questions I have: Is this an amateur sleuth cozy mystery series or something bigger and darker? The tone doesn’t come through clearly. Does Fay really get involved the minute the bodies turn up or to protect her daughter? What is Fay’s personality? Is she no-nonsense? Tough? A calm, nice, sweet grandma type? How old is Fay? I am confused by the name. The name Fay to me is a nice, quiet grandma type. If this is a darker mystery, you might want to consider a tougher name. Believe it or not that can define how readers think of your character. I think you need to work on building the tone and also start at the end of your pitch. “When Fay’s daughter is threatened to be the next victim in a series of grizzly murders, it’s up to this small-town newspaper publisher to do some sleuthing of her own. . . .”

128. anon 3:08
Västerbotten, Sweden – August 1947.
A series of killings plague the small town of Övranäs and its surrounding areas. When married local chief of police finds the woman he loves dead and their baby missing he has to find both child and perpetrator before he himself is framed for the murders. What he unravels forces him to choose between the justice he craves and the love he cannot live without.

Real potential here. I like the first sentence, but I’m concerned about the next. Is the woman he loves his wife? If so, why can’t you just say his wife? If not, can’t you just say his mistress? In other words, sometimes fewer words can say the same thing, and in a pitch that can be important. I would also get more into some of the facts and specifics. What does he unravel that he’s up against, because that’s what the heart of the story is.

129. Caroline Smith
Sometimes white picket fences can become iron bars. And no-one is baking Sandra a cake with a file in it. Realising that "happily ever after" is a target, Sandra sets out to bake her own cake. A feminist fable that give the lie to the adage that feminists have no sense of humour.

I vaguely remember your first one, but luckily for you not enough to do a direct comparison. There’s not a lot of punch here. I like the idea of your first sentence, but wouldn’t it be stronger and more powerful to say: “Sandra used to think the white picket fence in front of her house was charming, now it feels like iron bars. When . . .”? The problem is that you are using a bunch of clever lines, but telling us nothing about her story. Why does she feel that she needs to bake a cake with a file in it? I would also skip the entire line about the feminist fable. I’m not looking for books that teach a message. I’m looking for a good story, and that line could definitely turn some people off.

130. anon 5:23 (Kylie)
“An exotic fantasy full of fire and shadows.”

Magic winks it deception through the rainforests and rice fields of Sunda, like dancing glints of light leaving in its wake the terrible absence of animals.

Fifteen-year-old Amirah may be quick to temper and often opens her mouth before thinking, but she will do anything to redeem her family from social exile, even travel to the wilds of Rindu – where the animals now reside. She plans to return in triumph with a surga (winged horse) for the king. However, Rindu is a place of chaos and unpredictability and her recent goddess-given gift of connecting with animals becomes bitter-edged when she hears the song of a dying phoenix and a promise becomes an impossible burden.

Drop your first two lines. You’re getting bogged down in trying to have a tag line and/or trying to be clever. The paragraph, though: Brilliant! I absolutely love this and would absolutely request it. You get it all in there . . . your voice, a feeling for who Amirah is, the central conflict, as well as the ability to clearly give us an idea for the world. Really, really good work!

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



Anonymous said...

Yeah, what she said.

I've been following this marathon since the beginning, and the lady is pretty much spot on all the time.

Clip "when she had hit her stride," too, then perhaps some color on the poor orphans and the distraught widow?

126.Ann Hite
I too would like to know what the "cycle of dysfunction" is and ditto the "insanity".

127.Anon 2:27
Try starting that first sentence with, "Lani Jone's body washed ashore." That starts you out in an active voice, and the use of the name personalizes the story.

128.Anon 3:08
Additionally, if you replace "woman," with mistress, then the reader has no question in their mind as to why your protagonist might be accused.

129.Caroline Smith
Is Sandra a feminist or does she become a feminist? If she's already a feminist, you'll need to tell us how she got locked up behind the white picket fence. If she's becoming a feminist, then that's her cake and file.

130.Anon 5:23 (Kylie)
I don't like "magic winks its deception," I want to know, what really happened to the animals? I also want to know, how she felt about it, assuming that her gift, though recent, came before they all went missing.

After following this series of critiques and several others, it seems to me that what an agent wants in a hook is character, dilemma and action, all tinged with emotion. All attempts to tell an agent what your story is, rather than simply telling them the story, will be brushed aside.

Diana said...

I have been reading but not participating as much as I should (mainly because I'm a newbie). But if Jessica is willing to take the time to write her detailed thoughts, I can sure toss out a few thoughts (though you may want to toss them back).

125. ASN
The first sentence and the last sentence do it for me. I would read this. Though I am wondering if this is akin to the novel Good Grief, where the story is about the process of coping with a major trauma and then forging a new direction, or if this is the backdrop for something else?

126. Ann Hite
How did you come up with your title? I love it!

128. anon 3:08
I had the same questions regarding which woman the police chief was in love with.

129. Caroline Smith
What I'm interpreting is that your heroine is trapped in the Great American (Women's) Dream, and she decides to forge her own path. Is what we need in this pitch the thing that pushes her over the edge and into a new direction?

130. anon 5:23 (Kylie)
This type of book is so not my thing, but I totally get what it's about and know a lot of people who would read it - after you get to the last paragraph of your pitch.

Anonymous said...

Jessica said, "The name Fay to me is a nice, quiet grandma type."

Okay, you owe me a new keyboard, Jessica; I spewed my coffee all over my old one when I read this.


Aimlesswriter said...

Yay! This is fun. I think I like reading everyone elses comments almost as much as I like Jessica's. By summer we should all be ready to write a great pitch.
# 125 ASN:Sounds like a great story. I agree with Jessica. I got more out of the last two lines then what preceeded it.
#126 Ann; Not sure what this is about or what makes it different then every other female generational book. I think with more facts this could be a winner.
#127 anon; I think you're giving too many facts. Do we really need Lani Jone's name at this point? Would it be better- After bodies start washing up on the shores of Susquehana river publisher, Fey... realizes her daughter might be next. Her snoping leads to answers that put her life in danger. -
#128: Sounds like a good story. I agree with Jessica that you need to be clearer on some points.
#129 Caroline: Your first sentence pulled me right in but then you lost me. Why is she thinking she's locked in? Boredom? Abuse? Money issues? I'm not sure what this story is about.
#130 Kylie; First two lines lost me but the rest was great. I'm not much for flowery phrases. I want to know the facts so I know if its my kind of book. Second paragraph had me hooked. Keep that.
How many more to go?

Chro said...

125. I got confused by this pitch, which is never a good sign. The last sentence makes sense, the first sentence is bleh, and the middle sentence is a jumbled mess. Streamline your pitch and make it understandable at 8 in the morning.

126. Too vague. You've basically stated that your three characters 'have issues' but don't go into great detail. In order for us to care about them triumphing over obstacles, you have to be specific about what those obstacles are.

127. Make sure to differentiate between the two bodies in the first sentence -- it's a bit confusing at first. Also, don't go into depth about how someone knows something, tells Fay, Fay questions back, and then figures out the reason. Just say something along the lines of, "Her own daughter, secretly a drug addict herself, insists that none of the deaths is an accident."

128. Instead of saying 'When married local chief of police finds the woman he loves dead and their baby missing...' why didn't you just say, "When the local chief of police finds his wife dead and his baby girl/boy missing...'? Also, what's the protag's name? This starts out promising, but gets vague at the end.

129. I think you get too stuck up in the cake analogy. Also, if you pitch that your book is 'humorous', your picth/query better be hilarious.

130. I have to agree here -- ditch the first two lines. They're overly flowery and one has a grammatical error. The rest of it sounds great, though.

Christie Craig said...

Another great post.

I enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts.

And I do find it funny how names inspire different visions of a character for different readers. Just one of the many things writers have to consider. (That and becoming a grandmotherly type.)


Shaun Carney said...

I think Caroline is basically saying that no one else is coming to her rescue (the file in the cake, probably from the old gangster movies), so she will have to do it herself.

The pitch gives me a feel for what Sandra needs to do, but not what she is going to do. I would like to know how Sandra breaks out of the picket fence AND lives happily ever after? Does she get divorced? Does she live happily as a single woman? What is her plan.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've been unfaithful - http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com - there is a blog contest where you can enter the first 500 words of your first chapter, and win a prize (phone call, query or partial read, a client's book). I see a couple of other people who post at Bookends also entered. Fascinating to see your first 500 words in there with everyone else's, slush-pile style!

Re: The name "Fay" - This is more of a Down South name to me, not particularly age-related...i.e., the kind of name that gets passed down, whether anyone wants it or not. I think also of Tina Fey - and definition of 'fey' is - "Having or displaying an otherworldly, magical, or fairylike aspect or quality" - A character could be named "Fay" and then change their name as a teenager to "Fey, with an 'e,' not an 'a' okay?" Exasperating family members, etc.

Re: Feminists not having a sense of humor...kind of dated - I would argue even Ann Coulter is a (closeted? self-hating?) feminist with a sense of humor - calling Edwards a "Breck Girl," gosh Ann Coulter, YOU'RE kind of the classic Breck Girl type, now aren't you? I think of long-suffering First Lady Pat Nixon in her pink wool coats - absolutely humorless AND not a feminist - Roseanne Barr and Margaret Cho both identify themselves as feminists (I think? hmm, not 100% sure) - I don't think I'd ever use feminist in a query letter, unless I was actually writing about Feminists with a capital F - like Gloria Steinem, political activists, people whose lives consciously revolve around the "feminist movement." (Right now I'm getting a memory of down jackets back in college, always simmering in the background a contest of whose family's got the most money, interesting work, fame, etc...shudders...horrors...)

Anonymous said...

I know this was helpful for people, since it was helpful for me. I took my criticism and moved on to the next project, writing the pitch *before* the story (so I can update them both as I go).

This is great for the people who are still waiting, but I just can't get into it anymore. I'm not good enough to comment, but I think I've learned enough that I can do better.

Thanks for doing this for all of us, I still appreciate the help you gave me. That's all I can tell you at this point. That, and put in the nomination for the Nobel Prize in Critique!

Anonymous said...

#125 -- I know your MC's background from the pitch, but haven't a clue what the story is about. Does she stumble over her dead husband's dead brother in the garage and this is a cozy mystery, or does she toss responibility to the wind and go to Jamaca for a fling and this is romance? Name some plot points. We know who she is, but what does she want and what stands in her way?

#128 -- Is there a particular reason it's set in this time period? Does something about the time period intersect with the story plot points? If so, I'd probably include that info in the pitch.

Ann Hite said...

I've learned so much since I posted this. I realize now I was attempting to catch the eye of the agent, rather than just pitch my novel.

Diana asked where I got the title. The character actually asked the question in the novel. Where do the souls go when they leave here?

Thanks for all the comments. They help.

Ann Hite

ryan field said...

Just to show how subjective this all is: I totally and respectfully disagree with the comment about 125ASN. I became interested in the first line, when Amy found herself sitting shiva for her ex-husband in a house with an Xmas tree (it's funny, too...c'mon folks: the woman's sitting shiva for her ex! I even pictured the food table with the shiva cookies beside the Xmas tree). I think that's the hook, and it's what hooked me. If I'd read the last sentence first, I clearly (without a doubt) would have stopped reading. I don't care much about anyone's kids, the ex's pregnant widow or anything to do with court in general. I'm interested in Amy, and why she's sitting shiva for her ex, first and foremost.

Subjective is the only word that really makes sense in publishing. I'd submit this both ways, just to be on the safe side. It's rare to be able to make someone laugh (and think) in a first line.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments. I can now see how the first two sentences (especially the second one) don't really fit into the pitch as such.
It was really nice to get some positive feedback for the pitch considering how long and hard I have worked on it.
PS It's a shame Bookends don't represent YA fantasy!

Julie Weathers said...

I can't add anything Jessica hasn't already said. I will, however, give my general impression.

125. I liked this even though it isn't my normal reading fare. I think one thing I would clarify what kind of book it is. It could be a very heart-warming story or a bizarre comedy.

I especially liked the last line. Good luck with this.

126. I love this title. I agree with the comment about not using a question. I'd like to know more the insanity and the art.

127. I'm not sure how, but it seems to me this should be tightened. I also wonder why the publisher gets involved even before there might be a connection with her daughter. My first thought is something like "Murder She Wrote."

This could be a very enjoyable mystery.

128. I really like the premise of this, though I confess it gives me the chills. Granted, I am the type who worries about news stories and missing mothers. This could be very powerful. The story probably is. It just needs a little more punch to me.

129. The presentation is witty, but I have no idea what the story is. There are lots of good stories about women, discovering themselves. This could be one of them.

130. I like this, but I am a fantasy nut. This is a really fresh idea. Good luck with it.

Christine Carey said...

I really enjoyed #130. It put the character front and center, the goal and obstacles were clear, and it sounds like a fantastic story.