Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 22

I’m winding down. Hoping to get to as many as possible, but just can’t agree to do them all. So here we go again . . . Perfecting Your Pitch.

131. Anon. 8:38
John Calhoun IV scandalizes prim Swanson, Mississippi, when he learns his late father was a philanderer, the abandoned urchin Mary Swann is his half sister, and he is the only one willing to rescue her.

Immediately I see a conflict, and not in the plot. How does John Calhoun IV scandalize this prim town? Is it because of what his father did or because he rescues a half sister? Why does she need rescuing and what is the big deal about rescuing someone who needs help? Do you see where I’m going with this? You need to get to the heart of the story and not dance around it. Tell us exactly what is up with Mary Swann and why John Calhoun gets involved. As this pitch stands I have no clue what type of book this is—historical what? Fiction? Romance? Mystery? A pitch should make it fairly clear what genre you are targeting.

132. Christy
The life of a Las Vegas call girl doesn’t allow Athena Hamilton time to ponder memories of her first love, Isaiah Martin.

Lydia Martin never wanted to move to Las Vegas, but she goes for her husband, believing in Isaiah’s call to start a church in Sin City.

Athena and Lydia become unlikely friends and with Lydia’s help, Athena might find true salvation. But when Isaiah discovers his wife’s new friend, it’s not Athena’s soul he’s worried about – it’s his own.

My concern with this is that I never get a feel for who is really the protagonist. I see three different protagonists and each of their personal conflicts, but not necessarily how their stories (not lives) interact. Is the story really about Athena or Isaiah? What about Lydia? I think I need to know more about the plot to get me to come to this book. You do have an interesting premise, but I’m not sure what genre it’s in or what is really going on. I feel like I’m getting the setup and not the actual book.

133. anon 10:20 (Stephanie)
It’s 1668 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Reverend Dean needs pure of faith Calvinist women to marry the men in his village if he hopes to maintain his hold on his tiny fiefdom.

Jayne, cast out by her father for her strange ways, is sent across the ocean to be given to a man she does not know.

After spending time with the savages, William isn’t a favorite of the Reverend’s but when the lottery draws his name he’s granted his first choice of wife. Two outcasts struggle to live among the repressive village, while at the same time work to understand the strange and fascinating attraction between them.

This is another case where I feel I’m getting backstory and not the actual book. Is the book about Rev. Dean? Or Jayne being cast out? My gut tells me it’s really about Jayne and William, two strangers trying to make their way in an unwelcome world. And no, that shouldn’t be your pitch. What should be your pitch is how they are making their way and what the true conflict is. Is it the attraction or the repressive village? Is this a Scarlet Letter for modern times or a historical romance?

134. Lost Like Secrets Unseen
Every time Braden takes his sunglasses off, it brings him closer to death. The visions he sees make him a formidable witch – traces of old magic, remnants of dark emotions, and glimpses of the past – but also strike him down with seizures that make it impossible to fall in love. Being gay is only the icing on the cake of his abnormal life. When he’s drawn into a feud between two rival witch families who each want to use him, seeing the truth isn’t as easy as unshielding his eyes. His friends are on opposite sides of the war, the guy he’s falling for is becoming his enemy, and thanks to Braden’s arrival, tensions in town are escalating. Choosing a side means accepting his role in the unfolding events, and deciding which is more important: the things he can see, or the things his heart covets.

Your opening lines are great . . . up until the seizures making it impossible to fall in love and that being gay is the icing on the cake. These feel very anti-climactic to me and I’m not sure how one relates to another. In other words I’m not sure what being a witch has to do with falling in love and being gay. I would suggest you take that out altogether and stick to the plot points that will excite the reader. Stick to his powers as a witch and the war. The love story is really just “icing on the cake,” but I would avoid the cliches if I were you.

135. Anon 10:58 (Brigitta Schwulst)
Take yourself back in time. Back to Africa – deepest Africa. 1855. The British have just begun their invasion. White men are a scarcity in Zululand. Tales of their magic abound in the villages. Izi, the King’s trusted medicine, knows that the time of the prophecy draws near. Chosen by the Gods to deliver the message, he must ensure that the Zulus remain faithful. Summoned to deliver the Queen’s first child, the daughter of the prophecy is born. Will she lead her nation to freedom, or will her Gods abandon her?

I feel too distant from this. The way it’s written, “taking myself back in time.” What I’d rather have you do, in the pitch and in the book, is take me back in time. Instead of telling me to envision what it was like in Africa in 1855 I would like you to take me to Africa 1855. And don’t end with a question. What this entire pitch should be is the answer to the question. You should show us whether this daughter will lead the nation to freedom and how she has to go about doing that. In other words, we need to be taken into the heart of the story, not the setup.

136. anon 11:53 (Gabrielle)
"The Mask of Zorro" meets "Ella Enchanted" as Prince Charming narrates this dark Cinderella.

When his older brother is murdered, Berto changes from Second Son of Savana to heir apparent on the run. He moves from orphan refuges to governor's palaces, working to keep his identity secret from all except his orphan friend Ella. But as he falls in love with Ella and discovers his mysterious enemy is closer than home, the choice between "happily ever after" and saving Savana is one Berto will have to make-- unless someone kills him first.

Skip your first line. I suspect that was meant as your short pitch and the other your longer description, but the first line tells me nothing and doesn’t grab me at all. The dark Cinderella story might work, but I would leave the rest. I’m confused by the age of your characters. Initially I would assume they are adults, until I read that they move from orphan refuges, then I suspect they are children. I would also suggest you try being more specific. Focus on the mysterious enemy and the fact that he’s on the run. Why was his brother murdered and why does that mean he’s running? Who is the enemy and what does he have to do to save himself? Those are the points that will strengthen your story.

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



Julie Weathers said...

Jessica, just a note of thanks and encouragement for your efforts. I'll add my meager comments tomorrow.

Unknown said...

Jessica, this has been so great and so helpful. I don't always comment, because I usually agree spot on with what you say (including about mine). I'd like to add, though, that I think the one about the colony sounds interesting. I don't think anything like that has been published recently, and it is an angle of history I find interesting. I agree that the pitch needs to be focused...also, I HATE reading about strange and fascinating attractions between two people...I don't really think that's a good way to describe love, and it sounds a bit cliche.

Scott Tracey said...

Thanks for the critique Jessica. (I was Love Lost).

I pretty much hated my pitch after I read your comments over the last couple months, and saw a lot of ways I could have improved it. But by then it was too late to remove it. I was in the system! :)

Anonymous said...

I don't have anything to add to what Jessica said about the others, but I did think that #135 sounded interesting because of the setting. But I agree that the pitch isn't working as well as it should.

Izi, the King’s trusted medicine,

I assume Izi is a medicine man, not some herb or something used as medicine.

Will she lead her nation to freedom, or will her Gods abandon her?

This question needs to go. It currently doesn't even make sense. You tell use that the Gods send Izi to deliver a message about her, that she's the child of prophecy, etc., so it seems pretty obvious that her gods won't abandon her. What I'd prefer to know instead is why she thinks the gods have abandoned her.

Better yet, since the part about Izi sounds like a prologue and I'm assuming the POV character is the girl as a teenager or adult, tell us everything in the pitch from her viewpoint.

Just my 2 cents.

Unknown said...

I pretty much agree flat-out with Jessica on all of these -- things are too muddy all the way through. I especially agree that a pitch insisting I take myself back to deepest Africa will definitely knock me out of the sense that I'm going back to deepest Africa. It's a variation on "life turned upside down" pitches -- and the old advice of "show, don't tell."

#134 intrigues me because it sounds like a book with an interesting protagonist who happens to be gay, and I'd like to see more of that. But you could get that across just by mentioning him falling in love with a man who's becoming his enemy. And... not sure why seizures make love impossible, regardless of who it is he loves. He's a powerful witch with a powerful weakness, drawn into this feud, tensions are rising, he has to pick a side. Focused is best.

Like 132 and 133, #135 also has a little protagonist confusion, especially when we're swapping over from the medicine man to the daughter with "Summoned to deliver the Queen’s first child, the daughter of the prophecy is born." Which kind of sounds like the daughter is summoned to deliver herself. I know it's nitpicky, but with pitches I really believe that every single word counts.

Definitely need more specifics (and no "X meets X" in the pitch, especially when the character's name matches one of the Xs) for #136.

Good luck with these, everyone! And good luck pushing forward, Jessica! We really are still learning something new with each batch, even after so very many batches.

Vicki said...

Okay, I usually lurk but decided to comment today.
#131 – I agree with Jessica. How does he scandalize an entire town? What timeframe are we in? If it’s historical (which I think it is), then perhaps the reason no one wants to rescue the half sister is because she runs a brothel on the wrong end of town? Although depending upon John’s family status, people would whisper behind their backs but not make known their thoughts out loud.

Again – agree with Jessica.

I want to know if Isaiah loved Athena as well. Is there a secret baby and could Lydia have to end up raising it as her own…okay, way off here I know, but I truly don’t have an idea of what this is about.

Is this a paranormal? Since Jayne’s father cast her out for her strange ways, I’m thinking maybe. If so, I’d like to know more about that and how it will affect the town and her life.

I liked this one a lot until I got to the seizure part. My first though was, why not leave the sunglasses on. Why do the seizures make it impossible to fall in love?

Jessica said it all

Why would he be on the run and in orphanages? Were his parents also killed?

I liked this. It made me want to know if Ella is really the enemy. If she is pretending friendship and more in a plot to kill Berto. If he will not be the only one to make a decision.

Thank you Jessica for doing this.

Gabrielle said...

Hee! This is so fun!

I'm #136. About a month after I posted the pitch I got to thinking... I probably should change this... but then there were like ten thousand more pitches waiting...

Thanks for the advice, Jessica. I totally agree that it lacks oomph.

Vicki-- it's complicated, but he's on the run because his brother was murdered and his fairy godmother (don't ask) thinks he will be safer away from the palace. There's a lot missing from the pitch, which is completely my fault, and I intend to remedy it. Perhaps, ten years from now, I shall post it on this very thread.

Loren DeShon said...


Sorry to hear you're winding down, but thanks for persevering so long - it has been tremendously educational.

An idea: If you don't think you can make it through each and every one of the remaining pitches, perhaps you could cherry pick from the remainder to make points that haven't yet been addressed, or select points that could use re-emphasis.

Thanks again.

Josephine Damian said...

#132: I recently read the opening to this and did not have a sense of the first character mentioned in the pitch as a call girl. Perhaps Christy might get that across in her opening - maybe open with the call girl in the act of "servicing" (or just about to)some John but she's fantasizing he's her old flame - to help her get through it.

I think about Sue Miller's "The Senator's Wife" which has two female charaters, unlikely friends - one has a husband the other gal gets too close to - maybe Christy could check out the jacket flap of that book to have a sense of how this type of storyline with this many characters is presented.

Christina Graham Parker said...

Author of 132 here.

Thank you, Jessica, for the time and energy you put into these critiques. They are most helpful and I agree with your comments on my pitch. Shortly after posting, I noted the same issues.

Thanks to everyone else for your comments.

The genre for this is inspirational romance. Athena and Isaiah’s. Since the ms is written for the CBA, I’m walking a fine line with the details I can give concerning Athena’s chosen profession.

“What about Lydia?” I ask myself that on a daily basis

Anonymous said...

Jessica, just wanted to say thanks for everything you're doing. It's helping a lot of writers, myself included, and it's nice to see an agent's opinion on these pitches.

I don't have anything to add myself, except that I'm not really understanding the ella enchanted and zorro connection in the last one. Maybe make it more clear or drop it? Just my opinion.

Christine Carey said...

Thanks again for doing this Jessica. Even if you can't get through them all, the comments you've made on the ones you've gone through have really helped me figure out how to fix mine.

Julie Weathers said...

131. I'm not sure why John scandalizes the town if his father was the philanderer.

I'd also like to know more about Mary.

132. This is kind of confusing to me and I had to read it over a few times to get a grip on it. It could have great potential. I am assuming it's a romance, but not sure.

133. I like this one. I think it has good potential, but I might start out with Jayne and William reacting to the reverend.

134. This one starts out interesting, but then so many things are tossed in it becomes confusing to me. Is his being gay a pivotal point?

135. Take yourself back immediately turns me cold. I feel like it's the set up for a history program from the 50's. The story has an interesting premise, but I think you need to focus on one thing.

136. Referring to books or movies to describe a work doesn't excite me. I know who Zorro is, but not sure what Mask of Zorro is and no idea who or what Ella Enchanted is.

I might be just tired, but it kind of confuses me. Why is a governor's son living in an orphanage?