Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 24

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.

144. Phoenix
In 305 A.D., the Roman gods are preparing to die; the Seventh Seal is about to be opened; and inside a waking Mt. Vesuvius, pagan prophecy and Christian canon will soon converge.

Now, a devout young mage must defy Church and Emperor to not only initiate an apocalypse but to win over the Persian mercenary he suddenly finds himself soul-bonded to. All before the gods rebel and a thriving empire falls.

I like your opening line, your setup. This definitely grabs my interest and makes me want to see where this is going. Your follow-up, though, falls flat for me. Be a little more specific. Who is the devout young mage and why must he defy the Church? What does it take for someone who is devout to do this? What does it mean that he’s soul-bonded? In other words, you’ve piqued my interest, now you need to reel me in. At the end of your pitch I should want to read more, not think, “Hmm, interesting,” and put it away.

145. Tricia Grissom
Natalya Petrofsky is a zombie with authority issues. She was just about to escape her crazy immigrant family when someone killed them all. Now Grandma Nama is in a coma from changing the curse intended to wipe out their family into something that made them zombies instead. Big improvement. But that doesn't stop her from interfering with Natalya's life. Grandma’s telepathic running commentary can really kill a date night.

And when Natalya finally meets a sexy guy who won't freak because she has no heartbeat, it's because vampire Victor wants her to swear an undead oath to the vamps.

Natalya just wants to keep the family funeral home afloat and find a way to reverse whatever curse killed her entire clan, preferably before her dysfunctional relatives meet Homeland Security. Coping with her own death is hard enough. How will she avoid becoming a vampire lackey?

I am completely confused by this story. I assume by “killed” you mean made into Zombies, and if Grandma Nama is a part of her family, why wasn’t she killed? What does being a crazy immigrant family have to do with anything? That actually piqued my interest more than the zombies. I wanted to know more about this crazy family. My problem is that when I’m finished reading what is really a pretty long pitch, I still have no idea what your book is about. I know it’s about Natalya, who is a zombie, but does anything else happen? I’m getting bits and pieces of information, but I never feel like I get any true taste of this story. I also like the ending. Again, I’m intrigued by the family funeral home, but you don’t take me far enough into it to really tell me about it.

146. Laura Elliott
Owner of the galaxy’s largest freight company, Lucy McAllister gets to do what she’s always wanted – travel the stars. Wealth, fame, family, and friends, she has it all. If not for that one old debt…

Her family taken hostage, Lucy must fly to Rogusta and assassinate the planet’s most respected senator, or she’ll lose everything she loves. She has no choice but to play along while she plans a rescue mission. Just two steps out of the ship, Lucy finds herself the target of a hired assassin. She’s tossed into GIA protective custody with the sexy Chief Agent Finn Droverson watching her every move. Things heat up between them, and she begins to suspect something is a bit different about their relationship – especially when their hands fuse together during a romantic moment. Lucy must figure out her unexpected (and complicated) relationship with Finn, battle with GIA double agents, and somehow outwit the smartest criminal in the galaxy – and save her family.

Your two paragraphs don’t connect for me. The tone is different and, again, I’m not sure we need to know the backstory. How does owning the freight company have anything to do with Lucy’s family being taken hostage. The second paragraph feels like you’ve run out of time and you're trying to rush through and get out as much information as possible. I picture you standing at the front of the room giving a five-minute book report only to realize that there’s just one minute left, so you are busy top-lining the key points in order to finish on time. This just didn’t grab me. It felt like you were trying to be too many things. I didn’t get a good sense of what the tone of the book was. It felt very light and funny, but didn’t feel like that’s what it should be, and in the end the story just doesn’t seem different enough.

147. D.C. England
Five words
Phil Collins stops my imprisonment.

One paragraph
My name is Steve. When I was younger I had big dreams. Jamie, Brian and I, we all had big dreams. We wanted to change the world – and we did. We wanted to be rock stars – and we were. We wanted girlfriends - that was the difficult one. We had all been great friends. Jamie and I still were. I wouldn’t have been here today if not for Jamie. But I wasn’t sure I’d ever forgive Brian.

One sentence
A semi-fictional tale of WOMAD 1982, one of the greatest but financially most disastrous music festivals ever - seen through the eyes of an utterly helpless organiser, and told alongside the story of punk rock in the provinces.

What’s most interesting about this to me is that none of your pitches connect. What does Phil Collins have to do with punk rock or the fact that your name is Steve? And what is this book about? Is it a memoir? Is it coming-of-age? Is it about a disastrous music festival? My suggestion is to focus on writing one strong paragraph first that really tells me what your story is about, and from there you can shorten if necessary.

148. Jael
My book is about a woman who gets younger, and her husband, who doesn't. When Gretchen turns 30, she suddenly starts to age backward, and her body begins to undo both the negative aspects of aging (scars, wrinkles) and the positive ones (wisdom, stability, memories). The book alternates between Gretchen's point of view and Charlie's, as they struggle with the ever-growing gap between them, as he turns 31 and 35 and 41 while she turns 29 and 25 and 19.

This just sounds odd and, I hate to say it, not that interesting. Of course I’m concerned that your pitch tells me instead of shows me your story, but I’m also concerned that you don’t have a story there. This sounds like it would be categorized as women’s fiction, and yet I don’t see the readership for it (please, readers, tell me if I’m wrong). It might be more interesting if you tell me some of what this couple is dealing with, why she does this and what is eventually going to happen. Does the reverse aging affect her mind as well? Will she become a baby? Does she have reverse puberty? I’m curious, but from the pitch the story doesn’t feel as well thought out as it needs to.

149. anon 9:36p
Lady Elizabeth Dunham and her brother have been hiding a secret that could ruin them. When the blackmail letters arrive Lady Elizabeth sets out to save her family. She is prevented from attaining this goal because her brother has enlisted the help of the mysterious “Messenger” who Elizabeth believes will only ruin her family and she sets out to find and stop him.

Daniel Reming, Earl of Clauster, is The Messanger. He believes in justice and wants to right the wrongs of the ton, because he failed his sister and family and needs to make it up, even if it is only to himself. He is prevented from attaining this goal because the woman in his latest assignment is doing everything in her power to prevent him from succeeding.

You are telling me and not showing me and, as I’ve mentioned before, a pitch should be representative of your writing. Based on the first paragraph, I would pass on this. The writing feels choppy and stilted. And ultimately, I’m not sure what this story is really about or how it stands out from others. Be careful . . . in both paragraphs you use the phrase “prevented from attaining this goal,” which distances me from the characters and tells me instead of shows me. I think you might be better melding these two paragraphs and focusing on the heart of the story, which, I imagine, is when Daniel and Lady Elizabeth come together to try to reach both of their goals.

150. Shayla Kersten
Did you ever have a dream so real you could taste it?

Catlin Landry has. Her nights are filled with visions of a sexy man, the feel of his muscles, and the taste of his skin. Too bad they aren't real, or are they?

I think that this is a good pitch, but in the end I wouldn’t request it. I assume this is for an erotic romance, and so many of those involve a dream man that as you have this here it wouldn’t stand out in the market. What else makes your book unique?

Okay, readers, it’s up to you now (and no slacking off on me!). I want to hear what you have to say. . . .



Stacia said...

I think 145 sounds like it could be a lot of fun, but agree the first paragraph is totally confusing. The second and third were far more interesting.

Laura Elliott said...

Thanks for the critique. I'll keep working on it. I appreciate the feedback. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

#144, for me, packs in two much: conflict between church and paganism *and* Mt. Vesuvius, *plus* a Mercedes-Lackey style pairbonding problem - no. I think the setting could be interesting - not much Roman alternate world fantasy about - but this confuses me.

#145 reads like a bog-standard paranormal romance, undead heroine, sexy vampire, impossible family - what makes this one stand out? Why pick it, for instance, over the fictious demon hunter/demon story Jessica blurbed not long ago?

#146: My suspension of disbelief went thud. I was turned off by the romance plot - she must do something impossible, she gets involved with the sexy law-enforcer - oh, and its all set in space. As a SF reader, I hate it when interesting settings are used as backdrop for ordinary stories. Why pick on the owner of a shipping company as an assasin? This is a woman who should have a lot of resources, not to mention a certain ruthlessness. When someone kidnaps her family and tries to blackmail her, she gathers a private army and defeats the baddies. Anything less feels like a betrayal of the character. Waiting for someone to rescue her and solve everything, getting trapped in 'protective custody' and making doe-eyes at The Hero - sorry, that's not the kind of person I want to read about.

#147 The pitch is disjointed and I don't get a sense of the story. A disastrous rock festival has a lot of potential for Story, but I don't get a sense that you make the most of it. I don't want to read about a whiny middle-aged character who gets bailed out by a rockstar hero. That's just the male version of #146 above. Make the protagonist resourceful and proactive, please, and prove it in your pitch.

#148 Reversing the effects of ageing could be interesting - but thirty???? Kid, from this side thirty looks pretty young. Age fifty-five or sixty, yes, fourty-five at a pinch, but you cannot make me believe that thirty is old.

#149 The hero wants to rescue the heroine, she has taken a dislike to him and thwarts him (while forgetting who her real enemies are). This *so* does not appeal to me, regardless of how well-written it might be. Sorry.

#150 This is a story seed, not a story. What does the character do to try and find out whether he's real or not? What kind of story are we going to get? This is a pretty well-used trope in fantasy - someone imagines something that may or may not be real - an object, a gateway, a person. What counts is what you make of it. From this pitch I can't make any judgements at all.

kris said...

"Natalya Petrofsky is a zombie with authority issues."

I loved this one. Loved the voice, loved the humor, loved the family and the funeral home and the curse. I agree it might be a bit long for a pitch, with a bit too much, but I adored each element and would love to read this story.

Aimlesswriter said...

144: I think you have something there but your pitch confuses me. I'd need the facts clarified.
145:I think I'd like this story but your pitch kind of wanders. Tighten up and just give me facts. I'll discover the backstory when I read the book. (Can a Zombie become a Vampire? Do they have any blood?-sorry, but I wonder about these things!)
146: Too much information and not enough facts. It was a bit confusing. Pare it down to the exciting parts.
147: As I read I kept waiting for the hook. I wasn't sure what the book's main storyline was. However I did like the voice. Is this like; when good friends ban together to throw a wild music festival disaster takes over? Can their friendship survive?
148: I liked the idea of this story a lot! I think your pitch needs to show more of the conflict created. "Charlie is shocked when his wife's behavior seems to be regressing he..."
149: Good story idea, but it doesn't excite me as written. Perhaps something like; Lady Elizabeth panics when she recieves blackmail letters threatening her family's darkest secret...
150: I think if you pushed the psychic dream idea and the conflict with actually meeting the guy in her dream we might have more of a hook. Of course I don't really know your book so I might be going in the wrong direction.
Yay, Jessica! Another good round of pitches. Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

# 145 -- I LOVED the upbeat voice of the pitch, loved it, but I have to agree that I don't know what it's really about. Too many threads tossed in there. What is the MAIN problem she faces? Finding the people that killed her family, being in love, grandma trouble, keeping the family funeral home afloat? Surely one of these is the MAIN PLOT while the others intersect that plot, but which is it? Make that the center of your pitch.

# 147 -- At first I thought the paragraph was a YA (young adult book) about three teens in a band and one of them maybe being gay ("we wanted girlfriends, that was the difficult one"). For that pitch, it still doesn't tell anything about the plot. "Forgiving Brian" means nothing since we don't know what thing Brian has done.

The "one sentence pitch" sounds like a non-fiction look of an outsiders view of a popular rock band. What does semi-fictional mean? It's fiction or it isn't. Writer's use their own experiences all the time, as starting points to get them into a story or scene -- that doesn't make the book non-fiction, it makes them informed on the subject matter. If names/situataions/places/ and dates are changed, it's fiction.

Break it down like this:
1)Who is the main character?
2)What does he want?(his goal)
3)What is going to prevent him from getting it? (the plot points, the obstacles)

# 159 -- Not fond of the first sentence rehtorical question, but if this is for erotic romance, that's a genre I'm not familiar with so it might work? My second thought was... um... who's nights aren't filled with visions of sexy men that aren't real? You mean, EVERYBODY doesn't have passing thoughts of sexy men, you mean that's JUST ME!!!

Okay, I'll shut up now, but you get the point. However, like I said, if it's erotic fiction, it's not a genre I read so my comments might not be valid.

Anonymous said...


This caught my attention as being different, but I question whether 30 is really the age to start. JMHO, but raising kids, fullfilling a career, etc. etc. is what brings wisdom and that happens (for most) after thirty. Also, most 30 y/o don't actually have wrinkles yet. Start your heroine at 45/50 and this would have a lot more catch for me.


Anonymous said...

I hope if you dont finish going through the pitches... you would be willing to do a quick list of which ones of the remaining you would request (and maybe one line why? Like "great hook"?)

I actually reall enjoyed the zombie one. a little disconnected with some random thoughts-- but some really great humor too...enough to hope the book is better than the query-- if she pulls it off, i bet its great!

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

I rarely disagree with Jessica, but I think if she approached Tricia Grissom's #145 after a second cup of coffee, she might see a real gem.

I didn't have any confusion issues.

I did, on the other hand, have some jealousy issues. This sounds like a blast.

Too many plot threads unraveled in one query? Mmmm. Nyah. Not really. Each one hooked me a little deeper into the intrique.

But that's just my wannabe opinion. I couldn't sell a religious tract to a backsliding baptist, so take it for what you will.

Christine Carey said...

144. This reminds me of The Seventh Sign, but not in a bad way. It sounds like you've done your research, so I'd like to read what you've come up with.
145. Zombie with authority issues. Yes, just because of that, I would be interested, but the hook needs a bit of tightening.
146. I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, so take this with a grain of salt. The relationship between Lucy and Finn sounds interesting, and I'd like to hear more about the hand fusing bc that sounds awesome, but I don't really understand what else is going on here. It seems like there's too much all in one paragraph, and tightening would help.
147. I don't know why, but this one is really intriguing for me, despite its disjointedness.
148. Huh? This could work, but I'd need to have a better idea of how the reverse aging is affecting their relationship.
149. I'm not a fan of words like "goal," "attaining," and "obstacles." They're surface words, which, while writing, lend to incredibly helpful ideas, but in a query, don't explain anything. Be more specific about the "secret," "goals," and "obstacles," and this will make this less passive and more intriguing.
150. "Or are they?" I'm not a fan of that last line at all. I'd be more interested if the character was wondering what was going on, and what makes her think that they would be real.

Karen Duvall said...

The reverse aging one is my fave. Kind of reminds me of the old Mork & Mindy show. Ha! It's just not clear what kind of a book it is. It could be a tongue in cheek romp of magical realism, or a serious science fiction story, or a literary MR along the lines of Like Water for Chocolate. Once the genre is nailed down, I think it would be an awesome story. As for the aging backwards thing, 30 is just a baby. Wrinkles? No, I don't think so. I'm 50 and I'm just starting to get my first wrinkles around my mouth. My eyes are still crows-feet free.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thanks all for the feedback! Invaluable as always.

zeldadg said...

Thanks for the critiques on #145 - and bless you, Jessica, for taking on this monumental task to help us.

Everyone's comments are excellent. I see where I need to tighten it. And thanks to everyone who said it has potential - it keeps me away from the kitchen knives!

Anonymous said...

Well, I loved the zombie one. I confess, I just skimmed it, but right from the first line the idea caught me. If I were an agent, I'd probably ask to see the story because of how the writer's voice hooked me. The story sounds like a hoot.

Anonymous said...

144 sounds pretty interesting to me, but I agree that you need more details about the main plotline, what really happens in the book.

145 definitely sounds interesting, but I do think its missing the central plot point to connecnt everything together. Also, maybe exclude some of the smaller, less important details to avoid confusion.

146 I'm sorry, I can't really say anything about this becuase I don't read SF. But I am confused how the hand fusing thing. Are they both human? How have humans changed in the future to allow for this- it sounds kind of like super powers to me.

147 I'm not sure where I read it, but I know many people have said to not write pitches in first person, even if your story is first person. And think about how this would look on a query: you would be writing that your name is Steve, and then sign the letter differently (I'm assuming this is fiction, and your name isn't really Steve). It would just look kind of funny. Also, I don't understand how your one sentence pitch relates to the story.

148 This seems like a really cool idea to me, and one I've never heard of or read before. But I do have the same questions as Jessica- is she going to end up a baby? Also, how quickly is she aging backwards, and if it's just little things every year on her birthday, then how many years is this story going to span?

149 I think this pitch needs to be more focused on what happens when the two meet.

150 I like that this pitch is really short and it still gives a really good hint of what the book is all about. However, I really don't like that "or are they?" part. Sorry. But other than that, good pitch!


Laura Elliott said...

Thank you everyone for commenting on #146. I really appreciate it.

Green_knight said she gathers a private army and defeats the baddies.

That's really ironic because she does put together a fleet of ships to defeat the baddie...for some reason I didn't put in there. I know how to fix it now, thank you. :)

Shayla Kersten said...

Ruh ro... I thought I'd deleted my entry. Imagine my surpise to see it. LOL

Thanks for the comments. There was supposed to be more to the pitch but it was 3AM. I shouldn't be allowed around a computer when sleep deprived.

It wasn't psychic dreams and the woman does meet the man. Yes, it's erotic romance.

When I finish putting the real pitch together, maybe I'll really submit it!

Thanks again for the comments!

DC England said...

Thanks for your critique, and thanks to everyone here for commenting on this site re 147. All appreciated, taken on board. You're all right of course, the pitch as written is unfocused. Since sending it here I have focused the story much more on a single hook. Watch this space...

An Extraordinary woman in a mediocre life said...

I liked #148. I agree with the guys who say that thirty doesn't quite seem old enough to begin regressing. I think this book could appeal to anyone who liked the Audrey Niffenegger book The Time Traveller's wife. On the whole, I'd say, crack on with it, I'd like to read it.


Anonymous said...

The reverse aging story isn't an entirely new one: Both "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Confessions of Max Tivoli" are about a man who is born old and ages backward through his life.

The difference in the pitched story is that the protagonist is aging forward normally and *then* switches. I wonder if it would be sort of like "The Shrinking Man" ... will she age backward to infancy, or will they manage to find a way to stop the process?

David A. Todd said...

I just discovered your blog today and came upon this post. None of the books pitched would appeal to me. As to the effectiveness of the pitches, I'm still somewhat unsure in this area, but can find nothing disagree with you.

Nice site, and a nice service provided, reviewing these pitches. I shall have to read some older posts. I bookmarked the site and will return often.

Unknown said...

Author of #148 here -- thanks to everyone for your thoughts and reactions, I really appreciate it. When you go in wondering if you have the wrong pitch, and you then find out you might have the wrong book, it can be daunting. But no one who's easily daunted should hope to become a published novelist, right?

For those who are curious, the protagonist ages backward at the same rate she aged forward, so it's definitely a series of small changes for a while. Other reverse-aging stories (including Benjamin Button and Max Tivoli) sweep past years and years in a few words, which I feel doesn't really show the impact of how this would change the texture of someone's life.

It's funny, the plot is just unusual-but-not-unique enough for me to hear everything from agents from "great premise, I want to see it right away" to "oh, it's been done before." All the versions I'm aware of have male protagonists. Which is a key difference.

Anyway, thanks to all, and I hope to keep learning from other's pitch critiques!