Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Critique #4

I'm back with more critiques and I was amazed this morning when I opened the original post to see that there are 256 comments. Wow! Now, I realize not all of them are pitches to be critiqued, but that is certainly a little daunting and I definitely know I won't be getting to all of them over the next week or so. I will of course do my best to give as many critiques as I can and thank you to those who have said kind words and seem to be learning from this. I do believe, or at least hope, that whether I get to your critique or not that everyone can learn something from what I'm doing.

One thing to keep in mind is that while a pitch is critically important, some people may learn from the critique that your story, not just your pitch, needs work. If my concern is that the pitch seems slow or not different enough you might need to consider whether it's the pitch or the book.

If you're new to the blog I ask that you read the original post first so that you have a feel for what's going on here and then hop right in. We look forward to hearing from you. I also look forward to hearing from readers your thoughts on some of the critiques I'm pitching. All readers have different ideas, just like all agents, and it never hurts to hear from everyone.

So here we go...

Kyle Smith said...
Propositioned by a Playboy model, hit by a car, mugged, and arrested for the murder of a man he's never met, it's safe to say that Brian Green has never had a crazier day in his life.

It's about to get even weirder. A man calling himself Jack O'Lantern, with a smile to match the name, magically heals Brian's injuries and gets him out of police custody with a few words. The price tag? Simply the promise of a favor returned. But what could Brian possibly do for a man like that?
My question to you is what is this story really about? Is it one weird night or is it what Brian is going to need to do for Jack, because I'm not sure one weird night will do it, it doesn't seem different enough for a book. Jack however seems intriguing and like he's probably the hook of your story. I think you can skip the first paragraph and instead delve further into Jack and who he is as well as more on what Brian is going to need to do.

Avrild said...
Nina Weaver, a feisty, struggling NYC photographer whose photographs contain intrusive spirit messages, felt bespelled when she met Anthropology Professor Pascal Guzman… and she was right! Though he swore that he’d never unleash the power of the Stag God, Cernunus, locating the woman he once loved from afar overwhelms his self-control. And when Nina’s best friend is shot by men breaking into her apartment to steal her “magic” photos, Pascal convinces her that the answer to the mystery surrounding her work lies in his hometown of Santa Fe. She agrees to head out with him on a sex and danger filled road trip—but what neither one of them knows is that they are at the heart of a power struggle between rival gods, one of them bent on destroying Pascal.
Whew! You've got a lot of material here. My most immediate concern is that it seems you are trying to dump way too much information in here and a lot of it seems unnecessary. For example do we need to know that Nina is feisty or struggling, or even from NYC? What do we really need to know from her in a blurb? What seems to be key, and the only thing that seems important in that first sentence, are the photographs and what she shoots. I'm also very concerned about the exclamation point. I'm not sure it's appropriate here. Are you really exclaiming that entire sentence? And the second sentence has a lot of the same problems. I have no idea where this information is coming from or how it fits in. I think the heart of your pitch is when you get to Nina's best friend. Let's skip the backstory about these two and get right to the book.  In the end though, the biggest problem is that I still have no idea what this book is about.

Sarah Jackson said...
"Maximum Comfort", a Memoir

Raised in a small town as the middle child of six by a Black father and White mother, I couldn’t help but ask myself “Who am I? Where do I belong? What in the hell do I do with my hair?” These questions became urgent when my parents’ relationship exploded after 27 years of marriage. For most of my twenties I wrestled with my life, desperate to pin it down with context and meaning. There were a few excellent moves that made me feel in control for a while; Oprah-style weight loss, cool career in television, my own place in New York City. But it was an intense break-up with a guy so blonde, hot and blue-eyed that he SURFED, that finally forced me to ask myself what I truly wanted from life. Everyone knows the only place you can answer that question is at a Buddhist monastery. So thank God there was one just north of the city. There was no way I was going to India. My hair would be impossible to manage!
A word about memoirs here (and I don't think this necessarily applies to Sarah Jackson's book), memoirs are not the life story of someone from beginning to end. A memoir is a moment in time in a person's life and usually about the growth of a person or a defining moment in her life. Luckily for memoir writers we could have a lot of defining moments. Just ask Augusten Burroughs, a memoir writer could end up with a lot of memoirs. Okay, that being said I do think this pitch shows one moment in your life which is good, unfortunately I think you've buried that one moment at the end of a lot of backstory. It seems to me, unless I'm wrong, that your entire book is really about your experience at a monastery and not about your experience losing weight or growing up. In other words, this is another Eat, Pray, Love. What I need to know then is how this book differs from that one (without you saying, "this differs from that book because...". What makes it special and different and how it will stand out. I do like your sense of humor, it does give a sense of voice and tone and the story does intrigue me, I think it can be a lot stronger though.

Robin D said...
My book, titled WHIRLWIND, is a complete, 90,000 word, first person contemporary romance. It is a single title with sequel possibilities.

Melissa Williams, a practical journalism major, is not prepared when she first locks eyes with visiting med student, Jason McConnell, at her friend’s wedding. She doesn’t believe in love at first sight, and is shocked when she finds herself its unwilling victim.

Jason refuses to let Melissa hide in the background, inviting her to spend the night with him after stunning her with a single, amazing kiss. He isn’t the only man to notice Melissa, however, and as she succumbs to Jason’s pull, she also becomes the target of a killer.

Jason stays to protect Melissa, making no secret of his affection, or his responsibilities thousands of miles away. As the murderer slowly homes in on his target, it seems that Melissa is destined to lose Jason one way or another, ending their whirlwind romance just as it is beginning.
Honestly, I have no idea what this book is. You call it contemporary romance, but there's a killer hunting her so is it really romantic suspense? Either way, your pitch is much too staid and boring. It doesn't read as anything that's different enough and would grab an agent's attention. What makes this book different from all of the other books out there? Especially if you are a debut author a hook is crucially important. The first paragraph doesn't really make much sense. It's about love at first sight and then suddenly she's an unwilling victim. If those two things are in the same sentence then somehow we need to see the connection between the two and I don't. Why does she become the target of a killer? What is happening and why is Jason responsible for protecting her? What does the wedding have to do with any of this other then the fact that they met there?
This is an instance where I wonder if your book has enough oomph or is ready to go out there quite yet.

DebraLSchubert said...
Jenny Sampson’s experience as a rock goddess in the Denver music scene does nothing to prepare her for life as a domestic goddess in the suburbs of Philly. As Jenny and her family settle into a McMansion in the burbs, her country club lifestyle holds many surprises. Like a beautiful assistant DA interested in a threesome, a wealthy heiress who has eyes for Nate, and a rock club owner who falls hard for Jenny. When her longing for stardom resurfaces, will Jenny be forced to choose between the intoxicating world of rock and roll and life as a suburban doctor’s wife, or, is it possible to have it all?

75,000 words; Women's Humor Fiction
I LOVE your first sentence. It made me smile right away and is a fabulous example of the use of subtle humor to show your voice. Immediately I get the sense that this book could be hilarious. I also like the second and third sentences. I think they work nicely. The end though sounds okay, but falls a little flat for me and again, I'm not sure if this is an instance of the book needing more or the pitch needing more. Is her entire challenge making the decision between suburban housewife and rockstar? I think I would like to know more, I would like to see a bigger conflict, because I do think the conflict could be bigger here. As this is written though I do suspect you'll get some great requests from agents. Good work.


AstonWest said...

Lots of good stuff...thanks for going through these!

Ann Victor said...

Great learning curve in these posts, thanks, Jessica.

All the pitches sounded good to me, so it was interesting to see your comments. The first pitch by Kyle Smith was terrific; to me it had a hint of Marlowe's "Dr Faustus" about it, except it's contemporary.

Anita said...

I exactly agreed with Jessica on Debra's pitch. I loooved the initial sentences, but the last one made me wonder if there was enough there to make me buy the book. But if the only conflict in the book is the one Debra describes in the last sentence, it still may be enough to make me buy the book, if the writing is super-duper fun/fantastic. (Think the Shopaholic series).
I'm betting from the pitch that Debra is a great writer and I'm wondering whether she could weave a little more conflict and tension into the story and make it even better.
Of course, maybe Debra is just a great pitcher and the book stinks. Or maybe the pitch makes it seem like the book needs more, but the book already has more. Either way, if I were an agent, I'd ask for the first three chapters.
And, again, what's up with another CO reference?!!! Go CO writers!

Jennifer McKenzie said...

These are great as usual. The Memoirs one sounded awesome to me!!!
I think the most difficult thing is finding a balance between the back story and revealing too little.
I am learning a lot from these.

linda hall said...

love reading your takes on these pitches. thanks for taking the time to do it.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Curious reader/writer question ~~
Jessica, do you think agents have their own cuppa tea for queries and pitches, or is it more about the genres you rep?

These pitch crits are interesting and helpful. Thanks for the teachin'!

Sooki Scott said...

Thanks, Jessica, for posting on a Saturday. And thanks for helping us refine our pitches.

I agree with you about Kyle’s first paragraph, a little like a laundry list of things leading up to the real story. (Don’t worry, Kyle. We all do it.) But he hooked me at Jack O’Lantern (great name. very clever.) and a smile to match the name. Nice. Especially since, we get an instant visual of this quirky secondary character plus a little window into Kyle’s voice.

Avrild’s pitch contained a lot of information, too much as you suggested. But I do sense the makings of a good story. I suspect that like most of our work, the pitch and the story just need more focus and tightening. (Again, something we all can benefit from doing to our books.)

Sarah Jackson, girl, you had me at ‘What the hell do I do with my hair?’ Love that line, especially on the tail of a series of serious self-questions. Especially cool because I instantly liked your voice and wanted to hang with you while you told your story. Good job. And not going to India due to hair issues. Well, heck, and here I thought contracting some icky slum-induced disease was a holdback. Tighten this pitch to reflect the real bones of the story and amp up you voice with more cute glimpses and you’ll be golden.

Robin, love your title. And first person---my fav. Glad to see it back on the rise.
Like Jessica, I’m guessing romantic suspense with a woman in jeopardy thing going on. Goodness, I do hope Melissa rises to the occasion and thwarts the killer herself. Also, I’m hungry to know why she’s the murderer’s target, just a hint perhaps. And the conflict between Melissa and Jason, is it just that her belief in love at first sight is shattered? Probably not, so let us glimpse what else internally gets in the way of their happily ever after.

Debra L Schubert, you write tight, girl. Nice. Very nice. This has all the makings of a fish out of water tail. Another plus. Sooki, likey. But who is Nate? I assume he’s Jenny’s dh, the doctor? Still, overall, I like her conflict and want to read more.

Annette Lyon said...

All of these critique posts have been very helpful. Thanks for doing them!

DebraLSchubert said...

Jessica, Thank you so much for your kind critique. I completely agree with you on your suggestion about the last sentence falling a bit flat, and the conflict needing to be stronger. I've tightened it up, and will definitely be sending you a query. Thanks again. You made my day.

Also, thanks so much to all who commented, especially Anita and Sooki. Much appreciated!

Robena Grant said...

I always learn something from these critiques, now to go and apply the new info that's the hard part. What I'm getting is you have to be really specific about whose story journey it is and what the core conflict is. All the rest is icing.

Good work everyone. I enjoyed all of the pitches but especially loved Sarah's voice.

Kyle said...

Thank you for the critique, Jessica; I really appreciate it. I see your point about there not being enough information regarding what the book is about. I'll be sure to tweak the pitch to include more.

Also thanks to Ann Victor and Sooki Scott for their comments. I love any criticism I can get.

Windsong said...

Thanks so much for critiquing these. It's been very helpful being able to see other people's queries and how an agent looks at them vs a writer. Thanks again for all your time. :)

Elissa M said...

I can't speak for the writers of the critiqued pitches, but I sure am learning tons from this.

Jessica, thank you. I hope the new year brings marvelous things to you.

Amy Nathan said...

I think what I've learned most from pitch critiques here - and elsewhere is that we need to demonstrate the external conflict in our stories in order to reel someone in with just a few sentences. I wrote most of my book relying on internal conflicts until I learned and saw how that wasn't enough. In my opinion, something very literary might rely on internal conflict mostly, but the bulk of fiction and memoir out there must rely on external conflict to hit the mark. So "making a decision" won't work, although making a decision and having someone else stand in your way/pull you along/come into or out of the picture to change things up -- a catalyst for that internal conflict -- helps give it more legs, moves the story along and helps agents or beta readers or editors see what the story really is about.

Again, just my .02!

DaniC said...

This is a wonderful site. I have learned so much just from the critiques. I have saved this as a fav and will return often. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us generously!

Happy Holidays

Anonymous said...

"Her life has never been normal, but now it's complicated by super-powered cat fights; Vincent, her best friend who has complete access to her mind; and a crush on her classmate Reid, the hottest werewolf in school."

I feel that there is a problem with this sentence. I'm not a grammar expert by any means, but I think Jessica may have over looked this.

"When she loses control of her powers during a meltdown at the mall the Great Lakes School for Exceptional Young People comes calling."

Shouldn't there be a comma after mall.

"but the ones who want him belong to the math team."

This is an odd sentence to me. Wouldn't be better to say 'the math team wants him instead.'

"Jed Pruitt hasn’t arrived to solve Nicole’s problems, but to ‘clean up’ the financially floundering hotel company."

At this point I could care less about Jed Pruitt. He has no personality to me. I think that there should be another paragraph about him, and he shouldn't have been crammed into this one. Which goes back to the arguement about one paragraph. Is he her love interest? Why is he mentioned?

"Don Amberly is Bloodborn, destined to become a vampire. Running isn’t a choice and the local werewolf pack refuses to grant protection, so he does the only thing left to avoid his fate, he hunts those who would have him undead."

I agree with Jessica on this. I have no interest in this because nothing has made me excited about the characters.

"It's about to get even weirder. A man calling himself Jack O'Lantern, with a smile to match the name, magically heals Brian's injuries and gets him out of police custody with a few words. The price tag? Simply the promise of a favor returned. But what could Brian possibly do for a man like that?"

It seems the term weirder is way overused. Everyone says things are getting weirder. I really don't agree with Jess on this. I feel we need to care about the character. Without the 1st paragraph I wouldn't at all, unless this Jack is th main character. And also I would like to point out questions were used here. I've seen where some agents like the questions. I feel the questions should make you wonder about the book. These do.


If only the other agents were as generous as you. Maybe you were feeling a little too much of the Christmas spirit. I am glad you posted these and pointed out obvious flaws, but maybe you were trying to avoid to much static over your comments. I do agree that some of the queries contain too much detail, but very few contain enough information to make me want to by the book. There is a big difference between detail and information. Thank-you for posting these, they really make you think about your own query and figure out what they lack. This has been the most useful post yet. I do hope, Jessica, that you will critique some more.

Robin D. said...

Thank you so much for your time, Jessica, it is such a help. I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, especially when it comes to the pitch.

One question I have, that maybe you or someone could answer, is: What are the definitions of 'romantic suspense' and 'contemporary romance'?

Happy New Year to you all, and again thanks for all the feedback!

Sarah Jackson said...


Ohhhhh, sweet! Thank you so much for critiquing my pitch. I definitely have some revising to do, no doubt. But I'm comforted that the notes you gave were basically the same concerns I had about my attempt here. As soon as I hit publish I thought "Wow, I didn't know I was writing "Eat Pray Love 2: Sarah Jackson Takes Manhattan"! Is it a musical?"
Sorta feels like I'm on the right track when you and I BOTH think that it's the slightly wrong track. That's enough to keep me going.

It's an interesting challenge to find the balance between book description and succinct pitch. But your notes are encouraging, Jessica. I'm going to keep on keepin' on.

Many thanks... and thanks to all of your readers with their nice feedback as well.

Happy New year!