Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Critiques #5

Back again...

Here's your link to the post that started it all, the final pitch critiques of 2008. If you're new to the site you might want to read that post so you have a sense of what's going on. For those who have already been following along, let's just get started.

Katherine E. Hazen said...

Lily Gardner is a freak; dyed hair, combat boots, super powers, and all. When she loses control of her powers during a meltdown at the mall the Great Lakes School for Exceptional Young People comes calling. GLS is secretly a haven for the supernatural. What Lily finds there is very little acceptance and a whole lot of rivalry. 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. In a place where everybody else is striving to stand out, Lily just wants to fit in.
My assumption is that this is YA which, if it is, is a great thing. It means that you've gotten across through a pitch, without telling me directly, who the audience for your book is. Watch your second sentence, it's definitely a run-on and difficult to read. I believe you need a comma in there. You might want to make the super powers stand out a little more in the first sentence by saying something like, "People think Lily Gardner is a freak because of her dyed hair and combat boots, what they don't realize is that what really makes her freaky are the super powers she can't seem to control.  When she loses control during a breakdown at the mall it's the Great Lakes School for Exceptional Young People who come calling and make her realize maybe she isn't as freaky as she thought." Other then those small things which I think tighten and exciten (yes I made that up) things up a bit, this pitch is really great and the book sounds fabulous.

Minnie said...
Cooper Wilson's life is in the tank. Not only is he the shortest kid in 8th grade, he's also the smartest. He's dying to play for the varsity basketball team, but the ones who want him belong to the math team. Throw in the fact that him mom is beginning to sub at his school, "so they can stay close," and you've just begun to peek inside Cooper's misery.
Before going into my critique I should clarify that this is far outside of my realm. YA I can do, but middle grade is a little tougher for me. I think that as a pitch this is strong and so is your writing. My concern would be that the book itself doesn't sound that different to me then the books I read as a child, which could be a problem. The hook seems rather blase, and not that different. Great pitch though.

Robena Grant said...
Gone Tropical follows the journey of two Americans through the rainforest at the northern-most tip of Australia. Written in the vein of Romancing the Stone, it asks the story question: "What if a psychologist--determined to find her ex-husband who embezzled millions from her estranged father's business--pits her wits against the skill of a solitary skip-tracer hired by her father, and finds instead that joining forces in the adventure means more than revenge?"

Gone Tropical is a completed 90,000word romantic adventure.
You are telling and not showing here and you've taken what I assume has the potential to be a very fun book and turned it into a very boring pitch. Your main focus here seems to be on the setting when, especially if you're calling this an adventure, it should be on the adventure. I also really, really implore you all to avoid questions as much as possible. A question doesn't tell you anything about a book. Let's put it his way, if a friend was telling you about a book she just read and loved and wanted to get you to read it would it work for you if she said, "Imagine a little boy living under the stairs who suddenly gets to go to wizard school?" Would that really work? I think you're much better off saying something like, "When Rosemary Van Rose learns that her ex-husband has embezzled millions..."

Lehcarjt said...
Nicole Devaney has a relaxation problem – as in she can’t. Not when she’s the only Keener Hotel Group employee who knows someone is using the Keener/Devaney family-run business for kickbacks and blackmail. Not when logic says that the person is her beloved stepfather, George Keener. Not when a quick hunt through his office ups the likelihood of his guilt and gets her caught by a curious, but helpful, knight dressed for battle (Italian wool suit – jacket missing and shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows). Jed Pruitt hasn’t arrived to solve Nicole’s problems, but to ‘clean up’ the financially floundering hotel company. He doesn’t realize his business partner landed the consulting job by offering a kickback to George Keener.

Fall a Little Farther is a 100,000 word romantic comedy about an intense, perfectionistic, and slightly klutzy accountant who must save her step-father, the hotel company, and the consultants from first - the Yakuza (mafia of Japan) and second - each other (which proves to be the more difficult). Relaxation is out of the question.
I really, really like this opening paragraph. I think your voice comes through beautifully and I love that first line, it made me smile. Watch the use of Keener Group, Keener/Devaney, I'm not sure both of them are necessary in the pitch and it bogs things down. When reading a pitch I want to be able to read quickly and easily without being slowed down. This slowed me down. I think it would be enough to say Keener Hotel Group and later just family run business. This is an example where two paragraphs work. The first paragraph is clearly the pitch paragraph, the second is just a wrap-up and explains the title, genre, etc and gives a tag line. This paragraph could be done either before or after the pitch. I think you did a great job here.

JT said...
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 like this. I think it's a smooth, clean pitch. I am however concerned that it doesn't say quite enough. Vampires are a tough sell these days and because of that you really do need to sell your story on it's own. I think this is a good start, but I'd like to know a little bit more about his hunting of the undead and how this book differs from other similar books.


Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Some more great pitches! I think the most important thing I've learned from these sessions is that a pitch is a lot less formal than I thought it should be. The pitches are far more relaxed - I suppose that's why the voices shine so clearly.

Jessica, I think this is your last holiday critique? If it is, thanks again! I'm sad for you that your holiday plans were cancelled but happy for us, as we got some great tips!! :) :)

Katherine Hazen said...

Thanks so much for the helpful advice about my pitch. This was an excellent Christmas gift to find in my google reader this morning.

God Girl Goth said...

I second Ann Victor's thoughts: It seems like the pitch should be fun and interesting (duh to me!), not so serious, uptight and long-winded like I'm inclined to do because querying is such serious business.
Thank you sooo much for your amazine critiques.

Anonymous said...

Again great critiques, have to say though I'm surprised that vamps are such a tough sale. Seems like all the books that get adapted to the screen anymore involve vamps in some form or another. And yet, I personally don't pick read them much anymore. I just find it odd is all. But anyhow, thanks for taking time out of your holiday to crit for us Jessica, invaluable information and I learned a lot!

Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

Awesome as always. And I really loved how Katherine was able to convey her genre with that pitch too. Brilliant stuff.
Thanks again, Jessica.

Robena Grant said...

Thank you so much for your critique, Jessica. Your comments are spot on and I've learned a lot from this exercise.
Happy New Year to you and all of the commenters. Here's to an amazing 2009!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the critique, Jessica.

About Me said...

Lehcarjt, I love your pitch, I agree w/ Jessica that your voice is strong and I think the pitch is near perfect.

Anonymous said...

I think Minnie's pitch for the MG/YA (?) novel has a problem in that it doesn't say what the novel is about. Being short, wanting to play for the basketball team, and having a mom who is a substitute teacher are great details, but they don't add up to a pitch, because they don't add up to a plot.

What does the main character WANT? Who is his opposition to getting it? In other words, what is the plot of the book?

If it does revolves around wanting to be on the basketball team, you've got to make that the focal point of the pitch. Or at least mention it as a catalyst. i.e... When the basketball team captain gets Cooper gets cut from the team, Cooper decides to exact revenge by planning R and X. All goes according plan until he discovers the team captain is also his Dad's bosses son. Now time is running out. Cooper has to undo R and X before Z happens or not being on the basketball team is going to be the least of his worries.

(you get the idea)

Venus Vaughn said...

Linda Hall - you answered your own question there. Vampire books are a hard sell nowadays because you don't pick them up to read much anymore.

The movie business is way behind the publishing business in terms of what it produces. Twilight is an aberration in that it was purchased as a 3-books-and-a-movie deal. Further, what reads well doesn't necessarily translate into what watches well. I'm still waiting for the first Stephanie Plum movie.

What DO you pick up to read nowadays? Chances are, what turns you on is going to be the same as what turns on all those other agents and editors (aka human beings) out there.

Anita said...


Jessica says your pitch is great and your book sounds fabulous, and she knows waaaay more than not-an-agent me, BUT I think your pitch could use some cleaning up. Particularly, I had trouble with the phrases "loses control of her powers" and "comes calling." I don't know if that means Lily's lost her powers and GLS is going to help her get them back, or if she's abused her powers and GLS is punishing her. And is GLS a secret to Lily, too? I don't think you need more words to clarify those questions, just different words in sentence two.
Also, I think there would need to be a deeper, more personal, important conflict in the book, before I would pick it up...something like Lily won't get her powers back, if she doesn't pass a GLS test and she needs the help of her GLS rivals in order to pass the test. Do you know what I mean? Right now, it sounds like Harry at Hogwarts without the problem of Voldemort...not enough tension.
I think your pitch/book sound like they could go from really good to really great with just a few tweaks. That's all I'm saying. And again, Jessica knows best. But in case you want another opinion...above is mine.
Maybe somebody else could chime in here and let me know if I'm being too picky???

Lehcarjt said...

Thanks Jessica! I'm on vacation and checked in only because I have wireless internet and wanted to use it. What a wonderful surprise to not only have been picked, but to have (for the first time in my writing life) actually managed a working pitch. Now I just have to polish up (aka finish) the book!

Jessica Nelson said...

I keep being surprised everytime I see another critique up! It's awesome that you're doing this, esp. this time of year.
Hope you had a nice Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Vampires are a hard sell these days because the market is flooded with them. And by that I mean, that agents and editors have been dealing with a huge amount of them for the last few years, so if you're going to sell a vampire needs to be fresh and innovative in order to get an agent and/or editor to even look at it. It can be done.

ryan field said...

These were really good.

Anonymous said...

For Katherine's GLS book... I agree with Anita in the sense that I'm a little confused as to what the book is actually about. The way it reads now, her problem at the new school is fitting in? Cat fights and and boy?

There's got to be more in it than that, and there probably is in the book, but the way the pitch reads I don't have a clue what it could be. With super powers evident the book has to be more than simply fitting in at a new school. What does the MC use her super powers for? Is that where the plot lies? If so, it needs to be stated in the pitch, otherwise it's all setup (great setup, by the way) with no feeling for what the book is actually about.

Maybe read the back copy for Ally Carter's, "I'd Tell You But I'd Have to Kill You" to get some ideas? A pitch has to be even more concrete than back jacket copy.

Anonymous said...

Though mine hasn't been critiqued, reading through these and reading your advice has shown me where I need to make changes. Thanks again for all of this--especially over your vacation! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

Cole Reising said...

Jessica, I just had to leave a comment saying thanks! I submitted my pitch but wasn't happy with the end of it. In the meantime I kept reading your comments, ironically was interested in a couple you weren't and was lost on some you loved. LOL But I love your blog and this is exactly why, I learn so much!

Today I looked at my pitch and suddenly 'knew' what I had to do/write/change on it to make it click. Well, at least for me. ;-) I'm very happy with it now and I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to point things out. Your comments really helped. No, they weren't directly on my pitch but they helped all the same.


Anonymous said...

This might just be me, but I couldn't help but think that The Great Lakes School for Exceptional Young People sounds alarmingly similar to the X-men's Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters - secret haven for superpowered freaks masquerading as a school, hot werewolves, etc. If it were my book I'd probably try to steer the pitch away from that by highlighting the aspects of the book that are different.

Anonymous said...

I like the advice that you give, though sometimes it seems to conflict a couple of things other agents have told me, but I believe that is the nature of finding an agent, which is that all tastes are different.

I wonder, though, how helpful is to have a website. I am constantly trying to drive traffic from my blog ( to my website ( and vice versa in the hopes that an agent would see either or go from a pitch to either to learn more about me. So far I have been asked to submit to an anthology of short stories, but have not yet found the agent I am looking for (I need someone to help with my projects as well as finding ghost writing opportunities).

James Buchanan

Anonymous said...

James, you can't expect an agent or editor to look for you. YOU are the one that needs them, not vice versa.

Go to, plug in a few key words in concordance with what you write, and start researching from there.

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 the 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.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, thanks for doing these!
I have a question: If we've got a good idea that involves the paranormal, should we scrap it simply because paranormals don't seem to be as popular?

I honestly don't know where this information is coming from besides personal tastes of bloggers, because all of the paranormal vampire stories never have enough copies in in my store and keep selling out, but that's obviously anecdotal evidence. Where are the paranormal readers going? Shoud we ditch vampire stories?


(Are the people on the second page of the pitch-critique comment results too late? I noticed none of the picks so far had come from the last 80 or so...)

Anonymous said...

anon 6:23
NO! Ofcourse not...paranormals are so not dead....I think they're as popular as ever, its just that because it's a popular genre, agents and editors are wading through a lot of subs, and with the market already flooded with a ton of paranormal...anything new has to be amazing and fresh..if you have an idea...go for it and write what you love....

Karen Duvall said...

I agree with Juliana, Anon 6:32. Paranormal appears to be hotter ever these days. Most of my agented friends have made recent multi-book deals in the genre, both YA and adult, and some are vampire, but most are not.

I got my agent last spring with a paranormal/urban fantasy that features fallen angels and gargoyles (among other fantasy beings). Vampires "may" have slowed down, I don't know because that's not what I write nor what I read. But paranormal is most assuredly hot, hot, hot.

Anonymous said...

What about the rest of us who dislike paranormal? I'd prefer a good old-fashioned mystery or romantic comedy any day instead of novels about a vampire, werewolf or demon. People are flocking to see Marley & Me as well as Twilight in theatres. Thank goodness for variety...
ps/Interesting pitches!